Imagine an arrow piercing through your head. For whatever reason, you are still alive. Now, after you come to your senses. Are you going to worry about getting the arrow out, or finding where the around came from? Or both?
That’s an extreme, but still quite accurate, way to showcase how thoughts get stuck in our heads. We usually don’t know how they end up where they are. And it’s incredibly hard to get them out.
Largely, in fact, we’re clueless – or should I say careless?
We have all of these thoughts circling around our gray matter. But we never care to slow down and make a revision. Retire some old concepts, so we can make room for some new ones. And even more importantly, ask ourselves why do we think about the things we think about?
Like we eventually learn the sad truth that Santa doesn’t exist and we stop believing. We should also re-examine the beliefs we hold about our personal values, skills, friendships, the way we think about money, etc.
Here’s a quick example… Simply because you weren’t born with the ability to paint, write, create music, or anything else considered creative, this doesn’t mean that you can’t teach yourself to do these things. Even if you self-describe as “untalented” or “old”.
Or where I’m getting here is that it’s not only important to learn how to think better. It’s of high value to often ask yourself the random-looking: What to think about?
Since thinking is the engine that steams us towards action – and also inaction. The internal compass that points the way and tells you what to care about and what to not care about. Considering what to think about is a significant prerequisite for overcoming plateau states and moving forward in life.
Commonly, we connect stupidity to the absence of thoughts.
The real problem we experience, however, is not, not thinking. It’s not even not thinking clearly.
The real problem is that we don’t feel the need to explore the subject of what are the things we need to think about?
Below, I’ll elaborate further on why, “What to think about?” Is an important question you should continuously ask yourself. Along with some good things to think about.
Why Considering What To Think About is Needed?
Initially, it might seem odd for someone to even end up wanting to explore the subject of what to think about.
In fact, if you came to this article by accident, not intentionally. You might even feel a bit insulted by the claim that someone should lecture you about what to think about.
“I know what to think about. I have a family. Friends. A job. A goldfish called Lolly. I think about these things.”
And while these are, of course, good things to think about. If you are completely honest, I bet that your brain is mainly concerned with others things. Other thoughts.
Thoughts that are not even yours. You’ve simply borrowed them from other people.
Worry not, though, I’m not going to try to convince you that you should change your religion or switch to a different internet provider.
The angle we’re going to explore is a bit different. And mainly covering these two aspects:
- You have the ability to choose what to think about, but you are rarely exercising this right.
- You have to regularly direct your thoughts toward things different from the ideas circling around you.
These two are important because…
In the day-to-day trenches of adult existence. A couple of things happen. Since we’re tired. Overworked. And overstimulated by all kids of entertaining platforms. We settle down. Not that we simply stop pushing ourselves to do better work. Find better work. But because we adopt the thoughts of people around us.
People talk about traveling, buying expensive luxury items, the latest Netflix shows, social media fame, etc. And we end up thinking about these things all the time.
Sadly, we don’t simply think about them. Like, to have a happy thought about traveling to a nice-looking island. Rather, the thought of traveling consumes us. We think more on the verge of destruction. Something like: “I want to travel around the WHOLE world. Share my journey on social media and make all of my friends super envious!” – all of this complemented with evil laughter.
Or what really happens is that we don’t create original thoughts. We simply form thoughts based on what the people around us are thinking and doing.
And when this happens. Since on average, the desires of the general population circle around having more fun and showcasing to others that they are having more fun than the rest of the population. They give us a rapacious desire for more money, fame, and attention.
Where Do Your Thoughts Originate From?
Let’s return to the arrow example.
You were shot with an arrow. It hurts. Your immediate concern is your desire to remove the arrow – the suffering. But you also want to find out who shot the arrow.
Replace the arrow now with someone sharing feedback, negative feedback, about your work. About you, as a person.
How does it feel?
Not so pleasant.
The comment is now stuck in your head. You can’t get it out. You either lean towards denial, “Oh, he is mistaking. My work is not bad! It’s awesome. He’s an asshole!” Or you process it more constructively, “Oh yeah, I see his point. I can totally make it better!” Or, as it also happens, you plunge into despair, “I’m a failure!”
This is one example of how thoughts originate. Through some sort of communication.
Some thoughts hurt us. Other make us feel better.
But for the most part, thoughts are not arrows – or don’t look like such. They are more like tiny poisonous darts. When they hit us, we barely notice anything. But something insidious happens. The venom enters our system. And with time, slowly corrupts our thinking. That’s why we can’t find the origin of most of our beliefs. They were simply planted a long time ago.
