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Boost Your Speed of Thought With This Technique

Boost Your Speed of Thought With This Technique

Are you looking for a way to increase your speed of thought? If so, you should start using metaphors and analogies. They are powerful tools that drive and steer the way we think and act.[1]

The use of metaphors and analogies assist us in connecting the dots. Jane Hirshfield describes them as a way to feel and know something differently. She says that they are a way to talk about one thing by describing something else.[2] Essentially, they give words a way to go far beyond their meaning.

Let’s take a look at how metaphors and analogies create the handles to open doors to new understanding.

Cognitive Jigs: Simile, Metaphor, and Analogy

In Systems Thinking Made Simple: New Hope for Solving Wicked Problems, Derek and Laura Cabrera describe cognitive jigs as common underlying structures of systemic thought which can be used over and over again to create meaning and understanding.

Cognitive jigs save us cognitive effort and increase our speed of thought.

Let’s take a brief look at the three types of cognitive jigs: simile, metaphor, and analogy.

Simile

The Cabrera’s explain the difference between three specific cognitive jigs in a series of videos found at the Cabrera Research Lab.

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So, what is a simile? I built a diagram to further my understanding of a simile (using the videos via the Cabrera Research Lab). Let’s take a look.

    Metaphor

    The “conduit metaphor” explained by Michael Reddy is a great example of how a metaphorical concept can hide an aspect of our experience.[3]

    Reddy explains how our language about language is structured by this complex metaphor. Let’s take a look at the parts of the “conduit metaphor” then the metaphor itself.

    • Ideas (or meanings) are objects.
    • Linguistic expressions are containers.
    • Communication is sending.

    Reddy explains this metaphor in more detail,

    “The speaker puts ideas (objects) into words (containers) and sends them (along a conduit) to a hearer who takes the idea/objects out of the word/containers.”

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      Analogy

      The Cabrera’s discussion of analogies as cognitive jigs provide us a remarkable way to view what they call – analogy-technology. They explain that,

      “The genius behind the invention of analogies was that they gave us a mental model of a common way we understand things by comparison to a known thing.”

      Furthermore, they provide a simplistic (yet extremely helpful) view of the structure of an analogy: A is to B as/like C is to D.

        Let’s take a look at a few examples of innovative metaphors and analogies.

        Brain Internet Metaphor

        A great resource for using, sharing, and understanding analogies and metaphors was developed as a Wikiversity Learning Project by the Global Education for Sustainable Development found at GlobalESD.org.

        They offer a list of example analogies and metaphors. Let’s take a look at one: Brain Internet Metaphor. As a society, we typically look to the latest technological advancement to compare the brain to. It’s popular to compare the brain to a computer; however, comparing it to the Internet seems to be more appropriate.[4]

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        In this metaphor, we are referring to the Internet and not the World Wide Web. The Web is merely an application used on the Internet. The Internet, like the brain, is a network of interconnected links.[5]

        In essence, we can learn more about the brain by comparing it to the vast number of interconnected links within the Internet.

        Biomimicry

          In her book Biomimicry, Janine Benyus defines Biomimicry as imitating or taking inspiration from nature’s forms and processes to solve problems for humans. Biomimicry is a phenomenal field, one that has the potential to completely reshape our entire reality.

          The team at GlobalESD.org identifies the following: Biomimicry is adapting the designs of nature to solve the design challenges facing humans. Furthermore, they discuss how we can think of it as a way to develop and refine analogies between nature and society.

          Benyus demonstrates this by way of analogy. She argues that we should run our businesses like a redwood forest. She says that a mature forest is a fully self-sustaining producer of diversity and abundance. Instead, we seem to run our businesses similar to invasive weeds.

          Center of Gravity

          Famous military strategist Carl von Clausewitz introduced a physics analogy into warfare in his magnum opus On War. He wrote,

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          “Just as (in physics) the center of gravity is always found where the mass is most concentrated, and just as every blow directed against the body’s center of gravity yields the greatest effect, and – moreover – the strongest blow is the one achieved by the center of gravity, the same is true in war.”

          The center of gravity in physics is the point where the forces of gravity converge within an object – the spot for which an objects weight is balanced in all directions.[6] For the most part, military strategists have taken this analogy literally. Right or wrong, it does offer some merit.

          I recently came across an article on this topic from the Naval War College Review. In the article, Lieutenant Colonel Antulio J. Echevarria provides a deep look into the center of gravity analogy. He presented what was, to me, an extremely interesting discussion on where the center of gravity of a boomerang is located. Regarding a boomerang, the center of gravity does not lie on the actual object, but in the V-shaped space between a person’s arms.

          My question is, if taken literally, is this a more appropriate example of a center of gravity in warfare? Meaning, could the center of gravity be unseen and not visible (i.e. ideology or culture)? This question demonstrates the profound impact an analogy can have on just about anything.

          Finally, in her TEDEd video The Art of the Metaphor, Jane Hirshfield describes how metaphors give words a way to go beyond their own meaning. She ends her video with a deep and profound metaphor,

          “Metaphors are handles on the door of what we can know, and what we can imagine. Each door leads to some new house, and some new world that only that one handle can open. What’s amazing is this: by making a handle, you can make a world.”

          Featured photo credit: pixabay via pixabay.com

          Reference

          [1] Analogies for Sustainable Development: Wikiversity
          [2] Jane Hirshfield: The art of the metaphor
          [3] George Lakoff and Mark Johnson: Metaphors we live by
          [4] Baronchelli, Ferrer-i-Cancho, Pastor-Satorras, Chater, and Chrisiansen: Networks in Cognitive Science
          [5] Chris Woodford: The Internet and the Brain
          [6] Echevarria: Clausewitz’s Center of Gravity. It’s not what we thought

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          Dr. Jamie Schwandt

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          Last Updated on July 17, 2019

          The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

          The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

          What happens in our heads when we set goals?

          Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

          Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

          According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

          Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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          Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

          Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

          The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

          Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

          So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

          Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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          One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

          Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

          Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

          The Neurology of Ownership

          Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

          In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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          But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

          This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

          Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

          The Upshot for Goal-Setters

          So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

          On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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          It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

          On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

          But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

          More About Goals Setting

          Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

          Reference

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