Becoming a better thinker can easily be seen as something that you can just decide to do from one day to another, as soon as you recognise the need. But thinking in a better way is not like a personality trait or a characteristic that we can just turn on and off as and when needed. It’s also not like breaking up with a bad habit, where you just vow to be different and there you go, you are. You can only become a better thinker through a deliberate and focused approach, just like you become better at any skill.
While I’m still in the process myself, I wanted to share with you my journey to becoming a better thinker. It took me 7 steps to get where I am now, and I want to encourage you to start on this journey as well. One step leads to another, and before you realise, you’ll be reaping all the benefits.
#1 Become aware that you need to be a better thinker
First, you need to realise that this is something that’s missing and that you need to improve the way you think. Becoming aware of the fact that you have to develop a new skill is often the biggest motivator to get started. You may realise you need to become a better thinker through reading an article that points towards this, or it may just strike you from one day to another, when you notice that the lack of good thinking has a negative impact on something around you. Whatever the source of your realisation, without this step you won’t be able to set on a journey to become a better thinker.
#2 Treat thinking like a skill that requires practice
Then you need to fully embrace the notion that thinking is like any other skill: you can only get better at it if you engage in deliberate, regular practice. Compare thinking to any other skill that you’ve developed over the years: in the same way that you can’t become fluent in French or German without studying and practising, the same way you can’t become a decent pianist without hours of playing and improving, you can’t become a good thinker without a planned approach to learning it.
#3 Implement better thinking habits
As with learning any skill, if you put the right habits into place, they’ll support your development. You can’t expect that you’ll just find time to grow as a thinker, or that you’ll squeeze in some time here and there to practise. Only implementing the right habits, like keeping a thinking journal, writing a to-think list, scheduling time to think, and cultivating your thinking spaces, can provide the right system for you to become a better thinker. Of course, you won’t implement these habits if you don’t see thinking like a skill – so make sure that you fully embrace this approach.
#4 Learn about various thinking styles
The key to becoming a better thinker is learning about various strategies of thought that I call thinking styles. Knowing various thinking styles allows you to develop a broader collection of strategies to apply in all the different contexts you come across. When you learn about thinking styles, you’ll know that you have available to you analytical thinking, systems thinking, critical thinking, creative thinking… and many more. Then, from these you’ll be able to pick the best approach to handle any problem, question, choice or decision you’re faced with. And this, ultimately, will make you a much more effective thinker.
#5 Implement a structured approach to thinking
Even at this stage, it’s easy to think that thinking just happens. You may be convinced that with the good thinking habits you’ve implemented and with everything you know about various thinking styles, you’re now as good a thinker as you can get. But without implementing a structured approach to how you think things through, you’ll still be not as effective in your thinking as you could be. You don’t want to be applying all these thinking styles ad hoc, you don’t want to be randomly approaching problems and questions, but rather you want to have a tried and tested structure that you can invariably apply every single time.
#6 Aim to apply it on a day-to-day basis
One of the biggest mistakes on the journey to becoming a better thinker is deciding that you’ll keep your collection of thinking styles and the structured approach to thinking only for the really important decisions or big problems. This is a bit like hiding your potential and the power of your skill, and not fully benefitting from it on a daily basis. Come on, you’ve worked so hard to become a better thinker – why not be one all the time? This is an attitude that will lead to great improvements even in the smallest of things, so apply it on a day-to-day basis!
#7 Never stop learning… and sharing
A big part of becoming a better thinker is realising that you can never stop learning. As with all skills, the moment you stop growing, you start losing part of your mastery. The same applies to thinking. The good thing is, the better thinker you become, the more you crave to learn and to know! It’ a virtuous circle. At some point you’ll also realise that you need to start sharing what you’re learning, because convincing others to become better at thinking helps not only them, not only us in general, but also… you, individually.
And now, let’s put thought into practice!
What about you? What step do you think you’re currently at? I’m somewhere between #6 and #7. I’m curious to find out where you are. Share below!