Came across this Henry Ford quote recently that I love, love, love:
“Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it.”
Now, you might say, “Come on, Mary Anne–I think all the time! In fact, I can’t ever seem to stop thinking! I think even when I’m asleep! I think that not thinking is wa-a-a-a-a-y more difficult than thinking!”
Au contraire, mon frère, and I know this from personal experience. What swims around in our brains 99 percent of the time are memories, worries, ruminations, replays, reactions and judgments (of ourselves, as well as of others). They’re sound bytes and flashbacks. We can call them thoughts–but they don’t constitute thinking.
What happens most of the time between our ears is a mental cacophony.
As seen in Rodin’s famous sculpture, thinking requires effort. It requires concentration. Just look at his face. That ‘s thinking.
Real thinking is active, not passive. Real thinking is purposeful.
What’s more, real thinking is almost always more positive and productive than the unchecked babble that goes on in our heads much of the time. Real thinking solves and creates. It empowers us.
Take, for example, when something someone says to us hurts, whether it’s a romantic partner, a family member, a boss or whomever. Most of us lick that wound over and over until it grows and even gets infected. We replay the words, and the subsequent pain, so repeatedly that they become etched in our memory for future playback, a permanent part of the mental chatter that consumes most of our thoughts.
Now what if, instead of reacting to the words we perceived as hurtful, instead of letting those words upset, anger or sadden us, we chose a different reaction? What if we mentally stepped back, thought “Well, now that wasn’t very nice!” and then went on to not let it affect the rest of our day? Wouldn’t being able to do that feel so much better?
I actually managed to accomplish that recently, sort of, with what I consider a great deal of success. My life partner John, who means more to me than 99.9 percent of the rest of the world, said something that I felt was unkind and unnecessary. My eyes teared and I did say, “You just crossed the line,” but that’s all I said about it.
Next day when I awoke, I realized I had a choice. I could stay hurt and angry with him and drag those feelings around with me like a ball and chain, throwing off negative vibes that would not only impact me but everyone else within striking distance. I could stoke that hurt like an old coal stove by reliving what he’d said, damn him, and letting my reaction to those words suck the oxygen right out of me…or I could choose to be happy. Choose to make it a great day. Choose, if not to forgive just yet, then at least not let what was said yesterday become the focal point of my today
What a difference such a choice made. And choosing is, or at least can be, a very empowering form of thinking.
As has been frequently said, most of us spend more time planning their vacations than our lives, or how we can contribute to or make a positive impact on the world.
Heck, many people even spend more time planning a meal, right? Case in point: we’ll spend days planning and prepping for Thanksgiving dinner, and were seconds giving thanks. What’s up with that?
And it’s not like we give ourselves much time or space for thinking–instead we cram our days and nights with doingness and/or mindless entertainment. I’m as guilty of that as the next guy. It’s a lot easier to play two dozen Words with Friends games simultaneously or watch “Rizzoli and Isles” than to write a blog post, or deeply think about how I want my next (hopefully) 20 some-odd years on earth to play out.
I wonder about the Rodin sculpture. Is the man weighing the pros and cons of a huge decision that he needs to make? Or is he mentally working on an intricate math problem, or how to bring an invention to fruition, or about some philosophical conundrum about the nature of mankind or the meaning of life?
Whatever it is he’s thinking about, I’m convinced the world would be a better place if a lot more of us did that, too. If we thought before we spoke. Or thought before we react. Or thought about what kind of impact we’d like to make while we’re alive or what kind of legacy we want to leave when our earthly time is through.
And we can’t do that if our eyes are constantly glued to a smartphone, computer screen or television. Our best thinking is done in nature…or in silence…or while listening to certain types of music…or, for those who believe in its power, while praying.
I think, if more of us devoted more time to purposeful thought, the news media would find it a lot more difficult to come up with their endless stream of horrendous and worrisome stories to shine their spotlights on.
And wouldn’t that be a wonderful world?
Think about it.