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Warren Buffett’s Best-Kept Secret to Achieving Massive Success: Critical Thinking

Warren Buffett’s Best-Kept Secret to Achieving Massive Success: Critical Thinking

Critical thinking skills are essential to success — any kind of success. Successful individuals are thinkers and they surround themselves with thinkers.

Consider Warren Buffett. He is known as the most successful investor of all time, and by his own estimate, he has spent 80 percent of his career reading.[1] And what makes him so successful is that he isn’t willing to be a passive recipient of what he reads. Instead, he schedule time to evaluate the information he gets so as to form his own insights. This may sound counterproductive. We’ve been taught to work more, sleep less, and hyper-focus on the things that directly pertain to our goals. We call it being productive. Buffett and those like him find thinking, reading, and contemplating more productive than taking meetings and “working.” He actively pursues knowledge.

Why people with strong critical thinking skills like Warren Buffett are more likely to succeed

Critical thinking involves being able to process information independently and to think clearly, logically, and reflectively. It is the ability to engage in rational thought and to understand and establish a connection between ideas. In essence, critical thinking is the ability to reason. It is about being an active learner rather than a passive recipient of information.[2]

They always question the status quo

The status quo is the current state of affairs. It’s the norm. It’s how things are done. You know you’ve found it when you hear the phrase,“We’ve always done it this way.” Critical thinkers ask questions such as, “Why do we do it that way?” “How can we make it better?” “What are our other options?”

They break down problems into smaller components and see the subtle connections between them

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They love to test boundaries. They dissect issues and then find a way to systematically solve them. By examining the individual pieces of a problem they are able to apply solutions that create a domino or cascading effect. They solve one issue which effects another issue and are able to solve them both simultaneously.

They are sensitive to the loopholes in their logic 

Critical thinkers ruthlessly question ideas and assumptions rather than accepting them at face value. They will always seek to determine whether the ideas, arguments, and conclusions represent the entire picture. They do not rely heavily on intuition and instinct. They test, prove, and disprove their hunches.

We are all fallible. Critical thinkers understand this and actively work to find the flaws in their own logic. One’s ability to think critically varies according to his/her current state of mind. Thinkers work to maintain objectivity, view the problem from all possible angles, and seek the input of others who are adept in logic and reasoning.

They tackle problems with a systematic plan

A system is designed to streamline and simplify processes. It improves effectiveness and makes effort more efficient. Most critical thinkers use a top down approach to problem solving. They are systematic in their efforts. They also set aside time for investigating challenging issues and brainstorming ways to push through them. They don’t tackle a problem without a plan.

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They apply the scientific method to problem solving

Critical thinkers are usually highly methodical. They approach a problem the same way a scientist would and then move through the phases of the scientific method, conducting experiments to prove and disprove their hypotheses. Each experiment provides insight into the problem and proves or eliminates an idea or solution.

3 steps to improve your critical thinking skills

Critical thinking is a skill set, meaning it can be learned. Learning to think critically often involves tweaking some of our processes instead of merely trying to adjust our way of thinking. If you do things a certain way, your thinking will follow a certain pattern. You will begin to develop the habit of thinking practically and then critically. Developing this skill takes deliberate practice and persistence.

Here are three steps to get you started:

1. Recognize the biases in your thinking

Biases are common. We all have them. However, our biases lead to fallacies in our thought processes and rob us of our objectivity. The most common and detrimental bias is the confirmation bias- our tendency to see what we want to see. We tend to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms our preexisting beliefs or hypotheses.

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To cure confirmation bias, experts[3] suggest that inundating yourself with information is not the answer. It’s all about how you filter the information you do have. When you don’t selectively filter information, you lose your objectivity which is the heart of logical thinking. This particular prejudice is most prevalent in emotionally- charged situations and when you have something to lose. It also shows up when wishful thinking is present.

