Stretch Your Thinking

My client was a decisive, black and white decision maker. She was going to give her husband some news that would greatly change his life. Convinced that he would be devastated and that it would destroy his life, I told her, “You might be absolutely right about his reaction. On the other hand, he may have a reaction quite different than the one you expect.” I then gave her three additional ways in which he might receive her decision. She sat perfectly still and stared at me for a moment. “I’ve never even considered he might take my decision differently than I’d assumed.” By realizing we can’t read another person’s mind and aren’t always right about what people will think or feel, we can be more open-minded to new possibilities and ideas. This whole process is one example of helping a client “stretch her thinking.”

There are many ways to see, understand and respond to a situation. However, we tend to have many of the same familiar thoughts circling in an endless loop in our minds. When the endless loop is not productive and we find ourselves in a mental rut, we may need to “stretch our thinking” in order to discover new thoughts and approaches. Then we can come up with different or more effective solutions to the challenges in our personal and professional lives.

I often help a client generate more ideas and options through the popular brainstorming method. We’ll pose a question that my client wants to answer. Then s/he will come up with as many ideas as possible in a short period of time, no matter how wild and crazy or how simple and practical they may be. While the client is thinking out loud (and this tends to be easier for extroverted people), I’m writing each idea down on a 3″ X 5″ card. When the client gets stuck, I may add another idea or two to provide a fresh perspective and to “prime the thinking pump”. Our mutual brainstorming often elicits “I’ve never thought of that before!” which helps them move forward in their process. The client will take the cards home to review and see if there are brand new ideas to add to the mix, ideas to toss out as unworkable or undesirable, or ideas that are variations on what has previously been generated. (Brainstorming alone tends to work better and be more productive for introverted people.)

Another method is to have someone ask us thought-provoking questions. I have asked clients who are trying to find a new direction and sense of purpose to give themselves permission to imagine and write five completely different life/work scenarios. That really gets them to “stretch their thinking“!

Also, What if questions are useful in stretching ones thinking: “What if you could have anything you wanted and had all the resources necessary, what would you do and how would you feel?” What if you had the confidence you’d like, how would you act differently?

Mindmapping is a great way to create a visual “road map” on paper, a smart phone or a tablet for coming up with and organizing ideas is an organic and colorful way. Check out the excellent book with lots of pictures/examples: The Mind Map Book by Tony Buzan.

What do you do to stretch your thinking? When is it important for you to get out of your mental rut? How about now?!


Lorrie’s Learnings is a monthly e-article which shares my awarenesses, learnings, contemplations and anything else that comes to the mind of this life coach! Let me know the articles that give you new perspectives/thoughts/feelings, confirm what you’ve been thinking or move you into action. To receive Lorrie’s Learnings straight to your email inbox, click here!