Your brain is incredibly powerful. Consider all that your unconscious brain does without you even thinking about it—your respiration, the beating of your heart, digesting your food, healing from a wound or illness. It is the most complex and incredible machine, if I can use that word, that exists.
Not only is your unconscious brain incredibly smart but your conscious mind can do far more than you realize or allow. But, unfortunately, most people fail to use their minds to their capacity.
It reminds me of many years ago when I bought my first smart phone. A client bought the same phone about the same time. She was telling me about all the things she was doing with it and my reaction was, “Wow. This is incredible. It has a flashlight? I can listen to podcasts? It has a map of the night sky? Records my exercise? Tracks flights going overhead? And I thought it was a phone.” The device was so much more amazing than I first realized.
I want to suggest it is the same with our conscious brains. Your brain has incredible potential, much of it underutilized. It’s like the hardware of a computer which you’ve left in default, factory settings rather than using all of the software available to it.
We are Programmed to Focus Externally
One reason we fail to tap the potential of our brains is that we are programmed to focus externally. We seek information from outside sources and ask questions of others believing that they have answers we do not, when the truth is that your brain can also come up with answers.
We developed this external focus in our education system. We go to school and listen to the words of our teachers and read what others have to say. By the time we graduate we have become really good at learning and regurgitating information from others.
Or consider the media input that bombards us all day long. We go online and read the opinions of others. We tune into our favorite news channels and social media outlets and let someone else tell us what’s so. Or we turn on the television and let someone else entertain us in the evenings.
I don’t want to suggest this is all wrong. We need to avail ourselves to information and knowledge from others. For example, the first chapter of my doctoral dissertation was a review of the current research on my chosen topic (how level of counselor cognitive, moral, and ego development affect counseling outcomes). It made sense to understand the work that had come before so I could frame a question in a way that would add value to my field.
It also makes sense to look up factual information on google. Who stared in such and such a movie? When was the War of 1812? (ha, ha.) It makes sense that we take in information from subject matter experts, at least as long as we realize that they have biases and that strongly voiced opinions are not the same as truth.
The Failure to Think Deeply
However, a problem is that we have become lazy and overly dependent on what we are told to think by others. We fail to think deeply or critically, whether it be about politics, religion, our personal vision, or how to solve our problems. The consequences are that we fail to develop our brains. We fail to trust ourselves. We fail to learn wisdom or to grow in self-reliance and personal responsibility.
How many people do you know who read self-help book after self-help book, or attend seminar after seminar, or become webinar junkies but without really changing?
Don’t get me wrong here. I am in favor of seminars, webinars, podcasts and the like. I’ve certainly attended and done my share of teaching, coaching, and consulting through the years.
But we can’t stop there. We have to learn to think deeply enough about what we are learning that it will make a difference in our lives. At some point, we have to shift from “outside-in” to “inside-out.” We have to formulate our own thoughts to achieve real success.
Besides, the experts don’t have all the answers. They don’t even necessarily agree. I have learned this lesson as I have visited different cardiologists about my heart disease. I now realize that the science is incomplete. Doctors are imperfect. So, I’ve learned to value their input but also take responsibility for my own health. I’ve done a ton of my own research and now know more about certain questions than my doctors.
And I haven’t even started talking about politics (which I promise I won’t do), or religion, or happiness, or what makes a good marriage, or how to succeed in business, and so on.
The point that I’m driving towards is that you have to go deeper into your own thoughts and beliefs is you’re going to find the success and fulfillment you desire. Don’t only rely on someone else to give you the answers. Put your own brain to work to figure out for yourself the answers to many life questions. This will add depth and meaning to your life.
How to Think Deeply
So how do you do this? It’s really quite simple. Here is a process.
It’s okay to not come up with answers or greater clarity in one sitting. Continue this process of pondering in the days ahead until answers begin to emerge. You will also begin to realize that your conscious and unconscious mind are working on your question, even when you’re engaged in other activities.
The most important part of this process is knowing what questions to ask. There are so many questions. One way to know is to look at where you are stuck. What is not working or where are you unsettled or unhappy in your life?
Here are some examples of questions:
You get the point. What is important are not these specific questions but that you look inside and find your questions and then become more deliberate about finding the answers.
Remember to make your questions positive. Not, why can’t I make friends, but rather what can I do? How will I? When will I? Don’t settle for “I don’t know.” Make yourself answer these questions.
Questions invite you to go inside and think deeply, more critically about your life. They are a way that you become more self-reliant. They are a way you learn to trust yourself and actually become more trustworthy. They help you develop wisdom and find the strength to live the life you want and not simply the life that is convenient or what others expect of you. You are smarter than you think. Tap into that intelligence by asking and answering the most important questions of your life.
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