For example, in the middle of basketball season the home town team has a record that is below 500 and has been on a seven game losing streak. The star player has just gone out with a torn ACL and your friend says to you, “I know in my heart that our home team will win the NBA Championship.”

This statement disregards the facts–or at the very least, fails to consider them– and makes a prediction based on a feeling.

Here are a few ways to overcome confirmation bias:

  • When you recognize a bias don’t abandon your initial hypothesis right away. It may be completely or even partially correct. Test your theory.
  • Keep an open mind. Work on trying to come up with alternatives no matter how far-fetched they may seem. Test all of your ideas.
  • Embrace surprises. Don’t discount them or get discouraged. The unexpected happens. Use this new “surprising” information to your advantage.

2. Use 5 “Whys” to find out the root causes of problems

The “Five Whys” methodology, developed by Sakichi Toyoda (founder of Toyota), uses a”go and see” philosophy. This turns the decision-making process into a search for a solution that is based on an in-depth understanding of what’s actually happening. This method simply involves asking, “Why?” five times, allowing you to dig deeper each time. The goal is to drill down and find the core of the issue.

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Here’s a quick example:

The problem you are attempting to solve is that customers are complaining that when they receive merchandise they purchased online it does not match what they ordered (they are getting incorrect items, sizes, etc.).

  • Why are customers receiving the wrong products? Because the shipping company’s warehouse shipped products that are different from what the customers ordered.
  • Why did the shipping company warehouse ship different products than what was ordered? Because the personnel filling the online orders called the order in and gave it to the warehouse via telephone to expedite shipping. Errors were made during this process.
  • Why are the online order fillers calling in orders instead of using the normal process? Because each shipping order has a slip that must be signed by the shipping directory before it is put into the system and sent to the warehouse.
  • Why does each order slip have to be signed by the shipping director before it is shipped? Because the shipping director records the information for his weekly reports to the company CEO.
  • Why does the shipping director have to record the information for each order this way? Because he does not know how to generate the report using the system the order fillers use to send their orders to the warehouse.

Using this process, we were able to locate the breakdown in the process around the third “why.” Asking “Why?” the last two times generated our solution: train the shipping director to use the existing software to generate his reports for the CEO.

3. Treat each problem like an experiment

Using the scientific method to solve problems is an effective and efficient mental model for solving problems. Most people approach problems haphazardly and dive into the middle of the issues and become overwhelmed or miss key elements. Following a process allows you to establish a habit. Remember critical thinking is a skill that requires practice and persistence. Start at the beginning of the process every single time. Here are the steps:

  • Define the problem. Ask a question to discover what the true issue is.
  • Do background research. Gather information.
  • Construct a hypothesis. Make a prediction based on what you know so far, being careful to account for confirmation bias.
  • Conduct experiments. Test your hypothesis. Apply the “Five Whys” methodology when necessary.
  • Analyze your data and draw a conclusion. Analyze the results of your experiments and put them to the test. Are there any other possible solutions? If so, test them out.
  • Communicate your results. Present your solution along with your research and evidence.

Always reflect on and review your processes. It helps you to find gaps in your thinking and to adjust. Reflection helps develop objectivity.

With time, practice, and diligence using these three steps your critical thinking process will become a habit. You’ll be able to better predict results, anticipate pitfalls, and avoid biased thinking.

Reference

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Last Updated on March 21, 2019

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

Most gurus talk about habits in a way that doesn’t help you:

You need to push yourself more. You can’t be lazy. You need to wake up at 5 am. You need more motivation. You can never fail…blah blah “insert more gibberish here.”

But let me share with you the unconventional truths I found out:

To build and change habits, you don’t need motivation or wake up at 5 am. Heck, you can fail multiple times, be lazy, have no motivation and still pull it off with ease.

It’s quite simple and easy to do, especially with the following list I’m going to show to you. But remember, Jim Rohn used to say,

“What is simple and easy to do is also simple and easy not to do.”

The important things to remember when changing your habits are both simple and easy, just don’t think that they don’t make any difference because they do.

