Longer Write

Teaching through Tools

“If you want to teach people a new way of thinking, don’t bother trying to teach them. Instead, give them a tool, the use of which will lead to new ways of thinking.”

from The Code of the Extraordinary Mind by Vishen Lakhiani

In what ways do tools change how we think? We’ve all heard the expression that to a hammer every problem looks like a nail. But, of course, it isn’t the hammer with the myopic problem; it’s the wielder of the tool.

In considering how to make changes in my own thinking, how to embrace the third path, for example, are there ways that changing my tools can help create/reinforce the shift in my framework?

Staying with the example of breaking out of binary thinking, what would that tool look like? Something familiar enough that it creates an entry while also nudging me into the place I want to be, in this case, a non-binary creative approach to my life.

For this use case, the entry can let me clear my brain of its default either/or tendency. So let’s have a page with two columns:

THIS | THAT

So far, so good. No panic. That’s something I’m familiar with. The longer I use that tool, the more my brain will continue to approach situations with a “this or that” mentality. In fact, that mentality will get reinforced over and over again, becoming more deeply entrenched each time.

Photo by iMattSmart on Unsplash

Scenario: I’m super tired and struggling to keep working.
This: Suck it up and push through it the best I can.
That: Go to bed.

Scenario: I’m hurt by something someone I’m close to said to me.
This: Pretend it didn’t happen to keep the peace.
That: Ghost them.

Scenario: I’m too tired/busy to cook but funds are tight so we shouldn’t eat out. Again.
This: Skip dinner.
That: Order out anyway.

Let’s alter the tool a bit. For now, let’s just add one more column and title it “The Other.”

THIS | THAT | The Other

Now let’s approach each of those scenarios again.

Scenario: I’m super tired and struggling to keep working.
This: Suck it up and push through it the best I can.
That: Call it a day and go to bed.
The Other: Maybe I can drink a cup of coffee then take a 45-minute nap and then get back to work. And while I’m at it, let’s set an alarm to remind me to start winding down for bed earlier tonight.

Scenario: I’m hurt by something someone I’m close to said to me.
This: Pretend it didn’t happen to keep the peace.
That: Ghost them.
The Other: I’m not ready to talk about it just yet. What if I say the wrong thing and hurt their feelings? What if I say something and they ignore me. Okay. This is hard. Maybe I can write a letter to breach the topic and then take it from there? Or maybe I can practice how to respond to this in therapy so I feel better equipped to deal with it next time. Or maybe I can even just write myself a letter exploring what this feels like so that I can get clear about it and not pretend that I’m not feeling how I’m feeling. Yes, that one is doable. I’ll write about it as a starting place.

Scenario: I’m too tired/busy to cook but funds are tight so we shouldn’t eat out. Again.
This: Skip dinner.
That: Order out anyway.
The Other: For tonight, let’s get my wife involved and make something quick and easy together. Maybe sandwiches. That’s doable. Then let’s make our plan for dinner tomorrow and see what we can both do to make that go more smoothly.

Suddenly, there’s something different happening in my brain. And in my body. Some of those options made my heart race and my breath disappear. I just kept writing until I came to an option that seemed doable. In the process, I understand better why either/or thinking has been my default. It is a place of comfort and control. I choose between two things I know how to do without nudging myself into the areas that are more anxiety-inducing or challenging.

This exercise also shows me the need for some type of rules that go with the new tool in order to make it more doable in the beginning. Training wheels. Or a “tutorial” if that feels better.

What rules would make this work better for me?

1. “The Other” is a place of working on a realistic solution. Brainstorming is fine — and necessary. And I keep typing until I land someplace that feels like I can actually do it. I’m not going to go from “skip dinner/order out” to “make a 10-course meal from scratch.” But tonight, making a sandwich is doable.

2. “The Other” can also be a placeholder for FUTURE changes. Make a sandwich and talk about tomorrow’s dinner tonight. Hopefully, that will lead to better planning long term. But for tonight, it’s the sandwich that is important.

3. Pay attention to my body. I don’t have to solve why scenarios dealing with relationships make me anxious. But I do want to be aware of that, of what my body is telling me. Oh, I’m freaking out over doing something else. Interesting. Or Oh, that makes me feel calm. Huh. I wonder why.

That’s it. A third column and three rules and I have a new tool to help me change my thinking. Let’s see how this works out and what other tools I can create/revise to help support my new framework.


Featured image by Hunter Haley on Unsplash

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.