Many people would like to believe that they think for themselves, however more often than not, what we think and believe is highly influenced by our surroundings (families, friends, media, society, religion, etc.) more than ourselves. If one were to take the time to assess the origin of beliefs or opinions they hold about a particular subject, they would most likely realize that their beliefs or opinions originate from a source other than themselves. While consulting and discussing ideas with others is not a bad thing, it is very easy to adopt the ideas of others with little to no real thought or deeper investigation. A key to true growth and development is learning to venture out on your own and develop ideas and beliefs for yourself. While this is easier said than done, there are steps that can be taken to help foster one’s sense of independence in thinking.
Be Well Informed
One of the most significant steps to take in order to begin thinking for yourself is becoming a connoisseur of information. Thinking for yourself and making informed decisions requires being as knowledgeable as possible on the subject matter. This means seeking out a wide variety of information from a wide variety of sources. Multiple sources help to ensure multiple perspectives are being presented and considered, thus aiding in a more well-rounded view of the subject and subsequently and idea or belief that is more well-informed (Hereford, 2019). Take time to really read, listen, and observe for yourself and then take the extra step of reflecting on the information consumed and evaluating it thoroughly.
Assess for Bias
Assessing for bias is a two-fold process. On one hand, you should assess the background of the sources from which you receive information. Generally, people/organizations have specific underlying motives for the information being shared. For instance, an article highlighting the negative health impacts of eating meat written by a vegan organization likely has the underlying motive of getting people to stop eating meat and convert to veganism. Thus, the perspective of that article is biased against meat and certainly won’t highlight any of the possible positives, such as lean meat being a source of protein. Examples like this further highlight the need to obtain information from multiple sources so that all sides of a matter are thoroughly considered before a conclusion is formed.
On the other hand, you should assess whether you possess any biases that may hinder your understanding or limit your ability to accept and process information. The truth is, we all possess biases. Thus, we are more inclined than we think to have those biases, many of which are unconscious, impact our thinking (Argawal, 2018). Taking the time to evaluate any preconceived notions we may have will allow us to be more objective and ultimately come to a more well-informed decision.
Don’t just accept what you see or are told- question everything and question it often. A pitfall of those who don’t think for themselves is simply accepting something as truth without looking into it any further. Generally, people operate in this manner when receiving information from sources they trust (i.e. professors, parents, pastors, etc.). Yet, not everyone is right about everything all the time. Additionally, as previously discussed above, most people have specific motives for sharing the information they do which may impact the objectivity of that information. Asking questions is a way to delve deeper into a subject and uncover inconsistencies, errors, and biases among several other items that could impact the reliability of the information (Waldschmidt, 2012).
Take Your Time
Simply put, thinking for yourself takes effort. It is a lot easier to hop on a bandwagon and adopt the ideas of others without having spent any significant time assessing that information. The process of gathering information, evaluating that information, asking questions, and uncovering bias can be tedious, however, it is essential to independent thinking. Thus, adequate time should be taken to go through this process prior to a decision or opinion being made.
Dare to Be Different
Groupthink is fairly common in today’s society. Groupthink can be defined as the tendency to yield to the thinking and/or decisions of a group for the sake of consensus and unanimity without considering alternatives (Business Dictionary, 2019). The pressure to fit in and go with the flow can be tempting, but it is a sure way to inhibit independent thought processes. Understanding and accepting that thinking for yourself may mean going against the crowds strengthens your ability to think for yourself.
Choosing to think for yourself, while intensive, can be such a positive thing. You boost your brainpower, develop a greater sense of awareness, and become more open to views that differ from your own. These things help you become a better learner and in turn a better teacher to others. Thus, learning to think for yourself can be something that benefits you and others in wonderful ways.
Agarwal, Pragya. (2018, December 3). Unconscious Bias: How It Affects Us More Than We Know. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/pragyaagarwaleurope/2018/12/03/unconscious-bias-how-it-affects-us-more-than-we-know/#5d57cb236e13
Business Dictionary. (2019). What is group think? definition and meaning. Retrieved from http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/group-think.html
Hereford, Z. (2019). How to Think for Yourself. Retrieved from https://www.essentiallifeskills.net/think-for-yourself.html
Waldschmidt, D. (2012, May 19). It’s Time To Start Thinking For Yourself. Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/you-have-to-start-thinking-for-yourself-2012-5