Hopefully you already understand the importance and value of establishing an aggressive lifelong commitment to the pursuit of knowledge.
Learning is the first building block. The one that establishes the conditions that present the highest potential upside in reaching our potential. The more that we know, the more tools we have in our arsenal to navigate complex world.
That said, it is not enough to simply learn in the context of memorizing information. To truly learn something you must not only remember it but I understand it. Further, the act of learning is primarily useful in the acquisition of information, knowledge, and practices they have already existed.
Thinking is where new ideas are born. Developing your ability to think, is what gives life to your practice of learning. If learning is the seed, thinking is the water and the sunlight.
The start point for improving your ability to think, is to first understand 4 of the most elements of thought.
- Critical Thinking
- Creativity & Imagination
- Clarity & Focus
- Motivation & Willpower
These are the five elements that directly infuence your ability to mentally navigate situations an problems of varying complexity.
Critical Thinking is among the most important skills you can learn as a human being. It’s what transforms you from a simple system of information storage to one of information synthesis and understanding. Critical thinking is when you actively choose to use your reasoning and logic—as well as your empathy and intuition—to carefully analyze situations, ideas, and information for better understanding, and decision-making. It is possibly the only cognitive function that produces the gift of foresight. Without careful analysis and consideration, it would be virtually impossible to make any prediction about the future with any accuracy.
Finally, critical thinking is what stops ignorance dead in its tracks… Or at least it should. This is beause critical thinking require a person to be capable of independent thought, rendering them a more difficut mark for those who seek to manipulate or control.
The act of critical thinking requires you to consistently question things, to look for new information, and process the available data to arrive at the most logical and likely result. It is important to consider the context of any information, process, or idea relative to the desired outcome.
There are several methods of critical thinking that are worth adding to your repetoire including:
- Asking who, what, when, where, and why?
- Quickly getting to the root of a problem by asking Toyoto founder Sakichi Toyoda’s 5 whys
Critical Thinking Researcher and Expert Peter Facione arrived at a consensus about the six primary factors of critical thinking. They are:
Suffice to say that while it would be impractical to cover the many areas of critical thinking in this single post, I can confidently say that it is among the most important abilities contributing to your potential to become Superhuman.
Creativity & Imagination
Imagination is where your brain goes to think of brand new things. Creativity, is the act of re-combining existing ideas into new ones. These thinking skill when combined with critical thinking is the pathway to providing new and novel solutions to today’s complex problems. The critical thinking is added at the end to review and determine the validity and value of an idea within a given context and objective.
Many people relate to creativity as a natural born skills rather than something that can be learned. While it could be argued that certain people have more natural creativity in others, it is untrue to suggest that creativity is a skill that cannot be learned.
Working on your ability to be creative often requires you to expose yourself to a myriad of new ideas, to challenge existing ideas, and to be able to work within constraints. There are also various methods of approaching a problem that can lead to conjuring more creative solutions. This can include things like brainstorming, Mindstorming, and Gamestorming. There’s Mind-Mapping and Brain Dumping, and all manner of other approaches to keep the brain nimble, flexible, and searching for new pathways. Here are a few resources to get you started.
- Read: The Six Thinking Hats
- Read: Brainstorming Tips
- Read: Mindstorming
- Read: Gamestorming
- Where good ideas come from [Book | TEDtalk]
Clarity & Focus
If you’ve ever tried to solve a problem right after you’ve woken up but before your morning coffee, then you understand exactly why clarity and focus are so important to effective thinking. There are several important things to keep in mind when trying to improve your ability to think clearly and focus.
The first, and seemingly most obvious, is that you must get enough sleep. It can be difficult to think clearly without giving your mind a proper rest. This can also include understanding your sleep chronotype and optimizing your schedule accordingly. For instance, I think more clearly at night than I do during the day.
The second is to work on your mental training to improve your clarity and focus. This can include meditation, tasks that require deep focus such as reading, or problem-solving.
And the final important piece is to dispel the myth once and for all that multitasking is ever advisable. As you improve your ability to focus and remain clearheaded, so to improve your ability to solve complex problems and execute your vision effectively.
Here are some resources to get started:
- Discover your chronotype
- Start meditation practice (Try Calm, Headspace, or Waking Up)
- Read: Digital Minimalism
- Read: Essentialism
- Read: Indistractable
- Read: Deep Work
Motivation & Willpower
In addition to thinking with the intent of improving your scope of knowledge and understanding, mastery over your ability to motivate yourself and maintain a strong will is equally important.
