Tips for Better Thinking

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Tips – June 2018
Tips for Better Thinking…and Better Balance

Much of today’s advice about stress management urges us to use more effective approaches to our thoughts – taking different perspectives, thinking differently, managing uncomfortable or destructive emotional reactions. May’s blog (read here) on the Thunderbird website featured two books that we found to be thought-provoking and inspirational “professional beach reads”. Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work (Heath, Chip; Heath, Dan), 2013, The Crown Publishing Group, Kindle Edition; and Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong about the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think (Rosling, Hans; Ronnlund, Anna Rosling; Rosling, Ola), 2018, Flatiron Books.

The main points of both books resulted in a list of 14 common thinking issues and approaches that can make our lives more effective and less stressful. Simply becoming aware of how pervasive these problems are in our own thinking can go a long way to recognizing them when they happen, and choosing a better response.

  • Narrow framing – seeing limited options – this or that. When we hear “do I want this or that . . .” think about how to combine this and that and/or what else can you do. Don’t succumb to a forced choice – open up the possibilities!
  • Confirmation bias – seeking out data that confirms our initial opinion or belief. Instead try to understand the others’ positions and arguments as well as those we hold dear.
  • Short-term emotion – limits our ability to have perspective. Use the 10-10-10 Rule instead. When faced with a decision, think about how you will feel in 10 minutes, 10 months and 10 years. Imagine a move across country, taking a job that puts you nearer to some family. 10 minutes? Wonderful, excited, new experiences. 10 months? Family only in the area less than a year, and you’d be facing a new job in a new city alone. 10 years? What would the long-term stress of a commuter relationship do to a happy marriage?
  • Over-confidence – trusting your own ability to predict the future. Remind yourself that so many things can happen in the meantime, and getting from point A to point B is rarely linear.
  • Gap instinct, the tendency to look only at the extreme range of things. Look instead for where the majority lies. Although we have instances of extreme poverty and wealth in our country, what is the median income and how has it changed over the last decade?
  • Negativity instinct. Learn to expect bad news so that it is not so surprising, AND learn to hold a positive view at the same time. “This situation is indeed terrible, and here is what we can do about it.”
  • Straight line instinct. Realize that patterns plotted on a graph can bend, and do not always end at the extreme. Don’t make assumptions about where the “final” results will be just because there is a trend.
  • Counteract the fear instinct by carefully calculating the real risks of a thing. Although you MAY encounter snakes while hiking in hot Arizona weather, encountering them is less likely if you stay on a trail, not all snakes are venomous, and even if it IS a rattlesnake, you are not likely to be bitten if you are observant. AND if you are bitten, fatalities are rare. Get out and enjoy nature!
  • Size instinct. Keep things in proportion. Dreading a difficult family member’s visit can be countered by remembering this is going to be for four days, and the last visit was three years ago. . . a very small amount of time.
  • Generalization instinct. Question your categories. All members of a political party, all 12 year olds, all (fill in the blank). The word ‘all’ has limited usefulness.
  • Destiny instinct. Remember that even though it might be slower than you want, slow change is STILL change.
  • Single perspective instinct. Invite others, even seemingly unrelated to the issue, into the discussion and avoid thinking that the solution to a problem will come from one direction only, or one type of intervention.
  • Blame instinct. Resist pointing the finger because it seriously detracts from the work that needs to be done to improve a situation. Understanding a cause is important, but blaming, especially blaming people, gets us caught up in a loop that is emotionally draining, frustrating and irritating at the very least.
  • Urgency instinct. Resist someone else’s request/demand to take immediate action NOW. Take small steps and be alert for the unintended consequences. Question just HOW urgent the situation really is.

We’d love to hear from you and learn about your experiences with thinking, balance, and perspective, as well as what else works for you. For more information on Thunderbird Leadership Consulting, what we do and how we can help, click here.

Jill Bachman, MSN