The Mechanics of Thinking: "How to think, by asking Why."

by eumatthe

Introspective vs. Extrospective thinking is essential to move beyond problem solving, and align ones thoughts and actions.

In considering the mechanics of thinking the first thing to address is what will be the return on thinking investment? If the time and energies devoted to thinking will not yield some meaningful actionable outcome, then perhaps that investment could be better used elsewhere.

Thinking takes time, and effort. Is the topic of scrutiny worth both?

Thinking is an action word...

Renown scientist and inventor, Nikolai Tesla said,

"The scientists of today think deeply instead of clearly. One must be sane to think clearly, but one can think deeply and be quite insane."

The challenge for most today is not deciding what to think, but rather finding time to think. What is sometimes overlooked is "how" to think. Also of importance when considering what one will invest their thinking time and energies on, is the return on investment, in other words, what possible beneficial outcome can occur as a result of the thinking effort. After all, what value is there in learning or deciding something that has no value or impact on an issue. Finally, a topic which will not be explored here, is the fact that thought without action is meaningless. To that end it is important for anyone preparing to contemplate an issue to decide before hand whether they will or will not act on it as a result.

At this point many would consider the traditional arguments of abstract versus concrete thinking, or past recollections versus present situation, or future possibilities. For the purposes of this discussion, however, "how" we think will focus on the difference between introspective and extrospection (Introspective focus is internal, extrospection is external.)

The Mechanics of Thinking Begins with Self

It is commonly accepted that any meaningful critical thinking begins with self; since it is impossible to have a clear view of others until one has some idea of self. Socrates suggested, "The unexamined life is not worth living," a quote which holds a great deal of truth. Within the self examination an individual it is important to calibrate or align who they are and what they do, with "why".  

'Introspective thinking seeks meaning, origin, and purpose for the sake of clarity.'

In many cases simply asking the question "why" becomes a powerful tool for change. "Why" is used to gain clarity, force reductionism, identify direction and reduce clutter in personal and professional lives. Consider the simple examples below, and how "why" propels a deeper introspective look: 

"I need a new car" - WHY?
"I need a bigger  house" WHY?
"Production in the sales is up" WHY?
"I need to increase my income" WHY?

In each of the preceding examples the question of why begs for a justification for the action or activity. The simple act of articulating the justification may be sufficient to move forward with the change action, or it might create another series of "WHY" questions. For instance in the example, "I need to increase my income" the why may be a matter of personal choice, which should then modify the "need" to "want." However, the need may be practical; a reduction in the household income due to loss or illness; the increase in household members; additional education, medical, or insurance expenses, etc. The "WHY" in these instances may be justified.

But what happens when the answer or justification to the "WHY" is insufficient or inadequate? The short answer is, don't take the action. In the "I need a new car" example, "why" forces the justification of the expenditure if the present vehicle is in good operating condition, is mechanically sound, and especially if it is fully paid for, overcoming the "WHY" will require more than logic. For those who travel extensively a new car is probably more than esthetics, and leans more toward comfort, reliability, and efficiency. In that instance perhaps the justification can be made. However for the majority who use a vehicle simply as a mode of transport to and from work, school, etc., the justification may be more challenging.

Understanding is gained through scrutiny and close examination, and as the aphorism famously espouses -

You can't change what you don't understand

Updated: 02/21/2014, eumatthe
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Mira on 02/23/2014

I really like that ending. Thank you for the article, Eugene!

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