Can you think of a time when your thinking – your “quality of thought” – was as important as it is today?
I can’t. And maybe that’s because of where I am in my life, right now. Or because of the type of work I’m doing. Or because of my personal and professional interest in neuroscience.
But maybe it’s also because strong thinking skills really have become such a necessity – and not just at work.
More and more of us are paid to think for a living. We’re expected to show initiative; and creativity; and strong decision making. More and more of us are starting our own businesses, with success in large-part down to innovative ideas, thinking resilience and getting out of our comfort zones.
I can’t think of a time when our quality of thought has been more important than right now.
The quality thought challenge
Quality (cognitive) thinking is not our default. Our brain is preoccupied with its higher (survival) priorities; and it’s all-too-easy to drop into autopilot.
How do we move into positive thought patterns? The sort that comes with the useful changes in brain chemistry that accompanies new thinking and insights?
Here are 4 questions you can ask yourself: to induce new insight, jump-start new connections and develop a robust quality of thought.
Q1. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
And its variants: in 5 years? In 3 years? In 1 year? This is a vision question. And vision questions are great because, like goals and solutions, visions place us firmly in the future. They’re the North for our compass.
I’m not going to say you’ve never asked yourself this question (or one of its variants) before. But how often do we think deeply about this and really add the stretch, rather than just skimming the surface with a quick and flippant answer?
So, where do you see yourself in 10 years? Where are you? What are you doing? Who are you with? What have you accomplished? What are you most proud of? What are you saying to yourself? What are you feeling? What is most different?
Build a vivid mental picture and really add the stretch.
Q2. What is most important to you?
A values question. Values touch everything we do: at times, as values consonance; at times, as values conflict. And whilst many of us might have some stock responses to answer this question (honesty, integrity, trust, etc.), do you really know your deepest values?
I’m asking because people can go their whole lives without knowing their core values. And we need to know if we’re going to exercise our best “quality of thought”.
So, ask yourself: what is most important to me? And then ask: … and what does that give me? And keep asking it until you land on a value that resonates.
What is most important to me? Money. And what does money give me? Choice. And what does choice give me? Options. And what does option give me? Freedom. And what does freedom give me? Security. And what does security give me? Independence. So whilst I started talking about money, the value I uncovered was independence.
Uncover your core values: dig deeper.
Q3. What gives your life meaning?
Right now, it’s popular to talk about your passion. Or about “your why”. I prefer to talk about purpose. Knowing our purpose helps to clarify the root of our pursuits: our vision; our goals; our business; our career. Purpose helps convert extrinsic goals (externally imposed on us) into intrinsic goals (that we truly own), keeps us motivated and make the difficult choices.
So ask: what do you believe is your life purpose? What inspires you? What do you feel passionate about? When are you happiest? When and where do you have most influence? What do you want to be remembered for?
Reflect on your purpose and find your personal mission statement.
Q4. What belief is keeping you from want you want?
A beliefs question. Beliefs are assumptions and presuppositions we hold to be true – and that then influence our behaviours. They can be empowering. And they can be limiting. And much of the time, they operate outside of our immediate awareness.
Asking yourself a beliefs question brings those beliefs into conscious awareness and gives us the opportunity to moderate them. So, ask yourself: what belief is keeping me from want I want? And then ask: Is it true? Am I sure? How do I know?
Whatever you decide about your belief, notice the impact the belief is having on you. Ask: what happens when I think the thought? How am I doing the belief?
And now consider making a change: what would I accomplish without the thought? Who would I be without the thought?
Challenge your belief: is it true?
The quality thought habit
Quality of thought is a skill and a habit that can be developed: over time; and with practise. Start developing the habit by asking questions that provide the challenge and stretch the brain craves.