Liminal Thinking by David Gray Book Summary and PDF

Liminal Thinking by Dave Gray [Book Summary & PDF]

Liminal Thinking by Dave Gray is a great book that challenges the way you think and the way you see the world. Gray emphasises that we all have a choice in how we see and navigate the world, and the first step to success is to engage in liminal thinking and allow ourselves to explore new opportunities.

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INTRODUCTION

Who is this summary for?

Liminal Thinking by Dave Gray is a great book that challenges the way you think and the way you see the world. Gray emphasises that we all have a choice in how we see and navigate the world, and the first step to success is to engage in liminal thinking and allow ourselves to explore new opportunities.

About the author

Dave Gray is an author and the founder of the visual thinking company XPLANE. His goal with XPLANE was to help people to make better, faster and more informed decisions. Gray believes that the large majority of people miscommunicate and misunderstand each other. He aims to help people improve themselves and their relationships with others.

In this summary

Gray’s book is separated into two parts. Firstly, we’ll discuss what Gray’s concept of Liminal thinking is. Then, we’ll move on to summarise the first part of the book: ‘how beliefs shape everything’ by discussing each of Gray’s 6 principles ranging from creating beliefs to tying beliefs to your identity. Next, we’ll move on to part two; ‘what to do about it’. In this part, we’ll cover the nine practices including emptying your cup, creating safe spaces, disrupting routines and evolving yourself.

BOOK SUMMARY

LIMINAL THINKING

Gray defines the concept of liminal thinking as “the art of creating change by understanding, shaping and reframing beliefs.” Consider a time in your life when you’ve had a significant mindset shift when you saw something one way for as long as you can remember, but suddenly, you can see the same thing but in a new light. He explains that when this occurs, you are embracing the opportunity to grow, change and learn.

Gray believes that you can encourage these ‘breakthroughs’ more regularly if you adopt a new way of thinking and being. He explains that the possibilities and opportunities are always there, just often invisible to you. There’s a lot going on that can distract you from these opportunities but it’s important to tune your mind to find them. The potential for growth is so valuable, it’s something you don’t want to ignore.

” Tuning your mind to liminal thinking will help you see opportunities that others will be unable to see or even imagine. It’s a kind of psychological agility that enables you to create change where others cannot.”

PART ONE: HOW BELIEFS SHAPE EVERYTHING

Principle 1: Beliefs are models

Gray stresses the importance of understanding the difference between reality and a belief. He explains that reality is fact, theirs no denying it’s existence, whether or not you believe in it. Whereas a belief is something you hold on an individual level, it’s in your own mind. Gray describes beliefs as a roadmap of the external reality. But the reality is fact, and beliefs can be wrong. That’s the important part to remember.

”Beliefs are not reality. They are not facts. They are constructions. You construct your beliefs, even though for most people this is an unconscious process. By beliefs, I mean everything you know.”

Part of the concept of liminal thinking is to understand that the obvious is not necessarily obvious. Gray explains that this is because any belief you hold is relative, and not entirely accurate. It’s impossible to know the entirety of reality. To practice liminal thinking, you need to understand that there are many things that may seem obvious to you, but these things are only obvious because of your past experiences and perspective. Not everyone will see the things that you see as obvious, as obvious to them. Liminal thinking involves learning how to acknowledge other people’s ‘obviouses’.

'Beliefs are not reality. They are not facts. They are constructions.'Click To Tweet

Principle 2. You create beliefs

”The obvious is not obvious. It is constructed. We work together, as individuals and in groups, to construct the obvious every day. We band together in “obvious clubs” that reinforce the same version of reality and defend competing versions of reality.”

Gray explains that out beliefs are not something that appears or just come to be. Instead, they are constructed over time. He explains that there are three things that construct the foundation of what he calls the pyramid of beliefs:

  1. Your experiences. You start experiencing life as soon as you are born and no two people have the same experiences. The reality you perceive to be is formed and limited by your experiences.
  2. What you pay attention to. Gray explains that we cannot pay attention to everything, therefore what you choose to focus on will limit you, you will not notice other things that are going on.
  3. Theories and judgements. Whatever you choose to focus on, you will be inclined to have theories about them and make your own judgements.

Gray explains that when you combine your experiences, attention, theories and, judgements, you create your own personal roadmap that you can use to navigate your life. This roadmap is something that we essentially cannot live without.

The Pyramid of Belief

”It’s important to realize that this Pyramid of Belief reduces reality from infinite complexity to a small set of theories, which form the foundations on which you construct our beliefs.”

