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thinking in patterns - just as these chairs are laid out.

How Thinking in Patterns Will Make You Think Better

Unbelievably, right now you’re thinking in patterns. Some you might be aware of, but most of them, you can’t see or even describe them.

Take the lost time of daydreaming. Only a few minutes ago my train of thought was gone from me. Vertical blinds decorate the window in my office; the type that twists to block the glare of the sun or hide the invasion of the night. I’m irked, although the blinds are all lined up, hanging against the cloud drifting behind them, their angle against the glass is wrong. The imperfection grates me, my awareness awakening as I stand and reach for the pole. A slight twist adjusts them as I correct the angle, settling the scene before me.

Just as my mind thinks in patterns, so it sees them too.

You see, I’m lost in a pattern of thought beyond comprehension. Subconsciously, my mind is processing a multitude of different patterns. From the itch in my beard to the thirst in my throat. A quick scratch and a slurp of coffee calm those thoughts – for now.

Each response is a step in the pattern of thinking and doing. Each part, the itch in my beard through to the scratch I administer is a pattern – a process of behaviour. One so subtle we’re not even aware of.


Thinking in Patterns – what does that mean?

We have little appreciation for the complex way our minds work. We wake up, often around the same time every day as our brain – energised from its night’s sleep – starts to engage its subconscious patterns.

Often, our first need is to use the toilet. If we’re not awake, the subconscious action turns into a conscious one as we rise and walk to the bathroom. Our minds are using patterns to make us move, use the loo, and get on with our day. It is a marvel lost on us; such is the complexity of what we do every day.

Our brain holds thousands of patterns and we use them all the time. Each of them helping us as we manage our safety and our survival. Mundane tasks, such as eating and drinking, or driving, or turning on the tv; all they are is patterns.

These, and many more besides are examples of thinking in patterns. A computer scientist would declare them as algorithms. Others, such as Daniel Kahneman would explain them as stemming from one part of our brain. System one thinking, a process Daniel explains in detail in his book, Thinking Fast and Slow.

Our brains have two systems of judgement and thought. The first, system one, runs within our subconscious and manages most of the choices we make. System two is the one we are conscious of, and is often underused, as system one wants to do everything for us. This means we end up applying thinking patterns in the wrong way.


Thinking deliberately – in patterns

We all think; it is the one thing we’re doing all the time. But, as I alluded to at the beginning, thinking can take us off on some strange, unproductive tangents. My brain was procrastinating at the start of this article. Daydreaming is easier, as another pattern distracted me from the task in hand.

“We rarely often create deliberate patterns of thought to help us think or make decisions.”

Matt Mullenweg

Subsequently, when we need to think critically, we default to our learned behaviours – meaning system one takes control.

Instead, we should be thinking deliberately.

We should be thinking of patterns to help us be more effective. Applying an application of thought which will help us in our moment of ponderance. Whether it is understanding something, solving a problem, or considering a choice.

As Matt Mullenweg said recently, we rarely often create deliberate patterns of thought to help us think or make decisions. Instead, we allow our subconscious patterns to take control. Sadly, they’re not good enough for the big decisions we must take. 

Matt also makes the point that once we have a pattern, we should practice it. Practice improves performance, ask any athlete – and our goal should be to make the pattern stick. The reason: when you’re under pressure the deliberate pattern becomes a default – just like your subconscious patterns are.  

But what patterns should we be thinking in?

This isn’t an exercise in re-inventing the wheel. Although talk of patterns and thinking might lead you to believe it is. We are fortunate. We have our forefathers who have lived through the same experiences. As nature intended, their experiences – and learnings – have transcended generations.

Today, we know these experiences as mental models. Mental models provide us with frameworks which the fs.blog describes on their page on mental models.

What Are Mental Models?

Mental models are how we understand the world. Not only do they shape what we think and how we understand but they shape the connections and opportunities that we see. Mental models are how we simplify complexity, why we consider some things more relevant than others, and how we reason.

A mental model is simply a representation of how something works. We cannot keep all the details of the world in our brains, so we use models to simplify the complex into understandable and organizable chunks.

