Why your Friend, Tom, Won’t Change his Mind
As you may recall from my previous writings, a Core Belief is a belief you have about yourself, others or the world. They are fairly solid by the age of five. (Yes, you read that right) These are raw, primal and primarily subconscious beliefs that center around core needs like worth, safety, belonging and freedom.
Supportive core beliefs sound like: “I am worthy. People can be trusted. Life supports me.” Limiting core beliefs sound like: “I am unlovable. People abandon me. The world is a terrible place.” You carry both kinds—supportive and limiting beliefs. They are universal beliefs, but also combine in a unique way, for each individual, to form what I call your own “Core Story.”
Everytime you experience a situation—personal or collective, it interacts with your Core Story. So, let’s say a president gets elected, a pandemic begins, you lose your job, you get in a fight with your neighbor—each and every “external” situation is actually interacting with this “internal” Core Story to create your personal reality. Got it, so far? Good.
So, at the ONSET of each new situation, you make a decision about how to feel about this new thing. This decision is far more primal than you consciously understand. It is based on fulfilling your personal needs and aligning the experience with your already established core beliefs. When something in external reality doesn’t naturally align with your personal needs and core beliefs, it becomes SO uncomfortable (called cognitive dissonance) that you will force a reconciliation between these discrepancies—-even at the expense of another’s truth, facts, or lived experience. This manifests as avoidance, denial, dismissiveness, combativeness, etc.
This “first feeling” you form about something is also more likely to stick because of something called the “anchoring effect.” The anchoring effect is a cognitive bias that causes us to compare all new “input” to the first input we received about something. The FIRST thing we feel is sticky.
From thereon out, you will use your “confirmation bias” (another popular mind trick) to reaffirm your position and invalidate ANYTHING that contradicts it.
Most people have heard about these biases. But the part that’s important to understand here is HOW PRIMAL this is for us. Because these decisions about how to feel are rooted in core needs and beliefs, changing our mind can literally feel life threatening—though most of us are not conscious of that.
Our ability to change our minds or even pivot our perspective is based on our brains themselves—how flexible is our thinking? Do we lean into a fixed mindset, where changing our mind would mean that we were stupid or bad, or do we lean into a growth mindset, where we understand that changing our mind is an inevitable part of growth and expansion. Can our mental health support a perspective pivot without it feeling like a primal threat? It depends on how emotionally safe we feel—and how worthy we feel.
These are the obstacles we run into when we change our mind. And these are the obstacles you are running into when you try to change someone else’s mind.
The short answer is you can’t change someone’s mind. BUT you can help create an environment that makes it emotionally safe for them to change their own.
Ask them questions. Try to identify their core needs and beliefs. Help them understand how THEY might benefit from the perspective shift. Do NOT shame them, no matter how shameful you think their perspective may be. It will only make them double down to protect themselves.
By now, most people have given up on having “mind changing” conversations, but I know that there are still people in your life who you seek to influence, in some way, and that is not going to change anytime soon. So, may this approach support you, as you go forward!