High level thinking isn’t just a case of scoring the best grades on a test or being the most cutthroat person in the boardroom.
Having an exceptionally high IQ is also not a clear-cut indicator of being a high-level thinker, as creativity can often not be measured through standardized testing
But, if none of the above, what is high-level thinking?
High-level thinkers tend to be able to blend strategic, creative, and critical thinking to stay one step ahead of the game. They use these thinking skills to come up with the most extraordinary ideas and approaches to life.
Am I a high-level thinker, you ask?
It’s easy to think ourselves the next coming of Yoda for having remembered to defrost the chicken nuggets first thing in the morning.
However, deducing whether or not your thought processes are ahead of the game is difficult, and dwelling on your shortcomings often unproductive.
Instead, focus on where you can improve your thinking skills. This includes being aware of the following behaviors and thinking patterns that high-level thinkers avoid, so you too can heighten your thinking skills:
1) They don’t think short-term
High-level thinkers are maestros at real-life chess. They’re usually thinking not only one step ahead but considering all the options that real-time decisions might lead them towards.
This also means considering the long-term implications of decisions, and planning for the future.
It can involve saving and investing your money over spending it on trendy gadgets and material items you want in the moment. It can also mean investing time and effort into looking after your body and your mind.
It also means not only relying on your strengths and what can carry you through life with ease, but also working on your weaknesses and what needs improving.
For example, a high-level thinker who excels at formulating projects and ideas but turns into a trembling wreck when it comes to public speaking would work to improve this weakness, so they can take their projects on to fruition.
Take Mark Zuckerberg, for example, and his notable public speaking improvements.
In comparison, a low-level thinker might in this case avoid public speaking altogether and stay behind the scenes.
2) They don’t waste time on things that don’t contribute to their goals
High-level thinkers use their slow-paced thinking, their rationality, and they save their thought space for what actually matters.
This often means forming long-term routines and habits that allow them to focus the greatest degree of their attention on their thoughts and ideas.
Whether it’s waking up early, meditating daily, or avoiding addictive habits, high-level thinkers structure their lives to prioritize their wellbeing.
They probably do still eat chocolate or watch Netflix. Just not in excess.
Obama takes it one step further. He doesn’t have time to choose what clothes to wear, let alone engage in trivial gossip;
“You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits”, Obama said. “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make”.
3) They don’t act on impulsivity
When faced with an event or a thought, our minds tend to respond in two ways.
Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman delved into this in his bestseller, “Thinking, Fast and Slow”, categorizing the above into ‘System 1’ and ‘System 2’ thinking.
- Fast thinking (System 1): Our immediate and unconscious thoughts, often based on internal biases and emotions.
- Slow thinking (System 2): Rational and deliberate assessments of the situation, based on logical reasoning and evaluation.
I’m not saying that high-level thinkers don’t have any immediate and emotional whatsoever. The difference is that they don’t act on them immediately.
They slow down and reflect on the bigger picture. They think about the implications, analyze, and then come to a conclusion on how to respond.
For example, when disrespected, a low-level thinker might leap at the chance to get their fighting fists out and start hurling insults back.
But a high-level thinker will take the time to consider the situation, diffuse their own emotional reactivity, and respond at an appropriate level.
When asked for a big favor or commitment, a high-level thinker will also deliberate rather than instantly jumping at the chance. They’ll consider all the implications of relocating to the other side of the world for a big promotion.
They’ll also deliberate on whether cat-sitting for an extremely cute but diabetic and ancient cat is a good idea.
In short, high-level thinkers think long and hard about whether or not saying “yes” or “no” is a good idea.
Low-level thinker: acts before thinking
High-level thinker: thinks before acting
4) They’re not afraid to think outside the box
Using their slow thinking skills, high-level thinkers don’t confine themselves to small ideas.
They’re incredibly open minded and, as mentioned above, will not let their internal prejudice dictate their thoughts.
Instead, they tend to operate on postjudice, assessing all facts and rationalizing all factors before coming to a conclusion.
This counts also for the innovation and acceptance of new ideas.
When automobiles were first invented, many people were terrified and aghast – but could you imagine saddling up your steed to get to the office today?
For many, the introduction of the internet seemed like the end of the world. Where is the internet? How can I touch it? Yet, the internet has given rise to most of society as we know it today.
High-level thinkers tend to be amongst those open and receptive to new ideas and to change.
They’re open to change, contemplative, and often able to put their high-level thinking skills to use to harness that change to bring new ideas and inventions that ride the wave of the moment.
5) They don’t give up easily
Whilst remaining open-minded and receptive to new ideas and changes, high-level thinkers will often not take “no” for an answer.
(Not in a weird way, of course. Consent is still very important.)
A lot of great ideas are often rejected. In a sea of low-level thinkers, high-level thinkers maintain confidence and integrity in their ideas and ingenuity.
Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, received five initial rejections for his idea of a computer for the everyday home. J.K. Rowling’s pitch for ‘Harry Potter’ was rejected 12 times by publishers.
Yet, these high-level thinkers and innovators still persisted, bringing us some of the biggest products and fantasy worlds of our lifetimes, and showing the power of perseverance.
6) They don’t gossip
With their heads full of innovative ideas and open-minded approaches, you’d think that high-level thinkers hardly have time for friends.
That isn’t the case.
High-level thinkers can and do still develop meaningful and fulfilling relationships; they just tend to refrain from the petty aspects of it.
Why waste time talking about how your neighbor has a fetish for toes, or how the colleague that sits a couple desks down smells a little funny, when you can be talking about meaningful ideas and concepts that could change the world?
High-level thinkers tend not to engage in trivial gossip or passing hurtful judgement upon individuals.
You might still be a little bit guilty of forgetting to save, and spending your paycheck on dinners, or shoes, or the newest phone.
You might still be a bit quick to judge and defend yourself if someone hits a sore spot during a squabble. You might be a little bit terrified by the rise of AI and be worried about publicising your own new ideas after a couple of rejections.
Most of us are also guilty of enjoying a little chinwag with our best friends when it comes to what those around us are up to.
That doesn’t mean we can’t work to improve our thinking and hone our skills.
The key to outgrowing low-level thinking is being conscious of all of these aspects and working actively to retrain our minds.
With time and practice, you too can become a high-level thinker.