Thinkers and Doers

Think and do

There is thinking and there is doing. Two distinct skills. When it comes to making important decisions, we need to apply both. We need the conscientiousness to think things through, then we need the confidence to get on with it, and the confidence to see the decision through, despite obstacles, and despite any doubts or uncertainties.

A lack or an excess of either of these two things (relative to the complexity or the importance of the problem) can lead to poor decision-making.

If you tend to lack confidence in yourself, or if you are overly conscientious (perfectionist), if you overthink things, then that can lead to procrastination, avoidance. It means you will sometimes fail to decide and will therefore miss out on opportunities that present themselves to you. Because of your caution.

If you are over-confident in your ability to make these choices, or if you don’t much care (tend to lack conscientiousness), then decision-making can seem easy. The problem is that it can lead to rash decisions and to mistakes. ‘I am a risk-taker,’ you tell yourself, lurching from one crisis to another.

Sometimes we need to be cautious and sometimes we need to take a risk, so ideally, we should maintain some sort of balance between our ‘thinking’ and our ‘doing’.

We need to be conscientious enough to weigh up the pros and the cons, to review the alternatives, to ensure we have understood the problem and the risks; and we need to be confident enough to choose a path and go for it.

The two things should be linked. Our confidence in making a decision should reflect how well we have understood the problem. But that’s not how it seems to work. In many people, the two things seem to have become uncoupled: there are people who are hesitant to decide, even though they know very well what they are doing; and there are people who are confident even though they don’t have a clue.

“The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.”

Bertrand Russell

The problem is that sometimes it feels like these two things pull us in opposite directions. They feel like opposites – one is about minimising the risk of making mistakes, the other about having the courage to accept some risk.

Some people do achieve a balance between the two things, but most of us fall on one side or other of the divide: we tend to make the problem bigger than it is, or smaller; we are either too slow to decide or too quick. We are either thinkers or doers.

It must be something to do with our nature in the first place, which is then reinforced by parenting style, and by our wider experience. Something to do with our sensitivity.

There is a pressure inherent in the possibility of making a mistake. Someone who is sensitive to the pressure will want to be cautious (will be either fearful or overly conscientious); someone who is resilient will not feel the same pressure.

What is more, someone who is sensitive will be upset when they make mistakes. They will feel their mistakes more acutely. Someone who is resilient, will brush them off. This reinforces the exaggerated caution in the one and the artificial confidence in the other. Sensitivity reinforces sensitivity and resilience reinforces resilience. Even though, by their nature, the resilient one will have made more mistakes.

They should complement each other, the thinkers and the doers – the strengths of one should compensate for the weaknesses of the other. But, often, they are at daggers drawn. They see the strengths in themselves and only the weaknesses in their opposites.

Thinkers will say they are being cautious and that doers are being naively optimistic. Doers will say they are being ‘positive’ and that thinkers are being ‘negative’.

They are both equally right and equally wrong. A rounded person will have the two things in balance, will be realistic.

Although I suspect we should err slightly on the side of pushing ahead, on the side of the positive. ‘If you’re not making mistakes, you’re doing something wrong’ …


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