How could I increase thinking capability

Few people think more than two or three times a year; I have made an international reputation for myself by thinking once or twice a week.
George Bernard Shaw

One of the greatest resources you have is the biocomputer between your ears: your mind. Consequently, one the best investments you can make is honing your thinking ability. This will potentially brings you great rewards in life. While the mind is not everything (things like relationships and spirituality also play important role), it is perhaps one of the most neglected.

Just think about physical fitness. Many people are aware that physical fitness is important, and they allocate time to exercise. But what about mind fitness? How many people allocate time to exercise their mind? Not many I’m afraid. But as George Bernard Shaw said in the quote above, the few who do may far surpass many other people and make name for themselves.

So, without further ado, here are some tips to exercise your mind and improve your thinking ability:

1. Set time for “mind exercise”

Just as you should allocate time for physical exercise, you should also allocate time for mind exercise. This way you will improve your mind fitness the way people improve their physical fitness through exercise.

2. Make a master list of problems

To make the exercise useful, use it to handle real problems you face. Make a list of problems you would like to solve. You can add new problems to the list as you encounter them in your daily life without waiting for the exercise time to come.

3. Pick a problem from your master list

At the beginning of your mind exercise session, choose a problem from the master list which you need to solve. You will be more motivated to practice if you know that you need the solutions. The more you need the solution, the more motivated you will be.

4. Pick a thinking technique to practice with

After you pick a problem, you should pick a thinking technique to solve the problem with. A good start is mind mapping which you can use either on paper or with software like FreeMind.

There are still a lot of other thinking techniques you can choose. One book I recommend for this purpose is Thinkertoys by Michael Michalko which contains no less than 29 techniques. A good online alternative you can use is Exploratree.

5. Do effortful practice with the thinking technique you choose

Effortful practice means that you should use the technique to the best of your ability. You can only increase your capacity if you push yourself slightly beyond your current limit. So try your best with the technique you choose and push yourself a bit more. Let your brain “muscles” be heavily trained.

To do such effortful practice, motivation is important (see the diagram in How to Have an Expert Mind), and that’s why you should choose a motivating problem.

6. Write the ideas you get in an “idea journal”

To make sure that you do not lose the ideas you get through the exercise, write them down in an idea journal. Having an idea journal is very helpful for me. In fact, I have several journals for different kinds of idea. If you want to, you can also make an action plan to put the ideas into practice.

7. Pick different technique another time

In your next exercise, you can pick another technique if you’ve felt comfortable with the thinking technique you currently use. Otherwise, you can still use the same technique. By using a different technique, you expose your mind to a new kind of challenge which will help your mind grow optimally.

Published on November 21, 2007