Auto-Think Will Never Keep You Safe
I do. You do. Bright people do and even the less bright do.
No groups or individuals hold exclusive rights to thinking.
We all entertain ideas, consider possibilities, and we do this constantly.
The only people who don’t process thoughts are either comatose or dead.
But those observations raise many questions. If we’re all thinking, why don’t we all come to the same conclusion? Why don’t we all arrive at the correct answer? Why do we readily, with eyes wide open make bad decisions?
The Brain Is A Tool
Simply put, the brain is a tool. A very important tool. We couldn’t live without it and it does many things automatically. The brain controls breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, digestion, and more without our involvement even when we sleep.
The brain also has a manual setting. We can engage it deliberately to make it work for us. Like items in a toolbox, we can pick the brain up and apply it to specific problems as they arise.
When we do that it’s called thinking.
The problem is, though universal and necessary, thinking doesn’t always lead to solutions.
We employ the brain to help us solve problems but nothing’s guaranteed. Use your brain the wrong way or incorrectly or haphazardly and you’re likely to get into trouble.
Can you imagine using a drill as a hammer or a shovel as a screwdriver? We don’t typically use rakes to paint walls?
By the same token, a brain should never be left on autopilot and should never be used as a sponge.
Thinking Is A Skill
Like any other tool, not only must we choose to use our brains, we must also LEARN how to do that.
Using it properly is a learned skill and even then there are no guarantees. Mentally astute people have been known to take wrong turns.
We shouldn’t think that strange. Many well-experienced master carpenters have accidentally nailed a finger – pun intended. Once we’ve learned how to use a tool, we still need to maintain caution.
Thinking Takes On Patterns
Everyone can think but thinking patterns develop differently for every person. Thoughts run in grooves and one person’s grooves may run counter to another. Mental outlooks vary:
- Half empty vs half full,
- I don’t know how vs I can learn this,
- It’s too radical vs change is inevitable,
- It can’t be done vs let’s make it happen.
Offer the same question to a diverse group of people, give them time to think about it, and they will likely come back with a variety of answers none of which may be correct. Why? Because people think differently.
And it’s easy to think wrongly.
Thinking Is Limited By Resistance To Change
The world is changing and we must align our thinking to move with it but our default setting is to resist change.
Once we become comfortable in our life situation, we assume all will remain good indefinitely. Not so.
Assume is the keyword here. It is the synonym for mental shortcuts. Nothing circumvents the thinking process more effectively than assumptions.
The temptation to act on these shortcuts is hard to resist but the outcomes are rarely what we expected and the penalties are unforgiving.
A great number of international brands have either failed completely or lost ground because they accepted an old line of thinking over new ideas.
- IBM took a hit because they THOUGHT personal computing wasn’t worth their time.
- MySpace refused an offer to buy Facebook for 75 million not THINKING it was a threat.
- Blackberry morphed into a software-only company because they THOUGHT the querty keypad was special enough to survive touchscreen technology.
This happens almost weekly in sports. Highly ranked contestants are often bumped off by lesser ranked opponents because one believed the hype and the other didn’t.
The U. S. Open Tennis Championship is a case in point. It’s the last Major in the year and the one where champions go to fail.
Your thoughts do inform your actions. Where you’re looking is where you’re going and your thoughts map out your vision. It’s important to get it right.
Thinking And Nature Are Separate Issues
This isn’t about nature.
It is true that a person’s nature influences the thinking process but nature doesn’t change. Focusing on that is an exercise in futility.
- Impulsive people, who tend to make decisions too quickly, can learn to be more deliberate.
- Patient people, who tend to wait till the opportunity is no longer available, can learn to be more decisive.
They each can focus on how they think and learn to work around their nature in the process.
Thinking Is More Than A Single Thought
Thinking is a learned skill and it’s a process. A single thought, an idea, may seem good but it needs processing before you commit.
