Is linear thinking holding you back?

Do you know your ABCs? Of course you do. And you know your 1,2,3s as well. You learned them in first grade, second grade, third grade… You get the idea.

We’re saturated with linear and sequential processes. First this, then that. The fact is, we’re so used to linear, sequential thinking that we don’t stop to think about how it may be hindering the pursuit of our dreams.

Is linear thinking holding you back?

Linear thinking focuses on dependencies and sequence. Prerequisites matter. One cannot (or rather should not) move on to the next thing until the current thing is perfectly complete.

Linear thinking tells us that:

  • We should hold off starting that project or business until more money is in the bank, or the kids have left home, or…
  • We don’t have the credentials for that dream job, or to write that book, or to teach others.
  • We should finish our present obligations before starting something we might like better.
  • We earn the right to proceed based on how well we’ve mastered our current work.

Logical, progressive and entirely predictable, linear thinking is safe. Its primary value is to reduce risk.

Non-linear thinking, on the other hand, is risky, random and messy. The focus is on outcomes, not perfection. It can embrace working on steps 1, 3 and 10 at the same time, because doing so increases learning. And learning trumps ordered perfection.

Non-linear thinking tells us that:

  • It’s okay to explore projects or business ideas that inspire us; it’s fear that has us putting it off until the “time is right.”
  • Credentials come in many forms and, for many endeavors, experience remains one of the best and easiest to come by.
  • Exploration is not being irresponsible to our present work; we need not abandon one to learn about the other.
  • Fulfillment is more important than mastery; perfection is unattainable anyway and the pursuit of it keeps us doing less inspired work simply to prove ourselves in an arena that doesn’t matter.

It’s not that linear thinking is bad and non-linear thinking is good. We need clear logical and progressive thinking in many endeavors, especially those where safety is paramount (air travel and medical care, come to mind). But have we become so saturated with linear thinking that we can no longer see the small, awkward, and out of place steps we could be taking toward an inspiring dream?

What do you think? How has linear thinking affected the pursuit of your dream?

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