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From Reactive to Proactive: How Structured Thinking Changed My Life

15 June 2024
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My unstructured thinking and unwillingness to adopt pre-established systems of thinking in the past have been based on primely three things; my fear of change, making wrong decisions and not knowing who I am.

At its essence, my thinking has largely been driven by arrogance. I suffered from a case of “I know best syndrome,” an unwillingness to learn and adapt new ways of thinking.

For years, I relied on my flawed mental biases instead of considering alternatives.

The remarkable thing about assuming that you are right is that it is a lonely place, and it has a compound effect.

When ignoring others’ views and emotions led to escalating conflicts and ending relationships. I’d shift the blame for my rigid thinking onto others, repeating the same mistakes in my next relationship.

The origin of every step in my journey can be traced to one thing. Poor thinking.

Most times, I either respond immediately without reflection, or completely block any emotionally intelligent response.

Something had to give. I started studying pragmatic thinking, cognitive biases, and mental models.

Gradually, I simplified my decision-making process, which reduced my cognitive load. My ability to handle both internal and external challenges improved.

As I freed up mental energy for critical thinking, I gradually changed my approach to thinking, transitioning from a reactive mindset to a proactive one, both internally and externally.

The Importance of Simplifying Decisions: Why Thinking Systems Matter

What if you had a thought system that revolutionize your interactions and relationships?

Picture a world where you improve your relationships by being proactive instead of reactive.

What becomes possible if you have an efficient system of thinking that eliminates the need for constant decision-making or problem-solving?

Most everyday decisions and problems only become problematic when we don’t have a system of thinking. Then indecision or even analysis paralysis takes over.

Imagine you have a toolbox full of tools for different situations. A hammer for nails, a screwdriver for screws, and so on.
It’s great to have these tools, but if they’re all mixed together, it takes time to find the right one.

Integrating rules for thinking into a coherent system is like organizing your toolbox. You put similar tools together – hammers with hammers, screwdrivers with screwdrivers. This way, when you need to make a decision, you can quickly find the “rules” (tools) to respond to the situation, or make a choice faster and easier.

When I removed overthinking and useless thinking from the equation, my mind was no longer burdened with countless unnecessary thoughts and decisions.

Similar to decluttering a room – once I remove the excess, I am free to move unrestricted and find what I need without stress. My thinking becomes clearer and more spot on.

In the past, most of my thoughts and decisions were based on my and others’ immediate desires, often seeking instant gratification and short-term satisfaction. Rarely did they contribute to my long-term goals or well-being.

As I refined my thought process, my choices aligned with my needs and long-term lifestyle goals, resulting in meaningful personal growth.

Today, most of my thoughts and decisions are based on what I know to be vital for my wellbeing and success, and I have incorporated this knowledge into a system.

Deciding based on my needs requires discipline and pragmatic thinking. I need to avoid distractions, understand who I am, what I want, and then create a roadmap to achieve that lifestyle. If you are reluctant to set off time to do that, then thinking systems is not for you.

The goal is not to become a robot or eliminate spontaneity, but to conserve cognitive resources for situations where existing thinking system does not produce the desired results.

A thinking system does not have to be complicated or complex. The more straightforward it is, the more it will shield from decision fatigue and destructive behaviors.

Removing thinking from the equation has made me less judgmental and argumentative, making it easier for people to talk to me and enjoy my company. Not only has my productivity improved, but the quality of my decisions remains consistent.

Streamlining Decision-Making by Integrating Multiple Rules into a Coherent System

Most live in a reactive state, waking up with no pre-established framework for their thinking. The moment they wake up, their phones serve as an entrance to the noisy world. This not only weakens, but also hinders clear thinking.

Breaking free from ingrained thought patterns will initially feel overwhelming and challenging. Particularly if you’ve been in a reactive state for a while.

Creating a framework or system to guide your decision-making process takes the thinking out of the equation. It enables you to approach routine decisions and situations with a prepared game plan.

Some areas in my life where systems have improved the quality of my life include:

Communication

When I talk with someone, I adhere to three basic rules.

  1. I ensure every word I speak is respectful – no matter what happens.
  2. I focus on active listening to ensure I understand what the other person is communicating. This includes their needs and desires, the rules we will follow, expectations, boundaries, etc.
  3. I assume that I have misunderstood and therefore ask for more details to clarify.

These three straightforward rules help minimize assumptions, misunderstandings, and unnecessary arguments.

Conflict Resolution

Conflicts aren’t the problem; it’s my reaction to them that is the problem. In the past, I avoided conflicts because I knew I respond with anger or hostility, and struggled to manage others’ anger and frustration.

I where never thought how to manage disagreements calmly and constructively.

My perspective on conflicts was misguided. I viewed disagreements as battles to be won, instead of seeing them as opportunities for learning, growth, and fostering closer relationships.

Today, my system of thinking is to use conflicts to get closer to anyone who is up for it. To practice being tolerant and kind. To create space for the other person and to understand their needs instead of insisting on being right.

Insisting on being right is neither smart nor practical. A person who is right rarely needs to prove themselves. They know it drives conflict and hinders open communication. That it makes the other person feel unheard or invalidated, which creates distance rather than closeness.

When I focus on understanding rather than being right, I foster a safer and more empathetic space for connection.

Focusing on understanding rather than being right is not a weakness. It’s a strength.

There is no courage in being right – only in being kind and doing the right thing.

