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  • Jaime Lang

Helpful or Harmful? The Paradigm Shift That Changed My Life

Updated: Apr 19, 2022

If you follow my posts, you will hear me talk about decision making and the processes we use to prioritize data and make decisions quiet frequently. This is because our life and the quality of our experience is literally made up of the sum of our decisions.

What we do and what we don’t do, what we think and what we don’t think, where we go and where we don’t--- everything in life comes down to the decisions that we make in any given moment. To read more about this please check out the previous post: Your Decisions Determine Your Destiny

Once you recognize the importance of decision making you can start to understand why looking at the way you interpret and prioritize information to make those decisions matters.

There are trillions of ways to make decisions and each decision will be specific to the individual and circumstance. I would not suggest that you use only one process, but I want to share a paradigm that I found incredibly helpful when I began to re-evaluate how I personally made decisions and reconsidered my own pattern of choice. This lens is my go-to evaluation when I have to make particularly big decisions that I know will have the potential for long term consequences. It is not the main component of every decision I make but it is something I use to weigh consequences and evaluate risk, which can be incredibly helpful (especially if you are someone who has to rely on reality testing to fit into society). This paradigm is the helpful/ harmful paradigm and it is exactly what it sounds like.

All the helpful/harmful paradigm is, is a filter that you can use to help weigh potential outcome when making a decision. It is specifically helpful for replacing ideas like right/wrong or true/false.

The reason this is so effective for replacing these two paradigms is because values based on right or wrong and true or false are deceptively subjective. What I mean by this is that as a society we tend to project the belief that right and wrong and true and false are objective ideas, meaning that what is right is always right and what is wrong is always wrong and what is true is always true and what is false is always false. In reality these ideas are incredibly subjective. The “right” thing to do in a particular situation will be dependent on the person/people involved, the situation itself, the values that are interacting, and the choices that are available. Similarly, what is “true” in a given situation will be based on the perspective from which it is viewed and the information available at the time. Since these concepts are so subjective, it can be frustrating to weigh a decision based on whether it is right or wrong or true or false—especially if it is one of the many daily decisions that a person needs to make that is generally neutral. The helpful/harmful paradigm can be more effective in these cases because it makes it easier to assess outcome without stumbling over a seemingly objective but honestly unquantifiable concept in the process.

An example of a decision in which you could apply the helpful/harmful paradigm could be if you are at work and you notice that a co-worker is not doing their job correctly. Since you made that observation, you now have the choice of ignoring what you have observed or doing something and if you choose to do something you have a number of other options about what to do. If you use a right/wrong lens in this situation, whether you think it is right to get involved or not will depend on your personal values and the work situation (if you are working in the ER and the coworker’s mistake could lead to the death of a patient, it’s probably right to get involved). If you do have a strong conviction about taking action or not taking action, you should probably do so because it will line you up with your personal integrity. However, if you can see both sides and don’t feel that either is particularly right or wrong you could use the helpful/harmful paradigm instead. Rather than trying to figure out what is right or wrong, ask yourself if it would be helpful or harmful to get involved. Follow up by asking who it would help and who it would harm and to what degree. Then apply the same question to not getting involved. Would it generally be helpful or harmful? Who would it help or harm and to what degree? This will help you evaluate the necessity of getting involved or not and give you a stronger rationale for why you have come to the conclusion that you have.

This is not something needs to be applied to every decision that you make, but it can be useful if you are making new decisions to change the direction of your life and need some reassurance.

Making changes, even if they appear small at first can produce a lot of anxiety and guilt. Looking at whatever feelings come up during those transitions can be extremely useful because they can tell you a lot about your previous patterns and allow you to evaluate previous beliefs and re-chose if necessary. However, they can also make it difficult to follow through with decisions that counter previous patterns. Evaluating the helpfulness and harmfulness of a decision can be useful for countering those older beliefs and providing support for moving forward with decisions based on new chosen values instead of in a way that is reactive. Following through on these new decisions is necessary when it comes to changing momentum (read more about momentum here).

With this in mind, lets re-visit the previous example. Lets say that you are someone that was raised to value avoiding conflict and not “rocking the boat” as a child and now you are seeing places in your life where your inability to speak up has caused negative momentum. You decide to change this pattern of negative momentum by practicing speaking up more often and one day you notice a coworker making a blatant mistake on their work. If you are practicing speaking up, this would be a good opportunity to follow through and create momentum in the direction of expression. However, you will probably also be terrified because saying something could lead to conflict which goes against the belief you were raised with, that it is bad to "rock the boat" or make a scene. In order to gain confidence and provide reassurance for yourself in making a new decision with potential conflict in this situation you could apply the helpful/harmful paradigm. By doing this you could see how getting involved would be helpful to you because you would be practicing your new belief and building positive momentum, helpful for your coworker because you would be preventing them from making more mistakes and having to deal with greater consequences for those mistakes, and then helpful for your company because it would prevent them from also having to address those ongoing mistakes. You might recognize that it might be harmful to you and your coworker’s feelings if you approach them insensitively, which might inspire you to be tactful in how you approach the situation, but you would have enough of an argument to support getting involved to help override some of that anxiety and speak out.

Remember, this is just an example and it doesn’t mean that speaking up is always the best choice, it just shows how applying this framework can be useful when making new decisions with the intention of undoing older belief systems.

This tool can also be helpful for people (like me) who have a habit of over-thinking and getting stuck in a paralysis cycle because of it. This paradigm helps in these cases because it allows you to move from getting too abstract in thinking about right/wrong to thinking more concretely about outcome and influence. Is it morally right or wrong to lie or withhold information? An entire book can and probably has been written on that topic, but when you are making a day to day decision, debating all of those moral implications constantly leads to paralysis which will default you to not choosing and lead you into a life that is based on external factors rather than your own integrity. This is a painful and powerless way to live. The helpful/harmful paradigm can help in these cases because it cuts through to the heart of a decision faster so that you can have a solid argument for your mind to hang onto without having to over-evaluate all of the implications. It is a streamlined version of analysis which can be used to evaluate a situation and learn about your own thought process.

The helpful/harmful paradigm may not be appropriate for every person, in every situation, but it can be a useful tool for some people who struggle with decision making and need a system to help them evaluate potential consequences for a decision before making one. It is a tool that was extremely helpful for me personally, and I still employ it frequently. If you find yourself getting stuck with the implications of right and wrong or being overwhelmed by anxiety from consciously making decisions to build new momentum, go ahead and give the helpful/harmful paradigm a try. It might provide the understanding and conviction you need to break out of decision paralysis or to build new momentum to counter an old set of core beliefs.

If you are currently in the process of creating conscious change in your own life and feel like you would benefit from some personalized tools and support, please feel free to check out the about page for more information on one-on-one coaching. You can also follow this site on facebook to be notified of new posts.

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