Can you direct and control your thinking? And do you know when it is necessary to direct your thinking?
Many of us have never learned, at least not deliberately, to direct our thinking. And we may not reflect upon our thinking. We think as we perform other bodily functions, automatically, unconsciously, without attention.
However, the thinking process could be made far more efficient and productive if one knows how to direct the thinking. Thinking need planning, as other activities do.
But, when thinking, what should you pay attention to?
Are there any issues that need careful thinking? What is the thinking agenda for the next month? Is the list complete and are the issues really important enough to spend expensive thinking time on it?
What is the thinking situation, what are its characteristics? Is it about making a choice, comparing alternatives, designing an alternative approach, preparing an opinion about an issue, or what?
Once the thinking situation is defined, what should be the purpose of the thinking? What is the focus, problem, or challenge? Is it narrow or broad? Could a redefinition of the focus be useful? What outcome is required? A design, an alternative, an evaluation, the resolution of a conflict?
Then, what could be the thinking plan? What to think about first and how to proceed?
Are there any thinking tools or models, which can facilitate our thinking in any stage?
Someone who directs his thinking process knows at every moment what he or she is trying to reach with his or her thinking. To help us stay on track, we can make observations and comments about the thinking process and summarizing in-between results.
Defining outcomes after each step and deciding about the next step is also essential to direct the thinking.
Reaching a result can be an euphoric moment, or one of disappointing. However, it is important to state the thinking result formally, especially if you are thinking on your own.
Thinking is not non-committal. Thinking should lead to action. So, planning actions is part of the thinking itself.
Thinking about thinking is a skill many of us is not familiar with. Knowledge about cognitive processes is often assumed to be late developing, since it requires that we can step back and consider our own cognitive processes. Conscious awareness and control are rarely attributed to a young child. Young children can monitor and regulate their own activities but they cannot necessarily describe what they are doing. It could be that thinking about thinking is a higher order cognitive skill, not to be developed before the brains have become mature.
Self-directing the thinking is not simple to do. It is something like the Baron von Munshausen who allegedly pulled himself and the horse on which he was sitting out of a swamp by his own hair.
Photo: “Aurora Borealis ” by nixxphotography