Welcome to “How You Living?” a transformative podcast featuring best-selling author, inspirational speaker and minister, Dr. Rick Rigsby—and, now, Dr. Rick.
Dr. Rigsby: Hello, friends. Thanks so much for listening today. I want to discuss thinking, specifically how to improve the quality of our thinking.
Think on this for a moment. Have you ever taken a class on thinking? I'm sure many of you have had a class on critical thinking. How about applied thinking? Few skills are as valuable as the ability to critically think through problems. We're constantly told to think about something, to give it some thought, to think through it, to critically contemplate, or simply just to concentrate. The question is, have we ever been taught to think, even in a critical thinking class? [01:05.6]
You see, schools teach us how to approach problems, how to solve problems, even how to critically evaluate problems, but what about the art of thinking, something I refer to as applied thinking?
Critical thinking is a learned behavior. It cannot be taught, but I believe it can be learned. As a former television reporter in the 1970s and 1980s, I really didn't do a whole lot of thinking. I mostly reacted. I was encouraged to observe. I was forced daily to react. This is not bad. I developed instincts, gut reactions.
Instinct is a type of thinking that, I really do believe, has merit. There's a great book on the subject by Malcolm Gladwell. The book is titled Blink. His argument is we think without thinking. We make choices in the blink of an eye. Gladwell believes that decisions made by snap judgments and first impressions can actually be educated. I believe there's merit to Gladwell's argument. [02:13.3]
Here's another perspective on thinking that I also feel has merit. Some argue the best way to learn to think is to make time to think. I came across a fascinating article, titled, Solitude and Leadership by William Deresiewicz. His remarks were originally published in The American Scholar. He then shared these remarks at West Point a few years ago. He told students, quote, “If you want others to follow, learn how to be alone with your thoughts,” end quote.
Now, that statement is rather contradictory, “If you want others to follow, learn how to be alone,” and Deresiewicz admits this contradiction, but he feels that making time to think is critical in developing thinking abilities. [03:01.0]
According to Deresiewicz, poor thinking is time-consuming. We spend more time focusing on correcting mistakes and less time mentally progressing toward solutions. Good thinking, on the other hand, means better decisions. Better decisions allow for more free time, less stress, and more opportunity.
Deresiewicz says we want thinking to be easy and that's the problem. Easy, random thinking, quick thoughts here and there. With a summary of the problem, you feel enough information is gained to make a decision. He suggests hard thinking, learning and understanding the problem, understanding the variables and the nuances of the problem, thinking through second- and third-order effects.
Thus, hard thinking involves concentration and a lot of patience. Listen to this quote from Deresiewicz. [03:58.8]
“It’s only by concentrating, sticking to the question, being patient, letting all the parts of my mind come into play, that I arrive at an original idea. By giving my brain a chance to make suggestions and associations. I draw connections and it takes me by surprise.”
I have had a book on my shelf for 40 years. I just recently re-read it. The book is by Rudolph Flesch. The book is titled, The Art of Clear Thinking. I want to read just a paragraph from the book, and, by the way, this was published in 1951. Flesch says:
“If you have to solve a problem, turn away from it for a while and attend to some other routine matters. Above all, be sure you have time to think. Don't clutter yourself with a lot of details. Spend some time by yourself, and I mean, by yourself. Don't be a slave to the telephone and don't think that problems are solved between nine and five only. The unconscious picks its own time in places.” [05:14.6]
End quote. I really liked that. That really drives home the point some 70 years ago what Deresiewicz is saying to us this very day. He says poor thinkers make poor decisions because they don't spend the time required to make better decisions. He argues that if you want to think better, schedule time to think, the very thing that Rudolph Flesch argued back in 1951.
I love this concluding quote from Deresiewicz. He says, “Good thinking is expensive, but poor thinking costs a fortune.” You know what, friends? I really believe that it's so important that we make sure that we schedule time to think every single day. It is critical to how our lives are shaped and how we frame even the slightest of conversations. [06:12.0]
However, not everyone feels that same way or has that same point of view. According to an article in psychology today, titled, Why Is Thinking Things through So Hard to Do? Bill Knaus, Ed.D., writes, quote, we often avoid the mental work that goes into solving problems, thinking that if we wait long enough, the problem might go away. However, friends without some kind of resolution, we’ll keep repeating the same cycle over and over again, wasting time and not being as efficient as we could be.
The advantages to thinking outweigh the costs. I'm talking about improved concentration, greater focus, a better sense of priorities. Our actions will be more deliberate and intentional. We'll be less reactive and more efficient in our use of time. [07:05.8]
With all of that said, let me offer just some practical tips that I have developed over the years that have really helped me. You can add to this list or create your own. I bet many of you already have, but this just really will help some of you that just would like a kick start into how to think and how to improve the quality of your thinking.
First of all, give yourself permission to think. We live in a very busy time where we value busyness, and so what I have found very helpful is giving myself permission to spend a few minutes to just sit or walk and think.
Second, having an agenda for what to think about. Friends, there are so many things that are competing for your hearts and minds right now, so many things competing for your attention. You don't want to overwhelm yourself, so have an agenda, a very specific plan, on what you want to think about. [08:06.0]
Third, it requires patience. It really requires time.
Fourth, I think movement needs to be involved to think. I really believe that this is really important, whether going for a walk or doing some exercises around the house or gym, going sailing, whatever. I think movement is inextricably connected to activating our brains.
Fifth, changing the scenery certainly helps. I think a scenery-change from an office setting can really unlock the creativity in our minds.
