[Early Fall 2015] The Sorting Hat

Know the scene?

speaking at CPAC in Washington D.C. on Februar...

Students at Hogwarts categorized and selected into the proper best fit house;  Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw or Slytherin.

Each sort carries a certain set of assumed characteristics and attributes. Each placements mark a lifetime of assumptions about character and future.

If humans weren’t malleable it might be a good practice. It’s just not the case.

While some aspects of temperament endure – e.g. Donald Trump was likely a bully at 14 and he seems to be a bully at age 69 –  the fact of the matter is that behavior can be shaped and channeled in any number of ways if you want to change it.

Mindfulness – the act of controlling attention and consequently (and hopefully) behavior has been show to have any number of benefits, including shifting behavior. As Jonah Lehrer notes in a piece titled “How Does Mindfulness Work“, “But a little mindfulness training (12 minutes!) seems to help us say no. We have more control over the self because we realize the self is a fickle ghost, and that it’s craving for donuts will disappear soon enough. We can wait it out.

While nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman’s work has shown that we’re all largely unaware of our behavior, slowing things down, being present and and in the moment, shifts the awareness.

Focused repetitive practice on a new behavior – like learning to use a new tool – shows that new behaviors can be learned. That repetitive act builds up myelin in the brain, charting a new or reinforcing a underdeveloped neural pathway. Your behavior shifts because your brain behavior “muscle” gets stronger.

The reason why Trump is probably such an effective bully? He’s practiced bullying all his life. Give him some focused time practicing generosity and empathy and you just might have a different person.

I’ll tackle context – the sort of stuff that generally makes strangers at events like Burning Man behave differently (better) than they might normally – in a later post.

But in the meantime Trump looks to be a classic Slytherian.

Practice mindfulness for Trump with a change of context, though, and even he could become a Hufflepuff.

Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well).