Sequential thinking takes two forms. One works backwards, the other forwards

Sequential Thinking—The Backwarder We Go, The Forwarder We Get

Air-Traffic Controllers are masters of sequential thinking
Air-Traffic Controllers are masters of sequential thinking (Shutterstock Image: Licensed to Author)

# 70 on my 99 Life Tips–A List is: Sequential thinking is a life-skill that must be practiced and mastered over a lifetime.

Sequential thinking is the kind that arranges knowledge and actions into ordered steps.

It can also ease the fear associated with uncertainty. Each step taken towards unknown answers to perplexing questions follows and builds upon answers of which we are certain—having learned them by answering previous questions.

This kind of thinking shows up everywhere, but the construction trades are a good example. Foundations before floor systems. Floors before walls. Walls before ceilings and roofs.

Air-traffic controllers use sequential thinking to do their job. The controller takes lots of data into account to organize and arrange a sequence of one-at-a-time landings onto a single runaway. The perfect picture of linear, sequential order.  

Humans usually experience time sequentially—as a linear series of causal events and their effects (one thing causes another which causes another… ad infinitum), connected one to another like the cars of a train.  

We experience the slow unfolding of time, living it forward, understanding it backward, as Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher, put it. 

And while there are a variety of thinking modes, each with its own characteristics—making them suitable to grapple with different kinds of problems; sequential thinking seems to have application to problems of all types.

The Backwarder we go the Forwarder we get

Sequential thinking takes two forms. One works backwards, the other forwards. 

The first works backwards from a desired goal, thinking through the correct order of steps needed to reach that goal. Careful thinking of this type will prevent mishaps like installing sheet rock on walls before the electricians have wired them.

The other type moves forward by asking a series of questions. Progress requires answering the first question before moving to the next. In this way, the answers to simple questions link, building upon one another, to solve a more complex problem.

[If I live in an apartment and I want to own a dog, what are the things I will need to know in order to make that desire a reality? The size of the dog, the breed, the pet fee, etc.]

Or if I want to write for a living—I’ll need to determine the things that are necessities for that to happen. There may not be as many variables as landing airplanes, but entertaining abstract thoughts about the beauty of written words and how cool it would be to live in Paris or Spain like Hemingway won’t get the job done.

The Takeaway

Is sequential thinking the best way to think? No, I wouldn’t say that. But it fits the model of time as we experience it. And frankly, we’re all practicing a semblance of it, since we can only think of one thing at a time anyway. So, no matter your habitually preferred thinking style, at some point you’ll need to plan how to deliver to us what you’ve been thinking about. So, it’s a skill worth working on.

Thus endeth the sequence of words. Thanks for playing.

Scroll to Top