Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habits. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.
—attributed to Lao Tzu (and Frank Outlaw)
What would you be without the ability to think? A body? Your body keeps you alive, but you experience life through your mind. How you perceive yourself, other people, and the world is determined by your thinking. How you think affects how you feel, what you say, and what you do. Thinking drives your actions, and your actions drive your outcomes. Everything begins in the mind.
The quality of your thinking determines your level of success and satisfaction. Success is the ability to achieve the goals that you have chosen. Satisfaction is a feeling of well-being that comes from being happy with yourself and your life. Some people achieve one or the other, some both, some neither. Your thought process is the key to achieving both success and satisfaction. To live better, you must think better.
Ah, but there’s the rub. How do you think better? For starters, it helps to understand how the mind works. There are many layers to the mind, but let’s keep it simple and divide it into two parts: the conscious mind and the unconscious mind (a.k.a. the subconscious mind). Your conscious mind includes everything you’re aware of, including what you’re currently thinking, feeling, and perceiving. It also includes whatever thoughts you can bring into consciousness from memory. Your unconscious mind includes everything else that exists in your mind but is outside your awareness. It includes hidden beliefs, biases, feelings, memories, and habits formed in the past that still influence your thoughts, experiences, and behavior in the present. You need to understand your conscious mind because that is what you can control. You need to understand your unconscious mind because that is what will otherwise control you.
Much of what is now unconscious was once conscious. A lifetime of thoughts and perceptions have passed from your conscious to your unconscious, shaping who you are and how you automatically think and behave today. You cannot directly access your unconscious mind, but by changing your conscious thought process (how you think), you can improve your unconscious thought content (what you think). That is how you upgrade your thinking.
Through conscious thought, you can set and achieve meaningful goals, solve challenging problems, and make better decisions. Conscious thinking helps you figure out what you want and gives you the power to get it. You are not a pawn of other people, your past experiences, or your current circumstances. You can become the queen or king of your own life if you put on your thinking crown.
Anyone can learn to think better with the right mindset, skills, and techniques. The problem is that most people don’t think they need to improve their thinking, or that it’s even possible. To them, thinking is like breathing. It just happens. They believe that how they think is no more subject to change than the color of their eyes. As a result, they default to unconscious thinking, which is automatic and effortless. And unfortunately, it’s also frequently wrong.
If you stop to think about it, you know that just because you have a thought doesn’t make it true. That would imply your thinking was 100 percent accurate, 100 percent of the time. Ridiculous, right? But even if we concede that our thoughts have sometimes been wrong in the past, we continue to believe that what we are thinking right this minute is true. I think; therefore I am right. Of course, anyone who disagrees with us thinks they are the one who is right, which is why relationship issues arise.
Besides causing issues with other people, faulty thinking can harm you in other ways. If you are not thinking clearly and rationally, you will not be able to figure out the best solutions to problems. You may make bad decisions or procrastinate on making any decision at all. If emotions cloud your judgment, you may blame your unsatisfactory results on other people or bad luck. By doing so, you won’t learn anything from the situation that could help you succeed in the future. Flawed thinking may also create self-doubt, causing you to avoid pursuing challenging goals that you are capable of achieving. When that happens, you limit your potential due to a lack of confidence, not a lack of competence.
If you don’t continue to stimulate your mind, you will end up living in your mental comfort zone, also known as the no-risk, no-reward zone. You may feel safer there, but you risk becoming stuck in a boring life that is too small for you. As business magnate Steve Jobs said, “Your thoughts construct patterns like scaffolding in your mind. You are really etching chemical patterns. In most cases, people get stuck in those patterns, just like grooves in a record, and they never get out of them.” To get out of a rut requires different thinking than what got you into it.
People who are willing to work on improving their thinking skills have a big advantage over everyone else. Because thinking affects every area of life, conscious thinkers achieve higher levels of success. Some people are born smart and have a natural talent for thinking. But just like a natural athlete who fails to develop their talent, a smart person who fails to develop their thinking can be surpassed by those willing to work harder to improve their skills. Conscious thought takes effort. Fortunately, thinking more effectively gets easier with practice and the right techniques.
