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Published on January 1, 2020

How to Think Clearly and Become Smarter

How to Think Clearly and Become Smarter

One of the most tasking, yet valuable skills, is the ability to think clearly. The skill is self-taught as no school will teach you its methodologies. People who learn how to think clearly maximize the benefits, while those who fail to do so pay for the consequences.

With unclear thinking, you will spend most of your time trying to correct mistakes. If you want to make informed and smart decisions, you need to learn how to think clearly.

How Do You Learn to Think?

This question applies to different concepts. It could mean how to think intuitively and critically, how to resolve an issue, how to make smart decisions, how to innovate, memorize, learn, study, discuss, or plan.

The major challenge most times is not learning how to think, but discarding irrational thoughts.

If you assess the question, ‘How do you learn to think?’ from the other side of the coin, it could also mean how to be open, how not to have prejudices or be judgmental, how to communicate effectively with others, how not to practice emotional thinking, how to avoid making assumptions or arriving at a quick conclusion, how to avoid labeling people or practice name-calling, how to see the world from a better perspective, how to be conscious of what’s going in the environment and know what the future holds.

All these begin with learning how to think. According to Descartes,

“I think. Therefore I am.”

Your thinking determines the quality of your being and your living.

So how do you learn how to think?

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Start by analyzing your thoughts, identifying your thought pattern, and thinking errors. You can also discover learning tools that boost your morale about steps to take in learning new concepts. For instance, you can practice by analyzing the pros and cons of any topic. You will improve as you spend more time learning how to think.

Here’re 6 time-tested ways to learn how to think clearly:

1. Take a Deep Breath

This is the first step. Your body regains its balance when that oxygen flows through your respiratory tract to your neural network.

Your body will find calmness by taking a large breath and your brain will be enhanced to think more clearly.

2. Organize Your Thought By Listing

Anytime you discover many thoughts running through your mind, there’s a need to get organized.

It is possible to list those things in your head. That way, you will generate a list that can help you on how to think clearly.

Here’s an example:

  • Do the laundry
  • Wash the car
  • Fix the PC
  • Read the book

Organizing your thought with mental listicles will help think clearly and become smarter.

3. Assess Your Attitude

Have you ever wondered how your focus correlates with your desires?

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For instance, imagine how you can brainstorm several ways and techniques to achieve your goal when you are determined to achieve it. The same approach applies to when you don’t want to attain a goal, and you focus on its negatives – why it’s a bad idea to desire such a goal.

If you’re going to achieve a clear focus and thinking, you will need to be sincere with yourself. What do you want from life? Why do you want it? This may take much of your time in the beginning, but you will realize that clarity of goals will help you learn how to think clearly.

4. Be Specific with Your Goals

It takes specificity to achieve any goal in life. The reason is you can’t think about the direction of a moving object.

As long as you keep changing your goals, you will keep mounting pressure on your brain to change its laser focus. This can only make you lose direction.

To maintain specificity, take a nap for some minutes and write those goals down as clearly as possible.

5. Leverage Your Passion for Taking Charge of Your Emotions

There’s a rationale behind this statement. As you strive to become smarter and better, your passion surmounts challenges as it becomes consumed with the pleasure that comes with actualizing the goal.

Your emotions, on the other end, can be submerged in the pool of those challenges as they feel the pain to ‘failures of losing that goal.’ You need to press on and use your passion to control your emotions to achieve clarity in your thought pattern.

6. Utilize Your Negative Thinking to Generate Positive Action

Oh yes! It’s possible. Do you know your negative thought pattern is an asset?

Negative thinking is the code that can unlock your imagination to actualize your desires.

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Anytime you think ‘why not?’, then switch by thinking ‘how to?’. This approach will fire your imagination up to redirect your negative thinking in producing positive actions.

Instead of focusing on the reasons you may not progress with your career, you can stimulate your thoughts by thinking of ‘How To’ become successful in that career.

Also, delete every negativity in your mind. Negative thoughts will prevent your mind power from flowing to take the right step in the line of your goal. So, keep your head clear, especially when processing an idea.

The awareness of these six steps will help you learn how to think and become smarter. But that’s not enough! You will need first to shift your paradigms.

How to Train Your Brain to Think Differently

Based on some findings that were published in Translational Psychiatry, MRIs was used to check the changes in the brain of individuals with schizophrenia. After treating them for six months, the more neural connection was discovered between their amygdala — which coordinates emotion on the brain, and their prefrontal cortex — which oversees high order thinking. The changes had a long-lasting effect

In another study, people battling with social anxiety disordered had a decrease in brain activity and volume in their amygdalae after nine weeks of online cognitive behavioral therapy(CBT).[1] It was also discovered that CBT helps in reconfiguring the brain in individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression as well.

