In one of the recent classes at the School of Thinking, Year Iota, the students challenged the instructor, prof. Edward Nęcka, to formulate a set of principles that he would recommend as the most important for the development of the competence in thinking. The professor took up the challenge – and we publish his take on it below.
Will you follow his recommendations? Or, perhaps, you want to formulate your own? Challenge extended!
The Decalogue of Thinking
by Edward Nęcka, 2021
1. Never take anything for granted
If one takes an idea for granted, one does not have to ‘pay’ for it with time and effort. So, there is a tendency to accept such an idea without checking its validity. We take ideas for granted because of many reasons: they seem obvious, they spare us effort usually involved in thinking, their consequences may seem not very important, and so on. Sometimes we take ideas for granted because they come from the authority, including religion. It may be an option but nevertheless it is always reasonable to check, to doubt, and to question.
2. Praise good ideas because they are rare
Probably the main reason why divergent thinking boosts creativity amounts to having large quantity of diverse ideas. One never knows which idea eventually appears useful but usually good ideas do not arise from the very beginning. Our minds have to get rid of ideas that are common, trivial or mundane. Only after such a process of purification we are able to create a really original idea. Such ideas are not frequent and therefore precious.
3. Don’t be afraid of wild ideas
Thinking is a proxy for doing. From the evolutionary point of view, thinking may be an adaptation thanks to which we can avoid harsh consequences of immediate responding to external demands, difficulties, or opportunities. Instead of such immediate responding, we can first try out various options in imagination. Since nobody has access to our imagination, we can try out even the craziest ideas in the safe environment of our minds. No rules, no commandments, no taboos – at least before we start doing something in the reality.
4. Remember that laziness may be productive
We all live in the environment of deadlines, therefore a decision not to work may be problematic. But great thinkers often interchange periods of intensive work with periods of doing nothing particular. Our brains are equipped with so-called default mode network (DMN), which deactivates when we concentrate on the current task, but it activates during breaks and periods of laziness. DMN is implicated introspection, free recalling of past events and spontaneous pondering about future. It has been demonstrated that DMN activates more often, and to greater extent, in the case of creative thinkers.
5. Don’t kill immature ideas
Every new idea needs protection. Before it is elaborated, verified or checked, it may seem stupid just because of its immaturity. Ideas are vulnerable at the early stage of their development, exactly as new-borns are. So, it is always advisable to give new ideas some time for letting them become strong enough. This is why the sessions of brainstorming are based on the rule ‘Don’t criticize’, which enhances the process of idea production.
6. Freely exchange ideas with everybody
Intellectual ‘promiscuity’ is very productive and potentially creative. We usually live and work among people who are similar to ourselves in terms of attitudes, beliefs and experience. Working and living together makes us more and more similar to one another. In consequence, we benefit less and less from exchanging ideas. Cross-fertilization in the intellectual domain means that we should be ready to know, and possibly to assimilate, the ideas coming from people who are rather different. So, consult laypersons, ask children what they think, and always be prepared to realize that people who present ‘insane’ ideas may be right.
7. Beware of unconscious plagiarism
Conscious plagiarism is a crime but the unconscious one is just a nuisance. We sometimes do not remember the source of our ideas. They seem to be produced by ourselves, although we have just come across them accidentally. Ideas are spreading freely, particularly through social media, and it may be very difficult to remember when, where and how they entered our minds. Unconscious plagiarism makes an illusion that an idea is novel and that it is ours. Since we don’t have direct access to our unconscious processes, this problem is quite difficult to neutralize. Careful inspection of what other people think may help because everybody tends to assimilate widespread ideas without knowing.
8. Trust your gut feelings
Emotions and feelings sometimes act against logic but very often they serve as a compass in the process of thinking. It takes the form of a pleasant feeling that we approach the solution or an unpleasant feeling that we are wrong. Logical mind cannot justify such cues; indeed, there is no guarantee that following our feelings will not be a failure. However, people who communicate with their emotions profit from those instances when emotional cues appear fruitful. This phenomenon is sometimes called ‘somatic marker’, because the feelings and emotions are represented by physiological changes of our organism (e.g., heart beat, feeling of warmth, etc.).
9. Be prepared that thinking may exhaust you
Our brain consumes about 25% of energetic resources of an organism, although it constitutes only 1,5% of its weight. Brains are very greedy, and thinking is the most complex kind of mental activity. Therefore, productive thinking may be as exhausting as physical work, unfortunately without the fitness benefits involved in physical training. So, feed your hard-working brain (dark chocolate is a good option!) but first of all be physically active. Short walk may not only improve your mood but also help to mobilize energy needed for intellectual effort.
10. Enjoy thinking!
Although exhausting, the process of thinking happens to be a self-rewarding activity. It gives us the sense of agency, it improves our self-confidence, it does not require any external reward. It is like a play or sports for leisure. Self-rewarding activities may result in something useful, but this is a by-product. The main reason we undertake such activities consists in joy and pleasure involved in the activity itself.