Thinking Differently

Jun 27th, 2017 | By | Category: Commentary

Jeff Hough

By Jeff Hough

I have been thinking a lot recently. I’m not very good at it. As an adult who has never trained to sit and think for long periods of time, it is hard. You could say it has been a train wreck. This foray into the recesses of my brain was caused by an article I recently read about how people don’t spend any time in deep thought anymore. Because our brains have become so addicted to the drug of a constant stream of information, we rarely stop to process what we consume.

From that viewpoint, I began to examine the decisions I make. One of my favorite blogs, the Farnam Street Blog ( is dedicated to thinking differently and making better decisions. One of the points they make on the blog is generally, we are terrible decision-makers.

The site makes the case that because we don’t think deeply, often enough, we don’t make very good decisions. Additionally, because we have access to so much information, we tend to think we know more than we do.

I tested their theory at two separate speaking engagements recently. I must admit, I confirmed their theory. The internet has changed the way we think. Because we can find answers to questions immediately, our brain grabs the new information and claims it as ours. This “brain game” gives a false sense of knowledge, which leads to poor decisions.

Two things contribute to not thinking deeply and poor decisions. The first is called decision fatigue. Because brain power is a limited resource, our brain cuts as many corners as it can. If it can eliminate decisions, it will do that as an act of self-preservation. Mentally, making a lot of decisions wears us out.

The second is called cognitive tunneling. Because we think we know so much, we tend to narrow our thinking. This often happens when we have been doing a task for a long time and have become proficient at it.

When something out of the norm goes wrong, we can’t see the solution because it is outside of the scope of our “normal” way of thinking. We can’t even open the box to think outside of it.

Overcoming these stumbling blocks to deep thinking isn’t difficult, but it does take time and practice. One of the first things you can do is to read a wide variety of books. Push yourself to read something outside of your favorite genre or discipline. Don’t just rush through the books, take the time to highlight, write notes and question.

The next thing you can do to free up precious brain resources is to establish routines. Routines take everyday tasks and automate them, freeing up your brain to think about other, more important things. Simplifying your choices of food or clothing are some simple things you can do to automate things.

Finally, you can develop mental models. Mental models are tools used to “pre-think” situations. With a mental model, you envision a situation and walk through as many possible scenarios as you can imagine.

For each scenario, you develop a response or action and follow that line for a decision or two. Once you get good at this, you won’t walk into a stressful situation feeling unprepared again. You will have the answers at your fingertips.

Thinking differently puts tools in your mental toolbox to help you make better decisions. If your only tool is a hammer, every problem is a nail. So put the hammer down, find a screwdriver and start seeing the world differently.

Jeff Hough is a business author, blogger and speaker in Pocatello.

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