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December 1st, 2018

Do you know what your fifth thought from now is going to be?


Oddly enough, I have a better probability of knowing what your fifth thought is going to be than you do, simply due to the mere fact that you are reading this or listening to me.


You do not know what is next on the plane of reading or sound until you actually encounter it.  Perhaps a quick opinion, thought, or emotional reaction gets squeezed in between sentences, or perhaps you get distracted and veer away from this content.  But if you stick with it, and you have the requisite resources to comprehend what this content intends, then your mind is being appropriated and guided by this content. 


There is an even easier way to highlight this unsettling fact:


If you were to turn away from this content and do absolutely nothing, can you predict what your fifth thought from the moment you start the exercise will be?  No, not at all.  Thoughts simply arise.  Perhaps we’ve had the thought before and it’s simply repeating, but did we plan the repetition?  Not at all.


Delving into this idea by paying attention to the actual moment-to-moment experience of this unpredictable waterfall of thought and sensation can be a little eerie, though exploring such an area can yield equally unexpected treasures.  This idea often arises once a healthy meditation practice is in full swing and exploring it can allay fears.


It can also highlight the potential importance of scheduling.


We often hope that our will power will somehow magically be strong enough to help us dictate our behavior with ironclad success, but this is a relatively useless habit of self-reassurance.  The reassurance has almost no impact on the future actions we hope we will have the will power to undertake.


Those who are simply productive every single day are operating far more from a habit of doing so rather than being some kind of benevolent dictator of themselves.


If we want to become like such productive people, we need to actually schedule that productivity everyday until such behavior becomes a habit.  There are apparently thresholds of habit formation that accord to 3 days, 7 days, 21 days, and so on and so forth.  Regardless of the actual breakdown for a human brain to rewire itself so that a behavior has a high probability of occurring every single day, it is clear that such habit formation exists and a month seems to be a fairly reliable time interval to rely on for this matter.


Forming a habit is akin to creating a structure of thought that repeats on it’s own.  We might not be able to predict our 5th thought in a random situation, but with behaviors that we schedule and successfully turn into habits, we can begin to predict what we will do in the future.


For example, what is the probability that brushing your teeth will be among the first 10 things you do in the morning?  Probably fairly high, and since it is fair to reason that actions derive from some sort of thought, it’s equally fair to say that brushing one’s teeth will be somewhere nearer to the first thought of the day.  An organization is occurring with this formation of habit, even if the behavior seems so automatic as to require no thought at all.


More importantly might be to schedule free thought about a given problem.  We can become so ritualized that much of life goes on autopilot and by merely going through the motions we are perhaps at risk of letting the most powerful parts of our brain go to rot.


This is the dynamic, curious, searching, problem-solving part of our brain that requires some unknown to chew on.  This is the opposite of the habitual function of the brain.


But can we combine the two?  Productive people who seem to accomplish a lot have done exactly this


They have formed a habit of interacting with the unknown.


Such individuals likewise do not know what that 5th thought is going to be, but with a habit in place, they are fairly sure that it’ll be used to help unlock the next piece of whatever unknown puzzle they have at hand.



This episode references Episode 44: Autopilot and Episode 188: Customizing Autopilot.

Check out the Tinkered Thinking   Reading List

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Podcast Ep. 230: 5th Thought

Tinkered Thinking

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