The quality of our lives is determined by the quality of our thoughts. Knowing how to see something, knowing what the best course of action is in a given moment, or even over a lifetime, will determine what we achieve but also how well we live.
We aren't born with the ability to think clearly. In fact, we're trained to not think clearly at all. Many of us don't truly understand why we think what we think or how we think. We have no models that guide our thinking, which is why I think we have to spend time learning how to think clearly. We have to practice it and study it.
If you've ever wanted to improve the quality of your thoughts so you can make better decisions in the long and short term, or even so you're better equipped to handle the stress and often times chaos that is daily life, then start by reading these seven books.
1. "Seeking Wisdom: From Darwin to Munger" by Peter Bevelin
Peter Bevelin's "Seeking Wisdom: From Darwin to Munger" is a masterful compilation of insights derived from a multitude of disciplines including psychology, biology, and physics, culminating in a pragmatic approach towards decision-making and problem-solving.
Bevelin delves into the mental models favored by Charles Darwin and Charlie Munger (Warren Buffett's partner at Berkshire Hathaway), emphasizing the interdisciplinary nature of thinking clearly and avoiding cognitive biases. The book serves as a bridge between recognizing one’s psychological pitfalls and applying the multidisciplinary strategies to overcome them.
It’s an essential read for those looking to refine their thought processes and decision-making skills through the application of timeless wisdom.
2. "The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable" by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
In "The Black Swan," Nassim Nicholas Taleb challenges our perceptions of randomness, risk, and uncertainty.
The book’s central thesis is that high-impact, unpredictable ‘Black Swan events’ shape our world more than we realize. Taleb encourages the reader to always consider the improbable and to acknowledge the limitations of our predictive abilities.
By exploring the psychological biases that blind us to uncertainty and the unpredictable, Taleb offers a framework for navigating a world filled with unknowns.
This book is a compelling read for anyone looking to understand the complexities of chance in both personal life and professional ventures.
One simple lesson you may already be applying without knowing it is asymmetry. You can use this in markets or in everyday life, if two possible outcomes have very differing impacts, you hedge on the one with the massive impact. For example, you short the market if you think the upside is likely 10% growth, but even if much less likely, the downside is catastrophic, maybe 40% dip.
The example I had recently is my lady wanted to sell a table to some people via Facebook Marketplace. They wanted to come by and see the table. I wanted to be there because the upside is they buy the table for a few hundred, but the downside is, well, catastrophic if they're truly vile people.
It's a book on risk, but also how to view the world. A must read, in my mind.
3. "Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life" by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
"Skin in the Game" is Taleb’s forthright manifesto advocating for accountability and shared risk as the foundation of a fair society. He argues that clarity of thought comes from individuals having a vested interest in the outcomes of their actions.
Politicians, for example, have zero skin in the game. They mis-manage an economy and it plummets, yet they still give themselves raises. Roman Emperors, however, had skin in the game, and you can see this by their life expectancy. Kings used to ride at the front of the army, for example - skin in the game.
I have complete skin in the game in MITA. I haven't hedged it with investors to divide risk. This means every product we make goes through research, compliance, testing, and each is simply something I want, I want to put my name behind, and I want to be responsible for, because they're great products. Companies whose management don't have real skin in the game chase margins, not necessarily quality.
The book explores how having "skin in the game" affects our choices, big and small, and how the lack of it leads to poor decision-making. It's a profound call for integrity, reminding us that a clear mind begins with personal responsibility and understanding the consequences of our decisions.
4. "Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder" by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
There's a theme here, yes, I'm a fan of Taleb's books and his way of seeing the world. It forces you to see things from a different angle - a truer angle.
Taleb’s "Antifragile" introduces a revolutionary concept that goes beyond resilience or robustness. He describes how some systems benefit from shocks, volatility, and disorder. This book pushes readers to think differently about the chaos and challenges they face, suggesting that instead of merely trying to withstand disruptions, one can grow and thrive because of them.
Taleb’s engrossing style compels readers to reassess their approach to uncertainty, making it an invaluable resource for cultivating a resilient and opportunistic mindset.
While the book focuses again on risk, the reader can take the principles and apply them to one's own life, becoming not just robust, or being able to withstand disruptions, but antifragile, or growing because of the disruptions. He highlights Stoicism as a means for individuals to be antifragile, in the acceptance that we need nothing but the ability to breathe to be happy and satisfied.
5. "The Way to Love: The Last Meditations of Anthony de Mello" by Anthony de Mello
"The Way to Love" contains the final teachings of Anthony de Mello, presenting spirituality and self-discovery as the route to clarity and inner peace.
This collection of meditations serves as a guide to stripping away the trappings of illusion and embracing reality as it is. De Mello's insights encourage a form of cognitive purification, shedding limiting beliefs and societal conditioning. It is a powerful manual for those looking to explore the depths of their emotions and thoughts, ultimately finding clarity through love and acceptance.
It's also a playbook to becoming antifragile, or gaining from disorder in that de Mello teaches the reader to detach from pursuits, and that happiness isn't to be attached to things that can be taken away from you.
6. "Meditations" by Marcus Aurelius
Marcus Aurelius's "Meditations" is a timeless collection of personal writings from one of Rome’s greatest emperors, which was never intended for publication, which makes it all the more powerful. It's a collection of the thoughts of a Stoic Roman Emperor, who, at the time, was practicing a philosophy that seemingly went against being the most powerful man in the world - one would think.
The book encapsulates Stoic philosophy, emphasizing rationality, control over one’s emotions, and clear judgment.
Aurelius’s meditations are as practical today as they were two millennia ago, offering guidance on how to think clearly amid the chaos of everyday life and maintain a sense of moral integrity. His reflections on life and leadership remain profound musings on how to live a meaningful, thoughtful life.
7. "Thinking, Fast and Slow" by Daniel Kahneman
Daniel Kahneman’s "Thinking, Fast and Slow" is a seminal work that delves into the dichotomy between two modes of thought: the fast, intuitive, and emotional; versus the slow, deliberate, and logical. Kahneman, a Nobel laureate, meticulously dissects the errors and biases that affect decision-making, urging readers to understand the complex machinery of their minds.
The book serves as a manual for better thinking, offering insights into how to make smarter decisions, develop greater self-awareness, and avoid common cognitive pitfalls.
Thinking Clearly is Everything
The quality of our life is firmly based on the quality of our decisions.
We make better decisions when we have the discipline to act on said correct decisions - like, 'yes, it's time to workout, so I workout' - but also by seeing the world as it really is, which can be a tall task.
The books above help you see reality, what really is, so at the very least, you're not fooling yourself into believing something that isn't so - like the problems you're currently facing will exist forever, and this is just how life is.
Thinking clearly is calming, as well as effective. It's imperative that we learn this skill if we're going to live our best life, which is a task we're all given when we're born.