Roadmap to Efficient Thinking: How Guidelines Can Improve Your Thinking Process

4 March 2024
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Do you ever feel like your thinking is going in circles?

Or are you overwhelmed by excessive information and many choices?

Do you find yourself lost, unsure of which way to turn?

For many years, I felt lost. However, everything changed when I discovered thinking guidelines, also known as mental frameworks or cognitive tools..

It’s a strategy to navigate the complexity of clear thinking.

Thinking guidelines work like a GPS for your brain and are incredibly valuable in improving your thinking process.

By the end of this article, you will understand the concept of “Thinking Guidelines”, as well as their importance and benefits.

As you familiarize yourself with these guidelines, you will recognize how they play a crucial role in boosting clarity, stimulating critical thinking, and cultivating creativity and problem-solving skills.

Definition:Thinking Guidelines

A thinking guideline, also known as a mental framework or cognitive tool, is best understood as a structured approach to better thinking.

Key characteristics that differentiate thinking guidelines from other concepts are:

  • Structured approach: They provide a predefined process or steps to follow.
  • Focus on mental processes: They have a specific design to guide your thinking rather than provide external solutions.
  • Versatility: They’re like Swiss Army knives, versatile for any situation or task, giving you a flexible way to think.

Thinking guidelines should not be seen as rigid rules, and only you should have the authority to set them.

They are tools you adapt and customize to your specific needs and preferences.

The goal is to empower your thinking by providing a framework for clarity, focus, and effectiveness.

Let’s examine what happens when we think with no guidelines.

Thinking Without Guidelines

Spontaneous Decision Making

Without specific and clear thinking, guidelines you decide on the spur of the moment.

You become reactive to the demands of the world without a rational plan, criteria, or any consideration of your long-term goals.

This type of thinking often results in unpredictable outcomes that are not in alignment with your future self.

Unclear guidelines lead to mindless scrolling on TikTok or binge-watching Netflix.

Unstructured Problem Solving

When facing a problem without guidelines, you jump from one potential solution to another without a logical process.

This typically results in confusion, inefficient problem-solving, and a waste of energy that could be used more productively.

It creates a vicious cycle where problems arise from unstructured problem-solving, and faulty thinking continues to create more of the same.

Unfocused Idea Generation

Without guidelines, brainstorming become a chaotic process.

Ideas are often generated haphazardly, without considering their relevance or usefulness, resulting in a lack of focus and direction.

Our thinking is only as good as the guidelines we give ourselves.

How Thinking Guidelines Improve The Thinking Process

Guidelines serve as a roadmap for my thoughts and decisions.

They help me navigate through the vast amount of information and ideas my brain processes every day.

Whenever something comes up, I know in advance how to respond based on my guidelines.

These guidelines direct my energy and thinking towards more creative and meaningful interactions.

Enhance Clarity and Organization

Guide thought process

Thinking guidelines offer a structured approach to analyzing information, solving problems, or making decisions.

They provide a framework to break down complex concepts or challenges into smaller, more manageable steps.

This improvement enhances the clarity and organization of your thoughts.

Reduce cognitive load

By providing a pre-defined structure, thinking guidelines help reduce the mental effort involved in the initial stages of processing information.

This frees up your cognitive resources, allowing you to focus more on the specific details and creative aspects of the task at hand.

Encourage Critical Thinking

Challenge assumptions

Many thinking guidelines encourage you to question assumptions, biases, and initial impressions.

By prompting you to consider different perspectives and potential flaws in your reasoning, they promote a more critical and balanced approach to thinking.

Identify biases

We all have biases that can unconsciously influence our thinking. Specific thinking guidelines can help you identify potential biases and consciously mitigate their influence, leading to more objective and unbiased conclusions.

Enhance Creativity and Problem-Solving

Spark new ideas

Certain thinking guidelines, like brainstorming or lateral thinking techniques, can help you generate new and innovative solutions to problems. They encourage you to think outside the box and explore unconventional approaches, potentially leading to breakthrough ideas.

Improve decision-making

By providing a structured approach to evaluating options and weighing pros and cons, specific thinking guidelines can enhance your decision-making process. They help you gather relevant information, consider potential consequences, and make more informed choices.

Thinking Guidelines Helpful for Personal Development and Growth

The Four Agreements (Don Miguel Ruiz)

I will be impeccable with my word

I will speak with integrity and avoid gossip, negativity, and making promises I can’t keep.

I won’t take anything personally

I understand that others’ actions and words reflect their own reality, not mine.

