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How to be a quick thinker

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Everyone knows someone who has a quick wit and can craft a clever response on the fly. Usually these people are charismatic and likable, and cause others to shake their heads in wonder at how quickly their mind works. 

On the flip side of the coin, everyone has had a moment where they think back to a conversation and wish they would have said or done something different. 

So, how do you become a quick thinker? 

While there definitely are natural talents and genetics that make some more prone to thinking faster than others, there are plenty of ways to improve your thinking skills and speed. Let’s take a look at what the research shows on quick thinking and what factors can enhance the time it takes you to process

Table of contents

Interesting facts about quick thinking

  • Fast thinkers are more likely to engage in risky behaviors than those who think more deliberately and slowly. [1]
  • Genes play a large role in mental processing speed. [2]
  • When people are forced to think fast, they feel happier. [3]
  • People who participated in aerobic exercise see increased attention and processing speed. [4]
  • Physical exercise is attributed to brain growth. [5]
  • Exercising in the morning not only spikes brain activity and prepares you for mental stresses for the rest of the day, but also increases retention of new information and better reaction to complex situations. [5]
  • Meditation has been shown to help people think faster. [6]
  • Slow processing speed is not a sign of intelligence. [7]
  • Fast thinkers are seen as more charismatic by their peers. [8]
  • While increased choice allows us to achieve objectively better results, it also leads to greater anxiety, indecision, paralysis, and dissatisfaction. [9]
  • When we agonize over a decision, we deplete our limited supply of willpower much more quickly, causing us to feel exhausted and overwhelmed. [9]

Why quick thinking is useful

Being someone who likes to take time and chew on a situation before responding isn’t inherently bad—in fact, there are plenty of situations where that deliberateness is useful.

But similarly, there are also other situations where you’ll want to be able to think on your feet, as it can lead to a number of advantages, including:

  • It makes you more efficient in your day to day. The faster you can make decisions and process what’s happening around you, the faster you can work and get things done. Quick thinkers don’t waste time contemplating decisions or mulling over conversations—they act.
  • It can help you develop better problem solving skills. Quick thinkers don’t just think faster—they identify the most important details quickly and use deduction skills to shape their response. Thinking fast can help you analyze each aspect of an issue without going too deep into analysis.
  • It can help you be seen as smart or clever. Many people who are quick thinkers (and speakers) are seen as intelligent because they always have an answer or insight to share. This is not necessarily a true assumption, but can be helpful if you’re trying to gain the respect of your peers.
  • It encourages others to rely on you for answers. Similarly to the above, if you’re known to be someone who is a quick thinker, people may start to come to you if they need a fast decision. You’ll gain the respect and trust of your peers because you’ve proven that you can think through an issue quickly and share that knowledge with others. 
  • It makes you feel more confident and comfortable around others. Studies have shown fast thinking makes people feel happier. Add that with the assumption that fast thinkers are clever and you might see a huge boost in your confidence. If you’re a quick thinker in conversations, you’ll become eager to participate and provide your input.
  • It can help you avoid analysis paralysis. If you’re someone who often feels overwhelmed by decisions, quick thinking could help you overcome the urge to get lost in small details. A quick thinker focuses on the big picture and doesn’t waste time on unnecessary information. 

What are the signs of a quick thinker?

Is quick thinking something you’re already good at? Or is it a skill you need to work on refining? Here are a few telltale signs that you’re good at reacting on the fly: 

  • You respond to questions or problems quickly.
  • You’re a fast talker.
  • You always have an idea or new way to do something.
  • You’re able to think outside of your own perspective or play devil’s advocate.
  • You’re a fast learner.
  • You have a bias for action
  • You’re good at puzzles.
  • You’re a whiz at mental math. 

How to be a quick thinker: Strategies for your real life

If you didn’t see yourself in any of the above signs of a quick thinker, don’t get discouraged. This is sort of like a muscle that you can work on building—and we’ll share plenty of strategies to help you do so, both in conversation and in your actions. 

But first, it’s important to clarify the meaning of a quick thinker. Many people confuse quick thinking for choosing the first thought that pops into your head or shouting out the wrong answer. This isn’t necessarily the case. While any type of analysis can be done incorrectly, a quick thinker still considers all possibilities and solutions before coming to a conclusion. It’s just done at a faster speed. 

For example, a quick thinker might think through the following while making a decision between two choices:

  1. What are the important factors at play and what is just white noise?
  2. What are the consequences of choosing Option A?
  3. What are the consequences of choosing Option B?
  4. Is it possible to choose a mix of both options?

After each point is quickly considered, the quick thinker will go with the “best first” option. This means while there may be an even better solution than what the thinker chose, this is the best option without over-analyzing and taking up more precious time. 

A quick thinker believes having a good solution quickly is more beneficial than having the best solution after a lot of time debating pros and cons. This is a common mindset of many successful people, such as Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk.