In fact, they are the only things that make a difference.

Let’s see what those small things are, shall we?

1. Start Small

The biggest mistake I see people doing with habits is by going big. You don’t go big…ever. You start small with your habits.

Want to grow a book reading habit? Don’t start reading a book a day. Start with 10 pages a day.

Want to become a writer? Don’t start writing 10,000 words a day. Start with 300 words.

Want to lose weight? Don’t stop eating ice cream. Eat one less ball of it.

Whatever it is, you need to start small. Starting big always leads to failure. It has to, because it’s not sustainable.

Start small. How small? The amount needs to be in your comfort zone. So if you think that reading 20 pages of a book is a bit too much, start with 10 or 5.

It needs to appear easy and be easy to do.

Do less today to do more in a year.

2. Stay Small

There is a notion of Kaizen which means continuous improvement. They use this notion in habits where they tell you to start with reading 1 page of a book a day and then gradually increase the amount you do over time.

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But the problem with this approach is the end line — where the “improvement” stops.

If I go from reading 1 page of a book a day and gradually reach 75 and 100, when do I stop? When I reach 1 book a day? That is just absurd.

When you start a habit, stay at it in the intensity you have decided. Don’t push yourself for more.

I started reading 20 pages of a book a day. It’s been more than 2 years now and I’ve read 101 books in that period. There is no way I will increase the number in the future.

Why?

Because reading 40 to 50 books a year is enough.

The same thing applies to every other habit out there.

Pick a (small) number and stay at it.

3. Bad Days Are 100 Percent Occurrence

No matter how great you are, you will have bad days where you won’t do your habit. Period.

There is no way of going around this. So it’s better to prepare yourself for when that happens instead of thinking that it won’t ever happen.

What I do when I miss a day of my habit(s) is that I try to bounce back the next day while trying to do habits for both of those days.

Example for that is if I read 20 pages of a book a day and I miss a day, the next day I will have to read 40 pages of a book. If I miss writing 500 words, the next day I need to write 1000.

This is a really important point we will discuss later on rewards and punishments.

This is how I prepare for the bad days when I skip my habit(s) and it’s a model you should take as well.

4. Those Who Track It, Hack It

When you track an activity, you can objectively tell what you did in the past days, weeks, months, and years. If you don’t track, you will for sure forget everything you did.

There are many different ways you can track your activities today, from Habitica to a simple Excel sheet that I use, to even a Whatsapp Tracker.

Peter Drucker said,

“What you track is what you do.”

So track it to do it — it really helps.

But tracking is accompanied by one more easy activity — measuring.

5. Measure Once, Do Twice

Peter Drucker also said,

“What you measure is what you improve.”

So alongside my tracker, I have numbers with which I measure doses of daily activities:

For reading, it’s 20 pages.
For writing, it’s 500 words.
For the gym, it’s 1 (I went) or 0 (didn’t go).
For budgeting, it’s writing down the incomes and expenses.

Tracking and measuring go hand in hand, they take less than 20 seconds a day but they create so much momentum that it’s unbelievable.

6. All Days Make a Difference

Will one day in the gym make you fit? It won’t.

Will two? They won’t.

Will three? They won’t.

Which means that a single gym session won’t make you fit. But after 100 gym sessions, you will look and feel fit.

What happened? Which one made you fit?

The answer to this (Sorites paradox)[1] is that no single gym session made you fit, they all did.

No single day makes a difference, but when combined, they all do. So trust the process and keep on going (small).

7. They Are Never Fully Automated

Gurus tell you that habits become automatic. And yes, some of them do, like showering a certain way of brushing your teeth.

But some habits don’t become automatic, they become a lifestyle.

What I mean by that is that you won’t automatically “wake up” in the gym and wonder how you got there.

It will just become a part of your lifestyle.

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The difference is that you do the first one automatically, without conscious thought, while the other is a part of how you live your life.