So what are the CBT therapeutic skills recommended? Here are three of them to help you train your mind to think in new ways.

1. Prove Yourself Wrong

Sometimes, your brain tells you lies. So when it comes to that limiting thought that you can’t complete your degree or you can’t finish reading that book, take it up as a challenge.

Stretch yourself some more after you think you have reached your tipping point. Or challenge yourself to keep reading the next page until you get to the last page.

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Each time you nullify the negative prophecy, you’ll train your mind to think in a new way and see possibilities. In no time, your brain will begin to develop a new paradigm by understanding your capabilities and limitations from a different perspective.

2. Create Your Mantra

Do you think limiting thoughts? Or do you discourage yourself from attempting a challenge where you think you might fail?

You need to curate your mantra that you can utilize to talk down the negative messages. You can repeat things such as “Beat the best” or Do the impossible!”. These words will discard every form of negativity and limiting thoughts.

As you begin to speak positively, you will outgrow the negative thoughts and subsequently gain clarity in your thought pattern.

3. Reframe Your Negative Thought Pattern

Thinking things such as “I’m such an idiot,” or “this will never become successful” is not helpful. Every negative prophecy becomes self-fulfilling if there is no positive action taken to negate it. You cannot take a giant step with belittling thought.

Here’s the good news:

You can negate the negative thoughts with a true statement. When you think, “I’m not going to amount to anything in life,” speak to that thought,” if I keep trying, I will be what I want to be.’

When you think,” This is going to end in tears,” look at yourself in the mirror and say, it will turn out a success. Establish a more realistic statement by reframing your mindset. The more you do this, the more you become smarter.

The Bottom Line

Since every new skill requires constant practice, pay the sacrifice by putting these steps to work.

The more you practice clear thinking, the more you will build your mental muscle. Also, your brain will undergo changes that will positively impact you.

More Tips on Thinking Smarter

Featured photo credit: Campaign Creators via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Last Updated on March 30, 2020

How to Tap into Your Right Brain’s Potential

How to Tap into Your Right Brain’s Potential

You may have heard someone say they are “totally right brained” or that they’re “a left brained person.”

There is a pervasive myth that’s been making its rounds for over a century: people have two hemispheres of their brains, and if they have a dominant left brain, they’re more analytical; and if they have a dominant right brain, they are more creative.

Before we go debunking this theory and then giving some tips for how people can access their creative brain centers, let’s first take a look at where the left brain/right brain lateralization theory comes from.

The Left Brain/Right Brain Lateralization Theory

In the 1800s, scientists discovered that when patients injured one side of their brains, certain skills were lost.[1] Scientists linked those different skills to one side of the brain or the other. Thus began the left brain/right brain myth that continues to this day.

Then, in the 1960s and 70s, Roger W. Sperry led 16 operations that cut the corpus callosum (the largest region that connects both brain hemispheres together) in order to try to treat patients’ epilepsy. Sperry wrote about the differences in the two hemispheres as a result of those surgeries.[2]

Sperry’s work was popularized in 1973 with a New York Times article about his lateralization theory—that people were either right brained (read: logical) or left brained (read: creative). From here, Sperry won the Nobel Prize for his work and numerous other publications spread the right brain/left brain myth.

Debunking the Right Brain/Left Brain Myth

If anything, the lateralization theory of the brain is a gross exaggeration. It is true that people have two hemispheres of their brains. It is also true that there are differences in the composition of those two hemispheres.

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However, the hemispheres are actually much more interconnected than Sperry’s work initially made it seem.

In a 2013 study,[3] scientists scanned over 1000 people’s brains, checking for lateralization. They confirmed that certain brain functions occur predominately in one hemisphere or the other but that, in reality, the brain is actually much more interconnected and complex than the right brain/left brain lateralization theory makes it seem.[4][5]

A New Metaphor for Right Brain/Left Brain

How do we get past this right brain/left brain myth?

First, let’s look at what contemporary cognitive science says about brain regions, and creative and logical modes of thinking.

My background is as an improviser and improv researcher. I wrote Theatrical Improvisation, Consciousness, and Cognition and think looking at improvisation and the brain can shed light on a new model for talking about unlocking the brain’s creative potential.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain scans have shown that while trained improvisers improvise (musically on a keyboard, rapping, and comedic improvisation) an interesting shift happens in their brain activity. [6]

A region called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex decreases in activity and creative language centers such as the medial prefrontal cortex increase in activity. The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is linked with conscious thoughts—that inner voice that tells you not to say something or criticizes you when you do.

