A Way to Think Differently: Embrace Old Thinking

In maximizing your personal effectiveness, your way of thinking plays a big role. After all, your thinking determines your actions, and your actions determine your results (though luck also plays a role).

In that context, I believe that a key aspect of good thinking is the ability to think differently. That’s how you can come up with creative ideas. That’s how you can stand out in the crowd.

Of course, this is easier said than done. But I read an article a while back that gave me a clue on how to do it. Here is an excerpt (emphasis mine):

In 1345, shortly before the plague devastated Verona, the Italian poet and scholar Petrarch was rummaging through the library of the city’s cathedral. Among the crumbling manuscripts there, he found letters written by Marcus Tullius Cicero, the Roman statesman and orator who is sometimes credited with making Latin a literary language. Until Petrarch’s discovery, Cicero was almost totally forgotten, as were most of the great figures of the classical era. Reading Cicero’s letters—or other abandoned works, like Livy’s history of Rome—revealed to Petrarch how degraded civilization had become. He christened the period after the fall of Rome the Dark Ages.

The Middle Ages didn’t end definitively until the fall of Constantinople, in 1453, when scholars of the Byzantine Empire migrated to Europe, especially to Italy, bringing their libraries with them. But new thinking was already underway, spurred partly by Petrarch’s embrace of old thinking, which is why he is often cited as the instigating figure of the Renaissance.

It’s an interesting passage, isn’t it? New thinking was underway, and a key factor to that is the embrace of old thinking.

Our inclination might be to disregard old thinking because we consider them obsolete. But guess what? Old thinking can be a gateway to new thinking. That’s what happened in the Renaissance. They rediscovered the thinkers of ancient times, and the old thinking inspired a revolution in arts, sciences, and more.

That’s one reason why I believe it’s a good idea to learn history. History exposes us to old thinking because it tells us how people lived and made decisions in the past. It can help us escape the biases of our own era. As a result, you can think differently about the present world.

On a smaller scale, you should also learn from your old thinking. That’s why it’s a good idea to keep a journal. There might be ideas you got years ago that can help you see your present situation in a new light. Or you can combine your old and new ideas to come up with something fresh. In any case, it can help you think differently. I know that has been the case for me because I’ve been keeping a journal for years.

In conclusion, embracing old thinking is a good way to think differently. Whether the old thinking comes from world history or your personal history, it can give you new “lenses” to see the world through.


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