It turns out that our mind is not always useful to us. Reflection, reflections on the unjust structure of the world and the meaningless play of associations drain strength and divert attention from what surrounds us. Raptitude blog author David Caine wrote about limited attention budgets and constant internal mapping of our experiences.
People don't talk much about thinking. We constantly talk about what we think about, but we rarely talk about the process itself. But thinking is a huge part of our life - it is perhaps the most significant part of our experience.
Thinking affects everything in life: your actions, your ideas about yourself, your capabilities, your stress level, and your health. Your way of thinking determines what experience will prevail in your life: whether it is fear or admiration, whether it will be excessive or insufficient.
My life has gotten a hell of a lot better since I started paying attention to the role my thoughts play in it. There was a time when I would have doubted the truth of the following five statements, but now I consider them to be the essential truth of life.
☁ We think almost all the time
Small children are great observers. Most of the time, their attention is occupied by what they see and hear. They can definitely think and reflect, but the momentary sensual world seems more important to them. It is not uncommon to see an adult immersed in thought and not notice anything around, but it is strange to see a two-year-old child with the same glassy, absent gaze.
With maturity, thought comes to the fore in our experience. Even when we pay attention to the sensory world, we are constantly interpreting, predicting and evaluating. As children grow up, they devote more and more attention to their own internal mapping - it becomes more important than immediate fresh observations.
Imagine tourists wandering around with a map in front of them. They see landmarks in the real world, but use them only as references to determine their location and to plan a route to another point. Most adults also interact with the world out of habit: the content of our thoughts and impressions is the main landscape, and momentary sensory experience is secondary.
☁ Most of our thoughts actually lead nowhere
We need to think: our mind is capable of amazing things. But most thoughts do not lead to any solution or understanding that would be applicable in the real world. We're just throwing up whirlwinds of dust. One thought always leads to another, but keeping track of them is like picking randomly growing flowers rather than following the trail of deliberately scattered bread crumbs.
If you get in the habit of asking yourself exactly what you want to accomplish when thinking about something at a certain point, you may find that you are not finding the answer. Why is a thought good, is it not pushing you to some kind of decision or action? Of course, thinking has other goals as well - for example, to distract yourself from even more upsetting thoughts or to indulge in fantasies. But even in this case, the real world comes to an end. More often than not, these thoughts are not intentional, nor are they particularly helpful.
For the most part, thinking is just an unconscious association that tires and consumes our attention. This is a habitual useless mental work that can consume as much of your attention as it can until you unplug it.
☁ Thinking is addictive
Who cares about the name of the mediocre actor on that '80s sitcom whose theme has been playing in my head since morning? For some reason, my mind cares. If I had not intervened, I would have had to postpone the rest of my life to resolve this issue.
Reason is happy with any work, even if it has no visible benefit. Just like a salesman who will sell you any gizmos until you stop buying them, your mind tends to work while it can. He really likes to believe, compare and make up.
We can all agree that this is great - that the mind is capable of these things. But in order to do them, he needs your attention, which is not so much. If the mind knew that it would have to work on a budget, it would be more judicious about the projects it undertakes.
As adults, we are so used to this constant mental activity that when it stops, we have a strange feeling. For the same reason, it's hard to break away from an unplanned Netflix marathon. It's not necessarily that the show you're watching is that good. The point is that you are more comfortable keeping watching rather than deciding what to do instead.
☁ We often confuse our thoughts with their subject
We were all absorbed in thoughts so much that we lost the thread of what was happening. You might be completely overwhelmed by your old relationship, or your office schedule on the other side of town, or a future in which there are no more ocean fish left and you barely notice that you are sitting in the bathroom at 4pm on a Saturday afternoon.
Your emotions in these cases better correspond to what is in your head, but not to what is happening around. This is because all thoughts exist in the present - even thoughts about absent people or non-occurring events. So when you think about something that upsets you, you are actually reacting to the thought, but not to its subject. Obviously, it's not your ex-girlfriend that makes you sit in the bathroom and feel sad, it's your thought about this person and this time. She is not there. Generally. There is only a thought.
Your body is constantly being led by the nose. As soon as you think of a plate of French fries, the salivary glands are already starting a party in your mouth, not knowing that there are no fries. Or just think about sex, and the genitals will immediately begin to rearrange, moving fluids back and forth and preparing to greet a guest who does not come. If you indulge in the delusions of your body, it may even try to have a child on its own.
When you lie in bed and cannot fall asleep due to political violence, it is not an imperfect structure of the world that keeps you awake. This is the thought that you have at the moment, right here in your bedroom. Otherwise, why hasn't the "structure of the world" bothered you from the moment you were born? We can only react to what is in the present.
☁ We can live less inside our head
I am not trying to demonize thought. Thoughts are absolutely essential for our functioning. But the ratio of pure signal to interference will overwhelm you if you get in the habit of paying attention to it from time to time. Knowing that most of our thoughts don't really serve us, we can figure out how to reclaim our attention and turn it to what is happening in the moment.
Your attention is drawn either to your thoughts, or to the rest of what is happening - to the sensory world of images, sounds, smells, sensations and tastes. He simply has nowhere else to be. So a reduction in the life lived inside the head is equivalent to an increase in the life lived in the material world. Sometimes the world around is so beautiful that it distracts our attention from our thoughts, but the rest of the time we need to direct it manually.
It is not particularly difficult to do this - it is difficult to remember that it is necessary. Attention management should become a habit, because as adults, we know how to Live In Our Heads Without Even Noticing It, better than doing anything else.