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20 Thinking Quotes From “How to Think” by Alan Jacobs

For the past decade, MsDora has been sharing poetry, creative writing, positive quotes, and reflections online. Her aim is life enrichment.


Generally, when people share our opinions we credit them with good thinking. When they disagree with us, we find someone or something to blame for leading their thinking astray. We can do better. In How to Think, Alan Jacobs promises that those of us who are willing can receive help to diagnose the forces that prevent genuine thinking and learn how to improve in this life-giving skill.

The quotes below are the some of the bones inside the meat of his presentation, composed of anecdotes from the lives of people we know or heard about, and illustrations and research presented by several psychologists and other authors on the subject. Family members, politicians, debaters and anyone else interested in good thinking may receive clues from these quotes and develop an appetite for more teaching on the topic. Healthy thinking improves relationships.

Thinking is fundamentally an art.

Thinking is fundamentally an art.

General Principles of Thinking

1. This is what thinking is: not the decision itself but what goes into the decision, the consideration, the assessment.

2. The whole person must be engaged, all the faculties present and accounted for, in order for real thinking to take place.

3. Thinking is fundamentally an art, and art is notoriously resistant to strict rules.

4. The fundamental problem we have may be best described as an orientation of the will: we suffer from a settled determination to avoid thinking.

5. Thinking does not have a destination, a stopping point, a “Well, we’re finally here” … What is needed for the life of thinking is hope: hope of knowing more, understanding more, being more than we currently are.

Good Principles

6. When faced with provocation to respond to what someone has said, give it five minutes. Take a walk or weed the garden, or chop some vegetables. Get your body involved: your body knows the rhythms to live by, and if your mind falls into your body’s rhythm, you’ll have a better chance of thinking.

7. The person who wants to think will have to practice patience and master fear.

8. Reason alone is an insufficient guide to action. . . We need the biases, the emotional predispositions … Learning to feel as we should is enormously helpful for learning to think as we should.

9. We shouldn’t expect moral heroism of ourselves. But we can expect to cultivate a more general disposition of skepticism about our own motives and generosity toward the motives of others...This disposition is the royal road that carries us to the shining portal called Learning to Think.

10. Seek out the best and fairest-minded of people whose views you disagree with. Listen to them for a time without responding. Whatever they say, think it over.

The person who wants to think will have to practice patience and master fear.

The person who wants to think will have to practice patience and master fear.

Not-Good Principles

11. One of the chief ways you prove yourself worth of an academic life is by getting very good grades, and you don’t get very good grades without saying the sorts of things that your professors like to hear … Academic life doesn’t do much to help one think.

12. You can know whether your social environment is healthy for thinking by its attitude toward ideas from the outgroup. If you … have the “wrong” website open in your browser, and someone turns up his nose and says, “I can’t believe you’re reading that crap” - generally, not a good sign.

Thinking Complications

13. Relatively, few people want to think. Thinking troubles us; thinking tires us. Thinking can force us out of familiar comforting habits; thinking can complicate our lives... Who needs thinking?

14. Those who believe that they are impeccably thoughtful turn out to be some of the worst offenders against good sense.

15. To think, to dig into the foundations of our beliefs, is a risk, and perhaps a tragic risk. There are no guarantees that it will make us happy or even give us satisfaction.

16. The most dangerous metaphors for us are the ones that cease to be recognizable metaphors. For many people the analogy between brain and computer has reached that point: the brain isn’t like a computer, they think it is a computer.

Dismissal of Independent Thinking

17. To think independently of other human beings is impossible, and if it were possible it would be undesirable. Thinking is … social. Everything you think is a response to what someone else has thought and said.

18. By reading, a man already having some wisdom can gain far more; but it is equally true that reading can make a man already inclined toward foolishness far, far more foolish.

19. Some form of membership is absolutely necessary for thinking… The only remedy for the dangers of false belonging is the true belonging to, true membership in, a fellowship of people who are not so much like-minded as like-hearted.

