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Action Thinking

Students of psychology seem to engage in abundant emoting along with their thinking. However, I find little evidence of their acting upon the psychology they learn in the classroom. I am speaking now of the education of teachers. This is probably due to the nature of academic psychology. 

By the time student teachers start their course of studies to get certified as teachers they have had  25 or more years of experience in the academic system. During that time they have acquired much information. Of course, some students have acquired more information than others. This information oftentimes embeds itself in their neural system as beliefs.  These beliefs may be carefully reasoned conclusions. More likely they are simply unexamined beliefs, beliefs inherited from  parents and other significant adults during their childhood, adolescence and young adulthood.

I usually suggested to my students that instead of believing or not believing what they hear from my lectures that they put what I said to the test. I would encourage them to carefully observe not only the behavior of others but also their own behavior to demonstrate the relevance of what I or other professional psychologists have said about human nature.

It is curious how most students do not consider there is an alternative to believing or disbelieving what an instructor says. If you accept an idea without examining it, you risk being labeled as gullible. If you reject an idea offhand without serious reflection, you risk being labeled as cynical.  Either way you lose. If what you reject happens to be so, you become the victim of ignorance, prejudice or error.  If what you accept happens not to be so, you are likewise victimized.

I notice in general two classes of student in university. There are thinkers and doers. Few consider the possibility of being both thinker and doer. For me, the thinker is one who questions, examines, reflects, gathers information, evidence and then puts his knowledge to the test by applying it to whatever he's doing. In other words, such a person acts upon his knowledge. 'Thinking about' something is to be distinguished from 'taking action'.  One is introverted, the other extroverted. One is infinitely safer than the other. 

Believing without putting your beliefs to the test is at best vicarious living, if it's living at all. For sure, believing without practice takes very little commitment or risk. From my counseling experience, I would say that believing without practicing what you believe leads to considerable frustration, and, in many cases, subtle forms of neurotic behavior. 

I urge you to consider the possibility that thinking is for taking action, for risking change. Learning that results in no outward manifestation of change in a person's life can hardly be called learning. Dilettantism, yes. Hypocrisy, maybe. 

I have often been persuaded that a large number of students are more interested in grades than in learning. What about the possibility of doing both? I urge you to pay attention to your experience. Put your knowledge to the test. Examine your beliefs to see if they stand up to the evidence of rigorous observation and the test of systematic and methodical thinking.

Think about what you are doing and act thoughtfully. What's there to do? In the first place, lots of living. What's there to think about? First, think about the consequences of what you do, for yourself and for others. What is most likely to affect your getting or not getting what you want? One thing is your choice of words when addressing others. Another is the alternative courses of  action you can take. You can also check the facts before making decisions. To summarize, check the accuracy of your facts, be clear about abstractions, eschew vagueness, be specific instead of generalizing, list the positives and the negatives of every alternative, and make explicit your expectations. This kind of thinking is action oriented and most conducive to your health, success and happiness.

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October 7, 1999

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