How To Think

Thinking Skills

Focusing On HOW Not WHAT To Think


How To Think- Thinking Skills - Focusing On HOW Not WHAT To Think. Picture of Rodin's sculpture of "The Thinker"


How to think effectively is especially relevant, at the time of writing, as the world slowly emerges from post Covid-19 lockdown and starts to come to terms with the societal, economic and financial consequences.

We are currently living in an age of unreason where:

  • Experts are denigrated and ignorance, bias and prejudice is celebrated;
  • Woke thinking takes precedence over reasoned debate;
  • Virtue signally takes precedence over private philanthropy;
  • Intelligent discussion and agreement to disagree and respect for other shades of opinion are denied in the current cancel culture;
  • Public debate is hijacked and taken over by group think and mob rule.

All of which provides another very powerful rationale and motivation for learning how to think effectively.

In this article [and the associated articles that follow] we are going to look at a number of ways of improving your cognitive capabilities and  provide you with a range of practical tools and resources to do this successfully.

We are going to start the process of understanding and learning how to think effectively with several key reference points:

  1. Focusing On How To Think Not What To Think
  2. Critical Thinking Skills
  3. The Strategic Mindset
  4. Metacognition
  5. Mental Models






How To Think: [1] Focusing On How To Think Not What To Think

In recent research into the neurology of creative brains, the lead author of the study [Roger E.Beaty] said:

People who are more creative can simultaneously engage brain networks that don’t typically work together.”

The evidence suggested 3 sub-networks:

  1. The default mode network involved in memory and mental simulation.
  2. The salience network which detects important information.
  3. The executive control network which plays key roles in creative thought.

“It’s the synchrony between these systems that seems to be important for creativity...”

Neuroscientist and Neuropsychiatrist Nancy Andreasen scanned the brains of 13 of the current most famous creative people across various domains and summarised key patterns in the minds of these creative geniuses:


# They have patience and persistence and allow the time

Creative work takes time, often a lot of time, and that requires patience and persistence.

"Isaac Newton's formulation of the concept of gravity took more than 20 years and included multiple components: preparation, incubation, inspiration — a version of the eureka experience — and production...”

[Nancy Andreasen]


# They are largely self-taught

Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, or Mark Zuckerberg were all self-learners preferring to figure things out for themselves.

“Because their thinking is different, my subjects often express the idea that standard ways of learning and teaching are not always helpful and may even be distracting, and that they prefer to learn on their own...”


# They are good at making juxtapositions between dissimilar subjects

Many creative geniuses make connections between things that are unrelated to their main research. They can force relationships where there is none. They make connections where ordinary minds see opposites.

Leonardo da Vinci forced a relationship between the sound of a bell and a stone hitting water, which enabled him to make the connection that sound travels in waves.

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something...” [Steve Jobs]

When presented with a problem, creative people will ask :

  • “How many different ways can I look at it?
  • “How can I rethink the way I see it?”
  • “How many different ways can I solve it?”

They tend to come up with many different responses, some of which are unconventional and possibly unique.


# They are open-minded

Every problem — no matter how apparently simple it may be — comes with a long list of assumptions.

These assumptions must be tested especially the most obvious and the "sacred cows".

They ask "Why!?"


# They are so good, we can’t ignore them

Cal Newport says:

“Until you become good, you don’t have leverage.”

Truly creative people are always seeking improvement:

  • Thomas Edison held 1,093 patents
  • Bach wrote a cantata every week
  • Picasso made 50,000 works of art in his life.
  • Mozart composed over 600 pieces in his lifetime.
  • Charles Schulzmade made 17,897 Charlie Brown strips before he died.
  • Aside from his paper on relativity, Einstein published 248 other papers.

“On average, creative geniuses aren’t qualitatively better in their fields than their peers, they simply produce a greater volume of work which gives them more variation and a higher chance of originality...”

[Prof. Dean Simonton]

In summary, patience, persistence life long learning and approaching things differently are the keys to high-level creative thinking.

For a fascinating insight into the thought processes of Bill Gates I do recommend the Netflix 3 film series for which this is the trailer:







How To Think: [2] Critical Thinking Skills


What Is Critical Thinking?

“Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.” [The Foundation for Critical Thinking]


Quote from Bertrand Russell about the importance of critical thinking and how few people do it.


Critical thinking is just deliberately and systematically processing information so that you can make better decisions and generally understand things better.

