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Successful Thinking

13 08 2006

Success in living and working in today’s “information Age” requires successful thinking. The good news is that everyone is capable of increasing successful thinking. Successful thinking is using any mental skill to get results. Here are 20 easy ways to get better results with your thinking.

1. Increase knowledge. First, set your ego aside and openly acknowledge how little you really do know right now compared to all that you can know. Then commit to being a perpetual learner for the rest of your life. Grow, learn and improve with every breath. That acknowledgment and commitment will get results.

2. Beware of what you “know.” Understand how your own brain “tricks” you into over-simplifying things, distorting perceptions and memories, and convincing you things are true despite the lack of evidence. Things are not always as they appear and all that you think you know may not always be so. Truth isn’t easy to discern.

3. Slow down. Reject your natural tendency to hurry up and believe something too quickly before you get all the facts or get a chance to move to a more advantageous viewpoint. You can often get more done when you take your time.

4. Value principles. Look for operating principles that hold true in a variety of situations over time. For instance, you usually get what you expect; if you don’t like what you get, blame your expectation.

5. Make one assumption: One assumption is probably worth making: miscommunication and misunderstanding are more the norm than not. Good communication takes hard work and doesn’t occur without much care and effort to understand and be understood by another person through gradual clarification.

6. Verify other assumptions. Question basic assumptions you have made or that were made for you-look for disproof of what you and others are “sure” of, rather than just looking for more available proof to confirm what you already believe.

7. Re-think what you know. You don’t always need more information, but rather to use what information you already have, better. Creativity can often start by looking at older, conventional ideas in newer and more unusual ways.

8. Ask Questions. Focus more on asking good questions than coming up with clever answers. Good questions open doors and create progress.

9. Separate feelings from thinking. With conflicts, first peel the onion to see and remove all the emotions that are clouding the issue. Then look for ways everybody can win something and not lose anything important by rationally discussing the situation. Conflicts are opportunities that challenge your thinking.

10. Dig Deeper. Sometimes it is worth the effort to dig a little deeper and separate the superficial surface symptoms from the hidden core problem in a situation. Knowing what the real problem is can be half the solution.

11. Accept random accidents. Sometimes random accidents do occur and trying to ascribe meaning and purpose to them is artificial. Besides you are often wrong.

12. Be positive. Focusing on negative things and differences can be amusing but it isn’t very productive; focusing on positive similarities builds unity and strength. Having positive beliefs and positive expectations tend to lead to positive outcomes.

13. Exercise. You can easily get out of shape mentally if you don’t exercise your brain regularly. Make an effort to read more, pay closer attention to details, have more meaningful discussions, work from a definite plan, apply systematic problem-solving strategies, analyze failures and successes, etc.

14. Learn. Learn from both your failures and successes-avoid making unnecessary past mistakes over and over again, and re-use elements from your successes to increase them in the future. The lessons you learn will reduce failures and increase successes.

15. Converse with “enemies.” You can learn much from people you disagree with. Understanding “opposite points of view can double your IQ.

16. Share suspicions. The information you have that you are least sure of, can often turn out to be the most valuable, useful information, once you get over your reluctance and hesitancy in sharing and validating it with others.

17. Know where you are standing. What you see depends on where you are doing the looking from. Become more sensitive to the reality that what you see changes when you move around.

18. Study thinking. Most of our consciousness is a result of thinking, not thinking itself. Focus on what you need to know to solve a problem and then direct your thoughts to uncover that knowledge in a complete and correct way.

19. Keep an open mind. The most useful mental skill is keeping an open mind-not making pre-judgments, convincing yourself you are right, arriving at pre-mature conclusions, or not setting beliefs and values in concrete; but rather being tentative, non-judgmental and exploring possibilities more. You might be surprised what you discover when you aren’t looking for something in particular.

20. Laugh. Very few things are that serious. Being too serious taxes your whole being and a good hearty laugh frees you up for more successful thinking when you may need it most.

Practice any of these 20 exercises in successful thinking and watch your win column grow.

William Cottringer, Ph.D. is President of Puget Sound Security in Bellevue, WA. He is author of You Can Have Your Cheese & Eat It Too, a book guaranteed to boost your thinking IQ. He can be reached at or (425) 454-5011.

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