If there was a recipe for accumulated disaster, it would be giving the best of ourselves to the least important things and the worst of ourselves to the most important things.

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In a nutshell

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Clear thinking is a New York Times bestseller from former spy, founder of Farnam Street and host of The Knowledge Project podcast, Shane Parrish. It is a practical guide to mastering clear thinking. Clear thinking enables you to turn ordinary moments into extraordinary results.

Book Club Notes

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If you read our weekly newsletter or follow our instagram stories you will have seen me wax lyrical about The Knowledge Project podcast. I’ve been listening to it for over a year and what stood out to me from episode one, and still stands out countless episodes later, is how great of a host Shane Parrish is. His interactions with each guest are so thoughtful, well constructed and lead to amazing insights. Whether he’s interviewing a person I know about or not, or covering a topic that interests me or not, there is always something to learn.

Naturally when I saw he was releasing a book, I had to read it. My expectations were high and the contents didn’t disappoint. His skills as a host easily transfer to his writing and there is nothing about this book I didn’t love.

It’s an enjoyable, well-written read, filled with so many insights, great quotes and lessons. I used just about a full sheet of book tags, which made sharing a few standouts particularly difficult.

When going back through my tags, the theme that stood out to me the most is how our defaults are what prevent us from thinking clearly. In the space between stimulus and response, you can consciously pause and apply reason to the situation, or you canlet your default behaviour control your reactions.

If you want to learn to think clearly, you have to first learn how to recognise these defaults and then stop them in their tracks so you can master your circumstances rather than be mastered by them. So what are they?

The Four Defaults Blocking Clear Thinking

These are the four defaults that stand out to Parrish as the most prominent, distinctive and dangerous

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The Emotion Default

What is it? 

This is when we respond to feelings rather than facts.

How do you recognise it?

If anger prevents you from doing what’s in your best interest, 

if the fear of losing an opportunity leads you to acting impulsively, 

if you lash out when you’re being criticised, 

your emotion default is in charge.

Why it matters

Emotions can multiply all of your progress by zero. It doesn’t matter how much you’ve thought about or worked at something, it can all be undone in an instant.

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The Ego Default

What is it? 

This is when we react to anything that threatens our self-worth.

How do you recognise it?

If you expend a lot of energy on how you are seen, 

if you often feel your pride being wounded, 

if you think you’re an expert on a topic after reading one or two articles on it, 

if you have trouble admitting to mistakes or saying “I don’t know”, 

if you’re often envious of others and think you don’t get the recognition you deserve, 

your ego is in charge.

Why it matters

Our ego tempts us into thinking we’re more than we are. Unchecked it can turn confidence into overconfidence or arrogance. As a result, we take risks that we don’t understand we’re taking.

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The Social Default

What is it? 

This is when we conform to the norms of a larger group.

How do you recognise it?

If you find yourself exerting energy to fit into a crowd, 

if you constantly fear disappointing others, 

if you’re afraid of being an outsider,

your social default is in charge.

Why it matters

Exceptional results require you to raise your standards and do things no one else is doing. It requires change, and change requires thinking independently. When you do what nobody else is doing, and risk looking like a fool to achieve your own potential.

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The Inertia Default

What is it? 

This is when we resist change and stick to the familiar.

How do you recognise it?

If you find yourself biting your tongue in group situations, 

if you resist change and continue doing things one way simply because that’s how you’ve always done it,

your inertia default is in charge.

Why it matters

Inertia leads to “the zone of average”. It’s the point where things are working well enough that we don’t feel the need to make any changes. We hope things will magically improve and they rarely do. An example is staying in a relationship that is too good to leave and too bad to stay. If things were much worse, we would act, but since they’re not terrible, we stay and hope things get better.


The best way to stop a default in its track is to pause before acting. Parrish says asking yourself this surprisingly simple question, before doing anything, can help change your perspective on a situation and avoid making things worse.

Will this action make the future easier or harder?

Read If

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You want to get better at reasoning and make better decisions, or just want to read a really GREAT book.

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Rating

10
Readability – 10/10
Writing – 10/10
Applicability -10/10
Timelessness – 10/10
Shareability – 10/10
10.0
10.0Overall Score

The Nitty Gritty

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Clear-Thinking

Published by: Penguin Random House

Genre: Non-Fiction Business Behavioural Science

ISBN: 978-1-529-91595-2

Pages: 247

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A note on our book ratings

Readability: How easy is it to read and understand what the author is saying? Do you need a dictionary or PhD to understand it?

Writing: How well written is the book? Do you find yourself wowed by the writing or unimpressed?

Applicability: How applicable is this book to daily life? Is there enough advice and actions that are easy to start applying?

Timelessness: Is the content of the book timeless or is it something that in a few years won’t have relevance?

Shareability: How likely are you to share the book?

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