Ways to critically think about information include:

  • Conceptualizing
  • Analyzing
  • Synthesizing
  • Evaluating

That information can come from sources such as:

  • Observation
  • Experience
  • Reflection
  • Reasoning
  • Communication

And all this is meant to guide:

  • Beliefs
  • Action

These notes are an extract from an excellent article by Ramson Patterson: 7 Ways to Improve Your Critical Thinking Skills

The Five Whys Technique is used to help determine the root cause of a problem by asking the question “Why” five times.







How To Think: [3] The Strategic Mindset

The strategic mindset is focused on the most efficient thinking process to achieve a result.

We are all familiar with that well-known quote from Thomas Edison, with reference to his 3,000 failures before he successfully invented the lightbulb, when he said that:

“Genius is one percent inspiration, and ninety-nine percent perspiration”.

However, usual interpretation of that story suggests dogged persistence and determination was the key to his eventual success. However there was far more to it than just that. Edison didn’t just randomly move from one failed design to another.

He was constantly adapting and refining his ideas:

“I would construct a theory and work on its lines until I found it was untenable... then it would be discarded at once and another theory evolved.”

At each step of the process, he was making intelligent decisions that learnt from the failures and built on the small successes.

A recent study, at the National University of Singapore suggests we might all benefit from the strategic mindset.


While others diligently follow the same convoluted path, people with the strategic mindset are constantly looking for a more efficient route forwards.

“It helps them figure out how to direct their efforts more effectively,” says Patricia Chen who ran the study and the research shows that the strategic mindset may just spell the difference between success or failure.








How To Think: [4] Metacognition

Thinking about thinking: knowing how to apply the most appropriate cognitive processes to the task in hand.





Our brains process and organize information in a variety of ways. The core cognitive processes used for learning were first defined by Albert Upton [a professor at Whittier College] and later refined with David Hyerle. They include:

  • Defining: Listing the facts, details and key information you know about a topic or term.
  • Describing: Identifying the essential characteristics of something using adjectives.
  • Comparing and Contrasting: Analyzing how two things are similar or different from one another.
  • Classifying: Organizing information into groups or sets and listing the details, members or characteristics of each set. 
  • Whole-to-Part Relationships: Defining the parts and subparts of a system. 
  • Sequencing: Outlining the steps in a process or the sequence of events in a narrative. 
  • Cause and Effect: Analyzing the root causes and impacts of an event. 
  • Analogies and Relationships: Showing how things relate to one another using an analogy or relating factor. 

By deliberately activating and combining these 8 cognitive processes, and knowing which ones to apply for different tasks, we understand and interpret the world around us.

These thinking processes are built into our brains; we use them all the time and automatically. But we don’t always use them efficiently.

Effective thinkers have good metacognition, they know how to access these different modes of thinking deliberately and apply them to different kinds of tasks.








How To Think: [5] Mental Models

A mental model is a high level representation, or overview, of how something works.


Quote from Charlie Munger about the importance of Mental Models

Since it is impossible to keep all of the details of all of the information that you absorb in your brain, you use models to simplify the complex into understandable and organisable chunks.

Mental models shape how you reason and how you understand, and they also shape the connections and opportunities that you see, and also why you consider some things more relevant than others.

Charlie Munger on Mental Models

Latticework of Mental Models

How To Prioritise Learning Mental Models

Charlie Munger: Adding Mental Tools to Your Toolbox










    “A large part of the difference between the experienced decision maker and the novice in these situations is not any particular intangible like “judgment” or “intuition.”

    If one could open the lid, so to speak, and see what was in the head of the experienced decision maker, one would find:

    • That he had at his disposal repertoires of possible actions;
    • That he had checklists of things to think about before he acted; and
    • That he had mechanisms in his mind to evoke these, and bring these to his conscious attention when the situations for decisions arose.”

    [Herbert Simon - "Models Of My Life"]










Try these blogs to stimulate your thinking:

Barking Up the Wrong Tree

Sam Thomas Davies

Bernardo Kastrop

Farnam Street

Mark Manson

Scot Jeffrey







How To Think: Thinking Skills

Mental Models

Cognitive Distortions

Charlie Munger

Elon Musk

Cal Newport

Julia Galef

First Principles Thinking

Second Order Thinking

Occams Razor


Mental Models - General Thinking Concepts

The Map Is Not The Territory

Circle Of Competence

First Principles Thinking

Second Order Thinking

Occams Razor

Probabilistic Thinking

Inversion

Iatrogenics - "Do Something Syndrome"


