Thinking Inside the Box

Thinking Inside the Box

(Always Boxed In)

There is no such thing as thinking outside the box.  This phrase is only a useful euphemism for thinking creatively. But however creative my thinking might be it is still inside my box.  I cannot think outside this box because my box is my view of reality.  A view of reality is a framework of belief through which I push my experience to create meaning.  I cannot create meaning without this reality view filter.  And this box limits my capacity to interpret my experience. I cannot see beyond its boundary walls, therefore, I cannot think outside them.

I can do two things that appear to be thinking outside this box.  One, I can put things together differently than I normally do so that the outcome seems so fresh it appears to be outside the box. But this is only a new way of applying my existing beliefs and this creative configuring is still inside the boundaries of my belief box.

Two, I can expand the boundaries of my box so that my thinking is outside of its old boundaries. I do this by expanding my view of reality.  I expand my view of reality by changing my beliefs.  This creates a different way of seeing.  And when I do this I am literally thinking outside my previous box.  But I am still thinking inside the boundaries of my enlarged reality view.

Either way, I can think creatively.  But the difference is important.  When I think inside my present box in a creative way I remain the person this view of reality has created. My thinking might change but I have not.  I will still think the same way, yet, with flashes of creativity. However, when I change my view of reality box I change myself and my thinking changes with me.  I am a new person and my thinking will creatively correspond to this newness.

These two ways of being creative are the difference between remaining the same and being transformed.  But whichever it might be, it is still inside the box.  Metaphorically, my view of reality is like looking through a camera lens.  As Wendel Berry observes:

The limits of a camera is that its always looking through a frame.

Whatever the frame, it determines both who I am and what I become.  Am I pleased with what I cannot see? It’s a new year.  Do I need a new box?

Robert T. Latham


  • Excellent point and question! Thank you for inviting me to thinking bigger, to considering transformation.

  • For me, it’s not just thinking my way into a new way of being. It’s equally important, for me, to act my way into a new way of being. Transformation requires both, whether inside the box or getting a new box. “Do, Be, Do, Be, Do!”

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