Will You Think About It?


“We suffer from a settled determination to avoid thinking. Relatively few people want to think. Thinking troubles us; thinking tires us. Thinking can force us out of familiar, comforting habits; thinking can complicate our lives.”
– Alan Jacobs

It’s hard to keep an open mind.

We think we’re right. If anyone disagrees, by default we think they are wrong.

We’d rather not have to think about it. Thinking is hard work. It’s slow. It takes energy.

So we often shut down thinking and go with the flow. And that leads to trouble.

The Thinking Person’s Checklist

Below is a shortened list of The Thinking Person’s Checklist. It’s from the Afterword in Alan Jacobs’ brand new book, How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds. (If you want to practice your thinking, read it. My brain is still tired. Also read his book, The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction. It’s good, too.)


But first a warning: Jacobs doesn’t intend for this to be a set of techniques. Take it more as a “to-be” list than a “to-do” list.

“You have to be a certain kind of person to make this book work for you: the kind of person who, at least some of the time, cares more about working toward the truth than about one’s current social position.”

Jacobs’ list originally includes 12 statements. I’m sharing 6 here.

#1. Take 5

When faced with provocation to respond to what someone has said, give it five minutes. Take a walk, or weed the garden, or chop some vegetables. Get your body involved: your body knows the rhythms to live by, and if your mind falls into your body’s rhythm, you’ll have a better chance of thinking.

#2. Learn, Not Win

Value learning over debating. Don’t “talk for victory.”

#4. Be Quiet

Remember that you don’t have to respond to what everyone else is responding to in order to signal your virtue and right-mindedness.

#7. Choose the Talker

Seek out the best and fairest-minded of people whose views you disagree with. Listen to them for a time without responding. Whatever they say, think it over.

#11. Use Their Words

Try to describe others’ positions in the language that they use, without indulging in in-other-wordsing.

#12. Don’t Wimp Out

Be brave.

Thinking Is Social

You might notice a thread in the above list: Thinking is more of a social activity than we give it credit for. Jacobs says that no one thinks absolutely independently of other human beings. What we think is a response to what someone else has already thought and said.

My dad always gave us kids this advice: “Think for yourself.” But we can’t do it. We think with other voices in our heads and in our spaces.

Jacobs also points out that thinking requires us to trust other people. Don’t assume everyone is out to harm or manipulate you. Stop seeing a person as “the other.” Instead, see them as “my neighbor.” That will help you treat them well and not mock them.

And when you change your mind on something that your friends haven’t? Keep remembering the many things you still have in common. Don’t get overexcited about the differences.

Whatever you think about this, don’t stop now. Keep thinking.

“Thinking does not have a destination, a stopping point, a ‘Well, we’re finally here.’

~ * ~

To cease thinking, as Thomas Aquinas explained, is an act either of despair—‘I can’t go any further’—or of presumption—‘I need not go any further.’

~ * ~

What is needed for the life of thinking is hope: hope of knowing more, understanding more, being more than we currently are. And I think we’ve seen the benefits that come to people who have the courage and determination to do the hard work of thinking.

~ * ~

We have good cause for hope.”

* * *

Do you ever sit still and just think? Do you change your mind easily or rarely? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

My thanks to NetGalley
for the review copy of How to Think

sharing with DawnLaura,
DawnBrenda, Debbie, Carmen

24 thoughts on “Will You Think About It?

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      It really is worth reading; hope I’m not scaring anybody off by the warning. 🙂 But I know heavy lifting won’t scare you, Michele! You’re such a vigorous reader.

  1. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

    One of the most oft-heard phrases in my life is, “What were you THINKING???”

    Usually it was, “Whoa, dude, that looks cool. I’m gonna try it!”

    I’d like to say that I’ve matured. Well, no. I don’t want to have to say that, because I’m still having fun.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I admit I’ve heard that question a few times myself, but probably have said it even more. It’s one of those questions that there is no good answer for (because the answer is usually, “I wasn’t thinking.”) 🙂

  2. Barbara H.

    This sounds like a much-needed book. I get so tired of social media reacting rather than listening. But I need to remind myself of the same things. One of the most productive online discussions I’ve ever had was with a group with strong disagreements over the ethics of a medical issue. Thankfully in that instance everyone listened, and though I don’t know if anyone’s mind was changed, we all understood each other better. We’re certainly not going to change anyone’s minds by NOT listening well first.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I’m glad you had a good experience with being in a group of two sides. Things don’t always go well in those situations, but it’s nice to know that it CAN happen and actually DOES happen! May we as Christ-followers be the ones who facilitate those positive exchanges. Thanks for sharing this, Barbara.

