Your brain contains 85 billion neurons. Heck, it can process information faster than the best-known supercomputer today. Are you making the most of it?
Five years ago, I used to work over 14 hours a day for six days a week. You must be thinking, “That’s insane. I am sure you achieved a lot of success.” The truth is quite the opposite. I was frustrated, stressed, and far from achieving the goals I had aimed for.
Today, I work fewer hours and deliver the results of superior quality. All that happened with a straightforward change. Do you know what that was?
I started thinking deliberately.
I can hear you laughing your guts out saying, “So that’s your big secret? Thanks, but no thanks. I think every day.” But let me ask you. When was the last time you intentionally sat down to think? I am not talking about using your brain to solve a problem or study for a test. I am referring to setting aside time to do nothing other than thinking.
Importance of deliberate thinking
Deliberate thinking differs from your usual thinking because you’re forcing yourself to think unlike your brain trying to find an answer on its own.
I started the practice of deliberate thinking only a few years back. Though the idea seems way too simple, it has made all the difference to different aspects of my life such as:
- Goal Clarity
- Self Awareness
- Problem Solving
You might wonder how thinking can make such an impact? Take a moment to analyze the life on earth. Many animals are bigger, stronger, and faster than us. Yet, human beings are the most powerful race today. Your muscles did not cause that domination. It all happened because of the gray matter underneath your skull.
Your brain is more sophisticated than the most powerful supercomputer. As per estimates, the human brain is 20 times quicker than the fastest supercomputer known today. Because computers process information very differently they can perform any complex mathematical operation in a split second. But the human mind can comprehend sound, touch, taste, and vision all at the same time and make a decision. Any computer requires a ton of time to accomplish the same task.
The human brain can think and process information better than any other machine can. To make that more fascinating, memory and processing are interconnected, unlike a computer that has a separate device for storage.
So here is what you should know – thinking is your superpower.
How would Wolverine look if he never used his claws? Ordinary, right? That’s how you will end up if you do not use your ability to think.
How to use your thinking skills:
I used a simple method to bring my chaotic schedule under control. I set aside 20 minutes every day to think. All I used during my thinking time was a pen and a notepad. No phones, no computer, no conversations. During those minutes, I identified:
- Any small improvements
- Solutions to problems
- Ideas for businesses(subjective)
- Clarity on long term goals
Since I have a passion for entrepreneurship, I use my thinking time to come up with possible business ideas. Your talent might lie in a different area like music, art, fitness, or anything under the sun. Use the time to take one baby step forward towards your expertise. You do not need to come up with a pathbreaking idea which changes your life. When you make little improvements and find small-scale solutions, the results compound over time.
Rules for thinking time:
1. Follow the routine every day
Over the years, I have increased my thinking time to 30 minutes for 5 days a week. You can even set a smaller time window of say 10 minutes if you like. Irrespective of what duration works best for you, the key lies in sticking to the routine. You’ll reap more benefits sticking to 10 minutes Monday to Friday, than spending an hour one day a week.
If your schedule permits, stick to the same time every day. My thinking time is 9 AM. Find a time of the day when you can keep all your other work aside and spend time thinking. Unless your job requires an erratic working schedule, you will achieve the best results by using the same time slot every day.
If you’re among those busy folks who cannot spare 15 minutes, you can combine your thinking time with other routine tasks such as eating breakfast, having a shower, or taking your pet for a walk.
2. No excuses
No matter how busy you are, you have to make time for deliberate thinking. If you only think on the days you have time, you will come up with an excuse every day. To make that worse, you’ll also convince yourself that the reason was genuine.
You should treat your thinking time with the highest priority. If you don’t, one random task or another will prevent you from thinking for 15 minutes.
3. No multitasking
You should not send a short text message or answer a quick phone call during this interval because it takes only a minute. One thing will lead to another, and your thinking time will turn into a slot for completing trivial unfinished tasks. Consider your thinking time sacred which nothing can take away from you. A slot during the morning time helps most people focus better.
Sometimes, you might also come up with ideas that require a quick validation on the internet. For example, if you’re having trouble managing your finances, you might think of reading a personal finance book. Triggered by that thought, you will want to open Amazon and check what books are available. Finally, you end up spending all your thinking time on shortlisting authors based on their reviews and synopsis.
Do not make that mistake. Your thinking time is solely for thinking. Resist the urge to perform any additional research and allow your mind to come up with more ideas. Your thinking time is to put your brain to work while keeping your fingers at rest.
4. Capture your thoughts
You must note down all the ideas and improvements you came up with during your thinking time. I prefer to use pen and paper, but you can use an application or a simple text document.
Using a computer or a phone to note down ideas can trigger a distraction, such as a text message or an email notification. Separating yourself from technology during your thinking time can help you stay focused.
How does thinking time help?
1. Helps you prioritize
A daily slot for thinking might seem like a lot every day. But, it helps you focus on the right things and breeze through the rest of your day with the highest productivity. Those 30 minutes have helped me complete all the right tasks which the 14 working hours never did.
Working without prioritizing is like cutting a tree with a blunt axe. You feel proud of sweating out 8 hours to chop it down when you could have achieved the same result in half the time by sharpening the axe. Taking the time to think will sharpen your time management and prioritization skills.
2. Increases your self-awareness
When you spend time thinking about improvements, solutions, and aspirations, you start realizing what you genuinely care about in life. It will help you streamline your energy towards the direction of your dreams.
Also, you understand which are the tasks you’re wasting your time on. Everyone spends time on things they should never have touched in the first place. Unless you pause to evaluate each of your tasks’ impact, you will never realize where you’re leaking time and where you’re productive.
John Wanamaker coined the famous phrase, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” Your personal productivity is no different. Some of the daily tasks you work on, make no difference to your results or happiness. Unless you stop to think which ones are those, you’ll never know.
3. Improves thinking quality
Though your brain isn’t anatomically a muscle, it behaves like one. The more you challenge it, the stronger it grows. When you deliberately force your brain to improve every day, it becomes more efficient day by day.
The human brain contains roughly 85 billion neurons. If you put the brain cells from 4 people together, the total adds up to the number of stars in the milky way galaxy.
That’s how sophisticated your brain is. To perform any activity, many of your neurons form a connection, thereby helping you execute the task.
Whether you’re learning a new language, trying to solve a problem, or recalling contents of a book, your brain interconnects neurons to get the job done. When you’re thinking, you’re forming more such neural connections making your brain more capable with time.
Your mind is no different than the car you drive. If you leave it unused, the brakes, tires, and engine start deteriorating. One day, when you have to go for a ride, the vehicle will feel rusty. Likewise, if you leave your mind idle, your thinking prowess will depreciate little by little.
You might assume you think enough every day. But only a handful of people understand the power of deliberate thinking.
Those few minutes you spend everyday thinking will lead you onto a journey of improvements, self-awareness, and success.
Thinking is your superpower. Do not let it go wasted.
Maxim Dsouza has spent over a decade experimenting and finding various time management techniques to improve his productivity. He strongly understands the fact that time is a limited commodity and tries to make every second count. He has extensive experience in leadership in startups, small businesses, and large corporations.
He has helped people of different professions and age groups gain clarity on their goals, improve focus, revise their time management skills and develop an awareness of their psychological cognitive biases.