The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking presents practical, lively, and inspiring ways for you to become more successful through better thinking
1. Grounding your thinking: Understand deeply
Master the basics: Consider a skill you want to improve or a subject area that you wish to understand better. Spend five minutes writing down specific components of the skill or subject area that are basic to that theme. Pick one of the items on your list, and spend thirty minutes actively improving your mastery of it.
Uncover one essential: Consider a subject you wish to understand, and clear the clutter until you have isolated one essential ingredient. Each complicated issue has several possible core ideas. You are not seeking ‘the’ essential idea; you are seeking just one–consider a subject and pare it down to one essential theme.
2. Igniting insights through mistakes: Fail to succeed
Fail nine times: The next time you face a daunting challenge, think to yourself, ‘In order for me to resolve this issue, I will have to fail nine times, but on the tenth attempt, I will be successful.’ This attitude frees you and allows you to think creatively without fear of failure, because you understand that failure is a forward step toward success.
Don’t stare at a blank screen: Take an issue or problem of interest to you. Just quickly jot down any ideas–good, bad, inaccurate, or vague–that you have about this issue. Your ideas will be bad in many ways. Now you have something to do: tease out the good elements; find particularly nice phrases or pieces of strong ideas; uncover a word that is suggestive of some unstated interesting notion; find that you have clarified for yourself the core of the idea that you want to express.
3. Creating questions out of thin air: Be your own Socrates
Wisdom just for the asking: Traditionally people believe that it’s in the answering of questions that progress is made. In fact, creating questions is as important as answering them, if not more important so, because framing good questions focuses your attention on the right issues.
How answers can lead to questions: Every scenario and circumstance can provoke an endless list of valuable questions. Asking questions should not be reserved for moments when you don’t know an answer. Even when you do know the answer, asking ‘What if…?’ is a great way to see more and delve deeper.
4. Seeing the flow of ideas: Look back, look forward
Iterate ideas: You don’t need an army of thousands of individuals to struggle to address a challenge. The only person who needs to move forward little by little is you. Take a homework assignment, essay, or project that you’re facing and quickly just do it; that is, tackle the questions, draft the essay, or move forward on the project at a fast-forward speed that will surely generate a work that is, at best, subpar.
Creating new ideas from old ones: When you learn a new concept or master a skill, think about what extensions, variations, and applications are possible. It’s natural to think of the moment when you’ve solved a problem or mastered a new idea as a time to party and rest on your laurels–as if you’ve arrived at the final chapter of some great story.
The Quintessential element
5. Engaging change: Transform yourself
Expert change: If you’re learning something, solving a problem, or developing a skill, imagine in detail what a more skilled practitioner does, or what added knowledge, understanding, and previous experience the expert would bring to the task.
The quintessential you: The first four elements enable you to think better than you do; learn better than you do; and be more creative than you are. The fifth element recommends that you actually do it. Just do it.