4 tips on how to think more productively

Posted by July 2, 2020

It’s hard to think, sometimes we don’t want it, sometimes we get distracted, and sometimes we just don’t need it.

Today I read about a study by scientists at the University of California, according to which it takes about 23 minutes for a person to concentrate on an idea, gather his thoughts in a pile and immerse himself in the subject. And if you get distracted, even for a short while, it will take the same amount of time to check the news feed at the WC, for example, to get your attention back.

4 tips on how to think more productively

If it’s so hard, if it’s so hard to get the gears in your head spinning, then why do you even need it? We rarely ask this question, but it would be very useful to know the answer to it.

What is thinking?

There’s no unambiguous answer. You can use a scientific dictionary or Wikipedia, but I like the variant of Russian psychotherapist Andrey Kurpatov:

Thinking is the ability to build models of reality.
By model, we mean our idea of the world around us and ourselves. Human psychology means that much of what we think about doesn’t reflect the real picture, which is why it is called a model.

For example, a person is obsessed with thinking, “This is all America’s fault!” It doesn’t matter exactly what we’re talking about. His model of the world consists of evil America and good Sweden, for example. He does not need to know history, political science or the world economy to think so, just his thinking corresponds to the model.

It turns out that the more complex the model we try to build, the more effective our thoughts are. I remember an interview with the famous scientist Jacques Fresco, where he expressed this idea:

I am often asked: “Why do you give a whole lecture to every question?”. I answer, “Because they ask me such questions.” So a man comes and asks for help:

  • Tell me, why is my brother annoyed?
    If it were up to you, I would answer:
  • Because something is annoying to him.
    But the people I talk to ask me questions differently:
  • Can you explain, step by step, what makes my brother annoyed?
    Then I try to help them.
    Someone is looking for simple answers according to their thinking, should they expect to find the right one among them?
    It is important to emphasize one fact: thinking is not equal to the amount of knowledge. Knowledge is a building material, and thinking is the ability to build. Therefore, despite the fact that today all knowledge about the world is at a distance of one reference, not everyone tries to think.

Why don’t we like to think?

There are at least two reasons why we don’t like to think. First, thinking is energy-consuming. Evolution has taught us to act instinctively. And for its time, it was very useful.

Imagine two Neanderthals. They walk through the forest in peace, and suddenly the bushes begin to sway. One of them, obeying his instincts, runs away with a broken head. The other says to himself, “My not to be afraid of bushes, my reasonable one.” And he is eaten by a saber-toothed tiger. So, in ancient times, those who were “the smartest” lived only for a short time.

Today the situation has changed, but not too much.

It would seem that now that we are no longer threatened with being eaten, we can start thinking, but people still try to avoid it. The 21st century has given us “a variety of opportunities”, but has not taught us how to use them. It was easier for a modern person to write to WhatsApp than to call, and it used to be easier to call than to meet in person.

On the one hand, it simplifies communication, but on the other hand, it just helps to do less, think less, and create simpler pictures of the world. Why is it bad?

As Einstein said:

A problem cannot be solved at the same level of thought at which it was created.
Simply put, without developing “thinking,” we run in a circle. If a person has problems in a relationship, and he is getting the third divorce in a year, it is definitely worth thinking about what he is doing wrong. And then there’s the big question.

How do you learn to think?

4 tips on how to think more productively

The methods that I will describe below are not formulated by me, but by the therapist Andrey Kurpatov, whose definition of thinking was used in the beginning. I just added some examples and tips from personal practice. Let’s move on to methods.

  1. Build complex systems.

The ability to think is the ability to see the object in detail. When a simple person looks at a car, he sees the car, when the car mechanic looks at the car, he sees the engine, carburetor, relay, etc. He sees a complex system.

It does not follow that everyone has to become a mechanic. It follows that we should perceive ourselves and the people around us as complex systems in the first place.

Why do you want something? Why are you afraid of something?

A Neanderthal would just run away from these questions, but we need to ask them as often as possible. That goes for the people around us, too. Try to get to know the identity of the person you’re communicating with, the reasons for their actions, and understanding between you will be much more. What do you know about your loved ones, your friends? Do you know their history?

Simple explanations are convenient, but they do not give answers, moreover, they teach you not to notice the truth.

  1. Exercise incomprehension.

We are surrounded by the illusion of clarity. We are used to thinking that “everything is clear”: how everything is arranged, why people behave this way and not otherwise, etc. To train incomprehensibility is to admit: we know nothing.

The progress of mankind is built on the rebuttal of past discoveries. Imagine that 200 years ago, scientists would have said, “Well, it looks like we’ve discovered everything, it’s time to wrap up…” By the way, a similar case occurred in 1899, when the head of the British Patent Office resigned because he believed … that there was nothing else to discover.

Ask yourself questions that have no definite answers, and do not be afraid to admit from time to time that you were wrong.

  1. Look for authority.

When I was little and watched a program on television about the life of African tribes, I often wondered, “Why do they not know about the existence of TV, phone or at least pants?”. In short, because they don’t ask for them, they don’t ask.

Today I understand that the same is true for people who are convinced that they know everything. This feeling is deceptive, because a person surrounded by stupidity will be stupid, he does not see himself from outside. Whatever happens, we need authority.

Authority is anything that gives us a different perspective on the world. A real person, a historical character, a book or a film – it doesn’t matter at all. What matters is that “something” makes you wonder sometimes.

Think purposefully and practice gre tests.

I have a question for you: Are you thinking about what you’re thinking about or something specific?

More often than not, we think about what we’re thinking about. Practice gre tests on thinking. We rarely have a specific goal of understanding why something happens this way or why a person does this.

Thinking must be purposeful.

If you are concerned about relationships, do not blindly follow your instincts and jump to conclusions, it is better to ask yourself a couple of questions that will help you make an informed decision. For any problem, this is enough.

For example, I want to get into classical literature. To get my brain to work in that direction, I’m gonna ask you a couple of questions:

  1. Why would I do that?
  2. Who should I start with?
  3. Who can tell me authors and books?
  4. How not to give up what you started?
  5. Which sites should I look at?
  6. How to make the best use of the knowledge gained?

I love doing it. With this method, any problem becomes just a set of questions to be answered.

In conclusion.

The main reason why I want to keep moving the gears in my head was formulated by the American writer Edward Gori:

There are so many things that we’ve been taught since childhood to believe that it will take you quite a while to understand that they are not you. Take an online gre course on thinking.
The only thing you want to add is not to be afraid of the unknown, welcome it, it’s just a screen that hides the real world from us.

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