Getting Good


Despite not reading nearly as many self improvement books as Ms. Maxwell, I am an enthusiast of the genre. How I go about self improvement may differ from her approach. I prefer to approach self improvement from a psychological standpoint seeing as if you completely understand how you think, then you can exploit this understanding to make yourself think and do the best possible thing. This unfortunately doesn’t really work because no one truly knows how we think. Most psychologists only understand how we might have straightforward thoughts and simple emotions. Nothing compared to all the complexity of the mind.

The lessons on how we can become better and more effective thinkers can be learned through experience much more easily than through understanding the mind. You don’t need to understand gravity to know how to walk. So maybe it’s better not to seek the why or how but rather the what. This is the philosophy of Edward Burger and Michael Starbird, the authors of the book I read: The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking. 

Starbird and Burger are both university math teachers. With their position, they oversee many students and can investigate to find out which habits and techniques their students are using to learn. They can also employ different teaching techniques in their classrooms. Using this, they can then correlate and find a causative relationship between certain habits and a students ability to think and learn. With this, they were able to write their book. 

So what are the 5 elements? They are understanding (the fundaments of an idea) deeply, making (and learning from) mistakes, raising questions (to clarify the idea), to follow the flow of ideas (see where they came from and where they’re going) and to change (you can always improve and grow). The element (or habit) that resonated the most with me was making mistakes. As someone who learned in PLP for the last 5 years, I think PLP has introduced a bias towards learning from and revision based on mistakes which made me like this element so much.

Burger and Starbird don’t just write about it as a concept but give specific and actionable tips for how a learner can use mistakes for their benefit. In their words, “every time you fail you’re just making progress towards complete understanding”. So how can you learn from your mistakes? You can let errors be your guide. “This is wrong because…”. If something doesn’t look right, you can look for the mistake, ie. look for the lesson to be learned. You can fail by intent. By making something so extreme that it’s impractical, some aspects of your idea can point you towards something practical. Mistakes are also an opportunity for more effective creativity. Instead of staring at a blank screen when you start writing, write whatever you think of the topic down. Then distinguish good and bad. Now you have something to go from. Easier than creating something brand new.

If you’re interested in not being mentally stagnant in life but in growing, then The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking is the book for you. All that you need is the willpower to implement the 5 elements and change yourself.

I have begun to implement the elements where I can. I also talked about the book in the grade 12 panel during the PLP exhibition. In preparation for the exhibition, I read arguments for and against The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking. Using the articles, the brainstorming between Randy, Erin, Quinn, Indy, and myself, and my notes for inspiration I could come up with arguments and ideas for the panel.

The panel itself went well. I got across the main points which I wanted to convey while ensuring that all of us panel members spent a good and roughly equal amount of time talking. Keeping things interesting for the audience.

During the panel I was also the moderator for Ryan, Nathan, Logan, Ryder, and Josh’s group.

Being a moderator gave me a unique perspective as my role shifted shifted from answering questions to coming up and incorporating questions and points to make the panel flow well and be interesting. It made me think of how I could make the panel better. The one thing I would change would be to distinguish the points from the books and the books themselves. A lot of time was spent with the panel members talking about their slightly different iteration of the same idea where saying “I agree” would have had the same effect. 

So what?

Reading The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking has inspired me to go from the why to the how and try reading more similar books instead of purely reading psychology books. To start, I’ve started reading Atomic Habits, something that I’ll continue reading over the summer. All of the self improvement books we read outlined things that, like skills, we could improve and refine. I have a long journey of improvement and refinement ahead. I will try to incorporate and use the tips from these books to change my habits into something which will be a good basis upon which I can live a good and meaningful life. 

Thanks for reading

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