Five Ways to Break Free From Entrenched Ways of Thinking

  • 14 March 2018
  • Randy Wollf

Fish jumping out of a bowlIt’s easy for us to get stuck in ruts when it comes to our thought patterns. One of the best ways to break out of those ruts is to expose ourselves to divergent ideas, even ideas that appear radical or may seem impossible. When we reflect meaningfully on new ideas, they can create dissonance in our lives. We begin to realize that perhaps our current ways of thinking are inadequate, and we need to deepen or expand them. This growth process can be painful, but the reward is a greater openness to new possibilities and an increased capacity to seize related opportunities.

Here are some practical ways that we can break free from entrenched ways of thinking:

Read, Listen and Watch Widely

Today, we have instant access to a wealth of information. I can read a blog, download an e-book, listen to a podcast, and watch a YouTube video in a very short amount of time. Of course, not everything on the internet is helpful. We must be discerning about the information we digest. We also need to take the necessary time to reflect meaningfully on the ideas that seem important. How might these ideas help me grow in my relationship with God? How can they help me serve Him more effectively? How might they help me address a current challenge or opportunity? How might they position me to better live out God’s calling on my life? Deep application of important ideas takes time and intentional effort (here's a past blog on how to read with discernment).  

Engage in Training

Last month, I had the privilege of attending a Renovated Parenting Conference put on by MinistryLift. I came away with many ideas—some were new while others were excellent reminders. After each teaching session, we had an opportunity to work through questions in table groups. It was a great way of extending and personalizing the content. Taking time out of our busy schedule to attend a training event can help us think in better ways about what is important to us.

Mine the Knowledge and Skills in Others

Everyone is an expert in something. As we chat with people, we have a tremendous opportunity to learn from them. What are they passionate about? Where have we seen them excel? I recently did a workshop on raising global kids. As a part of my research for the presentation, I asked a friend what she and her husband did to raise up global kids. I knew they had done an amazing job in this area and I wanted to learn from them. Every interaction is an opportunity to learn from others.

Interact with People Who Ask Good Questions

There’s nothing like a thought-provoking question to propel us toward new ways of thinking. We need to hang out with people who ask stimulating questions. These questions should not be leading questions that push us in prescribed directions. A good question should simply expand or deepen our thinking. Interacting with people who ask good questions can happen spontaneously or we can find a coach or mentor with whom we meet regularly (see more on coaching/mentoring skills).

Debrief and Learn from Life Experiences

In a previous blog, I emphasized the importance of being trained by life’s challenges. A key part of this training process is to take time to reflect on what has happened in our lives. What is God trying to teach me? What could I have done differently? How might I strengthen my approach next time? What is holding me back in this area? We can do this kind of debriefing as a solo exercise where we pray and listen to God’s perspective, journal, or just get away to a quiet place to think. We may also benefit from debriefing with people we trust. The support, prayers, questions, and wise counsel of others can help us make sense of how we might best view past events, respond in current situations, and improve our responses in the future.

My father-in-law is a lifelong learner. Even at age 87, he is still reading books and magazines, asking good questions that help him go deeper in his understanding (and that often helps others grow in their understanding as well), and thinking deeply about how he might live and serve better. I want to follow his example.

Stephen Covey has said, “The key to success is dedication to lifelong learning.” This learning approach to life helps us to break free from entrenched ways of thinking and to embrace better ways that help us grow and serve God more effectively. 


Randy Wollf is the Director of MinistryLift and Associate Professor of Practical Theology and Leadership Studies at MB Seminary.

>> If you're looking for ways to help your team break free from entrenched thinking, check out MinistryLift's resources on Leading Change. You'll find an introductory video, blog resources, and training options.