The formation of beliefs and assumptions is a lot like a seesaw—you might have called it a teeter-totter as a kid. When you and your buddy sat on a teeter-totter, you would soar into the air as your feet launched you upward, and then, just as quickly, sink downward as your friend’s feet left the ground. While the up and down motion felt exhilarating, and perhaps even unsettling at times, your confidence was grounded in one thing—the base at the center of the seesaw. No matter how quickly you pushed up and how hard you came down, you knew the base wasn’t going anywhere. It was your anchor.
In personal growth, thinking is the mental teeter-totter at work. On one end of the seesaw are ideas, on the other end are practices, and in the middle—serving as the base—are absolutes.
Ideas are insights for living. They can fill your mind rapidly as you read great books, hear inspiring speeches, explore creative environments, or interact with wise mentors. As you activate a personal growth plan, there’s a good chance your mind will be saturated by fresh ideas in the areas of your life where you’ve chosen to grow. Some of these ideas will be proven, but others will be more like theories waiting to be tested as a practice.
Practices are strategies for achieving. If you’ve been around business for any length of time, you’ve probably heard the phrase, “best practices.” Best practices are those methods of doing business that are considered to deliver the best results. They are usually proven strategies for achieving the highest levels of success. There are also “best practices” in other areas of life too—spiritually, mentally, relationally and physically. And as you engage in lifelong learning, you’ll likely uncover some of these best practices in the areas where you’ve chosen to grow.
Ideas and practices freely move up and down on each side of the thinking seesaw. Your mental feet leave the ground as you learn new ideas and experiment with new practices. This flexibility keeps false assumptions and misinformed beliefs from becoming entrenched in your thinking. Eventually you’re able to settle on ideas and practices that actually work and leverage them to help you close your growth gaps.
I was working with a team of leaders a while back when we decided to evaluate the effectiveness of our small group ministry. We spent six weeks meeting together to take a hard look at our strengths and weaknesses, as well as ways to improve. This process allowed us to bring our ministry assumptions under the microscope. The mental teeter-totter was aggressively moving up and down as we examined fresh ideas and best practices.
At first it almost felt like chaos, unsure where things were going to land. The longer we sat on the thinking seesaw, the more exciting ideas we collected—several of which were untested—and the more we observed powerful best practices. But eventually we settled on a handful of ideas and practices—a refined model—that increased the health of our small groups. None of that would have been possible had we not been willing to challenge our assumptions and get comfortable with letting our feet leave the ground.
Are there areas of your life where you’ve abandoned the seesaw? Why not get on the teeter-totter once again as you put your growth plans to work. After all, what’s the point of crafting a growth plan if you’re not willing to challenge your long-held assumptions? Don’t be scared of the up and down motion—it’s necessary, even indispensable, if you want to gravitate toward the ideas and practices that will actually help you grow. This process is unsettling at times, which is why you need the security of your seesaw’s base—absolutes.
While ideas and practices are key components to challenging assumptions and forming beliefs, it’s important to remember that they are not absolutes. Absolutes are anchors of belief. Absolutes are the base of the seesaw. They are fixed—immovable. Absolutes are non-negotiable truth that does not change regardless of time, culture, or geography. In fact, absolute truth originates outside of yourself. Whether or not you believe absolutes does not change the fact that they’re still true. Absolutes don’t need your or my permission to be the truth—they stand as truth just fine regardless of our opinion. Absolutes are fully trustworthy and apply to everybody. They serve as the litmus test before embracing new beliefs, engaging new practices, or deeming a new idea as worthy of pursuit.
As human beings, we tend to drift toward the path of least resistance. If we’re not careful, we’ll adopt ideas and practices that are culturally acceptable, yet violate absolute truth. As you field-test ideas and practices, absolute truth keeps you grounded and helps you avoid the dangerous lure of deception. For this reason, I’ve adopted Original Truth—the Bible—as my source for absolute truth.
What is the base, the immovable absolutes, of your thinking seesaw? Without a rock-solid base, your ideas (those insights for living) and your practices (those strategies for achieving) will do more than keep you culturally relevant, they will ever so slowly mislead you.
When absolutes are firmly established as the base for your thinking, you can easily challenge your assumptions and beliefs. You can bring the ideas and practices—those things you’re gleaning in your learning journey—into the light where you can examine their validity. And you can climb onto the thinking seesaw—grounded in absolute truth—where you can continually explore fresh ideas and best practices.
Embracing absolutes does not mean you’ll live a sinless life. I believe Scripture is absolute truth, but I struggle every day to live that truth. I’m far from perfect. I sin. It’s a daily battle. But having a firm base to anchor my life and thinking to keeps me calibrated in the right direction. Without the base, my life would be nothing more than a soupy mess of misguided philosophies. Even the Apostle Paul said, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ” (Colossians 2:8).
At the Thinking Level of personal growth, beliefs are challenged and formed by learning new ideas and embracing best practices while allowing absolutes to serve as the final authority. Keep these three things in perspective.
Question: Are you leveraging the thinking seesaw to keep your mind fresh and your life relevant. What is the base of your thinking seesaw?
This post was adapted from my book, GO! Starting a Personal Growth Revolution. You can order a copy in my store here or on Amazon or Kindle. GO! is also available from Barnes & Noble. For bulk orders, email me here.