How To Think Logically: The Principles of Making Better Decisions

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You probably suck at thinking. It then follows that you suck at making decisions.

Most suck at both, so don't feel bad.

No one teaches us how to think? Have you ever taken a "How To Think" class?

Doubt it.

Here’s the reality of your, my, everybody’s situation:

You are a sack of flesh and bones which amount to a small pile of stardust when picked apart, yet you possess the most powerful machine the Universe has ever seen right between your two ears. Your human brain is also missing a manual. There is no tech support you can reach out to when you have a problem.

So what you have to do is figure it out through trial and error and hopefully get some advice from other humans, most of whom suffer from the same lack of a manual that you do.

The thing I want to focus on today is a first principle of the human condition. To start, we need to go back to Ancient Greece.

Let's kick it off with a simple quote from my favorite Stoic philosopher:

“It's not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”

  • Epictetus

Accepting things outside of your control is a foundational tenant of Stoicism. People need to understand and accept this idea more than ever, which is why Stoicism has surged in popularity in recent years.

This idea is the lens we're going to use to get better at thinking logically and making better decisions in general.

The first way to immediately level up your thinking is to stop wasting time with bad thinking patterns.

What are bad thinking patterns?

Well, there are many, but they usually stem from not respecting the quote above.

Most people spend time blaming others and playing the victim—poor me, how could they, etc.

This thinking trap is nothing more than gunk clogging up your mind, and it keeps you from thinking logically.

Simply put: don't think emotionally.

If you think emotionally, you aren't thinking logically. If you are thinking logically, you aren't thinking emotionally.

See how that works?

So the first principle of thinking logically is removing emotion. You do this by first identifying the law of your reality: only you can control how you respond.

You can never change the past no matter how many dreams of Marty Mcfly you wake up to. The past is the ultimate grounding tool for reality: it forces you to accept the game and take responsibility for playing by the rules rather than wishing it was some other way. As crazy as it is, many ignore these truisms of reality, wishing things were different, and they stay stuck as a result.

Now that we've established some ground rules for thinking better—accept things outside your control and remove emotion—we can get to the other piece of the puzzle: personal responsibility.

Ownership

Extreme ownership is a book you should read. The concept is a counterintuitive way of thinking more logically. It doesn't seem like it should help you think better, but oh does it.

You see, most people waste time in hypotheticals, what-ifs, and maybes. These are often based on other people or external circumstances, or more simply put, things outside of one's control.

Spending mental energy here is a gigantic waste of time. All it does is pull your mind away from things that actually matter.

Taking extreme ownership of your situation and what you're going to do is paramount to thinking logically. Ownership is also integral to the Stoic principle of accepting things outside of your control.

So what does this taking ownership thing look like?

Well, the answer to this can be highly person dependent, but it generally involves intense focus on yourself and what you can do.

For example, start with making lists about possible actions you can take. Pro and con lists are useful, as are feature lists and benefits lists. You brain-dump into a journal anything that comes to mind.

By focusing on yourself and taking full responsibility for thinking about your situation, you'll uncover better ideas for thinking logically, critically, and unemotionally, and this will help you get better results in life across the board.

The principles of thinking logically:

  1. Accept the things outside of yourself rather than wasting time or energy fretting over them.
  2. Channel your focus into what you can control as the center of your thinking.
  3. Take extreme ownership of the things in your control and reason up from there.

There are other strategies for thinking logically and some situations that may be more abstract and less on your shoulders, but you can't go wrong with building these principles into strong thinking muscles.

They are, after all, first principles of life, not just thinking, and are worth the investment.