Everywhere you look these days, whether it be on Youtube or Scribd, you see a lot of people basically saying “Listen to me! I know stuff!”
And people do listen to them.
But knowing isn’t the same thing as understanding.
A lot of people listen or read and take things at face value and then do things without thinking about consequences. And, if they do, they don’t usually think about much beyond the obvious.
These are all symptoms of shallow thinking, and it often comes with these people thinking that they’re always right and are straight-up unwilling to consider the possibility that they might be wrong.
What is a deep thinker?
The deep thinker thinks beyond the obvious. It’s a person whose thoughts are profound.
They look at the bigger picture and try to think about long-term repercussions and explore ideas thoroughly before they come to a decision.
Argue with them about their decisions or opinions and they can, more often than not, explain to you in detail why.
It’s not easy to think deeply, but it pays well to learn how to think deeply. In a fast-paced world currently filled with misinformation and sensationalism, deep thinking can, in fact, save the world.
Deep thinking, although innate for some, can actually be learned. Here are some ways to be a deep thinker.
1) Be skeptical
Everything starts in the mind. So when you hear or read something new, remember to maintain a healthy degree of skepticism throughout.
Don’t simply believe people because they “said so.” And be careful not to act or draw conclusions based on your first impressions.
If you have ever browsed through Facebook, you’ll inevitably find people who fit my description. Look for any big news posting and you’ll find people who obviously did not read the article and are simply dropping judgments based on their title.
Oftentimes these comments are uninformed, full of biases and prejudice, and miss the point. All frustrating and incredibly dumb to those who actually took the effort to open the linked article.
Same applies in real life.
Instead of taking things at face value, try to do some investigation yourself.
If someone makes a claim, try to do some fact-checking on reliable sources instead of agreeing or dismissing them out of hand. It might take some practice to do this because it takes work, but if you value truth and facts, then you gotta do the added steps instead of just settling for what’s easy.
2) Be self-aware
Anyone can think. That doesn’t mean that everyone who thinks does it well.
If you want to be a deep thinker, you need to go deeper and think about thinking.
You need to look inside yourself and understand the way you think, as well as identify the prejudices and biases you have so that you can set them aside when you do need to think.
See, you can think all you want, but if you aren’t aware of your own biases, chances are that you’ll be blinded by them and end up looking for things that specifically justify your wants.
It’s especially bad if you have surrounded yourself with people who think like you. When that happens, there’s too much validation and too little challenge. This then leads to stagnation and closed-mindedness.
And when this happens, you’re locking your mind away from thinking deeply, and are stuck chewing on relatively shallow and superficial thoughts.
So you will need to learn how to be open-minded. But that aside, you also need to be aware of the following attitudes, whether in yourself or from people around you:
“I want you to tell me what I need to know so that I don’t need to look it up or figure it out myself.”
“I don’t need to know about it. I KNOW I’m right. Shut up.”
“I’m not an expert, but this other guy is so I should just shut up and listen to him.”
“I don’t want to discuss this in case I can’t defend my argument.”
“I’m afraid of being criticized.”
If you notice yourself having these thoughts, tell yourself that this isn’t the healthy way. Pause and try to be open even if it’s not so easy at first.
3) Be aware of persuasive techniques
Everything you see, hear, or read is an argument in some measure attempting to persuade you to believe or do something, or at least understand their point of view.
Ever watched a video on Youtube only for the Youtuber to segue into an advertisement? Yeah, that Youtuber is persuading you to go check out their sponsor.
Arguments are not inherently bad but it is important that you stop to consider their validity.
When you listen to people or read what they are writing, you need to keep in mind that they will have their own biases and that oftentimes these biases will color their arguments.
And sometimes, people are good enough with words that they can convince you to agree with them, even when their arguments aren’t even correct, honest, or well-founded.
This is dangerous, and this is exactly why you need to be aware of persuasive techniques. If an argument is solid, there is little need for it to rely on these techniques anyways.
As a rule of thumb, be aware of any language that appeals to your emotions or sense of loyalty, like “This man lives in your neighborhood and went to the same high school as you, you should vote him for president!”
Also, make sure to ask yourself whether the person is being reasonable.
For example, if someone read the first book of your favorite series, did not enjoy it, put it down, and then said “It’s not my taste”, that’s being reasonable. They’re not just saying that to attack you.
But if that person read the first book, got bored, bought the last book in the series, and then went on Twitter to complain that the series is bad and nothing makes sense, and the writing is dull… yes, that is unreasonable because that’s not how you should make reviews of a whole series.
4) Connect the dots and evaluate!
There is often more than meets the eye.
So someone has made an argument. Good!
Now try to think if that argument holds up to scrutiny. It needs to be supported by relevant, reliable, credible, and sufficient, and possibly current evidence. If it isn’t, then it’s no argument or analysis, it’s just opinion or a description and can be largely safely dismissed.
Of course, it’s worth noting that while everyone has a right to an opinion, not all opinions are valid. That is beside the point however and is better set aside to be discussed another day.
Now, given that there is evidence, consider the following:
Does the evidence provided support the argument?
There are some dishonest people out there who make arguments and take evidence that seems to superficially ‘prove’ their argument where on closer inspection it actually did not. This is why you need to actually scrutinize any evidence given, rather than take it for granted.
Take the statement “Winter temperatures have been very cold this year, therefore global warming is a lie!”