What you think – the ideas you accept, the beliefs you hold, the convictions you’re willing to die for – should be formed through a well-exercised thinking process.
Anyone can develop better thinking skills.
Following are three common approaches to thinking: Shallow, Emotional, and Critical. Only one is the right approach, Critical, and it’s a skill every person should develop.
Shallow thinkers are naive and trusting. They believe what they hear without question or debate.
There are many reasons people are afflicted with this perspective.
- Trusting what people say is easier than investigating the issues.
Thinking is work, especially when it is done properly. It becomes even more difficult when surrounded by loud voices driven by bigotry or bad intentions.
If your thought processes require you to prove someone wrong, you may be faced with a lot of pushback. It’s like litigation. Two sides presenting opposing arguments and only one can be right.
- When we’re young, we are taught to trust age and position.
And everyone is older than we are. Teachers, neighbors, family friends, elected officials, authority figures, even older siblings. All of these people get a pass because of their age and where they sit on the power scale. We are shamed if we fail to show them respect which means we aren’t allowed to point out obvious flaws.
The principle behind this approach is Respect. Showing respect is important as long as it’s not overdone.
I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t be appropriately respectful. I’m saying that neither age nor position guarantees trustworthiness.
Instead of teaching our children to respect everyone else, we should teach them that everyone, including the child, deserves respect. That may protect them from abuse – a particularly malicious form of disrespect – when it arises.
And it’s definitely foundational to critical thinking.
- We are taught to parrot not ponder.
From our early years, we are graded in school and those grades follow us through life. Good grades are based on how well we learn the material. The way we demonstrate our learning is by reproducing the teacher’s thoughts on exams.
The teacher says “X” is the answer so we write “X” on the exam. That’s a great test of memory but it does little to develop or demonstrate critical thinking.
This may change in higher levels of education but not always. Some institutions of higher learning are nothing more than centers of indoctrination. They produce cardboard cutouts.
We talk about this a lot.
Emotional thinking is when we believe something because we want it to be true or we like the person who said it or it just feels so right.
This will get you into trouble in a hurry.
There are several reasons why emotions get in the way.
- We play favorites with ideas.
All the companies I mentioned above were guilty of this. They loved the way they were doing things, were enamored with their own ideas, and refused to seriously consider other options.
The only thing that makes an idea good is whether or not it works. Groupthink is only effective when everyone in the group understands the ultimate purpose and they refuse to serve outdated ideas because it’s what we’ve always done.
Once everyone is clear on the purpose it becomes less emotionally turbulent to discard ideas that don’t serve that purpose.
- We sometimes trust people just because they sound clever.
Clever people give smart-sounding answers but smart-sounding is not the synonym of correct. What experience teaches us is that clever and smart are two different things.
Clever people can easily use their intellectual dominance to manipulate others. Smart people realize that that approach has a boomerang effect. It will come back to bite you.
The rest of us less clever people must learn to hesitate before taking the bait.
- Affection is another factor encouraging trust.
We are inclined to believe people we find appealing. They draw us in and we automatically give them the benefit of the doubt.
People are appealing for all kinds of reasons.
- They have an aggreeable nature.
An agreeable nature is reassuring. The arguments may not be understood but they’re presented in a way that emotes a sense of security.
- A person may have an agreeable appearance: clean, neat, smiling, good posture and the default response is trust.
Many shysters have employed good grooming as a cover for ill intent.
- A person may be appealing only because they are physically attractive.
A person’s physique is not a mirror of the soul and is never a predictor of integrity but we are still inclined to trust people we find attractive.
Movie stars are good examples of this. Some stars don’t act, they just show up and we love it. They are the same in every program, just being who they are. No skill required.
They act the same, speak the same, and look the same in every production and we love them for it.
One tweet from one of these megastars and tens of thousands will follow their lead.
We only begin to THINK carefully about these people and the things they say when they reveal their fallibility and usually only when it affects us personally.
- Attaching moral issues to arguments can cloud the thinking.
