Holistic Thinking: What It Is, Characteristics And Examples

Holistic thinking

There are various types of thinking, each of them fulfilling different functions, some of them being the following: inductive, deductive, creative, analytical, critical or holistic thinking, which we will talk about in more detail in this article.

Holistic thinking is an approach to perception and analysis of reality in an integral or global way, being considered a natural and very characteristic mode of thought for the human being, since it consists of making connections between various phenomena, carrying out an abstraction of ideas and also obtain a global vision of all the parts of a complex system.

In the realm of cognitive processes, holistic thinking emerges as a powerful and transformative mindset. This approach transcends conventional methods of problem-solving by considering the interconnectedness of various factors and embracing a comprehensive perspective.

In this article We will see what holistic thinking consists of as well as its influence within the field of psychology.

What is holistic thinking?

Holistic thinking is a phenomenon that has aroused a lot of interest in recent years within the field of psychology. It is sometimes known as complex thinking or systems thinking.

It is an approach that, from certain theoretical conceptions, has been considered as a type of thinking opposite to the analytical type of thinking in which an analysis of a phenomenon or a system is made through its operation and the sum of its parts, a different method from holistic thinking as we will see later.

According to the Dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy (RAE), the word ‘holistic’ (from the Greek word “ὅλος” hólos, which means ‘total’ in Spanish), belongs to or is related to “holism”, a philosophical doctrine of thought that is oriented towards the conception of reality as a whole different from the sum of the parts that compose it so an entity would be considered more than the sum of its parts.

This doctrine is linked to holistic psychology, an approach that encompasses the study of psychological phenomena through the analysis of a phenomenon, considering it as a complex entity in itself.

Therefore, holistic thinking could be defined as an approach to perception and analysis of the reality that surrounds the human being in an integral or global way being considered by many theorists as a natural and quite characteristic mode of thought for the human being, since it is capable of making connections between various phenomena, carrying out an abstraction of ideas and also obtaining a global vision of all the parts of a complex system.

Characteristics of holistic thinking

Furthermore, holistic thinking is a very practical type of thinking on a day-to-day basis, since makes it possible to solve many tasks, as it can be when building a system within any field, because even if we start with one part, we will be able to understand that it is part of a larger whole. Therefore, by carrying out holistic reasoning we will be able to find how we can connect that part that we have in mind with other parts so that their union can together form the system that we intend to form or build.

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An example in which holistic thinking is applied It is the one that is applied when building a model. When we have in our hand one of the pieces of the model that we intend to build, we are aware that it is one of the elements that, together with others, form a larger structure, which is what the model that we want to assemble would be.

Therefore, this type of thinking will allow us to find how the pieces should fit together so that, being related or interconnected, little by little they will form larger and larger parts, until they form the complete structure of the model.

Understanding Holistic Thinking: Principles and Concepts

At its core, holistic thinking revolves around the recognition of interdependencies and interconnectedness within complex systems. Rather than viewing phenomena in isolation, holistic thinkers strive to understand the broader context and underlying patterns that shape reality. Key principles of holistic thinking include:

  • Systems Thinking: Holistic thinkers approach problems and situations as interconnected systems, recognizing that changes in one part can have ripple effects across the entire system. They analyze relationships, feedback loops, and emergent properties to gain insights into the dynamics of complex phenomena.
  • Contextual Understanding: Holistic thinking emphasizes the importance of considering the context in which events occur. Rather than focusing solely on individual elements or variables, holistic thinkers take into account environmental factors, historical influences, and cultural dynamics that shape the situation.
  • Embracing Complexity: Holistic thinkers embrace the inherent complexity of reality, acknowledging that simplistic solutions may overlook essential nuances and interactions. They are comfortable navigating ambiguity and uncertainty, recognizing that holistic solutions often require iterative refinement and adaptation.

Characteristics of Holistic Thinking

1. Interconnectedness

Holistic thinking recognizes the intricate connections and relationships between different elements within a system. Rather than isolating individual components, holistic thinkers understand how they interact and influence one another.

2. Systems Perspective

Holistic thinkers adopt a systems perspective, viewing phenomena as part of larger, interconnected systems. They analyze feedback loops, emergent properties, and dynamic relationships to gain insights into the underlying structure and behavior of complex systems.

3. Contextual Understanding

Holistic thinking emphasizes the importance of considering the broader context in which events unfold. It takes into account environmental factors, historical influences, and cultural dynamics that shape the situation, recognizing that context significantly impacts outcomes.

4. Embracing Complexity

Holistic thinkers embrace the inherent complexity of reality, acknowledging that simplistic solutions may overlook essential nuances and interactions. They are comfortable navigating ambiguity and uncertainty, recognizing that holistic solutions often require iterative refinement and adaptation.

Examples of Holistic Thinking

1. Environmental Sustainability

In addressing environmental challenges such as climate change, holistic thinking involves considering the interconnectedness of ecosystems, human activities, and planetary health. Solutions may involve interdisciplinary collaboration, policy changes, and community engagement to promote sustainability and resilience.

