There was a time when I never consciously thought about what I was doing. I made no progress and that wasn’t good.
Then I started thinking. I saw results, I made progress and that was good.
So I started thinking even more, because I wanted to succeed faster. I built thought frameworks (general rules to guide my thinking) as I learned about new fields. It took me a long time to realize that my rate of progress hadn’t changed at all, and I was burning more energy for nothing.
Why do I say that?
There were others who hadn’t built a clear framework of how to think. But it didn’t matter. Because of their social position, because they took action, they got the hot girl or were rich. Thinking the right way can lead you to success, but is only one component.
“A change in perspective is worth 80 IQ points” – Alan Kay
What’s the easiest way to get another perspective? Ask someone else. Sure, it is possible to imagine another perspective, but asking is just easier, plus you get to strengthen a social connection.
Sometimes, you don’t know what you don’t know – and this can overturn your thought framework overnight. Exploration is the answer here, and this can be time consuming.
Lastly, after having built many thought frameworks, I noticed most of them resulted in sound common sense. I didn’t have to spend so much energy building them in the first place!
Caveat: some bad life advice masquerades as common sense. It can really help to think through “common sense” advice to see if it really is “common sense” or some misguided line that an unfortunate, misinformed, unfortunately loud individual is spewing on social media.
The value of thinking
Thinking is simply bringing your subconscious thoughts up into the consciousness, where we can think about it faster using reason instead of emotion, overcome biases installed by society, overcome bad habits and misleading values in our subconscious, gain a clear vision of where we want to go etc. Words are the handles by which we grab and manipulate our thoughts from the sea of our subconscious. Word choice is very, very important.
But the consciousness is simply a tool, and one shouldn’t depend on one tool exclusively.
When I think too much
I go through life in a daze, not noticing the beauty in my surroundings, forgetting upcoming chores/appointments which are important but not urgent, and as a result I have to construct routines to get my life back on track, which makes me rigid and (ugh) German.
To improve one’s skills, there is no limit to the conscious complexity one can construct. But actually the most fun way is to improvise, boosting efficiency with honest communication and a very short iteration cycle.
When is a good time to think
When learning a new topic, a framework to guide your thoughts, a chosen set of values to strive towards from the very beginning, will help you achieve your goal quickly. (source: dancing experience)
When you have a gut feeling, but you just can’t put it into words. Not bringing it up to your subconscious could waste months, years of your time. Open a blank document and just start typing whatever comes to your mind, dumping your stream of consciousness into words (very effective, source: The Ultimate Commonplace System).
When building new processes to streamline your life. Within moderation: do not make a whole new routine and force yourself to commit to that. Instead, see what trhythm you naturally fall into and make slight tweaks to that. This is a good balance between enjoying life and improvement. Discipline is a finite resource after all.
Turn your brain off
I used to meditate to turn my brain off. Now I’ve rediscovered a better way from my childhood: video games, anime, tinkering with long lost hobbies. Wall Street Playboys would deride it as a waste of time, but one must waste a bit of anything once in a while.
The trick is to stop playing once you aren’t thinking about the original subject anymore, but your brain isn’t yet totally hooked on the game either. Video games can make your brain noisy and distracted too.
Am I thinking too much?
If you’re asking this question, you most certainly are. Remember a time when you weren’t under pressure to deliver, like your childhood. Then, in this quiet space that you’ve finally allowed yourself, listen to your gut.
You already know what to do.