By: Maya Talisman Frost
My grandmother used to say that the secret to living a good life is maintaining a flexible spine and a flexible mind. Whether we’re talking about joints or brains, there’s just no room for rigidity.
Mark Twain once made a comment that illustrates my grandmother’s idea perfectly. He said:
“It is discouraging to try to penetrate a mind like yours. You ought to get it out and dance on it. That would take some of the rigidity out of it.”
That’s exactly what we need to do in order to be open to new ideas. We’ve got to take our brains out and dance on them! Do the twist. Do a little clogging. Tap. Cha-Cha. Shake it like a Polaroid picture.
We all know people whose brains we’d like to flamenco. And if we’re honest, we’ll admit to needing to have our own brain danced upon from time to time.
It’s not that we set out to be rigid. We establish certain thinking patterns and we build whole belief systems that may or may not serve us well. At some point, we get complacent, lazy, or just plain clueless about the boxes we’ve built for ourselves.
We humans have an interesting way of hanging on to old thoughts and beliefs. We end up with a cupboard full of ideas past their shelf life-unexamined, unused, but still taking up space.
Our thoughts become incredibly repetitive as certain cues pop up in the course of the day.
Let’s say that every morning, you listen to the news, full of turmoil and despair, and it reminds you that you’re not sure if you want to have a child with so much uncertainty in the world. Then you get in the shower and get ready for work, and as you look in the mirror, you realize you aren’t getting any younger, and maybe you’d better make that decision to have kids now while you still can. And then, as you drive to work, you pass a school, and you calculate how old you’ll be when your child is the same age as the students you see. Then you get to the office and wonder how you’d be able to juggle work and a family at the same time.
Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Every single day.
That’s just one example. There are many. It could be about your job, your weight, your relationships-you know the top ten things on your own mental list. No matter what you’re facing in life, you have cues that bring it up for you again and again. You thought about it yesterday, you’re thinking about it today, and you’re going to think about it again tomorrow.
What if you did some applied thinking? Not just that casual sort of obsessing you do daily, but serious applied thought?
We need to learn how to think more efficiently and effectively. Dr. Edward de Bono is a former Rhodes scholar who was on the faculty at Cambridge, Oxford, and Harvard universities. He is considered the world’s foremost authority on creative thinking.
Okay, the guy’s brilliant. But the cool thing about de Bono is that he wasn’t interested in revealing his method only to those who breathed the rarified air of the world’s finest universities. He was passionate about developing a way to teach creative thinking that was so simple even a five-year-old could benefit from it.
He coined the term “lateral thinking” and set about developing clear, visual ways to enhance the way we think. He uses the image of a car. Just because you’re in a good, quality car does not mean you are a good driver. You must learn how to drive. Some people are better than others, but everyone can acquire a reasonable amount of skill. You must have the desire to learn and spend time practicing. Once you become good at it, it’s easy and enjoyable.
De Bono believes that good thinkers aren’t born-they’re made. He says there are two dangerous fallacies: that if you’re intelligent, you don’t need to do anything about your thinking, and that if you have a more humble intelligence level, there’s nothing you can do about your thinking.
De Bono inspires us to develop a broad view. The broader your knowledge base, the better your thinking. De Bono actually came up with the phrase, “think outside the box”–but don’t hold that against him! It remains a clear image and a permanent part of our language because it immediately conveys the concept of stepping out of our regular patterns.
Do your own lateral thinking to see where it leads. When you find yourself stuck in your thoughts-of-the-day cycle, go wide. Jump the track. Consciously take your thoughts in a new direction.
Decide on a certain cue-say, whenever you look in the mirror and notice wrinkles or gray hair-and instead of your usual “I’m-getting-so-old” lament, picture yourself with white hair and crinkly eyes. Imagine the things you’ll be doing when you’re old. Escape into a reverie of the dreams you see coming true and the loving friends and family surrounding you. Stop dreading the process and focus on that brilliant 85-year-old who will be amazing and amusing everyone.
Your bones need lateral motion, and so does your brain. You can walk for miles and miles, but unless you add some sideways action, you’re grinding your hipbones in their sockets. Linear thought will get you where you think you want to go, but you will have missed out on tremendous opportunities for gaining perspective.
You’re going to keep on thinking until the day you die. Why not be a bit intentional about it? Pick your cue, and engage in a full-on effort to replace a repetitive thought cycle with an interesting new twist.
Take your brain out to dance in this daring new direction. Flex and stretch it at every opportunity. Feel it becoming more limber, supple, and–why not?–sexy.