Mental Models - Human Nature

Heuristics

Availability Heuristic                                                                      

Representativeness Heuristic

Affect Heuristic
Cognitive Distortions

Confirmation Bias

Fundamental Attribution Error

Hindsight Bias

Survivorship Bias

Herd Mentality


Mental Models - Productive Thinking

Deep Work

Applied Rationality and The Scout Mindset

The One Thing

The Pomodoro Technique

Less Is More - Subtractive Solutions

Thinking Fast and Slow

The Long Game

Knowing When To Quit

Atomic Habits

Delayed Gratification

The Challenges Of The Road Less Traveled

Root Cause Analysis

Inflection Points

Nassim Taleb

Black Swans

Antifragile

Living Antifragile

Skin In The Game

Satisficing

Getting Things Done

Just Do It

Positive Asymmetry

Slack

Fat Tail Fractal Factor

Going The Extra Mile

Finish What You Start

How Not To Be Stupid

Checklist Manifesto

Signal In The Noise

Unseen Margins

Discernment - Exercising Good Judgement

How To Win Without Succeeding

Keeping Things Simple

The Art Of Saying No

The Long Game

Knowing When To Quit


Mental Models - Physics, Chemistry & Biology

Speed and Velocity

Leverage

The Red Queen Effect

Incentives


Mental Models - Systems

Margin Of Safety


Mental Models - Numeracy

Compounding

Pareto Principle

Regression To The Mean

Multiplying By Zero










Further Reading: Asking The Right Questions

Free Download: One Page Summary Sheet With Action Points & Resources

Return from "How To Think" to: Home Page




English Chinese (Traditional) Russian French German Italian Spanish Vietnamese


LATEST ARTICLES

  1. Situational Communication - Different Strokes For Different Folks

    Situational communication is about taking account of 3 often ignored factors about the other person. You are a situational communicator when you recognise that effective communication is not an event…

    Read More

  2. How To Influence Without Authority - 6 Key Tips

    The secret to how to influence without authority is that you get what you really want by giving other people what they really want. We live in an interconnected world and knowing how to influence with…

    Read More

  3. Change Questions To Change Your Outcomes

    Asking The Right Questions Is Critical For A Successful Change. Every time we initiate a significant change - whether in our personal life or in an organisation - we will most likely over-estimate our…

    Read More

  4. Group Culture - The Invisible Software That Rules Your Life

    Group culture is: "How we do things round here". We like to see ourselves as free agents making our own choices and living authentically but the reality is that The Matrix has many layers and we are u…

    Read More

  5. Why Getting From A to B Is Not Aways A Straight Line

    In circumstances of significant change, the progress from A to B will not be in a straight line. We run our lives largely on auto-pilot. In most circumstances your experience of getting from A to B is…

    Read More

  6. The Art Of Persuasion Planning For Success - Here's How To Do It!

    To be successful in the art of persuasion you must ensure that certain things happen. To be successful in the art of persuasion you must establish a framework of what has to happen to get you to that…

    Read More

  7. The Art Of Persuasion Advanced Communication Skills - Gaining Buyin

    Create The Environment Where They Want To Buyin to Your Proposal In order to build the win-win you have to uncover what it is that the other person really wants or needs, and to do that you have to as…

    Read More

  8. The Art Of Persuasion The One Fundamental Principle - Create A Win-Win

    The art of persuasion is based on the simple idea that you get what you want by enabling the other party to get what they want. Being a nice friendly person with good inter-personal skills may be a go…

    Read More

  9. Communication Persuasion And Change - Key Skills To Survive & Succeed

    It's not the strongest that survive, nor the most intelligent, but those who are most responsive to change, the most persuasive, and the best communicators. We are living in an age of unprecedented ch…

    Read More

  10. The Eisenhower Box - What Is Important Is Seldom Urgent

    What Is Important Is Seldom Urgent And What Is Urgent Is Seldom Important. The Eisenhower Box is a time management and decision-making model devised by President Dwight Eisenhower to help him prioriti…

    Read More

  11. Zen Enlightenment [Satori] - The Stink Of Zen

    Lost In Our Delusions About Enlightenment. There is something in human nature - a desire to glamorise, sanctify, objectify and idolise – that elevates people who have offered deep insights to the huma…

    Read More

  12. 5 Zen Mindsets For Mastery - In Any Area Of Your Life

    The Wisdom Of A Person Who Masters In Any Art Is Reflected In Their Every Attitude. The state and quality of your mind has a very large bearing on the quality of your performance in any area of life t…

