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Flexible thinking

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Published: 23 September 2021

Students in a classroom

As a university student, it can sometimes feel that you’re simply learning exactly what’s in your textbooks and journal articles.  

But one of the key skills every academic picks up early on is the importance of flexible thinking.  

Think of this idea as the opposite of black and white decision making where everything has a single answer.  

By contrast, flexible thinking says there is more complexity to life and any decision you make should take that into account.  

So, why is this important to understand as a student at the University of Sunderland in London?   

Simply put, the more you know about all aspects of the thing you’re discussing the better you will do in your studies.  

Having the ability to adapt your thinking based on the information you're finding out is a great way of being a more informed student and person generally.  

Developing an agile mind  

Some people are quite good at being flexible in their thinking naturally, but they tend to be in the minority.   

For the rest of us, we must practice breaking out of our natural tendencies to always come down on one side of the argument without considering the other.  

Try some of these tips to do this.  

Get out  

Have you ever walked from one room to another and forgotten why you went in there?   

It’s a trick our brains play on us that’s caused by shifting our contexts. Simply put, doing something new changes how we think.  

To get the most out of this go for a walk, take a coffee break, or just shut your eyes for a few minutes.  

Do something new  

Studies have shown that people who did new activities for three months showed an increase in creativity and problem-solving.   

This means your flexibility in thinking is made stronger by novelty.   

To take advantage of that try something new, whether that’s a language, an instrument, dancing or anything else.   

Pay attention to your thoughts  

Mindfulness is often held up as a brilliant way of finding out more about yourself. It also happens to be very useful when learning to think flexibly.   

Try questioning your thoughts and the words you use. Is this what you really think? Are there other ways people might approach the topic?   

Be spontaneous  

Taking yourself out of your usual routine is a great way to open your mind up to new possibilities.   

Say, for example, you always walk the same route to the University. Why not try going another way for once.  

You’ll be giving yourself something different to think about and putting your brain in a place that’s ready to be receptive to new thoughts.   

All these ideas are just the start of becoming a flexible thinker.   

When it comes to agile thinking at university, an important thing to consider is where you are getting your readings and sources for assignments.   

You will realise you’re shifting your thinking when you see your work becoming wider and more thought through. You might even notice a boost in your grades!  

We’d love to hear about your experiences practising flexible thinking. Share your tips and tricks with us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram using #WeAreSunLon.

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