#1 Skill for Life at Any Age

It was a little past 4 when I got out of bed on Sundaymorning. The winter’s first snow was still coming down, and the streets and sidewalks were a blank canvas, waiting for early morning artist’s tracks to leave their mark.

I slowly descended the stairs. My legs are a little slower and stiffer in the morning hours. As I shuffled through the dark to the kitchen, the dog didn’t stir from his mat. He sleeps more deeply now that he’s older. We both hit milestone birthday this year, 40 for me and 10 for him, right before New Year’s.

My nose was slightly stuffy from the previous night’s Christmas cheer, and I sniffled a few times while making my morning energy drink.

On a weekday morning, I would have opened my laptop and writing five hundred to a thousand words on my number one work priority. But that was not my plan that morning. I had something more important to do.

Grabbing a notepad and my favorite pen, I went into the living room, sat in my comfy chair beside the fireplace, and went to work on the most important activity in life.

I started thinking.

The average man hates thinking. He’ll do anything to avoid it. It’s why most people go through life head down, immersed in their smart phones, streaming Netflix, tracking insignificant sports scores, and reading the idle gossip “newspapers” they distribute for free in subways and at bus stops. The search for external amusement knows no limits.

“Most people fear being without audiovisual stimulation,” Nassim Taleb writes in The Bed of Procrustes, “because they are too repetitive when they think.”

For the average person, thinking is punishment, and they look for the easy way out.

“Thinking is the hardest work there is,” said Henry Ford, “which is probably the reason why so few engage in it.”

But if you want to get ahead, you must think. You must set aside time to plot and scheme your way to freedom, like Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption. He did not sit idly by when opportunity raised its head. And neither can you. But you can only succeed with thinking. It is the number one skill you can use to improve your life at any age.

Certainly action is important, but if you act without thinking, you can make things worse. Much worse. If you don’t think ahead and properly plan your course, you become the proverbial person in the already deep hole that keeps digging without thinking.

After all, what is the first thing you say to your teenager when they foul up?

“What were you thinking?” you scream.

Clear thinking, on the other hand, is the foundation of success.

“An hour of effective, precise, hard, disciplined – and integrated thinking can be worth a month of hard work,” says Dave Kekich in his 44th Kekich Credo

“Thinking is the very essence of, and the most difficult thing to do in business and in life. Empire builders spend hour-after-hour on mental work…while others party. If you’re not consciously aware of putting forth the effort to exert self-guided integrated thinking…if you don’t act beyond your feelings and instead take the path of least resistance, then you give in to laziness, make bad decisions and no longer control your life.”

Harsh, yet true. But even those of us that recognize the power of thinking, few of us make the time.

The beauty of thinking is that it’s best done outside of your regular work environment. The idea for my first million-dollar business came to me on an airplane. One of the side benefits of traveling as much as I do is the time spent thinking in airports and airplanes.

Our brain operates differently – and more creatively – when we’re in nature, out walking the dog, and doing seemingly mindless tasks. That’s why you get flashes of insight in the shower or while washing the dishes or even while exercising.

To foster your ability to think, you need to follow the instructions in my Perfect Day Formula book and get up fifteen minutes early each day. That’s enough time for now to start making big changes in your life. Eventually you should get up even earlier, but this is good enough for now.

When you are the first out of bed, it’s just you and your thoughts. If you have prepared a plan the night before, you can set your mind to solving your number one problem in the your way of your success and happiness or making great progress on your number one priority in life.

But if you insist on getting up late and rushing through the day reacting to busy work, you’ll end up with the average results of the average person in a world where average is rewarded less and less each day.

The Art of Thinking gets as much respect as hoarding gold. Both stand the test of time and have endured for centuries amongst wise men, yet its critics dismiss it as a barbarous, ancient relic.

“You don’t need to think, you just need the latest productivity app!” the cutting-edge folks say today.

Such claims cause me to roll my eyes, and shuffle off to a corner seat where I can sit and think, sans smartphone, happy to be the only dinosaur in the room using his own brain.

And so, on that recent Sunday morning, I settled in to do just that, armed with my high-tech thinking tools – pen and pad.

But what should you think about?

It doesn’t have to be about work. That’s just my personal preference.

You can use the quiet early hours of a weekend morning to think yourself out of any problem, from health issues to credit card debt.

Start by dumping out the contents of your brain. Free your mind and then connect the dots. Identify the opportunities. Make a plan to overcome the obstacles. And prepare the correct course of action that moves you towards success.

I like to think about the answers to five questions first taught to me by my mentor, Yanik Silver in his 18th Maverick Business Rule here.

“Keep asking the right questions to come up with innovative solutions. “How?”, “What?”, “Where?”, “Who Else?” & “Why?” open up possibilities.”

And so that’s what I do, I sit there and think and scribble down my answers to these questions for my businesses, my health, and my personal relationships.

How can we attract more contributors and customers to the ETR world?

What can I do to help our ETR team members grow personally and professionally?

Where can I be today, this week, and this month to grow my network and meet interesting people?

Who else in my network can I connect with and help today?

Why should I keep doing certain activities in my business or daily routine?

Sometimes I’ll also do the 10 Big Ideas exercise that author James Altucher recommends. I scribble down 10 ways I can help a friend or a business partner. I might write down 10 big connections I want to make or 10 new products to create and books to write.

No editing is allowed. Just big, fast, wild thinking. It’s fun, useful, and puts a smile of optimism on my face. It sure beats spending the same amount of time worrying, gossiping, or reading the horrors on the front page of the New York Times.

And so that is how I start my Sundays.

There are reasons why we all love weekends. It means more family time, watching movies, and playing sports or taking hikes. We reward ourselves with bigger or better meals. We feel no guilt in enjoying an extra glass — or two or three — of wine.

But for me, it means more time for thinking, and more importantly, clearer, better thinking. Weekends mean fewer incoming emails, no meetings, and only friendly phone calls, so you don’t have any of those regular work stresses clouding your judgment. Weekends were built for free, clear, and integrated thinking.

Don’t throw away this opportunity. Embrace your chance to think. When done alone in a creative space you’ll find yourself experiencing the mental breakthroughs that you’ve struggled to find during your regular workweek. You’ll see new solutions to old problems and wonder, “Why didn’t I think of this before?”

After sixty minutes of thinking on that cold and dark Sunday morning, I was satisfied. My mind was emptied, my plans clearer, and my success foundation bigger and stronger than ever. But I wasn’t done yet. Now it was time for the dog and I to stretch our old legs, take a walk, and do more thinking while leaving our mark on nature’s snowy canvass.