What’s on your list for today?
Shaping a vision? Planning a project? Working through a To Do list of actions? Perhaps something creative?
Whatever’s on the agenda, you can get it done quicker, to a higher standard and with less “brain spend” by choosing your thinking. That is: noticing what type of thinking you’re engaged in; and then consciously choosing to place your focus there.
Have you ever noticed that when you lump together like-thinking tasks (for example, a string of phone calls or working through your email inbox), you rattle through them? You’re in the zone? You’re in flow?
And have you also noticed the converse: that when your thinking is jumping around, everything is that little bit harder? And the result a little less than your normal high standards?
That’s because our brains have different circuits for different types of thinking. And jumping between them comes at a cost. So instead: choose your focus.
Your thinking circuits (from bottom to top)
When it comes to brain circuitry, there are 5 levels of thinking. Starting from the bottom …
5. Drama Thinking
At the bottom is Drama Thinking. A misnomer – because when we’re in the drama, there’s no thinking going on! Just giving it a name (“hold on, I’m in the drama here”) will help bring it into awareness and give you the opportunity to choose a different level of thinking.
4. Problem Thinking
Also unhelpful is Problem Thinking. Thinking about problems just strengthens those circuits – and finds more problems! Choose a higher level of thinking and go looking for solutions instead.
3. Detail Thinking
This is the day-to-day and, along with Problem Thinking, where most of us spend most of our thinking time. Detail Thinking is great if we know what we’re doing and are now just churning through the actions. Not so great if we don’t yet have the plan (Planning Thinking) for achieving our goal (Vision Thinking).
2. Planning Thinking
Planning Thinking is about how we get there. It’s about defining the strategy for achieving our goal (Vision Thinking) that will break-down the steps and give shape to our actions (Detail Thinking).
1. Vision Thinking
The top level of thinking. This is where our goals reside; where we want to get to. Vision Thinking is about direction and purpose. Vision Thinking is not detailed; it’s broad and emotive. And hugely motivating! The secret to Vision Thinking is to remind ourselves there’s plenty of time later for the how (Planning Thinking); right now is the what.
Choose your focus
Whenever you’re thinking about an issue or working on a project, these 5 levels of thinking are a simple distinction to give yourself some choice over where to put your energies.
Remembering that our brains love to work along one set of circuits at a time, here are 4 ways this simple model can improve your performance.
- Build the “quality of thought” habit. Take a more efficient and effective approach to thinking by noticing what type of thinking is required and most useful; and then making a conscious choice to work in that area. Start by saying to yourself: “Vision Thinking hat on” and consciously postpone subsequent Planning and Detail thinking. Once you’ve crafted the goal, then move on to Planning. When Planning is complete, then move on to Detail.
- Snap yourself out of unhelpful thinking patterns. Use the labels “Problem Thinking” and “Drama Thinking” to help spot that you’ve slipped into unhelpful thinking patterns;. Then take a choice to bring the thinking up a level.
- Improve your thinking approach to almost any task. Almost all tasks and activities have a Vision, Plan and Detail element to them. Improve your quality of thought (and that of those around you) by starting just with Vision Thinking; then moving to Planning Thinking; and then Detail Thinking.
- Architect a brain-friendly day. You know how beneficial it is to group similar types of thinking. Take a look at your list for today. How could you reorganise it to ensure like-thinking activities are massed together?
Over the next few days, try choosing your focus and see what it does for your quality of thought.