Think about the last time you wanted to learn a skill. It can be anything. Learning to drive a car came to my mind first, so I’m going to use it as an example. When I decided it was high time to get a driving licence, I knew you had to use the steering wheel to direct the vehicle, I realised there were pedals to make it go or stop, and I had an idea of what the gears were for. I knew I had to get the books to learn the theory first, then hire a driving instructor, spend a good number of hours learning different manoeuvres, then drive in traffic for a few more hours under supervision, and finally take a test. It never occurred to me I could just watch a few videos, sit in a car, and learn how to drive by trial and error. This is not how we learn skills. It’s likely that whatever skill came to your mind (from riding a bike to podcasting to painting), you followed a similar pattern.

When we want to learn how to do something properly, we don’t wing it. And we also don’t assume we’re born with it. Yet when it comes to thinking, the majority of us seem to treat it like breathing: you just get how to do it from birth. It’s easy to see thinking as one of these basic functions we need to engage in to survive, so it’s even easier to assume that we just come equipped with this ability. And yes, at a very basic level, we all know that we use our minds to think, that this stuff that’s going on in our heads when we try to figure something out is thinking, and that sometimes it helps to write thoughts down when they get really complicated.

But we stop there, and we spend the majority of our lives putting thinking in the same category as breathing and eating. It’s a very big and costly mistake. Thinking is much more like driving (I could extend the metaphor here endlessly and tell you for example how good thinking can take you from point A to point B much quicker, the same as driving well, but this is not my point right now) than it is like breathing. Learning how to think is like developing a proper skill in its own rights, and here’s why.

To think well you need to:

  • Treat thinking as a proper skill you want to develop
  • Accept you’re not born with good thinking skills, that nobody is a “natural” at thinking
  • Learn the foundations of thinking processes and thinking styles
  • Become familiar with the rules that guide effective thinking
  • Understand how and when to apply certain approaches
  • Engage in conscious, deliberate thinking practice

Approaching thinking like a skill yields some obvious benefits: you learn how to think better faster, you’re much more methodical in your approach, and you can see if you’ve made some progress, that is if you’re actually becoming better at thinking.

And the test? This is precisely why you should care about treating thinking as a proper skill. There may be no exam in thinking well, there may be no official certificates or diplomas, there may be no graduation in sight. But if you consciously develop thinking as a skill, you’ll be putting it to test every day and you’ll be navigating the complexities of the day-to-day life much more effectively. Your big pay-off will be knowing how to think so well that you will get from points A to points B in your life not only quicker, but also with more ease and style. If you carry on treating thinking like breathing instead, and assume you were born knowing how to do it and you do it well enough already, you may well get somewhere – but is it going to be the destination you’re really aiming for?

And now, let’s put thought into practice!

Think about the last time you learned a new skill. How did you approach the learning process? How did you structure it? Can you follow a similar path in learning how to become a better thinker? Write down the exact steps.

If you know someone who'd benefit from becoming a better thinker, share:
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Marta Stelmaszak Rosa
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I'm a researcher, academic and writer dedicated to becoming a better thinker. Every day, I practise thinkfulness: consciously adopting a structured approach to thinking in order to understand and change the world. The world needs all of us to become better thinkers, so let's start a thinkfulness revolution together!

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