Of course, there are many different models – for we live in a complex and diverse world. And of course, you don’t need to remember them all, but some you do. Some are vital to enable to understand how the world works, just as some will help solve problems, all helping you to make better decisions.


Practical Thinking in Patterns

You will know some mental models already. You may not be able to name them or you might not even think of them as thinking patterns, but they very much are.

Think of leverage, the notion of using a leaver to move another object. The longer the lever, the easier the move will be.

Another model is second-order thinking. Grandmasters in Chess show how to use this thinking pattern by considering the impact of what will happen before moving a piece. By thinking ahead and considering the knock-on effects, they can choose a move which helps them and damages their opponent.

 There are many others, but for now, here are two models I’ve found to be highly effective.

I have a personal love for first principles thinking. It is a mental model found in young children, as they look to understand everything in front of them. Like a sponge in a bath, a child’s brain looks to suck up great quantities of knowledge. 

School eradicates first principles thinking. Instead, we drown children in a sea of information. Not to give them understanding, but to cram their memories full. After fifteen years of education, the mental model of first principles thinking is a forgotten power. But, once remembered and reused, it unlocks an array of learning opportunities.

Check out my article on First Principles thinking; why you need to ask questions like a child.

Inversion   

Despite our urge for simplicity, we live in a complex world and as a result, problems often occur which need solving. Using inversion as a mental approach is a powerful way to gain a new perspective on a problem. We often seek excellence without realising it is easier to do the opposite, which is to don’t be stupid.

Inversion shifts the focus from the normal view to one where you consider the alternative.



Concluding thoughts

Thinking is a task we commit hours to, with little thought about how to think better. This approach limits our ability to think critically, to solve problems, and to make effective decisions.

Overcoming this means understanding how our subconscious works. The much talked about system one is a foundation of established patterns, all of which work and help us navigate life. We fall when we use a pattern in a different situation. The outcome is one we don’t want.

As Matt Mullenweg explains, we rarely stop to think in patterns deliberately. When we do, we open our minds to the opportunity to think better. We can significantly improve our thinking by using mental models; thinking patterns which qualify predetermined facts.

It makes the complex simple.

We move to new perspectives, ones which enable us to think more rationally, solve complex problems and make better decisions. Thinking in patterns won’t just make you think better, it will improve your outcomes.


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Loyalty – Do You Mean it like the Bad Boys Mean it?

Loyalty – Yep – the one word we think we understand, but we don’t. We delight in telling our bosses we are loyal to them, to the company we work for, but we’re not. Would you still be ‘loyal’ if your bank showed your salary payment was half what it normally is? Would you still put yourself through the grind of starting early and finishing late if the money dried up?

No, you wouldn’t.

Ask Mike Lowery what loyalty means, and you’ll find an altogether different answer. Mike is a police detective in Miami, working with his partner Marcus Burnett. One phrase sits between them, a statement of commitment and partnership which means so much to them both.

“We ride together, we die together. Bad boys for life”.

Bad Boys

Partnerships require trust, commitment, faith, – and togetherness – even more so in high-risk situations. All attributes best summarised in one word – loyalty. Loyalty in Mike and Marcus’s eyes is a deep understanding of their partnership. It feeds them – driving to take risks beyond the norm – such is their understanding of how they live and breathe together.

When your life is on the line, that’s loyalty. It isn’t kissing the company logo or declaring your loyal in a performance review. It is about having a bond of trust – one that flows both ways as it binds partners and colleagues together.

Ask yourself would you ride and die with the person or company you’re declaring your loyalty too as Mike and Marcus would?

That’s loyalty.


Annual Review time

The 1 Lesson We Should Take from This Year’s Annual Review

Dam…it’s nearly Christmas and amongst the many traditions of the year, I’ll be doing my own annual review. Yep, for the last three years, I’ve dismissed new year’s resolutions in favour of a more reflective assessment of the year gone by. I try to objectively reflect on the past year, compare where I am to where I wanted to be, and seize upon any lessons I can take to make me a better person in the year ahead.

The annual review builds upon my goal to become a better person. So, I look to answer the following questions…

  • What were my goals?
  • Did I achieve them?
  • If not, why not?
  • What could I have done better?
  • What would have helped?
  • If I did, why?

