Saturday, October 16, 2004

The Next Thought

The Next Thought

All action originates from a thought. Thought and action are just two ends of the same spectrum--we can think of action as being a gross form of "thinking" or thinking as a subtle form of "acting".

Every thought or action has its consequences--even when at times they may seem personal and harmless. Just like how it is impossible for anything to touch the surface of water without creating a ripple, it is equally impossible for a thought to arise without generating certain consequences.

Well, if we keep certain thoughts to ourselves, how could it have an effect on things or events in the world? Am I again indulging in mystical mumbo-jumbo about mind-over-matter phenomena?

Not necessarily. You see, every thought that we bring into existence affects us in two ways. Firstly, it determines what our next thought is going to be; and secondly it changes the structure of the mind itself by making it more susceptible to similar thoughts in the future.

Let's examine the first one. Thoughts always come in a train--they form a causal chain where one thought determines the next one. One stimulus from the senses--could be the smell of food or the sight of an atrractive woman--can trigger an automatic series of thoughts in succession. And these thoughts could eventually lead into us deciding to act in a certain manner; action that could affect our lives in many subtle ways.

At every moment in time, the thought we think forces us into a choice among an infinite number of possible futures. Once a choice has been taken, we can never turn back--the universe has forever been altered.

The second effect of thoughts is this: once we entertain certain thoughts, we immediately start developing a mental habit. To use De Bono's analogy, when rain falls on the ground and start flowing along certain paths, it erodes the soil and cuts deeper channels into it, making it more likely for water to flow along the same paths next time. That's how rivers develop.

Most of us would have developed a huge network of such mental channels, which is why we always seem to think and behave in the same manner. Every thought, no matter how minute, tends to flow along existing channels in the mind and when they do so, they cut them even deeper.

It is difficult for us to come up with an original thought or idea because our mental channels are already so deeply entrenched. Water cannot flow any other way. De Bono's famous lateral thinking techniques are all about triggering the mind to jump out of these mental ruts. Creative people do that instinctively everytime they are looking for fresh ideas.

We can use this channel-forming behaviour of the mind to our advantage by learning to cultivate good habits. This can be done through the conscious repetition of desirable thoughts. Once a habit is formed, behaviour becomes automatic. Unfortunately most of the time, we don't think consciously--we simply react to the world and people around us. We end up living our lives like balls being knocked about randomly on the billiard table.

To take charge of our lives, we need to determine what thoughts enter our minds. We need to seize the moment and decide: my next thought is this. It seems like a simple thing but in reality it is very tough.

If we could just do that, we'll have complete control of our lives.

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