Keys to Thinking Otherwise

Knowing yourself is essential to being able to “think otherwise.”  The logic is clear; “automatic” thinking relies on how you feel, how your emotions have responded to “something” that “gets your attention.”  We will go more deeply into the idea of attention later.  For now, keep in mind that “unless you know what you think, what you are thinking and the alternatives available, your ‘re-action’ will NOT be a logical, reasoned one, but at least partly based on feelings, emotions, biases, fears, likes or dislikes.”

Thinking otherwise is, essentially, trying to come to a logical conclusion.  If it is consistent with your “feeling,” so much the better, however, unless you KNOW yourself, you will not allow yourself to make a choice.  You will have let yourself be influenced without your knowledge or consent.  Below are some ways to “get in touch” with your logical self.  Here’s how.

Know yourself well

Your skills

Your likes and dislikes

Your biases

Your mental blocks and “hang-ups”

What you like best

What you avoid, fear

What you can take or leave without concern

The kinds of people you like, admire, follow, enjoy, dislike, avoid, fear, make you nervous, trust

Do you “need” friends, supporters, companions, etc. who and what and why

What is/was your relationship with your parents and family

Your emotional “history,” do you “feel strongly about things,” are you shy, hesitant, anxious, tense, nervous, moody—often feel…….., how, and how do you deal with it

Are you confident, self-assured, or the opposite; do you know why

In what situations do you “notice” your primary feeling—e.g. anxiety, confidence, etc.

Can you “detach” from your feelings when you want or need to, or control them

Do you evaluate, or “think about what you might have done differently.” When, why– what do you usually conclude

Can you “put yourself in another’s shoes?” Do you think you do or don’t have the “empathy” gene—that lets you sense or feel what others are feeling when they are feeling it, or before or after? How do you compensate for that

When addressing emotional the issues of others, can you say “If I were in that situation, I might do ( ) and explain why?
If I were the Judge, Jury, Doctor, president, leader, quarterback, coach, victim of an accident, criminal, prisoner, soldier, policeman, lawyer, company owner, nurse, pilot, ship’s captain, etc. ……can I “put myself on the scene,” with the same problem, and can I give good reasons why I would do the same thing, do something differently, try to adjust something, etc.

“If I were the owner of the Redskins, would I change the name…why or why not?

If I were an immigrant, not legal, with a family, what would I do if I knew I was going to be reported, deported, have to lie about…etc.

If I had a daughter who was gang-raped at a fraternity party, what would I think, do, not do, how would I handle it if my daughter did not want to report it, did want to but was afraid, etc.?

If I admired a celebrity, and found out that person was doing very bad things, how would I first feel, and then react—would it depend on whether the person was of my own ethnic group, sex, economic status, an acquaintance, etc.? Take an example—Bill Cosby, what feeling would you have to “take into account” when addressing the issue—would it be important to you, or could you say “I don’t have strong feelings—why waste my time thinking, talking about this—(except, perhaps as a “lesson” in misplaced trust??)

ẅome Exercises

Ask yourself:

If I were the parents of the boy killed in Florida or Missouri, or New York.

If I were the parents of the person who killed them

If I were the judge

If I were the person who did it

If I were on the jury—grand jury, actual trial jury

In each instance, ask yourself WHY you would act/react as you think you would

And why—because it was reasonable, or because you “felt” that you had to, or

Were you able to “see the issue from the viewpoint of the person you tried to “imagine” you were—could you do it, and keep some of the reasonable perspective that you might imagine? Can you “change perspectives,” become the one on the other side?

Pick a few personal situations, times when you were in school and were disciplined, were in the military and given extra duty or refused a request, or in sports when you were not allowed to play, criticized, or in class when you failed at something, or in a group when the others were unfriendly, critical, secretive, mean, excluding, etc.

Imagine you were “someone else in the situation you were in, what would you have done differently—the same, and then, “If you knew how they would act, what would you have done differently–.‘ Rehearse or re-live the situation, from your own, and others’ viewpoints.

Some mental health issues involve “who you ‘defer’ to, admire, respect, fear, etc.?”  First, are you aware of your possible dependence?  Is there someone in your life who “controls” you in some way that you may think you “need” or want, but feel uneasy about at other times?  There is an important difference between control and influence–and you need to ‘balance” self-awareness and confidence by avoiding “I can’t do without ( my adviser, best friend, confidant, etc.) thinking.  Over dependence of this kind is corrosive.

“Thinking otherwise” takes practice, and “thinking like someone else” can be very helpful. Some educators say, “pretend you are (Einstein, the President, Hilary Clinton, Martin Luther King, Helen Keller, an astronaut, Jack Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Neil Armstrong, General Petreaus, etc.), “put on their head,” then “think as if you were them.”

“What would Jesus do?” is a question evangelicals ask themselves, because they need to know and can’t decide. So they act as if they are that person—put themselves in his place, to “get a sense of” what might be possible.

“Putting on another “head,” or a thinking cap, or doing something else that changes who you are and how you think, and then think, try to think, as the person whose head you have on would think—eg. What would my mother, father, teacher, friend, role model, famous person, expert, do?


John H. Langer, JD, Ed.D. Retired Federal agency manger, former professor of education, public school administrator, and writer of a number of articles and publications on education, public affairs, substance abuse and social issues. In writing a book on attention and memory as it relates to education, this blog is helping to focus attention n current issues, and hopefully, add something useful as well.

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