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2. Healthcare

In healthcare, holistic thinking recognizes the interconnected nature of physical, mental, and social well-being. Instead of focusing solely on treating symptoms, holistic approaches consider the holistic health of individuals, incorporating lifestyle factors, social determinants, and cultural beliefs into treatment plans.

3. Education

Holistic thinking in education involves recognizing the diverse needs and strengths of students and fostering holistic development beyond academic achievement. It emphasizes the importance of social-emotional learning, creativity, critical thinking, and experiential learning to cultivate well-rounded individuals prepared for success in life.

4. Business and Management

In business and management, holistic thinking involves considering the broader impacts of organizational decisions on stakeholders, communities, and the environment. It encourages sustainable practices, ethical leadership, and stakeholder engagement to create value beyond financial profits.

Benefits of Holistic Thinking: Enhancing Problem-Solving and Creativity

The adoption of holistic thinking offers numerous benefits across various domains, including:

  • Comprehensive Solutions: By considering multiple perspectives and dimensions, holistic thinking enables the development of comprehensive solutions that address underlying causes and systemic issues, rather than just treating symptoms.
  • Innovative Insights: Holistic thinking fosters creativity and innovation by encouraging individuals to explore unconventional connections and novel approaches. It opens doors to new possibilities and breakthroughs by transcending conventional boundaries and paradigms.
  • Effective Decision-Making: Holistic thinkers are equipped to make informed and effective decisions by weighing diverse factors and anticipating potential consequences. They take into account the long-term implications and ethical considerations of their choices, striving to achieve outcomes that align with broader goals and values.

Cultivating Holistic Thinking: Strategies and Practices

Cultivating holistic thinking requires intentionality and practice. Some strategies to develop this mindset include:

  • Interdisciplinary Learning: Engage in interdisciplinary studies and expose yourself to diverse perspectives and disciplines to broaden your understanding of complex phenomena.
  • Systems Mapping: Use visual tools such as mind maps or systems diagrams to map out relationships and interconnections within complex systems, facilitating holistic analysis and problem-solving.
  • Reflective Practice: Regularly reflect on your assumptions, biases, and mental models to cultivate self-awareness and openness to alternative viewpoints.

Holistic thinking in Psychology

As we have seen, holistic thinking makes it possible to recognize the interconnection of a wide variety of factors that maintain some relationship through which they end up forming a series of patterns, larger objects and/or more complex systems.

Although holistic thinking has come to be considered the opposite of analytical thinking, because the former try to look at each of the parts as a whole while the second consists of analyzing each of the parts in isolation, the truth is that to carry out certain highly complex tasks we would need to carry out cognitive processing using both types of thinking, since we would need to understand the entire system or structure as a whole, as well as it would be necessary to analyze each of the parts that make up that whole.

In the field of psychology, A health or clinical psychologist can use holistic thinking to understand what the patient needs that he has in front of him, given his current state, which is what could have led him to seek help; and a type of analytical thinking can also help you to try to understand a series of factors related to the patient, their way of life or their closest relationships, among others, to try to find the possible relationship they could have with the problem. .

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Therefore, the holistic way of thinking enables people to broaden their horizons, moving your focus away from the simple, in order to be able to understand more complex processes and systems, which may not be presently visible and require more work at the level of reasoning. Furthermore, this type of thinking requires going beyond simple conditioning, being aware that people are part of a more complex whole, making it necessary to analyze a series of interrelationships that affect each person.

It also offers the possibility of analyzing patterns, instead of analyzing each problem as something isolated or unique, thus putting the problems in context to be able to understand them in greater depth and, therefore, in more detail. To do this, it is necessary for a psychologist to try to analyze the origins, triggers and possible interdependencies of the problems with other factors to try to identify some type of pattern that could be behind the problems or difficulties that have brought each patient to consultation.

On the other hand, holistic psychology deals with seek to solve people’s difficulties or problems by analyzing their past the way of living the present and how they face the future**, also trying to analyze the possible interrelationships between each and every one of the stages that have passed throughout the life of each person, trying to study the individual in his set.

There are various schools of thought within the field of psychology that have adopted a type of holistic approach, among which the following should be highlighted: Gestalt psychology, social psychology and humanistic psychology.

The relationship between holistic thinking and analytical thinking

Now that we have seen what are some of the most common characteristics of people who have a greater tendency to use a holistic mode of thinking in their daily lives, instead of analytical thinking, it is worth mentioning that all people could use both types of thinking depending on the requirements of the task being carried out and what is intended to be achieved.

For example, the coach of a football team should have holistic thinking, since to win matches he must organize the entire team as a whole to carry out the tactical system and method of play that he has taught them; Although, on the other hand, he also needs to use analytical thinking to understand the state of fitness and mood of each of the players that make up the team, as well as their abilities to be able to assign each one the role that best fits their needs. aptitudes.

Holistic Thinking: Towards a More Connected and Sustainable Future

Holistic thinking represents a paradigm shift towards a more interconnected and sustainable approach to problem-solving and decision-making. By embracing the principles of systems thinking, contextual understanding, and complexity, individuals and organizations can unlock new opportunities for innovation, creativity, and positive change. As we navigate the complexities of the modern world, cultivating holistic thinking is essential for addressing global challenges and creating a more equitable and thriving society.