Thursday, May 3, 2012

Mental Missions: A Good Habit Finally Mastered?

*Sigh*. I have a lot of ideas for good habits to maintain that end up being left on the sidelines due to annoying features. Oftentimes there will be a good idea I'll hold onto for years, but fail for a long time to habituate it. For instance, several years ago I came up with a more intensive form of vocabulary exercises called "conceptual exercises." Beyond expanding my vocabulary, their purpose was to help me hone the process of grounding my concepts in reality so that I could be certain of their meaning, which helped both my vocabulary and the very strength of my intellect. It's a great idea, one I'm still holding onto, but its form is so annoying I've failed to consistently adopt it. Performing the exercise itself is fine; it's gathering concepts to perform the exercises that's the problem. I hate the disruption it is to pause from reading to record a concept for later exercise, and I certainly don't like making a multitude of audio files on my voice recorder to keep track of single words. Despite it being a great idea towards honing my intellect, it fails to be able to seam itself into my lifestyle due to those annoyances.

The only realistic solution I can think of is to take stronger to studying in my life, because when I'm formally studying something -- taking notes and all -- it feels perfectly natural to incorporate conceptual exercises into it without feeling that it's disruptive. It fits entirely natural into that scheme. But I don't study formally yet as of right now, so it remains on the sidelines.

However, I don't want to give up on ideas like these. They promise great value if I were to make them regular, so until I can work out the kinks I shall retain them.

In general and broadly, my greatest aim in life, really, is to maximize my cognitive abilities. The culinary arts just happens to be the specific medium through which I want to exercise that intelligence. I've always been enamored with the prospect of a limitlessly powerful mind -- a mind without recognizable limits at least -- and in my youth my self-improvement goals have almost always been directed towards improving the function of my mind, such as with those conceptual exercises. A mind whose potential is fully realized, I believe, is the key to fully realizing your entire set of abilities as a human being. Therefore, I'd like to maintain a lot of habits that, through a lifetime of practice, serve to increase and increase the proficiency of my mental skills.

Building off this and my frustration with conceptual exercises, I do think that I've finally perfected the form of another intellectual habit, "Mental Missions." It's something I thought of perhaps five years ago and haven't practiced since, but it's memory brought back gave me an idea as to how to make it workable, and it seems like it's a much more easy habit to maintain now.

In short, "Mental Missions" are thinking suggestions. (Although I don't obligate myself to do it as "mission" would imply, I like how my present term rolls out of the mouth.) What I do is write down a list of various things I could be doing with my mind -- such as honing my thinking on a particular subject, improving a portion of my brain by practicing whistling a certain tune, or so on -- so that when I find myself in a mentally idle state, such as when I sweep out the walk-in cooler at work, I have a list of suggestions I could resort to that will help me put my mind to good use. It's purpose is to help push me to make good use of my cognitive abilities as most all times, especially when I'm engaging in a primarily physical labor task that I could supplement with thinking on another subject. We only have so much time on earth to realize ourselves, so why can't we utilize every second of it to realizing our goals?

The problem I've had with this practice in the past was that the suggestions were extremely hard to take. In the past I tried using the lists as a remedy to some negative obsessive thinking patterns I had, where I tried using the lists as a set of subjects to limit my thinking to. In other words, I tried to limit all my cognitive activities to those lists and those lists alone in fear of the obsessive thinking to happen otherwise. It failed immensely, as I simply couldn't keep my mind on those subjects; by the time I got around to the lists the subjects felt so stale that my incredible disinterest prevented me from doing constructive thinking. It felt as miserable as trying to push a square peg through a round hole, in the desperate belief that the square peg will fit somehow. Out of frustration I eventually gave it up.

My fallacy, I think, is in 1.) Trying to limit myself to only those lists, and 2.) Not refreshing those lists often enough. Trying to limit myself to those lists felt enormously restricting, confines to which my mind rebelled. Sometimes there truly is something more constructive to think about that the mind is interested in that won't be on my lists, so I'm missing out by trying to force my thinking otherwise. Furthermore, by trying to keep a static set of lists that I just kept adding to, rather than regularly creating new lists, the subjects would sometimes get so stale that I could not generate the least bit of interest in addressing them, making trying to force my thinking all the much more harder and miserable.

The solution is to treat the lists as a set of constructive suggestions that I can resort to in order to fill in those moments where I notice I'm intellectually idle, rather than trying to limit myself to them, and to actually throw away the lists everyday and write out a new one. That way, it remains a handy backup I can fall back upon when I get bored and ought to test my cognitive abilities, and because I constantly scrap and rewrite them daily the topics and suggestions are always fresh and interesting.

It's still very difficult, however, and surprisingly so. I never noticed before how dependent I've become on perceptual aids to my thinking. Usually when I think I have to be looking at something, such as text on a page (even if I'm internally introspection so as to not actually see what the text is saying), or will use a visual aid such as imagining myself conducting a conversation with someone on the subject I'm thinking about. When I'm cleaning something at work I have to think in purely verbal terms almost free of any perceptual aids, internal or out, and it's shockingly hard. Nevertheless, it's a good cognitive test that will increase my abilities if I push hard enough.

I like this fallback list because it helps ensure that most every moment of my days can be spent doing something that will be fruitful in the future, so that I don't have to intellectually stagnate even in the twenty minutes that it takes me to sweep a room. It's practically a gateway to infinite intellectual entertainment: I never have to be bored again.

It's taken five years, but finally this practice has been refined to a form that can be useful to everyday life without feeling like a burden that will eventually wear me into giving it up.

But I'm still not done. There's other good habits that need their form perfected as well, as I don't want to continue going on in years knowing that they have immense potential for benefits in my life that I forgo by keeping them out of practice. Those conceptual exercises I mentioned above are one such example. Another would be writing: I want to be far more regular in it, particularly blogging. If I keep thinking I'm sure I'll come up with more habits that have great promise that I'm keeping at the sidelines.

Well, here's an idea: Why don't I make it a Mental Mission today to think about what those habits are, and how to refine them for easier, regular practice? Natch!

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