Think of Yourself as a Thinker



“What we think, we become.” — Buddha

Thinking is a skill.  You can build it with practice.  It all starts by thinking to yourself …

“I Am a thinker.”

Your self-image is a key to improving your thinking skills.  If you want to improve your thinking skills, one of the most important first steps is to think of yourself as a thinker.

This is not the same as thinking of yourself as intelligent or as an egghead.  The problem with holding those self-images is they get in the way of effective thinking.  For example, if you have a self-image of “intelligent” that you may find yourself defending it to yourself or others.  You might be afraid to ask “dumb” questions.  In the case of an “egghead” self-image, that might conflict with an image you want to have about yourself.  For example, maybe it’s not “cool” to be an “egghead.”

The solution is to simply think of yourself as a thinker.  This frees you up to use and practice thinking.
In the book, De Bono’s Thinking Course (Revised Edition) , Edward de Bono writes about  thinking of yourself as a thinker and practicing thinking as a skill.

Think of Yourself as a “Thinker”
de Bono writes:

“The self-image of ‘I am intelligent’ or ‘I am not an egghead’ is a value image which has to be defended or maintained.  In the first case, thinking is merely a tool to show how smart you are.  In the second case thinking is avoided because it has to be regarded as ‘boring.’  The self-image of ‘I am a thinker’ is a totally different image.  It is not a ‘value’ image but an operating image. … It means that I can try to think about things, that I enjoy thinking about things, that I am interesting in developing more skill at thinking.”

Shift to the Self-Image of “I Am a Thinker”
How important is this shift?   Let’s put it in perspective.  Edward de Bono published more than forty books on thinking and he had this to say:

“If all my work, including this book, achieved no more than cause a shift to the self-image of ‘I am a thinker,’ I would be happy.  The techniques, understandings, and methods are of secondary importance to this.”

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Photo by Shandi-lee.


  1. Hi JD,
    This is a very important skill “thinking.” One of the managers that I had a few years ago in my old job kept saying “I get paid for my thinking” since he makes over $130,000 a year. This statement back then had me to think and really meditate on it. I started to really “think” and go outside the box from the norm. I must say it was one of the most important lessons I learned. Thanks for sharing JD, great post!

  2. I am thinking these days how to improve my kids’ self esteem. I need to start with teching them how to think as thinkers.
    Good stuff!

  3. I’m married to a guy who claims that being a thinker is a great way to be unhappy.

    Nevertheless, I do think of myself as a thinker. 🙂

  4. Ironically, as a songwriter, I do my best work when I do not think too much. It’s good to let things come up without editing, so the flow can breathe. When the song is done I go back to my thinking mode.

    I do believe we are what we think. So let’s think good thoughts!


  5. I consider myself to be a thinker, but I have to be careful not to allow my logical mind to overshadow my heart. When the two are in unity, I’m at my best…and a better thinker.

    Great post J.D.!

  6. Interestingly, I have always been a heaver thinker, but am trying to do less of it. I agree with Vered’s husband that being too much of a thinker or being too much in your head can lead to unhappiness. It causes you to live in the past or the future and miss out on the present. I am not saying that we shouldn’t think at all–just that too much of it may have unwanted consequences.

  7. I’ll piggy back off of JK and go as far to say that i am a thinker but try to be aligned with the heart at the same time.

  8. @ Dia — It sounds like your manager helped you see how valuable thinking could be.

    In a knowledge worker world, thinking is a premium.

    @ Alik — The beauty of thinking is they can respond vs. react, and keep perspective. So much of effective thinking is about perspective and directing attention.

    @ Vered — He just might be right …

    “Sixty minutes of thinking of any kind is bound to lead to confusion and unhappiness.” — James Thurber

    @ Jannie — I’m a fan of life unedited.

    Disney was a master at freeing up creating thinking by factoring out the critic phase from the brainstorm phase.

    The same is true in writing. write, then edit.

    @ Jk — I know what you mean.

    I can think deeply, and I can feel deeply too, and it’s the balance and blend that helps me the most. My manager was always good at challenging the team with, “What’s your gut say?”, and I adopted the habit.

    @ Lisa — One of my previous managers is very good about living the phrase, “get out of your head.” He uses running and other forms of “movement” to balance mind, body, heart, and spirit.

    @ Kenya — Heart and mind are a powerful force when they team up.

  9. Hi JD .. We should all think before we leap, or think before we open our mouths .. I’d add the words ‘weigh things up’: balance the needs of our thinking and for what purpose.

    As Jannie and Vered say .. letting the heart words flow are all that’s needed sometimes .. others we need to proceed with caution – think first .. and ask that dumb question …. essential to digging a little lower t getting the background.

    I’d like to think I think around things – but I’d love to know more and understand thinking at a higher level …. Cheers Hilary

  10. Hi JD,

    This is a concept I never thought of before. Is he saying that if you shift your image to “I am a thinker”, This will give you a better self image?

    I might need to pick up this book.

  11. @ Hilary — Well put … a little purpose does go a long way.

    I’ve learned to take calculated risks, act on inspiration, treat emotions as input, and recognize that some ideas have an expiration date.

    I think one of the most useful books that helped me appreciate the different types of thinking and perspectives is Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats. It’s a beautiful way to take the balcony view.

    @ Vic — I’ll elaborate here because this is a key concept, the kind where breakthroughs happen.

    de Bono’s main point is that if you don’t see yourself as a “thinker”, then you won’t give yourself a chance to practice thinking as a skill. You automatically limit your thinking because of your own limiting mental model.

    If, on the other hand, you decide that you are a “thinker”, then you give yourself the freedom to explore your thinking abilities and value your thinking skills. Your mental model supports the idea of thinking as a skill and that you can improve it, just like working out.

    So rather than a “better” self-image, it’s more of an “effective” self-image for improving your thinking skills.

  12. Too often we get caught up in what we aren’t instead of enjoying and exploring what we are. We are all intelligent otherwise we wouldn’t be reading J.D.’s blog. 🙂 We must encourage this wisdom to flourish as we grow and interact.

  13. J.D. Really great advice. I love that idea. I think disciplined thinking really is key to our lives and our growth. Really great wisdom here 😉 Thanks for sending it my way.

  14. @ Karl — Thank you for the kind words 🙂

    Yes, flourishing is a good thing, and wisdom is a way to bloom.

    @ Sibyl — I’ve been lucky to be in an environment where skilled thinking pays off, balanced with emotional intelligence. It’s taught me to fully appreciate the power of thinking techniques and how quickly they can turn situations around.

  15. I am a thinker but what do I need to think? Less, actually. The more I thought the more troubled I became. So now I take things in, observe, read and reflect, but allow it all to seep in rather than contemplating all it means. A few empowering simple thoughts is all I focus on and they energise me sufficently to live without worry or undue concern. We are thinkers but we needn’t have so many of them. It’s like food – have a balanced healthy diet without gorging on every foodstuff available.

  16. Yes I am a thinker. Yet I find that I like myself more and think more loving thoughts when I consider myself a lover and a feeler. I wonder if empathy is the real final frontier to see things as they are.

  17. @ Frank — You reminded me of a great Covey quote: “All things we do are created twice: first in our minds, then in reality.”

    @ John — “A few empowering simple thoughts is all I focus on” … Well put.

    I find empowering questions are the key to empowering thoughts.

    The most empowering question I know is, “Who do you want to be and what experiences do you want to create?” … the rest flow from there.

    @ Tom — I think empathy flows from connection … and we’re at our best when we’re connected. Communicating and connecting amplify the feelings … and feelings amplify our lives.

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