10 Timeless Lessons on Better Thinking

The empires of the future are the empires of the mind.
Winston Churchill

Our thoughts can make or break our life. Use it well, and we will prosper. Use it badly, and we will suffer. Investing on your mind is perhaps the best investment you can make.

I believe we can learn a lot about it from the great minds of human civilization, so I read inspiring quotes from them and extracted some lessons on better thinking. Here are 10 timeless lessons I found:

1. Beware of your thoughts

Our best friends and our worst enemies are our thoughts. A thought can do us more good than a doctor or a banker or a faithful friend. It can also do us more harm than a brick.
Frank Crane

Our mind is a double-edged sword. If we fill it with positive thoughts, it will lead us to a productive and fruitful life. But, if we fill it with negative thoughts, it will lead us to a defeated, inferior life. So watch your thoughts and be careful not to let negative thoughts occupy your mind.

2. Go beyond mere reading

Readers are plentiful; thinkers are rare.
Harriet Martineau

It’s easy to read, but it’s not easy to think about what we read and act upon it. That’s why very few people experience what the books’ authors write. If we want to be productive, we should go beyond just being readers to being thinkers and doers.

3. Think more

Few people think more than two or three times a year; I have made an international reputation for myself by thinking once or twice a week.
George Bernard Shaw

Most people do not make conscious effort to think more, but those who do will reap the fruit. While many people spend a lot of time for other aspects of their lives such as their occupation and hobbies, only a few people consciously spend time for thinking.

4. Think at higher level

We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.
Albert Einstein

We should improve our thinking ability so that we can think at a higher level. Only by thinking at higher level can we solve the problems we face. Again, doing so takes effort and one way to do so is mind exercise.

5. Be curious

I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious
Albert Einstein

Curiosity is an essential ingredient of great thinking. It gives you a strong desire to know more than most people and makes the journey fun.

6. Be persistent

I think and think for months and years. Ninety-nine times, the conclusion is false. The hundredth time I am right.
Albert Einstein

Thinking requires perseverance. More often than not, we can’t get the desired results as soon as we want it. The road to discovery is long, and only with persistence can we hope to reach the destination.

7. State problems the right way

The greatest challenge to any thinker is stating the problem in a way that will allow a solution.
Bertrand Russell

Many people recognize great thinkers through their ability to solve problems, but great thinkers are first of all good at formulating problems. It is their ability to formulate problems that allows them to find elegant solutions.

Here is an example from the book Patterns of Problem Solving:

Hammurabi in Babylon changed the course of history by asking the right question when dealing with the problem of water. Instead of asking how to get the people to the water, he asked how to get the water to the people. This led to canals. The rest is history.

8. Emphasize imagination

Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.
Albert Einstein

Many people pursue knowledge, but great thinkers emphasize imagination. While knowledge allows us to make incremental improvements, imagination opens the way for fresh breakthroughs.

9. Use intuition

The intellect has little to do on the road to discovery. There comes a leap in consciousness, call it intuition or what you will, and the solution comes to you and you don’t know how or why.
Albert Einstein

It might be surprising, but rational thinking is not always the best way to think; intuition often gives us better solution. I often experience this myself. After thinking rationally for some time and not finding a solution, I just leave the problem or sleep on it, and all of a sudden a solution leaps into my mind. Not only is this process less laborious, it often gives me ideas with higher quality.

10. Dare to be different

It is not worth an intelligent man’s time to be in the majority. By definition, there are already enough people to do that.
G.H. Hardy

Great thinkers dare to be different and therefore they think differently. Rather than just following what other people do, they move beyond it and go up to a whole new level. Look at your situation and ask yourself: what is the conventional wisdom for your situation? Then don’t do it, move beyond it instead. This is easier said than done, but that’s what the great thinkers do.


These lessons resonate with me. I need to work on emphasizing imagination and daring to be different, among others. Being a great thinker is a long journey, but the journey is an exciting one.


  1. Great article. We all need to think better more often.

  2. Nice article, Donald. In particular, your point 7–state problems the right way–caught my attention. Sometimes, I find that I can figure out something more easily by turning a problem around. Instead of asking, for example, what I like about something, I could ask what I don’t like. It can give just enough of a different perspective to simplify my thinking.

  3. thanks so much! this was a truly profound posting…. brad

  4. I am guilty of rushing through books and not getting all I can out of them. I have a few books though like “As a Man Thinketh” and “Think and Grow Rich” that I read again and again. I get something new everytime. Great article!

  5. FFB,
    I agree, that’s one thing we should pay more attention to.

    To be honest, multidimensional thinking is something I still need to practice more. Yours is a good example of it.

    You’re welcome!

    I also need to improve the way I read books. I’m still more like a reader than thinker. By the way, the two books you mentioned look interesting.

  6. […] site we recommend for often tips on how to be more productive. The full post includes many tips for “thinking better” and more creatively, two topics founders need always be vigilant of — and which we cover […]

  7. I think #6 is “Be persistent.” At least that makes more sense to me.

    Despite that really great list. I enjoyed it.

  8. David,
    Thanks for pointing out the error. I’ve fixed it.

  9. […] 10 Timeless Lessons on Better Thinking @ Life Optimizer […]

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  11. Thanks for the article you have posted. Its an eye (mind) opener !!! Please keep up the good work.

  12. Nice article,

    as we dare to be different & creative , how do we guard from being self absorbed

  13. Jerz Roulette Gawd – Number 8 Is
    The Realm I’m At, At Age 25 ,Sometimes
    My Imagination Becomes Sync With Reality ,
    As Far As My Ability To Control Levels Of My
    Actions As If I Am A Robot and My Voice Which
    Is My Brain Commands What I Want Too Do.

  14. That’s a great article. I’m just a beginner reader and Asian guy. Would you guys mind recommend me a few great books? 😀 I would love to read

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