Self-Awareness: Independent Thinking

As children and as adults, we strive to retain our freedom and be independent, while the forces around us seek to bring about conformity and dependence. Here’s how we can train our minds to think independently. Independent thinkers are the ones who bring about changes in society. Let us examine the concept and learn strategies to be part of the small but growing group of this elite club.

What is Independent Thinking?

“Not depending on the authority of others” and “not dependent on others for forming an opinion.” In other words, making up your own mind. Does it mean forming an opinion without input from others? We all need relevant information and data on which to base our opinions. It’s the way that we seek information and how we apply it that makes us dependent or independent thinkers.

If we reject what our parents, teachers or others have taught us simply because they say something is right, does that make us independent thinkers? Making up your own mind is an action, not a reaction.

Independent thinking means making sense of the world based on your own observations and experiences rather than just depending on the word of others. It means trusting your own ability to make judgments, even if they contradict what others say. It means acting according to these judgments, even if you sometimes make mistakes.

Sometimes you make mistakes; sometimes it’s difficult to know if your beliefs are your own or borrowed. Independent thinking is not easy.

Critical thinking is a tool that you as an independent thinker can use. It can help you decide whether your old beliefs are sensible. It can help you examine new ideas or help you solve problems in reasonable ways.

Classical example of Independent Thinking:

A classroom full of 10-year-old students is asked to solve a problem with children crossing the street on the way to school. The children come up with ideas that have been used successfully in other places: traffic calming devices, overpasses, fluorescent jackets and speed limits. All these ideas are conventional; exactly what the teacher wants to hear, except for one. A student recommends that the school board sell the property and move the classroom online. This is not what the teacher was expecting.

This idea may not be practical, popular, or even possible, but when it’s ridiculed by the class it might be the last independent thought that the student dares to express.

Independent thinking is required to achieve any substantial jump in performance.

Logically, when we think like everyone else is thinking, the best we can expect is to achieve what they are already achieving. If our aim is to over-achieve, we need to become independent from conventional wisdom. After all “Winners don’t do different things, they do things differently”!

Consider small children. Conventional wisdom says that shoes are for wearing and bananas are for eating. Independent thinking allows children try eating the shoes and wearing the bananas on their feet. Their lack of conventional wisdom and utter disregard for how others view their decisions allows children to experiment without anxiety. In this case they may be wrong, but in other cases they can be shockingly right.

Using these 5 strategies you can develop your independent thinking ability.

1. Disconnect from sources of conventional thinking:

Instead of plugging into your TV, PC, or library for answers, think for yourself first. Without cutting yourself off from the world, you can increase your capacity for independent thought by limiting the conventional opinion you absorb. Independent thinkers arenot necessarily contrarian, but they donot agree with the status quo by default. They devise new criteria to perceive the world rather than seeing everything through the screen of their computer.

2. Immerse yourself in experiences that conflict with your current perspective:

Instead of substituting a new conventional thought for the old one, deliberately seek out experiences that challenge your views. These experiences may exist in foreign cultures, unusual subcultures, or between the pages of a book you disagree with. The point is not to adopt a new train of thought, but to disrupt the conventional.

3. Watch the process from a distance:

Leaving your normal life behind can give you the freedom to see issues from another perspective. Watching the world instead of eating it up gives you the peace of mind to think for yourself. Standing still from time to time gives you the opportunity to ridicule your own beliefs and explore new angles.

4. Randomize your sensory inputs:

Instead of visiting the same places, eating the same foods, and talking to the same people, you can actively pursue new experiences. Many people cling to the familiar to simplify decisions and create a sense of security. If you truly want to think independently, you need to get outside your comfort zone.

5. Practice disbelief:

Without becoming a cynic, you can develop the habit of instinctively distrusting thoughts that rely on conventional wisdom. Instead of assuming that these “truths” are self evident, suspend judgment until you have confirmed that there is reality behind the logic.

If all of this sounds too difficult, consider what can be gained from independent thought. Even microscopic steps towards thinking independently will increase your contribution to the world. You will see opportunities and solutions that others overlook. You will obtain a competitive advantage over less creative thinkers. Most importantly, your thoughts will be your own and not just recycled media.

Practice these strategies and watch how your mind expands to produce great ideas. Society needs more and more independent thinkers who are seen as torch bearers of development and change. Join the tribe.

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