‘Good’ thinking is hard work – intellectual traits

I had an interesting chat last week with a member at my health club. Not just about sports. At one point, we agreed that not knowing what we don’t know is an issue. He said, “I can tell that you’re a thinker.” [2] Is that unusual?

So, this recent article (below) caught my attention.

In fact, much of the interpersonal conflict that I encounter is with people unwilling (or unable) to consider that what they believe is wrong. In fact, asking questions is an affront, shutting down rational dialog and leaving only emotive symbols or just silence.

That’s the opposite of people who don’t have “particularly strong convictions to begin with” – not caring much about having the ‘right’ beliefs.

This article also notes the vital role of curiosity. As well as personality traits associated with susceptibility to misinformation.

• Phys.org > “Being humble about what you know is just one part of what makes you a good thinker, says researcher” by Eranda Jayawickreme (a psychology professor who researches character [1]), The Conversation (October 25, 2023) – Is being humble about what you know or don’t know enough?

What does it mean to be a good thinker? Recent research suggests that acknowledging you can be wrong [intellectual humility] plays a vital role.

One reason for my focus on intellectual humility was that without acknowledging the possibility that your current beliefs may be mistaken [open-mindedness], you literally can’t learn anything new.

So, “being a good thinker” is a lot of work – there’s no silver bullet. Like fitness at my health club, you need to be motivated, but wary of “shortcuts” (gimmicks) and buzzy influencers, and willing to go outside your comfort zone (social echo chamber). In the midst of everyday routines and challenges, it can be tough building the requisite habits.

Here’s Jayawickreme’s summary:

Being a good thinker involves confronting multiple challenges beyond being humble about what you know. You also need to:

• Be sufficiently motivated to figure out what’s true.

• Focus on the pertinent information and carefully seek it out.

• Be open-minded when considering information that you may disagree with.

• Confront information or questions that are novel or different from what you’re generally used to engaging with.

• Be willing to put in the effort to figure it all out.


[1] In another part of that chat last week, we talked about resiliency. I remembered that the “character counts” framework was active when I was teaching public school. Yet, I did not recall resiliency as part of the traits. It’s still not one of the Character Counts pillars.

[2] This week, he remarked that when he used to hire people (in marketing & sales), he looked for candidates with “conscious competence.”