Thinking is a bit part of the success equation. I would guess there are at the very least thousands of books out there that will put this same idea forward. And it’s true. The way you think and how well you do it while you’re doing it will form a big part of your results, whether negative or positive. The thing about things like thinking and breathing is you’re going to do them whether you want to or not, stop either and you’re dead. So if you’re going to do something, you might consider doing it well, and that’s what effective thinking is all about.
Effective thinking means “using awareness + conscious thoughts + memories + reflexes, hunches, and unconscious inputs to identify current primary needs, and decide how to fill them well enough.” That’s a mouthful so how about we simplify this to something we can easily say if asked what effective thinking is. Using a pseudo-etymological approach we can describe effective thinking as thinking that brings about the desired effect. This means thinking in a way that best allows us to satisfy our goals, desires and even dreams. So how do we go about doing this effective thinking thing?
Step one is to understand things deeply. The best way to illustrate this is through a practical example as I love to do. A friend was recently considering buying a washing machine. This was a big purchase for them and they really didn’t want to make a mistake. So they asked me which of the available options within their budget they should buy. Now I don’t know how much you know about washing machines but it turns out there is a whole wide world of these things. So I suggested to my friend that they should perhaps do a bit of reading on washing to understand what makes a washing machine good for their intended use. They eventually made a decision they are very happy with. Ineffective thinking knowing is not merely enough. It requires a deep understanding of things.
Study your mistakes
We all make mistakes but we do not all come out of them the same. These could be business, life, career, finance, relationship or other mistakes. Effective thinking requires us to study our mistakes. Studying your mistakes is not the same as regretting or endlessly worrying about the mistakes you made. It’s about looking at the mistakes academically (which is not easy) to find a departure point. A point or points where the decision that leads to the mistake was made. My favourite example of this is the tip I give people in personal finance to write themself a letter when they are in dire financial times that they should read when their finances improve. You have your best financial ideas when you hit rock bottom. The point is to learn from your mistakes.
Ask the right questions
The answer doesn’t matter if you’re asking the wrong question. Enough said. I joke. Here’s the thing about your mind, it is like a computer that exists for the sole purpose of answering the questions that are posed to it. Not the most important questions but simply those posed to it. Therefore if you ask your mind a question like “how can I use the next two hours” you will get answers but it’s highly unlikely they will be the answers you really want. Changing the question to “what is the best use for the next two hours given my goals” will get you a whole different set of answers. We must be mindful of the quality of questions that we ask. Not just of ourselves but others.
Look forward in detail
Of course, the whole point of effective thinking is to make decisions that increase the likelihood of arriving at a preferred destination. This means that we need to look at decisions in terms of both their present and future impact while paying respect to information we have from the past. I have realised that the degree of detail in which we look forward when making decisions is positively correlated with the likelihood of succeeding. People who plan in general or on average usually come out with average results. Those who plan and analyse with professional detail obtain higher than average results and it makes sense.
Finally, we must be open to change. If there is one thing that will happen on your journey to learning how to think effectively it is change. You will change the way you look at things past, present and future. You will change the quality of questions that you ask yourself and others. You will change the level at which you understand things. And those are just the changes on the input side. The answers you receive, the meanings of past events and the detail in your planning will change. You will start to experience life differently. If you’re not ready to change this may be a very painful experience for you. One cannot expect to change so much about themself and still expect to remain the same.
Effective thinking is a journey and one that may not have an end. Think of each element of effective thinking as a part of a system. You can improve each part and it will improve the overall system.