In my previous blog and social media entries I stated that “thinking” is a complex concept. My next few blog contributions will be focused on making the concept “thinkingfit” clear and palatable for readers. The purpose of this exercise is the ability to eventually apply quality thinking skills in every life area with expertise.
Being thinkingfit will elevate our performance, relieve stress and cultivate general well-being and serenity. “Think, think, think”, is the advice of Winnie the Pooh. I want to change his words to “think, think, think how to become thinkingfit!”
“thinkingfit” in essence means thinking about our thinking on a daily basis deliberately; it is about with the goal of improving and refining our skills. This is called metacognition. My journal comes in very handy in this respect, as I regularly write down thoughts and challenge them objectively for accuracy, validity and truth.
Thinking about the quality of our thinking in constructive ways, is of crucial importance as how we think forms the basis for every outcome of every endeavour we undertake. Not thinking about why we think in a specific way could result in unconstructive feelings and often less appropriate actions. Our ability to interact with ourselves, others and the environment is hereby compromised. Incorrect thought leads to incorrect action.
Most of us do not think about our thinking. We respond to the environment we function in by being largely driven and “led” by our emotions. At the root of feelings such as stress, anxiety, guilt, happiness etc. lies matching conscious or subconscious thoughts. Feeling anxious for instance leads to being stressed and we respond with panic accordingly. The underlying thoughts could be “I cannot cope”, “I am not good enough”, “It is all my fault”, “I will never be successful etc.”
We often feel and respond without necessarily stopping to think what lies at the root of our feelings. Every feeling we become aware of often has an ingrained conscious or subconscious thought as a baseline.
If we can stop and attempt to identify destructive thoughts, our subsequent feeling will change and we could subsequently feel less stressed and adjust our behaviour accordingly such as acting with more wisdom and control. More examples are:
- The underlying thoughts, which are expressed in silent self-talk can be identified by words like “what if…” in a negative way. It can be a consisted predicting a negative outcome like “What if I do not enough finances?”, “What if I am fired?” or “What if South Africa does not manage to sort out our economic and political difficulties?”.The potential list of “What ifs…” is endless and can result in excessive stress and negativity. It is often based on making negative future predictions and ruminating on them. A more appropriate response would be saying to ourselves “How might I address a specific fear today?” or What is in my power to make a constructive difference to my life today?”.
- Self –criticism. Many of us have consistently “nail” ourselves with phrases like “I am not good enough…”, “Nobody likes me” or “I am not clever or competent”. This is often based on how we were programmed as children to think about ourselves.
- Feeling like a victim. The thoughts underlying this are for instance “Poor me…” or “I am the victim of my circumstance and cannot rise above this. This is simply not true and could lead to feelings of laying blame on others, resentment and bitterness. Feeling like a victim abdicate us from taking charge of our circumstances with responsibility and the belief that we are the architects of ourselves.
- Perfectionism. This thinking error is driven by consistent phrases like “I should be better”, “My efforts are never good enough” and “Unless I perform a task with absolute perfection my efforts are useless.” The truth is that we are human and cannot perform each and every task with absolute perfection. This certainly does not mean we have to reject our efforts outright; it is about becoming more realistic and being gentler on ourselves.
Thinking skills can be acquired through applying the necessary effort to the process. This implies that we can “rewire” our brains and create new and more productive mental pathways such as “I am worthy and competent”. An important step is to choose competent teachers, coaches and mentors to assist us with this. We can literally open new worlds for ourselves like Columbus did when he discovered the Americas with a sometimes reluctant crew. Part 3 in this series of entries about thinking will make a clear distinction between thinking and intelligence. These 2 concepts are often confused.
(Something small can make a huge difference)