    Read More

  13. Dealing With The Toxicity Of Online Dating - 6 Key Tips From A Clinical Psychologist

    Toxicity Is The Price Tag Of Accessibility. In the early days of online dating, users were vetted and had to go through a registration process and agree to comply with a code of conduct designed to en…

    Read More

  14. Why Understanding Ergodicity Is Critical To Your Long Term Survival

    How Not To Be Fooled By Randomness. Ergodicity is an ugly word from the world of mathematics. It is an umbrella term for two sets of conditions of probability and outcome. These two conditions form th…

    Read More

  15. Dealing With Imposter Syndrome - Ego Is The Enemy

    How You Frame A Situation Has A Profound Impact On How You Respond To It Emotionally. Imposter syndrome is a psycho-emotional experience of a fear of being found out as incompetent despite ongoing evi…

    Read More

  16. The Challenges Of The Road Less Traveled

    Issues You'll Face When Playing The Long Game. The challenges of the road less traveled is loosely based around the phrase popularised by M.Scott Peck with his book "The Road Less Traveled". This arti…

    Read More

  17. How To Benefit From the Unseen Margins - 5 Key Tips For Success

    These Unseen Margins Can Have A Very Dramatic Impact On Your Life. To understand how to benefit from the unseen margins we need to start by understanding what they are and where we find them. In this…

    Read More

  18. The Art Of Thinking Clearly - How To Do More Than Just Survive And Reproduce

    3 Key Tips The art of thinking clearly starts with the sobering realisation that our brains are designed to achieve two things: Survival and Reproduction! 98% of our thinking is unconscious, automatic…

    Read More

  19. Algorithms to Live By - 5 Useful Rules Of Thumb

    5 Useful Heuristics From Algorithms To Live By The thesis of the book "Algorithms to Live By" is that algorithms developed for computers can be used by people in everyday life in a wide range of situa…

    Read More

  20. Finding Signal In The Noise - How To Avoid The Noise Bottleneck

    The Art Of Being Wise Is The Art Of Knowing What To Overlook. We are blessed and cursed to live in the digital age. We have access to more information than we can possibly handle yet we struggle to fi…

    Read More

  21. The Checklist Manifesto - Your Personal Safety Net

    A Checklist Is A Safety Net That Encourages Better Results And Prevents Avoidable Mistakes. The volume and complexity of what we know has exceeded our individual ability to deliver its benefits correc…

    Read More

  22. How Not To Be Stupid - 4 Key Tips

    How To Avoid The 7 Causes Of Everyday Stupidity. We are all capable of everyday stupidity as we undertake routine tasks in our business and working lives and also in our personal lives. This is not ab…

    Read More

  23. Beginners Mind And The Voice Of Experience

    Only The Experts Survived Evolution. "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few." These are the famous words of Shunryu Suzuki in "Zen Mind, Beginner's Min…

    Read More

  24. The Art Of Being Alone Is A Skill

    Let's Make Today A Good Day. You may not have chosen the condition of being alone, and it may have been imposed upon you by circumstances beyond your control, but your response to the situation is wit…

    Read More

  25. Intuition & Anxiety - Are There Angels Or Devils Calling Here?

    How To Tell The Difference Between Intuition and Anxiety. How do you know whether the voice of your intuition is real or just the product of your inner anxiety? We all struggle with these inner voices…

    Read More

  26. Like A Prayer - Life Is A Mystery

    It Isn't The Process Of Prayer That’s The Problem, It’s The Way It’s Framed. Regardless of what we feel about Madonna or her song the topic of prayer often arouses strong reactions. Usually, it is som…

    Read More

  27. Fear Of Missing Out - "I'll Have What She's Having!"

    We Follow The Herd - We Mimic Other People's Choices. Fear of missing out - or FOMO as it is popularly referred to - is the feeling that everyone else in your peer group is having much more fun than y…

    Read More

  28. Free - Self Improvement Resources

    Exercising Balance and Discernment. I have just updated these self improvement resources with a number of additional sources of material that are practical and can help you change your life. Check it…

    Read More

  29. Your Higher Self - Your Hardwired Portal To The Universe

    This Is The You That Is Beyond Your Thinking Mind. This is the big you, the transcendent you, the you that is often referred to as your higher consciousness or higher self. This is the you that acts a…

    Read More

  30. The Power Of Gratitude - It's Good For You!

    Gratitude And Attitude Are Not Challenges, They Are Choices. The power of gratitude quite simply is that it is good for you! Many of us were raised by parents who instilled in us the social niceties o…

    Read More



Get new posts by email:









Zen-Tools.Net





Support This Site