WoW 078: On developing a thinking practice (part 5 – knowledge workers series) [Words of Wisdom]

​In this series, we are exploring how to take your thinking seriously. Here are the four previous posts in the series:

A metaphor for your mind, getting started, on creativity and developing a personal knowledge management system.​, and on creating knowledge forests with tools for thought.

Intended Audience: Knowledge workers, students, or anyone who wants to take their learning seriously and compound their knowledge and learning over time.

(Applying what takes you 6 minutes to read today will benefit you for decades, and others for generations to come.)

How can you take your thinking seriously?

Many people do not think carefully about how to improve their thinking. One of the ways you can genuinely stand out and create deep value in the world is to take your thinking incredibly seriously.

Here are a few ways to improve your thinking:

  1. Increase your creation vs consumption ratio.
  2. Ask powerful questions. Questions are powerful insight generators. Ask others questions with curiosity and joy, and ask yourself rigorous questions to experience powerful new insights.
  3. Improve the quality of your inputs, which is another way of saying, learn from others with something valuable to teach you. How many ideas and concepts do you expose yourself to that are very poorly thought out? Or how often do you consume content from someone who is not rigorously pursuing their own thinking in a specific and purposeful context? People who only teach and don't have real-world experience are typically not the best place to learn. There is a lot of noise and not near as much meaningful signal in the world. But quality inputs are everywhere when you stay delightfully curious.
  4. Read more. Take your reading seriously! Reading is one of the most powerful ways to improve your thinking. Read in a few hours what someone took years to learn and condense their best thinking into a book.
  5. Use mental models to improve your understanding and your thinking about a particular difficulty or situation.
  6. Seek to purify your mind of all lies, fears, and resentments. The more free your mind is of dishonesty, fear, and bitterness, the more present, connected, and loving you will be. Instead of giving time to worry, or telling yourself painful stories of anger or resentment, what if you used that same energy to think about meaningful things? These 5 Strongholds will destroy you, no matter how good, logical, or brilliant your thinking is otherwise.
  7. Think for yourself. Yes, learn from others. But always seek to do your own thinking.
  8. Develop a disciplined thinking practice.

Today I'll share some thoughts on the first and last ideas on the above list.

Increase your creation vs consumption ratio

Instead of primarily consuming, seek to create regularly. Instead of falling into habits of consumption, develop habits of creation.

How much time do you spend consuming entertainment, news, information, videos, etc.? How many hours a week do you spend consuming versus creating?

To be creative, you need to consume thoughtfully and widely. Remember, creativity is mostly about connecting the knowledge dots, so you need dots to connect! Follow your curiosity when you consume information, but pay attention to creating.

The sooner you start a disciplined practice of creating something based on what you learn, the more you will learn. Yes, there will be a gap between the quality of what you want to create and your ability to create all that you can imagine.

But the more you create, and the more thoughtful you are about what you make, the more quickly you can close the gap.

Develop a thinking practice

Mindfulness and meditation has become popularized and accepted in the West (as well as mindfulness-based cognitive therapy) and research as well as wisdom from the ancients speak of its benefits.

A thinking practice is different. It is a discipline of deep concentration in an effort to solve hard problems, explore big ideas, or improve your craft, life, or business.

Here are a few examples:

  1. When regularly solving complex problems, such as is required in software engineering, Rich Hickey calls his thinking practice 'hammock-driven development.' It's wise to pay attention to what masters at their craft have to teach us. (Summarized here, with the video of Rich's talk here).
  2. Bill Gates has a renowned practice of a 'think week', a form of a thinking practice where he takes a week off, secluding himself in a cabin to read and to think deeply.
  3. The maker schedule, that Paul Graham described where he prioritized his entire day around deep work.


"Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it's just not that good. It's trying to be good, it has potential, but it's not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn't have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I've ever met. It's gonna take awhile. It's normal to take awhile. You've just gotta fight your way through that."

Ira Glass, from this video

"Because what you give your attention to is the person you become. Put another way: the mind is the portal to the soul, and what you fill your mind with will shape the trajectory of your character. In the end, your life is no more than the sum of what you gave your attention to."

John Mark Comer, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry


How regularly do you do deep thinking?

Do you have a specific practice, a set-aside time for deep thinking?

How might you get to doing deep thinking every day?

How can you improve the quality of your thinking practice?

What can you do today to start in a small way to practice deeper thinking?


In the future, I hope to describe part of my thinking practice in more detail and share more concepts that will help you take your thinking seriously.

Until then, live wisely,


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