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Thought Without Thinking

Whenever I talk about my own thought process, I feel as though I’m about to attempt an impossible task.  After all, it’s not possible to talk about what a maze looks like from the outside when you’ve never been outside the maze, is it?  It’s like trying to see the top of your own head – without the aid of mirrors.

Nevertheless, let’s give it a shot.

I have a little issue with getting tasks done.

“But Jim,” I hear someone saying, “you’re writing an article for your blog right now, aren’t you?  Isn’t that a task that you’re getting done as we speak?”

Sure it is, but all that means is that the issue isn’t completely insurmountable.  It IS pretty overwhelming, though.  Also, this article is pretty short compared to the plethora of other tasks I need to be working on, so that makes it easier to finish.

The issue is this: I think too much.  A shocking revelation, I know.

A few years back I came to the conclusion that I have the ADD/OCD cocktail.  This means I have trouble keeping thoughts in my head and am distracted fairly easily.  It also means that I obsess over pretty much each one of those fleeting thoughts for the duration of its brief stay in my cranium.  When I’m working on something, I analyze it to the nth degree and try to get it as close to perfection as possible… until I’m distracted by something else (which I then proceed to work on to the nth degree and try to get as close to perfection as possible… until I’m distracted by something else… and so on and so on and so on…).

I don’t have much in the way of direct experience of this, but from what I’ve heard, when you have a child it becomes incredibly difficult to hold onto a thought for more than a few minutes because the kid is constantly distracting you.  If that’s truly the case then I think living in my head must be somewhat analogous to running a day care center.  I spend a lot of time chasing down individual thoughts that are important to me and trying to deal with them while all of my other thoughts are yelling for attention.  I can keep them all quiet if I play a video game or watch a movie, but if I then try to do something else, they all start acting up again.

The easiest thing to do, of course, is to follow the path of least resistance and just do whatever I feel like doing.  Unfortunately, this has made me a champion procrastinator.  It has also led to a lot of half-finished projects.

So, how do I get past this to be a good, productive, drone-like member of society?  Is there a way to harness my childlike, multi-headed thought beast and make it work FOR me?

Honestly, I haven’t worked out a COMPLETELY satisfactory solution yet, which is likely why I’m still unemployed, but I have at least started to get a tiny bit further on my creative projects.  Granted, this is about like Sisyphus just getting an inkling of how to position himself to move the boulder up the hill, but at least it’s a start.

So, what did I do to make it possible to write this article?  True, I haven’t finished it yet, but if you’re reading it now then that means I must complete it sometime in the near future.  Either that or we’re about to experience a rift in the space-time continuum.

"Maze" courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The truth is that when I do something, I have to trick myself into not thinking about it.  This is an especially strange process when writing because the words have to form in my head before they appear on the page, which of course means I’ve thought about them.  But how to think about something WITHOUT thinking about it?

There IS a way.  It requires sneaking up on my psyche and suddenly leaping into action without any thought whatsoever beforehand.  If I begin working on something without warning – even though I’m really just going through the motions because I have no Earthly idea what I’m actually doing – it seems to kick some part of my mind into a state that can only exist AFTER all the necessary decisions regarding the task have already been made.  If I’m lucky, the rest of my brain will then play along and supply me with the bits I need to keep doing whatever I’m doing.  Thus far I’ve been able to get it to work better for shorter tasks and I’m hoping that with practice I can sustain it over time.

I don’t understand how the process works.  It shouldn’t be possible to just skip to the second step of doing something if the first step involves figuring out what the second step IS.  And yet it must work somehow, because I see that we’ve just about come to the end of this article.  I’m sure that if I spend too much more time trying to figure it out, my head will explode.

So in the interest of maintaining my cranial integrity, for the time being… let’s just say it’s magic.

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Music by Kevin MacLeod
Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net
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  1. Edwardo
    October 17, 2009 at 5:33 am

    What about the editing process? Do you edit to the Nth degree, or just write and post?

  2. October 18, 2009 at 2:48 am

    I have a tendency to self-edit a lot on the front end — essentially while I’m in the process of typing things out to begin with. When I do editing passes on written work after it’s done I do find myself wanting to focus on the minutia, though there usually comes the point when I become bored enough with it that my brain yells, “JUST POST THE DAMN THING!!” So at that point I usually do. Luckily, the fact that I’m also recording MP3s of these articles speeds the editing process for them along nicely. 🙂

  3. April 4, 2014 at 6:56 am

    You could have pulled this out of my head, except if you had that particular superpower I assume that’s all you’d ever talk about. Also you’d be really famous.

    Are a particularly social person? I love hanging out with groups because my thoughts never have to be more than a few seconds long and there is always new stimuli. I shoot out my witty one-liners and then there are new opportunities that spiral out from that.

    Also, I realize this is five years after the initial post. But I just found your blog, dammit!

  4. April 5, 2014 at 9:17 pm

    Heheh – it’s never too late to comment. 🙂 I’m pretty much an extrovert, so I totally get what you’re saying about hanging out with folks. I’m actually better with groups than I am one-on-one. If I have only one person to talk to my brain often starts getting in the way of itself. But in groups of three or more? It can be awesome. When you’ve got multiple folks to bounce thoughts off of (or to take their thoughts and make balloon animals out of them) it’s SO much easier to converse. For me, anyway.

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