Being an independent thinker is taking control of your thoughts, feeling free and stimulated. It is owning your thinking.
“Responsibility to yourself means refusing to let others do your thinking, talking, and naming for you; it means learning to respect and use your own brains and instincts; hence, grappling with hard work.” – Adrienne Rich.
Our brain is wired to create short cuts and simplify things for survival, but it isn’t necessarily a reason for us to stop trying to think differently and alter our patterns of behaviour. Recent studies and insights into neuroplasticity indicate we can change this hard wiring over time.
The issue for individuals is that comfort and repeatability can stifle innovation, creativity and critical thinking. This does not lead to being an independent thinker.
I’ve written often on this blog about critical thinking, here are some great articles to help you understand and apply critical thinking (and ultimately leads to being an independent thinker too):
Being an independent thinker is being an innovator and regularly thinking outside the box, but is not necessarily just about coming up with one great idea and selling the idea. It is also about those incremental things we can change or do differently on a daily basis that have longer term impacts.
It is also about consciously not putting up with the same old way of doing things; it is about looking at what you do from many different perspectives; and it’s about breaking the old habits. That is being an independent thinker.
Why is being an independent thinker so important?
If you don’t think for yourself, others just might try and do it for you! There are plenty of people out there who will happily tell you what to think, who want to direct and control you, and make decisions for you. Just examine your social media newsfeeds.
If you’re not thinking for yourself, being an independent thinker, then you might also not be speaking for yourself – so others might step in and speak for you or interpret you in a way you didn’t intend.
And if you’re neither thinking for yourself nor sharing your unique thinking then you’re probably not contributing the value you could, living up to your potential nor are you likely to feel fully satisfied or engaged or like you are being the fullest possible expression of yourself. And when you don’t have a voice, others can assume you don’t matter.
It’s important to be an independent thinker because as Nancy Kline says, “the quality of everything we do depends on the quality of the thinking we do firstly”. If you’re regurgitating or complying with others’ thoughts that’s not quality thinking. Ineffective thinking leads to ineffective or even disastrous decisions and actions in our personal and working lives; how many times have you looked at the news stories and wondered, “What were they thinking?!”
“Human diversity makes tolerance more than a virtue; it makes it a requirement for survival.” – Rene Dubos.
Being an independent thinker isn’t always easy because it can involve taking risks, such as being unpopular, going against the majority, or being viewed as different or uncooperative. It can feel selfish. Here are a couple of great articles to help you with that….
And in some cases, people avoid thinking, or they just keep quiet because they’ve developed a kind of learned helplessness – becoming so used to being told what to think or do that they no longer know how to do it for themselves. Here are some ways to help you think differently and become more of an independent thinker.
Vary your routine:
Don’t always take the same route to the same place all the time. Take a different route to work every now and then, or alternate driving, riding your bike or walking to the supermarket. Even have a go at public transport on a regular basis. You will be amazed at the different view of people and the world. By making that simple change you will see and hear so much more. Apply this to varying aspects of your routine – routine is good, so do not abandon the routine, just shake up some of the component parts of the routine on occasion.
Drop the technology every now and then:
Having an occasional digital detox is healthy in a number of ways. Grab a pencil and paper and draw a picture of what you are trying to achieve, make a collage and cut out some pictures that represent your goals or build a model. Using the brain in creative ways can trigger different ideas and emotions and force you to think of doing things differently. Engage in some past-times that require you to be creative rather than spoonfed – think about creative writing or painting instead of watching films or TV shows from time to time, for example.
Take a macro view:
Step outside of your zone and see it from a thousand-foot view. We can be so entrenched in in the details sometimes that the big picture is lost. Look at the success and progress of what you are doing from other’s point of view. Alter your perceptual position – look at your life from the perspective of a neutral observer, or as a bird in the sky, and consider stepping into another’s shoes, adopt their physical and mental perspective and shift out of your own perspective for a while.
Take some advice:
Ask someone who knows nothing about the right way to do ‘your thing’ how they would go about it or what is wrong or right with what you are doing. Sometimes the people looking from the outside have a clearer and simpler picture of how things could be. They’re not restrained by the past or wed to your current thinking patterns.
Listen to those voices within:
All of us underestimate the power of our intuitive mind and often ignore these feelings of doubt or questioning. I do not think we should trust them implicitly, but do hear them out and reflect upon them well.
It’s sometimes easier to just go along with the crowd if you are not sure. Ask lots of questions like what are the alternatives, why was this method chosen, what else is out there and keep asking until you are satisfied. Questioning is a great way to synthesise ideas and foster broader thinking in others too. Be neutral, objective and reflect upon your own thoughts and feelings. Consider having a brainstorm with yourself.
Hit the pavement and think about things for a while:
Walking is a great change from your normal routine. Walking gives you another perspective looking at different surroundings, buildings, trees, clouds or anything that will conjure up alternative ideas or methods. You can also achieve this through other pursuits like running, jogging or swimming which create a great place to be immersed in your own mind and solve the problems of the world. Have some quiet time, some solitude and watch what your mind comes up with when it has no competition.
Regularly do something new:
Step out of your comfort zone, here are some instructions on how to do that effectively:
a) Important Reasons to Step Out Of Your Comfort Zone.
b) 7 Steps To Leave Your Comfort Zone.
c) Self-Hypnosis To Step Out Of Your Comfort Zone.
Changing one small thing or varying your methods is a great way to test and challenge the status quo. If the change works then great, if not, then you have made an equally monumental discovery. This is ideal for you to help create an innovative mindset by discussing new methods with others and analysing their impacts. Over time it becomes the norm.
By consciously aiming to think a little differently you too can start to make a difference, start to be noticed, become a better contributor and avoid your own personal ground hog day. Enjoy the stimulus that come from independent thinking and enjoy being in charge of your own thoughts.
Have some of themes here resonated with you? Then have a read of these pages:
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