2 effective thinking tools to improve your intellectual capacity

You’ve probably heard this quote at some point in your life:

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

Albert Einstein said that. I have been reading a lot about him in the past few weeks — he is, after all, one of the key figures of the twentieth century.

I have also taken a keen interest in Physics lately — I have a lot of questions about our beautiful universe.

I ordered Walter Isaacson’s book, recently to learn more about Einstein’s life and work. The book was the better option among the dozens I was considering.

Every day, you have a new opportunity to improve your intellectual capacity. Use these ideas as a guide to improve how you reason and make rational, objective, and logical choices.

Thinking Tool #1: Learn How to Use Thought Experiments Effectively

A thought experiment, as its name suggests is — an experiment in thinking.

“A thought experiment considers a hypothesis, theory, or principle for the purpose of thinking through its consequences.”

Thought experiments are structural, conscious, logical, and objective deductions we do in your heads to test our ideas, concepts, facilitate decision making, and clarify our thinking.

Life and living it is an amazing example of a thought experiment — the moment you wake up, you start thinking about which actions to take and in so doing you, in effect, take a specific direction among the many options you thought about.

Einstein deliberately trained his visual imagination for years before he discovered . What’s remarkable about his achievements is that they relied heavily on his thought experiments and the intricacy of his imagination.

“When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing knowledge,” Einstein once said. He added, “I never came upon any of my discoveries through the process of rational thinking.”

Thought experiments are important intellectual tools that help you clarify your thinking and make better decisions.

“Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere,” he once argued.

Einstein did a lot of thought experiments as a fundamental tool for understanding physics. For , he used a person falling off a roof, accelerating elevators, and blind beetles crawling on curved surfaces when explaining his concepts to others.

Thought experiments force us to confront important questions in life. For example, what would you choose to do in life if money were no object? When you remove the variable of money, what would you want to do for its own sake, rather than for the sake of money?

Mastering thought experiments can help you dig deeper and clarify your thoughts before acting on them.

Thinking Tool #2: Focus on Understanding Basic Mental Models And Principles

The world’s smartest and most successful people use different mental models and principles to understand the world.

“The mind is neither a logical nor a probabilistic device, but instead a device that makes mental simulations. Insofar as humans reason logically or infer probabilities they rely on their ability to simulate the world in mental models … This idea was first proposed a generation ago. Since then, its proponents and critics have revised and extended it in hundreds of publications, ” says Princeton University professor Philip Johnson-Laird and researcher Sangeet Khemlani.

Mental models are tools, ideas, and proven perceptions we consistently use to make better decisions or to understand life. They are how we simplify complexity, why we consider some things more relevant than others, and how we reason to make better judgements.

In an interview with Deanna deBara, a content strategist at Trello, I share a few models that can help you take your career to the next level.

Popular mental models you can start studying and observing in your daily life right now include inversion principle, loss aversion, survivorship bias, illusion of control, circle of competence, and the pareto principle.

The quality of our thinking is proportional to the models in our heads. You can’t reason beyond your existing ideas, beliefs, perspectives, and world-views. The better your models, the deeper your thought processes.

Charlie Munger, vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway says, “80 or 90 important models will carry about 90% of the freight in making you a worldly-wise person.”

Mental models allow you to view the world through more tried, tested, and unbiased lenses. They are shortcuts to smarter thinking.

Gabriel Weinberg writes in his book, 

“If you can understand the relevant models for a situation, then you can bypass lower-level thinking and immediately jump to higher-level thinking. In contrast, people who don’t know these models will likely never reach this higher level, and certainly not quickly.”

If you want to learn more about mental models, here are some books to further explore the topic — Thinking, Fast and Slow (Daniel Kahneman), Metaphors We Live By (George Lakoff), Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions (Dan Ariely), The Art of Thinking Clearly (Rolf Dobelli), and The Great Mental Models by Farnam Street.

Principles are patterns of behaviour people discover in their life that they realise as true for others. They can have a huge impact on your career and personal life.

In his book, Ray Dalio, billionaire investor, hedge fund manager, philanthropist said, “Principles are fundamental truths that serve as the foundations for behaviour that gets you what you want out of life. They can be applied again and again in similar situations to help you achieve your goals.”

Not only do better principles shape how and what we think, but they also shape the connections and opportunities that we see in the world. In Life Principles Everyone Knows, But Only a Few Follow I share a few you can use to refine your personal principles.

Here are some principles I live by: Be deliberate about growth, evolving is a painful but necessary process — becoming a better version of yourself requires time and measurement, within every challenge or uncertainty is an opportunity to improve our condition, and life is not elsewhere; it is, fully and properly, here and now.

Use every principle as a guide. The most important thing is that you develop your own principles and ideally write them down. “Think for yourself to decide 1) what you want 2) what is true and 3) what you should do to achieve #1 in light of #2,” says Ray.

No way of thinking is too sacred to be reconsidered. And no way of doing things is beyond improvement. Thinking models and frameworks can help us explore multiple perspectives. Use thought experiments, mental models, and fundamental principles to improve your analytical and decision-making skills.

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