Or in normal English, we simply plug into the so-called collective mind.1
A simple way to explain the collective mind is to visit Europe and enter a bar full of football fans. People who are obsessed with watching how other people chase a ball across a carefully delineated field.
Initially, you might not like the game. I mean, who cares about how other people pass a ball?
With time, though. You get lured in. The atmosphere. The enthusiasm flowing from the half-drunk fans. It consumes you. And you eventually gave in. You become a fan, too.
You transition from a person who was previously careless about championships, scoreboards, and detailed statistics about people you don’t know personally. To a man who now has a tattoo on his favorite team and his regular day-to-day life revolves around talking about sports. And if this feel like an exaggeration, go to a local bar in Liverpool – or any other major country around the world where there are big sports teams.
During a game, you will yell, clap, and oftentimes cry. Depending on the outcome of the game, your mood will be affected for the rest of the day. Sometimes for the rest of the week.2
Football becomes part of you.
Now, put football aside for a moment.
Think about other things. What are your thoughts about religion, money, your job, your relationship with your spouse, and your social status?
You might think that the god you believe in. The money you chase. The spouse you married. The job you seek. Are all things based on your personal desires.
But if you think about it. Like, go back to the verge of your initiation. You can sense that this is not entirely true.
What you believe about all of the above is based on the beliefs of the people you regularly communicate with.
- Most of your friends are hustling to become business owners and are working themselves to the bone? You’ll likely do the same.
- Your best friends spend half of their awake time sharing how their lives unfold? You’ll probably possess the same intoxicating habit.
After all, if you were born in a place different from the place you live now, two things – at least – would have been true: The language you speak and the god you pray to will be different.
Choosing What to Think About
Based on the above, the most significant education in thinking. The thing that can move the needle in the right direction seems not only knowing the main thinking types. Reading about ways to use systems thinking. Adopting the most useful mental models. Embracing adaptive thinking. But also, your capacity to choose what to think about. And the extra supplement, realizing that you have the power to always direct your thoughts in another direction.
Commonly, we live in a prison with invisible bars. The worst prison of all. Imprisonment so total that the prisoner doesn’t even know that he’s locked up.
Consider again the football example for a moment. The regularity of being surrounded by people who adore other people dressed in jerseys is what influenced you. What made you a fan.
Probably your parents are sports fans and since an early age. You are yelling from the bleachers.
There is nothing inherently wrong with holding some beliefs.
Millions of people are sports fans around the world. Millions of people profess a religion that was imposed on them from very little. Millions of people still believe that schools are the best way to educate your kids. And, millions of people are convinced that the best way to have a good time while sitting on your sofa is by peaking at the life of other people online.
Through living, we vacuum some beliefs intentionally. Others by accident.
But the problem is that we never pause to revise these beliefs.
“Do I really adore watching football? Or, am I doing it to please my parents?”
“Do I really get something useful from all of this scrolling? Or, am I doing it because other people think it’s cool and/or because I don’t have friends and I jump online to avoid thinking about the hard question: How to make friends?”
The answer to the question – why don’t we audit our beliefs and change some of them? – is painfully obvious.
Because it’s easier.
It’s easier to adopt pre-made concepts and never retire them. It’s easier for at least four reasons:
- The hard work was already done. You don’t have to invent a new religion, for example.
- If someone questions your current thinking patterns – or you, yourself, question your thinking patterns. You can always confront them with, “Millions of people are doing it. I can’t be wrong!”
- We have an incredibly strong desire to fit in.
- We form our beliefs based on the desires of the surrounding people – the mimetic theory.
This is why we continue to live this life where we rarely consider alternative beliefs. Ideas different from those of the people around us.
Now, don’t get me wrong.
I’m not trying to convert you into another faith or force you to cease cheering your favorite team. Not at all.
My desire is to show you that… First, you probably hold some beliefs without knowing why you hold them. Thus, thinking about the origin of these beliefs and thoughts can be helpful – i.e., where did the arrow come from? And second, at any given moment, you have the power to choose what to think about. You have full control over the direction of your thoughts.
The two are important for the improvement of your day-to-day life.
We often make ourselves miserable – and hold ourselves back from what we might be capable of achieving. Not only because we don’t think critically about our current thoughts, but also because we cling to bad thinking patterns for our entire lives.