I’ve outsourced all conflict resolution to a predefined system. This minimizes impulsive reactions during times of heightened emotions, allowing me to focus on connection.

What daily system do you have in place to minimize conflicts, promote understanding, and foster respect in your relationship?

Connection

In the age of “phubbing”, connection is crucial. Mainly because we keep distracting ourselves from being present.

We are more connected than ever, yet more disconnected from human connection than ever.

A well-established thinking system fosters meaningful connection by prioritizing relationship-building.

When was the last time you chose not to glance at your phone while your partner was talking?

Implementing Connection-Related Thinking Rules

Connection-related thinking rules are important for personal development and growth because they focus on building strong relationships.

I think of strong connections as my personal “board of directors.” They offer diverse perspectives, challenge my assumptions, and provide valuable feedback to help me make better decisions and be a better human being.

This is my approach:

  1. Schedule regular, uninterrupted catch-up time with someone I care about or love.
  2. Spend at least 15 minutes each day listening to another person without distractions.
  3. Do off-line hobbies or activities alone and with someone.
  4. Make at least three small gestures of appreciation regularly.
  5. Communicate non-violent and openly about my feelings and invite others to do the same.
  6. Encourage and assist others in their individual aspirations.
  7. Put down my phone and show interest in other’s day-to-day activities.

With these simple thinking rules, I am no longer reacting, but proactively improving my relationships.

Bad vs Good System of Thinking

A poor system of thinking is, as already mentioned, characterized by reactive and impulsive decision-making, guided by emotional responses or immediate needs. It often lacks consistency and doesn’t consider the long-term effects of my decisions or life style goals.

If you consistently make bad choices, treat it as a habit – not a decision.

A good system of thinking is proactive and based on a deliberate course of action aimed at achieving a specific goal or set of goals. This involves long-term planning and considering the broader implications of decisions.

The goal is not to be rigid, but flexible when the situation demands it.

Using established systems or strategies when deciding in most routine situations helps me feel relaxed and focused, reducing friction in my interactions.

Improving the System of Thinking

I only engage in deeper thinking when my current system cannot deliver connection.

Holding onto bad thinking is comparable to carrying a heavy suitcase while running a race. It not only hinders your progress but also increases the likelihood of getting injured.

The ultimate form of effective thinking is knowing when not to think. The next best is to have a pragmatic thinking system in place.

My thinking keeps getting better as I follow these steps:

  1. I am obsessed with asking better questions: The quality of my life can never be greater than the quality of my thinking and the quality of my thinking is determined by the quality of the questions I ask.

Good question is like a workout for the mind. The absence of good questions leads to mental atrophy.

  1. I continually learn and adapt: I block distracticons from entering my attention. Instead actively schedule to learn new things and adapt my thinking system as I gain more experience.

I read about psychology, social psychology, and neuroscience, learning from others.

  1. Embrace Diverse Perspectives: I don’t get stuck in my echo chamber. I expose myself to different viewpoints and consider evidence that contradicts my initial assumptions and beliefs.

At first, it was a struggle because I wanted to come across as smart and well-informed, which off-course I am not.

  1. Challenge Assumptions: I don’t take things at face value and I call bullshit on myself several times a day. To read non-fiction or write about it is one thing, to practice it is brutal.

I am full of biases that shape my thinking and interpretations. That will never change.

  1. I see things as part of a whole: I have made it into a game to view situations as interconnected systems rather than isolated parts.

Multiple elements interact and shape the overall outcome, and I am right in the middle of it.

  1. I block time to reflect on past decisions: I regularly block time to journal and go back to reflect on my decisions and the thought processes that led to them.

Having a solid reflection practice in place helps me identify any flaws or biases in my current system of thinking and make necessary adjustments.

  1. I embrace uncertainty: I have learned to welcome uncertainty and acknowledge that life is full of unpredictability. Some choices don’t lead to perfect results and that is ok.

Embracing uncertainty allows me to be more flexible and adaptable in my decision-making, reducing anxiety and increasing resilience.

  1. Practice Mental Models: I have developed strong mental models, meaning that they are pragmatic and improve my relationships.

I change, people change, so I have to recognize endings, transitions, and new beginnings and refine my thinking models when needed.

Final Thoughts

In our attention economy, I am constantly exposed to the thoughts, opinions, and perspectives of others. They rarely contribute to my personal growth.

The mind is a double-edged sword; it has the potential to unravel complex problems but can also overthink things and create anxiety.

Wisdom is to recognize the difference between useless thinking, overthinking and rational, useful pragmatic thinking.

My overall quality of life suffered for years because of poor thinking. My thinking was impulsive, misguided, and ineffective.

Most of my destructive and addictive behaviors were driven by poor thinking, damaging my relationships.

When my thinking became clear, rational, and constructive, my actions reflected this mindset. I made more and more sound decisions and took baby steps towards achieving my goals.

Today, I no longer desperately cling to anything that will fill the void in I used to feel.

I no longer feel the need to be right or control how others behave in order to feel safe.

Rather than constantly seeking to prove myself right or exert power over others, I have adopted a more open-minded and empathetic approach.

I am still learning to see different perspectives and opinions for what they are; different. Recognizing this has helped me create space for mutual respect, cooperation, and a harmonious coexistence with those around me.

What daily thinking guidelines can you integrate to enhance your decision-making and overall quality of life?

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