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"Four Modes of Thinking"

By Robert B. Tucker

Hi there, this is your brain speaking. Just wondering which thinking mode you are operating in today?  Seems simple, but it’s important to know what’s going on up there. Success in today’s hyper-competitive world depends on what’s happening upstairs in that frontal lobe of your brain where problem-solving, creativity and other cognitive functions take place.

Fortunately, doing a quick, unannounced spot check on your thinking mode couldn’t be easier. Use the list below to identify which of the four dominant thinking modes you are operating in right now.

Defeatist Mode
This mental state is dominated by worry, frustration, and fear of what might go wrong. We’re all thrust into this mode some of the time - rehashing painful past events and replaying tapes of personal setbacks and sadness. We dwell on things we “could have, should have, and would have” done. It’s an inescapable part of the human experience and a negative use of the imagination. Our “idea factories” are shut down, and our idea-producing performance is stalled.

Sustainer Mode
In this state of mind, we’re mostly “going through the motions,” sustaining the status quo. If an idea does happen to flutter into mind, we’re apt to ignore it or conjure reasons it will never work. Our voice of judgment, that inner critic we all have to deal with, is temporarily in charge. From a performance standpoint, this mode is also an inevitable part of life. Many jobs are primarily about execution and following established policies, procedures and protocols. The downside of spending long periods in this mode is that it can deaden and diminish creativity, rather than causing us to challenge the status quo with game changing ideas.

Dreamer Mode
If this is your mental state at present, give your brain a kiss! You’re on a performance path, at least as far as generating ideas is concerned. Something has stimulated these endorphins of possibility and it’s important to identify what. Perhaps you took a walk in nature, had a pleasant conversation with an old friend, or got some good news that set you off in a positive direction.

In Dreamer Mode, you come up with ideas easily —lots of them. Functional MRI brain scans show the brain’s pleasure centers lighting up when we’re in this state. We’re all here occasionally, enjoying that dopamine rush of feelings that the future is bright, and all is right with the world, if only for a little while.

Opportunity Mode
Opportunity Mode is a confident, positive, glass-is-half-full, can-do state of mind. Our idea factories are operating at peak performance levels, plus there’s an added element: an action-taking component. You are not content just to hatch ideas – you have intention to make those dreams a reality.

Your attitude is of unbridled enthusiasm; you’re willing to try anything and everything until you succeed. Problems turn into opportunities. Obstacles are simply challenges to be overcome. The impossible just takes you a little longer. Opportunity Mode is what you’re in search of. It’s where productivity originates; performance is dramatically increased; and ideas flow like a mighty river.
Our research suggests that we need three to four times as many ideas every day to perform at peak levels in our work. Anything less than a constant flow of ideas won’t be sufficient as we enter a future of constant change. Remember, innovation is not only coming up with ideas, but also bringing them to life.

Click here for Tucker on “How to shift modes and impact performance.”

Robert B. Tucker is a “global futurist and an internationally recognized pioneer in the field of innovation.” Learn more at