The Art of Thinking Clearly

In Book Reviews on November 6, 2013 at 7:53 pm
Sceptre 2013

Sceptre 2013

This is not a how-to book. you won’t find ‘seven steps to an error-free life’ here. Cognitive errors are far too ingrained for us to be able to rid ourselves of them completely. Silencing them would require superhuman willpower, but that isn’t even a worthy goal. Not all cognitive errors are toxic, and some are even necessary for leading a good life. Although this book may not hold the key to happiness, at the very least it acts as insurance against too much self-induced unhappiness.

Soooo…self-help books, eh Buffy? Yes indeedy. I tend to sprinkle them into my reading between the zombie, fantasy and sci-fi books. This is just the first time I’ve ever told you about them.

I really put the ‘anal’ in analysis when it comes to looking at my own behaviour and I frequently think about why I do the things I do. I don’t always change things about myself but I try to be really honest when I look at who I really am. It’s a difficult thing to do because a lot of times I see more flaws that strengths. But let’s not call them flaws, dear friends. Let’s think of them as ‘ways in which I can improve’. One of my strengths is that I’m always looking for insight on ways in which I can become a better person.

Thus my interest in self-help books.

One must take these books with a grain of salt, however. I always try to remember that a person wrote whatever self-help book I’m reading and he or she will not always have all of the answers. The contents within the book are based upon the author’s experiences and they might not match up with mine. Some of the things that the author writes about may not apply to me at all.

I think it’s important to be able to pick and choose what’s applicable, especially since many of these books have conflicting views.

I was drawn to this book because of the title. Thinking is important. I like doing it and thinking clearly is an attraction for me. (This all may seem obvious, but I come in contact with people who don’t think. Daily.)

The author doesn’t claim to be an expert in psychology and he references other research to back up his statements. This actually started as a list he created of various cognitive errors and he didn’t originally intend to publish it. There are 99 errors listed in this book (insert inappropriate Jay-Z song quote here) and I found many of them to be very interesting. There were some that blatantly apply to me (such as procrastination) and some that I’m not really guilty of (such as social proof. eg. if everyone is looking into the sky, I won’t look to see what they’re looking at).

I liked the format of this book. Approximately 2 1/2 pages is devoted to each error. It’s a brief overview of each one, but I feel that I could do further research if I ever feel that I need to read more about a particular one.

One of the common things he writes about is how our behaviour is influenced by our hunter-gatherer past.

…activity paid off more often than reflection did. Lightning-fast reactions were vital and long ruminations were ruinous. If your hunter-gatherer buddies suddenly bolted, it made sense to follow suit… if you failed to run away… the price of a first-degree error was death… It paid to be wrong about the same things. Whoever was wired differently exited the gene pool after the first or second incidence. We are the descendants of those homines sapientes who tend to scarper when the crowd does. But in the modern world, this intuitive behaviour is disadvantageous. Today’s world rewards single-minded contemplation and independent action.

Those last two sentences are beautiful to me. I’ve always been a loner. I (sometimes stubbornly) avoid bandwagons and do my own thing with very little care about what people think about me. We all care to some extent, but I’m pretty immune to peer pressure and pretty much do as I please.

The one thing that I didn’t really like about this book is that it’s a bit cynical. In fact, that was the overall tone of the book. I actively rebel against my cynical nature and am trying to be more optimistic about things, so that aspect didn’t really appeal to me. I believe that we should question what we think and why we think it. We should be our toughest inquisitors when it comes to our values and beliefs. If something stands up to my own questioning, then I feel that it’s worth keeping. He encourages us, in this book, to do that very thing. However, I don’t believe that to be logical means that I have to be cynical.

While this book has many useful things in it that will refer to from time to time, I haven’t come away from it with a list of things I want to do immediately. What I’ve come away with is the even stronger realisation that I am a creature of emotion. I’m not always rational or logical (my husband would be more than happy to confirm that) but I am a woman of many passions who feels things intensely. I would never trade my fire for stone-cold logic. It would make me much less Buffy.

  1. Sounds like a good read- thanks for sharing your thoughts. From and entrepreneurial POV, being able to think independently combined with the ability to correctly access what the main “group think” is are the two prime ingredients for a successful venture.

    I also hear you on the “meeting non-thinkers daily” problem. It’s a shame modern society caters so much to these individuals by happily doing their thinking for them rather than encouraging independent thought.

    • This is really good for business-minded people as there are a lot of corporate examples. I also love learning about why we do the things we do.

      Yes, I find it sad when people don’t think for themselves. However, it’s always really nice to meet people who are also introspective. Thank you so much for commenting. It would be great to know what you think of this book if you decide to read it.

  2. Interesting. I wonder how I would think of myself after reading about our thinking “errors”.

    Also makes me wonder why they are termed ‘errors’ at all.

    • I guess I probably should have posted some examples. Some of them are things such as the illusion of control. We don’t have as much control over things in our lives as we think we do. Another is that we’re not as smart as we think we are. He also talks about the fallacy of beginner’s luck. There are a lot of things we do that would cause us a lot less trouble or help us to get further in life if we actively thought about what we’re doing. I don’t think that it would be possible to change the way we think completely, but some of these things seem useful to at least be aware of.

  3. I read a lot of psychology nonfic myself; it’s interesting to delve into the mechanisms of thought and response. Haven’t read this one, but there are a few I’d suggest, like Unthinkable and…there are others but I haven’t sorted a NonFic category from my GoodReads account, so I can’t remember. v_v Too much manga to page through. Anyway, might look this one up, sounds interesting.

  4. Good post! I believe in much of what you say here. It’s good to take “pause” for introspection. Noting our faults and examining why we do them is great. I like to take things one step further, in one area.

    I need to know who I am and why I do the things I do, but I want to try and improve on the things I don’t want in my life…a kind of “who can I become” attitude.

    Self-improvement is such a personal thing, but it is a worthy pursuit.


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