Do you think for yourself?
In these times of fast media and ever-growing Internet we are under so many external influences that it can be difficult to know when we are thinking for ourselves.
Unless you are a discerning, very aware person, you most likely don’t even know when your thinking is not your own.
Not that all outside influence is bad or detrimental to forming your own views, but being unable to think for yourself can make you miserable at best, or a puppet of someone else’s programming, at worst.
Admittedly, we are all born into societies or cultures where the norms and customs are already established. For the most part, we have little choice but to conform to what is already in place. This is not necessarily a bad thing, however, it can be confining and controlling if we accept everything blindly and never question the status quo.
Does this mean all of your ideas can be original and unlike everyone else’s?
Not at all!
Nor does it require being contrary and argumentative just to be defiant or stand out. To think for yourself means that whatever opinions you hold will be well thought out and come from a position of thorough investigation and thoughtful analysis. It means choosing to not compromise the facts for the sake of consensus or fitting in. It is not unlike critical thinking – it just encompasses a broader scope of choices and decision-making in your life.
As an example, how many of us feel the need to keep up with ‘the latest’? We wear clothes, listen to music and follow trends that the media tells us we should in order to be cool. Marketing companies create ads that hypnotize us into a herd mentality as we fall into debt, wear fashions that are unbecoming, and get caught up in a cycle of over-spending, over-consuming and then stressing out over it. Before we realize it, we are living lives designed for us by the powers that be and without our conscious participation.
Another trap we fall into when we don’t think for ourselves is groupthink. Groupthink, a term coined by Irving Janis in 1972, is a psychological phenomenon that takes place within a group of people who try to avoid conflict and reach agreement without critically evaluating options or alternative ideas. The problem with groupthink is that it hinders finding the best solutions, impedes creative ideas and thwarts independent thinking. Wanting to be part of the crowd can certainly have its drawbacks!
So how can you cultivate the ability to think for yourself?
Tips on how to think for yourself:
Develop a strong sense of self. Know who you are, what you want and what is best for you. Do not let others, especially marketing companies and the media, tell you how you should look, feel and act. Do what is best for you. Cultivate your own tastes and enjoy your preferences.
Be well-informed. Gather as much information about a subject as possible before forming an opinion. Build your mental resources by reading, observing, and listening for yourself. Then take time to reflect and evaluate.
Be flexible. Look for solutions and outcomes to a situation from as many perspectives as you can. Determine the pros and cons. Are there other possibilities? Whom might it harm/benefit? What are the potential consequences?
Identify possible biases. Are you being unduly influenced by your culture, upbringing or other people’s opinions? Are you being fair and open-minded? Many times we make poor decisions because we begin with the wrong premise. If we take time to evaluate and judge based upon what we observe first hand rather than what we’ve been lead to believe, we can arrive at a more appropriate and practical conclusion.
Do not buckle under pressure, fear, or guilt. Have the courage to stand up for what you really believe and have deduced yourself. If you go along with the crowd for the sake of keeping peace, avoiding confrontation, or fear of failure, you do everyone a disservice, especially yourself. You may have a brilliant idea, or maybe it happens to be the right thing to do. If no one hears about it, a healthy discussion cannot take place and all possibilities will not be considered. A good idea has the potential to evolve into a better one with input from a variety of sources.
The Benefits of thinking for yourself:
- You develop self-confidence and trust in your abilities
- You attain a greater sense of accomplishment
- You expand your mind and boost your brain power
- You gain respect from others by standing up for what you believe in and by being original
- You are more aware and alert to what the media is trying to sell you
- You are more open to self-improvement and alternative viewpoints
- You are more interesting to others by expanding their thinking and options
You are NOT thinking for yourself when:
✓ You let others, the media, or convention sway you from doing what’s right for you.
✓ You buy into negative, one-dimensional stereotypes based on sex, race or culture.
✓ You do something because it has always been done that way – even if it no longer works.
✓ You follow old wives’ tales, superstitions or fallacies that defy common sense.
✓ You don’t take time to think things through carefully and fully.
As you may have already concluded, thinking for yourself is not easy. It requires deliberate, mindful and at times courageous application, however the personal rewards are endlessly gratifying.
In the words of John Stuart Mill: “Truth gains more even by the errors of one who, with due study and preparation, thinks for himself, than by the true opinions of those who only hold them because they do not suffer themselves to think.”