I won’t let them define me.

I will not make assumptions

I will seek clarification instead of assuming the worst.

Clear communication is my key.

I will always do my best

This doesn’t mean perfection, but I will give my best effort in every situation.

The Circle of Influence (Stephen Covey)

I focus my thinking on areas where I have direct control, rather than on things beyond my control.

I accept the things in my circle of concern that are beyond my control and don’t waste time thinking about them.

This allows me to let go of negative emotions associated with them.

The 5 Why’s for Personal Growth

The “5 Whys” has helped me a lot in my personal growth.

Whenever I encounter a limiting belief or a negative thought pattern, I ask “why” five times to delve deep into the underlying reason or the root cause.

This method helps me identify and challenge self-limiting beliefs, promote a constructive outlook and focus on personal development.

The Eisenhower Matrix

The Eisenhower Matrix is most commonly used for prioritizing tasks based on urgency and importance.

However, it can also serve as a framework for guiding better thinking.

My wife and I are transitioning towards a lifestyle of freedom and mobility, escaping the harsh Swedish winters by traveling to a new warm and sunny places each year.

I often find myself preoccupied with non-important thinking that doesn’t align with our long-term goals.

This is where the Eisenhower Matrix shines, as it directs my focus away from “urgent or useless thinking” and towards thinking that supports our long-term goals.

The “Not Yet”

Instead of labeling myself as “bad” at something, I reframe it with “I’m not good at it yet.” Or “I need more practice.”

This acknowledges and honors my current state while emphasizing the possibility of my growth and improvement through effort.

The Power of “And”

I don’t use the word “but”, which tends to suggest and manifest the opposite.

Rather, I use “and” to recognize various viewpoints and find shared understanding.

“I chose to complete my work tasks, and I also need to find time for self-care.”

“I enjoy socializing, and I appreciate having time alone to recharge.”

“I am committed to eating healthier, and I occasionally treat myself to my favorite dessert.”

This promotes a more cooperative way of solving problems and enhancing personal development.

How I Set Thinking Guidelines

To determine what’s truly important to me, first I establish my personal goals and develop my own thinking guidelines.

The goal of having clear guidelines is to simplify and streamline my thinking process and the way I approach my thinking.

With these guidelines, I’ll know how to handle new thoughts that arise without letting them become intrusive, waste energy, or time.

This generates more energy to focus on thinking that support my long-term goals.

I Identify Long-Term Golas

I start by defining what I want to achieve.

Am I solving a problem, generating ideas, or deciding?

My long-term goals guide my thought process.

I Set Clear and Specific Criteria’s

What does success for me look like?

What are my limitations, and what are my advantages?

Having clear and specific criteria helps me stay focused and motivated, avoiding irrelevant paths.

I Organize My Thought

No more mental clutter!

I break down my thinking process into smaller, manageable steps and write it down.

This provides a structure to analyze information and make decisions, keeping things clear and focused.

I backtrack and reflect on my thought process to improve my thinking skills.

Guidelines in Practice

The aim of creating rules for your thinking is not to limit it, but to improve it.

It’s a recipe for how to think based on personal preferences.

step by step practical guide.

This is a process that involves practical application. It’s not theoretical.

It requires hands-on experience and active participation, coupled with quick adaptation, rather than just studying concepts and principles in a self-help book.

I maintain flexibility in my thinking guidelines and stay open to making adjustments as I continue to learn and grow.

The key is practice, personal development, and growth, not comfort.

With a little practice, setting guidelines for any thinking process becomes a powerful tool for improving your reasoning skills and achieving your personal goals.

Final thoughts

To make life easier we need to stay motivated.

Often, our lives don’t improve due to a lack of thoughtful decisions.

Like a good product, our decisions requires solid thinking.

Without clear gudielines, our thoughts become stagnant, causing stress and frustration.

This can lead to a reactive state of being in the world, or resignation, rather than a proactive one.

We all have guiding principles, usually influenced by friends and social media.

These are the paths we take when we don’t think for ourselves and follow the crowd.

Sticking to outdated principles that don’t match our long-term goals leads to unhappiness.

If we don’t develop our own thinking guidelines, we’ll end up following someone else’s.

This is seen in social norms, political parties, religions, etc.

Your thinking can either empower you, providing wisdom and practical insights, or it can ruin your life.

Life is short and time passes quickly.

If you want to improve your health, work, or relationships, develop better thinking.

Those who say they’ll start tomorrow often don’t.

Start today!

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