Yes. But have you given enough thought to drive your commitment to developing your thinking ethic as a key skill, a life skill that is central for success in key areas of your life?

Thinking powers your emotions, plans, dreams, learning, and habits. It determines and directs how you spend your time, money, and energy (Murphy, 2019).

Clearly, some of the most important work you do as a human is to think, so it is invaluable for you to cultivate a high-thinking ethic (Lipman, 1995).

What a thinking ethic is
– Ethic means “a set of moral principles, especially ones that relate to or affirm a specified group, field or form of conduct.”
– It is derived from the Greek word “ethos” which means nature or disposition.
– We are familiar with the advantages of a high work ethic – “Hard work is the key to success”. 
– In most instances, we understand this as keeping busy (Raelin, 2002).
– We view work as limited to what we do with our hands. 

How does this relate to you?

Thinking is like any skill.  You build it through directed learning, caring guidance and persistent practice (Awang and Ramly, 2008). We all think thoughts. However, we are not talking about a measure of intelligence.

Instead, it is about deliberately improving the quality of your thoughts so that you make good decisions that have a positive impact on your life and the lives of others.

Our current reality

In your relationships, you focus on doing things to build, sustain and improve these relationships. You unknowingly leave the thinking to adverts, movies, novels, social media, and magazines.

It also applies in your households and, generally, most aspects of your life (Kilbourne, 2012).

If you are to take back control, you need to cultivate your thinking ethic so the work you do with your hands is directed by the good work you have already invested in your mind.

Otherwise, you will find yourself working hard at the wrong thing in the wrong way at the wrong time for the wrong reasons. 

Find yourself always busy? Always feeling overwhelmed? Always chasing and never feeling like you are achieving or getting things done? Never in control of your life?

You may find yourself moving from one urgent crisis to the next; never in control of your time or your working day, at the mercy of one email or phone call; with an ever-growing list of things you need to do. This does not need to be your life; you can change this. You can regain control over your time. It is possible for you to create space to breathe and enjoy your work.

This is the thing about a work ethic – it is a continuous state of being. It is embedded in who you naturally and habitually are. When you change your thinking habits, you can change and re-direct your life.

So where do you start?

In the same way that you use different tools and methods to make your physical work productive and efficient, you need tools and methods for your thinking work, purposed for the type of thinking you want to do.

If you are not sure where to begin, this is one of the reflective exercises I do when coaching my clients.

I help them to think by asking and answering questions like what, why, how, when, whom, where and what if? (Van Zee and Minstrell 1997)

Let’s get practising

Think about your life or any aspect of it. It may be your entire life’s purpose (what do you want your life to be like and about), a relationship with a certain person or group of people, your dominant emotions, your health, home, or community. Answer these questions for yourself. It may be helpful to do this in writing so that you can re-visit it again in future should you wish. Also remember that there is no wrong or right answer, just be honest with yourself.

  • How am I doing?
  • How do I feel about how I am doing?
  • How did I get here?
  • How would I rather be doing?
  • Why is that important to me?
  • How do I move from where I am to where I would rather be?

Thinking ethic and leadership

We are leaders in our personal and workspaces. We lead as parents, as spouses, as community members and as members in our social groups. Leadership is not a concept that can only be owned by people with certain titles in the world of work. How we lead in our personal spaces may impact how we enter our workspaces and vice versa. We all lead lives.

As a business and leadership coach, I find that few leaders give time and attention to this important thinking work (Flores et al, 2012). We keep busy with meetings and getting things done. While that is important, one of the greatest responsibilities of leadership is to think – alone and with others (Basadur, 2004). The decisions that leaders make, impact many lives so they need to be well-considered.

Thinking makes leaders more effective

Creating and prioritising thinking time helps leaders to be more effective (Olson and Simerson, 2015). Leaders need to understand the people they lead better, the times and context in which they lead, their own biases and strengths, and the challenges and opportunities they face.

To be a more effective leader you need to schedule and protect time to think. This will enhance your decisions because you will identify and explore more options available to you before making decisions (Olson and Simerson, 2015).

As a leader, give yourself time and space to think deeply and broadly about where you are going and how each daily decision brings you closer to that imagined and desired future.

Your thinking ethic may be the key to a good career, marriage, home, and business. Cultivate a high thinking ethic so that you may lead a life that you will enjoy and be proud of.


Raelin, J. A. (2002, September). “I don’t have time to think!’ versus the Art of Reflective Practice. Reflections. The SoL Journal, 4(1), 66 – 79. doi:10.1162/152417302320467571

Murphy, J., 2019. The Power of Your Subconscious Mind: The Complete Original Edition: Also Includes the Bonus Book” You Can Change Your Whole Life”. St. Martin’s Essentials.

Lipman, M., 1995. Moral education higher order thinking and philosophy for children. Early Child Development and Care, 107(1), pp.61-70.

Awang, H. and Ramly, I., 2008. Creative thinking skill approach through problem-based learning: Pedagogy and practice in the engineering classroomInternational journal of human and social sciences3(1), pp.18-23.

Kilbourne, J., 2012. Can’t buy my love: How advertising changes the way we think and feel. Simon and Schuster.

Van Zee, E. and Minstrell, J., 1997. Using questioning to guide student thinking. The Journal of the Learning Sciences6(2), pp.227-269

Flores, K.L., Matkin, G.S., Burbach, M.E., Quinn, C.E. and Harding, H., 2012. Deficient critical thinking skills among college graduates: Implications for leadership. Educational Philosophy and Theory44(2), pp.212-230.

Basadur, M., 2004. Leading others to think innovatively together: Creative leadership. The Leadership Quarterly15(1), pp.103-121.

Olson, A.K. and Simerson, B.K., 2015. Leading with strategic thinking: Four ways effective leaders gain insight, drive change, and get results. John Wiley & Sons.

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