Enrich Your Life

Diversify Your Thinking

Written by Tania Burgess – Wellbeing coach, counsellor & mindfulness facilitator

Most people know the benefits of living with diversity in our community; the richness that comes with experiencing different foods, philosophies, and ways of interpreting the world and what it means to us. When our community is limited to the same people, the same cultures, and the same thinking, we run the risk of our worldview narrowing, restricted by fixed ideas and ways of thinking. When your thinking becomes too habituated and you can find yourself feeling stuck and rigid, especially in the face of problem-solving and dealing with conflict in relationships.

In my coaching practice, I see 5 common thinking patterns that keep people stuck.  And the solutions to the problems are not so much in the problem itself, but in diversifying your thinking style, you have greater flexibility to change your patterns and change your life. Here are the five thinking styles that can change with diversified thinking…

  1. Fixed thinking – Fixed thinking is the ultimate form of rigid thinking.  It looks like seeing things the way that they have always been and not being able to see what is actually going on at this moment.  It might be that you weren’t great at maths when you were at school. Perhaps you had a teacher that wasn’t a good fit for you, or you were easily distracted, but at some point, you told yourself that you were not good at maths and so you adopted that belief. Whenever the topic of maths or any other belief you have about yourself based on the past arises – there you are, fixed in that belief.  The remedy for fixed thinking is a growth mindset, recognising that just because something happened in the past, doesn’t automatically mean it will continue to happen in the future.  This applies to relationships, work performance as well as health. 

How Do You Change Rigid Thinking?

To change rigid thinking, you must open up to possibilities, and this is easily achieved by adding one word to your vocabulary, the word “yet”.  I am not good at maths “yet”.  I haven’t found true love “yet”.  I don’t enjoy my career “yet”. Adding the word yet opens your mind to the possibility that it can and will happen in the future, you just haven’t found the right person, place, time, approach, or method, yet.  Whilst fixed thinking is a great way to reference what has happened in the past, being able to also look at the possibility of how things can change, offers fuel for your growth and development

  • Black & white – Also known as binary and either/or thinking, it is a way of seeing your options as being limited to just two.  It’s a problem because it creates internal pressure to decide between two options only, like whether should I go to dinner with them or not.  Should I take the job or not, should I leave, or not?  Black-and-white thinking is a great way to narrow the options when you are experiencing overwhelm, but if both options have limitations that won’t work well for you, you will find yourself feeling restricted. And what’s worse, whichever option you do choose will inevitably lead to resentment and/or regret.  For example, you have the opportunity to travel, but it means you will have to stop working and you worry that it might lead to losing your job and not having the money to pay for your trip when you return. Either/or thinking sounds like “do I go, or not.”

How Do You Stop Black & White Thinking?

The remedy to binary thinking is to take a step back and consider all your options;  this is called options thinking. Write them all out, explore them as a collective, resisting the temptation to distil the options down into just two!  It is possible to explore all the options and create the optimised outcome, for example, it might be possible to change jobs so you can work whilst you travel. Speaking to your employer, you might share your situation and ask them what assurances they can give you about your job security in the event of taking leave for travel. There might be an opportunity to work at your travel destination.  If every option is a colour in the rainbow, then moving out of black-and-white thinking into colourful option thinking will allow you to think outside the square.

  • Perfectionistic thinking – There’s nothing wrong with doing things well and taking pride in what you do, but when perfectionistic thinking have you obsessing and unable to let it go, it can feel exhausting. Perfectionist thinking is born out of the need to reform, optimize and do what’s right, but it’s often driven by a fear of making a mistake and getting things wrong.  This makes it incredibly time-consuming, especially when perfectionism can cause anxiety and lead to procrastination, “If I can’t do it perfectly, then I’d rather avoid doing it altogether”.  Diversifying the way you approach perfectionistic thinking will reduce angst.  Here’s how…

How To Overcome Perfectionistic Thinking?

Take a step back and consider everything that you need to achieve within your day, week, or month.  Instead of focusing on perfectionism, focus on prioritising what is important to you. Recognise that everything has an opportunity cost and if you are investing too much time in one thing, other things will suffer.  Allocate time to each task and focus on maximising your impact during that time, to just get it done.  Lower your standards – yep, you read right. If you have high expectations for the outcome, you will keep striving to improve what isn’t good enough yet. If your expectations are low, once you have reached them, you can acknowledge the achievements and move on.  

  • Problem-focused thinking – It’s a superpower to be able to anticipate problems because it gives you the ability to avoid them or manage them before they get out of hand. But when problem-focused thinking is your go-to thinking style, it can feel draining to always be seeing the problems and it can bring the energy down when spending time with friends and exploring ideas, dreams, and aspirations. Problem-focused thinking sounds like “Yes but the problem with that is…”  Problem-focused thinking is a killjoy because it narrows your worldview to see what isn’t working well and how that creates pain and suffering.  Very, fortunately, the solution to problem-focused thinking is straightforward.

How To Change Problem-Focused Thinking?

The remedy to problem-focused thinking is flipping your focus to solution-focused thinking, where you prioritise the outcome you’d like to see, channelling your energy into creating what you prefer.   Solution-based thinking sounds like, “Interesting, so how would that work?” rather than “The problem with that is…” Sometimes known as goal-oriented thinking, these two styles of thinking together give you the ability to recognise problems but also focus on solutions that take you away from the problem, rather than just getting stuck there in the problem.

  • Discounting thinking – Everything in life has value. You, your relationships, your work, and your hobbies.  When you discount the value of those things, it can sound like “I’m just a secretary.”  “I only dabble in singing.” “I’m not very good.” “that’s ok, it’s not important, it’s only…”. When you habitually fall into discounted thinking, you reduce your value and that of others. You will experience feelings of not being good enough, perpetuating a focus on what is lacking or less than.   It undermines self-esteem, which may be the cause of discounted thinking in the first place. Perfectionistic thinking and discounted thinking can often hang out together. This can look like a glass being half empty approach to life.  Because our brains work on a bio-feedback loop, what we believe is what we will see in the world and what we see in the world reinforces what we believe, diversifying this thinking style is important.

How To Diversify Discounted Thinking?

Diversifying your thinking to include what is good and what is abundant is the remedy to discounted thinking. Look for your value, count it. Look for what is good and working well, count it. Start a gratitude journal to capture all the things in life that you are grateful for, including the quirks of others at work and home. Diversifying your thinking not only enriches your life but that of others. When you can recognise rigid and inflexible thinking within yourself and you can be more flexible, it will impact the ways that other people experience you. Just as you start to recognise these thinking styles within yourself, you will start to see them in others.  It’s a great way to start a conversation about diversified thinking, but it's also really important to be kind and compassionate, so your new ideas don’t come across as judgemental or critical. We are all doing our best at this human experience of life. It’s not a competition – we are in it together.

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