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There are people who respond immediately to a question. It seems they don't think about it at all and still give a great answer. You all know those guys who are able to counter a joke in no time. I would like to be as intuitive as they are.

I know what I want to say but I have to think it first instead of just saying it.

How do I shut up my inner voice and speed up my thinking?

I have the same issue while I read a text. I repeat it and read it out loud in my head.

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For me, watching "Whose Line Is It Anyway" (British version) helped a lot. Other improv programs (or even attending an improv class/group) probably would too. However, if you find yourself constantly re-reading text many times, you may have a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder, and should at least talk to a doctor. – barrycarter Oct 10 '11 at 5:10

11 Answers 11

up vote 29 down vote accepted

The core explanation can be found back in the physics of our brain.

The brain's neural networks are made up of nerve cells that exchange pulses via synaptic connections. Unlike atoms in a crystal, which are arranged on a regular, cubic lattice, nerve cells grow synaptic connections in a highly specific but irregular fashion. The team of researchers -- Theo Geisel, Marc Timme, and Fred Wolf -- came up with a mathematical model which can precisely determine how fast neurons can coordinate their activity.

As could be expected, they found that the more highly connected the neural networks are, the faster the neurons can synchonize. But what was surprising was that this speed has an upper limit. Even in areas of the brain with the most dense neural networks, thought coordination can only happen so fast.

This "speed limit" on thought comes about because of the complicated switching structure of the neural networks. Only if every single neuron in the brain were connected with every other single neuron would the speed limit not apply.

Physics Forum quoting Deutsche Welle.

So, the bottom line is that speed thinking comes with practice, training the brain improves connections.

But, there are all kinds of different things that arise when communicating which can slow you down:

  • Loss of focus, if you don't pay attention you won't be thinking towards an answer.

  • Lack of interest, which results in a lack of focus as you rather want to do something else.

  • Lack of knowledge, you can't talk properly about something you don't know enough about.

Again, communication skills come with practice; like learning more about the subject and talking more...

Personally, I think being introvert gives you a boost in speed thinking whereas being an extrovert gives you one in communication skills. Because introvert people think more while extrovert people participate more in a conversation. I think that a key step is that you could try to let that inner voice open up your mouth, you will automatically learn from the mistakes you say which might remain hidden if you only think about it.

As for reading, you should definitely check out the speed reading concept.

Speed reading is a collection of reading methods which attempt to increase rates of reading without greatly reducing comprehension or retention. Methods include chunking and eliminating subvocalization. No absolute distinct "normal" and "speed-reading" types of reading exist in practice, since all readers use some of the techniques used in speed reading (such as identifying words without focusing on each letter, not sounding out all words, not sub-vocalizing some phrases, or spending less time on some phrases than others, and skimming small sections).

Speed reading is characterized by an analysis of trade-offs between measures of speed and comprehension, recognizing that different types of reading call for different speed and comprehension rates, and that those rates may be improved with practice. The many available speed reading training programs include books, videos, software, and seminars.

Wikipedia - Speed Reading

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+1 for more practice sample :) – Soner Gönül Sep 27 '11 at 8:57
Great answer. I like the introvert/extrovert part. BTW: I do speed reading now. Found a great book with practices. – Stephan Schielke Sep 21 '12 at 10:57
@StephanSchielke: could you tell me the title of the book? – MostlyHarmless Jan 20 '14 at 3:47

The human brain is a very, very slow computer. It does the same thing computers do to speed things up - caching. Most of our thoughts and opinions are (at least partly) cached. We don't go trough the whole reasoning process of why it is correct every time we give our opinion on something.

That is why some people can answer so quickly - they already thought about it before, or at least of a part of the question and got a cache hit. If you want to have faster reaction times, fill your cache with useful stuff. Read a lot, think about it, read philosophy and mathematics, learn methods for solving problems (mathematical proofs for example).

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Lol, ouch I got a cache hit.. Remembered to hit it.. :D – Harsh Baid Sep 3 '12 at 18:46
Caches are small, but very fast. The problem will be to interchange when switching to different situation. – Stephan Schielke Sep 21 '12 at 11:13
I dig this analogy. Nice. – Coldblackice May 24 '13 at 2:57

How do I shut up my inner voice and speed up my thinking?

What makes you think you have to shut up your inner voice? Couldn't you try to tune your intuition so that you make perceptive leaps of logic to get where you want to be? After all, the point here is to time your response so that it may appear like you aren't missing a beat but the reality is that someone may be anticipating that on a pause and then strike with whatever was in their head that is ready and set to go. How do you know someone doesn't have a dozen lines all ready for when someone takes a pause?

I tend to have a couple of different trains of thought when people are talking to me. While on one hand I try to be quick witted and find that fiery comeback there is another side where I take time to process and really get what someone is trying to communicate.

If you want a couple of book ideas, here are a couple for you:

If you prefer a TED Talk, try this one:

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+1 for Julian Treasure Ted Talk which is great!! – Soner Gönül Sep 27 '11 at 8:58

There are people who respond immediately to a question. It seems they don't think about it at all and it still give a great answer.