As I’ve begun to reflect on what has happened, I realise my 2020 review is going to be unique. Not only will my annual review hold the drama of COVID-19, so will everyone else’s. We have faced a global pandemic, one which has taken the lives of many people but also turned the way we live on its head. I – and probably you – have had to cope with lockdowns, face masks, social distancing, possibly even illness and loss – all of which have disrupted my life and others.  


Our Annual Review

An annual review isn’t only about your goals and whether you achieved them or not. It should also offer us a platform for some introspection. To look and assess our decisions – our choices – and how they worked for us. Vital to this is to reflect not only on the outcome but also the process of decision-making we followed.

2020 offers some insights to some different lessons for us though. Most of us live ‘normal’ lives, rarely are we tested by something so powerful as a pandemic. We get a view of how we deal with ‘life and death’ pressure. Now, how we see, how we orientate ourselves on the information we have, and then – the decisions we make – and the action we take matters far more than it ever has.

For me, this is one of the most interesting aspects of my annual review. Never have I had the circumstance of a pandemic to gauge my decision-making process.  Through my annual review, one lesson stands out. I suspect it will be many other reviews too.


We still don’t know what we don’t know

Our ability to assess risk has never come under greater scrutiny than it has in 2020. COVID-19 has shown how masterful confirmation bias is in us all - and that’s bad. It isn’t only confirmation bias which has affected our thinking.

We don’t understand the law of large numbers, we do not see loss aversion at work, and we accept the words of laypeople over experts.

In practical terms, our phones and TV’s are full of graphs and words we think understand, but we don’t.

Exponential is one of those words we don’t seem to get. Just as we can’t grasp probabilities, so we cannot get our heads around the much-referenced R-number. We marvel at the power of compounding without fully understanding how devastating it is in the hands of a contagious disease.

We don’t know what we don’t know.


Our biases are killing us

Blind to our biases, we do not see or challenge assumptions. We all have agenda’s - some more than others - and when the narrative doesn’t fit, we seek evidence to ensure our stories fit. Politicians have worried more about their future election successes, than the lives of the people they are there to lead and protect.

When it came to lockdowns, wearing masks, and social distancing, we did what suited us. In the beginning, the threat felt real, so we followed the rules. As time went by, and the more distant the threat felt, the less we followed the rules. Even though the virus was still with us.

The sad fact is, we don’t know what we don’t know. We make biased judgements all the time - often based on confirmation of information which suits our needs. If the facts don’t fit - we ignore them.

2020 has seen a year littered with evidence of our biases working against us. The people who we thought knew what they were talking about became compromised by incentives, more interested in their self-worth than the health of humanity.

Politicians started to put wealth before health. Pressured by those more concerned for their dividend payments, politicians buckled. “We’re following the science.” Well only until it didn’t suit them.


Our annual review lessons

Of course, 2020 has also shown had adaptable we are. Somehow, I have made it through the year without doing a Zoom call. Yes, I have used other video applications, but Zoom has escaped me - others haven’t been so lucky. We’ve also learnt to work from home, turning our dining rooms into makeshift offices at the same time.

Lockdowns have rewarded the introverts in us with peace - and cast extroverts into a world of gloom and suffering. The cost of solitude for those in need of company will no doubt become clear as we move on from this pandemic.

But we can’t escape what we don’t know.

It lurks, poised to defeat our ability to be rational when making decisions. It rails our assumptions into false positives, and it is, as I see it anyway, the biggest potential lesson from this year’s annual review.


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Winning the Long Game of Life Is What We Want, but We Forget How to Play

The long game, the long view, strategic thinking. They are all the same thing – a process of not living for the short term but looking for longer-term payoffs. And yet we don’t live like it. We live in ‘the moment’ – guided by our short-term urges as we become ignorant of the laws of life.

The law of large numbers is one such example of a law we know of, but don’t understand.

We see 1% as a small number but ignore the impact of it on an enormous number. Take the mortality rate of COVID-19. If it was 1% – well that’s okay, we tell ourselves. One percent of a population the size of the US – well that’s a vast number – over three million. That’s not okay.

Not grasping this insight from the law of large numbers is one of two points we don’t understand.  When we see summaries from vast sums of data, we naively believe the same dynamic applies to a smaller group. We think a 1% mortality rate won’t affect us, but the disease doesn’t take one from a family – it takes whole families.

