May I be Excused, My Brain is Full
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Why Is Thinking So Hard?
What makes the job of the thinker such a difficult one? And why does it seem to have gotten harder lately?
The answer to the first question is simple—ego. Ego is responsible for most of the difficulties we encounter. No one likes to be wrong—or at least we don’t want to be seen aiding the losing side (it’s widely believed that in the presidential election of 1980, many voters in the western part of the country stayed home after television reports of Ronald Reagan’s East Coast victory and Jimmy Carter’s early concession speech).
Ego works hard to avoid any sort of failure—even when no one is looking. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
We always have the choice to view new opportunities from two different perspectives. The first view is, “I don’t want to look bad.” This restricts our options and limits the likelihood that we will take chances. Especially in the workplace, this attitude can be fatal to employers and employees alike. What is lost when our workforce adopts this view? And we must ask, how are we rewarding people. Do we subsidize timidity and adherence to the status quo? We know from neuroscience research that failure, when followed up with successive attempts to achieve a goal, actually alters our brains in a positive way. Many of us have experienced our greatest learning as a result of failure.
The first step is being willing to admit there may be something we don’t know. As science fiction author, Robert Heinlein stated, “The hardest part about gaining any new idea is sweeping out the false idea occupying that niche. As long as that niche is occupied, evidence and proof and logical demonstration get nowhere. But once the niche is emptied of the wrong idea that has been filling it—once you can honestly say, ‘I don’t know,’ then it becomes possible to get at the truth.”
The second perspective is to say, “I want to be the best I can be.” We often say this of course, but not in a meaningful way. If we mean it, we’ll take chances, we’ll move forward even when there’s the possibility of being wrong or being seen as out-of-step with others. In short, we’ll make our own path. Without this willingness, our thinking process becomes sclerotic. Again, we have to ask, what type of approach are we rewarding.
As to why thinking nowadays seems to be harder, the modern age has allowed us to surround ourselves with opportunities to reinforce habits that interfere with clear and critical thinking. For example, when a news article has four sentences in a paragraph, three of them (sentences 1,2 and 4) may be statements of fact and the fourth (sentence 3) is an opinion. The way they are presented causes the reader to understand them as four factual statements. When we were limited to professionally written and edited news sources this was much less common. Now we have a nearly unlimited number of resources, but in many cases, they have not been vetted much less edited to be free of such mistakes. The line between fact and opinion has never been more blurred.
We’re also constantly bombarded with news and information. Not so long ago we might have read a newspaper in the morning and watched the television news in the evening, allowing ourselves most of the day or night to process the information. No longer.
The reality of the modern era is that we have more data but often less understanding.
The solution then is to stop–stop taking in more information than you can process. Disconnect for a while and sit and think, with no distractions—even if it’s only for 30 minutes a week. No interruptions, no phones, no kidding. We have to have time to process. An excellent option is to take five minutes at the beginning of each day and just consider what the day has in store. Perhaps take a moment to be grateful for the opportunity to take a moment.
Go ahead, try it. At least think about it.