How to think like Sherlock Holmes


They are staple skills of the self-help genre: how to improve your memory, how to develop focus, how to ignore distraction, how to think with greater clarity ... But who better to learn that from than Sherlock Holmes? Arthur Conan Doyle first introduced the world to the detective in 1887 and for the past 127 years, Holmes has penetrated the fog of conventional wisdom, distraction and bias to solve mysteries and reveal the blind spots in other people's thinking.

Holmes' thinking and deductive abilities seem almost superhuman. But what if we really could train ourselves to think like Sherlock Holmes? That's what Michael Enright wanted to find out in the latest edition of The Sunday Edition's Sunday School. He spoke to Maria Konnikova, author of Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes, to find out how one could accomplish this. You can listen to their conversation in the audio player below:

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Konnikova believes that anyone - yes, anyone - can learn to think like the iconic investigator. "While you can certainly have certain innate qualities that make it easier to think like Sherlock Holmes, I do think it's something everyone can cultivate," she said. She also points out that we meet Holmes in his prime - after training and working as a detective for years. Even Holmes had to learn to think like Holmes, and it's important to remember that, Konnikova says. "Instead of seeing him as an unattainable ideal, I see him as an inspiration."

So how do you think like Holmes? You can get started with these five easy steps.

1. Stop taking your thoughts for granted.

"We never really question our thoughts. You see the environment, you respond to the environment," Konnikova said. We need to stop accepting this process and start questioning it - as if our thoughts were a science experiment we were conducting. "What we need to learn to do is to stop and realize that every single time we notice time, every single time we make an observation, every time we say anything, it has to be taken with the same sort of scepticism, the same sort of approach if we were in a laboratory running a controlled scientific experiment."

2. Restructure how you organize your thoughts.

Holmes approached his brain as if it were an attic - an attic he wanted to be kept accessible and immaculately organized. The foolish man's attic "is the type of brain where you put any old junk there" and before long, it's a cluttered mess, according to Konnikova. The wise man's attic "is an attic where you realize this is all the space I'm going to get" so you treat it accordingly. With every piece of information you learn, you should ask yourself the following questions: "Is this actually essential? Is this actually important? Is this something I want to remember, to retain, to carry it with me wherever I go?"

3. Learn to observe.

Sherlock Holmes believed there was a difference between seeing and observing. Seeing happens passively. Observing, on the other hand, involved making an "active decision to pay attention" and involved "the ability to really be present, take in the moment and observe actively," Konnikova said.

4. Learn your weaknesses.

Maybe you get distracted easily. Maybe you multitask. We all have little habits and quirks that prevent you from becoming more Holmes-like in your thinking. Figure out what they are, notice when they happen, and attempt to minimize their influence.

5. Accept that it's going to take time.

Like with any new skill, you will only improve through practice. Mistakes will be made. Setbacks will occur. "For everyone, it's like a muscle. It's something that you need to train," Konnikova said. But it's worth it. Being more mindful, like Holmes "will improve your ability to concentrate, it will make you more productive, it makes you a better problem-solver, it makes you happier."