We know this, but we don’t understand it.

We can’t grasp the risks; we can’t see the danger we have become ignorant of. We would rather go shopping on a busy high street to satisfy an urge for the joy of a day than stay safe by not.

We have forgotten the rules of playing the long game.


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Thinking from First Principles: Why You’ll Need a Mindset Shift to Think Like This

Thinking from first principles requires a mindset shift which will challenge most of us. Often, we are too comfortable living with our assumptions to want to change.  

Assumptions litter our thinking. They define our beliefs, our behaviours, and often our outcomes. Guided by our earlier experiences we build assumptions – and live by them. We don’t grasp the consequence of luck, the impact of others, or entropy on future outcomes.  

When tasks before us are simple and repetitive – assumptions are fine. They make life easier to live. The problem comes when we apply old assumptions to new situations. We don’t expect the unexpected. So, when things go wrong, or the outcome isn’t to our liking – we rarely see it is our assumptions that have failed.

Thinking from first principles changes everything. Instead of living with assumptions, you go looking for them. You question them, you pull them apart – as you look to find the underlying elements of your assumptions. Now, you’re questioning everything. You’re asking questions as a child does; why, why, why?

Now you can see the horror of the ‘because it does’ answer parent deploys to their kids.

As you find them so you must challenge them with open questions, test your conclusions and then tweaking them and tuning them as you redefine what you know, by seeing what you don’t know.

Thinking from first principles is hard. Living by your assumptions is easy – it’s your choice.

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The One Thing Most of us Miss with Musk’s Use of First Principles

We use first principles to solve problems. Getting to the granular level of a problem, reveals the fault.  

The story of Elon Musk of wanting to reach space is legendary. Faced with a huge cost, he asks why? By deconstructing a rocket down to the materials, he discovers it isn’t rocket science to build one himself.

He then started Space X, and reduced NASA’s rocket costs by 90% in the process.

For many, the lesson ends there.

We miss the not-so-secret sauce. What makes us different to Musk is we think of reasoning from first principles as a process with a decision at the end. With Musk, first principles thinking form’s the foundation of his brain software.

It is the way he thinks.

Crucially, he is forming hypothesis’s and testing them – everywhere. It forms the building blocks of his wants, his – and others – ability to deliver them, and his goals and strategy to deliver them.

Musk is living in a continuous feedback loop.

The rest of us make some decisions and live out our lives accordingly. It’s as if we’ve walked into a puddle of quick-drying cement.

Life is a process of trial and error. You form an idea – you test it – and you learn from the outcome, revaluate and test again. With success, you can push the boundaries to make further improvements.

It is this continuous process we miss with Musk’s use of first principles.


The power of a pause with a coffee

The Power of a Pause. Why It Helps to Stop Before Deciding

To make better decisions you need the power of a pause. If you asked me what’s the one piece of wisdom everyone should take from the Resolve Blog, it would be to pause before deciding.

It is as simple as that. No mental models, no insights into cognitive biases – although being aware of them certainly helps, no defined decision-making process either. All you need is the power of the pause to make better decisions.

A pause might have saved the lives of 398 people who died because of trying to cross the road in 2013. The same study revealed the highest causes of death or severe injury were from a failure to look properly, or the pedestrian was careless, reckless or in a hurry. These behaviours all show a lack of a pause before acting.

There are plenty of other examples I could offer, such as eating unhealthy food, losing our tempers and so on. Given the negative impact of making decisions without pausing, it is fair to ask why.


Without a pause, we make fast decisions

When we don’t pause before deciding, we end up making a fast decision. Choices made quickly inevitably stem from our system one way of thinking. For those of you unaware of system 1 and system 2 – allow me to explain.

Daniel Kahneman authored a book called Thinking, Fast and Slow in 2011. The book held a detailed explanation – supported by experiments – of how we think and decide on what to do.

System one

System one is the part of our brain where we make decisions quickly. We often decide without even being aware of it – we are barely conscious of our choices. Best explained it means we:

  • Decide quickly
  • Allow emotions to influence our choices
  • Use previously learned responses to automate our behaviour

Without out a pause, our brain looks to act quickly. If the situation is different, and most of them are, the brain looks for a similar learned response and uses that experience to dictate how we decide what to do.

