Thinking… why bother?

Pondering stone dragon
Image: Anke Dembowski

What does thinking really mean? How can we improve our thinking skills to learn, accomplish goals or create meaning in our lives? What is the relationship between thinking, knowledge and wisdom and where do we start?

Defining thinking turns out to be more complicated than one might think (no pun intended!). The Free Dictionary confirms the magnitude of thinking, describing the following (among others) applications or examples of thinking in action:

To reason about or reflect on; ponder
To decide by reasoning, reflection, or pondering
To judge or regard; look upon
To believe; suppose
To expect; hope
To intend
To call to mind; remember
To visualize; imagine
To devise or evolve; invent
To bring into a given condition by mental preoccupation
To exercise the power of reason, as by conceiving ideas, drawing inferences, and using judgment
To consider or weigh an idea
To bring a thought to mind by using the imagination
To recall a thought or an image to mind
To have a belief, supposition, or opinion
To use the mind in a certain way

No wonder thinking is is exciting, full of potential and often exhausting!

Psychologist Charles Fernyhough, blogging at Psychology Today writes: “Thinking is conscious and it is active. It is the kind of cognitive process that can make new connections and create meaning. It is dialogic: it has the quality of an internal conversation between different perspectives…”

Efficient and productive thinking becomes more difficult in our information/post-information age. Developing strategies to think clearly in the midst of information of uncertain quality and value is essential for success. Shane Parrish blogs about thinking and wisdom at Farnam Street . Writing in Business Insider in 2015, Parrish noted, “Learning how to think is hard. It means sifting through information, filtering the bunk, and connecting it to a framework that you can use. … Ask questions. Simple ones are better. ‘Why’ is the best. If you ask that three or four times you get to a place where you’re going to understand more and you’ll be able to tell who really knows what they are talking about. … Another thing you can do is to slow down. Make sure you give yourself time to think … simply say ‘let me think about that for a bit and get back to you.’”

“Let me think about that and get back to you.” That’s what my grandfather used to say in response to my endless stream of questions. He would often spend a day or two pondering and come back with what always seemed to be a balanced and thoughtful reply, usually with another question or two for me. He helped me understand the value of dedicating time and attention to thinking. If you’re interested in moving toward knowledge and/or wisdom, thinking is where you must begin.