Perhaps more people would consciously think about their thought process if they considered how critical it is to a satisfying life. Thinking is at the root of everything. Some people will argue that how we feel is more important than how we think, but you cannot separate the two. A feeling of gratitude arises when you think about the things for which you are grateful. A feeling of worry arises when you think about what could go wrong. A feeling of anger arises when you think someone has wronged you. Thoughts drive feelings. If you change your thinking, your feelings will follow.
Your thinking affects your words, which affect your relationships. If you have ever wished you could take back something you said, you know the power of words. Words are like weapons; they wound sometimes. We cannot unsay what has been said. Many personal and business relationships have been ruined by a failure to think before speaking. Fortunately, the right words can also save a relationship.
Your thinking drives your actions, which drive your results. As philosopher James Allen said, “All that you accomplish or fail to accomplish with your life is the direct result of your thoughts.” Action may not always follow thinking but thinking always precedes action. Unfortunately, much of our thinking is unconscious and habitual. Dr. Deepak Chopra notes that we have an estimated 60,000 to 80,000 thoughts a day, but most of them are repetitive. If our thoughts are the same, our behavior will be the same, and our results will be the same – day after day, year after year. If you want different results, start with different thoughts.
You can consciously think about the direction you want your personal and work life to take. Unlike the demoralized majority who hope other people, circumstances, or their luck will change, you can bring about changes yourself. By combining conscious thought with definite action, you can get what you want and need. Intentional thinking gives you greater control, freedom, and confidence.
The rewards of better thinking are clear, so how can we motivate ourselves to think more intentionally and effectively?
We can approach thinking like a game: The Thinking Game.
Think about the kind of games you play: board games, card games, video games, casino games, sports games, etc. What do all games have in common? A game is an activity defined by rules that you win by using skill, knowledge, and luck. Thinking is also an activity defined by rules that you win by using skill, knowledge, and luck.
If you approach thinking as if it were a game, you will begin to see problems as obstacles to overcome in order to win the prize. The prize is the achievement of your goal or purpose. When you play a game, you expect challenges. It would be a pretty boring game if there weren’t any. So why do we get so frustrated about challenges in life? They’re all just part of the game. The more challenging the problem, the more satisfying it will be when you solve it. And you will be able to solve it if you use the principles and techniques you’ll find in The Thinking Game.
Additionally, part of the fun of playing a game is not knowing how it will turn out. You win some; you lose some. An even better philosophy from The Thinking Game is you win some; you learn some. If you develop a thinking mindset and use the skills we’ll discuss, you will win more often as you pursue your goals. But you can’t win them all. When you fall short of achieving a goal, learn from the experience. Analyze your results and refine your strategy using the tools we’ll talk about in the following chapters. Don’t give up when things don’t work out. If at first you don’t succeed, think, think again.
Thinking is a strategy game in which you set a goal and decide how best to achieve it. The Thinking Game will provide you with the rules, the tools, and the strategies you need to think more effectively. You will learn how to set the right goal, create the right plan, take the right action, and analyze and improve your results. You will better understand yourself, other people, and situations. You will gain greater control over your thoughts, feelings, and behavior. You will be able to predict the consequences of your actions, leading to improved decision-making. You will be able to define success for yourself and then figure out ways to achieve it.
Here’s a quick rundown of what you’ll find in The Thinking Game:
Part One helps you understand the rules and realities that govern thinking.
Chapter 1 covers The Thinking Game rules. The object of the game is to achieve a goal or purpose that you have chosen. The seven rules that govern how you play the game are the rules of reality. You are free to play the game however you want but ignoring reality won’t change it. You’ll achieve greater success and satisfaction if you accept reality and work with it instead of against it.
