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I think about how I’m thinking about what I’m thinking about a lot. I call this meta-thinking and it is the genesis of much of DFL.

That’s a pretty confusing sentence. Let me break it down for you.

Let’s say I want to think about the role of the Federal Reserve in America. Relevant because as I write this, I’m getting ready to go hear a member of the Fed board speak. I may contemplate what the Fed does, its relationship to the government, what people actually know and understand about the Federal Reserve and what it does.

As I contemplate the Fed’s relationship to the government, I may notice that I’m thinking about it in terms of the actual relationships of people on the Fed boards and in government committees. That is one meaning of relationship and it might be the thing I want to think about. Another aspect of relationship is the legal one. The fact that the Fed is a coalition of banks and not a government organization. 

That is two ways of thinking about “relationship between the Fed and the government.”

But what are my feelings about these relationships? What is my bias? What facts do I want to accept because it supports me? What do I want to challenge because I don’t want them to be true?

That’s is thinking about how I’m thinking, not what specifically I’m thinking about.

Meta-thinking and other people’s politics.

I live in the second most conservative city in Texas* but I’ve lived in some pretty liberal cities too and like to think I listen to all sides.**

The thing that amazes me over and over when I listen to strong conservatives and strong liberals is how they think exactly the same.

They obviously don’t believe the same things, or come to the same conclusions, but how they think about issues is exactly the same. If you want to live at an extreme of a belief system, there is a way of thinking that will always get you there.

My son likes to explain it like this, “Republicans think about cops the way Democrats think about unions and vise versa.” The both assume the best and defend everything they do. They concede there are a few bad actors, but the organizations are over all good. You could flip the subjects there too. Republicans think about unions the way Democrats think about cops and vise versa. (This of course is another mental fallacy on our part of generalizing a whole group of people, in this case a political parties.)

The ironic thing is how they condemn their opponents “logic” when they use the exact same process for their conclusions. 

A Lot of Distinctions Are About Meta-Thinking

A lot of the little changes I call Distinctions are actually ways of thinking. Examining your beliefs is thinking about how you think. Attention is about how you think, not what you are thinking about.  The Leadership Mind Traps are about how you think.

Since how you think is probably as important or more important than what you think, changing it will make a huge difference in your life.

How To Meta-Think

Meta-thinking is hard. Not because the process is all that hard, but because it is hard to get inserted into the process.

If I need to think about politics, it is hard to notice how I’m thinking. I’m trying to use all my cerebral energy on the subject, reserving some to notice what I’m doing is difficult.

I think it is easier for some people than others. I’m not sure if this is an inherent difference in the brain, or a learned response. Some people naturally seem to be able to step back from their own process and see it.

For most people you have to do it later. After you’ve thought about something you have to examine how you thought about it. Or you have to “pre-meta-think”, which is preparing yourself for the session of thinking to hopefully avoid your habitual pitfalls.

The best tool for both of these is good questions. Good questions are distinctions for life themselves, and you will find them all over this site.

Now you can’t meta-think everything you do, but you can practice it regularly. As you do, you will create new mental habits that will help you in the long run. You’ll catch yourself doing mental mind traps before you do them. You’ll “naturally” avoid thinking in certain ways.

* A city needs to have a population over 100,000.

** I’m sure at this point you want to know my bias. I consider myself a Libertarian, which means I’m in a weird middle.

Photo by bruce mars on Unsplash (cropped)

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