Most of us believe we’ve learned how to think by going to school and learning about the world. But most schooling teaches you only one way of thinking: figuring out the right answer. Once you’ve done that, many believe that there’s no need to reflect on the ideas you have or the beliefs you maintain.
But here’s the problem with this approach. In real life, we have to deal with challenges that don’t have one right answer, problems that have no clear solutions, ambiguities that muddle our brain, behavior (our own as well as others) that perplexes us.
I find it fascinating that enlightening yourself about healthy ways to maintain your body is part of our culture. Every magazine trumpets the latest discoveries about how to be more physically fit.
But enhancing your thinking skills? Enriching your mind management skills? Not many articles about that.
We’ve all heard the phrase, “it’s not so much what you say but how you say it that matters.” This axiom helps us become more aware of our language and its effect on others.
But have you ever heard the axiom, “It’s not what you think but how you think it?” Probably not. And yet how you think has a huge effect on how you are in the world.
So, let me offer you a few quick tips on good thinking that can help you meet new challenges without undue anxiety.
- Differentiate thinking from obsessing.Thinking includes reasoning, reflecting, pondering, judging, analyzing and evaluating an idea or decision. It’s using your mind in a creative, effective manner. Thinking tends to be productive, goal-oriented, action-oriented. Obsessing, in contrast, is having your mind excessively focused on a single emotion or event. It hinders your ability to relax, let go or decide. This is not merely an unproductive process, it’s counterproductive.
If you find yourself obsessing, take a deep breath and see if you can make one small decision about your dilemma. It doesn’t have to resolve the whole problem, just take you to the next step. For example, if you are obsessing about whether to leave your job, you might simply decide to contact a headhunter to get her assessment of what the job market in your field might be.
- Free yourself from the outcome.In previous generations, most people assumed that they couldn’t control the outcome of many of life’s events. Events occurred, you didn’t make them happen. Children “arrived,” they weren’t planned. You “fell in love” or entered an arranged marriage, you didn’t search for the perfect mate. You “found a job,” you didn’t agonize over the ideal career. Nowadays, however, because we really do have more control over our lives, we feel anguished when we can’t control everything.
If you can free yourself from expecting that the outcome must always be in your favor, you’ll make better decisions. Do you want to ask someone out on a date but keep focusing on how you might be rejected? Do you wish to move to a different part of the country but fear that things won’t work out as expected? Reflect on your choice. Research your move. Plan your actions. Do what you can do to maximize your success. But don’t paralyze yourself from taking action because you can’t guarantee success.
- Cultivate a relaxed mind.It’s easy to say, “Just relax,” but for many that’s a really tough thing to do. If you can attain a relaxed state of mind, however, it will help you to avoid obsessive thought patterns. You’ll be able to think more clearly and deal more thoughtfully with choices and decisions. A few tips on how to do this:
Listen to music that soothes your soul. Take a warm bath. Sit by a fireplace; let yourself be hypnotized by the flames. Enjoy something silly. Use your imagination. Create a place in your mind where you can go to feel safe, warm, cozy and comfy. Imagine staying there until your mind is quiet, your body relaxed. A relaxed body is a good home for a relaxed mind.