My last post explored the increasing demands on our attention. Now, I’m wondering about thoughts and thinking; how might we think smarter?
Thinking about thoughts
Thoughts are the product of thinking. Thinking creates thoughts. I see you roll your eyes, but wait! It’s not as duh as it sounds. Consider how easy it is to believe a thought, as if that thought is obvious, and then to live an entire life defined by that thought. I am ugly, he is mean, death is bad…
Thoughts are created by a pattern, a series of steps along neurological pathways. This process is thinking. It can be done consciously, so it can be controlled. Here’s a powerful thought: if we think smarter, then we could create better thoughts and might live a better life.
How did you learn to think?
When I was first learning to write, I was incredibly slow. My mother made me practise writing each letter hundreds of times, until I could write as fast and as clearly as the other children in my class.
I don’t remember learning to think the way I learned to write. Thoughts were always there without conscious effort. I suppose I mimicked and absorbed thinking patterns from my earliest caregivers and peers. Perhaps my responses to new experiences developed into thoughts about life and myself – for example, suffering through PE lead to thoughts that exercise is stupid and I am not athletic.
School filled my head with thoughts, but didn’t really teach me how I think. Isn’t this funny? Was it similar for you? Or how was it different? I’m curious; comment below.
Have you witnessed yourself thinking?
If you are like me, you think almost non-stop. Most of our thoughts are on automatic pilot – thoughts which we are unaware of thinking and yet deeply familiar with, because we have had that same thought a million times before.
Some of my thoughts have served me well. I am thankful for this. However, I also have thought in loops that are pointless, painful or prejudiced. These thoughts are inefficient and, at worst, dangerous. They lead me into anxiety, stuckness and suffering. This is aggravated by everyday ADD.
Also, who says time travel is not possible? My mind is almost always somewhere else! It likes going over the past, especially to emotionally charged memories. My mind also stresses a lot about the future. It likes going through all possible “what if” scenarios. Poor mind, it works so hard. What if it could think more skilfully?
How might we think differently?
Since thinking can be done consciously, it works like a skill. Skills can be practiced, unlearned and relearned. This means that we can learn to think smarter! We can learn to use thinking to support our highest purpose and truest goals. But how?
We start by being conscious of thinking. Mindfulness is the art of witnessing and focusing thought. Becoming aware of something gives us the space to change it. This is done with deep compassion, so that it feels natural and effortless. Let’s explore mindfulness in the next post.
About the writer: Yagesh is an actuary and yogini, devoted to building a wellbeing economy. Contact her for personalised lessons or corporate workshops.