Manager – CBE (Centre for Behavioral Excellence), Talent Transformation,
Thinking About Thinking
We think all the time. Everything we do or feel is influenced by our thoughts. Thousands of thoughts per day constantly create and alter our state of mind. Yet, we rarely examine our thinking.We take it for granted, and reflect on our thoughts only if required, or forced to do so. Unexamined thoughts can be of good or poor quality, and create outcomes accordingly. Our mind is neutral and the thinking process is natural – what we focus on makes our thinking positive or negative. However, not examining ‘what’ the mind is thinking, leaves it open to the possibility of influence of negative thoughts.
Thoughts like ‘I can’t do it’, ‘they don’t like me’, subconsciously manifest themselves into behavior. An individual paying more attention to these thoughts gives them more power creating negative energy within. In some cases, ‘they don’t like me’ then becomes a reason to avoid social interactions. What is worse is when one is not even aware that they are behaving this way due to their own thoughts. This is where thinking about ‘how we think’ becomes important. It gives us an opportunity to notice different patterns and make necessary adjustments in our thought process. Maximizing the quality of thinking in this way opens doors of opportunities, success and happiness.
The quality or nature of thoughts is determined by how useful and helpful they are. The positive power in these thoughts can be harnessed by habitual observation of what transpires in the mind. Observing what we think requires a deliberate effort to study our thinking and figure out how our mind processes information. Before we look at ways to observe thinking, here are some more reasons to do it:
Drawbacks of not examining thinking:
- Thinking from a single point of view and missing diverse, contradictory points
- Failing to notice inaccurate or irrelevant information
- Jumping to conclusions
- Making faulty or distorted inferences and acting upon them
- Thinking irrationally that leads to inappropriate problem solving
There are more reasons that are based on biased and confused thinking, all pointing towards a need to improve the quality of thinking by analyzing it.
Analyzing thoughts does not come easily to us because we may not be habitually doing it. We also may not have developed standards consciously to determine whether we are thinking poorly or not. Another reason could be that we find it discomforting and difficult. Whatever may be the reason, identifying it and making a conscious effort to improve it gives a payoff of a better quality of life.
Since you can’t really ‘see’ them, how exactly do you identify your thoughts? These ways can help:
Ways to observe and analyze thoughts:
- Sense your mood:
If you are feeling low or disappointed, noting the answers to these questions can help – ‘Why am I feeling disappointed? What am I thinking? Why?’ Some prominent thoughts could be ‘I should have got the promotion, I deserve better’, then it would help to analyze why you think so.
Let the experience echo in your mind as you look for key triggers and reminders left behind. If you are left only with questions, it is a sign that you have ‘reflected’ and have new insights. Make a note of points you want to think about in more depth, or want to discuss with someone else.
- Analyze thoughts:
How much of your thinking was confused, positive, negative, illogical or vague? Analyzing your thoughts in this way can help you take an objective way of your quality of thinking and set a path to detect irrational thinking. Also ask yourself if you are in control of your thinking, and look for a way to test it. Contemplation, planning, emotion management and changing a particular behavior could be signs that you have analyzed your thoughts.
Observing and analyzing your thoughts in this way can help to take the next steps towards improving the quality of thinking as listed below:
Ways to practice skillful thinking:
- Simplify and be clear:
Ask yourself the ‘real’ meaning of your thoughts. When you find a thought ‘I am not sure this is going to work’, look for what lies beneath the surface as evidence for this. Also check which peripheral thoughts are adding to your conclusion – a past experience, or information about upcoming challenge? Simplifying a complicated mess of thoughts by stating one point at a time and elaboration would bring distinct clarity.
- Maintain focus:
Fragmented and disjointed thoughts leap and bound, can be disconnected with the core issue and can deviate your focus. When you are solving a problem or exploring an issue, focus on every thought and ask yourself ‘how is this thought relevant?’ Another way to stay focused is to check if your thinking is giving you more information of the solution or taking you away from it.
- Stay rational and reasonable:
Logical and coherent thinking is a sign of skillful thinking aimed at problem solving. Jumping to conclusions, assuming, generalizing or allowing yourself to get into a downward spiral can soon become dysfunctional. Find extreme and negative thoughts. Question yourself about their authenticity and replace them with helpful ones. Irrational thinking is the basis of anxiety and insecure behavior. Catching your irrational thoughts early can cultivate a good thinking habit.
- Be curious:
Curiosity is powerful because it helps to notice more, adding more relevant information to your thought process. Genuine active interest creates openness to new experiences and prevents your thoughts from remaining stuck on one. This enables seeing things differently opening up many opportunities of solutions.
- Practice mindfulness:
Mindfulness is a moment-to-moment awareness that can create calmness and concentration on thoughts. Such a state of mind is more resourceful and wholesome, enabling deep thinking and positive affect. It decreases distraction and allows flexibility in thoughts.
Sound and skillful thinking is a way of applying the best thinking you can in any situation. It begins by making the most of your thinking ability, by analyzing it consistently and improving its quality.
As said by Albert Einstein, “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”