May 4

Step 1: Engage Brain

While structuring and organizing a new business venture (which I will be posting about soon), I have re-discovered something about writing and thinking: in order to write well, you need to engage your brain.

OK, OK, so it’s not that profound; it’s not a “stop the presses!” moment. I never said it was. But it has struck me anew just how little we (I should say “I,” but I’m hoping you relate to this) really think deeply about the problems, possibilities and issues of our daily lives.

Part of the reason for this is surely that thinking—pondering, musing, analyzing—is hard work, and we (and here I really should say “I”) are mentally lazy. Deep down, we would really like to just have the words flow without thought, wouldn’t we? The problem is, words without thought tend to be shallow, hackneyed clichés that fail to communicate well. Remember what the poet Sheridan said: “Easy writing’s vile hard reading.”

Another reason we do less deep thinking today is our distraction-prone culture. Social media is often cited as the main culprit, but there are plenty of other factors that deserve blame: postmodernism’s muddling of fact and opinion; our love for sound bites and talking points over reasoned discourse; and the proliferation of more and more sources of information—and disinformation.

So how do we overcome distractions and our natural inclination to avoid the hard work of deep thinking? Ironically, I have made a second re-discovery about thinking and writing, the flip side of the first: a great way to engage your brain is to write!

A central principle of communication is that language (spoken and written) is inseparable from conceptual thought. We think in words far more than we may realize, and all our writing is a product of our thought processes. So when you decide to do deep thinking, have a notepad and pen handy, and write out your thoughts. (Yes, you could tap it out on a keyboard, but it makes you more vulnerable to some of those cultural distractions.)

Are the words that I write down while thinking deeply going to be read by anyone else? Maybe not, but write as if they are. When you work to make your written thoughts understandable to a stranger, you will find that it creates new patterns of thinking, and helps you avoid shallow reasoning and cliché-ridden mental habits.

As I’ve been thinking (and writing) deeply about my new business, I am seeing previously ignored details that I can now deal with and potential pitfalls that I can now avoid. Because I have written down my thoughts as if explaining them to a stranger, I have been able to use these notes as a source for promotional/marketing copy for my company. Nothing gets wasted.

I encourage you to make a regular habit of deep thinking, accompanied by careful writing; it will lead to freshness of thought and clarity of expression. And if the notes you make from your great and profound ideas result in publishable text, all the better!