Don't Believe Everything You Think

I loved playing Little League baseball while growing up. As an 11-year-old I was excited to move from "Triple A” (age 9-10) to the “Majors” (age 11-12). I was big for my age, and thanks to many hours playing catch with my younger brother, I was a decent player. Our region had two leagues for the Major age: the regular league and the farm league. I should have recognized that a farm league is for those not ready for Major League (like professional baseball), but at some point I got the relative prestige of the leagues mixed up.



As a result, I desperately wanted to be part of the farm league. My parents and friends probably assumed I wanted to start with a more relaxed league before advancing. They probably tried to explain the difference in leagues, but I must not have listened. I knew what I wanted to do.

I realized what a mistake I had made soon after the season started. We played in the more rugged diamonds and with no standard uniforms. I watched my friends in the main league playing more competitively in well-manicured diamonds and nice uniforms.

Much later in life I heard Andy Andrews say a phrase that brought me back to this experience: “don’t believe everything you think.” 

This phrase also reminded me of other experiences where I confidently made decisions based on flawed thinking.

A few years ago I made a series of poor decisions regarding family vehicles. Within 2 years we bought and sold an Accord, Trailblazer, Odyssey, and Tahoe because after a short time with each I became convinced that we needed something different. We lost money each time, and I was never more satisfied with the next one. I don’t even enjoy the process of buying and selling vehicles!

I have tried to learn over time that I can’t believe everything I think. The following tips have helped me look more critically at my thinking and hopefully led to better decisions:

1. Be patient and skeptical

My worst decisions have been the ones I made the most quickly. Impulse purchases certainly fit in this category but usually don’t have as much impact as choosing a career, making a job change, hiring people, expanding a business, etc.

Most decisions do not need to be made quickly. The urgency we feel is usually created in our own impatient minds. We should take time to make decisions, and during that time, we should be skeptical of our own thoughts.

2. Gain experience

Sometimes the only way to recognize flawed thinking is to recognize patterns over time. We all think differently, so it’s difficult to provide universal rules. We can try to reflect on the thought process that has led to good and bad decisions in the past.

3. Follow a life plan

In several previous posts I have referred to my life plan, which was inspired by Michael Hyatt. Creating a life plan gives us a vision of where we are now, where we want to be, and the goals and habits that will get us there. This life plan can be created and modified over time while we are thinking clearly and are free from the pressure of a pressing decision.

When we have new ideas, we can compare our ideas with our life plan. If it fits into our overall vision, it’s likely a good idea. We don’t need to automatically disregard an idea that doesn’t fit perfectly, but we should look at it more critically.

4. Have a trusted advisor

We all need confidants with whom we can share our deepest thoughts. We need people who will be kind and patient while also challenge our thinking. This adviser can be a spouse, parent, child, friend, or even a professional life or career coach.

Sometimes it takes someone objective to snatch us out of our flawed thought process.

5. Recognize that the grass usually isn’t greener on the other side

We should be skeptical of thoughts that are negative toward our current situation and positive toward a different situation. Of course, that doesn’t mean we should always be complacent in our current situation. Progression is a good thing, but we should be careful about how we think about progress.

We might think a different job, a different business, a different location, or different friends will solve our problems. And sometimes we will be correct, but we should first try to improve our current situation before jumping to a new one.

It can be hard to recognize that sometimes our thoughts are flawed or flat out wrong. After all, they are our thoughts. But not believing everything we think can save us from bad decisions.

Question: How do you recognize and correct flawed thinking?