System two

Whatever system two is, system one isn’t. It means with system two we are slow, more rational, and highly aware of our thinking. In summary, it means we:

  • Think logically
  • Take our time
  • Consider the pro’s and con’s

Our brains, like us, don’t like to do hard things. Thinking the way system two does is hard. Hence, why system one will always try and take control. It’s easier for the brain – and it likes doing easy things.


The power of a pause is hard

Making big or important choices means you should be pulling on the strength and character of system two. But we are lazy, we don’t like thinking. We like to daydream and procrastinate our way through life, our minds a fog of spiralling thoughts.

So, every given time we’re faced with a choice – we will opt to take the simple path. The system 1 path of thinking, because it’s easy.

In a life where we make thousands of choices every day, system one is a godsend. You can’t begin to imagine how hard life would be without system one. We would have to think slowly and rationally about the most mundane tasks. A conversation with a friend is a good example, as you exchange greetings and discuss the weather, you both can intuitively know what each of you is saying and talking about. System two would have you analysing the mannerism’s used, the tone – let alone considering the meaning of each word used.

A simple conversation using system two would last a lifetime.

System one has become our default method of thinking, which makes taking a pause so hard. But, as I’ve explained, there are many times in our lives when we need the power of a pause.


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The power of a pause – a pathway to system two thinking

When you stop and take a pause, you stop your mind engaging system one and reacting without conscious thought.

Of the 398 who died, how many of them could have received help from system two. Instead, their system one takes control. They used earlier learned behaviours to judge the speed of the oncoming car, of the road conditions, and their footwear. Speed is a variable, and just because a pedestrian crossed the road in front of an oncoming car okay before, doesn’t mean they can again.

The pause, the power of stopping forces a rational reassessment of speed, conditions, and ability. All are logical traits of system two thinking.

By taking a pause, we open our minds to a unique way of thinking – a lifesaving way of thinking.


Concluding thoughts

I, like most of you, could do with the power of a pause when deciding what to do. It is a skill, but one which will improve our ability to make better decisions. As I mentioned at the start, if I could offer one thing as a ‘take this and nothing else’ lesson, it would be the power of a pause.

Understanding how system one and system two work is the first step to making better decisions. System one isn’t bad, and equally, you shouldn’t want to use system two to decide what to do all the time.

As I said, that would be bad – and terribly slow.

The better way is to always be pausing. Let yourself question where you are and what you’re about to do. Have you experienced this before? If the answer is yes, then get on with it.

If not, then it is time to use the power of the pause and think more deeply about the options in front of you.

It is the power of a pause.

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Overthinking as a man sits and a smokes

The All-Consuming Agony of Overthinking

If there was a competition for overthinking, I’m the winner. The crescendo of noise builds as I walk through the crowd, shaking hands with fans as I get closer to the presentation stage. Other competitors look on with envy, unhappy at their wasted time spent pondering the imponderable. As I stand before the trophy, I become lost in thought.

Yep, I’m overthinking again.

As I lift the trophy above my head, soaking up the vibrations and the buzz from the audience, I notice a beeping sound. It grows louder as I turn to the crowd and they raise an even bigger cheer when I hoist the trophy up high, punching the air to show my delight. Then, the beeping takes over; the crowd, the clapping, the trophy, they’ve gone. All I have is darkness and high-pitched beep which I can hear, but also feel…

Another blow lands as I become aware of the bedroom, my wife hitting me again as I awaken to silence the alarm, beeping for what my wife feels is eternity. I’m disappointed not to see my trophy, with an etching of Rodin’s The Thinker on the front, his chin resting on his hand as he ponders and overthinks.


Overthinking – Quantity not Quality

My dream was a sarcastic prod at something I do too much of. I think – a lot.

You won’t find me dealing with a three-pipe problem, unlike Sherlock Holmes as he sits in his armchair pondering the mystery in hand.

