Rethinking How We Think

Years ago I heard a story about a man who tried to steal an ATM machine. His plan was to rip the ATM out of the wall of a store-front by chaining it to the back bumper of his pick-up truck. After securing the chain, the incompetent thief got in his truck and hit the gas. A few seconds later, he heard a loud noise and the truck suddenly lurched ahead. Frantic and scared he would soon be caught, he quickly hit the brakes and ran around to claim his prize. Appalled, he discovered the ATM machine was still secured to the building. Lying on the ground in front of him was the truck’s back bumper which had been ripped off. Scared and frustrated, the man got in the truck and went home. Hours later, the police showed up at his door and arrested him for attempted robbery. He was easy to find. The police just checked the license plate on the bumper left chained to the ATM. I don’t know how true the story is, but it makes me chuckle and I wouldn’t be surprised if it actually happened.

It is incredibly easy to make daily choices without really thinking things through first. Something unexpected happens and we either react (which I’m pretty sure is the basest form of thinking) or we do the first thing that comes to mind that seems halfway reasonable. Often, it’s a shot in the dark whether our half-baked decision will come back and bite us or not.

The old saying “When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.” has its roots in Scriptures. Psalm 7:15 says, “He who digs a hole and scoops it out falls into the pit he has made.” Humanity has made a lot of holes throughout history and, unfortunately, we don’t always learn from our mistakes. 

A Quick Example

Consider the Children’s Ministry Director who is faced with a dilemma. A Sunday School volunteer calls 15 minutes before church to explain that she won’t be able to teach the preschool class. The director is now in a quandary. There will be several families showing up in a matter of minutes and something needs to be done quickly.

He may react and grab the first warm body he sees to fill in; or perhaps he quickly decides to let the teen assistant teach the class alone. Either way, with a little more thinking before leaping he might have come up with several more viable options. Of course, we only ever say, “hindsight is 20/20” when we discover our hasty decision created bigger problems. In our example with the absent Sunday School teacher, the spontaneous and untrained sub might have ended up yelling at the children or left them alone for several minutes for a bathroom break. Not good for the new families who then leave the church with a bad taste in their mouths unnecessarily. 

We are often fine with quick, reactive thinking because it usually gets us by. Anyone with a head on their shoulders, a little experience, and common sense can make a halfway decent decision that saves the day most of the time. So this way of thinking becomes the standard simply because it often works!

In the above example, the quick thinking of that director would have saved the day if nothing went wrong. Instead, it ended in disaster and, in hind-sight, he probably wished he had thought things through more thoroughly. An extra 4 minutes probably would have sufficed!

Those extra moments thinking things through woul likely have led to several safer and potentially more appropriate options. Was there another trusted person serving that morning who could have filled in for a while? Could the director himself have filled in? Maybe a sign on the door apologizing and saying the room would open in 10 minutes – to give more time to find a good solution. Could two classes be combined?

The act of simply stopping and thinking through options before deciding can make a huge difference – in both ministry and life!

There’s a better way.

I believe we can learn to think better. To be able to view a problem from different angles & perspectives. To see possibilities and solutions where they may not be so obvious initially. Generally speaking, this activity is called “Critical Thinking.”

For years I assumed most people knew how to think and make good choices. But after watching people make seemingly obvious mistakes over and over, I began to realize that it’s a learned skill – one in which I was unknowingly trained in during my early tenure in leadership & ministry. Understand, I’m still guilty of making some stupid choices. I certainly haven’t arrived! But I do understand some key principles that will help me make choices that are hopefully more wise than I would have years and years ago. 

Over the next few posts, I  will explore more thoroughly, how we can all learn to think differently. 

Check out the next post in this series: Critical Thinking 101 – Seek God

photo credit: kevin dooley via photopin cc

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