Because I have extolled the virtues of action for so long, I have often been asked if thinking can be considered to be a form of action. The short answer is “yes.” To employ Aristotelian logic, since thoughts have consequences, we can reasonably conclude that thoughts are actions.
But the whole notion of thinking as a form of action puts us on that proverbial slippery slope. Like physical action, not all thought action is constructive. For example, pointless daydreaming (akin to a trance), dispersed attention (where your mind resembles a pinball machine), and “group thinking” (a way of life in meeting-addicted corporate America ) are three kinds of thinking that are unlikely to add value to your life.
Since thoughts are actions, and actions have consequences, you become a product of your thoughts. Which is why it’s so important to be careful about the company you keep.
If you allow yourself to be in the presence of negative people too often, it’s virtually an impossibility to think positive thoughts. And since most of the people roaming our planet tend to be negative, it takes a great deal of vigilance to keep them at bay.
It’s also important to recognize that just as all physical action is not necessarily constructive, neither is all thought action. Hateful thoughts bring about hateful consequences. Negative thoughts bring about negative consequences. And so on.
With all of the above in mind, let’s take a look at four of the more important kinds of thinking:
1. Immediate-Solution Thinking
This is the most common type of thinking – and the most dangerous. When you have a problem you need resolved – which means pretty much every day in a normal person’s life – it’s quite natural to think a lot about problem solving.
This kind of thinking, however, can bury you alive if you allow it to guide you rather than the other way around. I find that the more I pressure-cook my perceived problems, the less likely I am to solve them.
I use the adjective perceived , because, in truth, there really is no such thing as a problem. “Problem” is just a word we use to describe a fact or set of facts. And it’s a word that carries with it a negative connotation.
I would therefore suggest that you stop thinking of every obstacle you encounter as a problem. Instead, posit it as a fact that you simply need to find a way to deal with. And by far the best way to deal with an unpleasant fact – and I’m speaking here from extensive firsthand experience – is to turn it over to your subconscious mind with instructions to resolve it in a positive manner.
The power of the subconscious mind is still a great mystery to the scientific world. But the one thing that is pretty well accepted by experts in all fields related to the study of the subconscious mind is that it tends to produce that which the conscious mind requires of it.
2. Opportunity Thinking
Once you’ve offloaded your perceived problems to your subconscious mind, your conscious mind is free to focus on opportunities. Opportunities provide the means to move forward with your life. It’s good to be a problem solver, but problem-solving is analogous to treading water.
It’s instructive to concentrate daily on how much time you spend thinking about problems and how much time you spend thinking about opportunities. If you keep your ratio at 10:1 or better in favor of opportunity thinking, you are virtually guaranteed to succeed at just about anything you try.
The ultimate triumph of opportunity thinking is when you become adept at dissecting your perceived problems and discover hidden opportunities in them. This is a true art form, a skill that is all too absent in most of the human race.
3. Free-Flow Thinking
Free-flow thinking is not the same as daydreaming, which can be likened to being adrift at sea. I’ve found that allowing my mind to “float” can be very productive, so long as I keep it within the general framework of where I am in life, where I want to go, and how I can best get there.
I’m talking about questions such as: What do I enjoy? What am I good at? What do I want out of life? What’s the price? Am I willing to pay it?
These are questions that require ongoing maintenance if you want to avoid becoming locked into a way of life that is neither profitable nor fulfilling. Monitoring the answers to these questions is a great preventative to homeostasis (the tendency to live with existing conditions and avoid change). And the more things change, the more often you should revisit the questions.
4. Thinking About the “Unknowables”
Pondering the unknowables is the equivalent of health food for the brain. We get so bogged down in our secular problems that it drives some of us to drink, others to take drugs, and still others to make the decision to end it all. My conclusion is that such stewing and fretting over day-to-day “problems” stems from a false sense of self-importance.
That’s why it’s healthy to periodically step back and think about the larger issues of life – questions such as:
Where did we come from?
Where are we going?
What is our purpose?
If we evolved from inanimate matter, what caused it to happen?
Do we really have free will, or is everything in our lives predestined?
Who or what created the universe, or did it create itself?
What existed before the universe?
How can science explain infinity … time … space?
One last note on the subject of thinking as a form of action: In the name of efficiency, you should develop a means to capture your thoughts, record and catalog them, and access them quickly. This is one of the best-kept secrets of being a good writer.
The first and simplest step in this process is to make sure that you are within reach of a pad and pencil at all times. Don’t count on remembering a great thought, because you probably won’t. At last count, I have forever lost track of 6,822 of my best ideas – ideas that I was certain I would remember.
Also, don’t be a lazy note-taker. Date your notes (date everything!) and make them more detailed rather than less.
If you’re an action-oriented person, make it a point to consciously use thinking as a regular and constructive form of action. Your first priority should be opportunity thinking; second, free-flow thinking; third, thinking about the unknowables.
Spend as little time as possible thinking about “problems,” because problems tend to evaporate when you spend a lot of time on the other three categories – especially opportunity thinking.
Always remember: Thinking is action, and actions have consequences.
A last word of caution: Don’t make the mistake of allowing thinking action to become a replacement for physical action. Notwithstanding anything else I have said in this article, the fact remains that there is nothing on this earth as powerful as consistent, bold, physical action.
“Thinking is easy, acting is difficult, and to put one’s thoughts into action is the most difficult thing in the world.”– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe