The Rule of Six

By February 21, 2018 Thinking No Comments

Native Americans have a discipline, or thinking process, requiring that instead of coming up with a single answer to a question, they try to find at least six possible alternative and good stories about what the answer might be*. Having gone through this process, instead of settling on a single explanation for the object of their considerations, they try to hold all six answers in their mind instead.

I can think of several reasons why I would want to try and cultivate a similar mindset.

I can’t trust my lizard brain! As we know from the works of Daniel Kahneman and many others working in the field of evolutionary psychology, our brains have evolved over time to make rapid judgements about situations or questions as a kind of survival instinct. While it’s helpful to be able to do that, we can’t trust that the first answer to a question or situation is the right one, so having a tool that helps me step back and consider alternative answers is going to help me not fall into the trap of thinking fast, when I should have thought slow.

It increases the space between stimulus and response. Along similar lines, but this time relating back to some of the work of e.g. Stephen R. Covey, if I’m aware of and have a mechanism for re-appraising some of the possible reasons for a situation or answer to a situation I find myself in, I can increase the amount of time I give myself to react, which is going to be good for my mental health.

Between stimulus and response lies a space. In that space lie our freedom and power to choose a response. In our response lies our growth and our happiness.” – Victor Frankl (probably)

It helps me become a systems thinker. Keeping my mind open to a wider range of data will, over the course of time, help me to see different causes and effects at play in the situations I find myself in, or the questions I’m considering. It helps my thinking stay flexible and curious, since I’m not immediately settling on one story, and am instead considering that there may be alternatives.

*According to Judy Brown in her book A leaders Guide to Reflective Practice

Thanks for reading. Feel free to reach out via a comment or on the socials if anything resonates.


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