How to Think
Part 3 of 3: Building Your Thinking Capacity
Use language to change your thinking.Scientists have found that language actually helps influence the way you think. For example, people who grow up in cultures that use the cardinal points (north, south, east, west) rather than things like right and left as in English, actually have acquired the ability to locate the cardinal points with the aid of a compass. X Research source
- Learn at least one other language. Scientists also found that bilinguals (people who speak more that one language) see the world according to the language that they are using. Learning a new language will help introduce you to new methods of thinking.
Learn widely.Learning is not just about going to school and memorizing some facts. Learning is something that takes a lifetime and can include a wide variety of things. When you’re always learning, you’re always thinking and being exposed to new ways of thinking.
- Be wary about your use of and appeal to authority. Don’t rely on other people’s opinions, even if they seem to know what they are talking about. Check facts, look at alternate viewpoints. If you see holes in their arguments or reasoning, look into it. Don’t ever just stop looking into something just because an authority figure (like the news, or your professor, or your senator). Now, if a variety of independent sources are making the same argument or claim, it’s more likely that it is true.
- Practice a healthy skepticism about what you uncover. Make sure that you find information that is corroborated by more than one source (it’s best to look for independent sources). Look into who is making the claims (are they subsidized by big oil companies, do they have a stake in propagating misinformation, do they simply have no idea what they’re talking about?).
- Try new things and get outside your comfort zone. The more you do this, the easier it will be to look at opinions and ideas that don’t immediately conform to your worldview. It will also introduce you to ideas that you would never have encountered. So try out a cooking class, or learn to knit, or get interested in amateur astronomy.
Use mind building exercises.There are certain things you can do which can help increase your thinking abilities. Thinking is just like any muscle in your body. The more you use your brain, the stronger it will get and the better you’ll be able to think.
- Do math. Doing math on a regular basis can be a huge boost to your mental facilities and can help make diseases like Alzheimer’s less likely for you. Do a little bit of math each day (it doesn’t have to be calculus, but when you’re adding, do it in your head rather than on a calculator, etc.).
- Memorize a poem. Not only is this a great party trick (especially if it’s a long poem), but it will help improve your memory, which in turn will help your thinking skills. You can also memorize some quotes to whip out in conversation, when the time is right.
- Engage regularly in mini-challenges like taking a different route home from work, listening to new music, watching a documentary on a new topic, learning a new word, trying a new sport, taking a little time to paint or draw, practicing a foreign language, or volunteering.
Practice mindfulness.The importance of mindfulness when it comes to thinking is that it can help clarify our thoughts, but it can also help take us out of our heads when we need it to. Mindfulness can help ease mental problems and can help in the pursuit of knowledge and thinking.
- You could practice mindfulness while you’re taking a walk. Instead of simmering in your thoughts, focus on your five senses: notice the green of the trees, the exact blue of the sky, notice the clouds racing across it; listening to the sound of your footsteps, the wind in the leaves, people talking around you; pay attention to the smells, and what you feel (is it cold, warm, windy, etc). Don’t assign value judgements to these things (too cold, pretty sky, bad smell, etc.) just notice them.
- Do at least 15 minutes of meditation each day. This will help to clear your mind and your thinking and will give your brain a much needed rest. When you’re just starting out find somewhere quiet to sit without distractions (as it gets easier you can meditate on the bus, at your desk at work, at the airport). Breathe deeply, all the way into your belly and as you do so, focus on your breath. When you find errant thoughts streaming across your consciousness, don’t engage, simply keep breathing and focus on your inhale and your exhale.
Manage your physical and social health. Staying active in your daily life is critically important to keeping your mind sharp. Regularly getting moderately vigorous physical activity and engaging in social activities help prevent against memory loss. Schedule time each day to be social and be physically active. X Trustworthy Source Harvard Medical School Harvard Medical School’s Educational Site for the Public Go to source
Challenge yourself to learn something new every day. Learning something new not only gives you a new skill or piece of information, it helps grow your mind. Try to learn or do something new every day. This could include anything from brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand to doing a lesson on a free learning site like Duolingo, Code Academy, or any other platform that speaks to your interests. X Trustworthy Source Harvard Medical School Harvard Medical School’s Educational Site for the Public Go to source
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Noticing that it’s too warm outside to wear a jacket.
Not quite! Mindfulness is about using your five senses and not judging your experience or the situation you’re in. While you can mindfully experience the warmth of the day, you should avoid judging the day by deciding it’s too warm for a jacket. Choose another answer!
Feeling the warmth of the sun on your bare skin.
Yup! Mindfulness uses the five senses without assigning judgment. In this example, you notice that it is warm, but you do not decide whether it is too warm– you simply experience the feeling. Read on for another quiz question.
Realizing that the sunset is beautiful.
Not necessarily! When you practice mindfulness you should use your five senses to experience the world around you. You should also avoid judgment on what you’re experiencing. While most people wouldn’t consider saying the sunset is beautiful is a judgment, mindfulness is about experiencing through your senses without making any decisions or forming any distinct opinion on what you might hear or perceive. Click on another answer to find the right one…