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Push the Refresh Button on Your Thinking

You can take the box out of the thinker but you can’t take the thinker out of the box.

There was always something that bothered me about the expression, “Think out of the box.” I understand it and agree with its message. But I am a “metaphor” junkie and I struggled to figure out what it is about this metaphor that just didn’t sit right (metaphorically speaking).  Well, I’m happy to say, I finally got it!

I got it when I was reading Eli Shostak’s post, Execs Gone Wild! 4 Reasons to Retreat Outside the Box. One of the things Shostak is saying is how important it is to leave the company box and get the employees out into nature.  Then I realized, as humans we exist in boxes. Well, not literally, but more importantly, we exist in structures, in containers. Each of these containers has different forms, shapes and qualities, but we exist IN them.

We start off our lives in an amniotic sac filled with an amazing sound conductor, the amniotic fluid, and we begin our lives in sync with our biological mother; her heart rate, her voice. We leave that container and enter a larger one, the birth room, and experience all the sensations in that new environment. And so on…each stage of our development, each aspect of our lives can be described from within a container. Our planet holds us, through gravity, and grounds us. Yes, we have open skies above us and we can use various containers to transport us from place to place on earth, across the sky, into space, under the seas and oceans, but all along we remain contained.

We are always experiencing the boundaries of space, from our rooms (home or work), to mountain trails, or swimming pools. We’re surrounded by boundaries and structures.

Time also structures and provides boundaries to our various containers.

When it comes to thinking, the reason we want to think outside the box is because we don’t want to restrict ourselves, limit our range of thinking or suppress our creativity. And so we use the metaphor of thinking out of the box.

It’s time to refresh this old metaphor and reframe it. Here are two examples:

“Create the box to fit the thought.”

“Think in the right box.”

Not all boxes are restrictive or suppress creativity. Not all structures are limited. Not all boundaries prevent you from moving. It is the type and size of the box or container that determines its potential fit for your thinking needs.  For example; routines are structures you want to be in, while ruts keep you stuck and you want to move out of them.

I think; therefore I am.  – Rene Descartes

A lot has been written to support Descartes’s statement. There is now much research to explain how our thoughts actually influence who we are, what we do and how we engage with each other. Therefore, it makes sense to say that thoughts create our boxes.

Marc Chernoff writes in his article, 9 Signs it’s Time to Change Your Mindset,

“Believing in negative thoughts is the single greatest obstruction to happiness and success.  Your perspective on life comes from the inner emotional cage you’ve been holding yourself captive in.”

What is striking about this observation is that it reinforces that we are the creators of our boxes. Our thoughts use elements, both internally and externally, that will design the various boxes or containers in which we place ourselves. But what is it that actually enables us to move out of a box when it no longer meets our needs or what is it that fuels the thoughts that actually creates that box; our ability to imagine.

“Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.”—Albert Einstein

Our ability to imagine is the result of recreating sensory impressions and feelings in our minds in the absence of external stimuli.  We can alter, combine, synthesize and otherwise manipulate sensory information to form images and ideas of things never perceived in reality.

When we think metaphorically we utilize our ability to imagine.  Our imagination is given expression through the nonverbal and verbal language of metaphors.  The metaphor is “out there” to make it possible for us to sense and experience things in an unexpected way. So for me the metaphor of think out of the box didn’t work; it put a limit to my ability to imagine.

Instead of thinking, imagine your way out of a box that is not supporting you or your needs. And then go ahead and create that new box.

  • Start by being conscious and aware of what boxes or containers exist for you right now.
  • Make either a mental checklist or actually write it down.
  • See how each box or container differs from the other; some are internal while others external, the size can be different, the boundaries can range from rigid to fluid.
  • Don’t judge the qualities of the boxes. Sometimes you need a smaller box with more secure boundaries to function and the more fluid ones would not be able to support you. At other times you want the larger more open boxes to give you the room you need to maneuver.

So, the key question to ask when you are seeing what boxes exist for you is; is this the right container for me at this time? If the answer is yes, let your imagination expand that space and add more to it. If the answer is no, imagine the changes you need to make or how you can create a newer box and see yourself moving out of the old and into the new!

Question: What is your example(s) of how to reframe “Think out of the box”?

Thank you for reading this post.

Adèle McLay
Adèle McLay is a high performance coach and business growth coach. She helps people to achieve the success they desire in their businesses, work and lives. Adèle is also an entrepreneur, inspiring professional speaker and teacher, as well as an author.


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