Thinking about Thinking

I sat down at my kitchen table, set the timer on 25 minutes, and began to write. I told myself that I’m just going to write, without thinking or worrying about what I write. I resisted the urge to cross things off or edit them — I just let my mind go blank and let my pencil move as it wants to. By the end of this assignment, I hope to discover what works with my thinking process, where it breaks down, and how it can be improved.

This practice of writing without thinking allowed me to truly immerse myself in the assignment and reflect upon my own thinking process. As I wrote, I became more familiar with the way I think and how I usually approach a problem such as writing an essay or completing an assignment.

As an International Relations major, I’ve written a lot of essays and research papers. Generally, I follow the same process every time: I start off by doing a couple of hours of research, choose the sources relevant to my topic, highlight key areas related to the subject matter, and begin writing. This process has worked for me in the past, as it allows me to stay focused on the task. However, there is one key area that is holding me back from becoming a better writer:

Writing the first draft.

Why is this? After writing so many papers, why do I still struggle to write the first draft?

Instead of just writing, I sit there and think. And think and think. I write a paragraph. Read it. Think about it. Drink coffee. Obsess about word choice. Drive self crazy. Proceed to drink more coffee. Write a new paragraph.

Before I know it, I’ve spent 2 hours “perfecting” my first draft and the funny thing is that it’s not even that great. But here’s the thing: my challenge goes deeper than just struggling to write first drafts — it’s the process of iteration that I struggle to embrace.

Let’s take a look at what may have caused this strange state of affairs.

From an early age, we have been trained to fear failure. At school, students are rewarded for getting the “right” answer the first time and getting the wrong answer is punished in a variety of ways. We’ve certainly not been trained to embrace failure as a key step in learning. The same is true in the undergraduate curricula. More often than not, the focus is on the end result at the expense of time for the process of reaching that result, which really indicates one’s intellectual ability and growth.

Experimenting with Non-Linear Thinking

As I reflected on my thought process, I realized that I rely too heavily on a linear way of thinking — following a known step-by-step progression in a sequential manner. This is not to say that there is anything wrong with linear thinking. In fact, there are many advantages to this way of thinking. We live in a complex world and as a linear thinker, I have learnt to simplify problems in an attempt to save myself effort and energy.

But when it comes to solving non-linear complex problems, application of linear logic fails. Instead what is needed is the development of non-linear thinking skills, or the ability to approach problems in multiple directions.

So far, the studio lectures and activities have been incredibly helpful in allowing me to experiment thinking in “divergent or non-linear ways”. For instance, the activity performed on our first day of class, where we went from idea to prototype in a matter of 30 minutes was a great way for me to become more comfortable with the process of iteration. I hope to experiment further with this way of thinking and allow my creative side to run more freely whenever I am faced with a problem or challenge.

“Everything is created twice. First in the mind, and then in reality.”

Through this assignment, I’ve come to realize how important it is to understand the implications of our thinking process in an attempt to question our habitual ways of doing things. We must bear in mind that the thinking patterns created by ourselves influence the decisions we make in our everyday lives. In other words, By taking control of our own first creation, we can write or re-write our own scripts, thus taking control and responsibility for the outcome.