How do you change default settings?
In a recent Harvard Business Review blog article titled, “To Be a Better Boss, Know Your Default Setting,” Linda Hill and Kent Lineback argue that we bring to our workplace the person who we are: “… our likes and dislikes, our preconceived ideas, the peculiar set of values and predispositions we’ve acquired, our unique personalities, values, and experience.”
These are our default settings as a person. All these combine in a unique way to create who we are and color our every interaction.
This is akin to your computer’s operating system. What’s one of the first things that we do when we buy a new computer? We go into the control panel where the factory-set default settings hide and customize them to our liking so that everything the computer does from then on ― regardless of whatever applications we run ― will be loaded, displayed, and executed according the parameters set by the default settings.
But that’s where the similarities stop.
The key difference is change. How do you change you default setting? In a computer, it’s a simple matter of a few mouse clicks. For a human being, it’s more complex than that, mostly because we don’t even know that we have default settings that are driving our behavior.
As Hill and Lineback go on to point out, “The first step to successfully changing ourselves is to understand who we are. Unless we understand our preconceived preferences ― our ‘default settings’ ― we will be at their mercy. They will drive the choices we make every day, and we won’t even understand what’s happening.”
Although Hill and Lineback were writing about how to be a better business leader by knowing ourselves better, they might as well have been writing about the First Rule of Change, according to what Buddha taught 2,500 years ago.
If Buddha were still alive, he would have loved computers because they would have given him the perfect analogy to explain what he meant by karma. Although karma has been irrevocably intertwined with the concept of predestination, reincarnation, and other mystical mumbo jumbo, Buddha actually used karma to define our “default settings” that ― mostly unconsciously ― drive our everyday choices and behavior. In its core essence, Buddhism is all about changing your karma.
And knowing you have a set of unconscious default settings that you can change is the First Rule of Change. But Buddha doesn’t stop there. Once you know that you can change, what are the steps to actually change the default settings that you don’t like?
That’s where the Second Rule of Change comes in. It is called “gye,” which means to stop whatever behavior you want to stop. You see, the beginning of change is first and foremost about stopping bad, self-destructive habits. Although Buddha didn’t know much about the human brain and cognitive science, he knew that every time you repeat a behavior, it becomes more ingrained into you until it becomes automatic and self-reinforcing. Therefore, change begins with the simple matter of stopping whatever behavior you don’t want to do any more. This robs the bad behavior of future opportunities to further implant itself into your operating system and become an ingrained habit.
The Third Rule of Change is called “jung.” It means to quiet. Imagine that your habits are like grains of sand in a stream of water. If you are lurching about in the stream, the sands will kick up and swirl, muddying the water until nothing can be seen clearly. By engaging in “gye,” you are stopping all your thrashing about. In “jung,” you are going a step further and actively quieting all the random thoughts, emotions, desires, and impulses that muddy the stream of your mind like the grains of sand.
Okay, your mind is quiet. For the first time in a long time, your stream of consciousness isn’t muddied because all the grains of sand sank to the bottom and are lying undisturbed. Now what? Is this the end?
No, unfortunately, you just made it back to the beginning before you began to engage in the bad habit that you are trying to change. With the slightest twitch, sand will kick up again and the water will be muddied as before. You will be right back to where you started. It’s like clicking the “apply” button to make the change to your default settings but having the option to always “undo.” To permanently get away from the danger of regressing, you need to go on to the fourth step.
The Fourth Rule of Change, which represents the last step, is called, “hye.” In this step, you are digging deeply into what’s really driving your behavior. You are actually going past your default settings and examining the actual programming code that’s behind the default setting. And not just the code. You have to go deeper and take the whole inner workings of the computer apart ― both hardware and software ― to know why certain things are set the way they are. Only then, will you be able to change them fundamentally from the ground up.
The Fourth Rule of Change might be the last step, but it’s not the end because change is not only about stopping bad habits but also about creating good ones. But that’s for next time.
Jason Lim is a Washington, D.C.-based consultant in organizational leadership, culture, and change management. He has been writing for The Korea Times since 2006. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Facebook.com/jasonlim2000.