Chapter 2 explores the unconscious mind and how it differs from the conscious mind. You’ll gain a greater understanding of how your unconscious beliefs, biases, and feelings can control your life unless you learn to manage them. With this knowledge comes power. You’ll be able to play defense to keep your unconscious mind from interfering with your conscious goals. Everyone knows defense wins championships.
Part Two provides guidance on how to improve conscious thinking.
Chapter 3 kicks things off with a discussion of the six personality traits that comprise the thinking mindset. These traits are common among the world’s greatest thinkers. By acquiring traits like curiosity and persistence, you’ll find it easier and more enjoyable to improve your thinking. This chapter also provides challenges to help you further develop each trait.
Chapter 4 identifies four core critical thinking skills and provides tips on how to strengthen each one. You get better at thinking skills through deliberate practice. The more you analyze, the better you become at analysis. The more you organize, the better you become at organization…and so on. Improving your thinking skills will allow you to get more done, in less time, with better results.
Chapter 5 outlines twelve effective thinking techniques, which are tools to prompt better critical and creative thinking. Critical thinking is logic-based. Checklists and the 5 Whys are examples of critical thinking techniques. Creative thinking is imagination-based. Meditation and Mind Mapping are examples of creative thinking techniques.
Chapter 6 wraps up Part Two with a list of questions to trigger your thinking in the major areas of your life, such as your relationships, money, and health. Asking and answering questions is fundamental to effective thinking. By asking and answering the right questions, you will become a confident, decisive, and clear thinker. As your thinking continues to improve, so will your results.
While Part Two covers how to improve conscious thinking, Part Three covers how to apply conscious thinking to the achievement of goals by following a 4-step process.
Chapter 7 discusses the first step, which is setting the right goal. By focusing on criteria such as clarity and measurability, you can accurately define what you want to happen. The information provided will help you set the appropriate goal for achieving a result, changing a habit, solving a problem, or making a decision.
Chapter 8 covers the second step, which is creating the right plan of action. A goal without a definite plan is just wishful thinking. Unlike the cartoon that solves a difficult problem by inserting “and then a miracle occurs” near the end, you must carefully think through the specific steps of your plan. This chapter provides a simple step-by-step process for creating an action plan.
Chapter 9 goes over the third step, which is taking the right action to achieve your goal. Many things can derail a plan: other people, bad luck, and your own actions – or lack of action. This chapter provides strategies for taking effective action to execute your plan and for knowing when to diverge from the plan.
Chapter 10 discusses the final step in goal achievement, which is to evaluate your results. Less successful people do not spend much time on this step. Either they achieved the goal, or they didn’t – end of story. But it is not the end of the story for successful people. They analyze the outcome, regardless of whether they succeeded or failed, and use what they learn to improve their future results. If you create after-action reports as suggested in this chapter, you will achieve your goals more quickly.
I wrote The Thinking Game because I love thinking and using analysis to understand the world. I always considered myself an effective thinker because I graduated from college with Highest Distinction, became a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) after receiving the High-Grade Award for Indiana when I passed the CPA exam, and became the Vice President of Financial Planning for an insurance company in my thirties. However, when I left the corporate world to work for myself, I realized there were chinks in my thinking armor. I excelled in structured environments where professors and employers set the goals and my job was to figure out how best to achieve them. But out on my own, I realized that while my research, analysis, and organizational skills were well honed, I needed to strengthen other thinking skills, such as decision-making. As I continued to study the mind, I discovered that effective thinkers not only consciously develop their critical and creative thinking skills, but they also learn how to harness the power of their unconscious minds. My goal in writing The Thinking Game is to help you become a more effective thinker so you can set and achieve the goals that are most important to you.
Playing The Thinking Game will help you set the right goals, create the right plans, and take the right action to get the results you want. If you enjoy thinking, you will intentionally do it more often. If you do it more often, you will get better at it. If you get better at it, you will reap the rewards of conscious thinking in the form of better outcomes, personally and professionally.
The object of The Thinking Game is to achieve a goal or purpose that you have chosen. You can play the game over and over again with different goals.
Let the game begin…