The irony is inescapable yet amusing, so let’s have a laugh: yes, you’re reading an internet article on how to think for yourself.
It’s OK though, because thinking for oneself is, at its sum, a shared learning experience.
It’s not a matter of re-inventing the wheel, but of connecting the points between a wheel (or two), a cart, and a horse, and seeing what can be done with permutations of those separate elements.
So let us consider ourselves cart builders, with thoughts being the loads we need to carry from place to place.
1. Untangle Your Mind
Our current world creates tornadoes, unscrews the tops of our heads, drops the tornadoes in like spinning tops, then screws our tops back on.
Information bounces, spins, and twists around other bits so much it’s a wonder we don’t have apps to remind us of our names.
In order to think for ourselves, we have to be able to extricate all the tangled narratives, and view each clearly before attempting to relate it to another.
In other words, click our heels three times and remember that our amazing, individual brains are our homes. Before anything else screams our way for attention, remember that YOU are your baseline.
You… which means news stations, politicians, memes, and a million tweets a day don’t get to tell you who and what you are.
They’re so far beneath the levels of what you’re capable of thinking, that it’s ludicrous they’d even attempt to impose themselves as surrogates for your own private, independent thoughts.
2. Find Clarity
Be clear in why you’re thinking XYZ, before you wonder what more you might think. Clarity goes a long way toward shaking off unworthy – even harmful – mental influences.
If you’re going to think for yourself, you’ll need clarity as your shield. Listen. Listen carefully. Word choices are exactly that: choices. In many cases, they are weapons.
If a news broadcast is using combative words, they are doing so for a purpose: they want you riled up.
If a friend constantly demeans someone else to you – someone you very likely had no thoughts on one way or another – they are doing so for a reason: they don’t want you to think, they want you to affirm their own notions.
In many ways, thinking for yourself requires you to be a psychoanalyst. People say what they say to sway you, and not always toward beneficial or logical ends.
Know when you’re being manipulated. Paying attention to the Whys that go hand-in-hand with the Whats will go a long way in freeing up mental space for your own mind to roam.
3. Go Silent
At least once a day, live disconnected for an hour.
This may be difficult to achieve in one go. Try fifteen minute pockets instead, four a day, where there’s no phone, tablet, laptop, television, satellite radio, book, ebook, or even a simple, minor task. Simply be for fifteen minutes.
Some might even call this “meditation.” Might call it grounding. Might call it snatching a moment from the day.
No matter its terminology, the effect is identical: your brain gets a chance to actually have a private, one-on-one conversation about the world with itself.
That’s a wonderfully empowering thing, something all brains need.
4. Say No
How often do you think about some facet of life – say immigrants coming to take “our” jobs – then stop yourself with a “No, that can’t be right”?
Our brains are so hyper-stimulated, oftentimes we ourselves have no idea what we’re thinking; we’re just spouting what we’ve heard from a multitude of vague “somewheres” in order to keep up with the crowd.
Saying “no” to yourself on occasion reasserts your individuality. Reassertion of individuality divorces significant portions of the mind from “group think.”
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5. Recognize Your Addictions
If it seems we live in cultures constantly inventing new addictions, it’s because we do. The human brain enjoys being pinged.
You wouldn’t think this predilection translates to thought patterns, but it does.
Quite often, when we think we’re forming thoughts and opinions, we’re just taking hits of some particularly convenient mental drug.
Social media is predicated on these addiction responses: see post, react, reply, click, re-post, feel release.
Some of us fuel these addictions so much they become our eyes upon the world.
By recognizing what your thoughts feed you, you can begin to alter reactions and perceptions toward thinking for yourself.
6. Ask Questions
This may seem obvious, but pause a moment to consider how often you actually question things. Probably about as often as telling yourself that something you’ve accepted as a given can’t possibly be right.
Humans get so comfortable in their assumptions and preconceived notions that something we used to do quite often as children is now, in our dotage, nearly alien. Children ask questions and grow. Adults pretend they have answers, not questions, and stagnate.
Thinking for yourself can take time. Let it.
8. Develop You
A sense of identity goes a long way toward optimizing the brain’s files and programs, cognitively and emotionally.
When you know who you are, you’re able to weed out the bad data streaming amidst the valid.
Pop culture, by its very definition, demands that it be recognized as “the way to go.” But pop culture is 99 percent marketing, and there’s a saying that marketing will kill us all. Let your brain fire back: “Only if I’m buying what you’re selling.”
9. Be Firm When Needed
We don’t need devils whispering in our ears; we have billboards. We have a staggering surplus of voices telling us to change our minds RIGHT NOW, not later, not after a period of consideration, right flooping now.
Don’t think, be angry. Don’t think, feel sad. Don’t think, watch in shock.
Firmly push these debilitating messages aside. Tell the world you will not be rushed, not in thought, not in judgment, not in temperament.
Tell the world “Thank you, but I will think for myself.”
10. Be Willing To Be Wrong
A lot of non-thinking comes from not wanting to be wrong about things. But you will, you will be wrong. And that’s OK. You know, even computers lose at chess. Being wrong just means you’re ready for new information, not that you’re somehow defective.
Admitting when you’re wrong makes you less susceptible to being the pawn of mental grifters and charlatans.
This may sound hoodoo mysterious, but it quite literally (and simply) means increase what you are aware of.
You’d be amazed what variety can accomplish in the brain’s workings. Reading variety, situational variety, and especially cultural variety, all open the mind to new ways of thinking via literally creating new neural pathways and connections in your physical brain.
Variety and diversity re-wire our brains to think vibrantly and anew!