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Is slow-thinking the key to successful learning?



Javier Fiz Pérez - published on 01/22/19

Thinking comes in different beats; our digital environment privileges only one.

Some people stand out for a certain kind of wit, which shows in their ability to respond quickly and ingeniously. We all have seen this happen in either company meetings, among friends, or at school. When the professor asks a question, there is usually someone who, in a blitz, gives the correct answer. Or that person who always has a perfect comeback in any social situation.

This kind of speed is a socially admired skill which, in our social-networks-driven era, constantly acquires more and more relevance. In fact, anyone can now join a conversation and leave a comment just by typing and hitting “send.” But is this skill also positive in other environments, such as learning, or problem-solving?

We can identify two ways of thinking here as being at odds with each other. On the one hand, we have high-speed, race-car like thinking. On the other, we find a thinking pace that can be conceived of as that of the walker, the wayfarer, the hiker. Both reach the goal, but at a very different speed, and with a very different experience. While high-speed thinking does not pay attention to what is found along the way, the wayfaring-thinking allows itself to be entertained in the details. It allows for deeper thinking, and finding unsuspected ways of solving problems that would otherwise go unnoticed. After all, was not Archimedes allegedly just taking a bath when he came up with what was later known as the Archimedes Principle?

When under pressure, we barely take any tame to ask questions, or to think differently, with flexibility. This is the reason why high-speed thinking tends to be more rigid, eventually lacking the ability to adapt, or to find new solutions along the road: it’s all about winning the race, and that’s it.

When negotiating, race-car-minded people tend to have more preconceived notions than “wayfarers,” thus obviating critical information that is often revealed during discussions, conversations, and other information exchanges. Overlooking or discarding this kind of finding can obviously have fatal consequences. It is not strange to meet people who are able to read quickly, devouring books in just a few hours, who are then simply not able to derive conclusions from what they have just read. Fast readers are often simply aiming for the pleasure of concluding the book, but barely pay any attention to its content.

In short, in a world where information runs so fast, slow thinking is not a luxury, but rather a skill worth training, if we want to find good, different, original, durable solutions.

Learning does not always mean “hurry.” Reflection requires time, a rare currency found in social networks or the business world. Interestingly, when we take time to think thoroughly and slowly, we ask better questions, developing the ability to be flexible even with our own presuppositions. Wayfaring, “walking” through life, with open eyes and a slow pace, gives us much needed focus. As St. Ignatius said, “be slow to speak, and only after having first listened quietly, so that you may understand the meaning, leanings, and wishes of those who do speak.”

Read more:
How to practice Catholic mindfulness

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