Thinking For Yourself

(Approximately a 6 minute read)

Thinking for yourself, to me, means understanding what influences your thoughts, questioning everything, and then making your own informed decisions with consideration for the short and long-term consequences to yourself and other living beings.

Aside from building more autonomy and self-reliance into your life, this kind of thinking will help dismantle the existing growth-at-all-costs system that relies on consumers who don't think for themselves.


So many influences on our thinking...

Learning to think for yourself could begin with this question: “Who has been doing my thinking for me, up until now?”

So many things influence the way we think, our beliefs and assumptions about ourselves and the world around us. Many of them—perhaps most of them—work on us without our awareness or consent.

Some began in early childhood, even before our conscious memory.1 Others arise out of the social and cultural clamor that surrounds us, most notably out of the push to keep us consuming.

Pervasive marketing messages  

A good example of a pervasive influence on our thinking is the marketing that has become an accepted part of modern life. 

Consider this message, one that we hear constantly:

"You are incomplete or inadequate as you are. You will feel happy and complete only after you upgrade to the newest, biggest, shiniest version of ____."

Fill in the blank with whatever the marketer is trying to sell.

Our discretionary income is up for grabs by who-ever can capture our attention and hold it (usually by magnifying our pain and then offering a silver bullet to ease it) until we press the buy button.

Things that should never have been for sale

Another example is the you-need-expert-help message:

"You are not capable of taking care of your family's health/educating your children/providing for yourself without expert help."

Why would anybody tell you that?

Because there are profits to be had.  

Things that should never have been for sale now have dollar signs attached.

Our thought processes about things like our healthcare or our children's education are now commodities, market share to be captured by whoever can present a case that will make us buy. 

(To be able to influence our children's education is a particularly attractive prize because our children are the consumers of tomorrow.)

Influencing human behavior

Marketing today is THE industry that powers all the others. As the Oncler says in the children's book, The Lorax, "It's amazing what some people will buy" if the marketing message is powerful enough.

Modern marketing has such potential power over us because its creators have access to mind boggling budgets and everything modern psychology knows about influencing human behavior - including ways to influence us so subtly that we're often unaware of it.

Unless you live without screens or media of any kind, it takes awareness and vigilance to screen out these messages and guard your capacity to think independently. Its hard work.

More questions, better choices

As you begin to question these and countless other influences on your thinking – beware.

You may become one of those people who no longer accepts any version of the status quo. You may start to question EVERYTHING.

Your food, your lifestyle and consumption choices, your healthcare, your children’s education, how you relate to the world around you, and how you allow it to influence you.

You may grow more conscious, and more choosy, about everything. Consequently, you’ll make choices that better support your own health and well-being and, by extension, the well-being of all the living things that make up the web of life that surrounds and supports you.

A radical act of subversion

Setting out to question everything, to be as fully informed as you can be and to make decisions with awareness, could be called a radical act of subversion.

Self-reliant people do not make good consumers.

The idea that experts and the "Bigs"—Big Agriculture, Big, Pharma, Big Industry—can do things for us better than we can do them for ourselves is crucial to the consumer economy.

Growth in our economy, besides relying on a never-ending supply of cheap energy, also relies on keeping a lid on our growth as individuals who can A, think for ourselves and B, give careful consideration to how our actions impact on the rest of life on earth.

Independent thinking is about you directing your own life

You don't have to be a passive recipient of the programming that surrounds you. You can be the programmer instead.

You can orchestrate your thinking, your habits, your associations, your environment, all to maximize and leverage the things you want more of in your life, and marginalize the things you want less of.

Autonomy and freedom of thought

To me, independent thinking means—among other things— questioning everything, seeking out unbiased information, and drawing our own conclusions.

Having drawn our own conclusions, next is to act on them, to experience the results of our actions, learn from them, and try again.

This is the process of learning—of building autonomy and self-determination—that we mostly leave alone in very young children.

But at some point, somebody decides that the child must be taught something – and begins to interfere with the child’s thinking and experimenting to such an extent that by the time the child has finished their “education,” they may have lost trust in their own thinking.

If they are unable to trust their own thinking, then a person is much less able to rely on themselves - to feel able to take risks, to experiment, modify their experiments based on their outcomes, and try again. And again and again, if necessary. 

This inability to trust our own thinking seems to me like a form of disablement, a form of dis-empowerment that impacts adversely on quality of life. 

A person who is dis-empowered in this way is set up to become a consumer. To spend their life working for money with which to pay corporations and institutions to provide them with goods and services — a very profitable arrangement for the providers.

And thus, we have a “consumer economy.” For a consumer economy to keep working, it’s vital to keep the flow of consumers coming, buying, not asking too many questions, and definitely not thinking for themselves.

Thanks for reading!

Growing Up, For Adults, is a post that follows on from this one with more on the influences that shape our thinking.

And if you've enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy Out-Growing Consumerism and When Nothing You Can Do Makes a Difference, which are Series of posts that explore these ideas in more depth. 


  1. Its outside the scope of this article to go into childhood programming. But it's worth mentioning here that identifying your childhood influences and choosing which to keep and which to let go of can be incredibly empowering.
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