The Art of Thinking Clearly is a book by Rolf Dobelli that aims to help us make better decisions in life.
However, rather than trying to introduce new behaviours, it wants us to recognise and then cut out some common errors of judgement we fall prey to on a regular basis.
These are caused by cognitive biases that most of us don’t realise are happening but that can seem so obvious when pointed out.
You may have heard of some of these cognitive biases, although probably not all 99 of the ones explained in the book.
Some examples of them include:
- paradox of choice
- sunk cost fallacy
- survivorship bias
- swimmer’s body illusion
Whether you’re into self-improvement or not, we could all do with making fewer bad decisions and more good ones.
So does The Art of Thinking Clearly succeed in helping you do that?
And can it help you with your creative pursuits – whether that’s photography and blogging or anything else?
I’ll say this now and expand on it later; it definitely can – providing you do more than just read it.
Why I bought The Art of Thinking Clearly
A lot of the self-improvement media I consume is in easier-to-digest formats than books.
Mainly blog posts and podcasts.
Of course, a lot of books get mentioned in these. Often a lot of the same books.
I’d built myself a decent-sized reading list just from books I’d seen or heard mentioned elsewhere, and eventually took it to the largest English language bookshop in Shanghai.
Unfortunately, they didn’t have much from my list, but they did have The Art of Thinking Clearly (which wasn’t on my list).
I read – and liked the sound of – the blurb. I read a couple of chapters and liked what they were saying too.
As someone used to bite-sized content, I also liked how none of them were more than 3 pages long.
So I bought it.
What I thought of The Art of Thinking Clearly
The short chapters of The Art of Thinking Clearly make it easy to get what you need from it.
I can see a cognitive bias I hadn’t heard of before, read a couple of pages that lay it out with good, clear examples, and have a basic understanding of it within a few minutes.
Whether I then go and explore it more deeply is up to me. If it’s something that doesn’t really affect me, I probably won’t.
Being able to dip in and out means I don’t have to waste too much time on cognitive biases that didn’t interest me as much.
That’s not to say any of the chapters were irrelevant, though.
Everyone is different. A chapter that opened my eyes to something important and relevant to my life may mean little to someone else, and a chapter that meant little to me may change the world for that same person.
This is where I think the true value lies in The Art of Thinking Clearly.
The way it’s written means you can pick and choose chapters relevant to you and think how to apply them to your life.
That’s why I said earlier it can help you make fewer bad decisions and more good ones providing you do more than just read it.
Nothing will change if you don’t implement the new ideas.
How I used The Art of Thinking Clearly
To really get the most from The Art of Thinking Clearly, I think it’s important to consider which of the cognitive biases you read about negatively affect aspects your life and how you can stop them from doing so.
I can’t tell you what that would look like for you because I don’t know you, but I can show you some ways I used the book to help with one important part of my life: my photography and blogging.
There were certain cognitive biases outlined in the book that helped me realise a few things about what I do on this website, and also what other people – perhaps even you – do with their own creative output.
Here are 4 examples of that, each with a statement and an explanation. They may not be original revelations for everybody but that’s not the point.
The point is how the cognitive biases you read about help you.
1. The number of likes your photography gets on Instagram is not an accurate indicator of how good or bad it really is.
The social proof chapter in The Art of Thinking Clearly helped me to understand how chasing likes instead of creating your own style is actually detrimental to your work. Do you want to be proud of what you made or of how it was received by a bunch of anonymous strangers?
2. Everybody thinks what they do is better than it really is.
The effort justification chapter in The Art of Thinking Clearly helped me to take a step back and view what I do more objectively. Nobody else has the emotional connection to your work that you have, so losing it can help you view your work as others do.
3. It’s easier to become great at the things you’re naturally good at than it is the things you’re average-to-poor at.
The swimmer’s body illusion chapter in The Art of Thinking Clearly helped me to focus my efforts on what I (think I) do well – photography and writing – and forget what I don’t. I’ll leave the vlogging to other people.
4. We ignore the large number of people who didn’t make it, look at the few people did, and think we will too.
The survivorship bias chapter in The Art of Thinking Clearly helped me to realise that I don’t have any right to succeed (whatever that means) with this website just because I keep posting to it. But at the same time, the only way to have a chance is to not quit.
Final Thoughts on The Art of Thinking Clearly
I like The Art of Thinking Clearly because it makes it easy for the reader to take what they need from it.
Not all of the 99 cognitive biases it outlines will be applicable to your life. They weren’t to mine either.
But with short chapters and clear explanations that use simple, real world examples to illustrate the point, you can easily decide which to investigate further and which not to.
You can then think how to apply them to areas of your life that could be improved.
I used them to think more clearly about my creative output, both with my camera and on this blog.
If you’re a photographer, blogger, or photography blogger yourself, you could do the same.
If not, it doesn’t matter.
The Art of Thinking Clearly can help you make better decisions in countless aspects of your life, every single day, whatever it is you do.
Who wouldn’t recommend that?
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