9 signs you’re an abstract thinker

Are you an abstract thinker?

And what does that mean, exactly? Does it mean that your thoughts resemble a few cans of paint splashed across a canvas and called ‘art’?

Ahem. Well, maybe a little. But more on that later….

The truth is that we all utilize both concrete and abstract forms of thought depending on the situation. It’s just that most people naturally gravitate to a dominant, preferred style. And that makes a big difference in how you are in life.


Concrete thinkers are more comfortable in the here and now, with what they can witness and demonstrably prove. They want to know the exact steps and often have little patience with changing plans or new ideas. They don’t like it when they have to try to read between the lines, or when instructions are ambiguous.


Abstract thinkers can’t help but think about how everything relates to the bigger picture. What’s the deeper meaning, what are the trends and patterns, what are the possibilities? They quickly make cross-disciplinary associations and are comfortable with metaphor and subtext. And if they have some basic familiarity with a subject, they'd much rather receive general guidelines than step-by-step instructions. 

So maybe it’s not too far-fetched to say a concrete thinker’s thoughts are more photorealist while an abstract thinker is more … Jackson Pollock.


Put another way:

Imagine that a concrete thinker and an abstract thinker both attend a webinar on generating Facebook engagement.

A concrete thinker might focus on the exact tactics that have been proven to work for others.

An abstract thinker might be more interested in what those tactics say about human nature and how the lessons can be applied to all aspects of human interaction within business (and beyond) to motivate, inspire and create connection.

Here’s another example. When people first attend yoga classes, they spend a lot of time focusing on the exact technique for the poses and breathwork. They want to get everything exactly “right.”

Only later will most people start to realize how much the lessons apply to life in general – mindfulness, non-reaction, accepting your limits, and safely challenging your limits. While it’s a great way to exercise the body, yoga poses are first and foremost a way to concretize the more abstract concepts of yogic philosophy.  


Ok. Without further explanation, here are 9 signs that you’re an abstract thinker:

1) After hearing a new piece of trivia, you find yourself thinking about how something completely different might be related to what you learned. 

2)  You know those kids that keep asking, “Why?” They’ve got nothing on you. You don’t stop questioning until you’re satisfied.

3)  Instruction manuals might be ok the first time, but afterwards you assume that the principles apply to all similar equipment. 

4)  You’re more interested in the intent behind the rules than the letter of the law.

5)  You have trouble remembering precise historic details, but you can talk about the general trends.

6) You spend time thinking about the Big Questions. What’s the meaning of life? What’s the nature of consciousness? Why?

7) If someone wants to motivate you, they’ve got to tell you why it’s important, and not just how to do it.

8) In fact, scratch telling you how to do it. You just want the objective and maybe some minimal guidelines, and you'll do the rest. Step-by-step instructions make you yawn. 

9) You get bored with routine. You tend to look for new ways to do things, and don't mind changing course if it might provide a better outcome.


Both types of thinkers have it easier in some ways than others, and are better suited to certain tasks than others. I’ll talk more about that in the future.


In the meantime, is there something in this post that you relate to (or is completely unlike you)? Let me know in the comments, or head over to our Facebook group, The Uncommon Way Community, to find others who think similarly.

this is the alt text