  3. Bev @ Walking Well With God

    Sometimes I think I’m guilty of over-thinking things. I’m not afraid to be alone with my thoughts. I think, in part, that people stay so busy so that they don’t have to be alone with their thoughts?? I have the ability to think the guts right out of something. I am getting better with “Take 5”. Before shooting back what I’d like to say, I am trying to take more time to digest what someone has said. I’m also learning to listen more and speak less….also good. Often, I find, people simply want to be heard.
    Bev xx

  4. Trudy

    Such good points, Lisa. I really love #2. It’s not about having won or being right. We can learn from each other. My problem is with over-thinking which also can lead to a wrong response. I sometimes think too deeply into something, especially when I feel insecure. I’m such an over-analyzer. It’s getting better, but I’m still a work-in-progress. But no matter what the situation or how I feel, I want to respond with love and authenticity. It takes such grace, doesn’t it? Love and hugs to you!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      For those of us who overanalyze, we might need to be told, “Think less!” 🙂 Or at least think more rationally (for me anyway, ha). It’s easy to get caught in a loop of trying to figure out the unknown, and thus think up scenarios to explain things. But yes, regardless of where we are on this continuum, responding with love and authenticity is a beautiful gift to give others (and ourselves!). Thanks for these insights, Trudy!

  5. Summer

    My goodness, how great is this post?! Well done, Lisa! I was raised by a closed minded parent…who was raised by a closed minded parent. I did not want to be a third generation. I was going to break the cycle. I started listening to the news…constantly! I was exposed to anchors and collaborators who supported my views and some who didn’t. I learned how to be a more open minded thinker (while still staying within the clear cuts instructions of the Bible of course) and I started to put into my own words and thoughts why I had the views and opinions that I had. It was a fabulous exercise for me and I think I need to read that book to take it even further!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      What a great example you are, Summer! The author of this book would be so pleased with your approach of hearing both sides. Often the problem comes when we stop listening to the “other” side and only listen to the side we agree with. I can be so guilty of that myself. It definitely takes work to stay open-minded! But so worth it.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Oh, wow, yes, they might appreciate the strategies in this book. ha. With 5 debaters, I imagine you’ve had quite a few discussions through the years, Maryleigh! 🙂
      Blessings to you and yours this Christmas season, too!

  6. Alice Walters

    Lisa, I’m convinced that you must be one of the smartest women I know, smart, open-minded, and brave. You read and share books, I probably would never open the covers of. I especially like the tip to learn, not win. Now, that gives me something to really think about! Some of the others make me think of the skills we must employ to be effective active listeners. Thanks for helping us to up our games!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Ha. I’m not sure I qualify for those adjectives, Alice. But thank you nonetheless. 🙂 I do run across some interesting books here and there, and thankfully my library often has copies. I’m always trying to up my game, too, and books are a great resource to do that.

  7. Horace Williams Jr

    Sound advice Lisa. I have begun to practice #4. It is amazing the peace that arrives from just being quiet and listening. As I have gotten older and hopefully wiser, #2 is the truth. You don’t always have to be right. The best communicators are the best listeners.. As followers of Christ, the way we act, speak, and the things we do should reflect Jesus. Thank you for sharing these words of wisdom. I hope you and yours have a blessed Christmas season.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I admire you for working on #4, Horace. Being quiet isn’t always easy, especially when we have a lot of things that we want to say. 🙂 But yes, getting older has taught me too that it’s not about winning the debate, but loving the soul. Jesus is definitely the example for that. When I think about his quietness in front of Pilate and accusers, I am always floored.
      Merry Christmas to you and yours too!

  8. floyd

    Sounds like wisdom to me. And, as you know, it takes humility to pull any of these concepts off. Pride is the the donkey within us that refuses to budge. It is also what keeps us from seeking to understand and insists that we be understood.

    I’m not there, but I’m a whole lot better than I used to be.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yes, it does come back to humility, the root virtue of everything. I think humility should be my One Word choice every year, underneath anything else I choose. It truly is the heart of Jesus and thus where our hearts should also be. I’m not there either….

  9. David

    Dear Lisa

    Sounds like a good book – I have put it on my Christmas list. I like the six points you pick out. I also like point 10 – beware metaphors that do too much work. Is that your point or Jacobs’ about the “sociality of reason”? I completely agree with that. Jacobs seems an interesting character: e.g., he’s done a biography of The Book of Common Prayer.


    [ps when I loaded this page, this form had Name, Email & Website fields already filled in with Floyd’s info, hence the previous comment.]

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      The sociality of reason is Jacob’s work. He has a nice section on it in the book. And strangely enough, another book I’m reading right now goes right along with that: “The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone” by Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach. It seems to be a theme gaining in popularity at the moment, at least on this side of the pond.

      I don’t know what’s happening with the comment section. 🙁 I’ve had three incidents now of that happening (that I know about). Wish I knew what was causing it and how to fix it…..

  10. Donna Reidland

    Perhaps we need to make this book available to all our politicians and other influential people. Some days it seems there isn’t much thinking or listening. LOL But I know I could do a better job in this area, too!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Ah, that’s a great idea, Donna! 🙂 If it would work, I’d fork over some money to buy the books myself. lol. But, yes, I know I still have room for improvement myself also.

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