Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

When Clear Thinking isn’t always so clear

Written by: on April 18, 2024

I’ve been thinking a lot about the process (i.e., the time and energy) it takes to create routines that sustain positive change in our lives. This semester, we’ve been reading various books that offer some helpful insight; however, just because we’ve gained new knowledge doesn’t mean we’ve been able to apply it as wisdom in our lives.  This is an important distinction to make, and it’s been frustrating me lately as I reflect on all the real challenges I’ve experienced when trying to implement the ideas I’ve been collecting from our assigned reading into my daily life without adding stress. I must admit that a big part of my frustration comes from wishing I already had a system for reading and taking notes like a doctoral student,  filtering data and making sense out of statistics, or understanding my brain so that I can make it work for me. That said, while it would be nice to be starting further along or to simply read a book and be able to practice everything in it immediately, reflecting on where I was at the beginning of the semester and where I am now, I do see change. It’s been slow but it’s steady, and that’s where I’ll choose to focus my intention, trusting it’ll only help expand my growth and development as time goes on. I share this because I thought it’d be interesting to use this post as an opportunity for me to explore not only what I’m taking away from this week’s reading but how I aim to implement the insights into my daily life. 


Exploring “ Clear Thinking” by Shane Parrish, I couldn’t help but see similarities to previous books we’ve read, as it provided insight into how little we often think for ourselves (especially under pressure and stress), why, and what’s happening instead.  Parrish helps us see what he calls  “The Learning Loop,”  which describes the process by which we learn – first through experience, reflection, compression, and then action[1].He shows us not only how we operate off automatic biological responses that create conditioned habits, often moving us further away from what we truly want, but also how to recognize when this is happening, as well as what tools we can use to leverage our cognitive ability and reshape how we navigate the space between stimulus and response. 


To Parrish, “clear thinking” is all about positioning, managing our defaults or the urges that get most people in trouble, and thinking independently[2].  In showing us how most of life’s problems result from four distinct decision “defaults,” Parrish invites us to create rules for handling these problematic situations before they happen. He says that we’ve been taught to follow the rules (i.e., to obey speed limits, follow tax codes, etc.) so well, and with an understanding of the consequences we’ll suffer if we break them, the rules become our default[3]. When this happens, we no longer consciously follow rules but operate automatically and often without negotiation [4]. Making things non-negotiable begins to solidify them as identities central to our self-concept, and that is what many transformation experts say is the key to lasting change. I often think about this concerning my journey as a vegan. Today, someone asked me if I miss eating meat or if I ever “cheat” with dairy sometimes. It felt a bit odd even to engage the question because I’ve been vegan so long that I don’t think about it as a restriction nor frame it as a list of things I can/can’t have; it’s simply a part of who I am. Parrish challenges us to question how we might use this to our advantage by creating our own set of “rules” that our brains will follow, independent of the situation or context, and in a way that will allow them to shape a new identity, turning our desired behavior into our default behavior. To do this, we must first look at “the enemies of clear thinking,” which include the following four core decision-making defaults:

  1. Inertia default – this takes over when we tend to do what we’ve always been doing, like staying in a job we’ve outgrown for too long.
  2. Social default – this takes over when we tend to do what others expect us to do, like saying yes when we actually want to say no.
  3. Emotional default  – this takes over when we tend to do what we have an impulse to do, like send an angry email.
  4. Ego default – this takes over when we tend to seek status or be overconfident, like assuming we have the best answer or way forward. [5]

As Parrish went on to speak about these in more detail, offering a variety of tangible examples, I couldn’t help but start thinking through various aspects of my life. I began looking for where I could spot the potential problems of these defaults in my life, simplify things by understanding the most crucial factor in my decision-making, and slow things down by applying either As Soon As Possible (ASAP) or As Long As Possible ( A.L.A.P) thinking, depending on if it’s a decision that is low consequence/ easy to reverse ( ASAP) or high consequence/low to reverse ( A.L.A.P)[6].  As I think about creating new rules for how I’ll handle each default decision or decrease the likelihood of big problems accumulating in my life, I appreciate the H.A.L.T acronym, which stands for hungry, angry, lonely, and tired. It’s commonly used in Alcoholics Anonymus to help people assess scenarios where their decision-making will be impaired ( thanks Chris!). I find this a great place to start because if I think about “rules” to help me thrive for next semester, better sleep, more connection, and solid nutrition must be at the core. Outside of that, a few things I’ll be trying on include emails and meetings only between 3-10pm, starting my days with morning pages, moving my body and being outdoors every day, drawing any intense emotions I may feel before doing anything else with them, as well as continuing the practice of writing weekly.  Developing these into steadfast rules will take time; however, I am already getting better at practicing.   


