Smart Thinking

Summary Written by Bruce Brodeen
"When you understand how the mind works, you can think smarter – and act smarter."

- Smart Thinking, back cover

The Big Idea

Creating Smart Habits and Changing Behavior

"The mind is designed to think as little as possible. Habits are created by consistent mapping and repetition. Habit change requires replacing bad habits with good ones."- Smart Thinking, page 27

Okay, repeat after me, “Duh!” Of course what the author says above is obvious. However, evaluate your own success in regards to changing a deeply entrenched habit you are unhappy with. There are gaps between knowledge and application of that knowledge when it comes to forming new habits. We need to understand that our mind is always on the look out to create habits and that most of those habits are, in fact, good ones because they allow us to perform crucial actions in our daily lives without thinking about them.

To engage in ‘smart thinking’, we have to become more acutely aware of our environment and the desirable behaviors that will support smart habit creation. To create habit change, there are two things that must happen. First and most obvious is to find ways to stop engaging in the old, undesirable behavior. The second and most critical to change is to replace the bad habit with a good one.

Insight #1

The Formula for Smart Habits

"There is a formula for Smart Habits, which requires only two ingredients: 1. Mapping between an action and the environment consistently and 2. Performing that action repeatedly."- Smart Thinking, page 33

There is hope. You can perform desirable behaviors automatically. The first part of forming a smart habit is creating consistent mapping, which is making a connection between the environment and a behavior. We need to slow down and be cognizant of the outside world and our internal mental feelings and thoughts. Consciously and slowly recognizing an environment that brings a bad habit into presence is the first key to habit change. Then, when engaging in the new, desired habit, a ‘new map’ between the environment and action is created. Repeating that action in that environment will result in a new habit forming.

Surprisingly, you do not need massive amounts of willpower to create new habits intentionally (and this is backed up by the most recent studies in cognitive psychology). These new habits can develop as long as you consistently map your physical and mental environment to the behavior you desire to carry out. By slowing down and thinking about this linking of environment and behavior, you engage the frontal lobes of your brain that can empower you from not carrying out the undesired habit. In other words, be mindful about the unwanted habit and your environment, and you have the clues to begin to remove them.

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Insight #2

Smart Thinking in Practice

"By adding elements to your environment that remind you of actions that you are supposed to perform, you are providing a framework or scaffold to support your new behaviors."- Smart Thinking, page 187

Slow down. Think. REALLY think before you act. I’m not your mother, but remember effective learning requires a process to think more deeply. By talking to yourself as you are learning something new and walking through new concepts around the higher-level knowledge, you allow your brain to flex its associative muscles and make patterns of understanding that will lead to smart thinking.

When you are in a situation of new learning and challenged with understanding knowledge unfamiliar to you, it helps to create a summary of the experience before moving on to the next thing. Few people do this. You should. Stop. Structure your new learning by taking notes and write a summary of what you think you need to understand for the long term and isolate the key points (can you say “Actionable Books Summary”?!).

This will create high-quality knowledge that you will be able to apply more readily when a situation comes up that requires smart thinking. Your (written) summary should organize around three elements: objects (people), events, and casual understanding. Casual understanding is organized around explanations and is always related to a particular why question. When you understand the reasons behind the acquisition of this new learning experience, then you will be able to use that information to determine its application towards your desired outcome.

Smart Thinking is presented in a simple, readable fashion that encourages taking action to arrive at a better understanding of our good and troubled habits, and then provides new strategies to serve new, more beneficial outcomes in your personal and business life. The information in the book could be a life-altering experience for many readers. On the surface, the discussions of cognitive science and behavior modification seem somewhat obvious and straightforward. However, based upon my own experiences in the weeks after finishing the book, I was making ‘connections in search of meaning’ and had the sense of being more creative when looking at the opportunities and struggles inside my business.

One brief example: Upon finishing the book, I came up with a unique and different way of approaching my Monday-Friday work schedule. I created a highly personalized approach to moving distraction-riddled behaviors into a new schedule that addressed the trigger situations that created the bad habit and inefficient thinking. I engaged in the smart thinking process, quite literally. I am three weeks into this new schedule and I am demonstrably more productive and creative in my work.

How could replacing bad habits with good ones change your life?

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Art Markman

Art Markman is the Annabel Irion Worsham Centennial Professor of Psychology and Marketing at the University of Texas at Austin. He is also the Founding Director of the Program in the Human Dimensions of Organizations. He got his ScB from Brown University and his PhD from the University of Illinois. Before coming to the University of Texas, Art taught at Northwestern University and Columbia University.

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