Our culture is only just beginning to view thinking as a skill worth learning. I certainly don't want to steal any energy away from this central issue of our time. But it seems to me that we should also encourage attention to activities that precede conscious thinking, when the cognitive compounds begin to bubble and assemble. I'll call it pre-thinking.
I'd guess that people who question the importance of conscious thinking probably give no attention at all to pre-thinking. If they did, they'd find that any of the pre-thinking activities go a long way toward making conscious thinking easier and more productive. Pre-thinking gives birth to thoughts the same way the primordial ooze on our new planet eventually yielded life.
Travel is an example of pre-thinking. Travel forces us to see other realities. Actually, anything that makes us curious is a pre-thinking activity. Anything that makes us want to make sense out of confusion is a pre-thinking activity.
Here's a starter list of pre-thinking activities:
- Sabbaticals - Go somewhere and live a different life for a month. (Too bad these are becoming so rare. )
- Volunteering - This can be a great way to experience new perspectives.
- Continuing education - Pick a course on something new that intrigues you.
To me these meet the definition of pre-thinking activities. You can participate in them and still keep your brain in mothballs; however, staying mentally aloof in these activities requires considerable effort. And if you don't stay aloof, the benefits to your creative thoughts and innovation can be amazing.
Before you get the idea that pre-thinking begins with a major time commitment or a trip out of town, we ought to look at the most obvious example of pre-thinking: reading.
Contrary to popular opinion, reading isn't synonymous with thinking. But, as with the other examples of pre-thinking, reading breaks us out of habitual patterns, jump-starting our mental machinery. And once the machinery is turning, reading pushes, badgers, and seduces us into thinking. Curiosity takes hold: What do we think about the writer's ideas? How do the ideas relate to us? What is the connection to our other ideas?
In our busy lives, we have less and less time for the activities of pre-thinking. In particular, I've read several articles lately about the death of readership in America. Nobody has time for books. Sort of begs the question: what are we thinking?
Michael Durr is a marketer and writer. He publishes a website and blog on applied thinking, http://www.TheBusinessofThinking.biz Visit the website to read an excerpt from his latest book, My Brain, My Future