One activity that I often underrated in the past is thinking. Deep thought is what separates us from other animals, and what allows us to survive and form conscious, powerful ideas.
I once read somewhere that the average person produces something like 30 thousands thoughts per day. The exact number is not important (and something expected), what’s interesting is that of those 30 thousands thought that we have every day, only a few of them may contain any deep thought.
When I was reading How to live on 24 hours a day, it was reminded me the importance of deep thinking, which I’d like to summarize and expand next:
- Intelligence. There is no doubt that thought plays a central role in intelligence. The ability to form intelligent thoughts allows you survive and eventually stand out. I believe that our intelligence is directly related to our ability to think. Therefore, by thinking more (and in the right way), one should be able to increase their intelligence.
- Learning. Deep thought can also enhance learning. We can use our mind to simulate real world experiences without having to physically do them. Remember that our brain does not distinguish from experiences happening in the real world and experiences happening just in your mind, thus you can gain experience or consolidate your learning by just thinking deeply about the subject. By the way, world class athletes already know this, in fact they spend a considerable amount of time practicing on their mind. Of course, there is no substitute for real world learning, but thinking about your performance can only improve your results.
- Challenging ideas and habits. The only real place in the world where you have total freedom is in your head. Nobody can prevent you to formulate ideas in your mind, no matter what their nature is. Deep thinking can also be useful to brainstorm new ideas, and for finding solutions to real world problems. All great ideas were once a dream in somebody’s head.
- Growing. Finally, thinking is the essence of growing. By examining yourself, your situation and your habits, you can work out a path of continuous growth and improvement. When I was studying the characteristics that make people talented, one trait that stood out was that they perform a lot of self observation. In other words, they study themselves, by thinking about their thoughts and their actions.
How to think deeply
Now that I’ve hopefully seduced you with the importance of thinking, I’d like to elaborate on how to actually think more deeply.
What I’ve learned is that the real question is not how to think, but rather what to think about. From my experience, the most important thoughts are active thoughts, which are the ones where you have to perform some kind of mental effort.
Thinking about how to solve a problem, thinking about what you just read in a constructive way, or thinking about your current situation are all kind of active thoughts, provided that you put some effort in them.
It is, in my opinion, a good habit to spend some quality time just thinking. You may be surprised by the amount of ideas and solutions that you can get by implementing this habit. The book How to live on 24 hours a day, which I mentioned before, has a good overview on the subject.
Like going to the gym, the first times that you consciously try to think deeply about something, it may feel a bit uncomfortable. But don’t be discouraged. After a while your ability to think will improve, along with your concentration skills and all the benefits mentioned above.
Thinking and time management
One question that someone may arise at this point is: where do I find time to think? I’m confident that by now we all know the importance of thinking, yet the intense rhythm of our lifestyle makes it hard to do so. While there is certainly not a single solution, a habit that I’m trying to integrate, is to spend a few minutes thinking about what I just did during the day. I do this whenever I have some time available, for example while walking or before going to bed. It’s surprising how much time we have available for performing deep thoughts if we want to.
Day after day, I can see a significant improvement in what I do, and in the quality of the work that I produce, as well as in my private life.
I’m starting to ask myself if one can really afford not to think (deeply), as the potential benefits that can be gained by doing so are orders of magnitude superior to not thinking at all, and acting like a robot.
Troubles with thinking
One thing to keep in mind, is that too much thinking is also a source for troubles. Remember that the goal of all of this is to improve yourself and the things that you do, but if you spend too much time thinking and no time creating, you can seldom see any improvement.
If you find yourself in a situation where you can’t get anything done, perhaps it’s time that you switch to a more active, positive thinking. Try to think about solutions, and get your hands dirty. Thinking without practicing means that all your potential remains trapped in your head. Get it out in the real world.
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