If you put seven people in a room and asked them how they would respond in a hostage crisis, they’d have seven different answers.
They might overlap on some attitudes, beliefs, and strategies, but they would still display different ways of thinking about the crisis.
Here are the seven different ways of thinking and their pros and cons: I call it the THOUGHT system.
Thinking Creatively; Having abstract thoughts; Optimizing analysis; Understanding divergently; Getting critical; Honing creative thought and Thinking convergently.
The main 7 types of thinking (and how to improve them)
1) Thinking concretely
Concrete thinking is exactly what it sounds like.
This kind of thinking isn’t interested in metaphorical ideas, abstract concepts or imaginative ways of looking at dilemmas and situations.
It’s interested in facts, figures, calculations, and provable items.
“As the name suggests, concrete thinking is factual thinking. Only facts and nothing else.
A concrete thinker will approach everything with facts, data, and solid knowledge.
It is the opposite of abstract thinking,” explains Vaishali S.
Take, for example, the construction of an office building.
The creative thinker may wonder what the visual appeal of the building will be, while an analytical thinker may ponder the future possible alternate uses of the building as the economy shifts.
The concrete thinker, on the other hand, will not be concerned with speculation or aesthetics.
The concrete thinker will be considered with cost, materials, time of construction, tenants who are committed to move in, and maximizing profit-per-square-foot.
Concrete thinking doesn’t do what if or why: it just does what is evident and provable.
2) Having abstract thoughts
Abstract thinking is exactly what it sounds like: this kind of thinking is able to decouple itself from the visible and provable and think in purely theoretical and mental terms.
Concrete thinking is not concerned with ideas about what kind of music humanity might find enjoyable in the future or how our ability to understand language shifts with the use of digital technology.
Abstract thinking, on the other hand, might postulate about how music is becoming increasingly electronic and how perhaps musical hits are shortening on average because our attention spans are shortening.
It might think about ways we could eventually communicate in strange new fashions by gesture or signaling with lights as our attention spans shorten, and our patience for full sentences decreases.
“Abstract thinkers are able to form complex thoughts about theories, emotions, and language.
“Storytelling is a comprehensive example of abstract thinking. It makes use of emotion, rhetoric, suspense, and humor in order to relay information.”
3) Optimizing analysis
Analytical thinking is similar to abstract thinking in some senses, except it is not generally speculative.
Abstract thinking deals with what exists and analyzes and dissects current reality and situations to discover the roots of a problem, opportunity, situation, or dilemma.
Analytical thinking may use many different examples, parallels, contrasts, and thought exercises to determine useful insights into an issue.
For example, a geopolitical analyst may discuss reasons for the collapse of the USSR by contrasting it with the fall of the Roman Empire or analyzing how changes in economic production often foretell a political collapse.
Whatever the analyst chooses as his or her model, it is rooted in fact, research, and an attempt at discovering deep and profound truths that will clarify the current situation.
“Whereas critical thinking helps you evaluate value through analysis, analytical thinking is about examining the parts of an argument.
“It looks much more closely at the process. Analytical thinking typically involves research.
“As an analytical thinker, you will not be satisfied by the data at hand.
“You will seek multiple examples so that you can compare and contrast the multiple parts of several examples or case studies,” notes Anthony Metivier.
4) Understanding divergently
Divergent thinking can overlap with several other kinds of thinking including creative, analytical, concrete, and abstract thinking.
This way of thinking comes at a dilemma or situation from various angles.
Divergent thinking doesn’t demand “the” answer to a dilemma or scenario but is instead able to entertain multiple possible solutions or half-solutions.
Divergent thinking can be extremely useful in many professions because it is able to look at something from many different angles and juggle different points of view.
Divergent thinkers are also often very skilled at being counselors, mediators, negotiators, and lawyers because of their ability to truly see an issue from many sides.
The divergent thinker is still evidence-based, however: they are always on the lookout for hypotheses or methods which prove effective and valid or ineffective and invalid.
They then adjust their approach accordingly.
“Divergent thinking is about solving problems that allow you to have multiple possible solutions, to find out which one of them is working.
Most of the time, this happens in free-flow, or you can say it spontaneously.”
