“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” - Albert Einstein.
Over 10 years ago, I met a colourful Dutch gentleman for business. He wanted to sell me a new roofing sealant technology. We met for a few hours, and at the end of an interesting conversation he said to me: “You are way too comfortable in your business and life. Be careful because that will lead you to a place where you are not thinking anymore.”
He laughed strangely and walked out before I had a chance to question him further. I didn’t think much of what he said for a long time.
In hindsight, I see that he was on to something. I had become too comfortable and set in my ways, my likes and dislikes. I no longer wanted to make an effort to think differently.
Running on autopilot, I had stopped using my full thinking capacity. I was going at 60 km/h, while my ability was 100km/h. Put simply, the Dutch gentleman was just saying: If you don’t use it, then you will lose it.
We have a habit of defaulting into “comfortable thinking,” whereby we only think how we are used to thinking. We only see what we try to see. We only hear what we want to hear.
When we are focused on a thought, say buying a VW Beetle car, then all of a sudden every car we see is a VW Beetle. Essentially, whatever we focus our thoughts on will become most prevalent in our life.
In the ensuing years after I met this man, I went through an abject time in my life where I became listless and easily bored. It wasn’t until I had met with adversity that forced me to think again that I awoke.
I needed to “use it” more. However, after staving off those challenges, I nearly fell back into the “not thinking” trap—and into an abyss of ambivalence and depression.
Then I chanced on a seminar of Napoleon Hill’s “Think and Grow Rich,” which centres around Hill’s famous quote, “Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve.”
Over the past 10 years, I’ve made Mind the centre of my learning life; I’ve realised that our mental processing makes us… or breaks us.
The art of thinking seems to have become a forgotten skill, as we now outsource our minds to the internet, our environment and whoever holds more power.
For anyone who feels tired of running on autopilot, here are three ways we can reclaim our thinking for ourselves:
We are not our thoughts.
This sounds contradictory, especially after I’ve been waxing lyrical on the power of thinking. What I’m trying to say is we get 60,000 thoughts a day, and we can choose which ones we act upon.
We are often led by our belief system to accept or reject an idea, but sometimes we need to detach from our primal instincts, our “fake news” environment and our need for instant gratification in order to slow things down and question our responses to the thoughts that do appear.
We need to remain objective and selective about the thoughts that genuinely resonate from our core, without letting the tide of other dominating views sweep our minds aside.
I was once stuck in Beirut when the airport closed during a political standoff between the two main blocs. The media, taxi drivers and many friends I met had only one thing on their mind: We had to back one coalition or another.
Arguments and shouting matches ensued in cafes and on street corners. After a week of this, I found myself taking sides and talking their talk. It wasn’t till I finally went back to Ghana that I saw how petty I had become.
How many of us take time to reflect on our thoughts and actions? Do we see patterns in our behaviour? We often repeatedly think and react in the same way to solve the same old problems that never go away.
Our day-to-day decisions are the final product of our stagnant thinking, but we must reflect on the past so that we can analyse what works best and use it in the present. Maybe, on reflection, we can completely flip the way we thought about a person or project and solve our problem differently.
I journal daily and review my behaviour monthly. In that journal, I decipher what thinking worked for me and what didn’t. In the past few months, by using my journal as a reflection tool, I have changed my writing routines, embarked on a smart marketing plan for my company and accepted that the Paleo diet is not for me, no matter how many people enthuse over it.
The ability to think outside the box and take initiative separates the successful from the average. When we acquire an attitude of giving our best, no matter the results, we become proactive (not passive) and willing to take risks to fully engage in life.
Thinking outside the box comes naturally to some, but like everything else, it can also be learned. James Altucher, a leading blogger, says that we can grow our idea muscles by allocating 15 to 20 minutes a day to creating 10 ideas on anything we want – new businesses, blog posts, websites, or even different ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day with our loved ones. When we do this consistently, we naturally become idea machines.
My company was once looking for a three-tonne forklift, and I sent one employee to check with the dealers in town. He came back saying all were out of stock now and we had to wait for six months. I then sent another employee, and she came back saying that they didn’t have that particular one we wanted, but they had a bigger, five-tonne one, and the dealer was willing to give it to us at the same price. Guess who got the end of year bonus.
In today’s world, everyone wants to know how to be productive. Everyone is learning soft skills and hard skills, building better habits and trying to master the ins and outs of success. These lessons are precious, but surely the most crucial skill of all has got to be knowing how to think.
Everything begins with our minds.