For a long time, we thought that once adults hit 25 or 30 years old, they were done developing. We’ve talked on here before about neural plasticity and our ability to learn and develop new skills. Not long ago, this was thought impossible. Mental complexity is developing abilities to look at the world more abstractly. The skill to understand things from many different perspectives.
In Immunity to Change, Harvard researchers on adult development and leadership, Robert Keagan and Lisa Lahey, argue that in order for us to compete and survive in our world, we need to develop this mental complexity. The world around us is getting more and more complex. Things are moving faster, more information is available and things are clearly different than they were just 20 years ago.
The authors claim there’s two ways to deal with the complexity of the world. We can decrease the complexity of the world, which, seems unlikely. The second, is to develop our own complexity, which until recently was thought impossible for adults.
How do we do this? We continue to learn, think, apply and adjust based on experiences. We learn how to analyze our own thoughts and actions and create an ability to learn from seeing things in a different perspective. To use the term from the book, we must transcend and include our former selves in order to grow.
Recently, while talking about training and playing baseball in college, Taylor mentioned how he wished we knew what he knows now about practice, nutrition, mindset and improvement. I often think the same thing about my days playing hockey. The problem with that thinking is we needed those experiences to learn what we know now. We have transcended our former thinking, but are also able to include it in our training principles today.
What can you do to increase mental complexity? You can continue to try to learn new skills, push your limits and develop the ability to look at things from many different perspectives. It’s a moving target. You won’t wake up one day and feel more complex, but small changes in thinking will add up over the years to come.