Learn to think by writing

Learn to think by writing

One quote that buzzed my ear recently is by Jordan B Peterson where he said that the best way to learn to think is to learn to write. I remembered this dead blog, and thought it would be nice to make a return. In this post I will try to wrestle with this idea a bit. It's kind of an exercise, so don't expect much.

Well... not only that quote. I also watched a video podcast by Joe Rogan talking to John Carmack which was recommended by my colleague Jonas B. I was amazed how Carmack can talk non-stop on a variety of complicated topics without a hiccup. He is also a clearly introvert nerd! What would it take for any of us to speak in such a way? JC even maintains a "stack" of topics he is talking about and changing subjects with words: "popping a couple off the stack there". Wow, just wow.

How we remember things

A thought is either a train of words or an image, if you don't formulate words or scribble an image, the thought dissipates and is gone from your memory. To remember you need to put some breadcrumbs, threads, structure, put it into some shelf of your brain, so you can connect this thought to other thoughts — remember. At least that's the latest on how your memory works - by associations. Expressing idea using words allows us to easily make these new connections. No wonder we are smart apes.

Is talking just a verbalized thought?

You may ask, how is JC talking connected to Peterson's thinking? Maybe it's my problem for mixing the two. I find it hard to talk without thinking. In some cases you don't need to think to be able to talk. This is clearly the case on more social level in business meetings and casual talks, exchanging ideas, stories and opinions. For that you just need a memory and intelligence to extract and map talking points between the conversation parties.

We are mixing talking and thinking, because we assume people are smart from the way they talk. It's so easy to trick us — just watch a politician. I couldn't bear watching US presidential debate among democratic nominees. Couldn't see substance through their artificial answers.

Write your thought

First of all, when writing down your thought you need to carefully extract and purify it. Writing is much harder than speaking. The reason for that is because you can get immediate feedback from the person you are talking to and add new words to better explain or repeat an idea from a different angle. With written words you don't have this luxury, if the written sentence makes no sense, the reader is left to freely scratch his head.

Second, a proper thought expressed in a nice clear coherent story is easier to understand, so you make it easier for your listener to understand. That's another thing that you notice when you poorly express some complicated raw thought, other people nod and agree, but are not fully grasping, and you have to restructure and repeat it.

So what's the plan?

  • Write down small, compact stories that you are passionate about.
  • Memorize them, make a list or a blog post (like this).
  • Expand stories as you speak by adding extra adjectives and data.

Why thinking is the same as writing but talking is different

When writing you can reread, come back, work on one paragraph, fix mistakes, rephrase, move sentences around. This is exactly the same process you do when thinking: you dive deep, look for connections, add structure or patterns, seek external sources when needed.

This can't be done when talking. It's a fast one way street. If I were to write this blog post without a backspace button (maybe just fixing spelling mistakes) only then it could be compared to talking. Probably there are some people that can do that. Maybe it's a matter of practice.

Photo by Nick Tiemeyer / Unsplash