20. There can be more genuine fellowship among those who share the same disposition that among those who share the same beliefs, especially if that disposition is toward kindness and generosity.

Response Poll

Other Book Reviews

© 2017 Dora Weithers


Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on May 18, 2019:

Tim, thanks for your kind thoughts as usual. The book from which these quotes come was so interesting, I began to read again from the beginning when I was halfway through.

Tim Truzy from U.S.A. on May 17, 2019:

This is a wonderful article, Ms. Dora. I like the principles of thinking you brought to our attention, and the quotes were fabulous. I think this article deserves my bookmark. To a talented, gifted, and thoughtful writer who uplifts us with knowledge in her work, blessings.

Respect and admiration,


Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on April 07, 2018:

Nithya, thanks for reading ad commenting. Happy that you consider the book beneficial.

Nithya Venkat from Dubai on April 06, 2018:

Great quotes about the principles of thinking. If we keep an open mind we can definitely benefit from these valuable quotes. Thank you for introducing me to the book and for sharing the quotes.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on February 06, 2018:

Thank you, Chris for making me smile. Sometimes we respond to what should be, instead of what really is. I think that explains why people think that they think when they really don't. I smile again.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on February 06, 2018:

Thank you, Ioannis. Glad that the article blesses you. Truth is, my article helps me before they help my readers, so I am obligated to keep trying.

Chris Mills from Traverse City, MI on February 05, 2018:

Dora, you are always thinking, aren't you? Always thinking of another way to stir the pot. I like your poll question. I find it interesting that most people think they think about what the person has said with whom they disagree.

Ioannis Arvanitis from Greece, Almyros on February 04, 2018:

Another great hub for us! Thank you for always finding the most helping words for us. This is a God's blessing!

There is a gift for you at the end of my latest hub:

"I Am Happy Because I Remember Myself!

Part 1: the Treasure"

With all my respect and love...

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on January 17, 2018:

Frank, you do the right thing to listen first and then decide whether you will agree or disagree. You're wise, and I always thought that.

Frank Atanacio from Shelton on January 17, 2018:

MsDora this was a wonderful hub.. stirs the old juices.. I'm a listener.. and when I disagree I listen to the reasoning.. then dismiss it if I disagree .. but I do not debate... love the hub

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on January 17, 2018:

Thanks, Manatita. Your input means much to me.

manatita44 from london on January 15, 2018:

Yes. Too much time for some.

The Light of the Heart is faster. Hari om, my Dear.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on January 15, 2018:

Manatita, I always appreciate your input. Jacobs does say that thinking takes time; for some of us and in some situations, it may seem to be too much time.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on January 15, 2018:

Thanks Devika, for your feedback. Better to spend the time thinking than arguing.

manatita44 from london on January 15, 2018:

I like the very last statement. With No 4 I am intuitively pulled to the compaßionate doers.

All that thinking is too much for me. I'm sure that the process is there but it mostly happens in stealth ... spontaneously.

A challenging one for me, but hey, all things have their usefulness and purpose.

DDE on January 15, 2018:

I don't look for wrong or right in any given statement. It is about the facts for me. I wouldn't get into an argument about wrong or right it just not what I prefer to do. Thank you for this hub.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on January 10, 2018:

Nell, you're on the same page with Jacobs. He advises that if a point does not seem tenable, give it five minutes. You've got the right idea and the right attitude. Thanks for sharing.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on January 10, 2018:

Flourish, you said it well. It is the time to "actively engage and question" that we want to avoid most times, but "thinking takes time." Thanks for the feedback.

Nell Rose from England on January 10, 2018:

I totally agree with your last statement! I used to argue when someone had a different opinion whether right or wrong, but these days I just smile and hold my tongue! lol! I do try to see their point of view, but definitely walk away from people who do not think before they speak! Great advice and so interesting!

