Holistic thinking

Jun 25, 2024

The word holistic comes from holism. It describes the word as “an all-embracing approach that views every aspect of a matter as a cohesive whole rather than a collection of isolated entities. It refers to a frame of mind that focuses on the big picture instead of getting too caught up in the details.” I assumed that you may have heard of holistic medicine or holistic approach, so you get the idea of holism.

Similarly, holistic thinking embraces the complexity and interdependence of various factors, views relationships, context, situations, or problems in entirety, and deals with perceiving wholes instead of examining or analyzing separate parts. Holistic thinking allows people to see and understand the big picture, and it is an invaluable skill for problem solving, innovation, and strategic planning in either academic or workplace environment.

Key Challenges in Holistic Thinking

Reluctance to change the status quo

The first challenge comes down to if you are receptive or reluctant to change. Change is never easy, and sometimes, it could be costly or painful.

Holistic thinking sometimes feels like it’s lacking clear framework and guidelines, and it requires you to be creative and go outside the box and be comfortable working in ambiguity. For those who are comfortable in their linear thinking, such as analytic thinkers, they prefer or fall back to their old approaches over challenging themselves with new beliefs and ways of doing things.

Complexity and time consumption

Holistic thinking, compared to linear thinking, requires large amounts of information and the ability to analyze thoroughly involving multiple and interrelated factors, considering different aspects, which could be challenging, overwhelming, and time consuming.

Potential barriers

Everyone is subconsciously impacted by past experiences, biases, opinions, and the status quo. Therefore, unless the person, or the team working together takes effort to minimize or remove these potential pitfalls, maximizing the benefit of holistic thinking can be a challenge.

How to cultivate holistic thinking in daily routine 

Whether you are a student, a professional, a business owner, or a parent, making small and intentional changes each day to cultivate holistic thinking in your thinking process will not only help you understand and solve complex issues, but it will also help you make better decisions with a bigger picture in mind.

Be mindful and open-minded

Mindfulness focuses on the present moment. While it quiets your mind, mindfulness increases your awareness and allows you to observe and assess your situations without distractions or judgement.

Open-mindedness gives you the space to question assumptions, foster curiosity, gather more information, and consider diverse perspectives.

Mindfulness and open-mindedness go hand in hand in developing your holistic thinking by quieting your inner critic and expanding your flexibility before reaching your solutions.

Adopt a holistic perspective

Wholeness acknowledges the interconnection among different elements and how they influence each other within a larger context, which helps you view situations or experiences as integrated ones instead of isolated disparate elements. When you adopt wholeness, you will learn to appreciate complexity and various perspectives and approaches.

Identify patterns

Identifying patterns helps train your mind to recognize connections, relationships, or interdependencies, and it further helps you understand how the same events intertwine and influence each other. Because of this insight, it will aid you in problem solving and making informed decisions after considering out of a broader scope of context.

Ask good questions to enhance the thinking process

Ask good, broad, and open-ended questions, and challenge your assumptions. Assumptions limit your thinking, learning, and understanding, and they prevent you from exploring new possibilities and new perspectives. Asking the right questions also allows you to explore beyond the surface level, identify underlying causes, and uncover deeper insights for a holistic approach.

Embrace complexity and diversity through systems thinking

Be comfortable to embrace complexity, as many issues in life are complex and oftentimes, they can’t be solved with a simple and linear thinking and approach. When you are aware and receptive to complexity, your desire to cultivate holistic thinking will also grow.

Don’t forget to seek for diverse opinions from other people whenever you need to. People with different cultures, experiences, and expertise will challenge some of your assumptions and at the same time help expand your understanding, contributing to a more holistic perspective.

Think long-term

Long-term thinking allows you to recognize patterns, discover underlying trends, and consider causes and effects instead of focusing on immediate concerns, fostering a long term perspective. And remember, sometimes, a quick short-term fix can create bigger problems in the future.

Suzy Welch’s 10-10-10 is a great tool to help you think and make short-, mid-, and long-term decisions, as the approach encourages you to consider 10-minute, 10-month and 10-year impacts and consequences.

According to Aristotle, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” Cultivating holistic thinking is crucial in life. Your open-mindedness, mindful intention and effort, and regular practice will help you foster a more comprehensive and integrated perspective and better understand complex issues. It will furthermore support your decision making, problem solving, and ultimately contributing a more balanced and fulfilling life with less regret. I hope you will take the above how’s into practice in your daily routine, and the holistic thinking will broaden your perspectives and give you wholeness in life.


Photo by Austin Neill on Unsplash

About Faye Weng

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Faye Weng is an expert life and career coach who works with clients to take back control of their lives by rediscovering their passions, living/working with a clear purpose, and becoming people who can positively impact the communities around them. As your life and career coach, Faye will help you minimize noises and distractions, focus your effort and attention on the right things, execute a clear plan of action, and celebrate alongside of you when each milestone is reached. Click here to book a complimentary session.