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The medial prefrontal cortex is among the brain regions linked with creativity. So, instead of thinking about right brain and left brain, perhaps it’s more current and correct to think about more specific brain regions instead of hemispheres. Perhaps, it’s more useful to think about which activities and strategies will allow us to inhibit our dorsolateral prefrontal cortexes and allow our medial prefrontal cortexes to flourish.

How to Enhance Your “Right Brain” — Creativity

Whether we’re talking about right brain versus left brain, creative versus logical, or medial prefrontal cortex versus dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, we still know enough to talk about strategies to tap into your creative brain’s full potential.

So, now that we’ve dispelled the right brain/left brain myth and looked at a more contemporary, cognitive neuroscience theory of brain regions and creativity centers, let’s look at how to tap into the potential of your creative brain.

1. Performing Arts

One way to tap into your creative brain centers is to participate in the performing arts. Whether you improvise, act, or dance, the performing arts allow you an embodied experience that will help you snap out of your habitual, logical thoughts.

Another benefit of the performing arts is that it changes your attention. Attention and creativity are inextricably linked. When we improvise, act, or dance, we have to focus intently on our fellow performers. This means we are forced to focus less on our conscious, logical thoughts. This frees us up for more creative thinking and expression.[7]

One of the conclusions of my research on improvisation is that focusing intensely on fellow improvisers and the task at hand makes it more likely that we experience a flow state. Dr. Csikszentmihalyi,[8] a Professor of Psychology and Management defines flow as an optimal psychological state when our skills match the difficulty of the task at hand. Our perception of time is altered as we get into the zone and become more present and in the moment during our chosen activity.[9]

A flow state is a creative state. It’s the opposite of crunching numbers and forcing ourselves to work out a problem with the conscious regions of our brain. So, get up, improvise, act, or dance to access your creativity.

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2. Visual Art

Art teacher Betty Edwards[10] wrote a book called Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. Here again, we see that a shift in our attention can lead us to an increase in our creative thinking.

Edwards’ book gives art students tricks to shift the way they see the world. For example, one exercise encourages students to literally flip whatever it is they’re drawing upside down before they draw it. This forces budding artists to literally see the object in a new way. This shift allows them to focus more on the individual components and patterns of the object, which allows them to draw it better.

Shifting how we see things is another way we can access our creative brain centers. Take an art class to shut off your conscious, critical thoughts and start seeing things from a new, more creative perspective.

3. Zone Out

If there’s one thing creativity doesn’t like, it’s being coerced.

I think we’ve all felt that awful feeling of trying to force ourselves to be creative. When we force it, we’re really trying to force our logical brain regions to be creative. It’s like asking your gardener to perform your appendix surgery. It’s just not what she does.

Instead, stop forcing it. Take a break. Take a long walk or a relaxing bath or shower. Let your mind wander.

Whatever you do, stop forcing it. This break lets your creative centers rise to the surface of your attention and get heard.

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4. Practice Mindfulness

The final trick to start accessing your so-called right brain is to practice mindfulness.

Now, there’s a lot of different ways to go about mindfulness. You can take a more physical approach with a yoga class. Or you can try meditating to become more aware and in tune with your thoughts and feelings: Meditation for Beginners: How to Meditate Deeply and Quickly

You could also try to incorporate fun mindfulness exercises[11] into your everyday routine like forcing yourself to go on detours or pretending you’re a detective who needs to examine people and places closely.

Any way you do it, mindfulness exercises and training can help you become better versed in how your brain works and what your normal thought process is like on a day-to-day basis. If we’re ever going to reach our optimal creativity, we have to become an expert in how our individual brain functions. Mindfulness is one way to become your very own brain expert.

Mindfulness also has added benefits like calming us, slowing our breathing, and helping us become more observant, which are also great ways to start tapping into our creative potential.

Final Thoughts

So, it may not be correct to say that our right brain is our creative brain, but it is still a valid pursuit to try to optimize our creative brain centers.

The key to do so is to relax, become observant, shift your perspective, move your body, try something new, and, whatever you do, don’t force it.

Creativity can feel slippery. It can abandon us when we need it most, but by slowing down and looking at things from a new perspective, we can give ourselves a better chance of tapping into our ultimate creativity, even if that doesn’t exactly mean our “right brain.”

More Tips on Boosting Creativity

Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

Reference

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