Use Diagonal Thinking to Resolve Challenges and Obstacles in Your Life

Thinking in straight lines, linear thinking is when you think of things from point A to point B; thinking inside the box.  Lateral thinking: you endeavor to solve dilemmas by using unconventional methods to generate unique concepts, perceptions and ideas; thinking outside the box. The next definition is thinking diagonally: people who can switch between lateral and linear thought processes; this demonstrates creative people who combine both intellectual and practical information when forming thoughts.  How can you become a diagonal thinker?  Keep your mind on the solution you are trying to reach – solution, and then let your mind wander a little, to other things that are associated with what you are trying to solve; your mind moves diagonally.  Diagonal thinking is important because it gives us a new way to face the obstacles and problems we encounter in life.If you’re used to thinking in straight lines (linear thinking), as in having your thoughts and mind go from point A to point B, you may get frustrated when you try to think “in curves,” or think “fuzzy” and expand your thoughts to cover areas that don’t really fit. If you do, you’ve engaged in what’s commonly known as thinking inside the box.

Or maybe you’re a lateral thinker. If you are, the thought process you engage in is one whereby you endeavor to resolve dilemmas by using unconventional methods to generate unique concepts, perceptions, and ideas. You’d then be engaging in outside-of-the-box thinking.

A different approach to this is to try thinking diagonally. Diagonal thinking describes people who can oscillate between linear and lateral thought processes. This type of thinking is illustrative of creative people who are able to combine both intellectual and practical information when forming thoughts. I refer to these folks as contemplative pragmatists’.

Who amongst us doesn’t aspire to be more creative and efficient when dealing with challenges?

How might you go about attaining diagonal thought? Keep your mind on the point you’re trying to reach – the solution to your problem. But then let your mind wander, just a little, to other things directly related to that point, but not quite the same. Let your mind move in diagonal lines.

The best visual example I know of diagonal thinking occurs in the movie Patch Adams in a conversation between Hunter ‘Patch’ Adams (played by Robin Williams) and Arthur Mendelson (performed by Harold Gould). To set the stage for the video clip below, it’s important to understand the context surrounding it.

Fallen eccentric intellectual Arthur Mendelson is a fellow patient of Patch’s at the psychiatric facility that Patch has admitted himself to after attempting suicide. Arthur is in the habit of getting up into peoples’ grills by shoving his four fingers in their faces.

“How many fingers do you see?” Arthur asks those he confronts, with the immediacy of needing to know right then and there.

When he first encounters Patch Adams, he asks this question and is annoyed when Patch answers “Four.” Mendelson then judges Patch to be “another idiot.”

Here’s the scene that illustrates diagonal thinking (it occurs over the first 1:03 of the clip):


If you didn’t catch everything that was said, here’s the thrust of the dialog:

Arthur Mendelson: How many fingers do you see?

Patch Adams: Four.

Arthur Mendelson: No no! Look beyond the fingers! Now tell me how many you see.

Arthur Mendelson: You’re focusing on the problem. If you focus on the problem, you can’t see the solution. Never focus on the problem!

Arthur Mendelson: See what no one else sees. See what everyone chooses not to see … out of fear, conformity or laziness. See the whole world anew each day! (Emphasis added).

Why is diagonal thinking so important? It gives us a new awareness and optimism that sheds new light on the obstacles and challenges we face in life.

For people who go straight from one problem to one solution, following tangent lines to diagonal conclusions can bring some interesting solutions to your problem, without the confusion that trying to think “fuzzy” often brings. It’s very much like brainstorming with yourself.

Trivia Question: Who gave Hunter Adams the name “Patch”?

Answer: After observing Patch fix a leaky Styrofoam cut with tape, and following the discussion chronicled above, Arthur gives Hunter Adams his new nickname “Patch.”

Many thanks to Success Inspired for including this post in the Success Inspired Blog Carnival – Inspirational Nuggets.

Thanks to The Tall Poppy for including this post in the cooltext55869541a1.jpg carnival.

Thanks to Brain Blogger for including this post in the 18th edition of Brain Blogging.

4 Replies to “Use Diagonal Thinking to Resolve Challenges and Obstacles in Your Life

  1. Hi, I’m a growing writer. I like to face new challenges through intense thinking every day, and write to express what I’ve discovered through my own observations of life. I came across this website (don’t ask me how…because I already forgot) and this blog in particular sparked my interest even though I could very much relate to it, as I am a similar thinker. I’ve been writing essays or even just notes or paragraphs on what discoveries I’ve made using my own mind.
    And seeing as how you are very intelligent and wise, I wondered if you could take a glance at my series of short stories I began recently- The Real Unknown. One is posted on the website I made for it.

    -That story in particular isn’t that impressive, as it isn’t very well written (at the time I was rushing and working hours on end from late at night to early in the morning on just coffee). It was written as an assignment for english class (I’m in 11th grade) and we had to write a short story. I got a bit carried away though, and this assignment caused me to come up with this idea for the series of stories. But I’d appreciate it if a person like you were to comment me by email on what you think of my ideas on that website, and my story if you want.

  2. Austin,

    Thanks for sharing.

    I enjoyed your post “Welcome to my bizarre new world.” I’ll have a look at your “The Real Unknown: Beyond Insanity” series.


  3. I have been inspired to be an optimist in life, although I am passing a phase in my career where every door I knock seems to close. Patch Adams inspired me to change my outlook on life.

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