3 Tips To Avoid Default Thinking


Maggie Sim

Maggie Sim

Avoid default thinking

I took this photo of Gardens By The Bay from the 43rd floor of the MBS Hotel recently. It was the first time that I was seeing the Gardens from an aerial view. It looks very grand and gorgeous from this perspective. 

As I stood at the balcony of the hotel room taking in this awesome view, a thought struck me. How often do we see a situation or problem from different perspectives? We tend to view the situation or problem using the same lens that we wear as we go about our daily lives. It is normal. Our brain wants to be efficient so it will use default thinking patterns to get us to a solution about something. Our default thinking patterns serve us very well in certain areas of life and not in other areas. We have to be aware of how our habitual thinking patterns might be disabling us from being more resourceful in a specific situation.

How do we get away from default thinking patterns when tackling a specific issue that we are facing?

Avoid Default Thinking Tip #1: Dive Deeply Into Your Current Perspective

The first step is to explore your current perspective as deeply as you can. Your current perspective is most likely your default thinking at play. You want to know what you are thinking, hearing and feeling about this situation. This exercise will surface your beliefs and stories about the situation and allow you to examine them to ascertain if these are fact or fiction.

There are some rules about this exercise:

  1. Do this without judging yourself and your thoughts or emotions. There is no right or wrong answer here.
  2. Resist the temptation to trouble-shoot. This exercise is not about fixing the problem – not yet. You will find your mind jumping to and fro, trying to move towards finding an answer, that’s normal. When this happens, just bring your mind back to exploration.
  3. You might find it useful to pen down your thoughts and emotions in a journal.

Probing Questions

Some probing questions that you could use to dive deeply into your current perspective are:

  • What is the narrative or story in your head about this current perspective? For example, my role at work was made redundant due to an organisational restructuring exercise. My current perspective could be “I am not good enough which is why I lost my job”, or “I lost my job because my boss did not favour me”, or “I have been the victim of office politics and they fired me to save the job of someone else”
  • What else is your head saying about this current perspective? It could be “No one is going to employ me”, “I am going to lose my home because I won’t be able to pay my mortgage”, or “I am not going to be able to make ends meet.” At this point, my mind is pulling out all the worse-case scenarios about this situation, and that’s also normal. Keep going until you have exhausted all the stories that your mind is generating about this situation.
  • What emotions are you experiencing in this perspective? Name all of the emotions, including the ones that you may be avoiding.
  • If your heart had a voice, which it does, what is your heart saying about this current perspective of the situation? Your heart could be saying “You are being unkind and unfair to yourself in this perspective and suffering more than is necessary. You are inflicting pain on yourself with the things you are saying to yourself. I want you to be kind and fair to yourself.”
  • If your gut had a voice, which it does, what is your gut saying about this current perspective of the situation? You guy could be saying: “The story you have about this situation is unhelpful and is keeping us stuck. To move forward, we have got to have a different perspective, one that pushes us towards progress and purpose. We need to take some courageous action to seek a better direction.

This is deep work, and it is useful to work with a personal coach when exploring your current perspective. Your coach is trained to listen for any default or unhelpful thinking patterns and will call these out, as and when they appear during your coaching sessions.

Avoid Default Thinking Tip #2: Generate Different Perspectives Of The Situation

Whenever we get stuck, we usually seek counsel from others we trust by asking them for their perspectives about the situation. In addition to this, we can also help ourselves avoid default thinking and inch forward by creating for ourselves different perspectives of the situation using geographical prompts, metaphorical prompts, or perceptual position prompts. 

Oftentimes, the current perspective is not the one that best serves us and we have to look for other more empowering perspectives so that we can take action from that perspective that will take us forward with purpose. Practising the skill of generating new perspectives about something is super helpful for building resilience in ourselves and for our mental well-being. According to the Law of Requisite Variety, the person with the most choices (or flexibility) generally controls the situation.

Geographical Prompts

This requires you to physically move around to different geographical locations. I suggest that you choose geographical locations that you usually do not inhabit for this exercise.

  1. When I lie down on the floor looking up, what is the perspective of this situation that I see?
  2. When I am sitting on sand at the beach, what is the perspective of this situation that I see?
  3. When I am standing on one foot with my hands holding my hips, what is the perspective of this situation that I see?

Perceptual Position Prompts

This requires you to imagine yourself as someone else and see the situation from that person’s perspective. For this approach to be effective, you have to step mentally into the shoes of that person and be that person.

  1. Step into the position of [Person A] and see the situation from Person A’s eyes, what is Person A’s perspective?
  2. What do you hear in Person A’s perspective?
  3. What do you feel in Person A’s perspective?

Metaphorical Prompts

You could be as creative as possible and step into the shoes of your younger self, older self, and even your favourite fantasy world character such as Yoda from Star Wars, or Gandalf from Lord Of The Rings, or even Spiderman. Ask yourself these questions:

  1. What perspective would Yoda or Gandalf see?
  2. What perspective would my favourite composer see?
  3. If I was the rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, what perspective would I see?

Combining Prompts

Be as creative as possible with your perspectives and let your unconscious mind tell you what it has to say. You could even combine different types of prompts:

  1. If I was an eagle flying high up in the sky looking down at this situation, what would I see?
  2. If I was a panda bear in the wilderness, what would I see?
  3. If I was a fisherman on a boat out at sea, what would I see?

For each new perspective that you generate, explore it fully using the Probing Questions in Avoid Default Thinking Tip #1 and write down your responses in a journal.

Avoid Default Thinking Tip #3: Choose a Perspective that Resonates With You

Once you have generated about 5-7 new perspectives, ask yourself which new perspective resonates most strongly with you. With this perspective, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. For this situation, what is the one (1) action that you can take within the next 12-24 hours from this new perspective which will allow you to inch forward?
  2. For this situation, what are two (2) other actions that you can take within the next 5 days from this new perspective which will allow you to move forward with purpose?
  3. How will you be accountable to yourself regarding these three (3) actions?

Remember, you always have CHOICE!