How to be a quick thinker in conversation

Now that you understand that quick thinking isn’t about errors and knee jerk reactions, let’s talk about how you can build this skill yourself—starting with how to do so in conversations with other people. Here are a few tips to help: 

  • Don’t underestimate the power of a deep breath. Taking a brief pause before you speak to process your thoughts sounds counterintuitive, but it actually can help you think faster and communicate your ideas better. The breath you take before speaking might feel long, but the people around you likely won’t notice. Allow yourself to take a beat before spewing out your ideas so you can process what you want to say and how to say it best.
  • Avoid filler words. Using unnecessary filler words such as “um” or “uh” can make you seem like a slower thinker than you really are. Take that deep breath mentioned above, gather your thoughts, and then speak up so you can easily articulate what you want to say without having to pause in between words or fill the silence with fluff. Cutting out or minimizing those filler words can also keep you more focused on your point and your message, which makes you seem like an even quicker thinker.
  • Listen carefully. Part of thinking faster requires processing information better. How can you process information better? Try active listening. Listen to understand what people are saying around you, and be sure to pay attention to the nonverbal communication cues they’re using as well. Careful listening and observation can help you form a response that hits upon what the other person was trying to communicate, whether it was said aloud or not. This practice will make you seem like a fast thinker in conversation who doesn’t miss a beat.
  • Go with your gut. If all else fails, follow your instincts. Many people who work regularly under pressure, such as emergency responders, will say they make a lot of decisions based on their gut instincts. Usually, your intuition or gut is pretty spot on and you can quickly make decisions based on what it tells you. As you’re in conversation with others, feel out what other people are interested in and adjust your thinking and communication to quickly respond to those cues. 

7 ways you can develop quick thinking

Not all quick thinking happens in conversations and interactions with others. Perhaps you want to speed up the pace in which you make personal choices or discover how to solve problems without dragging your feet. Here are a few strategies: 

1. Make minor decisions fast

If the decision you’re trying to make is inconsequential or unimportant, choose quickly and then move on. This will help you focus your time and energy on the key elements of an issue and avoid wasting time on small details or things that don’t matter. 

2. Home in on what you are good at or what you know

If you are well-informed on a subject or have a skill, use that to your advantage and offer your expertise when the topic comes up. Trust your intelligence and don’t be afraid to offer insight if you know the answer. It’s impossible to learn everything, so if you focus on providing quick insight on a few topics that you’re really good at, you’ll be able to provide better, more accurate input much faster.

3. Give your brain a workout

Be sure to stretch your mind and practice brain teasers to keep yourself sharp. You could do this by doing sudoku puzzles, crosswords, practicing a musical instrument, or by doing practice debates with friends. Even challenging yourself to calculate the tip in your head after dining out can be a way to stretch your thinking skills. Anything that makes you think and requires a little extra brain power can help you develop a faster mind.   

4. Practice meditation

While your brain needs to be stretched once in a while, it’s also important to create white space in your mind to give it rest. Meditation has been shown to help people think faster and can help increase focus and attention. It doesn’t matter what type of meditation you do as long as you clear your mind and practice being fully present and aware of your surroundings. Research shows that the longer you meditate over time, the more your mind will reap the benefits.

5. Keep your body healthy

To have a sharp mind, you’ll need to keep your body in reasonably good shape. This means getting enough sleep, eating fruits and vegetables, and regularly doing aerobic exercise. By keeping your body in good health, you’ll feel energized and have enough endorphins to clear your mind and think quickly. 

6. Practice improv

Before you get scared off by this one, you should know that there are a lot of skills developed in improv that can be helpful in real life. For example, the golden rule of improv is, “Yes, and” meaning, when one actor presents an idea, the others follow along and build upon it. This mindset requires thinking quickly and adjusting from one situation to the next. By practicing improv (or studying it if you’re nervous about performing), you can train yourself to quickly pivot and take new ideas and run with them. 

7. Avoid multitasking

Although plenty of research concludes that multitasking does not lead to increased efficiency or speed, many people still try to do more than one thing at a time. To be a quick thinker, you need to spend energy on one task or issue without becoming distracted by other things going on. Narrow your focus and prioritize one thing at a time so you can quickly think through each task or question and then move on to the next. 

Quick thinking is a skill that can be honed

If you don’t consider yourself a quick thinker, don’t be too frustrated or disheartened. The good news is that you can practice any of the tactics above to develop a faster mind. It won’t happen overnight, but with a little commitment and investment in your development, you can learn to be a quick thinker who doesn’t sacrifice accuracy for speed. 

To help you along the way, you can check out the resources and coaching programs at F4S that can help you learn more about yourself, your motivations and guide you in developing strategies to think faster. 

We have a rapid coaching program called “Quick Thinking” designed to help you learn how to think faster, trust your gut, and cut through the clutter in your mind. It can be done 100% online with our AI coach, and only takes about 20 minutes a week.

If you feel like your mind easily becomes bogged down by information overload, practicing quick thinking strategies will help you speed up your mental process and avoid distractions that hinder your ability to think faster. 

The more you challenge yourself to think faster and take care of your mind and body, the sooner you will be able to see results. Build a roadmap and action plan to lead yourself to where you want to be, and don’t be afraid to ask for help from mentors or peers along the way. 

Become a quick thinker in conversation, at work and in life with our fast personalized coaching. Get started for free now!

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