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We know what we are, but know not what we may be.
-- William Shakespeare


The MONTHLY Motivator - January 2004

Thinking skills

Our success in life is due in large part to our ability to think. We are able to use our large, powerful brains for more than just playing back previously recorded programs. We are able to ponder, to synthesize, to question, to analyze, to consider, to speculate, to investigate, to think.

In a world that is increasingly powered by information, thinking skills become more and more important. The world is getting more complex by the minute. Instinctive reactions no longer give us enough skills to survive. We must learn to develop complex thinking skills in order to prosper.

Normally, we don’t ever think about thinking. We just kind of do it as needed. Of course we all go to school as children, where we are hopefully taught how to think, and where we receive some practice in thinking. Yet aside from philosophy courses, we don’t receive very much instruction in thinking, per se. Most of our thinking skills are developed out of the necessity to accomplish some other task, whether it be academic or pragmatic.

Thinking is a lifelong pursuit, and it is important to continually develop and refine thinking skills. Thinking affects every area of life. It can make the difference between success and failure in your career. It can make the difference between good health and sickness. It can make a major difference in your relationships, and in your very enjoyment of life.

So let’s take a look at some aspects of thinking, and at some ways to improve thinking skills. This is by no means an exhaustive listing. Instead, it is intended to help you stop and consider your own thinking skills, and what you can do to strengthen them.

The best way to improve thinking skills is practice

I know that sounds kind of obvious. The point is that there’s no “easy” answer -- no magic formula that will raise your IQ by 20 points with little or no effort. Thinking is difficult work, and improving one’s thinking skills takes time and effort.

Just as physical exercise helps to strengthen the body, regular mental exercise will strengthen the mind. And just as you can’t have “six-pack” abdominal muscles without months and months of “crunches”, developing your thinking skills will also take continued, sustained effort. Each time you go to the gym and work out, you build your physical strength. Over time, you’re able, physically, to do things you could not have done before. And each time you put some real, sustained effort into using your thinking skills, you strengthen them. Eventually, you will be able to do things, mentally, that you could not have done before. You’ll find that you can more quickly grasp complex situations. You will be more creative. You will learn more quickly and completely. A strong mind is developed by habit, by putting some work into purposeful thinking on a daily basis.

Are you thinking, or reacting?

There are many things you do by habit or conditioned response. When the telephone rings, you answer it. When a box falls off the truck on the road in front of you, you swerve to miss it. If you had to stop and think about what to do, your reaction would come too late. You would collide with the box on the freeway. So habits and automatic responses are very important. It would be tough to get through the day without them. There is a danger, however, in becoming too dependent on them.

Unfortunately, much of what passes for thinking is actually reaction, assumption, or emotion.

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--Ralph Marston

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