Thinking Toys are mental moves that help us solve problems. They can help us get unstuck. We’d like our minds to have effortless subconscious access to these tools. However, this requires regular practice until they’re installed. Learning to drive takes a lot of time and attention up front but eventually becomes automatic. That’s the goal with thinking toys. With practice, the process of “thinking” can automatically run through explicit moves that get us better solutions.
Of course, to practice a thinking toy requires having a problem at hand. Sometimes it’s hard to think of a problem but luckily there are some tricks to help. Thinking Toy #2 is Opportunity Pointers: prompts that help us find things to work on. There are at least three categories of Opportunity Pointers.
Asking your gut about where something is lacking or not-quite-right can be revealing. Say to yourself: “Everything is going perfectly with my ___” and fill in the blank. Some places to look include health, relationships, and career. Then, check your gut for a feeling of dissonance or an “except for…” and see if you can put it into words.
Ask yourself what could have gone better, and how, in the past day, week, or year. Where did you come up short? How might this happen again in the future?
Comparing yourself to others
Look for people that have skills or capabilities that impress you. “What’s something that others can do that I wish I could?” It’s quite likely that this is merely a weakness that can be overcome. They have had better practice developing a skill than you have.
A few months ago I found myself in a state where, at first glance, it seemed like everything was perfect with my life. However, after trying some of these exercises I was able to find directions to grow. This resulted in even greater satisfaction a few months later. I looked back on my previous year and noticed one major shortcoming: I lacked a strong sense of progress and accomplishment. In the past, I achieved this by working on concrete tasks that had an immediate tangible impact on myself and my coworkers. Noticing that I was missing this, my mind quickly jumped to some potential ways to remedy it. Spending more time blogging, and creating this newsletter, are just a few of the things I’m trying. It’s working, so far.
Not being able to find one’s problems and weaknesses seems pretty common. I think this is a better problem to have than the reverse. Paying too much attention to our shortcomings, failures, and weaknesses is not productive. It causes feelings of frustration and inadequacy. However, not being at all aware of our weaknesses can also hurt us. If we don’t know where we can improve, it can be hard to grow. Next time you are feeling this way, especially when seeking to practice a new thinking toy, try using an Opportunity Pointer.
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Also published on Medium.