7 Steps to Becoming a Better Thinker

7 Steps to Becoming a Better Thinker

When was the last time you stopped to think? And yes, I’m already thinking better. System 2 thinking infiltrating a situation that calls for System 1 thinking is far less likely than the opposite scenario: a situation that calls for deliberate, logical thinking instead being hijacked by emotional, reactive thinking. Step #4: Limit your thinking to problems you can define clearly A lot of the time we spend thinking is spent thinking about problems. I’ve narrowed them down so that I can actually create specific action plans to combat them. Step #5: Harness the power of creative destruction to fully develop your ideas and find winning answers How often is your first idea your best idea? Sure, your final idea — whether it’s a solution to a problem, a piece of writing, a recipe, etc. Give yourself a massive ball of idea clay … And then spend time discarding the bad ideas, finding the common thread that connects the good ones, and whittling those down to a final form with the directive you defined clearly in Step #4 above. And it’s a step you can’t take alone … Step #6: Collaborate and share intentionally When you have good ideas, what is it that informs those good ideas? And the experience helps make you a better thinker.

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7 Steps to Becoming a Better Thinker

When was the last time you stopped to think?

I mean really stopped.

To think.

I hope you’re in the minority of people reading this who can immediately recall a recent time when they fully engaged their thoughts. And I don’t mean as part of a multi-task, but in a dedicated, single-minded, single-tasking way.

Chances are you’re not in that group, though. And that’s okay.

Chances are, your distracted mind and our society’s insatiable hunger to gobble up every crumb of your attention have conspired against you truly indulging in the full wonder and complexity of your thoughts and ideas.

And that’s a shame.

But hey, I feel you. I would be right there with you, except …

I recently had the good fortune to get to work on a new podcast project by Sean Jackson. It’s called THINKERS Manifesto, and it’s a beautifully produced distillation of Sean’s philosophy on how to think better.

I’ve been taking what I learned and applying it to my own thinking.

And yes, I’m already thinking better.

So as we launch this new capsule podcast (all seven episodes, all at once), I wanted to share an overview of Sean’s seven-step process … because it’s high time we all started thinking better.

And I guarantee that there will be at least one nugget in here that will make you a better thinker.

Step #1: Recognize your two different modes of thinking

What is always the first step in solving a problem? Admitting that there is a problem.

That is why the first episode of THINKERS Manifesto is called “Why We Suck at Thinking.”

While that sounds harsh, it’s not meant as a collective insult. Instead, it’s meant as an acknowledgement of the blind spots that we all have because of the way our brains are wired.

And these blind spots make us susceptible to manipulation.

In his groundbreaking book Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman outlines how our thinking is broken down into two different systems:

  • System 1 is a fast, emotional, automatic thinking process driven by activity in the amygdala. Advertisers love to tap into this kind of thinking in their attempts to compel us to emotionally driven action.
  • System 2 is the inverse. Driven by the prefrontal cortex, System 2 thinking is much more deliberate and analytical. In this type of thinking, emotions are filtered out and logic is allowed to take over.

Both systems can prove highly productive in certain situations, and highly destructive in others.

If you go camping and get chased by a bear, System 1 thinking is great! Athletes and musicians rely on System 1 instincts that have been honed by practice. System 2 thinking would not work well in either case.

However, System 2 thinking would work well if you were, say, planning an escape route for a potential bear chase ahead of your camping trip. And athletes and musicians use System 2 thinking to study their performances and plan future practice so that they can improve.

The key is to match the type of thinking to the situation.

A good match can yield good thinking and good decisions. A bad match … and you’ll end up pondering the best escape route while being mauled by a bear.

Ouch. Hurts to miss that one.

System 2 thinking infiltrating a situation that calls for System 1 thinking is far less likely than the opposite scenario: a situation that calls for deliberate, logical thinking instead being hijacked by emotional, reactive thinking.

What can you do to combat that when it happens?

Step #2: Create your own emotional circuit breakers

Emotions are not inherently bad.

Quite the contrary. Our emotions are what make us human. They create the full kaleidoscope of human feelings that makes life such a wondrous, complex, wide-ranging experience.

And yet, at certain times, emotions can drive us to decisions and actions that can at best be regrettable, and at worst cause life-altering decisions with negative consequences that take years to rebuild from.

That is why knowing yourself and understanding your emotions well enough to develop emotional circuit breakers that work is so important.

An emotional circuit breaker — like someone counting to 10 when they get angry — helps us circumvent an emotionally charged moment driven by System 1 thinking so that we can move to a less charged moment and incorporate some much-needed System 2 thinking.

But there are no one-size-fits-all emotional circuit breakers. While we can certainly take ideas from what has worked for others and try them in our own lives, all that matters to you is what emotional circuit breakers work for you.

Having these tried and trusted emotional circuit breakers in our back pockets is one of the most important ways we mature as adults, because they will lead us toward better thinking.

The same is true for understanding the importance of your environment and how it impacts your mood and thought processes.

Step #3: Put yourself in environments that complement the kind of thinking you need to do

Did you know that certain environments are conducive to certain types of thinking?

My guess is that you probably assume this intuitively, but there is also plenty of science to back it up.

Some people like to go to coffee shops to write. And that’s…