Fresh Ideas: Thinking about thinking
As a child, I was once put to bed at an early hour, and I consoled myself with the idea: “Oh boy, now I can have a really good think!” What was there to think about at age 5 or 6? As I remember that childhood reverie, I felt good looking back through my day, reflecting upon events and the people associated with them.
What actually is thinking? The number of definitions available is huge — one reference lists seventy-five. Thinking is associated with emotions — we judge, consider, expect, stew, worry, fret, brood, lust, argue, regret.
Reciting to yourself a litany of old arguments, grudges, and hatreds isn’t thinking, it’s just deepening the rut of complaints and ill will. The emotions associated with such old laundry tend to rile one up, making it almost impossible to consider facts without anger and fear shrouding any willingness to consider new ways of thinking and ideas. Giving negative thoughts such attention lets them take you over and assume a life of their own.
Although I don’t remember doing it, I probably was making decisions about what and whom I liked or didn’t and why. This likely is the process by which a child develops a frame of reference for life. Daily decisions accumulate and gradually settle into our lives as habits, prejudices, behaviors, beliefs. Thinking is innate but our mental habit patterns dictate the subject matter of what we think and direct how we think.
Thoughts have power. They influence everything, our health, daily experience, and our interplay with our family, friends, and coworkers. We are the sum of our thoughts, words, and experiences all of which are composed of what I listen to, say, watch, read, believe, and feel because they influence my state of mind and personality, which dictate the conditions of our lives.
The person we’ve become radiates through whatever we do, like it or not. If your mind is busy replaying old arguments, nurturing jealousies, or you indulge in self-pity, blame, self-defeatism, hatred, anger, grudges, or rage, believe people see it.
I didn’t learn formal thinking in El-Hi schools, and it was (still is) a struggle to practice critical thinking. By reading and re-reading, examining information for value and truth, and listening carefully as people speak, we can sometimes detect our stock thought habits. Thinking occurs when we want to learn, and knowing brings satisfaction. On the other hand, we only learn when we’re discussing ideas, processes, and truths.
The biggest value in what we read, watch, listen to — that is, feed our minds with — is the truth about life that slips through. The digital world’s dizzying array of information can seduce people into becoming absorbed with the surface trivialities of others, celebrities, politicians, athletes, actors. This amounts to ignoring our own life; it’s so much more fun and certainly easier to be absorbed in the antics of others than think about one’s self constructively.
If you’re pleased with your life, soldier on. If you’re unmotivated or otherwise distressed, recognize you’ve chosen how to feel, selecting attitudes throughout your lifetime of immersion in yourself. Since we never actually live yesterday or tomorrow, the only moment we actually have is now — right now. Which means there’s no time in life for laziness. Study, reflect, meditate, consider how and what you think, say, and believe. Become interested. Take yourself seriously.
Changing habitual thought patterns is a long process; it took your whole life to develop your current systems — but concentration and persistence, attention and intention work just fine. Learning brings satisfaction. Think about it.
Susan Stornetta is a retired archaeologist and a long-time Comstock resident.