As Wendy pondered the obstacles to reflective practicing at work, she dropped the phrase "reflexive thinking". Light bulbs went off in my mind when I read that. I suddenly realized why reflective practicing seems to be such a huge challenge cognitively. We cannot simply flip a switch to stop our incessant reflexive thinking.
When we are indulging in reflexive thinking, we are hard wired to our circumstances. We're thinking our situation "makes us feel" the way we do. We cannot change what we're thinking or feeling until the situation changes first. We are not looking in a mirror at our own reflection, we are looking at a picture in a frame of objectivity.
Reflexive thinking begins on the outside and comes inside our minds. We are reacting to what we perceive as facts. There's no two ways about it: "a fact is a fact". Anyone changing the facts is merely speculating, expressing opinions or distorting the truth.
Reflexive thinking can only label, categorize and compartmentalize the evidence. Reflexive thinking is an act of desperation to change uncertainty into familiar danger. The urgency of getting a handle on a troublesome situation immediately -- often results in cognitive distortions which feed into chronic problems:
- over-generalizing, idealizing, catastrophizing
- over-reacting, panicking, dramatizing
- over-estimating, jumping to conclusions, exaggerating
- over-extending, over-committing, approval seeking
- over-indulging, neglecting, obsessing
Reflexive thinking opposes creativity. It cannot think outside the box, play with the rules, change the meaning or redefine the problem. Reflexive thinking necessitates: a realistic appraisal of the limitations, playing by the rules and dealing with the obvious problem objectively.
When we are aware of how reflexive thinking functions like we are right now, we are practicing reflective awareness. When we catch ourselves thinking with any of the patterns described above, we are reflecting on our thought processes. When we want to respond to a situation without our routine, hard-wired reactions, we are inducing our reflective awareness to come forth. When we routinely interrupt our desperate thinking to serenely survey the situation, we have outgrown our incessant, reflexive thinking.
Reflect on that!