FlourishAnyway from USA on January 10, 2018:

I missed this when it was first published, as notifications were turned off, however I'm glad to catch up now! This seems like an excellent book. We need more thinkers, more people who can actively engage and question, learn where others are coming from rather than being in such a hurry to spout out their own opinions first or just shut down and tune out.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on January 09, 2018:

Happy New Year to you too, Jackie. 2018 has its challenges, but the God whom we serve is able to carry us through. For a while I did not receive notices from HubPages and it seems that my latest articles were not being viewed; that's fixed now.

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on January 09, 2018:

I always think over any different ideas, even if they differ from my thoughts. Unless they go against the word that is, and even then if there is room for thought of how I may have misinterpreted something.

Did not get notice of this or would have been here right way. Guess I need to just check in on you more often, huh?

Hope the new year has started wonderfully for you.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on January 09, 2018:

Thanks, Tamara. I always appreciate your feedback.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on January 09, 2018:

Pat, I like the quote you chose. Effective thinking must benefit us positively. Thanks for your feedback.

Tamara Yancosky from Uninhabited Regions on January 08, 2018:

Very pleasing article, Dora. I knew it would be an excellent one for me to read with part of the title being “How to Think”. I am never disappointed with your posts :-)



Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on January 08, 2018:

In general principles of thinking. The words ---'understanding more, being more than we currently are.' are so powerful. Thoughtfully constructed...article...no pun intended. Happy 2018...

Angels are on the way. ps

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on January 01, 2018:

Thanks, Peg. That illustrates effectively that good grades do not mean good thinking. We know that some of the most original ideas come from dropouts.

Peg Cole from North Dallas, Texas on January 01, 2018:

Great food for thought here, Dora. I particularly like the part where Mr. Jacobs says, "One of the chief ways you prove yourself worth of an academic life is by getting very good grades, and you don’t get very good grades without saying the sorts of things that your professors like to hear … Academic life doesn’t do much to help one think." I believe this is a key factor in today's world.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on December 31, 2017:

Michael, thank God for your father's wisdom on thinking which he passed on to you. Thank you for sharing. Keep on improving your thinking!

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on December 31, 2017:

Bill, the scientist may still call it a science. We are free to think it through. Thinking can be challenging and freeing! Keep thinking happy, refreshing thoughts. Happy New Year to you, too.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on December 31, 2017:

Mary, there is so much to learn about thinking. I've gotten interested myself in learning more. There is room for all of us to improve. Thanks for your feedback.

Michael-Milec on December 30, 2017:

Every bit of information how to become proficient thinker helps. Thinking is rather conscientious effort as well as an art itself since every living creature is processing what is in its mind. Humans are expressing verbally products of that process. What comes out of our mouth - that might be more a form of an “art" I suppose. (My father taught me to "think and rethink before you say" when I did not thoroughly understood that time full meaning of the expression. Now I do .)

William Kovacic from Pleasant Gap, PA on December 30, 2017:

Well, Dora. Now that I know thinking is an art, I guess I can relax a little. I thought it was a science and terrible when it comes to science. You made my day. Happy New Year!

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on December 27, 2017:

There are so many facets to thinking and I have not really thought about it until I read your article. It made me think more how I do it.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on December 26, 2017:

Thanks, Linda. Happy New Year to you too, and continued effective thinking.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on December 26, 2017:

Eric, thanks for sharing your insight on this topic. You raised an important fact: our goal is not to think better than others (How do we measure that?) but to think better than we have been thinking.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on December 26, 2017:

You've given me a lot to think about, Dora. Thank you! I hope you have a happy new year.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on December 26, 2017:

Thank you my friend. This is a fascinating area. A star athlete, a person who worked for riches, a war hero, a movie star or top singer etc etc all can be looked up to.

But everyone thinks their thinking is equal to those who study and excel at thinking. It is almost illegal to suggest that some think "better" than others. Some even think that great grades are a product of great thinking. Even a parrot can repeat and regurgitate.

So I guess I am resolved that my years of learning how to think is a deal between God and I. And between great thinkers as yourself.

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