It starts with a choice.
The choice to want to think for ourselves, as ourselves.
I’m sure it’s not the first time Nancy Kline has talked about this, but my second read of her latest book, “The Promise that Changes Everything – I won’t interrupt you” was when it landed for me.
Perhaps it was because I am now a few years in. I recognise what it means now, to make that choice. I understand that still now, I have to actively make it, and I’ve had to put plenty of things in place to support myself in doing so. It’s still hard, but I know now, in my bones, that it’s better than the alternative. I have come to realise how much is at stake if I stop.
It’s not an easy thing you see, to genuinely think for ourselves.
To decide to care more about our own thinking than what other people will think of our thinking is a radical and courageous act.
For one, it’s pretty much the opposite of what the world seems to want us to do!
We’re conditioned by messages all around us telling us how we should live our lives, what success looks like, what we should buy, what great parenting looks like. Now algorithms drive our social media feeds, further manipulating our thinking and polarising our views.
It’s endless. The pressure is relentless.
So, of course we seek reassurance, advice and validation all of the time to check if we’re doing ok.
And it gets messy to really dig in and think for ourselves. Inevitably we open up a pandora’s box of discomfort, emotion and uncertainty. It’s pretty daunting. Scary even.
That’s why it’s so courageous.
Why bother then? What difference does it make?
Are we choosing our freedom?
A few weeks ago, I heard an interview on Brené Brown’s fantastic “Dare to Lead” podcast.
It was with Susan David, Harvard Medical School Psychologist, about her book Emotional Agility. Having heard her talking, this book overtook several others and made it right to the top of my reading list. And now I’ve finished reading it, I can say that I was absolutely right to let it leapfrog others. It’s a really good one!
In her book, David quotes Viktor Frankl, an Austrian neurologist, psychologist and Holocaust survivor who famously said:
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
David talks about the need to create that space for ourselves, to feel our feelings because they are such a valuable source of information. That by creating the space and giving ourselves permission to feel what we are feeling, we can begin to see our more challenging feelings as information.
Signposts to what might really be going on for us, under the surface.
In creating the space, we can stop the autopilot reactions. We begin to have far more agency over our lives.
And I think, that’s what makes the choice worth it.
Over the last few years, I’ve realised that in choosing to think for myself time and time again, the real me, underneath all of the shoulds, ought tos and expectations, has slowly re-emerged. And I quite like her!
I think that losing myself again, could be what’s at stake if I stop.
Making the choice into a habit
There are lots of ways to create this space, David talks about many in her book. From mindful practices to journaling, to yoga and many more. I’ve tried lots of things and sometimes I do find it hard to stick at it.
So, something that has become incredibly valuable to me is having regular time to think, with someone who knows how to be a great Thinking Partner.
I’ve always loved thinking in this way. Because within a Thinking Partnership, both of us make the choice together. That my independent thinking, what I think, feel and want to say is more important than any thoughts or input they might have. It holds my feet to the fire of thinking for myself.
Most importantly it gives me the courage to keep going. Free of any judgement.
In that environment, the space opens up.
In fact, the whole time I am thinking independently becomes “the space”. I can start to tease out the threads (untangling Mr Messy as one of my Thinking Partners calls it) and work out what I really think, feel, and want to say.
So, while the choice is step 1, making it just once, doesn’t really cut it! We have to keep making it. Again, and again, and again, and again.
Do we want our lives, our values, our choices and our actions to be determined by what others think? Or do we want to live a life that is liberated and true to ourselves.
A good friend of mine originates from Finland, and she shared a lovely quote with me recently from a Finnish poet called Tommy Tabermann. It (roughly) translates as:
“On the eve of hesitation, ask how much courage you dare not to use today.”
The choice, the decision, really is ours.
With regular thinking time scheduled in my diary, I am making the choice into a habit.