Gray explains that we tend to sit at the top of our pyramid of belief, we look to the ‘ground’ or ‘reality’ and assume that it’s obvious. But Gray points out that the truth is, that it’s entirely constructed by us. There is no ‘obvious’.

In order to improve your liminal thinking, you need to increase your awareness of the process you undergo in constructing your beliefs. You also need to be aware that others beliefs are self-constructed too. As soon as you understand this, your liminal thinking capacity will be improving.

Principle 3. Beliefs and a shared world

Gray describes a belief as similar to a story you imagine, he explains that a belief has a cause-and-effect rule for action. He describes the belief recipe as follows:

If X, then Y. If you have a need, look for a solution.

A learning loop is something that aids our effectiveness. A cycle of needs, thoughts and actions are on a continuous loop providing continuous feedback. From this loop, our behaviours and beliefs are established.

  • Feeling a need is the beginning of the learning loop. This part of the loop is located at the bottom of the belief pyramid. Here you’ll experience things and focus on the things that will meet your needs.
  • The needs you feel are transformed through theories and judgements, the needs eventually become your beliefs.
  • Acting upon your beliefs will allow you to witness the results. You’ll then apply your own interpretation to your experience and continue the cycle.
  • Therefore, beliefs cause behaviour.
  • A learning loop can encourage both good and bad habits and behaviours.
  • Learning loops are the result of interactions and engagements between participants.

”We co-create shared worlds all the time. Your beliefs inform your actions, and your actions are interpreted by others, and those interpretations become the basis for their beliefs, which inform their actions.”

Principle 4. Blind spots and beliefs

Gray emphasises the fact that beliefs are a crucial part of our life, we wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for our beliefs. Beliefs shape our thinking, help us understand the world and encourage action. However, on the other side of the spectrum, Gray explains that beliefs can be limiting. Which is why liminal thinking is so critical as it allows you to acknowledge which beliefs are limiting you and encourages you to look for new opportunities and possibilities.

Principle 5. Beliefs defend themselves

Gray explains that we work together to establish a ‘belief bubble’. This bubble essentially ensures that our current beliefs are protected and ignores the existence of different beliefs. This becomes a shared map that we use on a daily basis. Gray believes that in some ways, these bubbles can be beneficial, allowing us to share beliefs and assumptions and co-exist. However, they have their drawbacks. If the bubble has existed for too long, it’s likely that reality has advanced and the bubble has failed to keep up.

The bubble encourages people to stay put and not to test new ideas. Within the bubble, all beliefs make total sense and there is no need to pursue any other ideas. You’re also likely to be protective of the bubble and protect all beliefs within it because as far as you are concerned, the bubble is absolute reality.

This is where liminal thinking is so important. Gray explains that testing and validating new ideas is a critical component of liminal thinking. And these tests can be done on ideas that seem completely crazy. But the willingness to explore new options is what liminal thinking is all about.

Principle 6. Beliefs and identity

Gray explains that your beliefs are completely tied to your identity. Many of your beliefs will be so deeply ingrained that they are a part of you, they provide your personal identity. Gray explains that there are shallower beliefs, ones that are superficial and on the surface. These are the beliefs that are easy to change. But the ones tied to your identity are the ones that are near impossible to change. If you really want to change these, you essentially need to change the way you view yourself.

”Your governing beliefs are part of the story webs that hold your relationships together. Governing beliefs form the foundation of your (version of) reality. They generate feelings of self-worth, group identity, and social stability. They give order and meaning to life. When you feel that your governing beliefs are threatened, it’s like you, yourself, are being threatened.”

In order to practice liminal thinking, Gray explains that you need to be courageous. There will be times where you feel that your beliefs have been threatened. It’s natural to feel like you need to defend your belief. But to think liminal, you need to face the fear, embrace the opportunity to be challenged and see what you discover.

PART TWO: WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT

Practice 1. Assume you are not objective

Gray introduces the Johari Window as a useful tool for liminal thinking. It was created by two psychologists aiming to better understand one’s self. Here’s how to use it:

  • Picture a building that has four rooms.
  • One room is open. This can be viewed as the ‘public you’. Everything in here is known by you, and others know it about you.
  • The second room is hidden. This can be viewed as the ‘private you’. It’s the things that people don’t know about you, but you know about yourself. The things you choose to conceal from others.
  • The third room is unknown. Also known as the ‘unknown you’. This room contains the things that other people don’t know about you, and the things that you don’t even know about yourself yet.
  • The final room is called the blind spot. This room contains the things that other people know about you and can identify, but things that you do not know or recognise about yourself.

