• Nanda Cruz Rios Ford

6 ways to practice Strategic Thinking

One of the most valuable assets we can have nowadays is the ability to think strategically. Strategic thinking is the ability to foresee the future consequences of our actions and to create strategies to achieve the results we desire. Strategic thinkers are great at creative problem-solving, and can see connections between people, concepts, and ideas that most of us ignore.

Developing your strategic thinking can be the make or break factor to reach your personal and professional goals. Luckily, there are things we can do in the daily life that helps us develop such an important skill. I will share the ones that have been working for me:

1. Make time to think

That may seem obvious, but most people don't just stop their lives and think about their goals a few times a week. Where are you in life? Where do you want to go next? Why do you want the things you want? What motivates you? How can you get there? What is working and what is not working? These are questions that, if we don't ask ourselves regularly, we may end up just living an automatic life and reacting to what happens instead of actively pursuing our goals. Some tips to make time to think:

- Practice mindful meditation. Meditating for even one minute can help you clear your mind and increase your focus before you start thinking about your goals.

- Write down your thoughts. I think much better when I write. It also helps me to stay present and avoid distractions or random thoughts.

- If you feel stuck, stop what you're doing and take a walk outside.

"Walking on a regular basis also promotes new connections between brain cells, staves off the usual withering of brain tissue that comes with age, increases the volume of the hippocampus (a brain region crucial for memory), and elevates levels of molecules that both stimulate the growth of new neurons and transmit messages between them." (Read more)

2. Practice your creativity.

We were born creative. When we grow up, we start taking things for granted and stop being curious about everything. But the good news is that we can practice our creativity. I have creative hobbies that I love: drawing, lettering, and anything DIY, from leather drawer pulls to wood-working. You don't need to be good at it, just allow yourself to enjoy it.

3. Say yes to new experiences

Just try new things. It doesn't matter if it's moving to another country or just ordering something you never had in a restaurant. Trying a different route to work, trying on clothes that you think you would never wear... anything out of your comfort zone. Trying something different every month can be an excellent personal goal to set.

4. Talk to people who disagree with you

Be open to listening to people with different backgrounds, worldviews, and opinions. It's not about changing your mind (although that may happen) but learning a different perspective on something. Being married to our own ideas is a very dangerous thing and a real hindrance to our personal growth. Practice your listening and try to put yourself in someone else's shoes.

5. Learn things outside your field

Read books, take a class, talk to people about subjects you're not familiar with. When I was an engineering PhD student, I took (many) courses in sustainability, creative writing, indigenous architecture, women's studies, and even computer science (which is definitely OUT of my comfort zone). I can't stress enough how that has improved my strategic thinking and creative problem-solving skills. It's all about finding those connections that other people ignore, remember? How can you connect different ideas and concepts if you only know the perspective of your own field?

6. Practice strategic planning

If you don't do it already, create smart goals for your life and career. Long-, medium-, and short-term goals. Turn your "new year resolutions" into goals and break these down into yearly, monthly, weekly, daily goals. What is the smallest step that you can take today to achieve the results that you want in a year? Write everything down, and get into the habit of planning your day, week, month, year. Seeing how what you do today affects your future goals is the core of strategic thinking. Get used to it.

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