According to the experts, thinking skills are put into a number of categories. “Lower” levels of thinking are simple: these include memorizing and identifying things, for example.
Higher levels of thinking are more complicated. This is where complex skills like analyzing, judging, and synthesizing come in. Complex thinking processes usually involve content that is more abstract by nature.
Are you a complex thinker, or would you like to be?
Here are ten ways to identify if you’re a complex thinker as well as ways to level up how you use your mind.
1) You’ve never come across a simple question
A simple thinker might make an observation like, “Wow, don’t you think that the sky is especially blue this morning?”
If you happen to be complex thinker, your response might be something like:
“Yes, blue light seems to be scattered more than usual by the tiny molecules in the Earth’s atmosphere. The blue pops because, compared to other colors, it travels in shorter and smaller waves. Closer to the horizon, the sky will fade to a lighter blue or maybe even white, though.”
It’s not that you mean to sound like a know-it-all, but nothing is ever simple to you. Life and the workings of the universe fascinate you, and you can’t help but probe deeper into the complexities behind the seemingly simple things we take for granted.
You also can’t help but share your love of knowledge whenever you can.
Complex thinkers tend to make everyday mundane things pretty complicated too. Because a complex thinker has so many facets and levels to their personality, a question like “What’s for dinner?” isn’t as simple as it seems on the surface.
That’s because the question is also about whether they even want to cook to begin with. Maybe they want to order takeout, or maybe they aren’t even hungry to begin with.
2) Small talk isn’t your thing
It’s no wonder then, that when it comes to small talk, you’d rather do anything but.
It’s not that you look down on small talk, you just don’t have the patience for it.
You’d much rather have an in-depth conversation on say: What is meant by the phrase “the rise of religious fundamentalism?” Is this a current problem in our modern times? What accounts for the rise of religious fundamentalism at this particular point in civilization and history?
Now, if anyone is down for this discussion, you’ll be more than happy to sit down with them over a bottle (or two) of wine.
3) You like complex challenges
No doubt complex thinkers like to stimulate and challenge themselves.
They love to throw themselves into a challenging cause for the greater good, for example—whether it’s human rights, climate change, or any political cause that is important to them.
Complex thinkers understand that the outcome of what they’re doing is uncertain and that there is no guarantee of progress, but they feel the need to pursue it anyway.
They’re in the best mental position to make things happen because they come at the issues from all angles. Complex thinkers are also usually good at taking in other people’s perspectives because they’re intelligent enough to know that the more solutions you throw at a problem, the better.
4) You have a laser-like focus
Complex people are very good at zeroing in on an issue and problem. They’re able to peel back layers and get to the core and they don’t stop trying until they find themselves at the root of the issue.
That’s because complex people know that tried and true progress comes from being able to concentrate on one task at a time.
5) You like to look for multiple solutions
If you’re a complex person, you know that a one-size-fits-all solution to a problem is simplistic, narrow-minded, and perhaps even naive.
That’s because they know that problems come in all shapes and sizes, so they know that the methods and solutions have to be just as intricate and complicated.
When they find that one thing isn’t working, complex thinkers will mix it by trying multiple solutions.
They know that life is about thinking outside of the box.
6) You know that life is full of contrasts
We love this quote from creativity researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi:
“Creativity allows for paradox, light, shadow, inconsistency, even chaos—and creative people experience both extremes with equal intensity.”
Complex people—who are innately creative— know that life isn’t black or white, but lives in gray. Csikszentmihalyi says that people can be smart and naive at the same time. They can have both a mix of wisdom and childishness. They can even be emotionally immature but have deep insights.
“They can [also] be both extroverted and introverted, needing people and solitude equally,” he says. “[They can be] humble and proud, both painfully self-doubting and wildly self-confident.”
He says that complex people can be rebellious and independent on the one hand, but yet be traditional and conservative on the other.
7) You tend to defy gender stereotypes
Csikszentmihalyi says that complex people can also defy gender stereotypes.
They are most likely to have not only the strengths and attributes of their own gender, but they also have the traits of other genders as well.
Csikszentmihalyi calls it a kind of “psychic androgyny.”
Celebrated English 19th-century poet and philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge famously wrote this in 1832: “The truth is, a great mind must be androgynous.”
Famed American writer Virginia Woolf gives her take on Coleridge’s quote: “Coleridge perhaps meant this when he said that a great mind is androgynous. It is when this fusion takes place that the mind is fully fertilized and uses all its faculties,” she says.
“Perhaps a mind that is purely masculine cannot create, any more than a mind is purely feminine, I thought.”
8) You have a natural openness and sensitivity
Complex people can wear their hearts on their sleeve, even though this can open them up to “extreme pain and suffering, yet also to a great deal of enjoyment,” says Csikszentmihalyi.
Even though it can make them vulnerable, complex people almost need to have this particular disposition because it is their very openness that makes them receptive to new ideas and insights.
Complex people are always searching. They feel a deep-seated desire to seek out new avenues of thought and new experiences.
9) You need constant stimulation
It’s no surprise that complex people can be a pretty restless bunch. They need to always be mentally engaged in one undertaking or another and often have a few professional projects on the go.
In the words of Csikszentmihalyi:
“Despair alternates with bliss, despair when they aren’t working, and bliss when they are.”
Even in their personal lives, off-duty activities usually include discovering new cultures, traveling, checking off things on their bucket lists, and of course, reading complex books.
They’re also in constant research mode and are always looking up one thing or another to add to their ever-expanding mind.
It’s for this reason that complex personalities like to keep predictability at bay. Routine and repetitive tasks and the more mundane parts of life are limited to eating, drinking, and daily chores.
The rest of the time, be it tackling a problem or making vacation plans, complex people are always deciding new strategies. This keeps their minds very active.
“That’s why creative people and artists are more often than not complex personalities,” says Suburban Wordsmith writer Abhishek Pandeyar.
He goes on:
“The quality that gives complex people an upper hand in artistic fields is the ability to connect seemingly unrelated topics and come up with unique solutions to even the most rudimentary problems.”
10) You’re highly imaginative
This one might seem obvious but it can’t be stressed enough.
Complex people are inherently creative, curious, intelligent, and thinking outside of the box is nothing out of the ordinary for them.
Acclaimed psychologist Carl Jung described a complex personality as one that has a fixation around a set of ideas. “This means that a complex personality is simply one that features many facets and levels,” he once explained.
Csikszentmihalyi also said that complex personalities are often associated with creativity. “They not only adapt well to their environment, but they also thrive through adversity,” he said. “They see opportunities when most people might feel defeated.”
Complex people see limitless potential to not only problems but to any opportunities that come their way. In fact, they’re often the creators of their own opportunities.
In the wise words of Csikszentmihalyi: “That’s what being a complex person is all about: They think differently than most.”
Some complex final thoughts to remember
It’s important to understand and be reminded of the difference between a complex person and a complicated person.
A complex person has many parts to their personality—and all of these parts are very necessary. They enhance who you are and add to the essence of who you are.
A complicated person, on the other hand, has parts to them that are unnecessary, and even unwanted.
Simple does not mean unintelligent. The talent of a complex person is that they can simplify complicated ideas.
By the same token, a complicated person can needlessly over-complicate a simple idea.
Strive to be complex, not complicated.