home | resilience library | mental resilience | Thinking styles

Thinking styles

We don't often stop to reflect on the way we think - we tend to take out thinking processes for granted. It's only when our thinking is challenged that we might stop to consider whether we could do better. This might happen because we find ourselves in a situation where our normal thinking style isn't effective, we meet someone from a different culture, or we have to deal with a specialist who thinks in a radically different way to us.

Examples of the latter might be a composer who thinks musically, in terms of notes and chords, a choreographer who thinks in movements, or a sculptor who thinks in 3-dimensional shapes. I once had a discussion with a textile designer, who spent the entire duration of the meeting explaining what she wanted by cutting shapes out of a piece of paper with scissors. The following are some of the more typical thinking styles I have encountered in my work as a psychotherapist and coach.

Superstitious thinking associaqtes one event with another for no obvious reason - breaking a mirror brings bad luck, checking the locks in a particular order ensures safety, wearing a lucky charm brings protection. One reason for this kind of thinking developing is that our brains are very good at making associations between events that happen at the same time, particularly if strong emotions are involved. Thus a bad experience can become associated with a place, a sound, a smell or a person. These associations can he hard to dislodge.

Binary thinking works in absolutes - you're with me or you're against me, outcomes are brilliant or catastrophic, everything is viewed in black or white, there are no shades of grey. Our culture is full of examples of binary thinking - people are guilty or not guilty, winners or losers, successes or failures. With all this going on in the background, it can be hard not to be sucked into binary thinking.

Deterministic thinking expects there to be a cause for every effect. The apple falls because of gravity, the sun shines because of nuclear fusion, plants grow because they get sunlight, water and nutrients. Deterministic thinking is appealing because it provides certainty, but unfortunately there are not many situations where it can be relied upon. Is crime caused by poor housing? Is cancer caused by carcinogens? Does spending more money on schools bring about economic prosperity? In these examples all we can say is 'maybe' - the situation is too complex to give a definite answer.