Why We’re Pained When We Need to Think Deeply — A Conversation
Red Diamonds Features is an interview-rich publication that converses on topics of communication, decision making, behavior, conflict, trust, courage, resilience and courage and reputation and crisis.
“Nothing pains some people more than having to think.”
Martin Luther King Jr.
The context in which this quote will be discussed today is different than the one in which MLK Jr. communicated it.
Seven intelligent people have gathered to talk about the meaning of the emotional difficulty or pain we often experience by having to think on difficult issues in our professional and personal lives.
Want and willingness are two different realities
“Many people wish for a better world or future but don’t realize the difficult realities and hard work it takes to bring us closer to that world.
“The quote highlights the difference between dreaming and thinking, where everyone dreams of a better world but there are very few people who take on the task of thinking and executing on how we get to that place.”
We don’t always choose the correct thinking system for the problem
“Conscious thought is hard work and takes a lot of energy, so your brain automates as much as possible in an effort to conserve energy. The problem is that some things we do on autopilot with very little conscious thought are things we should be paying close attention to.
“This can lead to inappropriate behavior, emotional outbursts and poor decision making.
“Psychologist and Economist Daniel Kahneman details key brain operating systems which he calls ‘System 1 and System 2’:
“System 1 processes are fast, automatic, effortless and work with associations, assumptions and averages.
“System 2 processes are slow, deliberate and effortful but on the plus side they are highly flexible and capable of learning.
“Under pressure we default to system 1 when really we should be using System 2 to make wise decisions that take into account the full breadth of present moment information available.
“Utilizing System 2 takes more time and effort than System 1 and can sometimes be a painful process but it leads to better outcomes.”
Terry McDougall, Executive Coach and CEO
Terry B. McDougall Coaching
Effort and focus are not always desirable to access
“Humans are creatures of habit and it takes effort and attention in order to change.
“For many people, they would rather cling to their old ways and remain oblivious than to raise their consciousness and do the hard work of seeing the gap between where they are and where they’d like to be or perhaps where they should be.
“It’s a choice to stay oblivious and sometimes it’s just easier to rationalize why one is in the situation they are in than to take responsibility for creating change.”
Rigid thinking that plagues the quality of our outcomes
“I believe that people often get in the habit of living with certain rigid patterns of behavior and thinking that they do not want to challenge or change.
“If we allow ourselves to think deeply about our lives and about our society, we often question our assumptions and life patterns. That is traumatic for many people who prefer their usual patterns.
“When I ask organizations to try to include more individuals of color in administration and decision-making, many groups resist my request and come up with many excuses for why the people currently in charge can make the best choices.
“Such rigid patterns prevent different opinions from getting considered and allow the people in charge to avoid thinking about problems within the organization.
“I used to have the same difficulty getting groups to open leadership up to women but more people now accept the idea that women bring different, important and needed perspectives to discussions.
“In my own life, I try hard to challenge my assumptions about people, ideas and choices. I try to ask questions, rather than assuming that my view of other individuals and situations is always right. I often find out that I am wrong.
“For example, a person may seem to dislike me but I may find out that that individual is shy and does not know how to start a conversation with me.
“My family has certain ways of handling situations that I grew up with. I used to believe that these patterns were always the best ways to approach everything.
“However, I have learned to question my family’s assumptions and to reach different conclusions than my parents did about how to interact with other people and how to motivate changes.
“My ability to think and question old patterns has enabled me to be a better teacher, friend, organization member and leader.”
Emotions and message quality are factors in improved thinking
“I think people feel way more than they think. That’s natural.
“And when the message is not spot-on, people need to stop what they are doing, take their focus out of their current activity and put their focus on the meaning of the message. That takes attention and energy and we know both are limited resources.
“The less we need to think about the messages we receive, the clearer they are, the better for everyone.”
Larissa Castelluber, Founder
Patience, effort, informing one self and confidence
“Having to think for yourself is hard work without relying on outside influences to skew your perspective.
“It requires research from valid sources. It requires courage to go against the grain.
“Who merely does that? Not enough.”
And a final word…
Critical thinking, compassion and possibility
“Prior to the pandemic and the current civil unrest our American culture was riddled with ruthless competition, greed, vanity and extreme social misappropriation.
“Thinking critically, sensitively or thinking forward was completely amiss.
“Fortunately, the world was paused, put on red, now yellow. Some are thinking but many communities are thinking through fear filled lenses and righteous indignation.
“I believe that Dr. King’s quote was not so much literal thinking but it was about compassion, respect, equality and God’s relentless love. If we could all think we might actually experience the promised land he saw.”
Gratitude to Jeffrey, Juliet, Terry, Janet, David, Larissa and Michelle for their time, viewpoints, expertise and conversation.
Michael Toebe is a specialist for reputation, professional relationships communication and wiser crisis management. He authors and publishes the Red Diamonds Newsletter, a weekly publication on Medium, as well as this publication — Red Diamonds Features, Red Diamonds Essays and hosts the Red Diamonds Podcast.