One quick example that covers the two aspects: In schools, they teach us perfection. Usually, it occurs as a by-product of the push from teachers and parents to always strive for an A.
Adults are so obsessed with their kids delivering As, that they don’t care what their kids have learned. They only care if their kids are delivering the highest grade possible.
As kids progress, they carry this notion with them. Therefore, they only engage in activities where they can potentially score an A. So, if an opportunity strikes. For instance, there is an open position in the company they work for. They quickly dismiss the idea of applying even if they are fed up with their current job. They do it because their thinking is, “I won’t be able to do the job perfectly (get an A). People will criticize me. It’s best to stay and do the current boring, but at least comfortable job.”
But instead of staying for the rest of your life in the same position. You can confront this thought with something more reassuring and truthful…
“Do I have the capacity to learn and potentially become good at the new job?”
The answer can be stretched into several pages which I will spare you. Put simply, the reply should be a confident “yes!”
Since you learned to do one job, there is virtually nothing stopping you – except yourself – from learning how to do another type of work well.
God, we covered a lot of ground.
To recap. It’s of high value to be aware of what you are thinking about. Why you are thinking about it. Who convinced you that you should think about this and is it still relevant. Understand that your thinking is based on what you consume. Consider whether your current thinking is productive or destructive. And, ponder on how you can alter your thinking to advance, not stay idle.
For all of these, let’s look at some good things to think about.
Good Things To Think About
What are some good things to think about?
By good, I don’t mean cute. Like, thinking about rainbows and stuffed toys.
But good in terms of helping you both upgrade your thinking and your lifestyle.
There are plenty.
But the majority of the suggestion online don’t appeal to my taste for deep reflection.
Usually, in the category good things to think about, you’ll find:
- Practice gratitude.
- Think about cats.
- Think about hugging cats.
- Think about hugging baby cats.
If these work for you, great.
But let’s unlock the basement and tackle our demons with some more insightful things to think bout.
Here are 10 good things to think about:
10 Good Things To Think About
- Am I using technology to improve my life, or is technology destroying my focus?
- Is what I am doing right now somehow going to contribute to my future, or am I just wasting my time?
- How can I make this better?; How can I make the most out of the situation?
- Am I focusing on having rather than being?
There are, of course, plenty of other good things to think about. But these are a good starting point.
And if you feel extra adventurous. I want to present you with my all-time favorite question – critical thinking question:
What do I want to think about?
Those who think that it’s an easy question probably haven’t given it enough thought.
Some Closing Thoughts
Schools are often accused of focusing on teaching us what to think and not at all on teaching us how to think.
I tend to agree, but as you can sense from this post. There is value in the question: What to think about? And even more so, realizing that you have a choice of what to think in a given moment.
And at this point, you can proceed with your life without ever using any of the above. You can choose to keep believing what you were believing since before reading the above. Of course, and as I mentioned, this is the easiest way to go on with your life.
But if you choose the other path.
The path of the unknown. You can sit comfortably with a notebook and rebel against the thoughts and the beliefs you have currently stuck in your head.
If you stick with this process for long enough. You will eventually realize that some of the things you do and a lot of the thoughts you have were placed by others, not you.
They were seeded in your brain at some stage in your life. Hundreds of poisonous arrows, intoxicating your brain. Forcing you to think about things that are not contributing to your future advancement.
Probably you have the imposter syndrome because you are constantly exposing yourself to the perfect life of others online. Or simply your parents weren’t cheering you when you were little.
Probably your brain is blocked by one of the main critical thinking barriers but you’re not able to realize this.
Or, probably, you are constantly justifying your bad behavior by searching for facts that support your beliefs – also known as cognitive dissonance.
In short: you have full control over your thoughts. Over what to think about. The important thing is to practice this ability.
To not only adopt a belief because others think this way or hold a belief because it was always there. But to have the courage and the willpower to question your thoughts and change them to better ones.3
“We are addicted to our thoughts. We cannot change anything if we cannot change our thinking.” Santosh Kalwar
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- Collective consciousness aims to explain our shared beliefs in society. While there are benefits. I mean, we all know the value of money. There are plenty of downsides. Riots, rage in sports events, and poor decision-making is often caused by the groupthink phenomenon.
- Johnna Dechristoforo (2006) Everyday Life of a Sports Fan, Review of Communication.
- A large part of the ideas in this piece are based on the amazing This is Water speech by David Foster Wallace.