How to Think Beyond “Either-Or” Paradigms

September 27, 2023 | Jarrod Saxton

Portrait of cheerful young manager handshake with new employee.

As you might already know, I’m an instructor in critical thinking tools and frameworks at BBiT. What you might not know is that I am also a dedicated practitioner of meditation in my daily routine. These might seem like contradictory interests, given that one involves rigorous analysis and the other advocates for “emptying the mind.” I recently found myself at an interesting crossroads when an instructor in an online meditation course I took stated, “Whenever you analyze your life within some disturbing emotion, you make your brain worse,” and proceeded to show brain scans that seemed to validate his point.

At face value, this seemed like a paradox. Meditative practices advise against overthinking and advocate for a more ‘mind-empty’ approach, while BBIT encourages detailed analysis of life situations, many of which can be emotionally charged. So what gives? Do we empty our minds or fill them with analyses?

In conventional thinking, this would lead to picking a side, passionately defending it, and elaborating on the limitations of the alternative. But it is this type of dichotomous thinking we aim to uproot at BBIT. We believe in an “and” rather than an “or.” We don’t make sacrifices; we strive for the all-encompassing.

The win-win situation

When I first heard the meditation instructor’s statement, I didn’t immediately know how these seemingly conflicting ideas could coexist, but I was sure that they could. Here’s why:

Meditation Clears the Stage: It offers emotional regulation, better focus, and a cleared mind. This prepares you mentally and emotionally for deep, critical thinking.

Analysis Illuminates the Path: Once your mind is clear, you can perform more accurate and constructive analyses. You can spot errors in your thought patterns and find solutions to the issues at hand.

When you look at it this way, it’s not a matter of either-or but rather a virtuous cycle. Meditation makes for better analysis, and better analysis leads to better problem-solving, which in turn makes life easier to navigate and less stressful.

Clarifying the context

The statement, “Whenever you analyze your life within some disturbing emotion, you make your brain worse,” might be correct within a specific context. By “analysis,” the instructor was probably referring to the counterproductive practices of worrying and overthinking – in the paradigm of those who focus on meditation, analysis and overthinking can sometimes be used interchangeably. And of course worry and overthinking can be detrimental – it’s why we have critical thinking tools and processes with clear start and end points, that filter out the right information, so that you never get stuck in overthinking or paralysis by analysis, and can get right back to action.

Nuance is the key

The next time you come across seemingly conflicting pieces of wisdom or practices, don’t rush to jettison one for the sake of the other. Dig deeper and explore the nuances. Often, what appears to be conflicting on the surface can offer compounded benefits when integrated thoughtfully.

A balanced approach to enrich your life

Resolving such apparent conflicts doesn’t limit you to the benefits of one practice or the other; it doubles your toolkit for personal development. You’re not merely avoiding a loss; you’re creating a comprehensive win.

If you’re interested in learning how to think this way—going beyond either-or paradigms to create holistic solutions – consider enrolling in our Thinking Foundations course at BBIT.

In a world that often encourages us to choose sides, mastering the art of integrative thinking can be your secret weapon. Why settle for one benefit when you can have the best of both worlds?