Mon 16 Feb 2009
The title of this post basically says it all and I could leave it without any content. But this being a blog etc. I feel I should explain further. So here you have it:
It dawned on me today that most of the time we are not thinking, we are merely processing incoming information, in most cases redirecting it somewhere else. For example I get an e-mail and I decide what to do with it, then I send it to someone from our team with a short comment. Or I read a bit of news and I decide to share it on Twitter – copy, paste and it’s done. Or I might decide to share it with friends via e-mail. Or maybe even write something about it.
All this activity – even though it happens in the mind – is not thinking, but processing – reacting to outside stimuli coming in. Thinking is a much deeper thing, which takes time and concentration. Those, in turn, usually require relatively large chunks of time without interruptions from new stimuli firing up the whole processing scheme. Those chunks of time seem to be harder and harder to get these days.
Let me explain.
As anyone who did anything close to meditation will tell you it takes time for the mind to settle – that is for the frantic activity of thought to subdue enough for the mind to regain some clarity. Only then one can do something with it – meditate or pray – or think. That time varies but for me – as for most people – it is somewhere between 10 and 15 minutes. This is – to be clear – not the time needed to think of something, but to get ready to start to think. Then you need some more time to think of anything that has any deeper meaning, sense or value.
But today’s world is full of buzz and staying fully connected all the time hurts this process immensely. The worst is of course when one sits at a computer connected to Internet – then this whole thought-killing processing not only has endless supply of data fueling it, but also can grow and expand to consume all mental energy. For example, an e-mail might contain a word you don’t know, you search the web, find a Wikipedia page on it, read it, in it find 4 more interesting links, open those, read some of them, find new links, then another e-mail comes, then phone rings, then someone types in Skype chat, you read, reply, turn back to e-mail, then someone comes in to your room to ask a question – bam! two hours have passed and you don’t how!
Sounds familiar? Seems today many struggle with exactly this. Huge overload of incoming data and interruptions that doesn’t ever allow mind to even begin to settle. This is why many people get their best ideas now while traveling, because it is usually when their thought process has a chance to go on uninterrupted longer. But portable Internet devices (like the iPhone) and cell phones do all they can to ensure we stay connected even while on the move – and keep on processing.
One more thing worth noting here is that processing is quite pleasurable – you get the feeling you feed info to your brain, and for some of us – me included – this is way way more addictive than any other pleasure. Our advantage is our mind, our edge is our ability to process quick, we win by knowing things sooner and better than others so we get high on sucking info – but we must not forget to stop and think sometimes.
Processing is not inherently evil – it gives us the data we need to come up with ideas or solutions or serve as inspiration. However, to make any use of this data we take in all day we must learn to switch all the incoming lines off – and think. Realizing what you do most of time is not thinking even though it looks similar goes a long way towards consciously finding chunks of time our minds need to think.