Does your brain seem to balk when it comes to everyday thinking and decision-making? Perhaps you reason that “thinkers” are always scholars or geniuses. Well, that is not true. Most real thinkers are ordinary people who know how to cope with the countless multitude of day-by-day challenges facing them. What can aid you to develop the same ability?
Do You Keep All Your Goals in View?
As explained in the previous article, the basic aid to better thinking is to keep always in mind your overall purpose in life. When your main goal is lost from sight, thinking becomes uncertain.
But also important to prodding your thinking processes are what might be called secondary goals. Some day-by-day problems never get solved because people think only of long-range, principal goals, ignoring smaller yet important goals.
How secondary goals assist thinking can, again, be illustrated by a journey. The person traveling from Madrid, Spain, to Berlin, Germany, knows what is his main goal. However, he might wish to segment the trip into smaller sections, perhaps making stops at Toulouse and Paris, France. The overall trip then seems shorter and he has an immediate goal toward which to direct his thinking.
Similarly, with our lives. A person may know his primary goal in life. Keeping that foremost, he should, after carefully weighing his own circumstances, decide on certain subgoals. Working toward these makes his main goal seem to come easier and more rapidly.
In fact, people can greatly aid their thinking by giving each day a goal. Knowing that you would like to accomplish certain tasks within the day often prods you to consider how to do all things in the most efficient way. This, of course, means that each day must be planned.
Some persons find time to plan their day’s work by rising a little earlier in the morning or by staying up a little later the evening before. Others reclaim time otherwise lost to television for use in this way. Some take just a few minutes before leaving their job each day to lay out the next day’s activities.
One busy executive with nine children does much of his planning while on a commuter train. He says: ‘If I didn’t have that privacy each day, I‘d never do important thinking and daily programing.’
Do You Think Systematically?
Another help to budge a balking brain is to learn to think in a systematic way. This calls for trying to see every side of a matter. To learn how to do this, some have suggested approaching problems as though playing the game “Twenty Questions.” In this game a group or panel is given twenty chances to ferret out a subject on the moderator’s mind. The idea is to eliminate as many probabilities as possible with each question, progressively narrowing the field to a logical answer.
The game embodies a model of productive thinking, actually the principles of scientific research, namely, running through a list of questions to eliminate probabilities until one can single out an answer. An engineer reviews mentally whether a given problem can be solved by electric, hydraulic, chemical, mechanical or other means. A doctor making a diagnosis mentally runs through a list of diseases with similar symptoms, endeavoring by process of elimination to arrive at the right conclusion.
This process of ordered thinking can be illustrated with a family who, having decided to move to another location, set down a list of requirements with regard to a new home they must find: For example: (1) Do we want a house or an apartment? (2) A new one or an older one? (3) One or two stories? (4) Price not over what fixed amount? (5) In city or suburb? (6) Maximum distance from employment? (7) From schools? (8) From shopping facilities and other conveniences, and so forth?
Until the habit of approaching all problems systematically becomes ingrained in you, do not be embarrassed about employing a written checklist similar to this. Of course, such thinking can be learned by using it in connection with all your daily tasks, not just the major moves in life.
For instance, are you a thinking housewife? Instead of secretly envying so-called “talented” women, why not use the same thinking processes they must employ in order to do their work? Samm S. Baker in his book Your Key to Creative Thinking (1962) shows ways of doing this:
“A leading professor of psychology stated, ‘The capacity to create . . . is not limited to the highly gifted person, but is the birthright of every person of average talent.’ . . . If you’re a housewife, there are many creative challenges all about you, waiting to be solved for the convenience and enjoyment of your family. Consider something as simple as a clothes closet. You can permit a messy situation to develop, as in so many homes . . . Or, you can plan creatively so that everything has a clean, orderly place in the closet, saving time and temper for everyone in the family, and winning praise for yourself.”—Pages 1, 17.
The same can be said for your cooking. One noted psychologist said: “To originate a first-rate soup is more creative than daubing a second-rate painting.”
Or, as a parent contemplating a vacation for your family, do you really stop to think the trip through? Do you consider all the possible problems that might arise as to your automobile? Clothing for a different climate? Entertainment for the children while you are driving, and so on?
Or, do you have difficulty in getting along with certain people? Have you thought about what definite steps to take that may possibly resolve the situation?
In every area of life, systematically thinking through whatever confronts you, consistent with your goals in life, is of immeasurable value in jarring a complacent brain.
Do You Balk at Decision-making?
Another aid to stir hesitant thinking is to remember that problems just do not “go away” as a result of putting them off or refusing to make a decision. Not making any decision at all, in effect, is itself to make a decision. Many persons who balk when faced with decisions, find that later on they are more difficult to make. Why do many have that tendency?
Some fear imagined consequences. Others recall past decisions, and, regretting the way things turned out, hesitate to make new ones. But suppose they had decided another way on those past decisions—who can really say things would have worked out much better?
On the other hand, possibly you have made wrong decisions in the past. Should pride now stymie you from making future ones? No less a thinker than Albert Einstein said regarding his own conclusions from study: “I think and think, for months, for years, ninety-nine times the conclusion is false. The hundredth I am right.” Fortunately, in personal decisions the average is often much higher than that.
However, as an aid in making proper and prompt decisions, ask yourself, ‘Am I willing to consider other people’s views, especially if they are in any way involved in the decision?’ A wise supervisor or family head appreciates that he is not the only one who knows how to think. Yes, even on the family level, each member may have something to contribute. Rudolph Flesch notes:
“If you want to pool quickly the viewpoints of various ages and sexes, stay right at home. The basis of clear thinking . . . is the realization that we think with our experience. The family . . . is the place to learn this once and for all. . . . Family team-work in thinking is common when it comes to big decisions like buying a new house. This is where husbands, wives and older children get together discussing the problem, weighing the pros and cons of possible solutions, planning with pencil and paper, and surveying the available factual information.”—The Art of Clear Thinking (1951), pages 160, 163.
Of course, not only in major projects, but even in lesser ones it is a good idea to consult other people. Considering other people’s advice also prevents one from making hasty or “snap” decisions.
Another source of information based on experience is reading material. Here one can benefit from the experience of the author, perhaps a person who has spent years in the field covered by his book or article. Nevertheless, if you read to get information before making a decision, be selective. Often only a small part of all that is published on a given subject is of real value to you. Keep clearly in mind the kind of information you want. Avoid tangents. In other words, rather than “speed reading” learn “speed thinking,” keeping your mind on your purpose.
Once you have a reasonable amount of facts gathered from reading and from discussion, and time has been spent on meditation, then make your decision. Finally, unless overpowering evidence to the contrary later presents itself, stick to what you have decided.
By way of summary, to learn to think clearly requires riveting your mind to your primary goal in life, as well as setting up other, secondary, goals in life. Then as you go about handling daily problems, plan your work, think systematically and make decisions in a way that is consistent with your goals.
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