Can changing your thinking really change your life? Consider this: I’ve studied successful people for forty years, and though the diversity you find among them is astounding, I believe they are all alike in one way: how they think! That is the one thing that separates the successful from the unsuccessful.

The good news is that it’s possible to learn how to think like a successful person. But before we can learn from a good thinker, we need to know what they look like.  You often hear someone say that a colleague or friend is a “good thinker,” but that phrase means something different to everyone.  To one person it may mean having a high IQ, while to another it could mean knowing a bunch of trivia or being able to figure out whodunit when reading a mystery novel.

I believe that good thinking isn’t just one thing.  It consists of several specific thinking skills.  Becoming a good thinker means developing those skills to the best of your ability.  In Built to Last, Jim Collins and Jerry Porras describe what it means to be a visionary company, the kind of company that epitomizes the pinnacle of American business.  They describe it this way:

A visionary company is like a great work of art.  Think of Michelangelo’s scenes from Genesis on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel or his statue of David.  Think of a great and enduring novel like Huckleberry Finn or Crime and Punishment.  Think of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony or Shakespeare’s Henry V.  Think of a beautifully designed building, like the masterpieces of Frank Lloyd Wright or Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.  You can’t point to any one single item that makes the whole thing work; it’s the entire work—all the pieces working together to create an overall effect—that leads to enduring greatness.

Good thinking is similar.  You need all the thinking “pieces” to become the kind of person who can achieve great things.  I believe that those pieces include eleven skills, which I’ve listed below. After each is a question you can ask yourself to measure your own thinking:

1. Cultivate Big-Picture Thinking

Am I thinking beyond myself and my world so that I process ideas with a holistic perspective?

2. Engage in Focused Thinking

Am I dedicated to removing distractions and mental clutter so that I can concentrate with clarity on the real issue?

3. Harness Creative Thinking

Am I working to break out of my “box,” exploring ideas and options, so I can experience creative breakthrough?

4. Employ Realistic Thinking

Am I building a solid foundation on facts so that I can think with certainty?

5. Utilize Strategic Thinking

Am I implementing strategic plans that give me direction for today and increase my potential for tomorrow?

6. Explore Possibility Thinking

Am I unleashing the enthusiasm of possibility thinking to find solutions for even seemingly impossible problems?

7. Learn from Reflective Thinking

Am I regularly revisiting the past to gain a true perspective and think with understanding?

8. Question Popular Thinking

Am I consciously rejecting the limitations of common thinking in order to accomplish uncommon results?

9. Benefit from Shared Thinking

Am I consistently searching the minds of others to think “over my head” and achieve compounding results?

10. Practice Unselfish Thinking

Am I continually considering others and their journey in order to think with maximum collaboration?

11. Rely on Bottom-Line Thinking

Do I stay focused on the bottom line so that I can gain the maximum return and reap the full potential of my thinking?

Based on your answers to the questions, where are you strongest? In what kind of thinking do you need to grow? Develop in any of those areas, and you’ll become a better thinker. Master all that you can—especially the process of shared thinking, which helps you compensate for your weak areas—and your life will change.

For specific guidance on developing as a good thinker, my book, How Successful People Think, devotes a chapter to each of the above skills. A companion workbook is also in the works.

The biggest lesson I have ever learned is the stupendous importance of what we think. If I knew what you think, I would know what you are, for your thoughts make you what you are; by changing our thoughts, we can change our lives.

Dale Carnegie

The mind moves in the direction of our currently dominant thoughts.

Earl Nightingale

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