Twelve Ways to Think Differently

Dave has another interesting piece on how to think differently. He first tells us why is that we need to think differently:

We live in an age of specialization, where we are encouraged to narrow our interests and our activities, to focus and limit ourselves to doing things at which we are very competent. So parts of our brain get a lot of exercise and other parts very little. What’s worse, this can actually narrow our comfort zone, the range of things we enjoy doing or thinking about and are competent in. Many of our cultural activities and artefacts: political debates, win/lose competitions, hierarchies, laws, religions, ‘best practices’, systematization, uniforms, and monolithic architecture and design — all tend to reinforce ‘one right answer’ thinking that discourages and ultimately excludes and prevents us from thinking differently. Even the mental exercises we do as we get older are designed to stem the loss of analytical skills and memory rather than broadening our thinking or our thinking ability. We live in a world of stultifying sameness and uniformity: physically, ideologically, intellectually. There is little motivation, little day-to-day need, to exercise the parts and processes of our brain that rarely get a workout.

Then he suggests 12 ways to think differently. Some of them are enablers i.e. those that set the stage for thinking and some of them are actually techniques. Here they go, in my own words: (this is technique no. 6 🙂 ).

  1. Meditate deeply: Meditation is basically to improve our attention skills. Because if we improve our attention skills, we can concentrate better on things, which further enables us to sense more and hence persuading us to think in different perspectives.
  2. Reconnect with your senses: Dave says that most of our learning is perceptual and not conceptual. So, increasing our awareness will increase our perceptual information and hence allows us to think, learn better.
  3. Reconnect with your intuition: Trust intuition. At times it provides different perspectives than what we see or what we are taught to see.
  4. Analogies and metaphors: As on Lakoff puts it: We cannot just think anything, just what our brain permits. Analogies and metaphors is a technique to get around of this inherent limitation of the human mind. If we are stuck with one way of looking at a thing, then analogies and metaphors help us to re-see it from different perspectives.
  5. Conversations and interviews: Listen to a lot of conversations and interviews. Because we get to listen and see different perspectives on things. That is why it is said that listening is important. And it is also said that Wisdom is the reward of a lifetime of listening. Because while you are listening, you not only get a stream of information from the other person, but you are also getting a meta-stream that tells you about how the other person looks at the world and how the other persn thinks. Apart from conversations and interviews, reading also provides a lot of listening work.
  6. Synthesis, distillation and restatement: If not helping in providing different perspectives, this technique atleast forces one to think deeply on a given subject. Infact this technique works the other way round. While all other techniques are allowing us to see other person’s perspectives or different perspectives, this one allows one to see their own perspective more clearly. 🙂
  7. Reading fiction: Hmm..I have been recently convinced that I need to read fiction. Dave says that it is not about the protagonist(the main character in the fiction) that makes a work interesting, it is about the narrator.
  8. Learning a new language: By forcing us to learn a new language, by forcing us to think about new ways of forming words, sentences and ways of interpreting them etc, it stretches our minds.
  9. Learning something outside your comfort zone: Whatever your mind shows resistance to, just go ahead and do it. It will actually liberate our minds from some of our (pre/mis)conceptions about things we had earlier.
  10. Do impulsive and serendipitous things: Don’t plan for things, just go ahead and do things with whatever comes to the mind instantly. This will also expand our minds.
  11. Collaboration: The effect of this technique is somewhat similar to the conversations and interviews technique.
  12. Getting things done: This is kind of a both enabler as well as a technique. This is enabler in the sense that it liberates the mind of the nitty-gritty details of our day to day life and lets us concentrate on the subject at hand. It is a technique because, some of the techniques in getting things done will actually make us think in creative ways about managing stuff and completing whatever is left.

Apart from this, there are some other techniques mentioned in the comments that I liked (in no particular order):

  • Learn a sport well enough
  • Learn a new musical instrument well enough to play whatever music you want.
  • Deliberately hang out with someone who is outside of your zone.

Somebody in the comments section said that these are all old techniques, what is the big deal? Like somebody else put it, when we get stressed, we forget the fundamentals.

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