The gist of Think Straight focuses on the number of thoughts a person has per day, and pointless most of those are. The author, Darius Foroux, doubts the productivity of a ‘preoccupied’ mind. In this book, he explains how our thoughts tend to work against us, instead of for us.
By admitting that people have no control over their minds, people let their minds free. Instead, one must master their mind. Foroux says that people have the choice of what they think, however people rarely use it. Once the mind is brought in control, we can revolutionize every aspect of our life.
Foroux is an entrepreneur, blogger, and podcaster. He is the co-founder of a laundry technology company, while his blogs focus on life, productivity, and business. His podcast, called The Darius Foroux Show, has hosted several ‘thought’ leaders. ‘Thought’ leaders consist of leaders who propagate a certain flow of thought.
1. You Become What You Think
The book opens with the story of a medical school student who contemplated suicide for several years. Coupled with anxiety and hallucinations, the young student believed there was no way out of it. His depression seems to have passed onto him from his father, thus being a biological inevitability.
However, he kept these thoughts of suicide at bay and began ‘rationalizing’ the concept of suicide. When he came across an essay by a French philosopher, his belief in free will strengthen. His thought of free will was not the ability to do anything, instead, it was the freedom to think anything. He was then able to break free from the clutches of depression.
This young man grew up to one of the leading psychologists of America, William James. The basis of his teaching is control over thoughts. While James openly admits that consciousness cannot be controlled, a conscious effort can be made to choose which thought gets our focus.
2. The Importance Of Practical Thinking
The human brain is one of the most awe-inspiring “machines”. It is capable of tasks greater than any technology. Perhaps this is also its intimidating feature. The mind is so complex that we tend to assume it knows better. This makes us, an intelligent species, also an impractical one.
Theoretically, all our thoughts are based on logic. It seems rather futile for the mind to do something illogical. But research reveals that our thoughts are based less on logic, but more on desire. Particularly, the desire to view ourselves in the way we want to be. Most of our thoughts stem from instincts, emotions, and misinformation. Rather, they should be based on practicality and the right information.
3. Use What Works
The notion that life is full of ups and downs is overrated. The truth is it does not need to be. Insignificant mood changes over a day are the testimony of the brain’s hold on our mind. By giving in to the desires of the mind, we enslave ourselves.
A perfect scenario would be the opposite. Instead of letting the brain use us, we must use our minds to achieve what we want. Thoughts go a long way to improve our life. Once we make a conscious effort to know the difference between what we want and what we need, we can do the same things about our thoughts.
Our thoughts need not be the truth, either. Thoughts and opinions are subjective and sometimes, so is the truth. The first step to mastering the mind is to check the facts, listen to other views, and then derive practical conclusions.
4. Clear Thinking Requires Training
To gain skills for the professional world, we attend colleges. To make our body fit, we train in the gym. So, to get better at anything and to achieve what we want, we turn to some sort of training. The same logic is applied to our mind – if we want it to behave a certain way, we must train it.
We tend to get tangled in the familiar routines. We harbor thoughts that have some context. Over time, these thoughts limit us. Our brain is full of emotions or thoughts, but we must train it like our skills or our body.
5. From Chaos To Clarity
The brain is complex, and so are its thoughts. When someone envisions their thoughts, they view a cobweb of thoughts – chaotic and unorganized. The cobweb consists of mostly useless, impractical, and dramatic ideas. When a stressful situation is looked back on, we tend to realize that the drama quotient of our brain was high. This is because we can visualize the past situation in a much clearer picture.
Instead, we must view the present situation clearly. Realizations in the future can do little to no good. Thus, we must work on the cobweb of present thoughts. The author refers to it as ‘a mush of useless thoughts’ – which contain resentment, stress, and confusion. The foremost step is changing the conformation of the cobweb.
The mush must be converted into a singular thought. A thought which is practical and useful to the present situation. That is the clarity we require during the most stressful situations. Emphasizing on the problem can only reiterate the problem to our brain, which feeds on it and makes the situation more dramatic than it needs to be. To combat all this, we only need one clear solution.
6. A Very Brief History Of Thinking
Philosophers from the dawn of time have emphasized on the importance of thoughts. The notion of ‘thoughts are important’ has revised to ‘not all thoughts are equal’. The ancient philosophers realized that the human brain was a machine to solve problems; but over time, it became the source of problems.
The best way to realize the above situation is to write down thoughts every two hours. At the end of the day, review these thoughts. Categorize them as useless or useful. Simple logic suggests that a useless thought must be eliminated.
