Here’s how adding one word can help you think outside the box

March 1, 2023 | Mirta Fagundes dos Santos

Hand drawn question marks with young woman thinking outside the box

What is thinking outside the box anyway?

When we face a problem or a challenge there are a number of ways we can deal with it. But, because our brains are programmed to decrease our mental load, we tend to try and remember the last time we solved a similar problem, and this prompts us to deal with any new challenge in a similar way.

In other words, we tend to do what we have done in the past, or what we know works.

There is nothing inherently wrong with doing what we have always done, but sometimes we need to do more than just solve a problem. Sometimes originality is important, or cost, or time, or some other factor that didn’t come into play last time.

Thinking outside the box refers to approaching problems and challenges in new and (oftentimes) unconventional ways.

What is the box and how do you know you’re in it?

The box we’re all supposed to think outside of is made up of our beliefs.

These beliefs constrain our thinking and therefore limit the number, and efficacy, of solutions we come up with when faced with a problem. So, being aware of our underlying beliefs is crucial to innovative thinking. Unfortunately, more often than not, we’re not aware of our limiting beliefs.

And we sure as heck don’t question them!

The one word that breaks the box


E.g., Your challenge is to lose weight. The common solution you will jump to is to cut dessert out of your diet. We can state this as… “In order to lose weight, I must not eat dessert.” Now let’s add the “because”!

What follows the “because” is the underlying belief that validates the claim that precedes the “because”. And there are dozens of “becauses” for every statement. They are not easy to uncover, and they are even harder to challenge; ultimately, we all like to think that what we believe is right.

So, “In order to lose weight, I must not eat dessert because…”

– dessert is full of sugar

– sugar is bad for me

– dessert will make me gain weight

– dessert cannot be healthy

– exercise alone will not make me lose weight

– a little bit of desert now will make me want more and more later

– once I start eating dessert I will abandon all healthy eating

– eating dessert undoes all the other healthy initiatives I have been undertaking

– if I say yes to the desert it means I have no willpower and will never lose weight

… I could keep going. And you should keep going. Come up with as many of these as you possibly can. I’m not one to brag, but once, during Black Belt in Thinking (BBIT) training, I came up with close to 100 ‘becauses’ behind a single statement!

Now, surely not all of our beliefs about weight loss and dessert are true… If you can invalidate at least one, there may be a way you can come up with a new way of losing weight that does not involve cutting out dessert!

Take “dessert will make me gain weight” as an example. What if the dessert was made out of fruits that are full of antioxidants and have lots of fiber, which may slow the speed of digestion, which may make you feel full and may help you eat less, thereby helping you lose weight?

Uncover your underlying beliefs and challenge them

Black Belt in Thinking training is one of the ways to develop your thinking skills. Try the first module of our Thinking Foundations course for FREE here, but before you do, finish this sentence; “In order to be good at thinking outside the box, I must do BBIT training because…”