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I find the concept of clear thinking to be very important in many aspects of life, from personal emotional health to relationships to politics to academic and scholarly work. I would define clear thinking as thinking in which your thoughts use valid reasoning, accurately reflect reality to the greatest degree possible, and lead into constructive action rather than inaction or counterproductive actions.
Clear thinking is a nuanced concept, and it does not have a single clear opposite. Clouded thinking, irrational thinking, or biased thinking all provide examples of thinking that is not clear. But thinking can be clouded or distorted in so many different ways, whereas clear thinking requires a bunch of different things to be happening correctly.
If you are thinking clearly, your thoughts will exhibit the following characteristics:
- You will use sound logic and reasoning in drawing conclusions.
- You will openly admit "I don't know" when you do not know something.
- You will distinguish things that you know with certainty (objective facts), from things that you have an intuition or hunch about (subjective thoughts).
- Your intuitions will tend to be accurate more often than not, and will offer a more extensive picture of reality than the things which you know with greater certainty.
- The feelings resulting from your thoughts will be appropriate to the situation at hand, and adaptive for producing positive and desired results in the situation.
- You will see shades of gray as shades of gray rather than black or white. For example, you will view individuals as complex, capable of both good and evil acts, rather than labelling them as wholly good or evil individuals. You will be able to see potential good in seemingly bad situations, as well as seeing points of caution in seemingly good situations.
- Your thoughts will flow continuously from one to the next, and will flow naturally into actions, rather than getting stuck on one particular troubling thought.
How to achieve clear thinking?
There are numerous ways to help maintain clear thinking. Here are some of the approaches that I have personally found to be most useful:
- Keep your body in balance: The mind-body connection is very powerful, and the state of your body definitely influences the clarity of your thinking. Some key tips for maintaining clear thinking are to get adequate sleep, exercise regularly, and eat a healthy, well-balanced diet.
- Keep your stress and anxiety level as low as possible. Anxiety and clouded thinking go hand-in-hand, in a cycle that can be hard to break. Irrational thoughts can fuel or cause anxiety, and if you are stressed, it will make it harder for you to think with clarity. I have a few tips on how to combat anxiety.
- Be conscious of your use of language: I find that language and word choice is a key way in which we can influence our thinking. Key aspects which I have found important are avoiding the use of the word "should", and avoiding labels attached to individuals or groups of people.
How to know when you are thinking clearly or not:
If you catch yourself using any logical fallacies, it is a sign that you are not thinking clearly, but being aware of the rationality or irrationality of your thoughts is difficult and something that most people cannot do in all situations.
From my experience, the easiest way to tell how you are thinking is to pay attention to how you feel, because your feelings flow naturally from your thoughts and your emotional state corresponds rather closely to the state of your thoughts at any point in time. Ask yourself the question: "Are my emotions helping or hindering me in this situation?" If your emotions are appropriate to the situation and are helping you, you are probably thinking clearly. If, on the other hand, your emotions seem out of proportion or inappropriate, it's probably a sign that your thinking is clouded or irrational in some way.
Your intuition can also provide you valuable feedback as to the rationality of your thoughts. If your intuition proves to be grossly wrong in some situation, it is usually a sign that there is some false or incorrect assumption lurking somewhere in your mind.
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