By Tanya Diesel and Juliana Gilders-Seysan
Introduction: Why Is Transforming our Thinking so Important?
We exist in a world that is always evolving and changing, a world that is increasingly complex. Our response to this, caring for each other and ourselves, is critical in creating a sense of connection and purpose in each of us. This then allows us to have the most significant impact possible in serving ourselves, our communities and broader society.
Einstein told us: “The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” This is as true today as it was in Einstein’s time. Transformation is required if we are to live with a sense of purpose, connection and fulfillment.
Most attempts at transformation and change are unsuccessful. A recent study of more than 100 companies engaged in major change efforts demonstrated that 85% do not yield tangible much less durable results. This is because the transformation in consciousness is missed: generally, what’s addressed is only transformation in behaviour.
Real and sustainable transformation occurs in the individual and the collective when a transformation of thinking/consciousness in the individual occurs. When this shift occurs, each of us is more able find and fulfil our purpose, access more of our gifts, live our lives with greater authenticity, skillfulness and balance and more powerfully respond to the ever increasing complexities in our world.
This will ensure we increase the success rate of transformation and change – in our personal lives, in our organisations and in our societies – beyond 15%.
The Levels of Thinking
Robert Kegan is an author and professor at Harvard Graduate School of Education and is at the forefront of this theory. The information below closely tracks his theory.
Growth in consciousness starts in infancy, continues through childhood and, for many, halts at mature adolescence. For others, consciousness growth continues. There are a number of factors common to all stages of development:
• There is seldom regression once a breakthrough is made
• Each stage also brings a new world-view
• Transformation in consciousness creates potential for change in both the inner and outer world
In 1982 Keegan argued that modern life, particularly within the contexts of the family and the work environment, places enormous stress on individuals. He argued that expectations of adult life, parenting, partnering, and working require Integral level of knowing and meaning making, and many adults have not attained that level.
He went on to suggest that the world we live in now requires an ever more complex way of knowing and meaning making, that of the Sacred – level 5, which very few people ever reach. He suggests that rather than demand that people think in a way that is impossible for them to do, helping people reach self-authorship, the necessary first step on the path to fifth-order meaning making, would be more realistic.
In a nutshell, the levels of thinking are a way to look at the “evolution of consciousness, the personal unfolding of ways of organising experience that are not simply replaced as we grow but subsumed into more complex systems of mind”, The Evolving Self.
Level 1: Egocentric
All humans enter this stage at birth. This is where I, as the egocentric being, relate to other people only to get my needs met and I don’t yet know how to make anyone else’s needs important to me. In egocentric, a person is not yet capable of noticing other peoples’ needs.
85% of humans transform out of egocentric at adolescence, that is, 15% of adults never grow consciousness past egocentric.
The way egocentricism can be observed in adults is in “my way or the highway” behaviour or victim/rebel roles. Transformation cannot occur at egocentric thinking: if there are no needs beyond mine, and the world exists to fulfil my needs, why would anything need to change?
Level 2: Socialised
The transformation in 85% of individuals at adolescence allows them to take up a role in larger society by defining themselves by how the rest of the world sees them. This is the key difference from egocentric thinking; at socialized thinking, the needs and views of others not merely enter consciousness, but loom large as the most powerful force.
This is where I, as a socialized being, identify myself with my role in society: “I am my role, I am defined by the outside in.” An individual equates themselves with what they are good at or how others accept them. Socialised beings may believe they are self-defining but that is only because they don’t yet have the consciousness to understand the extent to which they are following cultural and societal conditioning.
The limitation of socialized thinking is that an individual is not free to follow the call of their own soul.
This can be observed in adults as self-limiting behaviour, that is hearing the call of the soul but writing it off as impossible, ignoring it, or compromising it because of fear of what others and society may think.
50% of adults do not grow consciousness above socialized thinking.
Transformation is not possible at socialized thinking: If I am defined by what others think of me, I will be too constrained to imagine a different world, to think and act differently, to lead change.
Given 15% of adults stay at egocentric and 50% of adults stay at socialized
This means that 75% of adults – in government, in companies, in religious orders etc. are either socialized or egocentric and transformation is impossible.
Level 3: Independent
This is the first level of thinking at which transformation starts to be possible. This is where I, as an independent being, say: I will face the call of my soul and I know that it will mean disappointing others, risking failure and contradicting the norms of society which have until now made me feel worthwhile and valuable.
Only 25% of adults reach this level. It is sometimes isolating to be at independent: 75% of adults do not understand this thinking.
Independent thinking requires an individual to let go of how they have previously defined themselves, including beliefs about their worth being tied up with what they do.
On the upside Independent thinking provides freedom: as an independent thinker experiences the power, creativity and satisfaction of living from their own deep centre, they also value and encourage that in others. Others are equal in this level of thinking. This is where transformation occurs: when new, unrestricted thinking can occur and behaviour can follow.
Level 4: Integral
Once independent thinking has matured, and the individual has fully thrown off societal limitations, integral thinking allows engagement more deeply with that which society deems unmentionable and frightening in each of us.
As an integral being, I say: “I acknowledge that I am not whole and complete. I engage with the shadows, with the parts of me I have ignored. I have met the enemy and they are within me.”
An integral human being does not need to pretend completeness, but instead understands that limitations, frustrations and judgements in the outer world are all driven by not fully loving all those things in their inner world, this is paradoxically the embodiment of completeness.
An integral human being can move towards the unacknowledged aspects of themselves with compassion and curiosity. They can see others this way too and be in service to the universe by loving both the light and the dark in themselves, enabling and opening up the space to love for that in others too. This “servant leadership” brings out greatness, power and elevated consciousness in others, and therefore drives transformation.
1% of adults transform to integral thinking but 14% are in transition from independent to integral.
Level 5: Sacred
A small fraction of humans have fully embodied sacred consciousness. As a sacred human being, I no longer see myself as body and mind but instead I understand that I “I am not the body, nor the mind.”
A sacred being identifies with the soul, in communion with the divine and experiences the world as one. Sacred consciousness is the birthplace for universal compassion, for one knows “I and my brother, sister, the earth and all beings are one life.” Sacred human beings enact world service for universal good.
The beauty of having such individuals around is that we can take inspiration from them, utilising and learning from the greatness in their humanity and their achievements to inspire us in fulfilling our own dreams, aspirations and personal purpose.