I recently thought Do we actually practice our thinking? In any field of activity, if one wants to get better in that activity, one has to practice. That is the case in sport, academics or any other field in which one wants to develop in which one wants to develop oneself in. In all activities, practice makes a difference in one’s ability to undertake an activity, so one would expect that actively practicing thinking would make us better at it.
It is said that our thinking is often on automatic pilot. We have to ask to what extent we ‘practicing’ thinking versus thinking on ‘automatic pilot’.
Now there are times when we are quite willing to be on ‘automatic pilot’ because we are being entertained, playing or watching games. In this era we have far more entertainment and games on screens than was ever imagined, which gives us an excuse not to engage in thinking. Sometimes we need to just relax, switch off and chill. But what are we doing with our mind the rest of the time when we are not being entertained or involved with games while watching screens?
The question we can ask ourselves is: “Are we spending some of our time thinking in a way that is interesting, that shows discipline and is creative?” Consider that creativity may need disciplined application. Creativity also requires a willingness to go in new directions; it is a process of trial and error in considering new ways of doing things and also initiating new thinking in the area under consideration.
There was a programme on the life of American pop artist Roy Lichtenstein on TV recently. He experimented for many years developing his creative style, before he received acclaim as an artist at the age of 38. He had been copying the styles of other artists, but to be successful he had to think how to be an original artist in the way he expressed his creation on canvas, rather than copy the style of other artists.
Many people suffer from boredom. But if you are bored it’s time to think in a creative way, rather than just think recycled old thoughts or switch-off and think nothing. People often get stuck in a closed loop of thinking. It takes some application to think in a way that initiates something new by thinking in a way that is original and different. It is thinking that allows something to emerge that one had not thought of before.
We can consider whether there is inertia in our thinking, or mental lethargy in the way we think and to what degree we are engaged in secondhand thinking. Second-hand thinking is just regurgitating old, unoriginal ideas without any analysis or comprehension .
Thinking original thoughts doesn’t just magically happen. It takes application contemplation and consideration. So, we have to devote some time to thinking, to contemplate and consider something that is new. That is taking what we already know and then thinking into the unknown.
Thinking doesn’t come out of a vacuum; it develops on what has previously been thought and written down. Then in thinking about what had been thought before with an open mind, we add a new perspective, insight and understanding. We can take our thoughts and then initiate a new direction and build and develop on what we already know.
We may find that an approach we use for thinking may work well for a period of time and then circumstances change. Then we have to re-imagine, rethink and rediscover a new way of thinking and doing. That then propels us forward and gets us out of the mental lethargy and the spiritual inertia of second-hand thinking. One is then breaking out of an enclosed loop of thinking and finding a new way to go forward.
It is also important not to think in an isolated way but rather to find ways of engaging and motivating the world around us, so that there can be collective momentum. This is one of the hardest things to do. How do we motivate ourselves and others to keep moving forward while society is locked down and static? Forward propulsion doesn’t happen automatically. There is no magic way that things happen; we have to engage at all levels with other people so that there is interest and buy-in.
The process includes dealing with problems, issues and ideas as they arise, open conversation, using collaborative consideration and then finding creative solutions while developing trust.
There are many people who don’t want to think at all and are content to just follow instructions and perform tasks in a mechanical way. But there is more enjoyment in being innovative, in finding new ways of thinking and expressing. Initiating change is not easy, but it improves your life when you do so and when you engage in a creative process together.