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What were you thinking?

By Dianne Witte

The evidence that people are not thinking these days is particularly evident in the daily happenings recorded in the news. Evidence: the explosion of men, who are assumed to be of good character, being exposed as sexual predators. Evidence: the thoughtless judgments and criticisms coming from Twitter. Evidence: legislation coming from our elected officials allowing children to use deadly firearms while at the same time prohibiting adults from using non-lethal, possibly medicinal, marijuana. Evidence: violent rampages in which people get killed and injured. Evidence: spending mindless hours playing online games or surfing social media. Ouch, that hurts! I won’t go on. How does this happen? Maybe, it’s because we aren’t THINKING.

Well, perhaps thinking needs to be qualified, since “thinking” according to the dictionary it is “the process of using one’s mind to consider or reason about something.” According to recent research we are not “thinking” most of the time. Actually, it is the unconscious habitual mind that is controlling our activity. In fact, you may be surprised to learn that some neuroscientists estimate that as much as 95 percent or more of all brain activity is completely unconscious. In addition, the script for your life was written in the first five years of your life.

This unconscious activity includes things like keeping your heart beating, digesting food, processing sensory input, controlling and coordinating muscle action, and much more. In addition to these sorts of “housekeeping” functions, there are a lot of higher functions—things that we would associate with thought and reasoning—which remain unconscious, like shared cultural history and private, personal history—the biases, memories, and assumptions that shape how we perceive. Only then, at the very highest level of brain activity, there finally emerge thoughts that you can be aware of, that is, conscious thoughts. As you can see, these conscious thoughts represent just the tiniest sliver of the great mass of brain function.

There are good evolutionary reasons for things to work that way. Humans, like all animals, operate as efficiently as possible; if we could be run entirely by our reflexes and instincts with no conscious thought at all, we would, as we’ve done in the past. There’s a reason you don’t stop to contemplate whether you should pull your hand off a hot stove, and instead simply do it. Consciousness in that case would just slow things down. That programming happened before we got the gift of conscious thought. When life gets chaotic and unpredictable, and we are unhappy, it’s a sign we need to use our reasoning ability to question some of our unconscious, basic beliefs, because the conflict arises when there are two beliefs that can’t both be true.

For example, I had just such a crisis as a 20 something, when, as a practicing Catholic, I came into conflict with the church regarding birth control. I wanted to be certain I wouldn’t have any more children and the church said it was a sin to practice birth control. I started thinking, instead of blindly following what the authority figures in my life said. I decided only I had the right to make the decision for myself. It wasn’t an easy decision, but I realize now the logistics of it. The decision to follow Catholic teachings was made early in my life, before the age of reason probably, and I really loved that decision, and wanted to follow it at all costs. It wasn’t until there was a conflict in my beliefs, that I was able to overwrite the programming. Are there similar conflicts that come to mind for you?

Think about how it happens that you are reading this today. Most people are too concerned for their day to day survival, to think about others’ ideas. You reading this suggests you have the ability to overcome habitual thoughts and are willing to think “out of the box.”

There are ways to be more aware. To exercise the gift of conscious thought, you can simply make the decision to do so and follow up with activities that support your intent. For instance, first of all, notice what you are thinking or doing, then ask yourself why. Asking yourself why stimulates the “thinking” response. Often it will just seem easier to do what you’re doing. Like taking the same route to work you always do. Perhaps it is easier and you believe it is more efficient, but unless you ask why and entertain the idea of changing routes, you are not thinking, you are operating on your ROM. If you try the change, you’ll be more alert and may encounter some pleasant surprises on your new route.

Another sign you’re not thinking is negative self-talk. Never say a thing about yourself that you do not want to be realized in your life. Monitor your thoughts. If you find you’re being critical of yourself, gently correct it. For instance, if you think to yourself, “I’m so selfish”, that can be overwritten with a positive thought like, “I can be thoughtful and kind.” As you think, so you create in your life. Be persistent. It works.

Meditation is another tool to break out of unconscious thinking. It helps you quiet the monkey mind, move to a place of peace and access inspiration and intuition. It’s especially good for getting ideas for projects you are working on or decisions you have to make. Ask the question, experience the silence and wait. The answer will become apparent, if not in meditation, then later, when you need it. I tried this recently. I notified the universe I needed an idea for an activity to make a point in a presentation. A day later, I was surfing the internet and found the perfect idea and adapted it to fit my needs. Try it. It works!

In this seemingly chaotic world, we may not be a terrorist or President, but our actions as thinkers set the example for others and set into motion a ripple effect of positive energy. Just Think!

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