Part Two: You’re Doing It Wrong
Thinking, as explained in Part One, is that function of the mind in which present things suggest explanations or ideas. The nature of this suggestion will depend upon two main ingredients: (1) Past experience, and (2) Attention to what is going on.
There are times where you legitimately don’t have the know-how or experience to solve a problem. You are dumbfounded. Your best explanation results in describing how a monster who lives in your car must always be the culprit.
A man can’t be an expert on everything. So when he messes up on something that he really couldn’t have been held responsible for knowing, it isn’t that big of a deal.
If he keeps making that same mistake we will have a problem cap’m.
On the other hand, sometimes even experts make mistakes. Men and women with loads of experience.
These mistakes occur because the expert missed something. They thought they had a handle on the situation. One cue was missed, though, screwing up everything.
It could be that he didn’t get a good night’s sleep. Could be that he was worrying about a loved one. It could be that he was just distracted by something else. No matter the reason, he missed something and it cost him.
Solving Man’s Thinking Problem
So the plight of human thinking is solved? Just get some experience and drink a Red Bull before work and you should be fine, right?
Well, no. Those are the main reasons your snap judgments, your initial reactions, fail. But thinking is much more than just reaction to a stimulus. It is also reflection, that process of your mind in which you weigh options, turn things over, and examine evidence.
And here is where all sorts of disasters can happen.
(1) You’re not sure what you want accomplished.
Reflective thought allows you to guess, estimate, look into the future and determine outcomes. When a problem arises you use your ability to reflect to solve it.
There are many ways to solve a problem. If I want to go to the store I can drive, walk, run, or construct a catapult. Which of these do I want to do? Well, it depends upon what I want accomplished. If I am going for just a bar of soap then maybe I ought to walk or run, especially if I’m trying to be more active.
If I am loading up on groceries maybe driving would be best. An attack on the store would no doubt call for that catapult.
With various ways to solve problems it takes focus in order to solve those problems in a satisfactory way.
Let’s take a more serious example. You have a customer come with a complaint about one of your workers. The customer claims that the worker was disrespectful and they were unhappy with the product as a result, demanding a full refund.
There are different ways to solve this problem. You could just give the refund, berate the worker, and be on your merry way. You could refuse to give a refund but offer some other compensation for their trouble. You could refuse the refund and fire the employee on the spot.
The customer will eventually leave your place of business. What happens in between when they talk to you and leave is what matters. In order to make it matter you have to know what you are trying to accomplish.
Are you more interested in damage control? Or are you interested in persuading this customer to continue business with you? Or have you had problems with this customer/employee before and would like to rid yourself of this trouble?
Depending on your overall goal your response to the situation will be different. Therefore it is important to have an idea of what you would like accomplished.
(2) You aren’t seeing the underlying values.
The way we conduct ourselves has a lot to do with our values and how those values interact with the context.
I may value buying cheaper products, but usually it’s a good idea to tame that urge to buy cheap stuff when getting a special present for someone.
Another value, giving presents of true worth, conflicts with the value of cheapness and the context is the measure.
A mistake in thinking occurs when you worry about one value, but you are actually interested in another, one that is slipping under your radar.
To take an example, let’s say you are trying to get something done at work. The obvious value in play here is the completion of the task. However, a decision you make while getting the job done undermines a fellow employee and he is embarrassed to find others going behind his back. While you were genuinely not trying to undermine him, your failure to acknowledge his place disrespected him.
Taking some time to think about the most significant values involved will make sure your thinking is better directed.
(3) “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”
AKA, Your reflection is always going to be biased because you never take time to consider an opposing point of view.
Considering a point of view is more than just listening to the person, acting like you are paying attention when in actuality you are just thinking of what you are going to say next.
Genuinely considering a different point of view feels like punching yourself in the face. It hurts and it’s embarrassing. You begin to notice flaws in your original viewpoint and see just how much you failed to listen to people with good advice.
It’s extremely unsettling, but unsettling is a good word for it. You have to unsettle yourself if you are ever going to move forward and grow.
A mistake is made in thinking when you go over another viewpoint as if you are conversing with a little kid about how to make a budget.
Don’t be afraid to beat yourself to a pulp within the squared-circle of your mind. You will definitely notice something you weren’t before because you were too stubborn to realize it.
(4) You just don’t know enough about it.
No amount of thought training is going to work for you if you don’t realize this one thing: You have to have something to think about.
If you don’t know anything about the topic how do you expect to think about it in a meaningful way? You won’t be able to. Think of it this way: If you have never looked under the hood of your car how accurate would your explanation for its movement be?
“Well, I press my foot onto this pedal, which causes some noise, and this noise somehow causes my tires to turn. What else do I need to know?”
Lacking information makes your thinking lack in significance and accuracy. You may have an amazing imagination but it won’t be founded on solid ground. It will merely be a clever ruse, something that could be put in a science fiction novel.
You need accuracy in thought to deal with problems correctly. Without that necessary information even the most thought out schemes will fail hard when it comes to applying it to some problem in the world.
Tying It All Together
In a nutshell, thinking correctly is about awareness. Being able to notice the going-ons around you. If you lack this awareness you will miss out on opportunities to educate yourself.
It’s okay, though, that you’re doing all of this wrong. I do it sometimes, too. Your mind’s natural tendency is to protect itself and it does this by sticking to its guns; sticking to things it knows all about. When you throw a wrench into this system it literally makes you wrench. I will say this, though: That even though it hurts to jump out of your little safe box you will feel much better later if you are brave enough to see that there are plenty of things to learn about before you move on.
Whew! Well, are you seeing the errors of your ways yet? What’s this, you say? That all of that “Think outside the box” stuff is old and boring?
Well what if I were to tell you that when you think you’re thinking you’re really not? You’re just responding to a stimulus in the same way a dog responds to you setting food in his bowl? Let’s check it out.
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