On the surface, it seems to make sense. What it doesn’t take into account, however, is that global warming disrupts the flow of cold air near the poles, bringing warmer air up to the poles, which then forces colder polar air into warmer parts of the globe.
How credible or trustworthy is the evidence?
Literally, who is the source?
Ask yourself, “is this trustworthy or nah?” when looking at where the evidence comes from.
If the supposed evidence comes from some random joe who doesn’t even seem to have a way to prove themselves as having proper credentials, then you should be asking yourself why you should even trust them.
You have to know the good source from the bad source.
You can easily make statements yourself and go “Man, trust me. Just trust me.”
On the other hand, if the source can be traced to people or institutions of actual standing like, say, Oxford or MIT, then unless the ‘evidence’ is explicitly stated to be an opinion piece, then chances are that you can trust it.
Has enough evidence been presented, and does the evidence come from different sources?
As a rule of thumb, if multiple publications, from different sources, have put forth statements that are in agreement, then that evidence is trustworthy.
But if every single piece of evidence seems to come from just one or two sources, with all outside sources not even mentioning or even outright dismissing the supposed evidence, then chances are that the evidence is not trustworthy.
This is how scams work. They would pay people to say good things about their service or product while presenting themselves as being “professionals” with “credentials”.
Is the evidence current? Is there other evidence available that might challenge the evidence given?
This is important. Some people would bring up old evidence that has long since been proven wrong to support their statements, even if newer evidence says otherwise.
So it’s especially important that you go out of your way to look for more current evidence, as well as any possible counter-evidence.
5) Scrutinize assumptions and language
Sometimes, we might assume the answer or reason for a given question or argument is obvious or common sense. But this is not always the case.
Assumptions come from our own personal beliefs and biases, and chances are that not only do we believe they are justified, we also find it unnecessary to explain them.
And of course, going “Well duh, that’s obvious!” is the very pinnacle of shallow thinking.
To make it worse, we can be led into thinking this way through clever use of language.
See, there are words with more than one meaning, or with several related, but still different meanings. A skilled wordsmith — or someone who simply doesn’t know better — can easily take advantage of this.
Take, for example, the word “love.”
It can mean romantic love, filial love, brotherly or sisterly love, or even simple attention depending on the context. So when you’re listening to someone speak or reading something that has been written, it pays to ask yourself whether the context for the usage of the said word has been established.
After that, ask whether the usage of the said word has been consistent, or whether the usage has been ambiguous and mixed.
A deep thinker can look beyond “Duh, that’s obvious!”, untangle ambiguous use of language, and dive straight into the heart of the matter.
6) Stay focused
There’s no room for deep thought if there’s no room for thought in the first place.
Our world is full of information, change, pressure, and distractions. And in a world like this, it’s hard to stay focused.
The reason why shallow thought is so common and — dare I say, popular — is because shallow thought doesn’t take a lot of time or energy. In fact, they take very little effort, that’s why they’re shallow.
When you try to think deeply, you need to remember to avoid getting distracted, to resist the temptation to stop thinking about things because it has become “too hard” and that there are more interesting things out there.
Are you constantly being tempted to browse Youtube when you should be sitting down and reading? Block Youtube until you’re done or decide on something to play on loop and tab it out!
And as lovely as cats can be, they can also be distracting in how they seem to keep begging for their owners’ attention so you might want to make sure your cats are not in the same room.
It’s definitely not an easy thing to learn how to stay focused, and it’s going to take a long time before you can make any headway. Just don’t give up!
7) Be curious and always go deeper
Ask questions, and don’t be satisfied with things like “that’s just how it is” or settle for the simplest and most direct answer to your question. Ask more!
There has to be a deeper reason — look for it, and reject the notion of having other people do the thinking for you!
For example, you may ask “why do we water plants”, and the straightforward answer would be “because they need to drink water like humans do”.
But there’s more to it than that — you may ask, for example, “can plants drink beer too?” and “why do they need to drink water?”
If you’re really curious about this, ask experts or better yet, conduct an experiment.
If you’re interested in the human psyche, don’t just read books, sit down where there are people and observe.
If you’re wondering if there’s a god, do read the book and live your life trying to answer this question.
These questions will lead to answers, which you can then turn into yet more questions, and as you slowly find the answer to every single one of these, your understanding is enriched.
You might find yourself thinking “Wait, that’s what children do!” and you’d be right.
Curiosity is one of the most important virtues children have, and sadly one that many people lose as they grow older and need to take on more and more responsibilities.
But just because you’re all grown up doesn’t mean there’s no room for curiosity in your life!
The more you look for questions to answer, and the more time you spend working your brain (and your senses) to process and understand the information you are receiving, then the deeper and richer your thought processes become.
And if you want to be a deep thinker, that’s exactly what you want.
Deep thinking is a skill, and not some esoteric superpower that only a chosen few have access to. It comes with an understanding that we never stop learning and that knowledge only serves to enrich our lives.
Unfortunately, it will also make us realize just how few people actually bother to think deeply.
Being a deep thinker isn’t easy.
In fact, there are a lot of articles out there describing just how hard deep thinkers have it. But even if you don’t do deep thinking 24/7 — it’s mentally taxing having to maintain that — it’s still good to at least have the ability to think deeply when the occasion asks for it.
It all starts with childlike curiosity.
It’s also childlike stubbornness…by not accepting a situation where you have others do the thinking for you, and instead deciding you’d look for the answers yourself.
By being a deep thinker, you can come to properly informed decisions that can have big, positive results in your life, and in the lives of those around you.