Brain Gym

15.03.2019 |

Episode #6 of the course Learning how to think clearly by David Urbansky


Welcome to the gym—for your brain. Thinking can be learned and improved. As I explained earlier, your brain is usually trying to answer most problems without much thinking, using your automatic System 1. Just like you schedule your workout at the gym, it is a great time investment to schedule time to think.

You might say that you already have to think all day at your job or that you can’t afford to spend an hour “doing nothing,” but there’s a reason highly successful people like billionaire investor Warren Buffet and former eBay CEO John Donahoe regularly take thinking days [4] or in Bill Gates’s case, even entire thinking weeks [5].


Setting Up Your Mind Gym

First, let’s find a time. Obviously, you don’t have to start with a thinking week, but you should dedicate at least one uninterrupted hour. Pick a free slot on your calendar. Ideally, schedule your thinking time about two to four hours after waking up, as this is when your brain is sharpest [6]. How about Sunday morning after breakfast?

Next, let’s find a place for your mind workout. This place must be comfortable, quiet, and totally private. Make sure to remove all distractions by completing the following steps:

• Silence your phone and put it away. Studies show that just having the phone nearby, even face down, is a distraction [7].

• If on the computer, turn off all notifications, block social media websites (you can use tools for that), and pause your email to avoid senseless refreshing.

• Put a “do not disturb” sign on the door, and make sure nobody will interrupt you.

Setting up the time and place is a great start! After all, getting to the gym is often the hardest part of working out. Now you might ask, “What should I even think about?” Just like when working out your body, it really depends on your goals. For this course on clear thinking, just doing it at all trains your “thinking muscle” and you come out ahead. But indeed, the potential gains you could achieve through this training are huge. You will finally have time to get to the bottom of big life questions you never had proper time to think about!

If you don’t have pressing questions about your life right now, you can also pick one of these exercises:

• Read a non-fiction book for 40 minutes. Close it, and spend another 20 minutes thinking about its ideas. Really digest the information. This is a great opportunity to apply some of the critical thinking methods from an earlier lesson.

• Think about the last documentary you saw. How was the argument presented? Can you think of any logical fallacies? What would you have done differently if you had made the movie?

• Take a problem that is currently on your mind, and walk through it. Ask yourself what would happen if you tried to solve it in different ways. Again, a great opportunity to use the mental models you learned earlier, such as the thought experiment.

Focus on one thing only! People simply cannot multitask. Studies have shown that attempting to multitask lowers your comprehension, productivity, and even gray matter [1, 2, 3]. After all, when you’re at the gym, you don’t jog and do bicep curls at the same time.

Now that you have a brain gym membership, tomorrow, we’ll look at what happens inside your brain when you think and how you can make use of these inner workings for clearer thoughts.


Recommended book

The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli



[1] Did You See the Unicycling Clown? Inattentional Blindness While Walking and Talking on a Cell Phone by Hyman I.E. Jr. et al.

[2] Higher Media Multi-Tasking Activity Is Associated with Smaller Gray-Matter Density in the Anterior Cingulate Cortex by Kep Kee Loh and Ryota Kanai

[3] Laptop Multitasking Hinders Classroom Learning for Both Users and Nearby Peers by Sana F. et al.

[4] To Beat the Chaos, Take a Thinking Day by John Donahoe

[5] In Secret Hideaway, Bill Gates Ponders Microsoft’s Future by Robert A. Guth

[6] Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream: A Day in the Life of Your Body by Jennifer Ackerman

[7] Having Your Smartphone Nearby Takes a Toll on Your Thinking by Duke K. et al.


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