Opportunities, prospects, broad horizons! Motivational speakers claim that all this is literally following us around, chasing us at every step. Just reach out—and life will change for the better. Then why do we fail to notice these hidden reserves so often? Are we able to go beyond our beliefs and look at others (easy to do), the situation (more difficult), and ourselves (quite difficult) from the outside? How can we develop flexible thinking to learn how to extend the boundaries of visible scope of opportunities?

What is liminal or “borderline” thinking?

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The word “liminal” (Latin “limen”—”threshold”) means “to be on the borderline” of two parts, two entities, while not being part of either the first or the second. Liminal thinking is always based on opportunities, and there is a threshold before them that must be overcome. Most people are fixed on other things because of their life circumstances and tend to ignore the opportunities around them. And it is liminal thinking that helps you see potential for growth where others will only notice obstacles.

Liminal thinking—the art of creating change by recognizing, reshaping, and rethinking beliefs

To understand what we are talking about, it is worth looking at pre-established borderline roles—there are plenty of them in our lives. For example, a coach of a junior football team who is both part of it and not. Or a personal psychologist who gets into your mind, but is not someone close to you. They have one thing in common: their borderline role is directly related to liminal thinking. In other words, with opportunities for growth and development.

Principles of liminal thinking

Principle 1. Beliefs—models of reality

One blind person will touch the side of an elephant and say that the elephant is like a wall; another will touch the head and imagine a teapot, but none of the characteristics will be fully correct. Each of the blind men has limited information and can’t see the whole picture, although perhaps if they talked to each other, they could make a more complete portrait of the elephant.

It is the same in real life: the beliefs we follow create a picture of the world for us, but this does not mean that it is absolutely correct. Liminal thinking is the ability to see a great many obvious facts and agree that their evidence depends on personal experience, worldview, and opinion.

Principle 2. We create our own beliefs

We all have our own belief pyramid, which grows slowly but surely throughout our lives. The pyramid is based on experience, which is formed through attention. Attention allows us to get carried away with one side of life, but not notice the other. When we unwittingly master only one part of objective reality, we form a hypothesis, then a judgment, and then a belief.

This is how we narrow reality down to a convenient scale, and there is nothing wrong with this: everyone needs a simplified format of objective reality, otherwise we will be surprised at any event.

Principle 3. We create the world based on our beliefs

Beliefs form a model of the world that we begin to adhere to. We act on the basis of beliefs when we find ourselves in a familiar or near-familiar environment: we “pull” a suitable behavior model from our set and use it. However, sometimes, for example, when we are collaborating, our beliefs collide with others, often provoking conflict, and we need to learn to live with this.

Our beliefs and those of others are the modelling clay, from which we shape a shared world, correct it depending on the situation, requests and the desired result.

Principle 4. Beliefs create “blind spots”

Beliefs help us structure and organize our lives, but they also have a negative side—invisible zones that are created when we are afraid to go beyond the usual.

Blind spots are artificial barriers that make our lives safer, but they also make us miss opportunities for a better and more interesting life.

Principle 5. Beliefs protect themselves

We unwittingly and unconsciously protect what we believe in, even if some doubts creep in. Sometimes this idea works for an entire group of people (hello, collective consciousness!), so beliefs are supported and strengthened. Like-minded people give confidence.

Liminal thinking allows you to be open to new, even absurd and crazy information, because there is always a chance that this is exactly what you need.

Principle 6. Beliefs are related to the individual

There are guiding beliefs and superficial beliefs. The former are directly related to self-esteem and sense of self-importance, and rooted somewhere deep in the foundation of the individual. They determine how we will build relationships with the world and people around us. Put your guiding belief in question, and you will radically change your personality. A superficial belief is more flexible and does not significantly affect the person as a whole.

If you are facing a fundamental problem, then the deeper you dig inside yourself, the more promising and large-scale changes you may expect.

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Methods of liminal thinking development

1

Admit that sometimes you are biased

Sometimes the problem you want to solve doesn’t revolve around you, sometimes you are part of the problem, so be honest with yourself and others. You need to see not only the shortcomings of the system you live in, but also your own faults, because you are also part of the system.
2

Get rid of old beliefs

Some of our beliefs, even if they seem convenient, are hindering development, and if you feel this, find the courage to “empty the cup” so that you can fill it with something new. Stop for a second, look inside yourself and think about what you could work with.
3

Create a comfortable and safe territory

People live in their “soap bubbles” of beliefs, and in order to fix the situation, it is necessary to create a safe environment. Think about what you might have done wrong, where you might have reacted differently. Don’t forget that other people have their own emotions and personal experiences. Otherwise, you may continue to defend the beliefs you want to say goodbye to.
4

Look at the situation from different angles

The more points of view you have on the problem, the better. This is the only way to assess the situation objectively, which means that you can work on your development more productively. Sometimes even contradictory beliefs can co-exist.
5

Ask questions more often

And again: the more opinions, the better. If you find out what other people feel, what makes them happy or sad, you can make connections and learn more about the system. Communicating with others opens doors that we might not have thought about before.
6

Disable the autopilot

Throughout our lives, we form behaviors, reactions, and stereotypes that we use in various situations, but sometimes familiar patterns don’t work. This may anger, offend, put you in a stupor, but you should not be afraid of such situations. Learn to reject patterns and open up to new things.
7

Live “here and now”

Sometimes it is useful to act differently than you are used to when reacting to a specific situation that is happening in front of you. Put yourself in an unusual position, do not act as usual, and you will probably discover a lot of new things.
8

Tell stories and listen to them

Naked and dry facts can be interpreted in different ways, so don’t be afraid to share stories from your life when it’s appropriate. At the same time ask others to do the same. This creates emotional connections and helps you understand objective reality.
9

Be prepared for changes

If you don’t want to change, you won’t cross any threshold, so open up to what’s waiting for you, even if it’s frightening. No matter how sophisticated the situation and system you are in, learn to navigate between different beliefs and objectively assess the reality around you.

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