Recently I have been writing about the perils of overthinking. In one post, I quoted Eckhart Tolle saying that “your mind is an instrument, a tool. It’s there to be used for a specific task, and when that task is completed, you set it down.” Without demonizing thinking, he defines the appropriate use and the appropriate boundaries on how we should use our thinking minds. This post is in defense of thinking, or more specifically, dedicating specific time to think.
Thinking has a bad rap although it’s not inherently flawed. Unfortunately however, most of us use our capacity for thinking poorly. Eckhart is quite right when he says that “as it is, 80 to 90 percent of thinking is not only repetitive and useless but because of its dysfunctional and negative nature, much of it is harmful.” We have infinitely creative brains which are the crowning achievement of evolution on this planet. However, they’ve been tragically reduced to thinking about stupid, stressful shit over and over, day after day.
My Muse: Abraham Lincoln
Over-thinking isn’t the issue, but what we’re thinking about and how we think about things is the real problem. I decided to dedicate myself to better use of my thinking mind after reading a phenomenal book about Abraham Lincoln called Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin. In it, she vividly describes Lincoln’s habit of sitting for long hours in his favorite chair, with his tobacco pipe in front of the fire simply thinking. Lincoln created dedicated time to think deeply and critically about hugely consequential issues of his presidency and the Civil War. One could say it was his capacity for skillful thinking that saved our country.
Imagine that: a dedicated time to skillfully think around meaningful issues going on in your life in such a way that you arrived at meaningful decisions and effective courses of action by the end of it. In our modern day, time scarce culture where we are endlessly interrupted, triggered and distracted by tidal waves of external stimuli (social media, phone calls, texts, advertisements, the news, the internet, etc.), we have lost the art of skillful thinking. But what would it be like to be like Lincoln, dedicating time to think? What would it be like to use your brain for what it was designed for? To solve problems, to plan, to ponder, to think creatively, to dream?
How to Dedicate Some Time to Think
I can tell you that setting aside time to think would lower your stress and associated health and behavioural issues. At Stress School, we recognize that stress is a multidimensional phenomenon including both external and internal stimuli and responses. It goes without saying that the quality (or lack thereof) of the stuff you’re thinking about is a significant contributor to how well regulated your nervous system. Of course, that then spills over and affects your whole life. So, if you want to give it a go, here are some simple tips for dedicating time to thinking:
- Make a list of the important issues you want to think about.
- Briefly describe the goal or outcome you are trying to achieve for each issue.
- Dedicate a time in your calendar (a minimum of 45 minutes) to do that thinking.
- Find a place without distraction (no phone, no people, etc) to do said thinking. You may prefer to do this in motion (walking) instead of in stillness.
- Write down the conclusions, decisions and courses of action you arrived at during your thinking session.
Let me know how it goes in the comments below
PS. When you are done thinking, follow Eckhart’s advice. Put the thinking brain down and simply come back to being aware of the present moment. For more on this, see my previous post about stopping overthinking and the cultivation of attention.
You can also visit my Youtube channel for lessons and meditations to help you fight stress, sleep well at night, and find happiness.