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Thinking for a Change

Thinking for a change is the title of a great book by John Maxwell. The book's premise is that we must first think well to do well in life. As humans, we do far less thinking that we should. And when we think it often isn't productive thought. Our thoughts bounce around from topic to topic, person to person and emotion to emotion. Seldom do we think until we have thought through!

Being a feeble thinker for much of my life has come in part from the folly of striving to be overly productive. "Hey, I have so much stuff to do, and the longer I spend ruminating, the more I get behind on the stuff I need to do."

I have read from some research that the average C suite executive starts to tackle strategic work around 2.30 pm each day. Until that time, it is often the 'tyranny of the urgent' that consumes all the morning hours of his or her workday; all those emails shouting "read me, read me, you have to read me!". Other research has highlighted, that due to insufficient sleep, exercise and high stress, by around that same time in the afternoon, the average executive's brain is functioning at the level of a 70-year-old. So, what does that say for the quality of thinking time that happens each day?

A couple of habits that I am using to help me improve my thinking time are:

  • I block out 30 minutes each morning (yes, morning) for think-time—no emails, phone calls or interruptions. I will then dedicate my thinking to a vital work matter and let my mind go to work.

  • Again, I give John Maxwell credit as he encourages us to try different thinking types such as creative thinking, big picture thinking, questioning popular thinking, realistic thinking, and bottom-line thinking. By deliberately applying different thinking approaches, rather than letting our thoughts wander, we extract much more value from our thinking time, achieving greater clarity and direction for that particular topic.

  • I use my note-taking and journaling apps to capture my thoughts. Writing down the thought streams, after I have contemplated for a while, helps crisp up the ideas and get them into a presentable form.

  • Lastly, I want thoughts that are like icebergs, not ice cubes. An iceberg only shows 10% of its volume above the surface, and that should be like our thoughts. So, when we express an idea or a view, it is just 10% showing. There is another 90% of deep thought that supports that 10%. Contrast that with an ice cube thinker, who pops out a view without a moment's reflection and then another and another. These views are like little ice cubes that bob around on top of the water and quickly melt away. My goal is to be an iceberg thinker, not an ice cube thinker. The icebergs take much longer to produce, but they have lasting power and will deservedly receive more attention and respect.

And my last thought on thoughts comes from a delightful little free book, As a Man Thinketh, written over 100 years ago by James Allen. The book tells us to picture our mind as a garden, and our thoughts as plants growing within our minds. Depending on what thoughts we allow in, what thoughts we water and tender, our minds can be wonderful thought orchards producing fruit of every variety. On the other end, weak thought management can result in unkempt gardens full of weeds and thistles.

Just like any good gardener, we need to plant, water and weed continually. Doing that through a deliberate and planned daily process of thought management will pay us huge dividends.

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