It is quite a three-pipe problem, and I beg that you won’t speak to me for fifty minutes.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

It is an iconic scene, as a haze of smoke drifts through the rays of sunlight as they pierce the window. Holmes is oblivious to it all, his only thought the problem in hand. His imagination is an engine room of creative ideas, as he considers a variety of solutions to the problem in hand.

For Holmes, it’s one problem pondered, imagined, and conceptualised, as he puffs through three pipes. His focus brings the quality of thinking required to solve the mysteries we know him for.


The Paradox of Overthinking

I marvel at my imagination. I marvel at how I’m able to think; to overthink instead of working slavishly on my work. Unlike Sherlock Holmes who concentrates deeply on one topic, I don’t.

My mind is like my nephew this summer; running along the sandy beach teasing the seawater as he waits to see how close it will get to the bottom of his shorts. For hours, he is dancing with the tide, running backwards and forwards, roaring with laughter as the crest of each wave tickles his legs.

Like my nephew, I never go deep when it comes to thinking. The waves take the shape of innovative ideas, old ideas, memories, regrets and a thousand other thoughts. Each one splashing at me for my attention as I try to think. As I start to think about one thought, another one comes along. Wave after wave pounds at my legs as I overthink on everything, rather than one thing.

It is the all-consuming agony of overthinking. 

When we think about overthinking, we face a paradox; one where we convince ourselves overthinking is bad for us. We fret about daydreaming, of procrastinating and ending up with nothing.

The paradox is right. What must change is the focus.


The Three-Pipe lesson in Thinking

Sherlock’s superpower: his unique strength was his ability to focus on one problem and one problem alone.

We live in world of noise that no human has ever had to face before. A continuous stream of inputs all fights for our attention. Distracted by email alerts, message notifications, breaking news banners, the TV, interactive displays, and each other, so our thinking reflects our inputs. Our minds are a mirror. What goes in, comes out.

Multiple inputs mean a glut of outputs – that is thoughts and ideas spinning in our heads as we think. We call it overthinking.

Of course, Sherlock lived in quieter times. Free from the iPhone, the mac book, the iPad, and his iWatch, he didn’t have the inputs we do. His sources of information were books and a newspaper.

His inputs reflected his outputs.

For the time it took Sherlock to smoke three pipes, he would sit in silence. No distractions, no noise, no squeals for his attention. Nothing would distract him as he sat in his armchair and thought. His mind utterly focused on a complex case which the police were unable to solve. By the end of the third pipe, Sherlock had the case cracked.

All he did was sit and think about one thing.


The Power of Peace

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone,”

Blaise Pascal

Pascal was clearly onto something with this infamous quote. The inverse of this quote also makes compelling reading.

All of humanity’s opportunities stem from our ability to sit quietly in a room alone.

Concentration, focus, attention; these are the superpowers of mankind. Often referred to as deep thinking, this concept is more alien to us now more than ever. Not because we can’t sit quietly, but because we can’t manage our minds in the same way.

When we do spend an hour free of distraction? When do we spend more than a few minutes contemplating a big decision?

The answer: we don’t.

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My Overthinking Dream

I reflected on my dream about overthinking and I suspect my subconscious was mocking me. Let’s face it, nothing good comes from overthinking. I, like many others, become distracted with multiple inputs all trying to grab my attention. As I sit here, authoring this article my mobile is never far away. A flicker from the screen acts as a call for my mind, trying to pull me back in.

My urge to open my browser and check social media is equally unflinching.

Sitting for the time it would take me to smoke three pipes (approx. one hour) and only think about one thing, would be a sizable challenge. But I also know how good it could be. I know how much better my decision-making would be. I know I could solve problems which previously appeared unsolvable.

The trophy: well I consider it a prompt. A nudge to remind me where my, and humanity’s great superpower rests.


Superpower Thinking

To access this superpower means change. An easy answer might be to try and sit quietly for an hour, but drawing on the insights of Sherlock Holmes, it is clear this is entirely the wrong approach. Our minds are conduits; we feed in information and do our best to absorb it, using the lessons to inform our outputs.

It must be less in, less out.

Less in means an end to notifications; less time connected to the internet and less noise. I’m minded to the catchline of the Farnam Street blog, signal in a world full of noise. I must filter my inputs and improve my signal. Even without notifications, I’m still in an atrium of sound, listening, reading, and consuming vast swaths of information.

