How to think more effectively

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Blog Post 1 – 28th February 2021

Thinking about Thinking – and the Importance of Thinking Slowly!

By Dr Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling

Copyright (c) 2021

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Rodin's ThinkerMost people have Thoughts, but they do not Think!

To actively Think means (for me) to ask questions, and to seek answers; and/or to identify problems, and to seek to resolve those problems by mentally dissecting them and subjecting them to critical scrutiny.

Those two Thinking Processes can be done “in your head” – but not very well in your head, because of the small size of Human Working Memory – (which can only juggle 7 chunks of data at any time, plus or minus 2: Miller, 1956).  It is much more effective to “think on paper”. (See my book titled, How to Write a New Life for Yourself***)[1].

Daniel Kahneman, the author of ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’ (2012) suggested that we can and do engage in two types (or systems) of thinking[2].  The first is fast and largely non-conscious; the second is slow and more deliberate.  This is not a new idea. It has been around since Sigmund Freud did his original research in Vienna in the late 19th century; and modern neuroscience confirms this distinction. (See LeDoux, 1996[3]; and Damasio, 1994[4])

I call the first of those two forms of mental activity by the label ‘Perfinking’ (Glasersfeld, 1989[5]) – because it is strictly speaking a form of non-conscious, habitual, rapid Perceiving/Feeling/Thinking.  Most of this form of Perfinking is done by our body-based-feeling-systems, and not by our culturally shaped linguistic-distinction-debating-system.

Kahneman's Thinking Fast and SlowQuick Thinking (or Automatic Perfinking) involves no effort; and this is the most common form of ‘thinking’ engaged in by most humans most of the time.

Slow Thinking (or Deliberate, Consciously Guided, Reflective and Critical Thinking) involves a lot of effort; and most people will do anything to avoid the hard labour of Slow Thinking!

Perhaps 20% of 20% (which equals 4%) of the people who stumble upon this blog post will still be reading at this point!  The rest will have retired to a more unconscious place of effortless being!

Most people are probably too lazy to be bothered pursuing this kind of effortful perfinking.  (Brian Tracy, an American business trainer, described laziness as one of the several key features of ‘the psychology of failure’.  Because I believe that to be an accurate assessment, I am willing to work hard at my perfinking!)

But we all get caught by falling into poor thinking traps.  These often occur because of the following kinds of errors:

Poor attention, (and so some systems of thinking-improvement teach about the importance of attention; and Dr Edward De Bono has boiled his system of Thinking-Training down to a set of Attention Directors[6].)

A BlinkLaziness can cause us to accept the first conclusion that our mind “jumps to”! (Hence the important of taking the time to think about important issues, and especially to write it down, which seems to be equivalent to adding a huge external hard-drive to your brain-based CPU [or central processing unit]).

Associations are inevitable in human perception; but sometimes the association is false, and sometimes it’s valid, or accurate, or helpful.  Again, check those associations you have formed, when the outcome is likely to be costly or personally significant.

Jumping to conclusions is unavoidable with the human brain.  Somebody has described the brain-mind as “a device for jumping to conclusions”.  This has great survival value, as you do not want to be hanging around trying to make your mind up whether an approaching tiger is friendly or unfriendly! Jump!  (But later on, when a door to door salesman offers you a great deal on double-glazing; get it in writing; read it three times; get a second opinion; think it through on paper!)

Blinkers: We can easily make the mistake of ‘thinking’, “What you see is all there is”; but, as Nassim Taleb pointed out (in The Black Swan), there is a great deal of Silent History (or hidden facts)[7].

Statistical biases. Winston Churchill famously wrote that “There are lies, damned lies, and statistics”; and it is true that statistics can be used to “prove” almost anything – when used selectively; or misapplied.  Malcolm Gladwell (Blink: The power of thinking without thinking)[8], and Daniel Kahneman (Thinking Fast and Slow), have both pointed out that even some professors of statistics have been found to suggest the wrong statistical tests to their graduate students who consult them for ‘expert guidance’.  (And, at best, statistics is just a system of inferring an unknowable future from a set of data from the past, with some degree of ‘probability’ (which always and only meansMay Happen!”  May; May; May!!!)

Writing Theapy book coverAccording to Kahneman (2012) we mostly make our judgements and decisions using heuristics or rules of thumb, from our personal past.

In order to improve our chances of thinking (or perfinking) more effectively, we should take seriously the known problems with our “thought processes”, and then try (Try! Try!) to improve our Thinking (or Perfinking) skills.

That is why I have collected 20+ books on various aspects of thinking, involving:

– various theories of thinking;

– various critiques of thinking;

– and various trainings in thinking more effectively.

They are on a dedicated shelf of one of our bookcases.  I am waiting for the time when I can sit down for a few weeks (or months) and pull them together into my own overview of the subject.

Front cover3 of reissued REBT bookOne illustration of the progress I have made in improving my Perfinking Skills is to be found in my Major Critique of REBT.***[9]

And some of my approaches to teaching others are summarized into more than 20 lessons in my book, How to Write a New Life for Yourself.***

I hope you find this information helpful and interesting.

Best wishes,

Jim

Dr Jim Byrne

Doctor of Counselling,

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

Dr Jim’s Counselling and Psychotherapy Division

Email: Dr Jim.***

Or Telephone: 01422 843 629 (from inside the UK)

Or 44 1422 843 629 (from outside the UK)

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Endnotes

[1] Byrne, J.W. (2018) How to Write a New Life for Yourself: Narrative therapy and the writing solution. Hebden Bridge: The Institute for E-CENT Publications.  And:

Miller, G.A. (1956) ‘The magical number seven, plus or minus two: Some limits on our capacity for processing information’. Psychological Review. 1956;63:81–97.

[2] Kahneman, D. (2012) Thinking Fast and Slow.  London: Penguin Books.

[3] LeDoux, J. (1996). The Emotional Brain: the mysterious underpinnings of emotional life, New York.  Simon and Schuster.

[4] Damasio, A. R. (1994). Descartes’ Error: emotion, reason and the human brain. London, Picador.

[5] Glasersfeld, E. von (1989) Learning as a constructive activity. In Murphy, P. and Moon, B. (eds) Developments in Learning and Assessment.  London: Hodder and Stoughton.

[6] De Bono, E. (1995) Teach Yourself to Think.  London: Viking/Penguin.

[7] Taleb, N.N., (2007). The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. New York: Random House.

[8] Gladwell, M. (2006) BLINK: The power of thinking without thinking.  London: Penguin Books.

[9] Byrne, J.W. (2019) A Major Critique of REBT: Revealing the many errors in the foundations of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy. Hebden Bridge: The Institute for E-CENT Publications.

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