7. Life Is Not Linear
Plans in life are usually constructed linearly. An event A will lead to an event B, followed by event C. Finally, the goal will be achieved. But the fact is that life is seldom linear. It goes through a series of troubleshoots and detours to reach the destination if any.
The notion that life is linear can bring in negative thoughts. To receive a detour when we are expecting a linear line is perceived as a sign of failure. In fact, a detour can help us experience the other route and perhaps, get us something better. A linear line is simple, and life is not known to be simple.
A detour lets us appreciate the reward and collect small rewards on the journey. If we are working in the right direction, we will reach the destination with extra rewards. Rewards that we would have lost out on if we were to continue on the straight path.
8. Connect The Dots
Our brain works in context. It compares the present situation to a past one. It connects the hypothetical dots of our thoughts to generate a logical thought. Once we learn this mechanism, it will be easier to feed the right information to the brain.
The author suggests the readers keep reading and learning. Knowledge will form the dots in the brain and sometimes along the non-linear path of life, the brain will connect the dots. But being idle will not help the cause. We must feed the brain with the necessary knowledge for it to connect the dots. This connection can occur at the right moment and may present the correct solution for the situation.
9. Filter Your Thoughts
The mush of useless thoughts can weigh our actions down. Thus, filtering our thoughts should be a priority. The filtering process consists of shortcuts called heuristics. A heuristic is a plan drawn from prior experience with a similar problem. The most popular version of heuristic is trial and error. However, it is a tedious and long process, impractical to be applied to each situation.
The heuristic of social proof is also an impractical one. It filters our thoughts based on what others say. Thus, it channels their bias and prejudices and introduces them to our thoughts, thereby losing our individuality.
The familiarity heuristic draws energy from familiar places and deep-rooted favorites. Over time, this familiarity changes to boredom and monotony. The familiarity heuristic is profitable for being certain, but it is equally useless for breakthroughs.
Instead of using heuristics, we must use pragmatism. Pragmatism is the concept of using what words – “True is what works”. This does not refer to doing things that can be damaging to us. Instead, it propagates choosing what is beneficial for us and making it our truth. This way, only the thoughts which can impact our habits are generated.
10. Stop “Thinking”
Worrying and stress often manifest as thinking. The thoughts we seem to be swarmed by are generated by our inner prejudices and not factored by our surroundings. Instead of these, we must focus on the awareness of the thoughts.
We cannot control our consciousness. It seems to have been nurtured on the path of worry and self-doubt, which is out of our control. However, our conscious mind can be aware of the presence of such thoughts. It must know the difference between real thinking and this form of thinking. Once the awareness settles in, the influx of these thoughts will be cut off at the root.
11. Inside Your Control vs Outside Your Control
Since it is important to be aware of what we can control and what we cannot, we must concentrate on factors that can be controlled. The author suggests that would eliminate 99% of the problems which are not in our hands. Things like actions, desires, words, and intentions can be controlled.
The two main types of useful thoughts are – to solve a problem and to understand knowledge. Every other thought, including fantasizing about the future, is classified into useless. Soon, these fantasies may begin haunting us and thus, it is practical to eliminate them.
12. Don’t Trust Your Mind
As mentioned before, we can judge our past actions sitting in the present. We also notice they were dramatic and unnecessary. This is proof that we cannot trust our minds to calculate judgments. A cognitive bias is an error in the thought process that can influence our judgments and decisions.
Attention bias is a kind of cognitive bias that suggests that life is an outcome of our thoughts. An influx of negative thoughts can adversely affect our body and vice versa is more desirable. The confirmation bias is our tendency to obey our preconceptions. It is our desire to prove that we are right and finding clues that help us prove that. This kind of bias is the result of our beliefs and not our facts. Incidentally, it is the most widespread bias. Instead, we must gain more knowledge and primarily look at the facts. Facts that stem from a background and a credible source.
We must keep aside prejudices and biases. Over time, these facts will be engrained in our cognitive biases. Thus, we must differentiate between a bad-informed decision and a good-informed decision.
13. True vs Untrue
It is well-known that opinions are subjective. As pragmatism dictates, the truth is what works. So, in a way, subjective opinions form interpretative realities. Thus, what is true for one person may be untrue for the other. However, these truths must originate from facts rather than desire.
It is also futile to convince someone of your truth. It is a waste of time and can introduce bias in our own minds. Also, deliberately introducing prejudice into someone’s mind is restricting them. If their prejudices penetrate our minds, we lose out on mastering our minds.
14. Take Your Time To Think
The greatest thinkers from the dawn of time were not fast-thinkers. Instead, they dedicated their lives to certain thoughts – thus, taking their time to think and form decisions. Decisions taken in a haste are outcomes of biases and prejudices, instead of facts.
