Friday, January 01, 2010

Four Habits for the Spiritual Life

05-Practical-Intelligence I am reading a fascinating book at present entitled Practical Intelligence: The Art and Science of Common Sense written by Karl Albrecht. While the book is not directly discussing the spiritual life, I have come across an interesting set of ideas that seem to me to be directly related to it.

Albrecht describes 'four habits that unlock your mental capacity' (pp. 82-84). These habits are:

  1. mental flexibility
  2. affirmative thinking
  3. semantic sanity
  4. valuing ideas

For Albrecht, 'mental flexibility is at the very foundation of [one's] ability to perceive clearly, think clearly, solve problems, persuade others, learn, and grow as a person.' (p. 83) Surely a health spiritual life needs to have mental flexibility. In exploring doctrine, developing theological understandings, and applying what we learn to practical living, we need to have these qualities that are enhanced by mental flexibility. In order to develop mental flexibility and the ability to live with ambiguity, we need to free ourselves, according to Albrecht, from:

  • narrow-mindedness
  • intolerance
  • dogmatic thinking and judgments
  • "opinionitis"
  • fear-based avoidance of new ideas and experiences

By affirmative thinking, Albrecht means 'the habit of perceiving, thinking, speaking, and behaving in ways that support a healthy emotional state in yourself as well as others.' (p. 83) Affirmative thinking, according to Albrecht, also includes discerning what is appropriate to let into your mind, what to give time and attention to, and what we will allow to influence us whether they be people or ideas.

Semantic sanity refers to "the habit of using language consciously and carefully" (p. 83). It is based on the fact that language reflects our thinking and that, by changing the way we use language, we can affect and influence our thinking.

And, finally, valuing ideas refers to 'the habit of saying a "tentative yes" to all new ideas at the first instant of perception—however strange, unfamiliar, or different from our own—rather than reflexively shooting them down." Another term for this might be fair-mindedness—a willingness and commitment to treating other viewpoints with equal respect as we examine them with the same openness as we do our own.

It seems obvious to me that all of these habits of mind would enhance our Christian lives. To rid ourselves of narrow-mindedness, intolerance, dogmatic thinking and judgments, opinionitis, and fear-based avoidance of new ideas and experience is an urgent task. In my spiritual journey I have experienced many of these attitudes and, I am ashamed to say, there was a time when I displayed them myself.

Imagine what sort of Christianity we would have if we practiced these habits of mind and really sought to learn more about them and how to develop them. They would go a long way to enabling us to truly love God and others—the very essence of what it means to be a Christian.

—Steve Parker


  1. Steve

    Wow! What a superb way to begin the new year!! Thank you for this review and for all your other contributions on this web site and elsewhere.

    I'm going to find some way to add this book to the reading lists for my classes here at LLU.

    All the best in 2010!
    David Larson
    Loma Linda, California

  2. Thanks, David. An actual review of the book coming soon. I was really only commenting here on one tiny section of the book. It's an excellent read so far, though!

  3. I'm not sure if 'affirmative thinking' is a good thing to do if you truly seek spirituality. Doing this is essentially brain washing (like praying).
    The Atheist Perspective