How We Think
We make the following two choices over and over again…and we call it “thinking“.
- First we choose how to interpret what we’re experiencing.
- Then we decide how we’re going to react to our own interpretations. Sometimes our reaction is just to keep interpreting what’s happening until we have enough information to go on.
We have a few mental resources to draw from when forming our thoughts. These include:
- Our Memories. What we remember and have learned through our past experiences, including our current thoughts which become part of our memory with their mental associations.
- Our Emotions. Our mood, or how we feel emotionally, plays a key role in our interpretations and reactions.
- Our ability to Speculate. Some other words we use to describe this are our personal judgments, opinions, beliefs, guesswork, assumptions, etc., all of which we use in place of missing or unknown facts.
It’s been argued that this would mean we are only reactive, not proactive. If we consider that one of our reactions is often to decide what we want to think about, which includes considering the future, you can see how these two choices are used proactively.
For those who meditate, it’s important to understand the difference between “being in the present moment” as opposed to “living in the present moment”. Being in the present moment is a meditation term that means to just meditate now without worrying about anything else. Living in the present moment includes reflecting on past choices and making new choices now to have the future we want to have.
Living in the present moment is often misunderstood. It means participating in life now, not ignoring the past and future. The choices we made in the past effect us now, and the choices we make now will determine our future. So living in the now includes reflecting on choices past, and making new choices now that can lead us to the future we want to have.
We all make our choices of how to interpret situations and how to react to our own interpretations using the same mental resources. However, we all have subconscious habits of relying upon some mental assets more than others. This causes some people to come across as being more emotional, more factual/logical, or more opinionated, with a variety of mixtures in between.
Of our three mental resources, speculating deserves some extra attention. It’s where our human innovation comes from, and is responsible for much of our reasoning ability. On the other hand, our speculations can really skew our reality. Our memories include an endless number of thoughts with speculation mixed in, which means a lot of what we think we know isn’t necessarily right. Treating our mixed in speculations like they’re actual facts can create a lot of fear, anger, frustration, prejudice, and discrimination against others. It leads us to easily assume we are right and they are wrong, dividing us into groups of us and them.
Knowing how we think can begin our transition to being more open and honest with ourselves. Our thoughts are just choices, so we can practice being more aware of the choices we make by evaluating some of the choices we make in our normal daily lives and noticing how our memory, emotions, and speculating affect our decisions. Choices we make every day are the easiest to work with because we make them all the time and we’re already somewhat aware of how we make them. Things like deciding what to have for dinner, choosing what we want to do in our free time or after the kids go to bed, deciding if we’re going to clean something up or to wait and do it later. The more we do it, the easier it gets until being aware of how we’re making our choices becomes an automatic mental habit.