Are You An Independent Thinker?

  • Do you mostly consider or reason things out for yourself without relying on others' guidance or opinions?

  • Do you feel comfortable drawing on your own experiences, feelings, values, and creativity?

  • Do you think as yourself, rather than conforming to what others want you to think (or say, do or be)?

If you answered yes to these, I'd say you are an Independent Thinker.

Independent thinking is having the confidence to draw on your own innate intelligence and depend on your own judgement, having your own views and values to guide you, rather than someone else's.

Why it is important?

If you don't think for yourself, others just might try and do it for you! There are plenty of people out there who will happily tell you what to think, who want to direct and control you, and make decisions for you. 

If you're not thinking for yourself, you might also not be speaking for yourself - so others might step in and speak for you or interpret you in a way you didn't intend. 

And if you’re not neither thinking for yourself nor sharing your unique thinking then you’re probably not contributing the value you could, nor are you feeling fully satisfied or engaged. And when you don’t have a voice, others can assume you don't matter.

It’s important to be an independent thinker because as Nancy Kline says, "the quality of everything we do depends on the quality of the thinking we do firstly". If you’re regurgitating or complying with others’ thoughts that’s not quality thinking. Ineffective thinking leads to ineffective or even disastrous decisions and actions in our personal and working lives; how many times have you looked at the news stories and wondered, “What were they thinking?!

Yet some people often don’t know what they think, or haven’t the courage, will or energy to think for themselves.

Independent thinking isn’t always easy because it can involve taking risks, such as being unpopular, going against the majority, or being viewed as different or uncooperative. It can feel selfish.

Being asked, "What do you think?" can make some people feel vulnerable and in some cases, sharing what they really think can have dire consequences. Others have a constant need for approval of their thinking, regardless of clear evidence that they are intelligent and that their thinking is inherently valuable.

And in some cases, people avoid thinking, or they just keep quiet because they've developed a kind of learned helplessness – becoming so used to being told what to think or do that they no longer know how to do it for themselves.

However, independent thinking is not about going your own way just for the sake of it!

It means being creative and more considered in your choices. Very young children don’t yet know how to think for themselves because whilst they’ve got the creativity, they’ve not yet had the life experience nor learned how to reason. Toddlers, for example, are masters in wanting (and often getting) independence but not necessarily masters in independent thinking - the toddler’s choices are not always wise! Hence one of the tasks of parenting is to build independent thinking skills in children.

And as we grow up, independent thinking becomes critical to all our relationships and life decisions, when we don’t have our parents or carers to guide our thinking.

Because we need a raft of critical thinking skills in the complex world we now live in – for example, to be curious, able to identify different options before taking action, weigh up the pros and cons, problem-solve alone as well as with others, avoid being gullible, develop unique ideas and different perspectives, bring our creativity and diversity to a group’s thinking, say yes or no with confidence, and choose and be guided by our own feelings and values.

If you don’t develop independent thinking skills you can fall victim to others’ assumptions about you – that you can’t think, or don’t have the capacity learn how to do so. I hear it with depressing regularity - "People here just can't think!" or "I have to tell him what to do because he just doesn't come up with anything of his own!" And so without independent thinking you can become a puppet in someone else’s theatre of life, or a victim in your own.

If you're not sure if not you're an independent thinker, and you need to ask someone else if they think you are, then you're probably not!

If you're an independent thinker you're a creative, rigorous, and courageous person, capable of intelligent, original thinking, willing to take risks, able to focus on what matters to you whilst being aware of others and their needs and perspectives too.

Thinking for yourself, as yourself.

Here's an astonishing illustration of independent thinking in children with Sugata Mitra's TED Talk - just click here: "Build a School in the Cloud"

© Linda Aspey 2017