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Thinking Out of the Box


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What is Thinking Out of the Box?

Thinking out of the box is the mode of thought that dares to challenge conventional wisdom, ie it dares to question beliefs so deeply held by so many that they are considered almost sacred. Thinking out the box is an all too rare quality, but when applied it can bring revolutionary leaps in human progress. Even where the existing ways really are most appropriate, an “out of the box” critic can actually enhance their validity by forcing their proponents to justify them.

By contrast, thinking inside the box is following convention. doing what everyone else does just because that’s the way it’s always been done. Thinking in the box allows survival, but without innovation we cannot do much more than stand still and stagnate.

Why Think Out of the Box?

Do we survive or thrive? If it ain’t broke don’t fix it runs the old adage. But evolution is based on the continued improvement of that which already works. From the very earliest forms of life that gained a foothold in a barren universe progress has come from doing things different than how they’d been done before.

A common human tendency is to seek the acceptance and approval of our peers. Another is the desire to operate within our comfort zone. The first tendency means we tend to conform to popular opinion. Perhaps we feel safer in a crowd, are afraid of possible ridicule. Perhaps we once held contrary views, but have had these stifled by societal pressure. The second tendency means we simply accept what we are told because we are too lazy to think for ourselves. Add to those the conditioning to conform, be a good citizen etc etc etc…

And by following these tendencies we can survive the various trials of life. We can get a job, make enough to live, with perhaps enough left over for a yearly vacation. We’ll certainly survive, but we’ll be anonymous, and when our time on earth is finally done we’ll leave behind nothing but the memories of a few loved ones.

By thinking out of the box we give ourselves the chance to go beyond this bare existence and begin to fulfill the true potential of our earthly incarnation. Not everyone can be a Da Vinci or Einstein, but we can all try to maximize our own particular potential. Given the most precious gift of incarnation that is surely our most basic duty.

How to Think Out of the Box

Firstly, don’t get in a rut. Avoid the comfort zone. Push yourself. Accept, and actively seek out new challenges. Take chances. Avoid routines, or if you end up with one, change it for change’s sake. If you usually drink coffee at breakfast, try a cup of tea instead. If you normally take route A, try route B, or C, once in a while.

Get into the habit of questioning and challenging established practice. Not all established practice is wrong, but where it is right, rising to a challenge will strengthen its claim to legitimacy.

Is there a different way of doing this/that? Or rather how many different ways can you think of? Allow yourself freedom to brainstorm on a frequent and regular basis. In brainstorming phase accept everything that comes into your head, don’t censor yourself. The wilder the idea, the better. Of course, brainstorming needs to be followed by rationalization, but at a later time. Keep a note of all your ideas, even the initially rejected ones. You never know when they might be useful.

Thinking out of the box is hard. It uses more energy and creates more stress than simply going with flow. Very few can comfortably operate out of the box 100% of the time. If we can employ that faculty 10% of the time we are probably doing better than 90% of the population. It follows that we need to judge very carefully which situations are worth making that extra effort for. Most times it’s fine to drift along on auto-pilot, saving our out of the box thinking for things that matter to us most.

All we can take from this world is experience, all else is illusion. We live each moment only once, so we might as well make the most of it. And we make the most of it not by accepting, but challenging accepted ways.

Johnny Finnis is the editor of new age spirituality – exploring the idea that this life, this world, is not the totality of our existence. In fact, it might be just one small part of something much bigger, just one tiny step along an infinite journey…

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  • Posted On January 7, 2007
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