The Power to Think Better
We all understand the concept of thinking: The cycles of our brain; our ability to concentrate, to be engaged, to focus. We also know about our ability to daydream, to allow our minds to wander, and to have a hard time paying attention to our external environment and to be drawn inward to our own thoughts. In some respects, I must be caught somewhere between the two because I have procrastinated for two weeks to find and write an abstract for this issue of Best Practices. I don’t know if procrastination is linked to our brain cycle, but I can imagine it is in some form. I usually write abstracts on the topic of change management or leadership. But as I was looking for another change management article, the word brain caught my eye.
Ken Albrecht’s article, “Brain Power,” in the November 2002 issue of Training & Development enlightened me. We can link brain function directly to human performance management, as well as motor skills. Albrecht mentions a bit about the relationship between the cerebral cortex and the cerebellum. But, I’d rather move onto the meat, the hierarchy of thinking. Modular writing is a common term used around our office. What about the concept of a modular brain? We have modules working at the automatic, biological level, modules that come in and out of consciousness, modules that make up our conscious level of thinking. These modules, working independently and together, enable us to perform.
According to Albrecht, we have five levels of thought. Let’s investigate
- The automatic mind. “Serves as a kind of operating system for the entire mental process.”
- The subconscious mind. “Influences our conscious thoughts and emotional responses that are just beyond the boundaries of our awareness.”
- The practical mind. “Serves as our mental autopilot, enabling us to survive many life experiences while paying little direct attention to them.”
- The creative mind. “Creates moments of unusual mental clarity, heightened awareness; freeing ourselves from our practical mind.”
- The spiritual mind. “Seeks to connect to the “something else”-the source of inspiration, meaning, and higher purpose that transcends daily experience.”
Understanding these levels opens us up to a freedom to accomplish more by developing a flow of moving between the different levels, experimenting, and not taking for granted the complexity of our thoughts, whether conscious or not. “We need to abandon such arbitrary dualities as body and mind and thinking and feeling. One thinks with his or her whole body, not just with something called the mind.”
So, how do we train our brains? Albrecht suggests these 10 skills:
- mental flexibility
- openness to new information
- capacity for systematic thought
- capacity for abstract thought
- ability to generate ideas
- sense of humor
- positive thinking
- intellectual courage
- resistance to enculturation
- emotional resilience
Some training methods to incorporate intuition into our problem-solving skills include word association, meditative listening, and free-form drawing. To enhance our logical thinking, training could include understanding flowcharts, system diagrams, and logical templates.
“Brain training offers a natural way to teach people to use language more effectively…. The use of thinking styles in particular-such as left-brain versus right-brain or concrete versus abstract-can play a powerful role in creating mental synergy in team situations.”
The American Management Association (AMA) recently developed a three-day course on training professional people in advanced cognitive skills. Diane Laurenzo, AMA senior vice president, says, “Those skills include divergent and convergent thinking, brainstorming, creative idea production, information mapping, group dynamics, team problem solving, understanding thinking styles, listening and explaining ideas, and even building self-concept and self-esteem. Those are the foundation skills every person can use every day in his or her job, career, and personal life.”