The point is there, they know. They have a lot of experience on this subject. They work on this subject and they made samples. This is a very normal. Other way, some people born like this. They always ready to respond quickly. I also want to be like them. But hey, I work, I made effort, If I can, that's great. If I couldn't there is nothing I can do about it.

I know what I want to say but I have to think it first instead of just saying it.

There is a proverb like: Think Twice Before You Say Nothing. Which is perfectly true. For me, no matter how knowledgeable about the subject, I always apply this proverb. I don't want to say faster without thinking. If so, there is no point.

Do you think your problem is your inner voice? If so, you can read How to Meditate With Your Inner Voice

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Practice is the key.

Where do you go to practice? If you want to get fast at being able to counter jokes I recommend a improv comedy workshop.

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The joke part was just an example. So you would recommend specialized practice? – Stephan Schielke Sep 21 '12 at 10:54
Yes, you practice by going into an enviroment where you have to think fast. – Christian Sep 22 '12 at 20:35

Drink loads of coffee. :-) (That's a joke, of course, though coffee does help in a pinch.)

Seriously: it will help to learn a lot, think a lot, solve a lot of problems, talk a lot, and practice listening with 100% awareness. But all of these are best done for the inherent joy of it. Wanting to impress others or to be better than others is a troublesome motivation at best. Paradoxically, to be really good you need to be free of the desperate need to be good. (That need is exactly what stops your "inner voice" from opening your mouth and becoming that quick response you're looking for.)

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Disagree - ingesting caffeine will quicken your heartrate but it can't make you a better listener nor learn to focus on the speaker in a conversation. More sleep would be more beneficial than more coffee. – JBRWilkinson Jan 16 '12 at 20:59
@JBRWilkinson Of course the coffee was only a joke, though it does quicken the mental pace if your kid has been waking you up all night. 8-) – hstoerr Feb 3 '12 at 18:55
Eevery time I drink coffee with a whole alot of sugar, I feel that I can fly an clear my memory especially when you have in the night shifts in the weekend thanks to glucose that comes from canes in this world of make believe. – user3349 Jun 30 '12 at 8:37
I get 8 hours of sleep and still find a good heightened sense of awareness from coffee/red bull/vitamin B supplements. Not all at the same time ;) – Gaʀʀʏ Sep 21 '12 at 0:25

If you were like me, when you read the word "fish" your eyes take in the letters and then you silently say the word in your head. It is like your inner voice is silently reading out loud. Now think of that fish. Did you see a fish? Did you just think of the idea of a fish? You didn't need to say the word to think about the idea. Can you feel how they are separate? Now go back to the start of this answer and scan your eyes over the words twice as fast. Don't try to read at all, just look as you would if you were on a mountain with a beautiful view, and let the words flow into your mind. Sometimes I catch my inner voice reading, and that slows me down, so I give it a song to sing or just "la la la", (until it goes quiet) while I suck the words off the page with my eyes. To begin with it felt really odd, but quickly it become natural because it is so much faster.

How does this apply to your question in general? Well you can do the same with all of your thought processes. Bypass the inner voice and you get to an instant reply, (though it will take a little practice.) Good luck.

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There are, of course, inherent differences in the way individuals process information and in their base knowledge of any given topic. This has a lot of impact on the speed with which they are able to answer you in conversation.

But the real differentiator, as I have read and experienced in the past, is the amount of preparation one has done in the specific area being discussed. I think that this is a bit different from just the amount of knowledge a persons has and is more about how often they think about the topic on an ongoing basis.

For example, people who think about their work (software comes to mind) all the time, even when they are not actually working, will often know their area inside out and be able to answer questions very quickly. And those who are also lateral thinkers can often extrapolate an answer in a related area with reasonable results, further enhancing their "quick thinker" image.

That harkens back to Einstein's comment that genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. I.e. do the work.

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I know what I want to say but I have to think it first instead of just saying it.

How do I shut up my inner voice and speed up my thinking?

Alcohol, sugar, caffeine, lack of sleep. Not even kidding, it's how the brain works and why people indulge in it. It's not a long term solution (or even a good one!), but it works.

The long-term solution is practice under pressure, but that has already been detailed out.

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The issue is not with having less knowledge about a topic nor with shutting down inner voice. Having enough knowledge and controlling your inner voice interaction is detailed thoroughly above.

I tend to not know what to answer with quickly in small talks, chats and attention bringing conversations those are important at work. It takes me hours or days of thinking about the conversation and best responses.

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Practise talking under pressure without inner voices making your speech quicker. I try to use 'la la la' instead of reading words in my mind (inner voice) to speed up my talking. I must know the topic of the conversation with enough knowledge so I can talk with more confidence.

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Welcome to Personal Productivity! I've edited your answer and tried to fix some of the grammar. Please check if I kept the meaning of your answer. Also, I do not completely understand how saying 'la la la' will speed up your talking. Can you elaborate? – THelper Sep 3 '14 at 7:23

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