When was the last time you stopped to think? I mean really stopped. To think.
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.
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 Recognise your two different modes of thinking
What is always the first step in solving a problem? Admitting that there is a problem.
The key is to match the type of thinking to the situation.
Emotions are not inherently bad.
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.
The physical and audible environment we’re in helps shape how our brains operate, which will shape the kind of thinking we are able to do.
Step #4 Limit your thinking to problems you can define clearly
A lot of the time we spend thinking is spent thinking about problems.
And by “problems,” I don’t mean math problems, or obviously, urgent problems like: Do I call a plumber or a sprinkler repairman if my front lawn is flooding?
The problem might be micro in scope about something we’re doing right now: I need a good internal cliffhanger to link one section of this blog post I’m writing to the next section.
Or it might be specific to an upcoming point in the future: I only have an hour between picking my daughter up at preschool and the start of the basketball game, so what am I going to make for dinner?
But hopefully it’s not something nebulous like: I feel like I eat too much and have gotten out of shape.
Take a look at those first three problems I listed.
What do they have in common? They are clearly defined, and there is a narrow space where a specific answer can fill in the gap causing the problem.
But what on earth am I supposed to do with that last one?
Sure, it’s a problem. I’m out of shape. I know it! And I know I need to do something about it.
But the problem, as described there, is so poorly defined that all I’m going to end up doing is lamenting the development of the poor habits, fearing the hard work and discipline it will take to reverse them, and then not really doing anything about it.
It’s an open invitation for self-loathing and procrastination, and certainly not the beginning of a path toward a reasonable solution. So I’m just going to waste my time and energy thinking about it in this way.
What I need to do is redefine the problem, so that I can actually think clearly about the solution. Let’s try this instead: I snack too much, and I’m not creating time to work out in the mornings and evenings like I did before my daughter was born. Thus I’ve gained weight and gotten out of shape, and now I need to do something about it.
See how clearly defined the problems are there?
I’ve narrowed them down so that I can actually create specific action plans to combat them. And now my time spent thinking about this problem can actually be spent productively.
Even if I spend most of that time rejecting the ideas I come up with.
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?
It’s the only way to stay on the path toward mature, fully-formed ideas and solutions. And if that isn’t the goal of our thinking, then we’re a long way away from thinking “better.”
Step #6 Collaborate and share intentionally
Because now you can take the time, effort, experience, and knowledge that you bring to the table and multiply it by the time, effort, experience, and knowledge that someone else brings to the table.
Step #7 Give yourself the permission and space to think creatively and strategically
You have to give yourself permission to be intentional about thinking better. We think all the time, so it’s easy to assume we can just flip a switch and think better. But it doesn’t work like that.
As you’ve learned in this blog post, you have to: