Some Tips From a Thoughtful Book on Thinking

I picked up The Thinking Life: How to Thrive in the Age of Distraction
because of the promise of the title. It is chock full of down to earth tips and advice to encourage us to take the time to use our brains more for contemplation and introspection.

There are chapters on the following topics:

  • Why You Don’t Think and Why You Should
  • Finding the Time to Think
  • Attention: Awareness and Much More
  • Reflection: The Art of Going Over Your Life
  • Introspection: Self-Knowledge for Success
  • Exercising Self-Control
  • Embracing the Positive
  • Being Proactive
  • Making Wise Decisions
  • Nuturing Outstanding Thinking: Insight, Discovery, and Creativity
  • Managing Adversity
  • Choosing to Be Thoughtful
  • Conclusion: We Are What We Think

The author, P. M. Forni has created here a very thoughtful book about thinking. Even the tips at the end of the chapter are not “next actions” but are more often or not, items to think about.

Sometimes I felt that I was listening to Ophelia’s Father, Polonius as he gives his fatherly advice to his son, including the counsel to  “Neither a borrower nor a lender be”. Maybe it is because book relies more heavily on common wisdom, with some anecdotes but less on the neurological science common in the recent stream of self help books.

There are some valuable nuggets such as this paragraph that stood out:

I am not arguing that reality exists only as a mind construct. We are, however, all under the spell of an illusion of sorts. The illusion is that we are one with life, when instead life’s experience is always a mind-mediated one. As the great Stoic philosopher Epictetus observed with utter clarity two thousand years ago, it is not things in themselves that disturb us, but rather what we think of them.

You will note that he quotes one of the Stoics. He does rely on classic thinkers to illustrate some of his points and also a few more modern writers.

I found it interesting that he take Nike to task for promulgating the culture of throwing caution to the wind with “Just Do It”, since I have always understood it to mean, “get off the couch and take action”, not “mindlessly take action”.

Some sections are a little confusing. He debunks the myth of NASA developing a space pen while the Russians were smart enough to just use a pencil, where the truth is that both programs bought from the Fisher Space Pen Company, He then goes ahead and uses the apocryphal story to make his point about creativity.

Forni references the classics, both the society of stoics and the temple at Delphi as well as modern experts such as Martin Seligman, author of Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life.

I found this book to be a real jewel when closely read and pondered. This is no easy collection of checklists, but is rather a gathering of small essays and that discuss the benefits of thinking in all areas of life, and provide suggestions on how to raise our thinking to a new level and to realize the associated benefits.

In what areas of life do you think you could improve your thinking?

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