How to think more clearly

In this post you’ll find a few strategies on how to think more clearly.

Thinking is among the set of things we do pretty much all the time apart from when we’re sleeping. We as a species gained massive advantage over other species due to this new and amazing ability to plan and reason we all call thinking. In business, we need it so we can better solve the problems our costumers bring to us, at school so we can solve the problems thrown at us, and in relationships, we use it when we need to know what kinds of things will improve or be detrimental to our relationships. More than just thinking its important to able to do so with clarity. Along with the ability to think also came the ability to be rational, but the whole set of things which makes us do the moves we consider emotional/irrational remain there in the background. In other words, we can be perfectly rational beings able to make the right decisions, but there is a lot we can impede us from taking advantage of that innate ability of us.

How to think more clearly

1. Isolate yourself

We live in a time in which noise can come from literally anywhere. We go out, and there is always someone with strong opinions on any subject, and with or without our asking, they are the first to voice what they think. We close ourselves in a room, and there is the internet, with hundreds if not thousands of people with the same attitude. This noise is one of the most detrimental things for clear thinking, so the first step on your clear thinking journey is to unplug, and take some time alone with yourself. Some people might argue that they think better when they discuss their problems with others, which might be true, but it might be the case that these people are just not experienced. When you have a large repertoire of knowledge in a class of problems you are likely to find that other people might do more harm than good to your judgment. So, if you’re not yet confident on your ability to make decisions in a subject matter, and you also want to be able to think more clearly, the next step is to go learn as much as you can about the kinds of problems you have to tackle.

2. Avoid extreme ideologies

I learned this one from the book Poor Charlie’s Almanack by Charlie Munger. The idea is to avoid the impulse to take extreme ends of any kind of point of view. According to the billionaire investor Charlie Munger, doing so can be detrimental to your judgment, and one reason for such observation is as the investor Tai Lopez often says: ” It’s not black and white”. Meaning that pretty much anything around us is a blend of two polar sides. People who do bad things can have some good in them, in the same way that people who do good can have some evil in them. The reason why we tend to fall for this idea of 100% evil or 100% good, is that’s what they show us in the movies and so we assume that this is what real life is about.

As you’ve probably seen before, reality is too complex to be simplified into sets of good or evil things. This is in part what makes a mature person mature. The ability to understand that if they are thinking in extremes, there is a big chance that they’re might wrong. Using this trick you become a more clear thinker by removing some things that clouds your judgment. It’s that old ” remove what makes you weak first is the easiest strategy to become stronger” kind of idea.

3. Watch what you eat

In neuroscientific terms the mirror opposite of mental clarity would be what goes by the name of brain fog. Remove or lift your brain fog and chances are that what follows immediately is a sense of mental clarity. One of the things that is often the culprit for the appearance of brain fog is the food we eat, and the one biggest culprit of all is too much sugar. Eating too much sugar can have a positive effect in the short term for your mind, but its always followed by a crash in which your mind and emotions are left unstable. This is by no means nutritional or medical advice, but the common and effective choice is to go for slowly digesting foods. The kind of food that your body cannot quickly break down, which tends to have a positive effect when the goal is to have more stable blood sugar levels throughout the day. Two examples are fat rich foods and meat, and With more stable energy levels there is more room for clear thinking and accurate decision-making.

Another thing you might be missing is electrolytes which includes sodium and potassium, which tend to be washed away from our bodies when we sweat or pee a lot. If you don’t know what electrolytes are about here is a post that explains their effects on the brain.

4. Learn to separate yourself from your emotions

This is by far one of the hardest, and whose impact on our thinking is one of the greatest. Our emotions are a part of us, and it’s kind of what makes us human. The problem with emotions is that they are quite unpredictable and can cloud our judgment. When we are angry or feeling negative, we are more likely to take negative or pessimistic conclusions about the things we are thinking about and when we feel positive or motivated, we are more likely to take positive or up beat conclusions about the problems we are trying to solve.

