So, you want to learn how to start thinking for yourself instead of just relying on the opinions of others to shape your thoughts? You’ll need to retrain your brain, and this will take time and effort. If you’re willing to expend the energy, here’s how to do it in the simplest 8 steps I can come up with.
You know your preconceptions? Leave them all at the door. Independent thinking is all about getting rid of the ideas you were indoctrinated into believing, or believed because people that you trust believe them, and starting to think for yourself. Stop thinking emotionally, and start thinking rationally. Keep an open mind to all the possibilities. The people who’ve taught you the things that make up your reality may have been right, and they may have been wrong. That’s for you to decide.
“Think before you speak. Read before you think.” Fran Lebowitz
There’s nothing like a little thought-provoking literature. Go to the library and pick up as many books as you can possibly read, and then read them all. Take an Orwellian book for a spin. Read a few science and history books. Enlighten your mind by studying both Eastern and Western philosophy. Supposing you’ve started trying to think rationally by this point, the more you know, the more well-rounded and insightful your opinions and stances will be.
3. Question EVERYTHING
Instead of just accepting that things are the way they are, ask yourself WHY they are the way they are. Just because something is one way now, doesn’t mean that it should be that way forever. This will help you become aware of the hypocrisy in your life as well as the lives of others. What DO we know, even? Do we truly KNOW anything? Delving into the world of philosophy will help expose you to these kinds of questions.
4.Surround Yourself With Open-Minded And Intelligent People
You know the saying “If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room”? Although everyone has something that they know and may be able to teach you, the saying is valid. You want to fill your life with people whose intelligence you respect If you’re pursuing knowledge and truth, one of the best things you can do is to surround yourself with others who are on the same journey. These types of people are the ones who’ll expose you to new ideas, and who’ll listen to yours.
5. Watch/Listen To Educational Material
Reading isn’t the only way to learn. In fact, some people are just better at absorbing information if they hear it or watch it in video form. If you have a subscription, watch a documentary or an entire series (Cosmos, Bill Nye, any of David Attenborough’s animal specials) on Netflix. If you don’t, that’s alright, because we live in a day and age where free educational content is ubiquitous. Listen to an educational podcast (Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History, perhaps) or watch a few episodes of John and Hank Green’s SciShow or Crash Course on YouTube. There are economics, law, science, and philosophy courses available on the Coursera website for no charge, and many colleges (Stanford, MIT, Harvard, for example) even offer their lectures podcasted.
6. Do Your Research
Before you formulate an opinion, make sure you’ve taken in enough information to make a fair judgment.
No one enjoys a debate with someone who can’t back up their opinions. For those of you with agendas, you must be careful to make sure to not only look at evidence from the side you wish to believe, but evidence from both sides. Form your opinions using logic and not emotional attachment. Do not side with the opinion that you want to be true, but rather the one that you conclude to be true.
Let others challenge your views, and listen to their points. If you’re not open to criticism on your views, how will you ever grow as a thinker? Think of a debate as a mental game instead of you defending a point that you’re emotionally attached to. Just realize that being able to prove something doesn’t necessarily mean that your opponent will change their mind. People are creatures of habit, and are capable of being very stubborn.
For a change in perspective, get out of your neighborhood and see what things are like elsewhere. I lived in a developing country for a while, and seeing the way that people lived helped me realize that our environment is just a bubble, and that situations are very different outside of it. Just because something is a certain way for me, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is that way for everyone. This sounds like a “duh” point, but surprisingly, not as many people realize it as you’d think. This is an invaluable lesson to learn.