It Makes Sense, Until You Think About It

A lot of things we do make sense, until we think about them. It turns out what appears to feel quite logical doesn’t always hold up under closer scrutiny. Here’s how to spot your faulty thinking, and fix it.

A friend of mine mentioned he was limiting his income for the next couple of years so he could receive financial aid for his children’s university fees. My plan was to add to my skills and work smarter to increase my income so that I didn’t need financial aid.

Here’s another example from my accountant friend. He hears from home owners who don’t want to pay off their mortgage early for fear they will pay more in taxes. Which is true, they will pay more taxes, but they will pay $5,000 a year in mortgage interest in order to “save” $1,000 in income tax.

Before you too-quickly dismiss these folks, consider these work examples of the same short-sighted mindset.

  • Not wanting to spend money on training employees because they are part-time, or may leave in a year.
  • So busy running day-to-day operations you don’t give time to the reflective work of simplifying, automating, and delegating those operations.
  • You instruct your staff how to solve a problem because it’s faster than coaching them through solving the problem on their own, even though doing so would develop their capacity to handle this type of problem in the future without you.

We resist reflecting on decisions, processes, and patterns that are already established. We want closure. To move on. There are new issues clamoring for our attention. 

Making Sense Of Your Thinking

Excellent leaders have a habit of challenging their thinking. This doesn’t mean constantly second-guessing decisions, or researching new solutions to every problem. Here are 6 ways to make sense of your thinking.

  1. Listen. Pay attention to that little nagging voice inside that says you should further explore this assumption, belief, or decision. You might not be able to do it right now, so add it to a list to think about later.
  2. Keep asking why. Systematically go through your work processes and ask “why.” Why do I do it this way? Are the assumptions I built this process on still valid?
  3. Avoid confirmation bias. We tend to pay attention to that which confirms what we already believe to be true. And we avoid or dismiss information that contradicts our thinking.
  4. Read broadly. “Not all readers are leaders but all leaders are readers,” wrote Harry S. Truman. Leaders not only read, they read far outside their fields of expertise. It’s the unusual, different, and unknown that stimulates your thinking.
  5. Join a group. Nothing challenges thinking more than being around people who do things successfully, differently. It causes you to question your assumptions, reflect more deeply, and stop making excuses. I’m involved in several business leader groups, as well as a peer mentoring group.
  6. Get a coach. A coach’s job is to surface your assumptions and help you to strengthen your thinking.

If you want to test your own thinking, write down the things that came to your mind as you read this article. Even if they are vague and general, write them down.

Next, spend a few minutes tracing your thinking. Go from what you’re doing now, to why you are doing it, and to the “why” behind that “why.” Or if it’s a process, do a quick Internet search for “best practices for [your process]” to read what others have to say on the topic.

The tricky part of our short-sighted thinking is that it makes sense, until you think about it more deeply.

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    Keith is President of Creative Results Management. He helps busy leaders multiply their impact. Keith is the author of several books including The COACH Model for Christian Leaders.

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