Self-motivation and willpower or intimately connected as they both revolve around your resolve.
In order to motivate yourself, there needs to be more than just a steady stream of external motivation from Instagram quotes and motivational speakers. You need to find something inside of you that drives you. This is called intrinsic motivation and it has been shown to be far more effective at producing lasting results an extrinsic motivation. One of the ways that you can most easily learn to motivate yourself is to get very clear on what your purpose really is.
Purpose isn’t the same thing as the reason.
Reasons are another way of saying justification. You can have reasons for all sorts of things. But when you think about what the purpose of something is, it is deeper inside you. It is the driving force that precedes the reasons you come up with later.
If you don’t have the answer to the question, what is my purpose, then you have been doing a check-the-box vision statement exercise at work instead of a spiritual one at home by yourself.
If you want to know how to find the answer to the question of purpose: confront the reality of death and truly acknowledge that there is a world that remains after you’re gone.
How does that change your day-to-day?
If it doesn’t then either you’re a saint (unlikely), you are lying to yourself, or you’ve never thought about it in that way. When you think about the legacy you are leaving behind and realize that none of us ever know when it is our time to go, it has a unique way of helping you seize the day.
As it relates to willpower, I’ve found a few helpful methods of developing an iron-clad will.
The first is the metaphor of the cold shower
Aside from a cold shower in the middle of summer when you’re covered in sweat and dying to cool off, we can all agree that a cold shower is an uncomfortable and jarring experience.
If you were forced to take an ice-cold shower, and stay in there for 15 minutes, you would be quite uncomfortable. But over the course of the 15 minutes, you’d probably adapt and settle in. It certainly wouldn’t continue to be as intense as the first blast of cold water hitting your face, and it is highly unlikely that it would kill you.
This is why cold showers are a wonderful metaphor for life.
There are so many things in life that are uncomfortable. We hate every second of it, we want it to be over, to return to the comfort and safety of our warm bed. But, it won’t kill us. And it’s often been said that “what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.”
The next time you are confronted with adversity, or something truly uncomfortable, think of it as a cold shower: it won’t last forever, it’s a little uncomfortable, but it won’t kill you.
When you see that most things are simply uncomfortable, but not life-threatening, why not confront it head-on, push through the discomfort, and get where you’re going faster?
The second method for developing stronger willpower is the “No Exits” Principle
Some people have an extraordinary ability to do anything they set their minds to (or not do things they set their minds to avoid).
I’m no master, but I like to think I have fairly strong willpower.
After I giving it some thought, I think I’ve figured out the secret to willpower.
The Problem…is Options
Part of the reason so many people fail to accomplish what they set their mind to is that they are only partially committed to their goal. They have left open other options.
True willpower requires you to create a circumstance where there is only one option.
- It’s the mindset of the diabetic who “gives up” drinking, a candy addiction, and an otherwise high carbohydrate diet.
- It’s the mindset of the person with celiac disease that must “give up” pizza, pasta, bread, and other gluten-filled delights.
- It’s the mindset of the person who just had triple bypass surgery that quits smoking and gives up bacon.
These are people who probably don’t “want” to give up these things, but they must…there is no option. It becomes easier to stick to the plan when the only other option is losing a foot, extreme illness, or possible death.
I have found that the secret to willpower is to create a mindset within myself where there is only one option.
When I quit smoking (both times), it was because I took the approach that smoking was simply no longer an option. I had tried several times before it, but I wasn’t serious…I hadn’t adopted the right mindset.
When I was married, I never feared that I would cheat on my wife, because it was simply not an option. I didn’t even see other women that way anymore.
It sounds simple, yet it is very difficult to do. See the goal, and remove all other options as if they are life-threatening.
The secret of willpower is the same as the secret of so many things: intense focus and commitment.
The final component of thinking we should discuss is patience. Many people think great ideas are the product of a ‘eureka’ moment. However, more often than not, it is deep thinking and deliberation over time that leads to the resolution of complex problems. You may find yourself aggressively learning new information, thinking hard on a problem, and getting frustrated that the solution has not arrived yet.
Breathe, relax, and recognize that time is one of the variables that thinking requires.
I hope that as you learn more about the importance of thinking you spend time to improve your ability to think critically, creatively, and with greater focus. And if it doesn’t happen right away… Be patient.
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