Melvyn Tan
September 16, 2013 — By tanmelvyn@gmail.com

3 Steps to Better Thinking

[blockquote source=”Romans 12:2 (NIV)“]Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.[/blockquote] With a new beginning comes new hopes. With new hopes come new dreams. With new dreams […]

[blockquote source=”Romans 12:2 (NIV)“]Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.[/blockquote]

With a new beginning comes new hopes. With new hopes come new dreams. With new dreams come new goals. With new goals come new actions. With new actions come new habits.

Does it stop there? Some may say yes, but I will certainly say no.

Habits are essentially a manifestation of our inner beliefs and mindset. We can want to change a habit and possibly be successful for a while. But unless we change our thinking, we will fall back to our old habits.

Possibly the easiest way to discuss the above is this. Say, there is a footpath that has been paved that you should take when walking from your house to the main street. However, that footpath is somehow out of the way for you, hence instead of using that footpath, you walk on the grass patch. The initial few days when you walked on the grass patch does nothing to the grass. But with continual stepping on the grass will cause it to die and soon you will find a footpath being created by you.

Habits are just like that. Habits are essentially actions that we take when faced with a stimulus. Say, whenever we are stress, we start throwing our weight around. The first few times when we do that, it seem kinda odd, and we’re probably embarrassed about it afterwards. But overtime, whenever we become stressed (stimulus), we start screaming and shouting (actions). After while, we probably even get used to it. So much so, that the next time we become stressed, even without thinking, we start screaming at the top of our lungs!
Over time, such habits are formed. Just like that brown footpath you’ve created.

And why is it so difficult to change our habits? Well, our brain tends to take the path of least resistance (like that paved footpath is “out of the way”), so we just blow up whenever we get stressed up.

Then, how do we change our habits? What can we do?

There are some practices that I have come across that worked for me. And I’ll like you to give it a shot to.  Essentially there are three steps that we need to take. (Caution: It is not easy, but certainly very possible).  The three steps are:

  1. Pause
  2. Ask questions
  3. Change your thinking

Firstly; practice “pause”. Which means, the next time when you know you are going to act up; pause. During my NLP course, our trainer made us wear our watches on the other hand. For most of us, its the left hand, so we wear it on the right instead. And from time to time, he would ask for the time. And instinctively many of us will lift up our left hand, only to remember that we have switched sides. That brought about lots of laughter but also a reminder for us to, pause, and then lift up the other hand instead. Some other variations of this practice is, if you have always brushed your teeth with your right hand, then for the next few days, try brushing with your left hand. You will find that your brushing goes haywire and what used to be a five minutes ritual can turn into a ten minutes agony.

Secondly; practice the art of “asking questions”. In other words, if you have always been doing things a specific way, ask yourself questions like, “how would it be like if I change the way I approach this?” or “what are other possible ways to approach this same issue?”. Some people practice this by asking themselves what other possible routes that they can take when driving to work. Of course it might not be possible for us all, but you get the idea. Next time, before you walk into class, ask yourself what and how can you do differently to achieve the same results or even better outcomes.

Finally, practice the art of changing your thinking. This is probably the most difficult of the three. But it is definitely worth it. John C. Maxwell talked about the 11 new ways of thinking that will change your life in his book, “Thinking for a Change” (affiliate link). If you haven’t read that, I strongly recommend it. One of the most important reason to “change your thinking” is because a change in thinking brings about huge systemic change. In fact, in my training as an economist, we always learn about different models and with each model, there are a specific set of assumptions. It is therefore, important, for us to know what those assumptions are because if we don’t we wouldn’t be able to explain why economic agents behave in a particular manner.

These three practices, if we follow it religiously, we will definitely see dramatic changes in our lives; for the better of course. I have been thinking about this blog and how I need to re-invent it to provide value for my readers and one of my starting point is to change the way I think about blogging.

Let me know what you think, and if you have suggestions or better ways of sharping your thinking skills, we’d like to hear it!