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Think Deeply

IAN_0126Understanding simple truths deeply is a fundamental skill of life. This depth of thought is the bedrock that you set before building mansions of concepts. Without depth, thinking skips like a rock along the surface of your true self. With depth, thinking becomes a volcano inside. Its rolling lava creates peninsulas of habits that extend throughout your life.

In this article, I will delve into effective thinking. I plan on writing future articles to discuss how to improve thinking. Many of the ideas I discuss in this post came from a book I recommend: The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking by Burger and Starbird.



Effective Thinking

I consider mastering thinking to be the first step to mastering my life. I’m not merely talking about positive thinking. All actions and habits are a result of your patterns of thoughts. Effective thinking is therefore effective living. At some point in my life this idea became real. Although, I understood the importance of this concept, it was hard to change my habits until I first deeply believed. It takes deep thinking to move from mental affirmation to belief. Belief then provokes action. In this article, I’ll discuss the importance of thinking deeply.

Understand Simple Truths Deeply

The authors of The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking used their experience in the classroom to form their five elements of thinking. I want to take the essential ideas they discuss and explain them in a different light. I’ve found depth of thought to be a useful subject across all my endeavors. Deep thinking goes beyond abstract ideas and molds principles into your person. That link between thinking and becoming makes the deep thinking so powerful and relevant in life. Oftentimes academic thinking removes the act of thinking from the act of becoming. Formal education taught me how to think apart from how to become. Deep thinking breaks down that artificial barrier and shows you how deep thinking is essential to changing your person. Next, I'll discuss a few concrete examples of deep thinking in life, skill acquisition, and academics.

Deep Thinking in Life

I often watch myself do things that are stupid even though I know that they're stupid while I'm doing them. Do you know what I mean? I'll give you an example. I'm loud and my wife is quiet. I should say, her family's communication style is highly contextual (quiet) whereas my family's communication style is confrontational (loud). My family is confrontational, with no ability to comprehend contextual communication. This imparted deep habits of thought into my life. My house was always chaotic. Six people scurrying around (5 more adopted later which brought the total to nine kids! No wonder we're loud...). It took a bit of shouting for anyone to hear you. And now... the sharp tones of my childhood echo through my marriage.

The opposite is true of my wife. Her family is quiet. Too quiet. Two Girls and an easy going father just don’t make that much noise. They could whisper and hear each other talk. Fast forward a few years, and bring together the girl who whispers with the guy who yells, and you get a few miscommunications (she calls them fights :)  ). A part of me casually observes these fights unfold. She expresses something that I steamroll over (from her perspective). From my perspective, she says something in a unsure manner and I politely question it to determine if she's made-up her mind. However, these spirals of doom end up in a flurry of words and ultimately I discover that my quiet wife CAN yell.

Once the nuclear warheads go off and our bodies are strewn across the couches like casualties of war, it dawns on me that I understood the right response. I KNEW what I should have done. Why didn't I do it? It's because I have a shallow understanding of what I should do. I understand the miscommunication in my head, but shallow understanding doesn't affect my reaction when I communicate. I steam roll, yell, and don't hear what my wife is saying. If I know what I'm doing is stupid, why do I do it? It's because this knowledge doesn't have depth. I know what I should be doing but this shallow knowledge doesn't change my actions.

In these moments of realization I push that understanding deeper. I need more than a shallow understanding of my wife’s background. I need it seared into the depths of my brain until I have the soft tone that she needs for me to express. That depth of thought is EVERYTHING. It just doesn’t help to understand something. You must BECOME it.

We become adults with knowledge deeply programmed inside of us. Reactions and habits of thought are deeply impressed on us as children over years and years. My clan has loud, unique tones that they use to express ideas. Her clan have quiet variations of unspoken dialogue (the Asian culture baffles me). Understanding this is only the beginning. Each time I revisit this simple concept that I’ve known for years, it gets pushed deeper.This is a concept you’ll find echoes through many areas of life. The first spark of realization is only the first step in a long journey of deepening that understanding.

Deep Thinking in Music and Calculus

One example in the book The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking offered was of an expert musician teaching a class to a number of experienced musicians. Many of the students who came to take this class and were surprised when he asked them to play a simple warm-up scale. They already knew the notes. They were professional musicians and had come to learn advanced music. In grudging respect to the expert, they each played the scale as they had many times before. Then the expert musician played. When he struck the notes they were deep and moving. He had mastered the simple scale in a way the other musicians hadn’t imagined could be done.

Calculus has a similar situation with a different twist. You can understand the fundamental law of calculus. However, the law has connections and nuances to a million different problems. By working each of the problems you understand a different nuance of that first fundamental law. Each time you return to the simple central concepts this knowledge is pushed deeper. These ideas are like spokes on a bicycle, each one connects back to the simple, fundamental heart of calculus. The knowledge gets pushed deeper with each repeated problem.

I offered you a few examples of ways to develop deep understanding. In the classroom, this depth provokes mastery of a subject. In the real world, oftentimes, this depth of understanding provokes internal change or a deeper level of mastery. I would ask you to take this approach to life. Look at those everyday moments and see the simple concepts that you’ve always understood. How can you take those ideas from mental affirmation to deeper thinking?

Habits to Deepen Knowledge

Here are a few actions you can take to deepen your understanding of a topic:

  • Map out your understanding of a concept. Pick a topic you want to learn deeply, and write out everything you know about it (Tip: use Mind Maps to highlight connections and find the central ideas). When you complete this exercise, go back and learn the concepts that you didn’t understand completely.
  • Meditation: Write down a principle, a verse, or an idea that you understand but want to know deeper. Set aside 5-15 minutes to meditate on it. Repeat the words in your mind VERY slowly. Let them linger in your consciousness. Pause as you read each word to yourself. Do this in the morning for a few months. By anchoring your thoughts around a few simple core principles you can engage your subconscious mind to deepen your understanding.
  • Neural Net Questions: Start with a simple question that is meaningful to you. For example: “What area of my life would I like to deepen my understanding?” Then let your mind to serve up answers. Ask yourself deep questions and write down your thoughts to put together a list of actions or ideas for you to follow-up with.
  • Visualize: Picture yourself as a master musician playing a simple scale as if it were a masterpiece. What simple life habit would you like to deepen in order to paint your own masterpiece?

Thank you for reading my blog post. Please email me with any questions, comments, or thoughts. My email is: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . For more information we recommend reading: The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking.