At a time when you can Google just about everything, it’s easy to forget to think for yourself. Dutch philosopher Minke Tromp encourages us to exercise our thinking muscles a bit more.
How do you see the times we live in?
“Today we are expected to be so driven and result-oriented that we forget to stop and think now and then. I call it the ‘succes paradox’: The more succes you have, the less space you have to reflect, and the more trapped you become in your own ambition. But reflection actually becomes even more important when you’re succesful at what you do.
This applies to the work people do in organizations, but also to their private lives. We’re hardly able to tell the difference anymore between the good feeling you get when you’re doing well and the adrenaline boost that just keeps you going, actually hollowing yourself out from the inside without even being aware of it.”
Why do you think this has happened?
“Efficiency is seen as the most important thing in our time. We tend to constantly think in terms of goals and means. I have to do this to achieve that. And when things succeed, that only serves to confirm and amplify that form of goal-oriented thinking. This is logical, because when we’re on to a good thing we generally like to have more of it.
The upshot is that result-driven thinking is growing and growing, in individuals and also in society at large. We have achieved enormous successes over the past 50 years: we’ve put a man on the moon, we’ve witnessed a huge increase in general prosperity, and technology is developing at an insanely rapid pace. Succes makes us want more of the same and that’s how this way of thinking – targeting efficiency and speed – has gotten the upper hand.”
How can we break the pattern?
“This might sound a bit convoluted, but the solution can be found in the thinking itself. Thinking has a bit of a bad reputation nowadays: We’re supposed to feel more, and thinking is blamed for all sorts of problems. But thinking is far more than the stream of thoughts that pass through your head all day, or the production of an intellectual thought. You can also see thinking as observing, that is to say, as a registration of the thoughts in your head, like in mindfulness and meditation. So you go for a conscious walk through your mind. And in addition to thinking being a form of observation, you can employ it as a mode of action: ‘I’m going to think about something’.
That’s something you can learn; you can train your thinking ability. And in the end, you can surrender yourself to your own thinking process. That’s maybe a bit further down the line, but that is my ideal: that you’ve developed a mind in which the right thought comes up at the right moment. Thinking properly creates space in your mind. Once you have that space, you’ll be more successful at achieving your goals.
I’m not at all against achieving goals or performing well; I’m only against the imbalance that can occur when people are trapped in the drive to achieve. Maybe your goal is to achieve more harmony in your family, or to be happy. It can be anything you choose. As long as you think in a way that allow your mind to be your friend in achieving your goal.”
- More about learning to think can be found in Issue 22.
Text Sjoukje van de Kolk Hand-lettering Valerie McKeehan