Do you want to improve your ability to think clearly, creatively, and efficiently in 2024?
Here are simple principles to practice:
1. Consider New Menus to Make Better Choices
Which do you like more, McDonald's or Chick-fil-A?
Before responding, you most likely analyzed each of these fast-food restaurants based on your personal preferences and cravings, compared them, and then picked the one with the highest value for you. This is the type of question you could be asked if you took part in a research on value-based decision-making.
The science of how we assess and choose among well-defined alternatives has made significant progress, and most of the study on this topic suggests that we make decisions throughout our day as if picking between options on a menu.
And yet, in reality, most of our daily decisions aren't so straightforward; they're, in fact, quite open-ended. For instance, when we decide how to react to an insult, we aren't given a piece of paper with two polished comebacks to choose from, like choosing A or B. Oftentimes, such as when deciding how to spend a weekend evening, we first need to mentally come up with a variety of options. This process is vitally important for decision-making.
So going back to the question in the beginning, considering we don't have such lists on hand in real life, we might find ourselves eating at McDonald's more frequently just because it's the first thing that pops into our minds.
This indicates that our immediate thoughts can heavily influence our choices—leading us to possibly settle for a less satisfying option just because a better alternative didn't occur to us at the time.
Where Good & Common Meet
Researchers investigating what types of possibilities do tend to come into our heads have discovered that they are a mix of what is common and what is good. Participants in a 2020 research were asked to submit the first figure that came to mind in answer to several generic prompts, like "percent of students who cheat on high school exams" or "number of hours of TV for a person to watch in a day". A different group was given the same prompts but was asked for the ideal number, while another group was asked for what they thought the average number was.
Consistently, the researchers found, when asked the more open-ended questions, the participants' initial thoughts were a combination of those ideal and average numbers.
It makes sense that the most common things spring to mind readily, but this discovery that valuable things, or what is ideal, also come to mind easily is a fresh insight. It hints that we might devote more effort to remembering positive things so that we can seek them out again in the future. It also suggests that we're likely to choose things or experiences we already enjoy, which could explain why many people struggle to embrace new things.
And so, if we continuously rely solely on what springs to mind instantly without taking a moment to contemplate other options, we might miss some excellent opportunities.
While our memories (or things we routinely like) are efficient, they are also limited; by exploring or creating new alternatives before making decisions, we might find greater satisfaction.
Contact JarvisHypnotherapy to help you build good mental hygiene so that you are more satisfied with the results of your thought processes.
2. Think Backward to Make Better Plans
Ever tried your hand at the 21 game? Beginning at 0, two players alternately add 1, 2, or 3 to the total. The game is over when the sum of the added numbers hits or exceeds 21, and the player compelled to make the last move loses.
It seems complex, right? But what if I told you there's a way to win in just one move? Let's say the first player starts by adding 3 to the initial value of 0. Now it's your turn. If you play your cards right, you could set yourself on a path of ideal choices, eventually leading the other player to hit 21. The answer lies in a strategic decision-making technique called backward induction. This method starts you off by thinking about the problem's end result first, then works its way back in time to establish the best strategy for the beginning.
Consider again that you are attempting to decide on a move in response to your opponent's initial decision of 3. Instead of only focusing on the immediate situation, backward induction would involve visualizing the game's end first. Both players aim to avoid reaching 21. This can be accomplished by being the player who reaches 20 first, since the subsequent player's move would inevitably push them to 21.
Utilizing backward induction isn't simple. It calls for analytical thinking and perspective-taking—the capacity to envision your situation at a future point in time. Psychologists have explored this skill using finely crafted games and puzzles to study people's analytical thinking abilities. According to their research, individuals with training and experts in analytical thinking, such as competitive chess players, often use backward induction.
However, most ordinary individuals either aren't aware of this strategy or lack the motivation or ability to carry out more than one or two steps of backward reasoning. Therefore, a compelling argument exists for advocating or teaching backward induction more broadly.
Real Life Backward Induction
Backward induction can be used in a variety of decision-making scenarios where the outcome is contingent on a series of interrelated choices. In the sitcom Friends, Rachel's 30th birthday inspired her to reflect upon her future, especially how she could achieve her goal of becoming a mother to three children.
Rachel calculates that she must have her first baby by the age of 35, which means she must become pregnant by the age of 34. She'd have to marry at 33 --if she considers marriage a condition for having children and wants to be married at least one year before getting pregnant. Assuming 1.5 years to get to know the person before her engagement and 1.5 years to organize a wedding, she decides that the time to meet her future partner is now, at the age of 30. Within hours, she breaks up with her boyfriend Tag, who is six years her junior and unprepared for such a commitment.
Naturally, life's unpredictable nature can quickly make the most meticulous plans irrelevant. As Friends fans would recall, Rachel's desire for a child materialized far sooner than she planned, albeit unexpectedly. Still, it wouldn’t have happened if she hadn't decided to end her relationship with Tag.
3. Think More Flexibly for Better Overload Management
Assume you're putting together a dinner party. You've spent all day preparing, and you're thrilled for your five best friends to arrive, eager to catch up on each other's life. The table is ready, candles are lit, and champagne is about to be popped. Then, you receive a text: two friends can't make it.
How do you react to the disappointment? Your response might have implications for your mental well-being.
Do you try to look at the situation more positively by concentrating on the friends who can still attend? If this is the case, you're doing cognitive reappraisal, or reframing things in a more positive light. On the other hand, do you disregard or repress your feelings of disappointment or sadness? This is called emotional repression. Or do you keep going over all the various reasons why two of your dearest friends couldn't make it to your party? This is called ruminating.