5) Getting critical
Critical thinking is thinking which takes nothing at face value. This overlaps with analysis and abstract thinking, except that the critical thinker will be even more rigorous.
Whereas an analyst or abstract thinker may accept certain starting premises, the critical thinker ultimately questions everything.
Many of the best philosophers are deeply skilled critical thinkers. People like Descartes, Heidegger, Aristotle, and Wittgenstein question all our assumptions and start from the ground up.
Although readers have responded to them with all types of varying degrees of agreement, disagreement, confusion, and many other emotions, philosophers like this gained a name for themselves by their use of critical thinking.
Examining any question or situation, the critical thinker will use induction, dedication, and abduction to find out what we really know.
This includes, ultimately, how we even have the capacity to know and to what extent we can even value or assess the veracity of the knowledge we gather.
Critical thinkers question and uncover, refusing to accept even things which seem very obvious until they have reasoned it through.
6) Honing creative thought
Creative thought is all about new ideas, a wild imagination, and making something fresh and original.
Creative thought likes to paint outside the lines, dream up new worlds and think in visual, auditory, and exciting ways that challenge the old strictures of society, culture, religion, and art.
Creative thinkers may find immense success in many fields but tend to be most appreciated in professions which focus on the arts and creative expression.
Creative thought tends to flourish in emotionally raw and genuine environments where authenticity is prized above all and facts come second to emotions.
Creative thinkers are often highly intelligent but prefer a more holistic and temperamental approach to life than a sequential, step-by-step, or concrete approach.
“An ability to conceive new and innovative ideas by breaking from established thoughts, theories, rules, and procedures.
“People who use this thinking often hear that they ‘think outside the box.’”
7) Thinking convergently
Convergent thinking is the opposite of divergent thinking. Convergent thinking doesn’t juggle options and think about how many points of view may be partly correct.
Instead, it works from many down to one.
The convergent thinker may consider many possibilities but only in order to think about and synthesize a solution from the multitude of ideas and considerations.
Convergent thinkers may use many types of thinking to arrive at a conclusion, but the important thing to emphasize is that the convergent thinker is interested in the answer, and the solution.
Whatever the topic or issue at hand, the convergent thinker is considering everything about it in order to come up with an executive answer.
He or she isn’t interested in what might be true or different ways we could think about the issue.
He or she is consolidating and analyzing information in order to come up with one ultimate conclusion.
Seven ways to improve the seven ways of thinking
The seven ways of thinking are all valid and very useful depending on the situation.
Let’s take a scenario and then look at how we can improve these ways of thinking to more fully and usefully address the question at hand.
Scenario: a man is considering three potential women to date. He wants kids, but is still not financially stable. Despite several failed relationships in the past he is working on improving himself and being a better potential mate.
Woman one is a successful lawyer who is 30-years-old, wants kids and is mentally and emotionally stable but not overly interesting.
Woman two is an aspiring and highly-creative EDM artist who is 24. She already has a child from a previous relationship and has an unhealthy relationship with pain pills.
Woman three is a 42-year-old divorced veterinarian with an interest in existential philosophy. She is dependable and unique, but has a small social circle and is unclear about her relationship goals.
Convergent thinking can be an amazing skill.
The biggest pitfall to avoid with convergent thinking is not to force everything into one box when it doesn’t fit.
In the above scenario the convergent-thinking man may be considering all the factors in a scale from most important to least important and then coming up with one final answer.
Looking at the pros and cons of the above list he would be likely to settle on woman one since she is of a good age to settle down and have kids.
The nagging questions of her not being overly interesting would tend to be pushed to the side, since they do not fit the conclusion.
The convergent-thinking man is interested in a conclusion, not in thinking about how each of the women has various pluses and minuses.
The downside is that he may end up with woman one and be very bored and upset because he was too focused on the conclusion and not focused enough on the process and various pros and cons.
If you are a convergent thinker take note: sometimes side considerations are equally important as conclusions.
Try mind-mapping, meditation, discussing ideas with others and paying more attention to other points of view in order to add a sprinkle of other kinds of thinking to the convergent trend.
