How can you change how you think and analyze things?
May 28, 2011 5:38 PM   Subscribe

How can you change how you think and analyze things? How do you think and analyze things in different ways?

We all have our own way of thinking about things and analyzing them, to come to some kind of conclusion, decision, or other kind of result (or sometimes no result at all). Is it possible to change the way you think and analyze through things?

This has wide implementations, not only in abstract thinking like philosophy but also in everyday life and in conversations. Example: Let's say I want to increase my success rate in a certain skill. Thinking through how I would improve my performance, the first thing I'd think about is gaining more experience in it. Another way that some people think of first, is to start analyzing the skill from the ground up. What are the patterns that experts in this skill exhibit? Can we replicate them and take a shortcut?

These are two ways that you could think about something. My objective is to increase the number of ways I think about and analyze things.

My preliminary thinking (heh) in this thought that inquisition was one tried and true method in thorough analysis of something. So, in essence, one method of expanding your analytical thinking is to ask Why? and How? to things.

Books, articles, personal experiences, and really anything is welcome.
posted by markbao to Religion & Philosophy (13 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
You could go to law school, and then you'd see everything as a two-sided adversarial contest.
posted by yarly at 6:11 PM on May 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've been enjoying perusing for the last few weeks. Seems like an interesting community exploring bias and approaches to thought.
posted by bendybendy at 6:40 PM on May 28, 2011 [6 favorites]

What I find when thinking about things, is argumentation. Not in the hostile sense, but in the sense of questioning what you read/hear and breaking it down and finding if there are any flaws and how to fix those flaws or live with them. Here are two books that can help in that:
Asking the Right Questions
A Rulebook for Arguments
posted by aorkis at 6:42 PM on May 28, 2011

This Amazon list on Problem Solving has a selection of great books.

Another way is Polya's method:

(1) Understand the Problem.

(2) Plan a strategy for solving it.

(3) Execute the strategy, and revise.

(4) Check and interpret your result.

See the link above for more indepth treatment of those four steps.

Here's a list on creativity, that includes notes from the book Conceptual Blockbusting (mentioned in the list above).
posted by ollyollyoxenfree at 6:43 PM on May 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

Learning math (and CS, in a slightly different way) will do this. If you have some time to devote to learning, I'd suggest picking up a good intro book on algebra. What you end up learning is a lot less important than learning how to write proofs, and especially how amazingly complicated things can get from such a simple starting point. Dummit & Foote is a good intro book, but ideally you'd want someone who knew the stuff around to make sure you're thinking about things in the right way (the adjustment to reading precisely can be pretty tricky).
posted by devilsbrigade at 6:45 PM on May 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

Seconding Less Wrong and pretty much anything else written by Eliezer Yudkowsky (yes, including the Harry Potter fanfic).

The Sequences [print-friendly] are a good place to start.
posted by dmit at 7:10 PM on May 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

Surround yourself with people you respect who have different ages, backgrounds, life experiences and perspectives than your own. Debate and chat and share with them. But always listen to what they have to say. For me, this translates to "Read More MetaFilter", but your mileage may vary.

I will never forget the comments in the FPP about the gulf oil spill thread. Somebody posted a video of farmers using hay to soak up the oil. I had grand, wistful visions of people far and wide banding together to save the world. The whole idea fit into my worldview...simple, grassroots (heh) solutions, the power of human connection, good will and all that. I even thought the idea could help create jobs and foster a renewed sense of national pride. Oh, silly me.

The following comments in that thread showed me my bias, naivety and ignorance all rolled up in one giant ball of my muddy thinking. It's memories of situations like that, making me stop and think harder about new topics...especially those requiring solutions. Now I form an opinion, read others opinions, revise my stance as necessary, seek more information, revise, you get the idea. I learn all sorts of new tricks from others along the way.

I also like how people answering things on AskMe more or less arrive at the same solutions, but often describe very different paths to get there. I learn a lot from that, too.
posted by iamkimiam at 7:28 PM on May 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Taking up competitive debate did this for me. I tend to start my arguments from the principles they're based on, as in freedom, security, justice, etc, and build up from there. I'll often reflexively play the devils advocate in a conversation regardless of my actual views, which I think is probably a good exercise if you want to understand other's reasoning but which annoys the hell out of people who have strong opinions that they aren't willing to defend rationally.

Not to mention that when I hear an interesting news story my first thought is often, "That would make a good debate case."
posted by lookoutbelow at 7:46 PM on May 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Great thoughts. Thanks all.
posted by markbao at 9:57 PM on May 28, 2011

Taking a computer science programming class. It'll show you how to combine various parts (the bits of code) into a whole (a program) in novel ways to solve different problems. That way of thinking certainly doesn't come naturally to everyone.
posted by sunnychef88 at 10:00 PM on May 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Math, programming or a hard science.
posted by Brian Puccio at 8:29 AM on May 29, 2011

I know it's weird, but you haven't had this answer before and so I'm going to say it.

Therapy. CBT specifically teaches you to root out & destroy cognitive distortions, which can completely change the way you think into a more logical, less biased view of the world.
posted by saveyoursanity at 11:29 AM on May 29, 2011

Do not get personal about "being right". Debate and think, not to prove that the ideas you already support are right, but to test the ideas in themselves. Only respect authority when you do not have time to question it.
posted by okokok at 11:41 PM on May 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

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