If only common sense was that common, goes the refrain. Rolf Dobelli’s book The Art of Thinking Clearly, already a best-seller in several parts of the world before it made its entry into India, explains the components of common sense in 99 pithy chapters. The result is a simple-to-read, lucid take on rational analysis and irrational behaviours, offering insight on why we do what we do and how to make the most of our unavoidable psychological mechanisms.
The chapters are subtitled according to psychological theories, each painstakingly noted and observed by the author on his journey through life as a PhD and full-time novelist, before he set out to write this first book of non-fiction. One of the important ones that struck me was ‘the action bias: why watching and waiting is torture’. Dobelli explains that not taking action is often considered failure even if taking action would have ensured it, and so humans impulsively jump to action or conclusion to save face even if it’s not in their best interest.
All chapters in the book have a takeaway, a moral of the story that outlines how exactly one can use or be aware of this inherent thought characteristic to avoid errors. In the above chapter, for instance, Dobelli warns doctors against hasty diagnoses; investors against reckless stock-market decisions; and police officers against premature interventions in bar brawls. In most such cases, his research says it’s better to wait and observe before reacting.
In another chapter on procrastination, Dobelli shows how self-control in the face of temptation leads to intellectual exhaustion, and is not sustainable in the long run. Instead, he outlines ways to get work done without distraction or dawdling, such as making sure you are well-fed, turning off the Internet, setting deadlines, and breaking up tasks into smaller, easier steps.
While the book is invaluable for loading up on many handy tricks to avoid falling into common psychological traps, the occasional judgmental tone or condescending statement does put you off, especially if the ‘tendency’ being talked about applies to you! In many spots, the author assumes that what has worked for him will work for everyone. And I don’t know about the international edition but the Indian one I got had completely fallen apart from the spine even before I was halfway through.
Still, those are minor grouses against what is overall an excellent reservoir of knowledge about self-awareness and cognitive growth. If you’re looking for solid, information-rich material to help you make better decisions and think in a more rational way, this book should top your reading list.
First published on FriendsofBooks.com