It’s not automatic, but it’s a decision you don’t ponder on or think about — you simply do it.

It will become easy at a certain point, but they will never become fully automated.

8. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

Marshall Goldsmith has a great book with the same title to it. The phrase means that sometimes, you will need to ditch certain habits to make room for other ones which will bring you to the next step.

Don’t be afraid to evolve your habits when you sense that they don’t bring you where you want to go.

When I started reading, it was about reading business and tactic books. But two years into it, I switched to philosophy books which don’t teach me anything “applicable,” but instead teach me how to think.

The most important ability of the 21st century is the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn. The strongest tree is the willow tree – not because it has the strongest root or biggest trunk, but because it is flexible enough to endure and sustain anything.

Be like a willow, adapting to the new ways of doing things.

9. Set a Goal and Then Forget It

The most successful of us know what they want to achieve, but they don’t focus on it.

Sounds paradoxical? You’re right, it does. But here is the logic behind it.

You need to have a goal of doing something – “I want to become a healthy individual” – and then, you need to reverse engineer how to get there with your habits- “I will go to the gym four times a week.”

But once you have your goal, you need to “forget” about it and only focus on the process. Because you are working on the process of becoming healthy and it’s always in the making. You will only be as healthy as you take care of your body.

So you have a goal which isn’t static but keeps on moving.

If you went to the gym 150 times year and you hit your goal, what would you do then? You would stop going to the gym.

This is why goal-oriented people experience yo-yo effect[2] and why process-oriented people don’t.

The difference between process-oriented and goal-oriented people is that the first focus on daily actions while others only focus on the reward at the finish line.

Set a goal but then forget about it and reap massive awards.

10. Punish Yourself

Last two sections are pure Pavlovian – you need to punish bad behavior and reward good behavior. You are the only person who decides what is good and what is bad for you, but when you do, you need to rigorously follow that.

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I’ve told you in point #3 about bad days and how after one occurs, I do double the work on the next day. That is one of my forms of punishments.

It’s the need to tell your brain that certain behaviors are unacceptable and that they lead to bad outcomes. That’s what punishments are for.

You want to tell your brain that there are real consequences to missing your daily habits.[3]

No favorite food to eat or favorite show to watch or going to the cinema for a new Marvel movie- none, zero, zilch.

The brain will remember these bad feelings and will try to avoid the behaviors that led to them as much as possible.

But don’t forget the other side of the same coin.

11. Reward Yourself

When you follow and execute on your plan, reward yourself. It’s how the brain knows that you did something good.

Whenever I finish one of my habits for the day, I open my tracker (who am I kidding, I always keep it open on my desktop) and fill it with a number. As soon as I finish reading 20 pages of a book a day (or a bit more), I open the tracker and write the number down.

The cell becomes green and gives me an instant boost of endorphin – a great success for the day. Then, it becomes all about not breaking the chain and having as many green fields as possible.

After 100 days, I crunch some numbers and see how I did.

If I have less than 10 cheat days, I reward myself with a great meal in a restaurant. You can create your own rewards and they can be daily, weekly, monthly or any arbitrary time table that you create.

Primoz Bozic, a productivity coach, has gold, silver, and bronze medals as his reward system.[4]

If you’re having problems creating a system which works for you, contact me via email and we can discuss specifics.

In the End, It Matters

What you do matters not only to you but to the people around you.

When you increase the quality of your life, you indirectly increase the quality of life of people around you. And sometimes, that is all the “motivation” we need to start.

And that’s the best quote for the end of this article:

“Motivation gets you started, but habits keep you going.”

Keep going.

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More Resources to Help You Build Habits

Featured photo credit: Anete Lūsiņa via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Sorites paradox
[2] Muscle Zone: What causes yo-yo effect and how to avoid it?
[3] Growth Habits: 5 Missteps That Cause You To Quit Building A Habit
[4] Primoz Bozic: The Lean Review: How to Plan Your 2019 in 20 Minutes

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