The Thinker's Way, by John Chaffee, Ph.D.
Little, Brown, 1998, 420 pages, $25.

Unlike many self-help authors, Chaffee pushes beyond inspirational platitudes and stories to offer a pragmatic, step-by-step self-transformation program in The Thinker's Way.

Thoughtless Lives

Many people, Chaffee explains, lead frustrating, unfulfilled lives because they never learned how to think.

They act thoughtlessly, reacting impulsively or rashly and basing their opinions, beliefs, and choices on ignorance and biases. They live thoughtlessly also by drifting along without taking the time to find a purpose or meaning to life.

Chaffee's solution: an eight-step program that helps people become informed, articulate, insightful, and creative -- and thus able to make the choices and decisions that lead to a creative, fulfilled life.

The first three steps of the program are what Chaffee calls three fundamental "life principles":

  • Think critically, recognizing your biases, understanding situations from different perspectives, and developing good reasons for your positions.
  • Live creatively, consistently approaching life with a sense of discovery and invention.
  • Choose freely, having the insight to understand all of your options and breaking free of any constraints on your choices.

In the five remaining steps of the program, people apply the insights and methods of the three life principles to successfully solve problems, communicate, analyze complex issues, develop enlightened values, and think through relationships.

Not a Pep Talk

The inspirational self-help field is crowded with short and shallow texts that are little more than extended pep talks. Chaffee, a philosophy professor at New York University, shows readers how to uncover and question their core beliefs and values, thus transforming the way they think and act.

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