What are You Thinking?
Is your Mind too Full to have an Original Thought?
The crying was emanating from the bathroom.
The colourful house we lived in was dashed with flowing, painted murals depicting the Lion King, Betty Boop, and Tank Girl. I moved quickly to find my sister, sobbing with her face in her palms.
As an innocent child does, I asked "what's wrong Jess" to which my 9-year-old sister replied something along the lines of "what will happen when my brain is full?"
What happens when your brain runs out of memory?
She seems to be worried her brain was filling up, and she wasn't even ten years old yet.
To me, this made no logical sense. I assumed she was worried her head would explode. I assured her that she surely had plenty of memory to use because she was still so young.
As I now reflect on what she said, I realise how profound her thinking was at the time.
Maybe you can fill your brain. I thought she was crazy, but perhaps she uncovered a pearl of wisdom that would take me many years to understand.
"What happens if I know too much"?
For a moment, imagine what the feeling would be like to fill your brain to the brim.
In the age we live in, with the readily available information at your fingertips at all times, it's easy to picture your brain at maximum capacity.
The breadth of information available to us today is overwhelming. How then can we stop our minds from exploding?
How many things can we think about at once?
An overwhelmed mind is one with too many tabs open. Similar to internet browser tabs, we often live life with a myriad of tasks and to do's stored in the random memory banks of our head. We will sometimes get crippled by the number of things we have to do, that we jump back and forth procrastinating, and creating a recurring loop of unproductive mindlessness.
Unintentional mindlessness is a dangerous state of existence. Many people bend to their vices in moments like these leading to problems of addictions and harmful ramifications.
The scariest element is that all this information may stop you from ever having an original thought.
Can we fix the frantic?
Without any justified intention, we become the puppet of something or someone else. If we do not specialise and pursue or own ideas, then we will usually be coerced into following the ambition of someone else.
Do you have something that interests you? Do you have a job where you could go deep and become a specialist in your field of expertise?
One key to fulfilment in the modern day is a life-pursuit. Your mission does not need to be grand to get the most pleasure from your niche industry. Most fields of work can be rewarding, even if they are not necessarily flashy or popular. Defining your mission in life is one key to living a fulfilling existence, even if it takes a long time to realise your goals.
Take the field of science as an example. How strange is it that you can begin theory work that takes multiple lifetimes for people to prove. Some of the most prolific theories are only confirmed long after the scientist had died.
An extreme level of commitment is required to dedicate your life's work to ungratifying work, but if it weren't for those scientists who chose to specialise in their field, most of the luxuries we now know would not exist.
The truth is we will never know everything. Humans, collectively, are mathematically incapable of knowledge of everything, and this is more true on an individual level.
The trick is to decide what you don't need to know and pursue what you do.
If you see something interesting, but it's not relevant to you, having a process to handle this situation is going to lead to more time on your hands. For example, if you are doing some work in your field and come across some tempting, but irrelevant information, you might have a process to skip it or save it for later rather than diverting your focus at the moment.
It is easy to chase information like it's junk food. The smartest among us are more selective of what we feed our brains because your thoughts are a result of what you let into your mind. Changing your pattern of information consumption will, in turn, lead to a change in your thoughts.
How to think 101
Think for a moment how you would have lived 500 years ago like your ancestors.
Your thoughts would be very different from how they are now. Five hundred years ago, your priorities would be radically different. Even if your ancestors spoke English, the language sounded significantly different back then and would be unrecognisable with today's dialect. Your ancestors would also get a shock if they were transported into your shoes because thought itself is contextual.
If you're starving in your third world country, you're thinking about survival, but if you're a privileged kid in Australia, you might be thinking about thoughts themselves. A fulfilled person will do their best to place themselves in environments that resonate with their values. Surrounding yourself with good company and spending time in open natural spaces can do wonders to your thought process.
How then are we supposed to think?
Aren't we always thinking?
Does it seem bizarre to you that you may have never had an original thought in your life? Deep thinking is a skill and a result of doing deep work. In contrast, surface thinking is a shallow act that anyone can do.
Deep thoughts come from an uncomfortable place.
There's no easy way to get in a deep flow state, but there are some ways that you can train your thinking muscle. Currently, our conditioning makes it difficult to have deep thought, and this is why we often let external factors control our lives.
How to Think Differently
Sitting and doing nothing might sound like an easy thing to do, but I urge you to give it a try.
Even for just one minute pause this, switch all your screens off and put aside all distractions. Place your phone away and do absolutely nothing. The silence becomes a form of meditation, and it should demonstrate how difficult it is to be still.
As you sit still, surface thoughts come up with immense frequency. The trick is to try and cultivate a sense of quiet in your mind. Can you observe your thoughts and let them pass through your mind without sticking? The training of being still is the first step towards having deep thoughts.
How do you know if you had a deep thought?
Have you ever been in the shower and all of a sudden, the solution to a problem comes to you, or you have a creative thought that suddenly comes from nowhere? This common occurrence seems to happen in an environment where your brain is allowed to relax.
As you enter the shower routine, you have associated it as a form of relaxation and is a place where your mind can become quiet. There are no distractions whatsoever, and your mind can unwind, and go into a deep sense of calmness and stillness.
If you want to have original thoughts, you need to practice stillness in a specific place that you can associate with thinking. Take a moment every day if you can to sit in silence in your special place (not your bed) and try to overcome your shallow thinking.
If more people could intentionally think and have deep thoughts, who knows what we could have achieved in the world. Imagine the kind of technology we could dream up and the problems we could solve.
Where does this leave us?
To achieve a depth of thinking that most people could never dream of, you have to be careful not to crowd your mind.
If only we were all as worried as my sister was about filling our brains. We might have been more careful about what knowledge we decided to avoid and consume. What could we have achieved with a more specialised set of information?
Imagine all the time you could save if you didn't wander mindlessly into the "more" information trap? Let's face it. We can never know everything, so why don't we focus on specific areas of expertise?
If you can cultivate self-control when consuming knowledge, you may develop the ability to enter a state of deep thought. Most people never enter this state of mind, but with a little bit of uncomfortable hard work, you can become one of the rare people that can have an original thought.