I know there is lots to do, but as long as I  continue making minor adjustments over the coming months, these things can and will become a part of my default lifestyle. Since so much of this begins with awareness and requires self-control and self-accountability, I’ve been thinking about creating community around this journey.  I’ve just started mapping out upcoming significant decisions on my plate, looking at the most important factor to consider in each, and then asking myself what support I need to position myself to be my best each day, whether it’s seeking outside counsel to provide additional perspective, or containers of accountability to do “the work,” or something else altogether. Overall, I’m excited to implement a more thorough safeguard strategy into my life today, and I hope you, too, will join me. I’d love to hear the rules you’ll be trying on over the next few months so that you can be your best self!


[1]Clay Finck, “Clear Thinking W/ Shane Parrish (TIP580),” www.youtube.com (We Study Billionaires, October 5, 2023), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U9SY_M5CXTo.

[2]“Shane Parrish: How to Live Life on Your Own Terms,” www.youtube.com (High Performance, November 5, 2023), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tvs906Gya0k.

[3]Clay Finck, “Clear Thinking W/ Shane Parrish (TIP580),” www.youtube.com (We Study Billionaires, October 5, 2023), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U9SY_M5CXTo.


[5]Shane Parrish, Clear Thinking (New York : Penguin, 2023).

[6]Nathan Lozeron , review of Insights from Clear Thinking by Shane Parrish, by Shane Parrish, Productivity Game, October 15, 2023, https://attachments.convertkitcdnm.com/4065/1789805d-7ea7-4010-affc-1ac3ab7b137c/clear-thinking.pdf.

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17 responses to “When Clear Thinking isn’t always so clear”

  1. mm Chris Blackman says:

    I love that you appreciated and brought up H.A.L.T. – it fits everyone!
    I think you beautifully penned out what a majority of us are feeling. This has been a year of learning, adjusting, questioning, fretting, and a whole bunch of other “ings”. Any thoughts on how we can all support each other through the good and the bad times?

    • Akwese says:

      Thanks, Chris, I appreciate that! I have actually been asking myself the same question, so stay tuned for a fuller response because I know we can all support each other in more ways. Right now, I think a great place to start is by hearing/sharing where each of us feels most challenged and what ideal support would look like. If you feel up to sharing Im all ears 🙂

  2. Julie O'Hara says:

    Hi Akwése,
    I connected with your post because I’ve also been frustrated with learning a better way of note-taking and other challenges of being a doctoral student. This morning I reflected on my progress and felt encouraged. We are not yet ‘doctor’ but learning and earning the title. Another popular phrase from AA, “progress not perfection” comes to mind. I have built blocks of study time into my calendar over the summer. These spaces are where I will catch up moving my paper notes into Obsidian. I also plan to re-engage with some of our early material on critical thinking. I can also use these time blocks to address anything that comes up for next semester like travel planning, ordering books, etc. The point in this is to maintain discipline and consistency so that I am increasingly habituated to keeping my stage clear for one thing at a time. Blessings on your summer.

    • Akwese says:

      Thanks for sharing what you’ll be implementing over the summer, Julie! I’m so right there with you. I’d love to hear if you’ve already been using Obsidian with ease and will simply be moving the notes over in the summer or if you’ll be adopting it for the first time in the summer? I ask because I couldn’t get the hang of it, so I used a different note-taking platform instead ( but did not consistently use it either🤦🏾‍♀️) over the summer, Ill be taking time to revisit my system

      • Julie O'Hara says:

        Hi – Definitely not with ease or I would have stuck with it! I just moved onto paper about 2/3 through the semester – it coincided with being really sick.

        I have watched a couple videos on Obsidian via an online resources called FaceDragons that were encouraging and plan to do some more. I am certain that being more facile in Obsidian would make writing this last essay so much easier and trust it will be so in future semesters. Last comment here, even though I thought my earlier Obsidian notes were a mess, they have been somewhat helpful especially by searching the vault with a single word. I have located ideas and had some mental connections refreshed.

