Just as the journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step, the process of thinking starts with the first thought.
Many people, when asked to solve a difficult problem or answer a complex question, will recall past knowledge and experience and then quickly offer solutions or answers to communicate what they think. Ignored, too frequently, is a deliberate investigative process designed to explore and create options and to assess consequences before a conclusion is reached or a position is offered or adopted. The dilemma derives from the fact that we are encouraged from early ages to think quickly and to arrive at “an answer.” Unfortunately, quick answers, in many cases, are synonymous with ill-considered, shallow, and easy.
There is a better way, and it isn’t complex or difficult. In fact, achieving improvements in your decision making skills is quite easy. With this strategy you can learn to do it in about 10 minutes. All that is required is that you memorize and adopt a system designed to deliberately short circuit tendencies you may have for leaping quickly to conclusions when more considered approaches would produce better responses or ranges of responses. You need memorize only four words that lead to the acronym BODI (pronounced “body”). BODI stands for:
- Other Options
The objective is to use these word cues, whenever a situation dictates, to assemble a BODI of thought. A BODI of Thought is an expansion of the well-known Forced Field Analysis. Forced Field Analysis requires thinkers to articulate positives and negatives to a given “problem.” Using Forced Field Analysis, each positive and negative is assigned to one of the two appropriate columns and each is assigned a quantitative plus or minus value. For example, if you want to assess the wisdom of changing careers, you may think of two “positives” such as:
- A new job might be more challenging, and
- I need to earn more money in a career with a bright long-term future.
Upon assessing the relative strengths of the two points you might assign a value of +1 to the first positive and a value of +3 to the second because point number 2 would seem to have more powerful potential impacts. You would do the same with all other positive points and then repeat the exercise with negative points. At the end of the analysis you add up the respective column values to see which one would seem to suggest the best option based on the cumulative values of all negatives and positives.
From the book Think Well & Prosper: A Critical Thinking Guide
The Force Field Analysis system is fine insofar as it goes, but the BODI of Thought adds two components that can lead your analyses and prognostications into other areas that are also worthy of consideration, areas that are usually critically important, and that can often influence ultimate decisions and plans of action. Significantly, while pros and cons are essentially linear concepts of “good” and “bad,” these two additional pieces move your mind into a more lateral, contemplative mode that can open up a world of different options and possibilities. The two areas of exploration are:
- other options, and
Assembling a BODI of Thought
If you like visuals, watch a slideshow/video:
The first letter of the BODI acronym stands for “Benefits.”
Benefits: under this heading the objective is to make note of literally every conceivable positive you can imagine. Look at your idea, problem or question from your own perspective, from the perspective of others, and involve your emotions, your aspirations, etc. Be as thorough as possible.
When assembling the list of benefits, people usually find themselves in a sensate mood where the anticipation of “something good,” as the logical outcome, becomes very alluring. Responding to your sensate side is alright as long as you know you’re subject to doing so. Tempering sensateness and excessive optimism that can cloud good judgment is why the other components of a BODI of Thought exist.
The second letter of BODI stands for “Other Options.”
Other Options: there is seldom just one course of action available in any situation, and by focusing carefully on other options, a thinker is often able to move into a more lateral modality to create a range of possibilities. Revisit this segment of the thinking process after each other step in assembling a BODI of Thought because other options can be opened and created as the process evolves.
The third letter of BODI denotes “Drawbacks.”
Drawbacks: this is where you become your own devil’s advocate. Surely, there are negatives to the course of action, or nonaction, that you are contemplating. Again, look at the situation from your own position and from the positions of others, and don’t forget to bring your emotions and feelings into play. Try to anticipate how you will “feel” as a result of a given decision. It must be noted that thinking of drawbacks can be difficult if you have an inclination to want to proceed in a given direction. It is critical, however, if this thinking segment is to work to your advantage, that you deliberately attempt to suspend your desires and wants and look as realistically as possible at downsides. If you have difficulty being objective about drawbacks it can help to involve other people who are not emotionally involved. Of course, you should be prepared to seriously consider the contributions they make.
The fourth letter of BODI stands for “Impacts.”
Impacts (consequences): the impacts category is neither positive or negative in intent. What it requires is that you place yourself in the position of imagining you’ve already taken a certain course of action, or not taken it, and try to anticipate every possible impact, outcome, and consequence imaginable.
Impacts should also be deliberately examined from short- and long-term perspectives. For example, in the BODI scenario following, the “outcomes” component examines considerations a person might assess as a result of buying a new car and trying to cope with larger monthly payments. When wrestling with the “impacts” question, extend your thinking to include how a given decision will influence other aspects of your life for years to come.
NOTE: It often helps, after listing each benefit, to include simple questions such as:
“What do I expect to get out of this course of action?” or
”Does this matter?”
Asking these questions forces you to look at situations from slightly different perspectives and the questions can stimulate lateral responses to benefits that tend to be linear.
An Aside About Instinct and Intuition
Often, when discussing how people problem solve or reach decisions or conclusions, someone will say: “I just felt it was the right thing to do,” or, “my instinct (or intuition) told me I should proceed that way.” There is no way to scientifically quantify the value of instinct, intuition and “gut feelings,” and no one has any right to suggest a person should never rely on them, but we should at least question ourselves a bit more penetratingly if we tend to resort too frequently to these totally nonanalytical forms of reasoning when important matters are at stake.
Sometimes instinct and intuition may well point in the correct direction, but by questioning their invocation, you protect yourself from using them as excuses for avoiding more deliberate thought. As well, instinct and intuition are sometimes used to conceal shortcomings, for example, ignorance about how to pursue a systematic thinking and planning process or, in some cases, simple laziness.
