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Book: Mastermind - How to think like Sherlock Holmes


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I just finished the audio book Mastermind: How to think like Sherlock Holmes by Maria Konnikova.


It was pretty good. What you tend to find with a lot of self-improvement books is after awhile they often all have very similar messages. While this is no exception, it did have some noteworthy advice.


Using the stories of Sherlock Holmes, the author demonstrated the importance of not just noticing things but being mindful of them. You can walk down the same path thousands of times without ever noticing anything about it, but it only takes one instance of mindfulness to know whether the path may have anything of note or some aspect that may benefit you.


An example that struck me from the book is when the author related when Sherlock asked Watson how many steps there were to their flat. Although Watson had walked up those steps thousands of times, he had never once noted the number of steps. One could argue that there is no need to note such irrelevant information and that's a fair point. We can't go into every building counting stairs or noticing every detail, we'd go crazy. But the point the author is trying to make is that we often disregard such things out of hand even though we don't know if that information is useful or not. Watson never before had any reason to remember how many steps there were up to his and Sherlock's shared flat, he never had any reason up to the point where Sherlock asked him. If he had been mindful in just one of the thousands of times he walked up those steps, he'd be able to answer that question or at least approximate it.


This is the distinction the author draws, the thinking of Sherlock and the thinking of Watson. We are, most of us, a victim of Watson thinking. Taking things at face value and jumping to conclusions due to our past experiences and biases. Whereas Sherlock always tries to look at things with a discerning eye. He uses his past experience but sees it through an impartial lens. This allows him to often come to the correct conclusion where Watson is often mistaken or gives up.


The crux of the book, is that the secret to thinking like Sherlock Holmes is to learn to be mindful. Not only of our surroundings but of ourselves and our thinking. Is there a good reason to have the idea we have? What's the evidence for the thing we think we believe? Were I in the other person's shoes, would I believe it? What reasons might they have for believing what they believe? Too often we see things through our own biased thinking or fall into habit which dooms us to Watson thinking. While common, there is a better way.


I enjoyed the book and it remained fairly entertaining throughout. There are probably better books for practicing mindfulness or improving your thinking with more practical advice. But not as entertaining as this one.

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