  3. mm Shela Sullivan says:

    Hi Akwése,

    How do you plan to leverage Shane Parrish’s concept of “The Learning Loop” to enhance your ability to think clearly and act intentionally, in high-pressure and stressful situations you encounter?

    • Akwese says:

      Great question, Shela! The Learning Loop is similar to the three-step model I use called “RDP”, which stands for Reflect, Discern, Praxis. The first step in both of our processes is reflection, and I think it’s the key. We live in a world that moves a million miles an hour and where slowing down can be seen as missing out. We must be hyper-intentional about pausing to think and reflect, asking ourselves questions to more deeply understand what’s happening around us. In today’s day and age, so much of the information we often end up digesting is taken from someone else’s “compression”/ “discernment.” This isn’t bad, but it can pose a challenge if we don’t recognise it for what it is. When given others key learnings/insights/action points, we can’t blindly adopt them, but we must first reflect and do our own “working out”, as Dr Jason says. If not, we risk following a recipe and then not understanding why ours turned out differently than someone else’s…All that to say, I will be using this summer to do some serious reflection, and I couldn’t be happier to have that opportunity because if I’ve learned nothing else this semester it’s that I need to slow down so that Im not always operating off counterproductive defaults.

  4. Debbie Owen says:

    Great rules to live by Akwese. I actually have had “rules” – or a routine – for quite a while. When you have dogs, you can’t NOT have a routine! They get me up and out the door for daily exercise every morning, and they get me up and off my butt several times during the day (with another walk later).

    About 6 years ago I also started my morning quiet time, once someone showed me how to do it and how to gain something from it.

    So yes, I’m taking care of my body and my soul.

    Are you planning to implement any of your rules over the summer? How might they help you prepare for next semester?

    • Akwese says:

      Ha, Debbie, that’s both why I do and don’t want a dog! 😉

      To answer your question, yes! I intentionally have planned to use the summer to implement more “rules” so that come fall, hopefully they’ll be imprinted as an identity/ default behaviour 🙏🏾

  5. Graham English says:

    Akwese, thanks for your blogs this semester. It’s been great to track with your doctoral journey. Like you, I’ve already decided that there are some changes that I want to implement next semester that will help me to live a healthier life. Now is a great time to start trying on some different practices.
    How might you implement guardrails in your environment to help address weakness?

    • Akwese says:

      Hi Graham, thanks for your reply and great question! I’ve been thinking about this A LOT already. A big thing for me is going to be chunking down my rules into ” quick wins” so that they really work with me and then also setting a handful of external accountability measures that aren’t just to mitigate my weaknesses but to build upon my strengths.

  6. Daren Jaime says:

    Hey Akwese Great post! I also resonated with the HALT acroynm. My question is at present which one of Parrish’s concepts do you find to be the most difficult to implement?

    • Akwese says:

      Ooh, Daren, great question! My first thought was building strength in self-control related to operating from emotional defaults. That said, I also tend to struggle with implementing rules and “rules,” not simply intentions. The distinction in my mind is that a rule, as Parrish defines it, is done consistently and thus becomes default behaviour that is never questioned. I’m working on no longer being an all-or-nothing type of person but finding a softer place to land in the inbetweens.

  7. Nancy Blackman says:

    It’s interesting that the HALT acronym impacted you. Chris taught me that early in our marriage and I soon realized that it has implications for those of us not involved in AA. I’ll be curious to hear your journey with it as I learned that I noticed when I was hungry, angry, lonely, or tired, I tended to lean towards things that were less holistically healthy for me.

    As you move towards creating new strategies for yourself, how will you keep yourself accountable?

    • Akwese says:

      Hi Nancy! Thanks for sharing your journey with HALT. Accountability is something I’ve been thinking a lot about. I tend to do better with external accountability, so I’m currently evaluating people in my life who I might be able to ask to come alongside me, as well as looking for existing programs of support. I’m thrilled that we’ll have the summer to do some regrouping and also aware that it’s so easy to have it filled with all sorts of other commitments…🙏🏾

  8. mm Kari says:

    Akwése, I love that you’re putting some practical rules in place. For my own rules, I want to be more intentional at saying « yes » to things I’m passionate about and be courageous to say no to the things that aren’t in my sweet spot.

    • Akwese says:

      LOVE IT!!! 🔥🔥🔥🔥What can I hold you accountable to saying yes or no to in the coming weeks!? Def shoot me a text and let me know 💪🏾💛

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