Where do your thoughts and ideas about life come from? For me, it was first of all my parents. Then maybe friends, TV shows, books I read, other respected adults, maybe even classes I took in college. Every experience we have shapes how we think. When an idea is presented to us, we either accept it as truth or reject it as false. But sometimes, when we are passive, our minds are made up for us. If we don’t know what to think, we take on the thoughts and ideas of others and use them as our own. Have you done this? I know I have! How can we be sure? What are some good ways to check ourselves so that we know our thoughts are truly our own? Let’s see if we can come up with some ways to do just that.
Why Don’t We Think for Ourselves?
There are many factors that fight against our ability to think for ourselves. From the time we are very young, we receive so much input from outside sources, many times before we even know how to think our own thoughts. Some people suggest that we shouldn’t “brainwash” children into believing any sort of way, but let them come to their own conclusions. I’m not sure that’s the most realistic idea. I believe we need to guide children. Kids crave boundaries! Give them a frame of reference from which to base everything. We can teach and train children by a certain set of standards and moral principles, but with one stipulation: they must be allowed the freedom to ask questions and receive honest answers. Asking questions about things is a major way by which we learn to think for ourselves. Discouraging questions is discouraging intellect.
So what if you find yourself today with little to no opinion of you own? Maybe you’re like I was and you’ve absorbed the opinions and beliefs of those you spend the most time around. I would say, that’s typical of what happens when we spend time with people. But the difference should be that you already hold a set of standards that you create in your own mind. You need to know why you think that way. You may change as you grow and learn more. But if you do not know what you think or why, someone else will do your thinking for you.
One of the most important ways to start thinking for yourself, is to know yourself. Get honest with you. Do you really like that band/movie or do you act like you do because all of your friends do? Who do you make your decisions for? Are you making them to please someone else? Or is it because you believe it’s the right thing to do?
Write in a journal or at least sit and reflect on how certain things make you feel. Decide what is important to you and what isn’t. Never go along with something just because everyone else is doing it. Always ask yourself why when you need to determine what you think.
Take a personality test, find out what makes you tick! When you can recognize your strengths and weaknesses, you can make more informed decisions. You’ll also judge yourself less harshly when you discover some of the motivations or reasons behind your actions. Maybe your personality type is more passive or phlegmatic. You really DO NOT care what restaurant you go to. Maybe you’re a perfect melancholy and the reason you’re indecisive it not because you don’t care, but rather you care too much! Wobbling between two decisions in order to make the perfect one isn’t indecisive, but maybe a little obsessive. As a choleric type you are always making the decisions and you probably do know how to think for yourself already. It may typically be the sanguine, who loves people and wants to be liked, who is in fact the most indecisive.
Go shopping alone. This helps me so much to figure out what my style actually is. I’m still timid when it comes to expressing what I like best through fashion. I don’t always make the best choices. But many times, if I choose something because someone else liked it, I don’t feel like it’s me.
In my first photos taken for the blog, I wore my sister’s earrings. They’re really cute! But they aren’t something I would usually wear. Because of that, I still look at those photos and think, eh, that’s not really me. It’s such a minor example, but these small choices add up to who we are.
Choosing what you wear on your body is such a simple, but important form of self expression. It’s the first thing people see when they look at us and it sends a message about who we are. Should we be judged by our outward appearance? There is way more to each of us than what we look like. But the simple fact remains that the outside is all we have to make a quick first impression. If the impression we make is nothing like who we are, we’ve set ourselves back in letting people get to know the real us.
Before accepting any opinion or idea, test it’s accuracy. For me, as a Christian, I use the Bible for most of my testing. It’s what my entire belief system is built upon. If something doesn’t line up, I reject it.
Lots of times you’ll see very convincing articles or memes posted to social media. You may even do it old school and read something in a book or newspaper. Just because it’s in print, doesn’t make it true. Fact check. Look at all sides of a story. Get to the real facts as best you can. Sometimes, we just don’t know all the facts. But based on what you do know, make an educated decision about what to believe. Don’t jump to conclusions or go along with it just because someone you like agrees.
It’s great to ask for advice from others. But too much advice, from too many sources, can create doubt and confusion. Find a few trusted people who have a vested interest in you and your success. Seek out their wise counsel and take it into consideration. Even after that, you are responsible for your decision. Make it informed. But make it yours.
I mentioned this earlier. Kids ask SO many questions. It’s obnoxious sometimes how many questions they ask. But they’re asking because, instinctively, they know that’s how to learn. Children are forming their ideas about things daily, as they gather new information. Sometimes, we get incorrect or insufficient info as children and it shapes our adult thinking. Ask questions of other people about what they believe and why. Most important, ask yourself what you believe and why. What kinds of questions should you ask? Here are a few to get you started:
- Why is this true?
- How does it make me feel?
- Am I afraid of what others might think?
- Am I afraid to be wrong?
- Why is this important to me?
- Will it matter in 5 years?
- Who is affected by this?
- Is this a popular opinion or God’s opinion? (if you’re a Christian, this is the most important question to ask.)
It can be tempting to just drift through life, allowing things to come and go as they please. Ideas and thoughts wash over us and we say, what’s good for you is good and what’s good for me is good. That kind of thinking isn’t thinking. It’s taking the easy way out. Thinking is work. But it’s imperative to living a full and successful life. It’s essential to being your truest self – who you were created to be.
You are who you choose to be. You may have some predetermining factors that have shaped who you’ve become. But you always have a choice in the matter. If you don’t like something about yourself, change it. Just because someone else has labeled you as something – a failure, shy, bossy, insecure, messy, slutty, arrogant, fat, stupid – doesn’t make it so. Never let someone else’s words determine who you are or who you can be. Think your own thoughts. Choose them wisely. They direct your life.