Rant: Several Steps to Better Thinking

Regret is a dish best served microwaved.

I can't speak for anyone else, but personally there are several events in my life ranging from absolutely pathetically small to "How did I ever do something that was so monumentally in defiance of my basic, underlying principles and beliefs?" which reheat themselves from time to time and remind me of how I've failed in the past. Feelings of guilt, sorrow and the aforementioned regret take over until such time as the leftovers cool again and recess back into the depths of my sadistic subconscious. Approximately 101% of these events happened principally because of one reason.

I wasn't thinking.

Actually, it's somewhat deeper than that. I certainly was thinking at the time, but at a significantly reduced quality than standard. There wasn't a lack of awareness of what I was doing, or even a lack of self-consciousness, but a distinct absence of several streams of thought which normally keep those extremely idiotic suggestions from being carried out.

The severity of some of my transgressions troubles me deeply; they represent the kind of failings I very often criticize in others. I suppose I pride myself on my ability to think logically and rationally in any situation, such that when I fail to do so in a common situation I normally have mastery over it is humbling to say the least.

In any case, I'm a firm proponent of proper thinking. Proper thinking requires three things.

1) Awareness of oneself.
2) Awareness of one's environment.
3) Awareness of what assumptions are being made, and why.

The absence of any of those three spells immediate failure to engage in effective thought. They are three pillars that are unable to support an active mind should any fail. The more pillars that fail, the more startling the wake-up call is.

For example, one of my more silly regrets was counting pennies out of a "give a penny, take a penny" in Spanish. I was ten at the time, and my awareness of myself was limited to the language I was speaking, the environment constrained to the pennies, and I had no awareness at all of any assumptions whatsoever.

When the store clerk angrily threw the pennies back into the small bin, it was a wake-up call that made me keenly aware of everything I'd been missing. A) My methodology for counting had been obnoxious and even condescending, B) The clerk was obvious Spanish himself, C) I had assumed it was okay to take 10 pennies from the bin, when I only had a nickel of my own. I ran out of the store crying.

My "vision" of all three points was narrow to the point of uselessness. My startling wake-up forced by the clerk's reaction helped me learn that one's mind must be wide open at all times or we do some very, very dumb things.

So, and without further ado, here are some steps to better thinking.

1) Stop.
2) Step back.
3) Observe.
4) Contemplate.
5) Test.
6) Conclude.
7) Repeat.

And to elaborate.

Step 1: Stop

The first step towards better thinking is to stop oneself from not thinking. Not thinking is the same thing as auto-pilot, and is a very easy thing to do. We do it on the way to work, in the grocery store, as we play video games, and even while watching movies with loved ones. When we are only doing and not thinking, we can end up getting ourselves in trouble.

Step 2: Step back

The second step requires us to pull ourselves out of our own perspective. This is probably the most difficult step. Pull away from where you are, even who you are, and get yourself in a position outside of yourself, where you are, and what's going on. This is so that we can more readily...

Step 3: Observe

In order to think straight, one must be aware of whatever facts are available at the time. Observe yourself, how are you feeling? What is on your mind? What was on your mind before? Observe the environment, are you shivering? Who else is there? What sounds are you hearing? What are you doing? Observe the assumptions, are you assuming it's okay to be out this late? To be falling asleep on this person's couch? To be eating hot wings?

Be careful not to get ahead of yourself. This is not the time for steps 4-7. You shouldn't be trying to figure out why you might think it's okay to eat hot wings, you should only note that you are assuming it is.

Step 4: Contemplate

Now that you have facts, it's time to evaluate them. Try and understand the hows and whys of the situation. For example, you have noted you are shivering. So we ask, "Why are you shivering?" We don't know, but we know that the room is not cold, so that can not be why. We know that you are feeling well, so unless this is a symptom of a sickness that is oncoming that can not be why. We know that a beautiful woman just rested her head on your shoulder. We also know that your heart jumped several beats. There is the possibility that you are shivering because of her.

Step 5: Test

If you're picking up on how this is similar to the scientific method, excellent. It is like the scientific method, and with good reason. When applied introspectively, accounting for factors both environmental and abstract, the scientific method is an "easy" way to be aware of what you're doing and why.

Unfortunately, this step is also very difficult. We have to ask, what is there to test? If we're trying to understand our feelings for someone, testing to see if we're shivering because of them doesn't have many sound environmental options (too many are likely to dramatically change the nature of the situation and alter far too many variables at once). Most situations require very specific, tailored tests.

In our current scenario, we have to ask ourselves "Do I like her?" as our test. The obvious answer is, "I don't know." Testing is now complete.

Step 6: Conclude

Conclusion is a very easy step. We have an answer to our test, and the answer is sound. "I don't know", while not helpful, is an answer. So, we move on to the next step.

Step 7: Repeat

This step is also straightforward. Go through all the steps again. Some of them will be significantly easier this time (unless you're getting all fluttery as you think, Stopping will be rather easy), and some of them will take more time (Contemplating "Why don't I know?" can take hours). However, this is the basic process by which one can think better.

Obviously these steps are largely guidelines. People think differently, and even my application of this method is not exactly in tune with this. However, it's a great starting point to figure out where your mind rails run.

The major advantage to thinking effectively is a much keener awareness of who you are, and why. People who think effectively aren't afraid to have a highly skeptical person ask them, "Why do you believe in God?" not because they can talk about what God has done for them, or how God speaks to them, but because they can answer the skeptic on their own terms. For example:

"It is obvious that I can not explain why I believe in God to you by describing my experiences through prayer. It is doubly obvious that I can not conclusively prove God's existence by my experiences in prayer, in church, or at other times. It is entirely possible that I am delusional to the point of being committable to an asylum. However, I believe in God (in summary) because the Big Bang doesn't explain where the matter came from in the first place. Neither the matter nor God have any better scientific explanation for their existence except that they have to be. At the same time, humanity has an observable need for spirituality among other aspects of the universe that point to but do not prove the possibility of a greater being. So long as I do not cease challenging my assumption that God exists, I judge this belief to be healthy."

I may not agree with all of the beliefs of James Randi, but I respect him a lot for his willingness to challenge his own and other's assumptions and beliefs. I enjoy reading about him, what he does, and watching his videos on youtube because he asks the fundamental questions many people overlook. "Why?" and "How?"

Having a similar ability to think rationally, actively, and without ceasing will help one in everything from video games, to gardening, to blogging. Although, it certainly didn't help me keep this short.

Thanks for reading.

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