“Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.”
—Martin Luther King, Jr.
I’ve been thinking about thinking lately.
In much of my writing and most of my trainings, I focus on the unconscious mind because so many people are unaware of its power and the effect it has on their lives and outcomes.
But it’s occurred to me lately that a lot of people have stopped accessing the power of their conscious minds. Rather than using their conscious minds to think, analyze, weigh choices and set goals for themselves, too many people have defaulted to absorbing and regurgitating the thoughts, prejudices, goals and conclusions of others.
It reminds me of the novel, Fahrenheit 451. Remember when the captain of the book-burning squad said, “The important thing for you to remember, Montag, is we're the Happiness Boys . . .We stand against the small tide of those who want to make everyone unhappy with conflicting theory and thought.”
I’m not saying that no one uses his or her brain any more. I am saying that much of Western society —which idolized the conscious analytical mind and rational thinkers for centuries—now prefers sound bites over analysis, entertainment over facts, and the loudest voice over the most thoughtful.
Here are some of the problems I see with that:
“When you control a man's thinking you do not have to worry about his actions.” —Carter Woodson
As I teach in my trainings, our actions spring directly from our conscious and unconscious thoughts and beliefs. When these thoughts and beliefs come from other people, in a sense those people are in control of our actions. Think of a child whose parents are certain that he is a loser. They offer up “proof” and “evidence.” Unless that child begins to think and question that so-called proof, odds are that his actions will conform to the thoughts his parents instilled.
The same dynamic happens with political leaders, financial experts, TV newscasters, or spiritual mentors. If we simply swallow what they say without questioning or analyzing, we become their robots, acting according to their conclusions and goals, not really our own.
“If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn't thinking.”— George S. Patton
The great inventors, entrepreneurs, artists, solution-finders and leaders of all sorts do not think like everyone else. They explore new territory. They try on thoughts that seem outrageous and impossible. Even when their line of thinking runs into a dead end, they discover something new along the way.
You may not aspire to be a trailblazer for humanity, but what about being a trailblazer in your own life? If you don’t allow yourself to think differently than the majority, odds are you’ll end in the life that majority has. If this is what you want, great! But if you crave a more expansive and fulfilling life, you need to start generating different thoughts to create a different outcome.
“A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.” — William James
To me, prejudices are moldy, stagnant thoughts that we picked up somewhere along the way, stuck in our pockets, and never really looked into. Conscious or unconscious, prejudices become the filters through which we experience life. At best, they narrow or even close our minds to other points of view. At worst, they make us feel constantly defensive, irritated or even angry.
Prejudices, like all limiting beliefs, can be tricky. They seem so true and valid. Through the filter in place, we see “proof” validating our prejudices everywhere we look. Prejudices seem to make life easy because we don’t have to stop and investigate or explore what’s in front of us. When we do start probing into our prejudices, it’s uncomfortable. But if we leave our prejudices locked in place, we limit ourselves, constrict our growth and limit our possibilities.
So how can we get ourselves into the habit of healthy conscious thinking again? I’d suggest giving yourself a thinking assignment for 10 minutes per day to exercise and stretch your conscious mind:
Ask questions of yourself and other people. Dig beyond the soundbites: “If this is true, what makes it true?” Dig into your own assumptions: “Why do I think that way? Is it helpful? Where did I get that assumption?”
Put yourself in someone else’s shoes: What would it be like to be the opposite sex in certain situations or thirty years older? Explore a topic you’ve never explored before, like aqua-farming or current treatments for schizophrenia. Observe an insect in your backyard or people arriving at the airport.
Think something outrageous.
Think about something you’ve never thought about before, like the origins of the universe or why stop signs are red or how knitting was invented. Think the opposite of what you normally think. If you typically think politicians are all crooked, think about all the ways they are beneficial to mankind.
Give yourself a break from input.
Try turning off the TV and all the other devices that stream input from outside sources. Sit for a few moments and pay attention to the thoughts that pop up. If they aren’t interesting or life-enhancing thoughts, try generating some new thoughts that are entertaining and uplifting.
Tapping your brilliant conscious mind might take some re-training in the beginning. If it feels strange at first, don’t worry. As Samuel Goldwyn said, “If I look confused it is because I am thinking!”
“The third-rate mind is only happy when it is thinking with the majority. The second-rate mind is only happy when it is thinking with the minority. The first-rate mind is only happy when it is thinking.” — A. A. Milne
To your TOTAL empowerment!
Dr. Matt———————————————————————————————————————Matthew B. James, MA, Ph.D., is President of The Empowerment Partnership, the world's leading integrative personal development company for over 30 years. Author of several books, Dr. Matt has trained thousands of students towards excellent health and personal empowerment using Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), Huna, and Mental Emotional Release® (MER®) therapy.
Keep connected on Facebook, visit his blog at www.DrMatt.com and see where our team is headed next at www.nlp.com