Gray explains that the blind spot is where the issues occur. The blind spot usually contains all of your problems, it’s often easy to identify issues in someone else, but hardest to see them within yourself. The blind spot will usually contain all of your downfalls and the aspects of self that hold you back.

”If you are not willing to look at your own contributions and inputs to the situation as part of the problem, you won’t be able to see it clearly. Your understanding will be distorted and so will your beliefs.”

Practice 2. Empty your cup

When he refers to emptying your cup, Gray is meaning that you need to remove all of the theories, knowledge, assumptions, and preconceptions that you currently have. Rid yourself of them before you will be able to learn anything new. View it as starting with a blank slate. Gray explains that in Zen practice, they call this the beginner’s mind.

In order to take on the beginners mind, you need to be curious, open and eager. You need to be looking for opportunities to learn and develop yourself further.

”This opening up of your mind, this willingness to feel dumb, to be vulnerable, to, in effect, rewire your brain in times of change, is the essence of liminal thinking.”

Practice 3. Create safe spaces

Emotions are at the centre of our very being, as it’s important that our emotional needs are met. Gray explains that when they are, people feel valued, they work harder and achieve more. Someone who feels like they are in control will be able to contribute more and take initiative. Someone who is facing emotional fears will not be in a position to work hard and grow. And someone riddled with fear is more likely to hide away, protect the information that they currently contain and not let anything new in. This restricts growth, development, and happiness.

To engage in liminal thinking, Gray explains that you need to acknowledge the role that emotions play in the creation of your beliefs. Emotional needs are at the very centre of our beliefs that transform into habits and actions.

”The only way that you can really understand what people’s motivations are is to create a space that’s safe enough for them to come out of their self-sealing logic bubble, to cultivate curiosity and openness, and to give them a feeling of safety.”

Practice 4. Triangulate and validate

Gray believes that the reason we don’t see what else is out there is that our own heads are too jam-packed with the ‘obvious’. There’s no space to explore. This is why he emphasises the importance of gathering as many different theories and ideas as possible, the crazy ones and the ones that seem to contradict your obvious. Gather these theories, but don’t hold on to them too tightly, the key is to have them without being attached to them. When you can achieve this, you are in a better position to ask the right questions and seek validation, allowing you to uncover what is really going on around you, what the reality really is.

”The way to seek understanding is to empty your cup, step up and give people your full attention, suspend your beliefs and judgments, and listen carefully.”

It’s important to consider different perspectives and points of view when you consider any idea or situation. Even though something may contradict what you currently think, it doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Gray explains that when things don’t make total sense to you, the problem isn’t with the idea, it’s with you. You are missing something.

Practice 5. Questions and connections.

Gray’s fifth practice is all about asking questions and making connections with others. He explains that you should aim to inquire as much about people as possible. Aim to understand their hopes, dreams, fears, and frustrations. In doing this, you are uncovering the goals and needs of people in the system. The same system that you are in. Doing this will uncover opportunities that you may never have considered.

”By asking questions, you find liminal, in-between spaces that people may not have seen or considered. Then, by finding possible intersections between needs and solutions, and forming new connections, you can create new opportunities that were already latent in the system, just waiting to be discovered.”

Practice 6. Disrupting your routine

Humans are routined creatures, we thrive off doing the same thing day in, day out. Gray believes that we spend too much time in ‘autopilot’ mode. He describes a situation where you are facing a difficult problem, something that seems unfixable. He believes that solutions often lie in the disruption of routine. If you start to do things differently, you’ll be freed to view the problem in a new light, you’ll likely realise the way to solve the problem or see that instead of a problem, it’s actually an opportunity.

”Whenever you find yourself stuck in any kind of recurring pattern, try something random. Anything you can do that throws that train off the rails will create new openings and might help you see the whole situation in a new way. Just do something different.”

Practice 7. Double loop learning.

The seventh practice is all about acting as if in there here and the now, also known as double loop learning. Gray describes the process as challenging your current beliefs, testing out new beliefs and getting yourself out of a rut. He encourages you to test beliefs that you think are one, you might be surprised at the results.

”In the case of double-loop learning, you don’t have to believe a hypothesis in order to test it. All you have to do is act as if it were true and see what happens. Change is only possible in the here-and-now, and the way to create change is by acting in the here-and-now as if a different world existed. For example, act as if the world you want to create is already here.”

Gray explains that double-loop learning is a fundamental part of testing new ideas, particularly those that you would usually ignore as they aren’t within your current bubble. He emphasises that you don’t need to believe that something is true before you test it, you can have almost no faith in an idea and still test its validations.