I recently committed to reading five books a year. The reason: to learn more, to understand more, and to build a better retention of the insights I’m learning. Previously, I read and read with little gain. I’m drawn to the image of my nephew in the sea again, my reading wasn’t deep, just flirtatious.

To become a deep thinker, I must become a deep learner. Only then can I expect not to get a trophy for overthinking.


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The Pleasure of Writing as the writer finishes and puts the pen down

The Pain and the Pleasure of Writing

Writing is both delightful and terrifying in equal measure. The journey can assault your senses, giving moments of joy as words flow quicker than water from an exposed fire hydrant. Smiles can quickly turn to frowns as ideas evaporate before your eyes.

Where can a writer find pleasure from writing?

It is unlikely to be a stinging assessment from a reader who didn’t appreciate your craft. The worst feedback is none, no words of praise or thanks. Only silence.


The Pain of Writing

The reader has little idea of the journey. No idea of the pain of forging one way with your prose, only to find a dead end. The delete button removing moments of thoughts as blocks of text become an empty white space. The white wall only serving to inspire the same emptiness of mind. Not ideal when imagination is the creator.

These moments of hollow thought are the worst. Your stomach churns with the realisation you’re alone, like an astronaut floating in space with no gravity to return you safely to the ground.

It is a feeling of true pain for the writer.


The Pleasure of Writing

We all crave pleasure; for writers, it’s the ultimate alternative to pain. Pleasure appears in many ways; it could be from the finished piece which is poised to entertain. Or the happiness from a positive comment, kind words spreading an internal warmth. The count of readers gives another shot of adrenaline to the pleasure-seeking writer.

Before the results appear, there is the internal monologue of joy when writing is at its best. When ideas spew forth and words tumble. Sentences knit themselves together like lines of a pattern, bringing the page to life.

It is the flow state of writing writers crave.

“Happiness is a way of travel. Not a destination.” Roy Goodman

It doesn’t matter whether one person reads the article or a hundred. The pleasure doesn’t come from the neatly adorned title, or the flow of words as they run down the page. No, the pleasure comes from the journey it took to get to the end. The thinking, the debate you have with yourself about whether to go this way or that way. The crafting of each sentence, of each word.

This is the way writers travel with their prose. It is their moment of happiness.

The assault on the senses when things flow is profound. The challenge for every writer is creating these conditions. It’s like trying to climb a mountain without a map, all paths lead to the top, but some offer an easier, less tiring ascent than others. Find the right path and you’ll make it to the top every time.

Writing is more complex than hill climbing.


A Journey of Discovery

You arrive at the foot of the peak blindfolded. No idea of your position or where the summit is. Your only goal; to reach the top as quickly and efficiently as you can. And you’re still sightless. It feels like an impossible mission. 

By some fluke you find a path, having spent hours circling the base looking for a way up. Not only does it have a handrail, but it’s also free of vegetation, and then you’re climbing. 

Creating the first draft, developing a structure, and formatting sentences is a similar experience. Writers have a multitude of pathways they can’t see. 

It makes it exciting; like Columbus on the Santa Maria, discovery is the end goal. For some, uncertainty is the starting point, for others, it offers a moment to freeze.

Slowly, but surely, you work it out.

Developing your ideas, creating a story, teasing the outcome, crafting the outline, all way markers to check off as your draft evolves. Yes, it’s tough, painful, and exciting — all at the same time. A rollercoaster of emotions throwing you in all directions.

It is the journey we love. 

It’s why we love the pain and the pleasure of writing.


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Reflection

Reflection: Helping you Make Better Decisions

The best decision-makers reflect – and so should you.

In this article, I’m going to show you how reflection can you help you make better decisions.

You’ll come to understand the flow of a decision and see how easily decisions change. Reflection will give you the awareness to see this and much more. It will mean stepping outside of your decision and analysing why you made the choice you made, and that’s good.

We succumb to the reward of the outcome and in doing so we tend to ignore all the important parts of a decision.

For example, do you stop and consider the following?

  • The facts
  • The situation
  • Which information is incomplete?
  • Your biases
  • The outcome

Each of these impacts on every decision we ever make. But how often do we stop to consider them before we decide what to do?  I’ll let you ponder the answer to that one.



