Reflective thinking can help prevent future suffering

Originally posted in Asheville Daily Planet
Tuesday, 27 May 2008

If we look at some of the difficulties that we are having in our life today, we can often see from past situations how we ended up where we are now.

Reflective thinking is not only a great tool for helping us to better understand some of the challenges that we are experiencing now, but also excellent for future decisions.

John Dewey defined reflective thinking in 1910. He worked for many years on understanding critical and reflective thinking.

Critical thinking is more focused on the goal in the future — by thinking through different strategies, one can come to a desired direction. Reflective thinking uses the critical thinking process — but the focus is on the past, and not on the future.

Dewey defines it as an “active, persistent, and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it and the further conclusion to which it tends” (Dewey, 1933).

Socrates said it in simpler terms in 399 BCE:“An unexamined life is not worth living.” We can ponder all the reasons why life isn’t worth living without reflective thinking; I believe that when we do not reflect on our past, we tend to make the same mistake over and over again.

Ben Franklin is another person who valued deep and reflective thinking. A quote by him, and later restated by Albert Einstein, shows us the great importance of reflective thinking when they said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

It’s all too true that when we are not using reflective thinking about past situations but merely forging ahead to our future goals, we oftentimes end up using the same approach over and over again, only to feel frustrated and defeated. Many times we then feel like a victim, and wonder why our hard work has not paid off. If we really reflect deeply on the situation, we can see that maybe a change within our natures could have reaped a different experience then the one that we had.

Reflective thinking is not only wonderful for deeper relationships with loved ones, but for career situations too. Many people want to work in a profession that they love, but do not quite know what that is. Reflective thinking can help us know our self better in order to see what areas we are good with, and what areas we are not good with.

I also believe that reflective thinking is tied in with intuition. The more we reflect and ponder on situations, the more we are opening to the natural intuitive voice that lies within all human beings. That intuitive voice can help assist us in seeing the bigger picture; it then takes our courage to act upon it.

There are a lot of reasons that I have heard from so many people on why they are not doing reflective thinking in their life. Some say they are too busy or they do not want to dwell on past mistakes because it can be too depressing. I do not consider these good excuses, because reflective thinking can actually help time efficiency and prevent future pain from happening.

This is one of the reasons why history can be so important. If we reflect deeply on history while using our critical mind to understand how it affects us now, we can then take steps to prevent the same thing from happening in the present. This can be applied personally, socially and globally.

Some people might call this way of thinking having awareness or consciousness, but it really is about looking at the bigger picture of the past, while taking those lessons into the present moment, and doing something with them.

It can sometimes seem a heck of a lot easier being like a gerbil going round and round on the wheel waiting for it to stop. But we have the power to stop the wheel of our life, reflect on our situation, and switch directions. Having the courage to do so can prevent future suffering on a great many levels.

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