A few days ago, I mentioned that I want to start taking one half hour a day to just think. No new information. Instead, I reflect on what I’ve recently learned. I stay focused by typing my thoughts.
My goal is to weave my scattered, shiny new info bits into sparkling tapestries of knowledge. Instead of using flashcard prompts to trigger atomized memories, I skip right to the good stuff: actual thinking.
It’s only been a few days, but this new habit already packs some surprises.
You Remember More Than You Expect
First, I remember so much more than I expected to. It just takes a little time.
If you ask me about a book I’ve read, my first mental scramble might not turn up much. Since that quick dumpster dive into my memory comes up empty, I assume I’ve forgotten it all.
But when I sit and think, the details slowly emerge from the shadows. They’re like little forest animals. Apparently, the harsh glare of the question made them nervous. Some are more timid than others, but that’s okay. I’ve got time now.
You’ll Enjoy This
Second, this is not one of those new habits that takes three weeks (or months, or years) before you actually enjoy it. As soon as my fingers touch the keys, the floodgates open. I feel great.
Turns out I’ve been trying to think, but I’ve been stuffing it into those odd crevices of time when I should instead be, say, actually listening to what my kid is saying. Or falling asleep.
We need to think. But it feels so much better to do it deliberately.
Don’t Wait Until “Down Time”
On that note, I suggest taking this time as early in the day as possible. If you try to tack it on after everything else, you’ll be tired, and you’ll be likely to skip it. Also, you’ll be telling yourself that it isn’t really important.
For now, I take this half hour right after lunch. This hooks my new habit to an existing habit (always a big help). Plus, I’ve already been forced out of “work mode”, so I don’t have to rehash the argument of why thinking is worth doing.
If you’re not free to take time then, and the morning’s already spoken for, then at least slot the time as early as you can in the evening.
No Stress. This Isn’t A Test.
Perhaps my favorite part about reflection so far is how open-ended and free it feels. Unlike flashcards, I’m not testing myself. I may happen to realize I’ve forgotten a particular detail, but the focus remains on what I do remember.
Even better, I’m trying to do more than merely remember. I’m doing creative thinking. I’m looking for new connections. And creativity feels good. Since I’m not trying to craft a specific work (like a blog post), I get all the fun of creativity without the usual pressure to refine what I write.
You Could Also Try Talking
I enjoy writing, but not everyone has made a career out of touch typing. You want your thoughts to run freely, and typing might be too slow.
I got this whole idea from an old book called Thinking as a Science, by Henry Hazlitt. Given the technology of his time, Hazlitt recommended talking. Out loud. To yourself.
Try it. Talking can keep you surprisingly focused, compared to silent ruminating. But Hazlitt noted that you might want to make these monologues in private.
To practice it, you must either lock yourself up in your room, or sit alone in a forest or field, or walk along unfrequented streets and by-ways. You can by no means allow any one to hear or see you talking to yourself. If you are caught doing this some asinine idiot is sure to mistake you for one.
I love the construction of that last sentence.
On the other hand, he was also writing before cell phone earbuds.
Give Thinking A Try
So, what do you think? Can you spare a half hour a day for sheer thinking? Maybe you can’t, but if not … why not?