Firstly, fear. There are at least two ways that fear keeps us from thinking clearly. When we’re afraid, our brain exists in a ‘flight, fright, or freeze’ state. That we can think at all in that state is extraordinary and commendable. Unfortunately, chronic fear can limit the breadth of our thought.
Additionally, we are sometimes afraid of the ‘thought-crime’ of thinking certain thoughts, which often results in either obsession with not thinking that thought, failure to explore that thought and find out that it’s really not a thought-crime (and that perhaps the opposite is) – or both.
Next there is anxiety and stress. This has a similar affect to fear in shutting down access to parts of the brain. Ever left the house in a rush only to realise that you’ve forgotten some essential item? Or worse, been in such a hurry that you’ve accidentally hurt yourself picking up a hot skillet or tripping in the street? I generally find that slowing down and doing one step at a time actually helps me complete a task more accurately and quickly, because I don’t make a mistake and have to repeat the action.
Then there is hope. We want something to happen or be so badly that we ignore signs to the contrary. Our eyes pick out the evidence that we hope for and convinces us that things will turn out the way we dream of.
Then there’s language. The words we use come with all sorts of connotations. Sometimes it’s the connotation of badness or goodness. Other times it’s the implication of connections between different ideas. Words like ‘money’, ‘company’, and ‘war’ all come with associated ideas that keep us from thinking about their essence.
When we know what can keep us from thinking clearly, we can take steps to lessen the role of those things in our life. It’s also instructional in our interactions with others.
If you encounter someone who doesn’t think clearly, confronting them in a way that may increase fear, anxiety, or stress will be counter-productive. On the other hand, if you help alleviate their fears, relieve their stress, and remove the source of their anxiety, they’ll start thinking more clearly, seeing the big picture, and making better decisions.