Practice 8. Make sense with stories

Gray emphasises the benefits of stories for helping you make sense of the world and the people within it. Someone sharing a story is actually giving you a bit of an insight into their life experiences and their beliefs, particularly their beliefs about the specific experience. Not only are you gaining important insight, but you are developing a relationship with someone, building rapport and moving towards being able to collaborate together.

It’s also an important aspect of relationship management. People like to be heard, feel understood and feel important. When you ask to hear a story from someone and give them your full attention, they immediately feel as if they are someone that matters to you.

”If you have beliefs that you want to share, beliefs that you think may change the world for the better, the way to help those beliefs take flight is to share them as stories. Listen to the stories someone tells, notice the stories they respond to most positively, and you will begin to understand their beliefs—and their bubble.”

Practice 9. Evolving

The final practice is all about evolving yourself and embracing change. Gray explains that it is very common to be afraid of change, to feel like it’s constantly attacking us. We feel as if we don’t have control over change and that scares us.

However, Gray emphasises the importance of embracing change in order to open yourself up to fresh opportunities. If you don’t invite change into your life you’re leaving yourself no room to grow or develop.

” Liminal thinking is a way of navigating change by opening the door to ambiguity and uncertainty, recognising that there can be no real creation without some destruction, a kind of urban renewal program for the mind.”

CONCLUSION

Key takeaways

  • Liminal thinking is “the art of creating change by understanding, shaping and reframing beliefs.”
  • Beliefs shape everything.
  • Beliefs are not reality, they are something you hold in your mind on an individual level. They are not fact.
  • To practice liminal thinking, you need to understand that there are many things that may seem obvious to you, but these things are only obvious because of your past experiences and perspective.
  • Experiences, attention, theories, and judgements all contribute to creating your beliefs.
  • A learning loop is something that aids our effectiveness, a cycle of needs, thoughts and actions is on a continuous loop providing continuous feedback. From this loop our behaviours and beliefs are established.
  • Beliefs can be limiting. Which is why liminal thinking is so critical as it allows you to acknowledge which beliefs are limiting you and encourages you to look for new opportunities and possibilities.
  • We work together to establish a ‘belief bubble’. This bubble essentially ensures that our current beliefs are protected and ignores the existence of different beliefs.
  • Testing and validating new ideas is a critical component of liminal thinking.
  • In order to take on the beginners mind, you need to be curious, open and eager. You need to be looking for opportunities to learn and develop yourself further.
  • Emotional needs are at the very centre of our beliefs that transform into habits and actions.
  • It’s important to consider different perspectives and points of view when you consider any idea or situation.
  • Aim to understand the hopes, dreams, fears and frustrations of other people. Doing this will uncover opportunities that you may never have considered.
  • Solutions often lie in the disruption of routine. If you start to do things differently, you’ll be freed to view a problem in a new light.
  • If you don’t invite change into your life you’re leaving yourself no room to grow or develop.

Further reading

If you enjoyed this book then definitely check out Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. This is a great read for anyone who is interested in psychology and processes of thought. Kahneman analyses two modes of thought; “System 1” is fast, instinctive and emotional; “System 2” is slower, more deliberative, and more logical. It examines emotional thought versus more logical thought and will literally change the way you think.

Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill examines the psychological power of thought and the brain in the process of furthering your career for both monetary and personal satisfaction. Originally published in 1937, this is one of the all-time self-help classics and a must read for investors and entrepreneurial types.

Mindset by Carol Dweck is a psychological examination of two different mindsets; the fixed mindset and the growth mindset. She discusses how these come into play and how they effect our lives. Deck's book goes into detail about how mindsets can be applied to all areas of life from schooling, work, relationships and parenting. At the end of each chapter, Dweck has leading questions and tips on how you can grow your own mindset. A must-read for anyone looking to expand themselves, grow and learn.

Guidelines is my eBook that summarises the main lessons from 33 of the best-selling self-help books in one place. It is the ultimate book summary; Available as a 80-page ebook and 115-minute audio book. Guidelines lists 31 rules (or guidelines) that you should follow to improve your productivity, become a better leader, do better in business, improve your health, succeed in life and become a happier person.

Action steps

  • Aim to understand that what may seem obvious to you, may not be to others.
  • Remember that your own beliefs are made up of your past experiences.
  • Be critical of your own beliefs and acknowledge which ones are limiting you.
  • Learn to test ideas, even if they seem crazy to you or contradict everything you think you already know.
  • Always consider other peoples points of view and perspectives when approaching a new idea.
  • Learn not to be afraid of change, embrace the opportunity for new discoveries.
  • Download the complete book on Amazon.

This summary is not intended as a replacement for the original book and all quotes are credited to the above mentioned author and publisher.

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