Clear Thinking is the Ultimate First Principle

in principles •  6 months ago


It’s so easy to forget. We all crave to think well, seeing what can be done through the power of the mind.

Every skyscraper began as an idea in a curious mind. We marvel at people like Steve Jobs and Elon Musk not because they’re the most of anything, but because they’re able to clearly articulate and accomplish insane goals.

The clarity is everything. No matter how old you watch your heroes become, you’ll never see them (the good ones) stop learning.

That’s why the Bill Gates reading list includes many books on how to think. Most recently the one that caught my eye was Factfulness, all about the common stumbling blocks of clear thought.

Problems That Stump You Are Trivial to Others

Do you want to make more money? Maybe instead of $400 per week, you’d like $2,000?

For the person who has never earned more than $400 per week on average (like me), $2k in a week sounds very difficult. I bet that Bill Gates would disagree.

If you drop sales legend Gary Vaynerchuk in a random suburb in the midwest, in disguise, unable to call for help or access his network, he’ll sell a few thousand bucks of stuff within a few days. The man was selling baseball cards for thousands of dollars a weekend in his teens.

What I lack is the knowledge. Even within my own vocation of freelance writing, I know that I could earn $100/hour within weeks if I just knew exactly who to call and what to say.

The challenge is not in being wealthier or more connected. The real challenge is to think clearly. It’s the ultimate first principle which leads to all the other good stuff in life.

Nowadays when I start to get frustrated, a good question to ask (perhaps after a 10 minute break to step away from the problem), is “How can I think about this more clearly?”

How do you improve your clarity of thinking?

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One technique I find useful for clarity of thinking, is to practice objectivity on myself. I find the more vague my view of myself is, the less precise my thinking is. There is an exercise where one views their self in daily life, and make a list of all the things you did that were productive, and all the things you did that were time wasters. This is kind of the missing half of journaling or making to do lists. Instead, you look back at what you did, and list it all and tear it apart objectively. Eventually you begin to live by a certain standard, and quit doing things to just pass the time until you feel like you've really earned it.
Great article!


Being objective on the self is most of what Stoicism is about. its hard but I agree its the most useful thing to focus on.

I go for a walk and do something else for a bit (usually physical). My back mind keeps working away at the problem for me while I enjoy myself doing something else. Then I go back to it the next day. In the morning (my best time for thinking clearly).


walks are the best, I take one every morning.