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By Brianna Wiest

Most of the thoughts you experience in a day are not unique or self-generated. Our minds are like computer programs: they seek out, repeat and believe what they are told to.

Few people recognize how deeply their thinking is conditioned, and assume their thoughts and subsequent feelings are a part of who they are (and so they defend them, passionately). Learning to think for yourself is something you must consciously choose, and very few people do. Here are a few steps to guide you through it, assuming you dissect one idea (or opinion) at a time:

1. Decipher the origin of the opinion. Recall the first time you experienced it.

For example, if you remember being in second grade and hearing a parent say that anybody who isn’t pro-life is a murderer, you probably had a very strong reaction to it, being all of 7-years-old. Figuring out the origin of your thoughts, ideas and beliefs shows you how often they are not your own realization or discovery, but someone else’s imposition.

2. Determine whether or not your evidence is based in emotion or reason.

What are the supporting arguments for your opinion or idea? If they are emotion-based, are the feelings yours, or someone else’s? If neither – what are the facts that inform your belief?

3. Ask yourself who the opinion benefits.

Is it anybody (or anything) but either you or the general good of humankind?

4. Consider why opposing ideas could be valid.

This is probably the most crucial part, and yet very few people have the wherewithal to consider and discuss opposing ideas without feeling absolutely enraged (it’s what happens when we identify with our thoughts too deeply). Regardless – seriously sit down and try to understand the logic, reason or fear of opposing opinions without passing judgment.

5. Recognize why you feel the way you do about it.

Unless you are a trained expert on the topic, any strong emotions that accompany your opinion on it are usually strictly personal (and therefore, keep you away from being objective and realistic). It would take years and an extraordinary amount of research (at the level of Ph.D. candidacy) to be in a position to truly understand a nuanced issue enough to have an extremely strong feeling about it.

6. Research.

If you are as passionate as you claim to be about a particular idea, research it, and make sure your ideas aren’t unfounded. Then follow a few reputable newspapers, unbiased news sources and research centers to keep yourself up-to-date with what’s being discovered and discussed in the world.

7. Ask yourself what the outcome would be if everybody in the world thought the way you do.

It’s the best way to determine whether or not an idea only benefits your ego.

8. Envision your most actualized self: what would they think, if not this?

Imagining what your best self would say about an issue is a pretty good way to determine what you should shift your mindset toward.

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