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Stage Four: The Practicing Thinker—Good Thinking Can Be Practiced Like Basketball, Tennis, or Ballet

Are you committed to regular practice? When people explicitly recognize that improvement in thinking requires regular practice, and adopt some regimen of practice, then, and only then, have they become what we call "practicing thinkers."

There is no one way to go about this process of designing a regimen of practice. There are many potential ways, some better, and some worse for you. For example, you might thumb through some of the other chapters of this resource. Each provides some suggestions for improving your thinking. You can use any of these suggestions as a starting point.

You might review the "Test the Idea" activities. You might study the elements of thought, the standards for thought, and the traits of mind. You might analyze Chapter 9, on making intelligent decisions, and Chapters 15 and 16, on strategic thinking. Think of it this way: Everything you read in this resource represents a resource for you to use in devising a systematic plan for improving your thinking. It's a good idea to read it with this orientation.

If you are like most people, you can discover some practical starting points. The problem will be in following through on any that you find. This is the problem in most areas of skill development: People do not usually follow through. They do not establish habits of regular practice. They are discouraged by the strain and awkwardness of early attempts to perform well.

You need to make decisions regarding a plan you think is do-able for you. This means a plan you can live with, one that will not burn you out or overwhelm you. Ultimately, success comes to those who are persistent and who figure out strategies for themselves.

Still, at this stage you probably don't know for sure what will work for you, only what seems like it might. You have to field-test your ideas. To be realistic, you should expect to experiment with a variety of plans before you find one that works well for you.

What you should guard against is discouragement. You can best avoid discouragement by recognizing from the outset that you are engaged in the field-testing of plans. You should prepare yourself for temporary failure. Success is to be understood as the willingness to work your way through a variety of relative failures. The logic is analogous to trying on clothes. Many that you try may not fit or look good on you, but you plod on anyway with the confidence that eventually you will find something that fits and looks good on you.

Consider another analogy. If you want to become skilled at tennis, you improve not by expecting yourself to begin as an expert player. You improve not by expecting to win every game you play or by mastering new strokes with little practice. Rather, you improve when you develop a plan that you can modify as you see what improves your "game." Today you may decide to work on keeping your eye on the ball. Tomorrow you may coordinate watching the ball with following through as you swing. Every day you rethink your strategies for improvement. Development of the human mind is quite parallel to the development of the human body. Good theory, good practice, and good feedback are essential.

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