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“The only thing that’s capital-T true is that you get to decide how you’re going to try to see your life. Capital T-truth is about life before death.” ~David Foster Wallace

In his brilliant address to the graduating class of Kenyon College in 2005, Award-winning author David Foster Wallace reframed what it means to be educated: instead of simply earning a degree, education is as much about learning how to think as it is about learning what to think.

This speech was recorded.  It was the only such speech he ever gave. He died three years later. Afterwards his speech was published as a small book entitled This is Water.

Buy it. Read it. Keep it on your bedside table. Give a copy to your friends, your clients, your kids. It is very short. It is very profound. It will make you think.

And that is the whole point: to make you think–about how you think about what you think.

The following sentence struck me from an NPR article on education:

“Educated people are not only trained to use numbers, but they are also trained, or they ought to be trained, to appreciate that reaching the right conclusion may not be as simple as running the numbers. Reasoning is, or ought to be, a reflective activity.”

Reflection? Who has time to reflect in our fast-as-light speed world?

Well, maybe it’s time to make time for it; it’s a mental activity that strengthens your “good judgment” muscle as much as sit-ups strengthen your core muscles.

Without reflection, we are “rushed” into repeating ways of thinking that don’t support us to make choices—in the moment decisions—that keep us moving forward instead of spinning round and round like a hamster on a wheel.

Our certainties, our assumptions, our habits.

Without reflecting on the choices we’ve made and their outcomes, we’re doomed to  remain blind to our unconscious certainties, what we’re sure of without even knowing it’s what we believe.

I hope the bold italics caught your attention: its what we don’t know about ourselves—or a situation, another person, or anything else—that controls the outcome.

Education is life-long and subjective. And the biggest blockage to continued learning is what we think we already know, our minds filtering out data that doesn’t support our existing perspective. Dangerous. Welcome to the radical right. Or left. Or all the “isms” you can name.

In light of the recent riots in Baltimore and the increasing number of organized protesters in major cities across the U.S., now more than ever it is time for all of us to wake up, get off the wheel, and walk in new ways in this world. To notice how we think as much as what we think.

Reflection is a must. It’s as necessary an ingredient for psychological clarity and decision-making as water is required for physical health and well-being: a capital T-truth.

And taking the time for reflection is not a luxury, it’s a work out and a requirement for peak performance in the business world and in life.

Think you’re “too busy?” You’re not. No one’s that important. You’re just plain lazy.

It’s not that difficult, really, to make the time for it, not to be consumed with reflection (Woody Allen’s movies come to mind), but to take time to notice your thoughts, feelings and behaviours: “Why am I thinking what I’m thinking/saying/doing right now?” “If it doesn’t work, why do I choose it?”

Those kinds of questions always lead to improved performance and upward mobility.

I’ll let Mr. Wallace, dear departed genius author, make my closing argument:

“Learning ‘how to think’ really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot or will not exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.”

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