Changing Your Mind, Thinking Like a Writer

Posted by on Feb 3, 2015 in Catharsis Blog on Media, Writing, and Art

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You can literally change your mind. Have you ever heard the phrase “think like a…”, for example, to think like a lawyer? This happens. When a person attends law school, as I did, the school teaches law but also how to think like a lawyer. This is why lawyers approach topics (if they were trained correctly) more cautiously, and more balanced (why people get annoyed when they can’t get a ‘straight’ answer from lawyers). This thinking happens because of a daily routine in which the student learned and learned and learned to think like a lawyer. If you repeat an action or thought, you change the neural pathways in your brain. Another example is thinking like a military person. The training is such that once it’s over, even if you aren’t practicing or serving, it’s hard not to think like a lawyer or think like a service member.

Since in the first Lesson, I recommended that you keep a journal and practice as much as possible. Understanding how you can change your brain with practice will help. Any change in habit is difficult, so understanding will help you keep to the habit.

Learning a new way of thinking (or starting new actions–like a new exercise routine) is like making a new pathway in the brain. As a metaphor, making a new pathway for a new behavior or thought process is like forging a path in a forest. The old way of thinking is a previous path that is well-worn and easier to tread. In order to change, you have to make the effort to create that new path–to diverge from that old beaten-down path.  When you learn something new, you’re developing new neural networks. This helps the brain stay strong and active. It’s why you need to stick with your new habits, so you can make the network stronger, just like creating a super-highway.

Read more about your most valuable possession, your brain and how the neural networks act, here:  

http://learn.fi.edu/learn/brain/exercise.html

and here:  http://www.brainfacts.org/about-neuroscience/ask-an-expert/articles/2014/does-practice-make-perfect/

And here is a great article: http://www.breakingthecycles.com/blog/2013/02/20/understand-brain-maps-change-habit-change-your-life/  

Two more aspects about working on neural pathways. First, don’t give up. It’s difficult at first to change. That’s why people give up easy. Learning a new skill–like a language or musical instruments. Exercise routines. Quitting bad habits. You have to keep doing it and doing it and doing it. There’s a certain point where it sticks, and you feel that. Keep going! You have to keep at it until you have tread down the new path in that forest in your mind. Second, and related, be your own best support. In addition to developing writing habits, you can also listen to or read positive reinforcement for yourself. You can stop negative, destructive thoughts. Just keep doing it at every opportunity until it sticks.

This is also a first step in understanding critical thinking. Critical thinking is thinking better, more carefully. It is engaging in analysis, using questioning, problem-solving, reason, creativity, open-mindedness, evaluating information, brainstorming, and metacognition. Critical thinking is important to think like a writer, because you’re thinking better than the average person does, with more insight. Metacognition is your first step.

Metacognition is thinking about and analyzing, how you think, and analyzing improving how you think. For instance, you can think about what triggers you emotionally, in order to develop more emotional intelligence.

You may read more about it here: http://www.brainfacts.org/sensing-thinking-behaving/awareness-and-attention/articles/2012/metacognition/ and here: http://www.globalcognition.org/head-smart/metacognition-is-knowing-your-mind/

Questions will help you a great deal; questions are your next step. Develop sets of questions for different tasks and situations. Even if you don’t have answers, questions get your brain working. Questions take practice too–start getting the path laid down. Keep the basic ‘journalism’ questions with you: who what when where why and how. Especially why. I also want to give you a little resource here, one that describes the difference between open and closed questions: http://changingminds.org/techniques/questioning/open_closed_questions.htm

You can start now in becoming a better thinker and a better writer. You can develop the brain of a writer. Now that you have this information, you can understand that working on writing every day, reading, researching, changes your brain to be that of a writer.

Your Practice Drill for this Lesson: Metacognition and Starting New Pathways.

  1. Set up a new schedule for yourself on what days to practice writing, and what you’re going to write. You may not follow the schedule completely at first, but the important thing is don’t give up. Don’t let a setback stop you. Program reminders and alerts to keep you on your path. Use the previous lessons’ drills as part of your practice, and add to them.
  2. Metacognition will help you get in the mind of others. As you examine your own thinking, by asking yourself questions–even setting aside part of your journal to make notes regarding what have discovered about your thinking, you can extrapolate that experience to understand how others think–like your characters. As you work on changing, you can appreciate how difficult it is for your characters as well. Create a character for practice, and imagine a character arc, where the character has an opportunity, or necessity, to change. Imagine if the person can change, and if the person cannot. What are the stakes?
  3. Questions: begin developing questions for yourself. Act as if you’re interviewing yourself, and want to find out more. Ask yourself questions about thinking. If it’s difficult, interview a character (yours or someone else’s, then ask yourself the same questions.

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Originally published 2/2/2015, updated 2/4/2015.

Copyright 2015/2017 Alex Fiano