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How Successful People Think

Written by: Ágnes Vad, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


Many are not aware that multiple different types of thinking exist. The different kinds of thinking involve very different skill sets and can help you achieve very different results. By not acknowledging all the types of thinking, we may be limiting or restricting our perception.


Engaging in various types of intentional thinking is directly correlated to success, especially for entrepreneurs and business owners.


Many people take thinking for granted and believe they cannot afford to set aside time solely for their thoughts. However, both the immediate and long-term benefits of doing so are unmistakable. John Maxwell (motivational teacher and New York Times best-selling author) believes thinking each day deeply provides a competitive advantage and sets the stage for all your future interactions.

Maxwell’s 11 types of thinking

1. Big Picture Thinking

The ability to think beyond yourself and your world to process ideas with a more holistic perspective” – Maxwell.

Maxwell states that Big Picture Thinking entails looking beyond the horizon in a manner that results in more comprehensive and conscious decisions. Out in the universe, there are things much more significant than ourselves and our concerns. It is easy to get caught up in our own bubble. However, you must remain aware of how you fit into the macrocosm. It is essential to understand your niche and the role you play, both locally and globally.

2. Focused Thinking

“The ability to think with clarity on issues by removing distractions and mental clutter from your mind” – Maxwell.

Maxwell posits that it can be difficult to identify priorities when your mind is scattered and give them the concentration required. Focused thinking allows you to devote your full time, attention, and energy to one particular issue.

3. Creative Thinking

“The ability to break out of your “box” of limitations, to experience a breakthrough” – Maxwell.

Creative thinking involves exploring innovative, non-apparent options and ideas. As Maxwell aptly states, “creative people do not fear failure.” He goes on to explain that they can find inspiration and encouragement from other Creative Thinkers. They propose and envision unconventional ideas and solutions to problems that may have stumped others. Creative thinking is not just for artists; anyone can be creative if they open themselves up to the mindset. Maxwell advises that visiting a new place or trying a new activity can help foster creativity.

4. Realistic Thinking

The ability to build a solid foundation on facts to think with certainty” – Maxwell.

Although it is an excellent quality to be naturally optimistic, Maxwell explains how optimists may sometimes have trouble being realistic. He expresses that it’s important to ground yourself, establish what you know, and even prepare for worst-case scenarios. Don’t ignore the inevitable, and don’t spend too much time on “what-ifs.” Acknowledge the cards you’ve been dealt and how it is likely you will be able to proceed forward.

5. Strategic Thinking

“The ability to implement plans that give you direction for today and increase your potential for tomorrow” – Maxwell.

Strategic Thinkers are those who make things happen. They provide a pathway, from an idea’s inception to that idea finally coming to fruition. Maxwell elaborates that these are people who can evaluate pros and cons, create a plan or a timeline, and decide upon the most efficient steps to meet goals.

6. Possibility Thinking

“The ability to unleash your enthusiasm to find solutions for even seemingly impossible situations” – Maxwell.

People often limit themselves when they write off specific ideas as “too crazy” to happen. Maxwell believes many of the world’s most successful people would never have made it if they were not willing to allow themselves to dream big.

7. Reflective Thinking

“The ability to revisit the past to gain a true perspective and think with understanding” – Maxwell.

Reflecting on your experiences allows you to gain knowledge and wisdom. Maxwell reminds us that you must reflect on a mistake to learn from it. Understand why the mistake happened and how you can prevent the same error from happening in the future. In addition, you should reflect on all of the positive things in your life for which you are thankful. Reflective thinking allows you to slow down and re-group before moving on to the next priority.

8. Questioning Popular Thinking

“The ability to reject the limitations of common thinking, to accomplish uncommon results” – Maxwell.

Maxwell argues that just because a concept is widely accepted does not mean it is the only idea available, and it certainly does not make it the best. Many theories have existed for so long and are so prevalent that no one has even bothered to consider their relevance or merit. Maxwell advises us not to hold any assumptions and not be afraid to challenge or propose alternatives to any manner of thinking.

9. Shared Thinking

“The ability to include the heads of others to help you think “over your head” and achieve compounding results” – Maxwell.