The creative-thinking man would be likely to pick woman two due to her creative endeavors. Even though she isn’t the most practical choice and already has a child from a previous relationship, she sparks his creative side.
He may be swept up by her love of thinking outside the box and coloring outside the lines. Thinking of them in a loft mixing a new fire EDM track makes his heart beat faster.
Then he starts thinking of how he could use his graphic design skills and growing interest in pastel watercolor paintings to combine into a once-in-a-lifetime visual show that stuns the art world and brings the world to tears with its beauty as his girlfriend’s EDM track pumps into the stratosphere.
This is great!
The downside is that it’s not necessarily realistic.
Creative thinkers need to do their best to temper their creativity with considering practical nuts and bolts.
Artists in the past tended to have rich patrons like the Medici family or others who helped sponsor their endeavors. But not everyone is that lucky, and the stereotype of the starving artist exists for a reason.
Let your creative thinking flourish! But remember not to lose sight of reality and still think about money and practical matters in the middle of your adventurous imagination’s journeys.
Try writing down lists, spreadsheets, getting out your calculator or writing pros and cons to start tempering the creative thinking with a more holistic approach.
The critical-thinker would look at the above scenario and then “problematize” it to death. He would dig into every aspect of these individuals’ lives and try to come up with firm answers about everything possible.
Is their financial situation really what it looks on the surface? Are we sure that woman one has a stable future at her law firm? Is woman two addicted to painkillers because of childhood trauma or is she genetically predisposed?
He might be most drawn to woman three because of her interest in philosophy and critical thinking. But the critical thinker might ask how we can really be sure her interest in existential philosophy is genuine and not just aping at the thoughts of a person who’s truly profound and original?
How can we really be sure? Perhaps the best course of action is to stay single or have an open relationship with all three somehow? What about trying each one out and trying to dodge the ultimatums that the women have each set for him?
Who’s to say this wouldn’t be possible to pull off, especially if society was less bound by rules and conventions?
And why exactly do those exist in the first place? Is God real? How does organized religion fit into European socio-political history and the development of agriculture, by the way?
As you can see the critical thinker is a smart guy, but the problem with this kind of thinking is that it can tear down a good thing and make a mouse into a monster.
The critical thinker needs to be sure to retain some concrete thinking and convergent thinking so he doesn’t become out in la-la-land with speculation, questioning and uprooting everything.
Critical thinking at its best finds truths and hidden evidence; critical thinking at its worst becomes obsessive mental masturbation.
Try meditating, artistic efforts and playing some music or exercising to get out of your head a bit if you’re overly entrapped in critical thinking.
The divergent thinker would look at all three women and think of their pros and cons. Then he would entertain the idea that all of them could be a good idea or a bad idea in various ways.
After all, who’s to say you can really judge the potential of a relationship by its current outer surface?
What if the EDM artist with an addiction ended up undergoing an epic personal transformation and became the love of his life?
What if the boring lawyer ended up coalescing with him in unexpected ways?
What if his desire for children started to decrease and the maturity and intellectualism of the older woman eventually outweighed the attractiveness of the other women?
The benefits of divergent thinking are that it doesn’t jump to conclusions. The danger is that it wallows and never reaches a conclusion.
The key here is a happy balance, bringing in more concrete and convergent thinking to make sure that divergent thinking doesn’t split off into mere speculation and daydreaming.
Try mind mapping, writing down lists of priorities and making a flow chart to get your divergent thinking straightened out. It’s great that you’re considering all the possibilities, but don’t get lost in the brambles.
The analytical thinker would take the existing situations of these women and look at what they mean for potential relationship prospects.
Woman one has a good career, but woman two is more creative. Woman three, meanwhile, may have more intellectual heft.
Perhaps none of them is optimal, but based on these three as a choice, the analytical man would try to crunch all the data and reach a more or less convergent conclusion.
He would do his best to hold back his emotions and think about things like sex in a more no-nonsense way. Well, sex is best with woman two, for example, but woman one seems more open to wanting kids.
The analytical mindset will generally side with concrete goals more than emotional goals, as these defined goals seem more dependable and achievable than ideas like being “happy” or emotionally fulfilled.
