“How to learn to think”: three basic points

Obviously, this is not taught everywhere. At a minimum, the emphasis is not on this skill, but on individual methods and disciplines. Although, for doing the latter, and for making decisions at work and in everyday life, basic “mental hygiene” will definitely not hurt. Let’s talk about it in our material and discuss “Materiel”, flexible “optics” and auxiliary tools

Photo: Roman Bilik.  Source: Unsplash.com
Photo: Roman Bilik. Source: Unsplash.com

Know the “materiel”

In order to think effectively, it is not enough to simply desire, perseverance, and strive for excellence. All these qualities will come in handy, but for a thorough pumping of thinking abilities, as in the case of other skills, a systematic approach is needed.

The first thing we would suggest to get acquainted with is – cognitive distortion… They are a “product” of evolutionary forming behavior and in some cases even help to adapt to different conditions of existence. But this is far from always the case – the result mostly depends on what distortions we notice, how we work with them and whether we are aware of the very fact of their presence in the course of the thought process.

As Bill Gates says: “The more you study the topic, the stronger the foundation for new knowledge becomes, plus the coherence of the information already available increases.”

Know and understand cognitive biases [КИ] it is also worth it because in neglected situations they can lead to unpleasant effects – for example, imperceptibly rebuilding our memories to please one or another problem of an emotional or other nature and destabilizing the psyche [подобными кейсами занимаются когнитивные психотерапевты]…

In general, it is very important to remember that it will not be possible to cover all distortions in one sitting. Their study should be dosed, done regularly, and as you become familiar with the individual types of CI – remember and analyze your own life experience.

The most famous CIs are Dunning – Kruger effectillustrating the inability of low-skilled specialists to realize their mistakes; “curse of knowledge»- a close CI explaining why more informed people are unlikely to be able to accurately predict the actions of less informed people; and “foot in the door“, Which is often, but very ineptly, used by telephone spammers.

Photo: Phil Desforges.  Source: Unsplash.com
Photo: Phil Desforges. Source: Unsplash.com

The opposite side is occupied by mental models. They help you understand the structure of the world, prioritize tasks, weigh arguments in the course of thinking, and resist cognitive biases. Studying existing and developing your own mental models is a process that actually continues throughout life, so it is important to understand the degree of their balance and be able to select them according to the situation.

NASA Matrix for risk assessment depending on the possible consequences and the likelihood of the occurrence of events; frameworks GOFER and DECIDEdescribing basic algorithms for making decisions; and reverse engineering of probable problems in the format pre-mortem Are some of the most prominent examples of mental models.

Distinguish the “rake”

As you become familiar with the greater number of cognitive biases, you have fewer excuses to ignore them in your daily life, work, and school. The number of studied mental models, in turn, gradually turns into quality, namely, flexibility of thinking. Likewise, the emotional reaction to what is happening around becomes more controllable and does not distract in the course of thinking.

As a result, you can more easily distinguish between possible omissions, move away from one-sided judgments and can afford to think about as you think, and most importantly, you make it easier. This state is called metacognitive awareness and associate it with the use of auxiliary tools that allow you to “assemble the aircraft on the fly”, “wash the car without leaving it” and practice the so-called “second level thinking”.

Use simple tools

The complex ones often lead to endless customization, installing updates and finding information that needs to fill out calendars, boards and to-do-lists. In certain cases and within the framework of specific projects, all of these really make sense, but if the complication of tools for taking notes, organizing affairs and thinking can be abandoned without loss in terms of results, then it is worth doing so. Otherwise, they will draw attention to themselves. There is even a similar cognitive bias associated with seeking information for the sake of the search itself, which usually does not produce visible results and does not affect anything.

Aside from conditional moleskin and note-taking apps, you might find it useful memory cards or the corresponding software that allows you to gradually learn the materiel and maintain knowledge of a variety of cognitive distortions and mental models without memorizing them. This is possible due to spaced repetitions – the Leitner system, which takes into account “Ebbinghaus curve”, Namely, how we forget information.

Photo: strichpunkt.  Source: Pixabay
Photo: strichpunkt. Source: Pixabay

In addition to simulators for learning new things and strengthening memory, there are similar “card” systems for the development of the creative aspect of thinking and the use of the simplest mental models that promote creativity. One of these systems is called “Oblique Strategies“. It was developed in the early 70s by an artist Peter Schmidt and musician Brian Eno

More than six editions of cards were released, some of them in the form of small batches with a special design. But today there are web versions with random map generators from this series and even a version for the voice assistant Alexa, plus – all kinds of analogs like ideas for startups and recommendations for entrepreneurs… Interestingly, “Oblique Strategies” has been repeatedly mentioned in pop culture – references to them are in the works of REM, independent films and comics.

Another tool that we would like to draw your attention to is professional online communities and their interactive part, where users can share their opinions and train of thought. From the point of view of improving cognitive skills, references – in the form of comments from other participants in the discussion – will help you learn to more quickly track both other people’s and your own cognitive distortions, think about what causes one or another reaction in you and analyze your argumentation in response to comments.

The environment of conditional Habr, where you can observe (1) an instant reaction to your comments, (2) follow the success of your favorite authors and do it (3) on a regular basis, is sufficient for the development of not only thinking, but also pumping intuition – understanding that what really worries and worries your colleagues in the profession, and on the Runet in general. It is these three conditions described Daniel Kahneman, renowned writer, psychologist and laureate of the largest awards in economics, when asked to explain the nature of intuitive thinking. We hope that our today’s story will inspire you to develop, friends!

English-language materials in our blog on Habré:

  • Damned if you do, damned if you don’t: how startups can cut through passive-aggressive media

  • Everything you always wanted to know about human memory (but were afraid to ask)

  • Getting Better at Understanding Academic Papers: a Brief Guide for Beginners

  • Working with light: Starting your career at ITMO University

  • Meet Hamstand: a smart mobile testing hub

  • A closer look at ITMO University

And Russian-language habraposts on the topic:

  • How to “Learn to Learn” – Tips, Tricks and Research

  • Consciousness Traps: How Researchers Fool Themselves

  • How to “Learn to Learn” – Improving Mindfulness

  • Speed ​​Reading: Does It Work or Not?

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