Challenge the Way You Think

I completed the Toastmasters Competent Communicator manual on 8th April 2017, with the following project 10 speech entitled “Challenge the Way You Think”.  I was inspired by a highly-intelligent professor for my master’s programme.  Though it’s been a few years since I completed the programme, I remember his refrain to challenge the way we think.

Here’s my speech:

Jim was a newly minted fireman and he had just reported for work.  When he had barely entered the office, the landline rang.  Seeing his firefighting colleagues were at a corner playing cards, he answered the phone.  After he hung up, he went to the corner, walked up to one of the firefighters and relayed the phone message.

When my professor told us this story,  he had this question for us: “Jim had just reported for work and didn’t know anyone, how did he know which of the three firefighters the phone message was for?”

Any guess?

The answer to the riddle is: the caller had asked for Jane, the only woman among the 3 firefighters.

Some people didn’t guess it because they had assumed that all firefighters are men or must be male.

Assumptions we make like this or long-held beliefs constrain our thinking. As a result we don’t think of or question if there are other possibilities.

What’s the moral of the story?

Challenge the way you think.

Have you ever been a prisoner of your own beliefs or thinking?

I have.

I go to Aljunied every day to pay respects to my late grandaunt.  For many years, I would take bus 67, that would bring me directly to Geylang Lorong 34 where I would need to cross 2 roads and also walk another 2 stretches to reach the temple.  When I was in a rush and bus 67 was nowhere in sight, I would take bus 28 first, and then transfer to another bus to bring me to Geylang Lorong 34.

I never thought of changing this route, because it had served me well. Or so I thought.

Then, came a day when I was too engrossed in reading on bus 28 and I missed the bus stop to transfer. I alighted from bus 28 at a bus stop I thought was the nearest to the temple.

After alighting from the bus, I cut across a muddy field and in 5 minutes’ time, I reached the temple.

That journey turned out to be not only a shorter distance but also a cheaper bus ride.

So, it was a blessing in disguise when I missed the bus stop and found a route better than my preferred one.

Would I have thought of other routes besides my preferred one? Maybe, if I had explored, if I had challenged my set thinking.

What’s the moral of the story?

Challenge the way you think.

But apparently it’s not just me.

Have you heard of the elephant-and-rope story?

A man was walking past an elephant, he suddenly stopped, puzzled by how the huge creature would be held by only a small rope tied to one of its front legs.


No chains, no cages. It was obvious that the elephant could break away any time from the rope but it did not.

The man saw a trainer nearby and asked why the elephant had made no attempt to get away.

“Well,” the trainer said, [vocal variety] “when elephants are very young and much smaller, we use a small rope to tie them and, at that age, it was enough to hold them. As they grow up, they are conditioned to believe they cannot break away. They believe the rope can still hold them, so they never try to break free.”

Baby elephants are traditionally trained by tying one of their front legs to a stake in the ground.  Because the elephants are small, only a thin rope is required. They’ll struggle and pull at first, but eventually they realize that they can’t break the rope and they’ll give up.

Elephants grow fast. Before long, those cute babies become lumbering giants. But here’s the thing: that same thin rope is all that’s needed to keep them secured. They think the rope can still hold them, so they never try to break free. In the end, you’ve got a giant held back by just a thin rope and a wooden stake. Freedom would be as easy as a little tug but the poor elephant never thinks of trying.

What’s the moral of the story?

Challenge the way you think.


Like the elephants, how many of us go through life hanging onto a belief, mindset or an assumption?

Just take today for example, how many of you came exactly by the same way you do for every meeting?  Have you thought of using another route?  If you have not, try thinking.

Try another route next time, think of a way to disrupt your routine, disrupt your habit.

The way you think is a habit, a habit first taught to you, then refined and defined over time by you.

Just because you’ve always done something one way, it doesn’t mean you should continue to do so.

Sometimes, we reach a conclusion based on a specific set of conditions, then forget or do not revisit our decisions even when conditions or circumstances have changed.

Rather than fully and clearly seeing the way things are or can be, we’re locked into how things used to be. The result? Could be missed opportunities, self-imposed blockers and wasted potential.

So if you’re struggling to come up with ideas, techniques, possibilities and options, it’s worth considering: what are you unable to see as a result of your set thinking?

Albert Einstein said we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”.

If you change the way you think, the way you think will change.

Challenge the way you think. 

Let’s break our habit now, those who have been occupying the same seat, please move to the opposite side of the table, those who have been taking up the back seats, please sit at the front, and vice versa.  Changing your perspective could be the first step towards challenging the way your think.

P.S. The italicised portion was to be read out if I had not passed the minimum eight-minute mark. This was not done in the end.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s