People don’t talk about thinking very much. We talk about what we’re thinking about all the time, but rarely do we talk about thinking itself. Thinking is a huge part of our lives, maybe the most prominent part of our experience.
It affects everything else in life too. It affects your actions, your self-image, your possibilities in life, your stress levels and your health. Your thinking habits determine whether your predominant experience in life is one of fear, excitement, abundance or scarcity.
My life got a hell of a lot better when I started paying attention to the role of my thoughts in life. There was a time when I would have balked at the following five truths about thinking, but now I’d consider them to be pretty basic facts of life.
1) We are thinking almost all the time.
Young children are great observers. Most of the time their attention is occupied by what they’re currently seeing and hearing. They can definitely think and ruminate, but the present-moment sensory world seems to be more important to them. It’s not unusual to see an adult lost in thought, barely aware that he’s there, but it would be strange to see a two-year-old in with that same glazed, absent look.
By the time we reach adulthood, thought occupies the foreground of our experience nearly all the time. Even when we’re actively paying attention to the sensory world, we’re constantly interpreting, predicting and judging.
As children get older, they devote more and more attention to their own internal “mapping” of the world, until it becomes more important than making fresh observations of the present moment.
Imagine tourists walking around, navigating with a map held out in front of them. They see the real-world landmarks beyond the map, but they use them only as a reference to find out where they are on the map, and how they can get to other places on the map. Most adults engage with the world in the same way, out of habit — the contents of our thoughts and impressions make the main landscape, and the present-moment sensory experience is secondary.
2) Most of our thoughts don’t really accomplish anything.
We absolutely need to think, and our minds can do amazing things. But most trains of thought aren’t leading to any kind of decision or insight that’s applicable in the real world. They’re just kind of kicking up dirt.
One thought always leads to another, but following a train of thought is something like following a trail of randomly-growing flowers, rather than a trail of purpose-placed breadcrumbs. Read More