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Decision Flow

Decisions come at us thick and fast throughout the day. Most of them we make without a second thought. As Daniel Kahneman noted, our system one, our intuition just takes over and we make decisions seamlessly. Well, that’s how it feels.

 What most of us don’t realise is that system one has a presence to think it can decide everything for us. Thus, we find ourselves eating unhealthy food over healthy food, or opting to stay in bed rather than going for a morning run.

System one see’s these decisions and takes the easy path. Food is food – and your hungry – so eat it. It is an intuitive response.

When it comes to more significant choices, system one is scanning our historical decisions to see if it can replicate the choice again. If there is an earlier decision that looks anywhere near similar, then your system one will seize control.

It is a decision flow that happens all the time – and I mean all the time.


Big Decisions

Big decisions – the life-changing decisions are the ones we want to deliberate on. System two as it is known, steps in as we pause, stop, and think through the choices ahead of us.

Even then, the decision is far from simple. Framing, biases, emotion, temporary feelings, and the influence of the situation all impact on what we might decide to do. And that’s before the appearance of lady luck, the mysteries of what others will do and chance.

Decision-making is tough.

And yet, we live or die on the outcome. We become wealthy or we become poor, we get married or we stay single, we buy or a house or we rent, we live to a set of values or we become consigned to mediocrity. Sometimes, a heap of stuff you can’t control happens and you’re left in the position you’re in.

Shit happens.

Despite the stuff you can’t control, there is a ton of stuff you can control. Whether you decide to do something by using your intuition or using deliberation, you have the chance to reflect and learn.


Reflection: Why and How

We all spend time thinking about decisions. We become consumed by the outcome; if it was a good outcome, we’re happy, if not, we’re sad.

Thinking about decisions in this way is terrible.

Reflection is a process of structured thinking to help you analyse your decision. It means being open-minded, honest, and using self-awareness to reflect on your decision-making process, not the decision itself.

As I said, we become occupied with the outcome. We mistake this as a guide in assessing the choice we’re about to make. The harsh reality is that we take the credit for a decision with a positive outcome when chance or luck plays a part. This is a false narrative of which we are the greatest authors.

The process of reflection means we need to ask ourselves some tough questions. These questions evolve from the following decision fundamentals.

  • The facts
  • Situational awareness
  • Incomplete information

The outcome is irrelevant in the reflection process. What matters is what you knew – and didn’t know before you decided on your course of action.


The Facts

What were the facts before you took your decision? Ask yourself what you knew to be true. Don’t sugar-coat it, tell it as it was. What were the facts? Did you, as often happens, assume information as facts when they weren’t.

What filters could apply to prove the facts for next time?

Situational Awareness

What were the circumstances for the decision? Who, if anyone was influencing you? How did you feel about the situation?

Reflecting on the situational awareness means taking looking at the situation from above. Think of yourself as a helicopter pilot, looking at the ground before you. Taking the stance gives a perspective devoid of emotion, it opens you up to your blind spots. The parts of the situation you can’t see when you’re in the thick of it.

Incomplete Information

We receive incomplete information all the time. There is a lot that happens that we don’t know or can’t see. Others might be playing a part in your decision, but you can’t know what they will do and when they might do it.

Reflecting, you should be looking to find this incomplete information. Label it for what it is and learn to use it correctly when deciding what to do.


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Learning from Reflection

The process of reflection gives you a unique opportunity. To learn, to improve and to adapt your approach to decision-making. By adopting this approach, you are starting to think about how you make decisions.

Without realising it, you’ve put in place an iterative behaviour.

It’s iteration because as this habit becomes more stable, so you’re assessing the decision, not the outcome. Each time, assessing through reflection the steps you took as you made your choice.

This is a logical sequence. It’s also a self-improving sequence that can give you the ability to upgrade your decisions. Of course, life isn’t quite that simple. The myriad of facts, circumstances, and incomplete information makes every decision unique. 


Make Better Decisions

Helping you make better decisions

In a world of irrational behaviour, Your Weekly Resolve will help you with making better decisions. Sign up here and every Tuesday, I’ll share valuable insights on the complex art of decision-making.

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