Have you ever had moments when thinking clearly was just impossible? Times when, no matter how hard you struggled or tried to concentrate, your mind just kept tying itself in knots?
If your answer to this question is “yes,” you’re not alone. Everybody thinks they know how to think. But few people have given any real attention to the topic of clear-headed, critical reasoning.
It’s difficult to understate the value of clear thinking, both in personal and professional contexts. Individuals who choose to develop this useful skill immediately give themselves an advantage, whether dealing with corporate clients, navigating the tricky parts of a romantic relationship, or so much more.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at seven practical ways of developing clear and incisive thinking habits and skills.
What Does “Clear Thinking” Actually Mean?
The term “clear thinking” is bandied about a lot. But what does it actually mean?
Clear thinking comprises a collection of related skills. Clear thinkers can articulate ideas in an understandable fashion, work logically through problems, infer valid conclusions, and reflect on and account for small details.
Fundamentally, clear thinking is about understanding which external conditions encourage lucidity, awareness and concentration and applying the rules of logic and reason to thought-based tasks.
Knowing how to structure a sound and valid argument is a big part of the story. But developing consistent habits is equally, if not more, important.
1. Cultivate Mindfulness
Mindfulness is a potent tool when it comes to clear thinking.
Mindfulness creates “distance” between thoughts, allowing you to evaluate them from an impartial, unemotional position.
What’s more, by having greater awareness about your thoughts, you are more likely to notice flaws in your thinking processes and fallacious lines of reasoning.
Research into mindfulness is growing rapidly, and studies have demonstrated that mindfulness-based therapies are at least as effective as more established alternatives in some contexts.
One easy way of getting started is to set yourself “mindfulness reminders,” which will prompt you to maintain awareness and focus throughout the day. As you might have guessed, there are lots of apps to help with this.
2. Eliminate Distractions
Clear thinking requires a certain degree of attentional focus and stability. You need to be able to keep your mind on one thing.
If your attention is dispersed because you’re checking WhatsApp messages one moment and reading news stories another, then it’s impossible to fully apply yourself to the kind of in-depth discursive reasoning required to work through arguments, process new information, and form valid conclusions.
Organizing your room or going on a social media “fast” may be beneficial over the short term. But to really deal with distractions on an ongoing basis, you need to develop positive long-term habits.
Think about ways you can eliminate distractions from your life. Examples might include not using social media during work periods, leaving your mobile phone outside of your office, or blocking news sites during the day.
3. Fuel Your Brain
Certain foods, especially refined carbs and those high in added sugar, can cause a state called “brain fog,” in which it becomes difficult to think clearly.
What’s more, many healthy foods, including berries, leafy green vegetables, nuts, seeds and even dark chocolate, have been linked to increased brain and memory performance.
Making healthy diet choices and opting for non-sugary snacks are among the most practical and immediate things you can do to foster clear thinking. Certain vitamins such as B12, iron, and zinc are also directly linked to cognitive health, so it’s also a good idea to check that you’re getting the right amounts of these essential nutrients.
4. Start a Daily Meditation Practice
Meditation has a wide range of research-backed benefits. When it comes to clear thinking, one positive outcome is particularly notable: relaxation.
When you’re stressed and anxious, it becomes difficult to work steadily and thoroughly through a problem. Stress leads to racing thoughts and catastrophizing, neither of which is conducive to clear, effective thinking.
Meditating for as little as ten minutes per day can have long-lasting and tangible effects. Setting up a regular daily practice, possibly with the help of an app like Headspace, will increase your overall level of calm throughout the whole day.
5. Organize Your Workspace
Ever heard the adage “Tidy room, tidy mind”? Well, it’s not just a throwaway piece of advice that’s uttered by beleaguered parents attempting to get their children to clean their rooms. Studies have shown that organized spaces are good for us.
Working in an orderly environment boosts concentration and cultivates calm, both of which contribute to clear thinking. One study also demonstrated a link between reduced clutter and increased academic performance.
Cleaning guru Marie Kondo has become a household name in recent years for her revolutionary stance on tidying and streamlining one’s possessions. Her fame and success are likely a result of the real psychological benefits that come from decluttering.
6. Take Regular Breaks (Preferably Outdoors)
Breaks have an array of benefits, from eradicating decision fatigue to restoring concentration and motivation. Thinking clearly requires mental resources, and taking breaks allows you to replenish these resources.
Human beings have limited attention spans. While omitting breaks to work longer hours may seem like a good idea on the surface, it’s an approach that’s almost certain to diminish productivity.
You can also give your breaks an added boost by going outside. Research shows that undertaking activities in nature leads to short and long-term improvements in mental health, including reduced stress and anger, improved mood, and greater self-esteem.
7. Don’t Underestimate the Importance of Sleep
Over the last several years, a retinue of scientists, business leaders, celebrities and other public figures have come out to promote the benefits of sleep and dispel the myth that working longer means working better.
Good sleep habits are irrefutably linked with mental clarity and better judgment.
If you want to think more clearly, ensure that you are getting between seven and eight hours of sleep every night, which seems to be the sweet spot for most people. And if you’re the kind of person that struggles to drift off, try removing artificial sources of light, which are known to inhibit sleep, from your room.
Develop Your Critical Thinking Skills with EU Business School
Clear thinking is a vital life skill. If you’re planning to pursue a career in business, the ability to think and reason skillfully and critically will be a valuable asset for navigating what is often a complex and highly competitive space.
At EU Business School, we offer a wide range of bachelor’s, master’s, and MBA courses, all of which are designed to cultivate students’ business talents and help them develop incisive thinking skills.