Think out of the box! How many times have you heard this phrase and wondered how can ‘I think out of the box’? Thinking ‘differently’ is a skill most sought after. Look at most professional job descriptions and you will see critical thinking as a required skill.  People who think differently are the ones getting paid lucratively.
So how can you think differently especially if you have never done it before? The first simple step is that –  to think differently, you have to do differently.

1. Play children’s games

Yes, you heard me right! So many of the kids’ games nowadays are challenging and mentally stimulating, forcing us to think different. Games such as SnapCircuits, Swish, Set, Gravity Maze are just a few examples from thousands of exciting and challenging games. Play them with your kids or with friends and have fun while developing the abilities to think differently!

2. Different people enable different thought processes

Meeting new people is a great way to learn new things, become aware and open our mind to new possibilities. As an example, I was talking to the granite installation guy at my house earlier today. It was a fascinating conversation to learn about his origins from Cuba and how he came to be in the US and in the granite business. This spurred several streams of thought about immigration issues, career choices, granite industry and even food!!

A simple 3 minute conversation not only spurred these different thought processes but inspired me to do some research on a few of those things. I learnt something new. Meet new people at every opportunity you get. Through networking or through friendly referral introductions or in the community you live and work in, each person you meet is a treasure trove of information and ideas.

3. New experiences trigger new thoughts and opinions

Every new experience whether good or bad, triggers a new way of thinking. A few ideas worth exploring here are:

  • Experimenting with new cuisines
  • Taking a new route on the way to work and observing what is outside
  • Indulging in different travel experiences – possibly traveling to different destinations or traveling alone or traveling with family, traveling with friends, traveling to a spiritual destination, traveling to a foodie destination, architectural vacation, cruise, art destinations and so on. Each experience will leave you with something new and a new way of thinking about something.
  • Experiencing new cultures. This is a big one! Learning about a new culture by experiencing it, opens up our senses and our thought processes significantly.  If you have the opportunity to live in a new culture situation for a few months or a year, that is a great way to become aware and learn to adapt new ways of thinking.

4. Exposure to different ideas

People are filled with ideas. It’s fascinating to read about these ideas in various books on different topics. We are living in an information overload world and there is no dearth of information and ideas. Developing interests in varied range of topics by reading different books on different subjects by different authors is another great way to develop the ‘different way of thinking’ mindset. Go to a bookstore, walk randomly and pick a book and read it. Pick random magazines at the doctor’s office and read them.

Now that you have learned some exciting ways to think out of the box, that is not enough! It’s not enough to just think differently, it is also essential to be able to use that thinking ability to develop one’s own opinions and express them.

Why is it important for us to be able to form our own opinions? Because we are part of a larger fabric of society and there are many instances and situations where our opinion matters. If not singularly, as a collective entity our opinion matters. It may be in politics, it may be on your school PTA board, it may be in your community, in the workplace or even at home! There are umpteen instances where we need to be able to form our opinions and express them clearly. Sometimes we may be speaking for ourselves, but at other times we may be the voice of many others who are unable to express the same view!

5. Get your facts right

The first step to forming your own opinion is to form it based on the right facts. It is one thing to form your opinions based on emotions and feelings and perceived intentions, it’s another thing to truly investigate and ascertain the facts before forming an opinion. Do your homework – talk to people, research, do whatever it takes to get the facts right. The easiest way to get into this habit can be to start with simple matters. At home or work when you notice yourself forming an opinion about someone or a situation, force yourself to answer the questions :

  • How do I know this to be true?
  • What are the facts that support my opinion?

6. Write a persuasive essay on a high school topic

Pick a persuasive topic from a high school list of prompts. Do the research, gather the facts, spend time thinking about your views on the topic and your takeaways. Write a persuasive essay convincing someone of your view on that topic. Make sure to back it up with facts and a logical line of reasoning taking the reader along with you through your thinking process. Do one essay a week and your skills should be sharp in no time!

7. Hold a group discussion with a group of friends

Gather a group of friends and hold a group discussion. This is similar to a book discussion meeting, but instead a topic is given on the spot or picked from a list of prompts that are prepared earlier. The sky is the limit with the topics you can choose from. You can go from politics, religion, sports, healthcare to parenting, work and many more.

Limit the group to about 5-6 people. Split the group into 2 sub teams. One team will talk in favor of the topic and the other team against the topic. Start off with giving each member about 3 minutes to speak. Once all members have had a turn, open it up and let the members question and support their points. This activity not only helps in forming an opinion but also helps with expressing your opinion persuasively and succinctly.

8. Use the objective lens

As much as we would like to think that our thinking is right and logical and that we could never be wrong, the fact of the matter is, we could be wrong!! The key thing to remember is that we view the world through the lens we have adopted – a lens that has trained us to see the world a certain way clouded by our experiences, our upbringing and so on.

When we form opinions, it’s critical to take off that lens and use a more objective lens, one that will not cloud our judgements. Have we arrived at an opinion viewing all pieces of the information available objectively? Or have we conveniently ignored certain relevant pieces of information? This way of viewing the world comes with conscious practice. Start practicing it today!

What tactic from the 8 listed above, are you going to try first?

Featured photo credit: Jacob Botter via flickr.com

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