An experiment has shown that for different parts of the day judges are more likely to get prisoners to leave on probation or more likely to deny any appeal. What makes it so is called decision fatigue, which is said to be caused by lower blood sugar levels. This decision fatigue along with poor decision-making can trigger emotions such as anger and impatience which are in essence the representation of our weak grasp on our own emotions. For this kind of situation we can just go back to making better decisions by eating, but often the problem is not that of low blood sugar. Giving in on where our emotions lead us, or do the things they make us do can be just as addictive as a drug. We begin by listening to what our moment to moment feelings tell us, and after a while that’s the only way we can live our lives. The problem with this approach is that it can be detrimental to the ability to think clearly. When we rely on something as random as our emotions to make decisions or solve problems, the outcomes we get become then random, and the last thing we want when we are trying to solve a problem or make an important decision is randomness or outcome unpredictability.

In order to gain better control over our own emotions the first and most important step is to become more aware of them and how they affect us, just in the same way addiction can only be controlled by getting a better understanding of it and how it affects us. When we know how our emotions affect us we gain the freedom to chose whether we want to go where they lead us, or some other way.

When we talk about how emotions affect us, we can’t help but to also include everything else in our being that does the same. It’s as if we have more than one of us living inside our bodies. Each version with different agendas, and each trying its best to do what’s best for their agenda. Our cognitive biases are another part of us that influences our thinking.

Cognitive biases can be seen as shortcuts for decision-making. They exist because they make it easier for us to make decisions without wasting time. Think about the liking bias for example. Instead of wasting hundreds if not thousands of hours trying to learn about the people we like or love, we can just as quickly assume that 1) if we like them we like them for a reason, and 2) that the thing that makes us like or love them is not an outlier in their pool of traits, but a true representation of what they are. In other words, its easier to think/assume that the positive feelings we have for some people are caused by the existence of positive traits in them, such as being a good person or trustworthy, and that any negative traits they might have are not that negative or are negligible. This might not be the case, but it saves us time… lots of time.

The problem with such kinds of shortcuts is that they can sometimes not only blur our thinking, but also lead us to the completely wrong direction altogether. Just like emotions, if we want to reduce the influence of our cognitive biases the most important thing we have to do is to learn about them, and how they affects us. Here is a list of the 25 cognitive biases laid out by Charlie Munger in Poor Charlie’s Almanack.

5. Don’t think all at once

The ability to think clearly has a direct impact in one’s ability to solve problems, and in general anything that causes you to get a bump in your problem solving abilities tends to have an impact on your ability to think clearly. Think about it: how can you solve problems well without a clear mind?

This is where the idea that thinking in batches might actually be a good idea for increased clarity. What tends to happen when we are trying to solve problems, specially the hard ones, is that it can be difficult to come up with a viable solution in one thinking batch. They sometimes sometimes take us hours of trials for solutions but with no avail, and if you’ve been through such a process, all it takes to get the insight we so desperately seek is to take a break. When we come back we come with more refreshed thinking and perspective(assuming we really took a break), and this often brings us closer if not all the way to the solution. Another implementation of the same idea is when we’re angry at a person and we can’t wait to tell them what we have inside us. We know that the problem with dealing with interpersonal problems with anger is that they rarely end up the way we intended to. So the solution is to avoid the person, and take some time to regroup. When you’re back and the cocktail of emotions is washed out from your system, you go to an argument with an increased sense of clarity. Before all you wanted to do was to tear the person to pieces, but now, all you want is to solve a problem(or at least you’re more inclined to).

We can see the same solution also implemented in the self-help field to solve the problem of addiction. The idea is that whenever you feel the urge to do whatever the addiction wants you to, you should instead of giving in, to make a conscious decision or deal with yourself to wait for 5-10 min before you engage on your addictive behavior. What goes on behind this idea is that these urges come in waves, but we feel as if they are a straight and upward line that will never come down. Urges come and go, often going as quickly as they come, and the wait here is helping you go through the upward phase without giving in.

So, to think clearly it might be a matter of simply as to refraining or restraining yourself from the very thinking process. Sometimes we not only don’t have the proper mental conditions for clear thinking, but we also have the exact opposite. Meaning that we have mental conditions that work for the more blurred and inaccurate kind of thinking. Taking a break might then be the very thing that gives your break at whatever you’re thinking about.

It is all about knowledge and experience 😉

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