Have you ever tried to make up your mind about something and then found yourself lost in a never-ending argument of pros and cons? Looking for “the right” answer… Where you catch yourself thinking: “On this hand…” and “On the other hand…” until it’s all completely out of hand?
And now you’re feeling even more lost than when you started. Swamped. Confused.
I know I have.
Yet maybe there’s another way through all of this. For if world class thinking theorist Edward de Bono is right, the way you explore an issue is key. In fact, he thinks that:
“If you explore well, a decision makes itself.”
(And how handy would that be?)
So what’s he actually on about? And how might you be able to try some of it out?
I was lucky enough to join Edward de Bono’s workshop at the Mind and Its Potential conference in Sydney recently. In it, he said that he reckons for the last two thousand years or so, we’ve all been seduced into believing that argument is the best kind of thinking. That someone has to be “right,” and someone “wrong.” Or that some thought might be “right” or “wrong.” That there’s a single “truth” that we have to whittle our way down to, as we throw out everything else.
And we’ve all been thinking and talking and arguing that way without even stopping to consider if it’s actually the most effective way of getting somewhere. Without stopping to wonder if all this adversarial thinking just leaves us bruised and confused.
“In argument, there’s so much unnecessary time spent in discussion attacking someone,” de Bono said.
And maybe you’ve also taken that argument inside yourself…
So, for instance, maybe you tear strips off your own ideas just as they emerge. Or you repeatedly flip from why something will work, to why it won’t, to why it’s good, to why it’s bad, without doing anything much but cancelling out all the alternatives.
De Bono says it’s time to ditch the argumentative thinking. It’s time to get parallel. To think about one aspect at a time. And to forget about the notion of “getting it right” for a moment.
This is where his famous idea about the “six thinking hats” comes into it. That everyone involved in a decision could all look at it from the same angle, with the same hat on, at the same time. And you all methodically go through all six perspectives one by one.
And this concept can also be used when it’s just you making a decision, so you don’t have different parts of you arguing for different outcomes. You can be on your own side for a minute.
So here are the hats you might like to try on:
is for feelings or emotions or a sense of intuition about something. Just pay attention to what you feel about the issue. Right now. No explanation or justification is needed – in fact, they’re banned. Just say or write down whatever you feel. Even if it makes no sense. Just listen to it and give it a space so it doesn’t have to elbow its way into the other areas quite so much.
is about information – what’s already known about the issue, and what else might be useful to find out. Is there any information lacking? Do you need to gather any more? How will you do that? (And write it all down).
is about listing all the “positives” or benefits or ways this situation or decision might support your values. Why would this be a good thing for you? How?
looks at judgement and critical thinking. It’s a space for caution and exploring any “negatives.” Why might this idea not work? Where could it fail? Where are its weak points? Could it bring other difficulties or challenges? Note them all down.
fosters growth and creativity. What new ideas about all of this could you uncover? What alternatives might there be? How might you overcome any of the problems you spotted when you wore the black hat?
brings an overview. It’s about organising and focus and getting a summary together about all of the thoughts from all of your other hats. It can also be used to decide which order you want to do your thinking in: which hat in which sequence? Are there any hats you’d leave out? Any you’d use twice?
And remember the challenge is to take it one hat at a time.
If you find any argumentation slipping in, just thank it and let it know it’ll be really useful in a moment, when you get to the black hat bit.
Or if it keeps on intruding, consult with yourself a moment and see if you might like to get the black hat stuff out of the way now, while the critical voice is up on its soapbox. (Though de Bono did suggest that if you’re assessing something, to “always put the yellow hat before the black” – the “positives” before the “negatives” – so you don’t feel discouraged before you get a chance to start exploring).
So what do you think about all of this?
How would it be to consult your inner hat-rack like this? To allow for a full exploration of one aspect of something at a time, and to really hear yourself out before the argumentation kicks-in to silence a thought mid-way? And then to explore another aspect. And another.
Do you think it’s worth trying on another way of thinking? Could you see it being useful in your life?
Feel free to throw your hat into the ring and leave a comment .…
Photo and text copyright: Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar
Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar (Grad Dip Counselling & Psychotherapy) is a writer, blogger and Sydney psychotherapist in private practice at One Life Counselling & Psychotherapy. Gabrielle also facilitates telephone support groups for people who are living with cancer, for their carers, and for people who have been bereaved through a cancer experience. She was the former editor of a journal on counselling and psychotherapy and she provides regular therapeutic updates on facebook and Twitter @OneLifeTherapy.