Maxwell stresses that the input of others is crucial to working on any team. Most problems are too sizable and too complex to tackle on your own. The unique experiences and perspectives of others can contribute significantly to the conversation and problem-solving process.

10. Unselfish Thinking

The ability to consider others and their journey to think with collaboration” – Maxwell.

Maxwell feels we should always be aware of how our decisions affect others out of the spirit of kindness and generosity. Do not ask yourself what others owe you, but rather how you could be better serving others.

11. Bottom Line Thinking

The ability to focus on results to gain maximum return and reap the full potential of your thinking” – Maxwell.

Maxwell explains that Bottom Line Thinkers can make the most significant impact, and their decisions often have the most enormous, most widely felt effects.

So what is worth doing?

1. Surround yourself with people who are strong in various areas of thinking, particularly ones that you may struggle with.

Of this list, you will recognize some areas of thinking you may use quite often and other areas of thinking where you may encounter difficulty. All areas of thinking are necessary at some point or another and are equally important. Maxwell points out that it’s a rare thinker who has skill in all 11 areas, and it is ill-advised and nearly impossible to master all 11 types of thinking. It is said that “smart people surround themselves with other smart people.” Where your own abilities may fall short, a trusted advisor could provide much-needed insight. Also, Maxwell emphasizes spending time with other great thinkers can sharpen and hone your own thinking skills.

2. Be an active participant in your own thinking.

Thinking is a discipline that must be actively monitored and managed. How often have you agreed with someone else because it was easy, or their idea simply sounded good? As Maxwell observed, “Poor thinkers are slaves to their surroundings.” Often, we allow the situation or other people to influence our thinking. While this is neither good nor bad, we need to constantly be aware of how our circumstances may be affecting our thinking and decisions. Ultimately, it’s essential to take responsibility for your own thinking and avoid blindly following the suggestions of others without reasoning through the logic for yourself.

3. Practice intentional thinking on a routine basis.

Setting aside the time to think each day is a necessary discipline. Find regular thinking techniques that work best for you. To discover the place you think best, Maxwell advises you to “try out various different spots to do your thinking.” The location could range from a quiet, remote beach to an artsy café to even a bustling town square. Another Maxwell tip is to “find the time of day when your thinking is clearest.” Some people are most alert in the mornings; others are night owls. Maxwell also suggests you “try different processes and practices that stimulate your thinking,” such as “playing music, or putting together a puzzle.” Getting active is also a great way to stimulate thinking.

4. Record your thoughts, and take the initiative to put your ideas into action quickly.

Maxwell aptly states that “when you have a great idea but don’t do anything about it, then you don’t reap the advantages it may bring.” Ideas have a short half-life, and the more time passes after the idea strikes, the less energy the idea gives off. You may forget the specifics of the idea or lose the passion for acting on it. However, with this being said, sometimes complex ideas need time to mature. In addition, don’t let your great ideas get away from you. Maxwell expresses, “If you don’t write down your ideas, there is a great danger you will lose them.” Just as I take the time to document and memorialize important meetings, I record my thoughts by writing them down in a journal.

5. Cherish your thinking time, and look forward to it each day.

Reviewing and embracing Maxwell’s 11 types of thinking ensures you capitalize on your brain’s most absolute power and potential. Anyone can achieve success if they truly set their minds to it.

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Ágnes Vad, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Ágnes Vad is a certified human potential and business coach with 18 years in marketing and 10+ years in cross-cultural leadership roles. Ágnes started her professional career in the multinational world in the marketing domain and built her thorough business acumen in parallel via the international leadership roles she was promoted to. She has been showing passion for working and leading people starting from the beginning of her career. She is a proud winner of the Leadership and Marketing Awards at her company. After 18 years she decided to follow her passion and became a coach entrepreneur in 2019. In the last 2.5 years, she became experienced and recognized professional in the coaching domain and has cc. 500 hours of coaching experience. She works with individuals and also with teams as a coach. She focuses on activating and maximizing human and leadership potential, emotional intelligence (EQ), mindfulness, and resilience.



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