Paradigm Shift

by Steven R. Covey
from his book
6 Events: The Restoration Model
for Solving Life's Problems

President Boyd K. Packer taught that
"True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior. The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior" ("Do Not Fear," Ensign, November 1986, 17).
Why is this so? Because all of our behavior is based upon our understanding of life. Change that understanding, and the behavior will change.

For instance, to use an analogy, suppose you knew that your eternal progress was a product of your obedience to the gospel, would this not shape your behavior in mortality? But if you thought that you were not accountable and there was no afterlife, would that not shape your behavior?

Science has a name for this. It's called "paradigm shifting." A paradigm is the theoretical explanation or model of the way things are.

For instance, bloodletting was a practice in the Middle Ages, based on the paradigm that the bad stuff is in the blood and you need to get it out. When the germ theory was discovered - in other words, when the paradigm shifted through the discovery of germs - a new medical therapeutic model was adopted to reflect that new understanding, that new paradigm.

Another example: Centuries ago, the earth was believed to be the center of the universe. When the sun was found to be at the center of the solar system, astronomy changed completely, which had an enormous impact on other fields of knowledge. You will find in the entire history of science that almost every significant breakthrough was a "breakwith" - a break with some traditional belief or doctrine or paradigm.

As Albert Einstein taught,
"The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them."
When paradigms shift, practices and behavior shift also.

We can easily understand the importance of having a correct paradigm by using the analogy of a map. If you were trying to find your way around Los Angeles by using a map of Chicago, you'd be hopelessly lost. If someone told you to "try harder," you could double your speed, but you would simply get lost twice as fast, because you'd still be following a false map. After a while you would probably get discouraged and just quit in frustration. Someone might see you looking dejected and say, "You've got an attitude problem. Be positive." So you could try to think more positively and start again. As a result, you'd be more cheerful, but you'd still be lost. The point is that your ability to reach your destination has far less to do with your attitude or behavior than with the accuracy of your map.

Truth itself is an accurate map of "things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come" (D&C 93:24). True doctrine leads to accurate maps.

If you want to make small improvements in your life, change your behavior. Change your attitude. If you want to make quantum improvements, change your paradigm, your map. In other words, begin to look at life and the world from an entirely different level of thinking.

I've often shared how several years ago, I had an experience with a change in paradigm while riding to church one Sunday morning in a New York City subway. It was a fairly quiet ride until a father and his children entered our subway car. The children seemed completely undisciplined and unruly, and they violated the whole spirit of that calm, Sabbath morning. They were running around, jumping up and down, pulling people's news papers down, and even purposely bumping into people. The father sat right next to me, put his head down, and didn't even try to control them. After waiting several minutes to see if he was going to do something about them, I turned to him and said, "Sir, don't you think you could handle your children a little better? They are upsetting a lot of people." He looked up as if he had just become aware of the problem, and then he said, "Oh, I know. I'm sorry. We have come from the hospital where my wife just died. I guess the kids don't quite know how to take it, and, frankly, I don't either."

Believe me, my paradigm of that whole situation shifted immediately and dramatically, and I suddenly desired with all my heart to help that family. Why? Because I now had a different map of the same reality - a map that was more accurate.

Now consider what might have happened if the paradigm shift had never occurred, if I had never found out what had really happened. I might have sat there getting more and more upset. Or, through a sense of embarrassment or annoyance, I might have felt obligated to "help" somehow, to make those children behave. In other words, I might have tried to force either my attitude or my behavior. But after the shift, I no longer had to "try" to change my attitude about the situation, and I no longer felt the need to make the children behave.

My attitude and my behavior changed instantly, without forcing them in the slightest. I didn't have to "try harder." I didn't have to increase my willpower. The change emerged naturally from the new paradigm, from my new understanding of the situation.

Now, that is exactly what happened to the world through the Prophet Joseph Smith. On the morning of a beautiful clear day early in the spring of 1820 came forth a single prayer from a young man who had been prepared to ask the deepest question that flowed from the deepest hunger of the soul.

When he left the Sacred Grove, Joseph Smith understood the world differently from when he went in. He had a new map of reality. Because of his experience, he saw everything in a new light. That was the beginning. From that point on, looking through anything other than a celestial lens to understand the meaning and purpose of life would be like holding up a flashlight to get a better view of the sun.

(edited by David Van Alstyne)
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