During my 20+ years of teaching, thousands of students have asked why they need to take a course in thinking. When we begin a class with a few problems the students cannot solve, they soon see why. Learning to think critically is an important skill to master. From problem-solving in the office to our personal lives, learning to ask the right questions, leads to finding the right answers. Learning to ask the right questions leads to how to get yourself unstuck when problems do arise. Remember, the helping hand you need is at the end of YOUR wrist.
The Magic of Asking Why: What is the Problem?
I invite you to go back to when you were about 4 years old. Do you remember your favorite question? If your remembered constantly asking Why? you’d be spot on! Remember questions like “Why is the sky blue?”, “Why is the grass green?”, or “Why is the man on the moon smiling?” Why? WHy? WHY?
Parents tell me they find this endless list of questions difficult and often give up with a dismissive, “Go ask your mother/father/teacher” after the fourth round of whys. Asking questions isn’t easy; however the doors this strategy opens to our creativity are well-worth the processes we learn to dig deep and follow the trail in pursuit of answers. As a teacher, my goal is to turn all of my students back into 4-year olds so they can rediscover this love of asking questions to rediscover their inner curiosity. Little do they know that returning to the age of four holds the secret to adult thinking and problem-solving!
Perhaps you’re wondering how you know you’ve arrived at the correct problem. The answer is quite simply when you no longer have to answer the question why? When we don’t give ourselves either permission or the time to ask the right questions, we often get stuck. We go round and round in circles constantly arriving at the starting point again, not moving forward.
If we only solve the symptom, the problem will always remain.
The W-R-I-S-T Method
To change your thinking, simply remember that help is at the end of your WRIST [W–R–I–S–T: Words, Rules, Imagination, Space, and Tools].
Step 1: Change our Words
One way to change our thinking is to change the words we use. If you speak more than one language, simply change things up. Instead of thinking with your primary language, learn something new. For example, if your primary language is English, change to Spanish, French, or Italian. Every language uses different patterns, different meanings, and different ways of thinking. For example, I struggled to come up with a name for one of my book imprints. When I got stuck in English, I simply translated the word thinking into a different language. Voila—this imprint is called Pensiero Press—which simply means thinking in Italian.
In addition to foreign languages, there are also differences in words spoken in specific fields or industries. An accountant will use different words than an engineer and an airline pilot’s language will differ from that of a school teacher. The longer we work in one industry, the more we think in that specific way. When we use the same terms over and over, we lose our creativity and get stuck in old patterns. By changing the words we use, we can change how we think when we use them.
Step 2: Change our Rules
Working for the same company for many years sometimes leads our thinking to get stuck inside the box. We’re bogged down by thinking by the rules. Often I hear people say, that’s the way we’ve always done it, or this is how we do things here which offers rules, restrictions, and boundaries. What would happen if I gave you a magic wand and took away all the rules? What if there was no box? What if you were free to think in any way you like? What might this look like? When we change our rules, we can change how we think.
Step 3: Change our Imagination and Play
When we get stuck in our thinking, it’s really helpful to look at our creative side. Perhaps we need to spend time playing? What makes you happy? What makes you silly? Perhaps put a jigsaw puzzle together, build a castle made of bricks (Legos), or play with bubbles. Play is an important part of the learning process. When we change our imagination and play, we can change how we think.
Step 4: Change our Space
By changing our space, we can change how we look at the problem. Perhaps if you go out for a walk, simply take a new path this time. Maybe change your office, chairs, floors, or even the entire office building. The goal here is to change the space around you. Just by moving to a different part of the room or a different chair, our perspective changes. When we physically change what we see, which change how we think. When we change the space we are in, we change how we think in it.
Step 5: Change our Tools
Sometimes we need to change what we are using, our tools. Perhaps we need to change what we write with. Instead of typing into your computer, try using a pen. If you are using a pen, try a pencil; if you are using a pencil, change to a new color of pencil, try a marker or highlighter or better still—try a crayon! Think about the visceral experience of the tool for a moment. When we change the tools we use, we can change how we think when we use them.
When you change your thinking, you get what you want. So how will you make that happen? By using the W-R-I-S-T Method, we can simply change little things that will change how we think when we use them.
Dr. Cheryl Lentz / Dr. C
The Academic Entrepreneur
Dr. Cheryl, The Academic Entrepreneur is known globally for her writings on leadership and failure, as well as critical and refractive thinking. She has been published more than 44 times with 23 writing awards. As an accomplished university professor, speaker, and consultant, she is an international best-selling author, as well as top quoted publishing professional on ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox.
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