Critical Thinking

Myth: We’re all critical thinkers. You are. I am.

Fact: We all think we’re critical thinkers…

Such an unusual yet obvious topic. The trouble is that we’re not really. If we were, our lives wouldn’t have those areas we’d rather not (and don’t) talk about. Areas where we’re STUCK.

The greatest critical thinkers in the world have gaps where they just don’t get it and need something else I’ll talk about in a minute.

So here’s the trouble for my own critical thinking… I’m great at critically thinking for YOU. The funny part of that is it’s not critical thinking at all, it’s being critical. It’s just thinking critically. It’s trying to fix someone who doesn’t want fixing and that’s pretty stupid. No one likes being a project for you to display your brilliance by informing them constantly of their faults. Actually it’s pretty rare for anyone to LET you for very long. Even easy going non-dominant people know how to dig their heels in while you wear yourself out.

I watch people get very frustrated by things outside of their control. Other people are outside of your control (unless you have small children who need someone to take control. That’s just your job). They try to apply critical thinking in the wrong arena and become bitterly discouraged when it’s not working.

Here’s a funny statement which I think embodies critical thinking that might open the door for you and I:

“Just be yourself! (Unless you think you could do better?)”

Simplify? Being “yourself” is great unless you’re not great. Being yourself is not commendable in any way if you’re a jerk. “I found myself and it wasn’t pretty”.

There’s such a ridiculous amount of pride and selfish preserving of terrible things we didn’t used to like about ourselves but have now come to brag about because of one simple reason: we’re lazy and we kinda like it!

“Be yourself!”

What if I’d like to push myself to become the best version of me? A very interesting guy I know published this in a social media platform when I attempted to encourage him by saying he had great potential: “I reach my full potential every day!”. Ironically he thought a conversation was me saying gracious things to him one on one and him responding viciously online to everyone else in whatever context he deemed necessary to come out on top.

Ridiculous statements like that are actually indicative of a mind that is close to critical thinking but falls just short into being critical. Most people land there.

In my mind you need three things to become a critical thinker. I said BECOME. Very few people have had the training to do it, while everyone has had the training to be critical. Who cares how big you build something if you can have the biggest house in your block by tearing everyone else’s house down?

1. Analyze
Do you gather painful information? Do you intentionally get feedback that informs you that you’re not all that and a bag of chips in that particular decision you made, or in that area of your life? Or do you surround yourself with people who fawn on you and tell you you’re the victim of some horrible plot by everyone else you know who have nothing better to do than ruin your life?

2. Evaluate
You need to know what to do with your painful information so you can form a judgement and act on it. This is actually a process. I’m not sure when I watch people’s decision making these days how many of us have had the necessary training to implement a process. What is it in that situation that you have control over and what don’t you? There’s really not much point in being angry at your overbearing mother who’s sixty if you don’t have the process in place to set boundaries for her that you could actually live in too. Other people do what they want to do for their own reasons. Why does it continually shock us? We find ourselves getting afraid and responding in an angry attempt to regain control that we’ll never have? Doesn’t make sense. You’ll always lose that one. You need a process that says: “Here are my boundaries! If you don’t choose to respect them YOU are the one deciding to leave. That’s not my problem, it’s yours.”

You might need to work on the first two, but here is where it falls apart for every single one of us… number three. If you insist you’re the only person in the world who critically thinks and has no reason to open the door for improvement in at least one area of your life you can jump up in the cheap seats with your buddies who have tragically fallen short of becoming something useful in the world.

3. Awareness
I went to see a psychologist because I was stuck in an area of my life. A lot of people just go to get some ammo to shoot at  that person that’s driving them crazy. “Just tell them to quit being an idiot and do what I say!”. Wives sometimes bring in their husbands to me so I can tell them they should love their wives better and, quite annoyingly, I just want to talk about the person sitting in front of me and see if we can come up with a solution to something they don’t like about their own situation.
So to save the first three expensive sessions of counselling where she would have to gradually convince me that I can only really work on my own problems and change myself, I decided to go further faster because I was in pain and fairly desperate and I obviously wasn’t winning. If I could see properly I wouldn’t be forever stuck or running into things that hurt me so….

She said one statement in our first meeting that changed my life and that troubled relationship forever. I’d been repeating a statement that she finally called me on. She said something very simple: “What if THAT _____ doesn’t happen? What if you don’t _____?”

Looking back, it was something so simple she was probably quite amused professionally about it. But most problems are simple if you could only see well enough to fix them. I’d just never thought about it like that, and I think about everything. Ha!

I was shocked and taken aback. It took me several minutes to craft a reply, and that would surprise anyone who knows me. She’d hit me with the truth of something about ME and I didn’t see it coming. I had entered her office with the surety of a strong willed man with no self esteem issues who grew up in a healthy family with healthy everything. A man who was used to making his own way and dealing with his own crap. A man who was self sufficient and capable. A man who had one painful relationship that was a mark on a life of relative success. A man who had tried everything he could think of to fix it and had only prolonged the agony in his own soul. A man who had nothing to lose because he was on the verge of losing the thing that mattered most.

Reminds me of a phrase a friend of mine said: “You don’t know what you don’t know!”
That sentence is a dear friend of mine now and I’m a better man for it. I tend not to give cheap answers anymore, knowing from experience just how painful and complicated life can be.

The funny thing is that there were people who tried to help me in that time of my life that I tried listening to. Some helped and some I wanted to strangle for the simple reason that I knew what they were going to say before they said it and I’d tried their solution hundreds of times with no success. What I really need was someone who saw me. Someone who knew what I didn’t know about me.

Now life is a funny old thing. This particular relationship is looking great right now! I could play the martyr and say the whole thing was my fault, but it wasn’t. In fact if I’m honest most of the fault wasn’t actually mine, if that matters to anyone. It doesn’t matter to me anymore because that statement from my psychologist made me AWARE and changed me from the critic I was becoming to a critical thinker who could be useful in this world. I took hold of the only person I could change and it was me and everything is so much better for it! All credit to the other person in the conflict who did exactly the same thing. I owe the rest of my life to people outside of myself and I’m actually quite relieved about it. The pressure of trying to solve everything in-house wasn’t fun to live with and so I’m not living with it anymore. It also wasn’t working.

So meet my friend “You don’t know what you don’t know!”, put a smile on your face, and ask for wise help from outside of yourself.

Some of you are wondering how I finally responded to the psychologist? Here you go:

“You’re right!
I’m going to have to re-do every conversation I’ve ever had in with that person:)”


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