How to “Think” Yourself Through a Challenge

As you may know from reading our posts or book, Julia and I worked with two amazing life coaches at the start of our journey together: Carolyn Freyer Jones and Michelle Bauman. (Sadly, Michelle passed away in December 2015; we are still aching with grief.)

In addition to the fantastic coaching they provided, Carolyn and Michelle introduced us to numerous books and resources that we constantly reference to this day. One of those resources is the “Thinking Environment” methodology.

An Innovative Approach to Problem-Solving

About two years ago, Michelle invited Julia to participate in a very special workshop with Nancy Kline, the creator of the the “Thinking Environment” methodology.

After seeing the success of this powerful method with her coaching clients, Michelle organized the private workshop with Nancy, who came to Los Angeles all the way from the UK. Julia jumped at the opportunity to learn a new skill, based on Michelle’s glowing recommendation.

The purpose of this exercise is to shed the layers of thoughts that are constantly buzzing around your mind and get to “fresh thinking” — a place of idea generation and problem solving capability that we all have but rarely access.

We love Nancy Kline’s “Thinking Environment” methodology and use it all the time with clients and within the team.

Using this method will enhance your ability to find your own answers to burning questions and, most importantly, to think for yourself.

When to Implement This Method

The start of the year is a great time to do an open-ended exploration of what is on your mind, although there is never a wrong time to engage in a Thinking Partnership. In my experience, it can be especially helpful to use when you  are feeling stuck, at a crossroads, struggling to make a big decision, or feeling weighed down.

The premise is that the mind does its best thinking in the presence of a particular kind of supportive, generous attention.

Here’s How It Works

Below you will find instructions for how to conduct a basic version of the “Thinking Partnership.” Note that this is an exercise for two people: a “thinker” (the one who does the talking) and the “thinking partner” (the listener).

Step 1: Set aside an hour to do this exercise.

Step 2: For the first round, set a timer for 30 minutes

Step 3: Person A, the listener, asks Person B the following question, “What would you like to think about, and what are your thoughts?”

Step 4: Person B responds, talking out literally anything that comes to mind — free yourself of self-censorship.

Throughout Person B’s talking, Person A must maintain eye contact, as well as a supportive, encouraging attitude. S/he should refrain from interruption, commentary, and reaction (this is difficult but it is essential for Person B to do their best thinking!).

Step 5: If Person B runs out of things to say, or says “I’m done”, Person A asks, “What more do you think, or feel, or want to say?” and Person B beings answering again. Repeat until the timer goes off.

Step 6: Switch roles and complete the process for your partner.

Choosing the Right Partner

When choosing a partner, you want someone who understands that their role is to provide supportive energy and an attitude of encouragement as you do your thinking. Most importantly, they must understand that their role is to do all of this silently.

Their role is NOT to give advice. Most importantly, they must not interrupt. Additionally, you must assure that the thinking partner understands that complete confidentiality is required; they should not refer back to what you said during your thinking, even if it is just repeating it to you, one on one.
When you’re doing your thinking, it’s just that — thinking. You are not sharing opinions or even fully formed thoughts. Therefore, as you “think,” you may say things that are part of your process and do not reflect your actual beliefs.
Getting to be with you as a witness to your thinking process is a huge privilege and your thinking partner must endeavor to not construe it as something that you “said” to them. (The reverse is also true when you switch!)

For those who haven’t done this exercise, it will seem completely strange. But if you give it a chance, it can be oddly therapeutic and an amazing way to discover how you truly have the solution to your biggest challenges if you let your brain do its work.

For more in depth information on this technique, check out Nancy Kline’s wonderful book, Time to Think.

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