006 How to Create a Thinking Companion

Have you ever been in a business meeting, or even a casual conversation, where it seemed that some wise words would be appropriate… but you just didn’t have any wise words at hand?  Well, take heart!  There is a way to increase your store of supportive responses in both your speaking and your writing, and I’m going to show you how.

Today I want to share with you an indispensable method I’ve created from a concept originally learned from my mentor, John C. Maxwell. That is, how to create and use a “Thinking Companion.”

John Maxwell is an internationally recognized authority in the fields of both leadership and personal relations, having authored well over 60 books on these subjects.  His lectures, workshops, and books are all characterized by their frequent reference to relevant quotations and anecdotes.

How is it that Maxwell and others can readily enhance their message with such passages that so appropriately illustrate and underscore the material they are teaching?  The answer is that these speakers/authors use a system to methodically collect and archive important thoughts. 


Most often such gems are discovered while reading or listening to the teachings of learned men and women.

If you are often in the position of influencing others through your speaking or writing skills then I strongly recommend creating and using a personal Thinking Companion.

The Art of Public Speaking


How to Create a Thinking Companion

So how do we go about building and using a Thinking Companion?

Well, I’m sure there are many ways, but in this post I’ll guide you through my personal adaptation of John Maxwell’s idea.

Begin by purchasing a 9x11 inch spiral notebook.  In North America these are readily available at any discount or department store, especially since they are popular with high school and college students who use them for taking notes in class.

I use a notebook that has three separate parts, often marketed as a “3-Subject Notebook”.  These contain 50 sheets per section.  Another of my preferences is for the narrower lined “College Rule” rather than “Wide Rule” as this provides more lines per page.

Section 1.   Reflections

Begin by labeling the first section of your notebook:  REFLECTIONS.

Often during my day in the course of reading or conversing with others, I encounter a brief anecdote, sentence, poem, or phrase that strikes me as containing many different applications.  Or, perhaps a statement that may challenge my long-held views and opinions.  Such a statement provides a different perspective which is often better than the one I originally had!  I only have time to quickly jot it down with the intent of returning later to fully digest the potential applications of its content.  Those are just a few examples of words that require both thought and reflection.

The benefits of reflecting upon such materials are two-fold.  First, we stretch our minds in new directions through the perspective illustrated in stories and well-crafted turns of phrases.  Secondly, appreciating such clarity of understanding in turn allows us to express our own ideas with more depth and meaning.

The point of deep reflection is to marinate on an unusually good thought until it actually affects some change in our beliefs or actions; it becomes a part of our very DNA!

Examples of influential reflective thoughts taken from my own Companion include,

"With enlightened capitalism, it’s not ownership that counts, it’s stewardship; controlling the flow of it through you."
Mark Victor Hanson

"What are you doing now that in fifty or one hundred years will still be important?"      – John C. Maxwell

"The cost of a thing is the amount of life which is required to be exchanged for it, either immediately or in the long run."      – Henry David Thoreau

And speaking of well-crafted turns of phrase, in my Thinking Companion there is a sub-section dedicated to just that skill!  Here I record phrases or word usages that are clever, meaningful, succinctly descriptive, or in other ways focus our understanding of the English language in unexpected ways.  Examples include,

"This book is a curiosity to me… so slow, so sleepy.  It is chloroform in print!"     – Mark Twain

"Such talk has never yet added an onion to the soup!"
– Victor Hugo (The Hunchback of Notre Dame)

"But sleep at length stole from me the consciousness of sorrow."
– Robert Louis Stevenson (Kidnapped)


Reflections Section of My Personal Thinking Companion


Section 2.   Quotations

The second section of my notebook is labeled:  QUOTATIONS.

Quotations have a powerful influence in our lives as they serve to lend authority to points we attempt to make.  Their power lies in the reputation of the person who first spoke the words.  Citing such individuals as Benjamin Franklin, Winston Churchill, or Mahatma Gandhi enhances the credibility of our own message through historical significance, while words spoken or written by Steve Jobs, Warren Buffet, or Richard Branson lend a more business acumen support.

Importantly, when we incorporate direct quotations from those who are universally known and respected, their credibility is borrowed and added to our own.  The point then transitions from social validation of our argument to the goal of subtle yet authoritative validation of our own persona!

Many quotations might be taken from my own Companion, but a few random examples will suffice.

"The conformist is not born, he is made."     – J. Paul Getty

"I am not afraid of what history will say about me because I intend to write it!     – Winston Churchill

"The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from the old ones."     – John Maynard Keynes


Section 3.   One Good Idea per Day

The human mind is a marvelous instrument that is constantly employed in thinking, evaluating, and making mundane, everyday decisions.  But every once in awhile, a thought strikes that develops into an idea worthy of saving and thus recording. 

These are ideas which have the ability to take us in new directions for our life.  And although at the time they may not seem so grandiose, we somehow know (or at least hope) they have the potential to grow and thus raise us to a higher level.

Mark Victor Hansen (co-creator of the book Chicken Soup for the Soul) once commented, “Ideas are the seeds of future fortunes.”

To build this portion of your Thinking Companion, turn to the third section of your notebook and label it:  TODAY’S IDEA.

Write the month and the year at the top of each page, and then simply number the lines of each page 1-31 (if you purchased the “College Ruled” version, there will be 32 lines).

The point is to write on one line for each day of that month your best thought that has potential for growth and expansion.  Naturally, these will be uniquely personal, so I will illustrate this by mentioning only one recent entry from my own Thinking Companion.

Create “Today’s Mind Food Menu” as a new feature for NSR blog to help readers with daily learning.

Truly, it should be our goal to consciously create one such idea every day.  For methods to help in this I’d refer you back to my previous post titled How to Think Your Greatest Thoughts.

And although I consciously strive to do this, I will confess, this is the weakest part in developing my own Thinking Companion.  Despite continual learning and applying my mind to a constant array of problems, many lines remain blank in my daily calendar of record! 

Nonetheless, I continue to strive to do this and would encourage you to do likewise.

So, there you have it, a blueprint for building your own personal Thinking Companion.

Now that you have a method for recording significant thoughts and ideas (both those of others and your own), take the time to visit and review them often.  Work to commit to memory those quotations that particularly resonate, as these will be the most useful supports when expressing your own ideas to others.

Likewise, marinating on what you’ve recorded in the Reflections section of your Thinking Companion until it becomes a part of your very DNA will open useful new perspectives when communicating with others.

One caveat however before we end dear reader, I’d remind you that while anecdotes, phrases, and quotations created by others can enhance a presentation, they are not meant to be the focus of the message.  Your message is, after all, your message!  The strength of it lies within the content and how you craft it to the intended audience.  Always remember that words and thoughts of others are only a supplement to the importance of your own original ideas.

Well, I’m excited to share this technique since I expect readers will likely take it and over time expand it into something even better!  I urge you to customize these methods to your own specific needs and then share the results in the comment section below. 

In that way we all can benefit from making a good technique even better!



 .....James Hume – Speak Like Churchill, Stand Like Lincoln 

 .....John Maxwell – Thinking for a Change

 Our images today are from 123rf.com


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