Morality is a good thing but only if we see it in perspective.
No person, saved or not, will ever be perfectly moral. We are sinners and that won’t change in this life.
I can change my habits and lifestyle but I will never change me, my nature. I and every other person will always be a sinner. There’s no changing that fact and it’s a waste of time to try.
It only follows, then, that no nation – Christian or not – will ever be perfectly moral because it is populated by people all of whom are sinners.
So when it comes to the question of morality, we have to think in less than absolute terms. We should work toward being better rather than absolutely right.
At the risk of seeming to oversimplify, I’ll say upfront that critical thinking isn’t as complicated as it seems. The biggest problem isn’t knowing how to think critically but having the space to think without distraction or intrusion.
When a person isn’t encumbered with a lot of external noise, they usually think through issues well enough. Following are things to keep in mind.
- Everything involves critical analysis.
Critical thinking is really nothing more than an exercise in analyses and it should be the response to everything. Every piece of information. Every experience. Every idea. Every opinion should be analyzed.
This is the default setting. Humans are naturally inquisitive but curiosity can be blunted by boisterously loud and adamant voices getting in the way. If given enough time and space, we tend to analyze our surroundings.
Issac Newton – admittedly a little obsessive – discovered the law of gravity, not by reading articles on the internet but by analyzing the things that occurred around him.
His focus on gravity started when an apple fell on his head – so the story goes – and the outcome was his world-acclaimed writings which have influenced science and scientists ever since.
- Purpose vs Preference
Ideas can be slave masters. They come to us randomly in an instant and we embrace them. The longer we hold them the more increasingly attached we become until they are exposed to different perspectives. That’s when flaws appear or when others mercilessly point them out.
And, of course, we are offended by those who expose the flaws. We consider them dismissive and even disrespectful.
The solution is not to fight over ideas but to focus on the purpose. Where are we going? What are we trying to accomplish? How will this or another idea help us reach the goal?
If you don’t settle on the purpose first, chaos reigns. Remember that a good idea can be a bad idea if it isn’t the right idea for the purpose.
- Active vs Passive
Thinking is focusing and it should happen on an individual level first. If a person or group of people dominates the discussion with one set of ideas, what they are essentially doing is asking – maybe demanding – that you passively accept what they say.
That’s not a good plan. Instead, a good working relationship draws out different perspectives for discussion. Group-think lends value only if it is the outcome of many different individuals actively thinking through and speaking to the issue.
Listening or reading can be active or passive. Idly accepting what you hear is passive. Forming and expressing arguments while you listen/read is active.
- Analysis vs Acquescience
It isn’t enough to believe everything happens for a reason. We also must determine what the reason is.
We shouldn’t accept our experiences or the things people say at face value. We should dissect everything.
We have a better chance of repeating the good outcomes and avoiding the bad ones if we know the reason behind each.
Don’t acquiesce presuming your situation is irreversible and unavoidable. Analyze everything.
- Verify vs Trust
Trust is an important part of partnerships. Acting individually and working in unison require trust but trust starts and ends with veracity.
Is the person I’m working with honest – are they speaking the truth? Is the person I’m working with reliable – will they do what they say?
Trust is earned, don’t give it away. The person that balks at verification should not be trusted.
- Questioning vs Accepting
Questioning the things people say is not a sign of disrespect. Instead, asking questions is a way to clarify what’s being said and make sure everyone’s on the same page. It can also reveal gaps in another person’s thinking.
If a husband tells his wife he can’t love her any more than he does, she might ask, Which is it?
- You can’t love me any longer (a chronological issue)
- I’m not worth a greater degree of love (a valuation issue)
- Or you’re already loving me as much as any person can love another?
In such situations, clarity is a good thing.
Questions can be statements but they don’t have to be. If you’re worried your question may sound facetious, ask permission to ask.
Get out of the auto-think mode and develop critical thinking skills. You’ll have a better chance of staying safe.