10 signs you’re a complex thinker whose mind works differently, according to psychology

Too often, we take how we think for granted. Because it’s innately our way of grappling with thought, we’re not aware of how it differs from other people’s ways of thinking. We’re not aware that our brain approaches things differently from the majority.  

Complex thinking is characterized by the ability to apply integrative thinking to the analysis and synthesis of information.

In other words, it requires critical thinking, creative thinking and problem-solving skills. And not everyone thinks this way, in fact, it’s only a minority that do. 

So, how can you know if your way of approaching the thought process fits these criteria?

Here are 10 signs you’re a complex thinker whose mind works differently, according to psychology.

1) You’re hungry to understand more

Are you one of those people whose face is always stuck in a book? Always reading articles? Catching up on podcasts? Watching documentaries?

Complex thinkers tend to be insatiably curious – whether it’s about one of two topics or pretty much everything. They spend a lot of time learning and seeking a deeper understanding of complex ideas and concepts.

People who think this way constantly seek more knowledge so they can make informed decisions. They tend to research topics well before they offer an opinion.

So, if you have an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and are always evolving your ideas and theories, you may be a complex thinker.  

2) You live for discussion and debate 

Are you bored by small talk? Are you far more interested in pursuing meaningful conversations?

If you’re a complex thinker, banal chat will hold little appeal for you. (You will likely avoid it like the plague!)

This is because you appreciate that everything issue, topic, or problem is multilayered and the result of the integration of a great many forces. You understand there are dynamics at play the result in things being far more than merely the sum of their parts.  

As a result, you’re only interested in abstract concepts and complex issues. And deep discussion and debate gives you the mental stimulation you crave.

You are also likely to be highly articulate (must be from all that reading!) and can easily and artfully communicate your thoughts.

The next sign of a complex thinker is also one that helps discussion and debating enormously… 

3) You challenge assumptions and biases (in yourself and others)

People who think differently tend to be open-minded and push themselves to challenge their own thought processes so they can arrive at conclusions that aren’t tainted by bias.

To do this, they constantly challenge their own convictions, appreciate different perspectives and empathize with them.

As Leo Tolstoy once said, “There are some who are willing to use their minds without prejudice and without fearing to understand things that clash with their own customs, privileges, or beliefs. This state of mind is not common, but it is essential for critical thinking.” 

So, if you’re constantly challenging yourself (and others) to see things from different viewpoints, you could be a complex thinker.

In the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes, “A mind stretched by new ideas never goes back to its original dimensions.”

4) You’re always questioning things (and asking questions)  

If you’re a complex thinker, you will probe and explore issues trying to get to the root of the problem.

You will also want to understand things from a variety of perspectives. And this means that “Why?” is something you are likely to ask all the time.

In conversation you will also likely ask a lot of open-ended questions that give you more insight and information and because you don’t want to influence someone’s answer with a leading question.

Asking questions helps complex thinkers delve deeper into topics and helps refine their thoughts and ideas. And the type of questions we ask can indicate the kind of thinker we are.

As the great Voltaire said, “Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.” 


pic2090 10 signs you're a complex thinker whose mind works differently, according to psychology

5) You don’t make snap judgements 

Just as complex thinkers are forever questioning things, it makes sense that they take their time to come to judgements.

They see the bigger picture — the multilayered nature of problems and situations and gather as much information and data as possible before coming to any conclusions.  

They are aware of the importance of context and environment when approaching any issue because they understand that context can change a meaning completely.  

So, if you don’t view things in black and white, and believe all meaning and life exists in the grey areas, chances are you are a complex thinker whose brain works differently than most.

6) You’re OK with not knowing

Many people struggle with uncertainty. Let’s be honest, it’s not pleasant.

It’s often tempting to miscategorized an issue or misdiagnose a problem just so we can draw a line through it and move on.

If the thought of this makes your blood boil, you’re likely to be a complex thinker.

(And if you were nodding along, well, you’re probably not!)

Complex thinkers embrace uncertainty. And they are fine with ambiguity. Because they understand that the complexities of relationships and social dynamics make this the natural order of things.

This ability enables them to identify opportunities for problem-solving and conflict resolution that others wouldn’t see. It also makes them more resilient and able to make better decisions in an uncertain environment.

And the result of all of this means they are also less afraid of failure because they don’t see it as a waste of effort, but as an opportunity for growth and evolution.

7) You identify connections effortlessly  

Do you easily recognize connections throughout society, history, and relationships?

Do you see the similarities in what many would consider totally different concepts?

If identifying patterns and cycles comes naturally to you, this suggests you think on a level that is different to most people.

This is because complex thinkers see reality not just as the sum of the events or situations that are occurring, but as an integration of the results of their interactions.

This enables them to quickly and easily see connections in diverse topics and areas like politics, relationship dynamics, science, psychology, history, economics… you name it.

And just before you think I’m labeling complex thinkers as academics and intellectuals, let’s get to the next sign… 

8) You’re creative

Oh yes, creativity is an important aspect of complex thought.

This type of thinking requires the use of imagination to see issues from other perspectives and imagine the likely consequences of a position.

Imagination is also important for complex thinkers to conceptualize ideas. After all, thinking is a creative process.

So, if you regularly catch yourself daydreaming, are unconventional in your thinking, and unafraid of being different from the crowd, there’s a good chance you’re also a complex thinker.

9) You take time to reflect

Taking in so much information means complex thinkers need to take plenty of time to reflect.  

They devote time to retrospection so they can understand their own thoughts and feelings as well as make sense of the data they’ve gathered.

They are deep thinkers who will often seek solitude and a peaceful sanctuary where they can just be with their own thoughts. This allows them to gain deeper insights into themselves and the issues they are considering.

At the end of the day, thinking takes time, and complex thinking takes even more!

Now to the final sign your mind works differently…

10) You’re aware of emotions (yours and others)

Do you tend to feel things deeply?

Do you pay close attention to your emotions?

Are you able to tune in to how others are feeling?

If you try to stay aware of your feelings and understand their origins and are moved by the emotions of others, this could be a sign that you’re a complex thinker.

Because this type of thinking relies on self-awareness and empathy.

Self-awareness helps complex thinkers to understand their own blind spots and empathy enables them to appreciate the experiences and views of others. Two powerful tools that are needed when considering a complex issue.

We need more complex thinkers 

Complex thinkers understand varied concepts, come up with original ideas, and use logical approaches to address complicated problems. 

Exactly the type of thinking we need more of in the world.

Congratulations if your mind works this way!

Picture of Niamh McNamara

Niamh McNamara

A freelance writer fascinated with human nature and social dynamics, Niamh read literature, history, and philosophy at university before spending time in journalism and PR. Armed with a passion for words and ideas, and a healthy appreciation of the ridiculous, she tries to make sense of it all. Connect with Niamh on X @NBMcnamara123

Enhance your experience of Ideapod and join Tribe, our community of free thinkers and seekers.

Related articles

Most read articles

Get our articles

Ideapod news, articles, and resources, sent straight to your inbox every month.