Note: This is an excerpt from my upcoming book, THINK STRAIGHT.
I used to think that smart people are fast thinkers. “He thinks on his feet. He’s really smart.” I tried it for many years.
Every time I faced a problem, discussion, or when someone asked me a question, I thought, “QUICK, QUICK, QUICK!”
Naturally, my first answers sucked.
Derek Sivers, one of my favorite thinkers, says he’s a slow thinker:
“It’s a common belief that your first reaction is the most honest, but I disagree. Your first reaction is usually outdated. Either it’s an answer you came up with long ago and now use instead of thinking, or it’s triggering a knee-jerk emotional response to something that happened long ago.”
Thinking things through takes time. Every time I gave a quick answer, I wasn’t thinking at all, I was impulsive. Derek Sivers trained himself not to trust his first thoughts. That’s also what he did when his email consumed too much of his time and attention. Being a public figure, Derek received a lot of emails from his readers.
Most of them contained “quick 5-minute” questions. But as he says, if you get 100 of those questions, that adds up to 8 hours in a day. After answering 192,000 emails between 2008 and 2016, Derek knew he needed to do something about it. So he planned to go off the grid like a modern-day Henry David Thoreau:
“I was going to go hard-core, shut off all email and social media, and make myself unreachable to all but a few close friends and colleagues. It felt like the only solution.”
That was his first thought. “But then I realized I could remain reachable as long as I don’t answer questions,” is what Derek writes on his blog. I’m glad he didn’t act on his first idea. His second idea is much better. I’ve emailed Derek myself in the past, and I think what he does makes a big impact on people’s lives.
What I’m trying to say is that when someone asks you a question, it’s okay to say, “I don’t know.” You can also say that to yourself. I’ve often been too hard on myself because I didn’t have an instant answer to my personal problems. That doesn’t make you dumb. It makes you human.
Why are we even afraid that people think we’re stupid? It’s the perfect example of slow thinking. Instead of following your instinct of, “I’ll prove them!” you can take a step back and ask yourself, “Why do I even want to come across as smart?”
If you really think about it, it doesn’t matter what others think of you. I think it’s always better to take your time to think.
If others think that makes you stupid, they are the ones who are.