BODI of Thought in Use
Using your BODI of thought is simple and you should do so any time you believe it is important to arrive at a considered response. To start, simply get out a piece of paper, or sit down at a computer, and define the issue to be addressed. For example, suppose you, or one of your children is contemplating buying a new motor vehicle.
- Should I buy a new car?
Without “a system,” most people tend to focus excessively on either the positives or the negatives when contemplating such questions. Seldom do they quantify both in an organized fashion. The result is that the loudest voice in your brain, be it positive or negative, tends to win the internal debate and you may conclude that you’ve reached a “good” decision on the basis of a disorganized, superficial, and biased intercranial dialogue.
As well, without structure, it’s usually easier to talk yourself into doing something you want to do—positive outcomes are remembered more easily because they are alluring. By using the BODI approach, however, you force yourself, if you complete the exercise seriously, to consider the pros, the cons, other options, results, impacts, and consequences.
Let’s see how a case study might unfold using a BODI of Thought.
Using a BODI of Thought
Question: “Should I buy a new car?”
- it would be nice to have a new car
- it would be more fun to drive around
- I shouldn’t have to worry about repairs for a few years
- it will be a plus for my image in the eyes of some people
- it solves the problem about what to do about my clunky old car
Okay, those are all appealing, but what if you ask laddering questions such as: “why,” or: “does this matter,” in response to each benefit?
- Why would it be nice to have a new car? Because I’m sick of my old car and a new one sounds like fun. Does it matter? Not really, other than I’d like a new one.
- Why would it be more fun to drive around? Because new cars are more fun to drive, but, no, having fun driving doesn’t really matter, and how much time do I actually spend driving around?
- Why wouldn’t you have to worry about repair bills? Because new cars don’t tend to break down, so yes, it matters that I won’t have repair bills.
- Why would a new car be a plus for my image? Some people place importance on what a person owns. But, no, it probably doesn’t matter and I guess I should wonder about people who judge me on the basis of the car I drive. Maybe I should also ask myself why I ever thought this might be important, what does a car have to do with who I am?
- Why does it solve the problem about what to do with my old car? Well, it gives me an option other than keeping the old one and maintaining it. Does it matter? I guess so for convenience and comfort but not really in other ways.
“So, what are my other options?”
- I could fix my car, new shocks, a paint job and a tune-up would make it serviceable for a few more years.
- I could buy a newer and nicer car than the one I have, but if I get one a couple of years old I would save a lot of money.
- I could continue with my old car, it gets me where I need to go even if not in total comfort.
- I could take the bus and save thousands of dollars a year.
“What if I buy the new car?”
- I’ll have a $400 a month payment that I don’t have now.
- Insurance will cost more.
- Gas will cost more.
- It will depreciate and be worth only half its value in five years.
- The payment will mean I have no funds left for my RRSP.
- The payment, plus rent and groceries leaves me only $300 for entertainment.
- When I think about it, I understand in my heart that a car doesn’t stay “new” for long and that I may be right back where I am now in five years.
- Buying it will require that I adjust my monthly budget.
- Buying it may mean I can’t afford to do some other things.
- I’ll have no credit room left with the bank.
- If I buy the car and don’t contribute to my RRSP for a few years I might damage my retirement goals by not having funds compounding for 30 years.
- If I buy the car, I won’t be able to save for a down payment for a house or an apartment.
- Will having a new car really influence anyone’s opinion about me and what should I think about people who judge my success on the basis on my car?
- How long does a new car hold its appeal? Will I find myself wanting another new one in a couple of years?
- Is this a cycle of desire that could lead to having car payments for the rest of my life?
Clearly, the questions asked by the author are not the same as those you may ask yourself, but hopefully you can see how looking at benefits, outcomes (short-term), drawbacks and impacts (long-term) can clarify and make the thinking process both deeper and wider; the goal—to reach more considered conclusions that lead to appropriate and predictable outcomes.
It may be, of course, that a person will still decide to proceed with the same course of action that would have been pursued without a BODI of Thought, and it is conceivable as well that prejudices and powerful desires will prevent rigorous exploration of possible drawbacks, other options, or negative impacts. There is little anyone can do if someone is determined to get to a particular answer or solution even if it means deliberately ignoring negatives.
What BODI does, though, is provide a system which enables you to look at any situation from a less linear perspective. It also forces us to question our desire to always be “right.” Using a system such as a BODI of Thought requires discipline but once it becomes a thinking ritual, it can replace or add to the way you thought and problem-solved before.
Remember: Information by itself produces nothing useful. To become useful, information must be interpreted, integrated into existing knowledge and experience, and then applied, using judgment, reason and rationality. Information without intelligence is inert.
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BODI of Thought Graphic
In practice you can create a BODI of Thought worksheet such as the following that includes all of the necessary components, and that requests numerical plus and/or minus values for each entry. By adding each of the values, pluses and minuses, you should gain an appreciation for the relative wisdom of any given decision.
Create a simple BODI of thought, including +- numerical values in each box. Create your BODI on the following topic: “I have just won $25,000, I love to travel and I think I’ll take an extended holiday that might use most or all of the money. How can I test the wisdom of my decision?”
For example, you may view travel as a life enriching experience that warrants a +10 Benefit, a Drawback could be that if you spend the money you won’t have enough for your retirement savings contribution this year, so -8, an Impact could be either plus or minus (and that’s where the lateral thinking comes in. Likewise with Other Options, for e.g. you could decide to contribute half to retirement savings and half for the trip, so you may score that +8.
Once you have thoroughly examined ALL angles, add up the plus and minus values and see which one totals the most; it’s more difficult to fool yourself with this approach if you’re really thorough. See another YouTube video about critical thinking.