Thursday, August 20, 2009

10 ways to be a better thinker

Here are some principles of better thinking that you can apply to get more from your mind, every day.

1. Tap your emotions.

Our conscious thoughts are only a fraction of what's going on in our brains. At any given moment, the unconscious is taking in vast amounts of information that we're not even aware of and processing it all very quickly. Based on its conclusions, the brain generates emotions.

2. Don't think under pressure.

It was one of the worst moments of my life: I was 12, playing peewee basketball, and my team was trailing by a point. If I sank two free throws, we would win. I missed. Twice.

Instead of relying on the part of my unconscious that's like a trained autopilot (it had learned how to shoot baskets through years of backyard practice), I analyzed the details of my shots, using brain areas that had no idea how to get a ball through a hoop.

3. Consider alternative points of view.

Professional poker players often use a simple trick when they suspect another player of bluffing: They think about how the player would act if he or she weren't bluffing. The brain naturally filters the world to confirm what it already believes. But this habit is limiting and dangerous; you could be fixating on the wrong answers.

4. Challenge your preferences.

Like presumptive beliefs (see no. 3), your supposed likes and dislikes can limit your mind. I used to be a bit of an expensive-wine snob. But then I did a blind taste test of wines from different price ranges and discovered what scientists have since confirmed: There is no correlation between the price of a bottle and how much you'll enjoy it.

By figuring out what you truly like -- be it cheap wine or fancy shoes -- you can enjoy life, not to mention spend more wisely.

5. Take long showers.

Studies show that moments of insight often arrive when you're not aware that you're thinking of the problem, such as during a warm shower or a long stroll. This is because insights are typically generated by a rush of high-frequency gamma-band neural activity in the brain's right hemisphere, and a mind is better able to tune in to that hemisphere when it is stress-free.

6. Be skeptical of your memories.

In recent years, scientists have demonstrated that human memories are surprisingly dishonest. The act of recalling an event (say, your eighth birthday party) changes the structure of that memory in the brain. Details are tweaked; the narrative is altered.

The more you think about it, the less accurate your recollection becomes, and the less reliable it is as a basis for making any kind of conclusion. (So maybe you shouldn't hire a clown for your kid's party after all.)

7. Don't expect to diet and finish the crossword.

It turns out that the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for willpower and cognitive thought, is a rather feeble bit of flesh and easily depleted.

In a telling study, people who were asked to remember a seven-digit number and then offered a snack were much more likely to choose chocolate cake over fruit salad than were those who were asked to remember a one-digit number. The first group's self-control "muscles" were exhausted!

It's important to realize that you can do everything -- just not all at once.

8. Study your mistakes.

One common trait of successful people is their willingness to focus on their fumbles. Even when they do well, they insist on looking at what they could have done better.

Such perfectionism might not be a recipe for happiness, but it's a vital component of learning, since brain cells figure out how to get things right by analyzing what they got wrong.

9. Go ahead and daydream.

Forget efficiency. Scientists have discovered that daydreaming is an important tool for creativity: It causes a rush of activity in a circuit known as the default network, which connects different parts of the brain and allows the mind to make new associations. The daydreaming brain is actually in overdrive.

10. Think about thinking.

Metacognition, as this is known, is a crucial skill. Many scientists argue that the best predictor of good judgment isn't intelligence or experience; it's the willingness to engage in introspection.


No comments:

Post a Comment