Analytical thinkers would do well to exercise, play team sports, learn a musical instrument, travel and do other active and social activities to try to temper their analytical mind with creativity and spontaneity.
The abstract thinker would take the above scenario and break it down into a phantasmagoria or ideas and concepts.
Perhaps life itself is an illusion and these three women represent an aspect of his own psyche in some way? Maybe his own emotions would shift with aging as male hormones like testosterone begin to decrease?
How could he counterbalance the chance of unforeseen events in the smartest way while still remaining open to the spontaneity of love? Is trying to choose the best woman in a certain way ruining the chance at truly “falling in love.”
Then again, what does it really mean to “fall in love?” Is it a chemical process, is it karma or destiny? Is it just an illusion? What does the Bhagavad Gita say and how does that relate to the idea of love as a pair-bonding phenomenon where we just get flooded with oxytocin and illusions of caring about someone in order to increase the chance of offspring surviving.
Is that all love is? I wonder what woman one would think about that, would she be more likely to agree or disagree?
The abstract thinker would do well to start paying more attention to practical things. A building project, crafts or helping others with practical daily tasks, including volunteering can be a big benefit.
There’s nothing wrong with abstraction – it can be incredibly useful – but in too large a dose it can sink you in endless speculation and ideas.
The concrete thinker would take the three women and crunch it down into a clear equation.
He wants kids and isn’t financially stable. Therefore the lawyer who is well off and young is the best option.
Even if he feels more strongly for woman two he would dismiss her immediately as being a less smart choice.
The concrete thinker would tend to push emotions, creative considerations and other ideas to the side.
The concrete thinker is well served by getting in touch with his creative and divergent side. Get out that paintbrush and start painting the sunset. Start making a flowchart where you look at all sides of a problem.
Don’t worry: the facts and figures will still be there afterwards, but in the meantime you’ll get to expand your mind by looking at things in other ways as well.
One thought about thinking…
The ways that we think matter a lot. Our mental processes can determine how we see the world and what we do with our perceptions and observations.
This world could use some more good thinkers who are in touch with their own mind and aware of its processes, biases and ways of working.
Clarifying how we think and what we can use it for is wonderful!
At the same time, in my own experience a lot of the issues of modern society are worsened when we get too tied up in our heads.
So many thoughts start pinging around like a pinball machine that it becomes like a 24/7 mental migraine.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
When I felt the most lost in life, I was introduced to an unusual free breathwork video created by the shaman, Rudá Iandê, which focuses on dissolving stress and boosting inner peace.
My relationship was failing, I felt tense all the time. My self-esteem and confidence hit rock bottom. I’m sure you can relate – heartbreak does little to nourish the heart and soul.
I had nothing to lose, so I tried this free breathwork video, and the results were incredible.
But before we go any further, why am I telling you about this?
I’m a big believer in sharing – I want others to feel as empowered as I do. And, if it worked for me, it could help you too.
Secondly, Rudá hasn’t just created a bog-standard breathing exercise – he’s cleverly combined his many years of breathwork practice and shamanism to create this incredible flow – and it’s free to take part in.
Now, I don’t want to tell you too much because you need to experience this for yourself.
All I will say is that by the end of it, I felt peaceful and optimistic for the first time in a long time.
And let’s face it, we can all do with a feel-good boost during relationship struggles.
So, if you feel a disconnect with yourself due to your failing relationship, I’d recommend checking out Rudá’s free breathwork video. You might not be able to save your relationship, but you will stand a shot of saving yourself and your inner peace.
Do you really want to be limitless?
Do you really want to fully unlock your mind?
As the 2011 film Limitless explores, if we unlock our mind’s full potential all at once it could be overwhelming in dangerous as well as helpful ways…
Instead, I advise learning to think in different ways and improve on the foundation you already have.
We don’t need to all be Albert Einstein.
But we can identify stumbling blocks to progress and clarity that are holding us back.
Then we can improve on those and enjoy a more mentally clear world where things start to make a bit more sense.
That’s why I find the above list of ways of thinking so helpful and clarifying.
Understanding more about how I think and why has helped me focus on knowing how to use my thoughts and deciding what thoughts to pay attention to or ignore.
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