Cognitive reappraisal, emotional suppression, and rumination are just some forms of emotion regulation techniques which individuals use to control their feelings. Studies indicate that certain emotion-regulation techniques may contribute more positively to your mental health and overall well-being than others. For instance, cognitive reappraisal appears to enhance well-being and foster better mental health outcomes, whereas emotional suppression and rumination tend to have the opposite effect.
Adapting your use of emotion regulation strategies to optimally suit the specific situation you're dealing with is referred to as emotion regulation flexibility.
Following this concept, a group of researchers has introduced the concept of a "thinking threshold." This term represents the juncture beyond which we lose the capacity to think clearly due to severe negative emotions that impair our cognitive functions. Such emotions could include feelings of being hopeless, overwhelmed, drained, panicky, or generally experiencing uncontrollable sadness.
When you're down, and your thoughts spiral beyond your thinking threshold—let's say because two of your closest friends can't attend your dinner party—it might be beneficial to resort to body-oriented emotion regulation strategies like breathing relaxation techniques and mindfulness meditation. As an alternative, engaging in activities or hobbies that lift your mood—known as behavioral activation strategies, like exercise—could provide some relief until you're able to think more clearly about regulating your negative emotions.
Identifying your personal thinking threshold might be challenging and could involve some trial and error. However, once you can determine when you've hit this point and have regulation strategies in place, your thoughts can become your ally, empowering you instead of immobilizing you.
4. Think of Opposites to Increase Creativity
Creativity is defined as the creation of what is new and beneficial. The freshness is unprecedented, and the value may include utility, accuracy, or innovation. Creativity is at the heart of the most significant and far-reaching achievements in the domains of art, literature, science, music, commerce, and other disciplines. The Janusian process, named after the multi-faced Roman deity Janus, who always looks in diametrically opposing directions, is a critical creative technique. It entails intentionally imagining two or more opposing or conflicting ideas, thoughts, or imagery at the same time, a conception that leads to the formation of new identities.
Although these conceptualizations seem absurd and self-contradictory, artists develop them in lucid states of mind in order to achieve creative results. Hickey, the main character in Eugene O'Neill's play ‘The Iceman Cometh’, is motivated by his desire for his wife to be both unfaithful and faithful equally.
The Janusian process is characterized by the simultaneous existence of opposites or antitheses. Creators consider strongly held claims about natural laws, the functioning of individuals and communities, or the aesthetic characteristics of visual and auditory patterns to be both true and false. Alternatively, both opposing and antithetical ideas are considered to be concurrently functioning: a spinning particle is both too fast and too slow; a chemical is both boiling and freezing; and compassion and enmity coexist. Previously held views or laws are still deemed valid, while opposing beliefs and laws are also considered equally valid or operative.
These formulas serve as stepping stones to innovative results. They interact and combine with other affective and cognitive developments to create new and valued outcomes.
The concept that the contradiction or opposite of a well-founded reality, fact, or theory may be valid at the same time might appear unbelievable or astounding. Previously held systems of beliefs are so ripped apart and fractured, if not completely demolished. This disturbance leads to a creative outcome: the creation of something both novel and useful.
Applying Opposites in Real Life
The Janusian process is divided into four basic stages: 1. the desire to create; 2. a departure or divergence from conventional, recognized beliefs or practices; 3. simultaneous contradiction or contrast; and 4. the development of a new discovery, theory, practice, or artwork.
Do consider two or more opposites to be true, or mechanically, theoretically, or artistically functional at the same time—for example, dealing with an opponent in the geopolitical sphere with loving dislike, or aiding and vying with a competitor in the economic world at the same time.
5. Practice Critical Ignoring to Maintain Focus
To think critically, you must be able to find information sources, read attentively, assess the trustworthiness of those sources, and draw your own conclusions. Before the internet age, the most significant cognitive ability that knowledgeable people could have was critical thinking.
While critical thinking is certainly crucial in the digital era, Anastasia Kozyreva, a psychologist at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, and her colleagues assert that "critical ignoring" is an even more important ability today. With so much information available, they argue, we need to be able to separate the wheat from the chaff, determining what deserves our attention and what doesn't.
If we clicked on every astonishing thing on the screen today, we would not only lose a lot of precious time, but we would also potentially pick up a lot of misleading information.
We need new methods to interact with knowledge to defend ourselves. For Kozyreva and her colleagues, this implies critical ignoring, a talent that complements critical thinking by consciously controlling our surroundings to avoid exposure to low-quality information.
According to the research team, critical ignoring involves three strategies:
- Self-nudge. We must try to minimize distracting stimuli from our environment in order to avoid low-quality information and have more quality time for ourselves. You'll have a greater chance of success if you set up your digital environment by hiding away attention-grabbing stuff or establishing time limitations for your surfing than relying on "willpower" alone.
- Read Laterally. To improve your understanding of the credibility of material, open a new tab next to it to learn more about the source. Many websites have an agenda that makes them more interested in influencing rather than informing. Their headlines may mislead or even contradict the truth. A review of the original source ought to uncover them.
- Don't feed the trolls. We are all aware that malicious parties on the internet spread misleading information and harmful rumors. It might be tempting to react to them in order to clear things up. Trolls, on the other hand, are not concerned about that. They are just interested in triggering your emotions, so instead of rewarding them with your attention, ignore them.
We have access to more information than ever before. However, much of that information has little to no value. Worse, a significant portion of information will just drive our thinking the wrong direction. In his Principles of Psychology, William James remarked more than a century ago, "The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook." This point is especially relevant in the digital era, when understanding what to overlook may be the most important component of critical thinking.
Also, check out related topic: MENTALLIGENCE: A NEW PSYCHOLOGY OF THINKING.
If you need professional help in harnessing your work performance, developing critical thinking, or improving overall wellness, contact JarvisHypnotherapy today.