This is an attempt to clarify my thoughts about thinking and developing mental independence. How much control do we have over our minds?
As I’m sure you guys know by now, it is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive, instead of getting hypnotized by the constant monologue inside your head (maybe happening right now). In the spirit of this article, my mind decided to play tricks yesterday, I think, to show me how much freedom I truly have. I tried to sleep but my mind wouldn’t let me. My mind continued to wander from one topic to another, as I tried to make it stop. It didn’t until it had enough. I wonder why this happens and if we can ever gain control of our mind, if not to stop it from wandering but to influence what it thinks about.
Thinking means concentrating on one thing long enough to learn something about it. Not learning other people’s ideas or memorizing a ton of information. And you can only aid this kind of concentration by engaging in the right environment. Thoughts grow new neurons in exciting environments where you’re thriving, it’s natural.
Metacognition, put simply, is “thinking about thinking”. Thinking for yourself will set you apart; it’s one of the only things you can do with your own volition and style. It can’t be studied or paid for. Thinking for yourself means finding your reality. Think creatively and flexibly to cultivate independence of your mind.
David Foster Wallace said “the mind is an excellent servant but a terrible master. It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always shoot themselves in: the head. They shoot the terrible master.”
You simply have to orient your mind in a certain way to experience it.
Defining and Regulating your Mindspace
The choice of what to think about. Concerning the input of other people’s ideas, you have absolute control over their presence in your consciousness. You choose your inputs. Relating with creators through their work triggers the same neural circuits that produce desire. I don’t know about you but I feel some kind of way when I learn something insightful and interesting. By building up a list of content preferences we ask ourselves- “what should I value? and what do I want to spend my waking hours thinking about?”
My thinking is that if you control the inputs eventually the outputs will take care of themselves. Quality inputs lead to quality outputs. Our inputs define our mind space and affect our world view. The right content can open your eyes to opportunities and possibilities previously shrouded by a mist of ignorance and mediocrity.
A book is a warmup for the thinking that happens. All these other ideas are. From podcasts to essays to YouTube videos.
Developing That Quiet Voice
This ominous inner voice is your original idea after deliberation and stewing over a plethora of people’s ideas.
Being in this digital age and constantly being on social media gives un-tethered access to other people’s thoughts any time of the day. We are bombarded with their thoughts. And even when off it we still think about it in our subconscious. Most of the time, we don’t even have privacy, the opportunity simply to be physically alone, never mind solitude, the ability to be alone with your thoughts. How do we know what our thoughts are? What’s clarity of mind? How do you think out of the box when you’re always in it?
Our first thought is always something we’ve heard somewhere. But we come up with originality by concentrating, evaluating, asking questions, and allowing our brain to connect and inter-relate these ideas to form a unique idea. This might not happen at the first try, there’s examining of mistakes and choosing the one most authentic to ourselves.
It is the mark of a mature and educated mind to take up an idea without adopting it. Being able to look and evaluate it from several angles before an adoption is a central skill to living a mentally independent and meaningful life.
I noticed a pattern in our thoughts. We hear more of ourselves when we do solitary work – handy-work, writing, or showering. Infamously known as shower thoughts. They arise when our mind is in a diffused mode – letting our mind wander, leaving our brains to make new connections on their own. After intently studying a topic, a shower is a place of relaxation, and new thoughts seem to just pop into our minds.
Listen to yourself, to that quiet voice inside that tells you what you really care about, what you really believe in.
You understand ideas by thinking carefully about them. Maybe take some notes. Discuss with others. Run your own feedback loop. Ask the right questions.
Consumers should understand their own cognition. What does it feel like to understand something? What questions should I be asking? Did I understand that? Should I re-read it? Instead of passively experiencing your thoughts and feelings, always question everything. For people who really do think about what they’re reading. The process is often invisible. These readers’ inner monologues have sounds like: “This idea reminds me of…,” “This point conflicts with…,” “I don’t really understand how…,” etc.
Questions to ask yourself to challenge your intuition:
– How true is that?
– Who said it?
– How specifically?
– How does that track in real life…?
– Compared to what or whom?
– That’s an interesting tweet, how can I expand it?
– What does this really mean?
– Can you think of an exception?
– What would happen if you did (or didn’t)?
Our brain automates most of what we do to save time and energy. The subconscious stores knowledge, experiences, and memories. American neurologist, Dr. Marcus Raichle, explains that the subconscious mind is what conducts autopilot thinking. There are times during the day when our conscious minds switch off. When we sleep or daydream, we’re less aware of our surroundings. We go on autopilot.
My subconscious mind is my favorite, it’s served me a lot of great ideas. And its medium is daydreaming. The kind of scenarios I’ve conjured in my mind is unbelievable but this imaginative thinking has helped me to think out of the box.
Original ideas come from creativity. David Perell’s Three B’s of Creativity is a perfect guide to subconscious thinking. Creativity arises in states of relaxation which are preceded by a long period of focused thinking.
– Bed: sleep. A chance to put your subconscious mind in control of thoughts.
– Bath: leisure. This is one of the few places where we aren’t absorbed by entertainment or technology and only once these disappear can we hear ourselves think.
– Bus: movement. You’ll think clearer. Morgan Housel (link)says he writes when he goes on walks, his ideas become clearer.
Step away from the work from time to time to solve hard problems, you need the space to let your background processes figure out the problems you’re encountering.
Make Thinking Time
I’m no expert at this and I’m still looking for ways to implement this but the convenience of being a writer is that every piece is an opportunity to clarify your thinking. In this article, Tiago summarizes “How To Take Smart Notes” where Ahrens argues convincingly that turning one’s thoughts into writing isn’t just useful for writers but for anyone who wants to improve their thinking and learning in general.
I’d suggest starting free days. A day every week where you’re not busy or in back or back appointments, simply a time to think. You’re not going to get good ideas if you’re always running around anxious and stressed. Make the time. Plan your investment in learning deliberately and developing your mind.
Build a mind that empowers you. Grab the wheel of your mind you can’t steer on autopilot.