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Lessons Learned on the Way to Oz

Dorothy and the gang in the Wizard of Oz found themselves in a quest for what was real just as we are today. What they found was quite extraordinary and not at all what they thought they would see.  As it turns out, the Scarecrow and Cowardly Lion were in search of some of the behaviors of thinking that we all need in this journey for the truth. Beyond intellectual humility and the ability to think creatively, intellectual habits of mind that improve our chances of finding Truth include self-confidence and courage, observation, intellectual perseverance, and reflective judgment. These all overlap and build on the previous behaviors that help you become thoroughly prepared to successfully identify truth.

Self-Confidence and Courage

John Dewey once said, “Confidence is directness and courage in meeting the facts of life.” Confidence in one’s self as well as intellectual courage are the behavior tools you will need in order to remove any roadblocks to thinking critically.  For this type of thinking to occur, we must be able to have an independent and fair mind, which may not easy for someone with little faith in themselves as they may demure to others’ ideas. A confident person demonstrates open-mindedness, is willing to take risks, is decisive, and is always learning and growing, all traits that support the critical thought process.  As noted by David Hitchcock in his summary of thinking behaviors in Internal Critical Thinking Dispositions the ability to question what has been presented requires a person to have the strength to bring up points that may counter the prevailing thinking. This strength comes from the realization that your ideas are worthy and your inquiry into a matter valuable. Without this mindset, a person can become fearful of sharing different thoughts and resort back to what resembles a middle school peer pressure situation.

Christopher Robin told Winnie the Pooh, “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” But how do you get to the place where you can believe this if you are not already there? Amy Morin in a post shares several suggestions on increasing a person’s self-confidence, which incidentally, creates intellectual courage as well. Below are four of her nine tips:

·       Stop comparing yourself to others. Studies have shown this action does not increase self-confidence but increases envy of others. Focus on your strengths and successes by keeping a gratitude journal.

·       Surround yourself with positive people. The people you spend time with can influence your thoughts and attitudes about yourself. Being around positive people can help build your confidence, and self-confidence and a positive attitude go hand-in-hand

·       Practice positive self-talk.  Self-talk that is optimistic fosters self-compassion and helps you overcome self-doubt, which allows you to take on new challenges. Rephrase defeatist ideas to: “At least I learned,” “By practicing I can turn my weakness into a strength,” or “Trying is the first step towards doing.”

·       Set realistic goals. It’s no secret that failing to achieve goals that are too high-reaching can damage self-confidence. By setting reachable goals, the more you achieve the greater your confidence will increase in yourself and in your abilities.


While self-confidence and intellectual courage allow for the mind to begin to think deeply, observational behaviors allow the knowledge base to grow. To be a critical thinker, one needs to be habitually attentive to one’s surroundings, noticing not only what one senses but also sources of complexity in messages received and in one’s own beliefs and attitudes. People who are cognitively observant can identify when a problem is present and maintain focus on it.

Practicing mindfulness is one good way to improve your observational skills. The Mayo Clinic has shared several exercises to do to help improve these skills.

·        Pay attention. Take time to experience your environment with all of your senses — touch, sound, sight, smell and taste. For example, when you eat a favorite food, take the time to smell, taste and truly enjoy it.

·        Live in the moment. Intentionally bring an open, accepting, and discerning attention to everything you do. Identify simple pleasures in everyday life and really experience them.

·        Accept yourself. Treat yourself the way you would treat a good friend. This is also a good way to increase your self-confidence.

·        Walking meditation. Find a quiet place 10 to 20 feet in length, and begin to walk slowly. Focus on the experience of walking, being aware of the sensations of standing and the subtle movements that keep your balance. When you reach the end of your path, turn and continue walking, maintaining awareness of your sensations.

Intellectual Perseverance

Seeking the truth requires effort and the willingness to continue inquiring beyond your own beliefs.  This behavior is known as intellectual perseverance and is one that must be embraced in order to critically think about an issue. David Hitchcock notes this behavior begins with a love of inquiry and a desire to remain generally well-informed, and includes a precision of thought that is needed to correctly analyze a situation. It also includes the readiness to review current thinking strategies, and if non-productive, attempt to create a more accurate course of thinking. Finally, intellectual perseverance demands that a person maintains respect for others while deliberating in a group setting, a sometimes uneasy task if personalities and issues are wildly different than your own. Thus, mental perseverance requires a great deal of energy and effort to sustain over a long period of time.

Here are some ideas for increasing your mental energy, and thus make your intellectual perseverance more intense.

·       Crystal Raypool in shares that proper nourishment is essential to building this behavior. Suggested foods include fatty fish like tuna, trout, and salmon, nuts, leafy dark green vegetables, kiwis and citrus fruits, whole grain cereals and breads, eggs, yogurt, cheese, and lean protein like chicken, turkey, and soy meat products .

·       Moderate caffeine consumption can help increase mental concentration, but be sure to limit late day sips to avoid sleep interference.

·       Take  a break and make a change to your environment to give your mind a chance to rejuvenate and to allow you to come back to your thoughts revitalized.

·       Both Raypool and Jennifer Purdie agree that exercise also acts as a great way to increase mental energy. Exercises to try include Tai Chi, hiking, and simple yoga routines. 

 Reflective Judgment

A final intellectual behavior is reflective judgment.  Walt Whitman shared, and Ted Lasso reminded us, “‘Be curious, not judgmental.’” There is a time for curiosity that leads to fact-finding. But then there is also a time to make a mature judgment. It is important to call upon thoughtful evaluation both while accumulating new information on a topic to determine its relevance and then once again after all the material has been acquired to determine its veracity. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy shares that being able to withhold making a judgment before all pertinent information is uncovered is vital to critical thinking. This “Twilight Zone” state is an ambiguous one, and many often find it a stretch to remain here.  Staying in this nonjudgment zone is imperative because it enables you to continue collecting new facts and evidence. At some point, fortunately, once this information has been formulated, a careful and detailed evaluation can then be made. Impulsivity of thought is very much a hindrance to the search for truth.


This state of suspended judgment, whether during the information finding phase of researching an issue or once the information has been gathered, can be a hard one in which to stay. Here are some tips Dan Rockwall on his Leadership Freak blog suggest to increasing your ability to withhold judgment until the appropriate time.

·       Develop other options before making decisions. He suggests reflecting on several possibilities before making a final judgment.

·       Stay curious even when you think you know. This provides you with the incentive to continue searching beyond what may be your own bias. Many times you may find the most intriguing information lies beyond your initial thoughts, so it is important to push yourself beyond this point and continue thinking.

·       Stop your inner judge. When you notice you are approaching a premature judgment, take a deep breath, lean back, and say, “Tell me more.” And then stop talking and listen.

·       Say “and” and avoid “but” as it tends to strike down an idea before all considerations are made.

·       Make it a point to review how an idea might work before sharing how it won’t. Give it a chance!


By the end of their journey through Oz, the Cowardly Lion came to realize he had possessed courage from the beginning, which came as a real boost to his self-confidence. The Scarecrow found that he had been observing, persevering, and reflecting all along his journey as well. It’s pretty certain we all possess these behaviors, just as our friends from Oz did, and with proper practice, we can find ourselves uncovering the truth in our own lives.


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