Slow thinking must be not to be perceived as negative. A person cannot be expected to know everything. “I don’t know” must be an acceptable answer. It can delay the span of answering, giving us more time to think, and generating a logical answer.
15. Release Your Mind
The brain develops in stages, just like everything else. It takes time and effort. Setbacks can be encountered and that is the real test – whether we quit or not. At the end of each development stage, we encounter a wall. This wall tends to test everything we have learned and is a door pass to the next stage.
Instead of a wall being a stop, it must be perceived as a pause. It helps us pause and indicate the end of a stage. Each stage harbors skills and thus, a wall is a positive indicator. We have put time and effort throughout the stage, but the rest is also important. The wall is, in fact, associated with a small break for the brain before reinterring the arena.
16. Draw Your Thoughts
Images were the means of communication before the arrival of language. Since we have come a long way from the time of images, we must comprehend the importance of drawing. Drawing our thoughts does a similar function – helps us visualize what we want and helps us work towards it.
17. Be Yourself (Not What You Should Be)
Since we each have our truths, we must understand which are ours and which are not. By being self-aware, we can be true to ourselves. By realizing what we want – not what others want from us – we can achieve clarity in our thoughts. Each action is accompanied by a thought – which must be ours. With each action, we can know more about ourselves. Eventually, we will be able to act on our truths more accurately.
18. Take Time To Reflect
We all lead busy lives. Whether we stay immersed in our thoughts or our tasks, the day tends to go by. Thinking logically takes a back seat during these events of the day. But it should one of our priorities.
Reflection is crucial to understand which direction we are leading towards. Without reflection, our mistakes and shortcomings will go unnoticed – until a crisis is reached. A monotonous routine seems correct until a solution is needed for a problem. We then need to collect all our thoughts and generate a logical decision. As mentioned before, a quick decision is not a good-informed one. Thus, to stay in sync with our thoughts, we must take time to reflect.
19. Practical Money Rules
Money is important in the modern world. It is a misconception that money drives us. Instead, we should drive the money. Doing a job for money can be beneficial for some time, but it takes us away from our true nature. It can take a mental toll on us as well.
Thus, the author devised rules for money which can minimize the value we impart to money without devaluing it.
- Buying only what we need
- Saving 10% of the month’s income
- Staying out of debt
- Invest in things with a return
- Not being miserly
Most importantly, we must invest in our skills. Job and money will come with efforts, but we need the necessary skills to make the efforts. Once the money is lost, it can be earned back. However, time cannot be. By investing in ourselves and our skills, we are making our time worthwhile.
20. Be Unconventional
A part of being true to ourselves is doing what feels right for us. If being unconventional is the way to being true, then that is the right path. Following convention can do someone else good but may be detrimental to us. We must also stop our minds from wondering the “what if?”
Convention says we must choose. But sometimes, it is necessary. If two things seem important to us, we must find a way to do them both. It does not need to be “this or that”, instead it must be “this and that”.
21. Take Thinking Out Of The Equation
Thinking is of two types – useless and useful. Useless thoughts keep us confined to a physical and mental space. Useful thoughts compel us to put ourselves out there and take action. By taking thinking out of the equation, we introduce actions into it. A useful thought leads to action and hence, the equation becomes all about the action rather than the thought.
Thoughts often present themselves as questions. They ask “why” or “how”, but when we know an action is necessary, we do not need to think much about the logistics of it. Instead, our thoughts should dictate the action. Making a to-do list with straight instructions is better than filling our heads with questions about the plausibility of an action.
22. Don’t Live With Regrets and Never Look Back
Regrets not products of things we have done in life, instead are those of the things we did not. Unless we try new things, we will never know if they cater to our needs. Looking back on the things we did is a waste of time. That time has gone by and by thinking about, we are wasting the now. Thus, let go of the past and concentrate on the present.
23. Think Beyond Yourself
We can be true to ourselves and still be possess philanthropy. Being true to ourselves is not a shortcut to being selfish. It is about preaching what we believe in and being better for it. Incidentally, if others also believe in our truth, it can bring about a change in the world. One of the themes of the book, pragmatism, is credited Willian James instead of Charles Sanders Pierce.
James thought beyond himself and credited a person who deserved it. Along the way, they introduced a revolutionizing concept to philosophy and psychology. Many swear by it as their way of life. Thus, William James played a part in changing society. He was first true to himself, formed a thought process, and upon realizing it could be beneficial to the others, passed it onto the world.