We all experience challenges, with the possibility of problems in a variety of areas of our life including relationships, family, friends, health, career, money, to name but a few. We will each navigate these challenges in different ways, and our current mental state greatly influences the impact we have on improving our circumstances.
If you have experienced mental health challenges or are currently going through a period of stress, anxiety, or depression, you can find these problems even more difficult to face. Where we experience problems in more than one area at the same time, we are left feeling overwhelmed and out of control — two mental barriers which prevent us from feeling capable of first planning and then fundamentally taking action.
Lifes problems can have a greater impact when our mind closes down to the possibility of overcoming them, and this can sometimes leave us resigning to whatever fate has in store for us, and we choose not to tackle the challenge head-on and aim for a different more positive outcome.
Yes, not taking action is a choice; it’s the choice not to take action!
When our mental health suffers, we are left feeling like we have limited options available to us. We may have tried all the usual solutions, and this time they just haven’t worked. We retreat into what we know, and we lack the flexibility to think of avenues out of the labyrinth in which we have found ourselves. We survey the maze and are unsure of which path leads in what direction, lacking the confidence to select any one turning for fear of failure and creating further problems, and we panic as we feel the maze begin to move in on us.
From personal experience, my depression, and that of those I work with as a Life Coach, is often triggered by one or more problems at any one time. We cannot work out a solution, and while we pour mental energy into doing so, we become exhausted and deflated by our lack of success. The brain registers this, and unfortunately rather than stepping it up a gear, as it might do for other people, it puts us into reverse. For me, that often meant reversing right back into bed, under the covers, and sleeping — a release from the over-thinking and lack of solutions shaping which my brain was experiencing.
Add to this that our retreat creates a subsequent set of problems. I’ve now called in sick to work, my work will be mounting up, my manager will notice how far behind I’ve fallen, and my colleagues will think I am ‘throwing a sicky’. I don’t want my partner to know I’m depressed again, so I’m faking the flu and feel guilty for lying although it got me out of social engagement with my family for which I now need to apologise. If I can’t get back to work soon my income will drop, and that will cause me to be behind with my bills, and I’ll then have to start making calls to creditors to revise payment plans. Further exacerbated by the fact the last month I’ve been buying stuff that I thought would make me feel better and upon reflection, I don’t need it, but I daren’t take it back. The only solution, wave my pillowcase like a white flag and surrender!
Whether we are experiencing long-term mental health challenges or short term stress, being able to find a route out of a problem is a skill we all need. The solution? Critical thinking. While these critical thinking skills will certainly support us breaking free from a bad spell of mental health; we should apply them at all times. Think of your critical thinking skill as a muscle that needs a regular workout and then when you need it it’s ready to support you with all the heavy lifting.
Critical thinking is a skill we all need now more than ever before as we’ve found ourselves in a world which presents us more information that we have ever had available to us and at a speed which our brains can’t compute. It is Richard C Wells who said,
“A thinking skills explosion has not accompanied the information explosion.”
Initially, focussing on critical thinking can feel like we’re fighting against our instinct and intuition, and slowing ourselves down. We make decisions daily, outside our conscious awareness, drawing on our beliefs, memories, and past decisions. While this is a quick and easy approach to take it does lead us to do things as we have always done. Rarely do we review the eventual results and whether they were positive or negative. Where we do experience a negative outcome and are aware of it, we do not pause to reflect on what we could’ve done differently and often blame the circumstances themselves.
When a problem arises, critical thinking requires you to stop and review the challenge in more detail. Ask more questions about the problem, questions you wouldn’t usually ask. Question what you believe about the problem and why you believe that identify the assumptions you are making and question these assumptions. Where is their information you have chosen to ignore?
Critical thinking is rational and removes all emotion, instead focusing on the facts as presented. These should be tangible facts and not what you imagine, where you are imaging something like an approach or an anticipated outcome, attempt to make it fact.
In the book 7 Skills for the Future, author Emma-Sue Prince provides eight ways we can tell if we are thinking critically when problem-solving. I’m confident you have a problem you are working on right now, so ask yourself, which of these are you currently not doing and what happens if you do, now?
We are thinking critically and in a problem-solving mindset when we:
- Rely on reason rather than emotion
- Evaluate a broad range of viewpoints and perspectives
- Maintain an open mind to alternative interpretations
- Accept new evidence, explanations and findings
- Are willing to reassess information
- Can put aside personal prejudices and biases
- Consider all reasonable possibilities
- Avoid hasty judgements
It is through challenging ourselves to think critically daily that we prepare ourselves for those times we end up feeling trapped in a labyrinth. While those who don’t think critically focus on the path ahead and whether to chose left or right, the critical thinker looks behind and sees a ladder from the top of which they can survey the entire maze and plan their route out.