Helping you Make Better Decisions

Category: Thinking

Thinking is critical behaviour in decision-making. In our attempts to gain the perfect outcome, how we think matters the most.

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.

Pinterest Banner of man overthinking as he smokes

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.


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.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

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.


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.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

A young man ponders; clearing his mind as he works at his desk

Clearing my Mind in the Information Age

Every Sunday morning, I get a notification from Apple about my screen time for the last seven days. Last week, I spent fourteen hours looking at social media; this fries my brain.

Context is everything of course; I’m in bed for eight hours (asleep for seven) and yet, twelve per cent of my time awake is gone, scrolling through an endless stream of tweets and posts. I spend another hour a day reading articles, webpages, and the news. This excludes the thirty minutes a day I spend with my Kindle, reading to try and learn even more.

Putting all that together is quite frankly frightening. I am, like so many others in the world, the epitome of the first part of the quote from E.O.Wilson. 

“We are drowning in information while starving for wisdom. The world henceforth will be run by synthesizers, people able to put together the right information at the right time, think critically about it, and make important choices wisely.”

E.O.Wilson

I am drowning in information, and at the same time, starved of wisdom.

I’m my quest to improve my decision-making I’ve come to see that my mind is cluttered. Cluttered from the endless streams of noise, all because I become consumed by the endless scrolling on social media. I don’t save the information I’m exposed to; I read it, but I don’t record it. I just hope I might remember it.


I need a Second Brain 

Note-taking is something most people do. There is an unlimited choice of apps and tools to help capture your notes. I’m also a prolific bookmarker, saving endless articles on Pocket. I read, rarely pausing to make notes.

When I do make notes, I’ve become stuck, jumping from tool to tool. I used Evernote in its early days and then moved onto OneNote. From OneNote, I moved to Notion. I wanted more flexibility than I was getting from OneNote, but with Notion, I still felt restricted. I love the way the databases interlink and come together, but it was still too hierarchical and rigid for me.

Through Twitter, I’ve found Roam Research, and it has changed everything for me.


Changing how I Process Information

Nat Eliason introduced me to the power of roam and the concepts behind his use of it, written by Tiago Forte. A personal knowledge system is a phrase I’ve only just discovered.

I’ve understood the principles but never had heard it framed in such a way, let alone consider a tool that might do the job for me. Every day is a learning day, and I’m certainly learning – and doing it quickly. The hierarchal frameworks of PARA (Projects, Areas, Resources, Archives) are calling me. Awareness of projects and the cascading effects of goals and tasks are well known to me. But using them to manage information is new to me – and exciting.

Now, I’m wondering how I should manage the information I interact with. As time continues to decline on the time I have left on this planet, I’m also contemplating the criteria I use for reading – both books and articles.

Brandon Zhang shared with me his thoughts in Reading with Intention, which offers ideas around the process of choosing what to read.  Not only am I looking to apply this to my book reading efforts, but also to the articles I consume.

There is another consideration for me. What principles should form the foundations of my note taking?

  • Should I copy the article?
  • Make highlights?
  • Add my own context to draw out the relevance?

There are lots of thoughts to me consider here. Thankfully, I’m guided by those who already know better. The insights from Brandon Zhang, Tiago Forte and Nat Eliason have proved helpful. Progressive Summarization is one example of a new way for me to capture information and keep it within my second brain.


Decision Tree’s

Like most people, temporary feelings influence my decisions and I feel the need to apply a more disciplined approach. One that removes impulse and emotion from the process.

Decision Tree’s offer that capability.

It means I can map out a ‘if this, then that’ method which will help safeguard against some of the inferior decisions I’ve made in the past.

For some, this will appear cold and clinical. But that is how it must be. Simple decisions like what to keep for my second brain, and how to keep it, start to open the way for me to begin clearing my mind. I find it quite frightening how I have allowed the consumption of information to dominate my time – and my mind.

As Nassim Taleb says: 

Nassim Taleb Quote

Clearing my Mind

Decisions are battles of thought we must overcome. Some of us hesitate; dithering on the outcome of what might or might not happen. What would help is clearing my mind. A brain free of information and keeping only wisdom, which would certainly help.

This is the point that Nassim Taleb is making. Our minds are so cluttered, so clouded with information that the opinions we form become blighted. Stepping free of the blinkers shifts the mind to a different space. A space where it can think deeply. Where it can draw on the insights and knowledge held in our second brains.

It is this space I want to get too. To be able to make decisions free of emotion. To control the urges of my system one thinking and use the more logical – and thoughtful – system two. The two decision systems as described by Daniel Kahneman in his book, Thinking Fast, and Slow.

With this process in place, one day I might get to that utopia of a clear mind.


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.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén