3 Avoid Patterned Thinking

Try this little exercise: Fold your arms the way you normally would cross them. Note which hands are on top of your arms. For instance, my left arm lies under my right hand. Now quickly reverse this position (in my case, my right arm should lie under my left hand). You'll probably notice that the second position is more difficult. It's not "natural."

Here's another, similar exercise: Interlock your fingers in the way most comfortable for you. Either your right or left index finger should be on top. Reverse your fingers so the opposite finger is on top. Not so easy, is it? We all have certain patterns of behaving and thinking which impede our creative thinking.

Habit-Bound Thinking

What you just experienced is habit-bound behavior. We all have a comfortable, secure way of doing things, and there's nothing wrong with that. A little security can't hurt. A problem occurs, however, whenever we try to break out of a rut. The very thought of doing something different can be terrifying. Yet, creative thinking frequently requires we do just that. As Charles Kettering, inventor of the electric automobile starter, once noted, "We'll never get the view from the bottom of a rut."

Try these activities with yourself or others to illustrate habit-bound thinking: First, repeat the word "joke" three times. Now, quickly, what is the white of an egg called?

Here's another: What word is formed by adding one letter to the following?_ANY.

Very good! Now, what word is formed by adding one letter to the following?_ENY.

Most people who respond to the first exercise say "yolk." Of course, this is incorrect. By repeating the word "joke," we establish a pattern involving the "oak" sound. To solve the problem, however, we have to break away from the pattern and focus on the correct answer: albumen.

The most common response to the first word in the second exercise is the word "many" (a few independent thinkers may say "zany" and mess up the demonstration). The "many" response then establishes a pattern with the sound of just one word and makes it more difficult to think of the second word, "deny."

Breaking Out of a Rut

All these activities illustrate how difficult it can be to do something differently. We become so accustomed to doing things a certain way that we may lose the ability to break away.

So what can we do? Perhaps the most important thing is to increase our awareness of how everyone is a victim of patterned thinking. Once we do this, we'll be more aware of when we are caught in a rut. Beyond simple awareness, however, we also can break away with some practice.

Familiarity is the handmaiden of habit. We sometimes become so familiar with things that we aren't even aware of it. For instance, try to draw the face of your watch in detail without looking at it. (Many people add numbers that don't even exist.) Or the next time you drive to work, notice something you've never seen before. After a few mornings of

this activity, you'll be surprised at all you see. To break out of patterns, we must make a conscious effort. First become more aware of your habit-bound thinking; then deliberately practice changing it.

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