Going back to moving for just a second, a recent study by Stanford University researchers showed that taking a stroll, just a simple walk, is the most likely predictor of productivity. [08:56.2]
Contrast a stroll with sitting at a desk where we're reviewing mounds of information. It can be monotonous while, all the while, we're breathing recycled air, whereas outside we're changing our environment where we see nature. We may even become one with nature. We're moving about. We're breathing fresh air. All of this works to reinvigorate the brain.
In graduate school, I discovered a couple of things. First, I discovered to my shock that I loved learning. Second, I had to discover a strategy to offset my attention deficit. I came up with a plan that worked for me. I call it the 45-15 method, where I worked hard and focused for 45 minutes and then I rewarded myself for 15 minutes.
Sometimes that reward would be working out, doing push-ups and sit-ups. Sometimes it would be watching Sports Center. Sometimes in snowy Eugene, Ore., where it snowed once in a while, it would be just going outside and taking in the sights. I remember one morning, two or three in the morning, I made snow angels in the front yard. [10:05.4]
But whatever it was, even if it was just sitting on the porch and taking deep breaths, it really worked as a disruptor. It disrupted me from the monotonous routine of just sitting and it gave me something to look forward to each and every hour. This was my disruptor. This was the difference-maker.
Just 15 minutes of a reward produced insights and sometimes even grand solutions to complex problems, but more important, it established a pattern of thinking in my life. Giving myself permission to think, deliberately making time to think, for me, having an agenda of what to think about, moving, doing some kind of movement while thinking and changing my scenery are disciplines that I employ to this very day. [10:57.1]
I have to say that my greatest challenge is giving myself permission to take time to think and, like I said earlier, it's because our world places such a premium on busyness. I want to remind you at this juncture of the words of that great UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden, who said on one occasion, “Don't mistake activity for achievement.” Give yourself permission to take the time you need to think.
Remember, clear thinking requires courage far more than it requires intelligence, and considering the time we live in right now, a global pandemic and its aftermath, those things together have placed quite a premium on making thinking a top priority. Today we're forced to consider new possibilities and to develop new ideas, to design new ways for doing things, to reimagine the future, so let's make sure we use our minds. Someone once said, “Few minds wear out; more rust out.” Let's make sure that we wear our minds out. [12:04.6]
That great philosopher, Winnie the Pooh, said on one occasion, “Did you ever stop to think and forget to start again?” We've talked a great deal about thought and thinking during our podcast episodes. We once talked about how Frank Outlaw challenged us to be careful about our thought wipe, how those thoughts produce words and actions, habits, character, how our thoughts actually determine our destiny. The Bible talks about “As a man thinketh, so is he.” Carol Dweck reminded us that a proper mindset is a mindset that is tuned to the frequency of growth that we don't want a fixed mindset.
Why is thinking so important? Thinking determines whether outcomes will be successful. Thinking determines how productive we'll be on a daily basis. Personally, thinking even determines our peace and our joy. Every action begins with a thought. Every outcome begins with a thought. [13:11.8]
What if we could shift our thoughts to produce more positive actions? We can, friends. We absolutely can. Listen to this. About a year ago, I made the decision to stop saying the words “I forgot” when asked something I could not remember. I did not want to send such a message to my brain. These days I say, “Let me think on it and I'll get back to you,” and guess what? Most of the time I will recall the information.
With that thought in mind, I close with one last endorsement on thinking. In a recent podcast, I mentioned that I'm reading a great book by Catherine Sanderson, titled, The Positive Shift: Mastering Mindset to Improve Happiness, Health, and Longevity. Dr. Sanderson explores the emerging field of positive psychology. [14:04.8]
I don't know if it's because I'm in my sixties or not, but my favorite section of her book is a chapter, titled, “Older adults are wise, not forgetful.” This chapter reinforces my decision to think and rethink and shift my perspective, something that takes a lot of time, something that takes courage, something that takes conviction, all the things that we've discussed today. Dr. Sanderson says, “Life is about how we think. Even getting older is framed based on how we think.”
She shares a funny story about actually forgetting her suitcase prior to leaving for a speaking engagement at Princeton University and she didn't realize that she had forgotten her at home until her husband called and asked if she had intended to leave the suitcase at home. [14:57.0]
So, she's got to come up with a new plan. She doesn't arrive at her hotel until one o'clock in the morning and she has to be at Princeton at eight o'clock in the morning. She finds a Walmart that opens at six o'clock, and humorously writes in her book, “Thank God for the Miley Cyrus collection of clothing.”
Now, she shares this story at lunch with her colleagues. Her colleagues laugh and they blame it on an overworked, overtired, overcommitted 40-something-year-old professional with way too much on her plate. Sanderson makes this very interesting point. If this would have happened to someone in their sixties or seventies, or eighties or nineties, we would have called it a senior moment, but that's not the label that we gave it. We said she was overworked. There's too much on her plate.
Sanderson says, what if this would have happened to somebody in their twenties, like a college student? She says, a lot of times, her college students lose their IDs and their keys and their cell phones on a regular basis. They don't have a senior moment. They're just forgetful at that particular period and time. [16:11.5]
How we frame things in our thinking really can limit or free us with regard to the way in which we live our lives. Why not make thinking a top priority? Why not reward your life by making time to think? That one simple decision will impact and influence everything, from the decisions we're making to how we view aging. Remember the slogan doesn't go, you're as young as your age says. The slogan goes, you're as young as you think. Why not think about this for a few days?
That's going to do it for this episode. Until we meet again, this is Dr. Rick, asking the most important question I can ask, how ya livin’? [16:58.9]
Are you ready to make an impact in your world right now? Do you want to stop existing and start living your best life right now? Dr. Rick wants to give you the first chapter of his bestselling book, “Lessons from a Third Grade Dropout”, absolutely free. Just go to www.RickRigsby.com/FreeGift to get the print or audiobook right now.
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