Thursday, January 10, 2013

Deliberate Thinking for Deliberate Intelligence

I don't trust institutionalized education, at least our public educational system. Aside from the piling evidence of how they fail students at large, I do know they've failed me as an individual. I was put in Special Education for an inaccurately perceived mental disability -- my hearing-impairment affected my speech -- and what I was taught was done with such incompetence as to hardly have an impact. Going into college I felt like I hadn't even deserved to graduate grade school, so I dropped out to become an autodidact. Never have I learned more than when I decided to teach myself.

Still the hours in a day and my life's arrangement can pester me. I don't know yet what I'll achieve in 2013 career-wise, but at present it seems that menial labor in some form will what's currently available, and it makes me uncomfortable in lieu of desire for a scholarly mind. I may not become a scholar, but I value the highest potency of a mind possible to me, the most intelligence, strongest memory capacity, and broadest cognitive function. I want to be so SMART.

Yet, with a temporary fate in menial labor will I be hindered? Will time for books be too little? Will I be unable to read, to study, or to actually learn or hone my mind to any significant degree with all the labor involved in life? Will my overall potential for intelligence thus be reduced? Questions like that worried me. How could I possibly balance a restaurant career with lots of physical action involved with the pursuit of a strong mind?

Have no fears! A method is here!

An incredibly hard, method, however. Reserved for the most-dedicated amongst you.

My solution to the problem is called "Deliberate Thinking," which is a really special and unique thinking method that requires no physical materials and can be employed at any time of day, anywhere. Just so long as you can put up with its intensity and the look of concentration it leaves on your face.

In short, it simply involves that you consciously direct your mental powers when you have the opportunity to do so, in consciously choosing a subject to contemplate, reviewing some material to hone your understanding, putting your mind in understanding something before you, and so on. This is to fill up those so many empty spaces of the day where we might let our mind drift when it could be doing something mentally productive otherwise, such as walking from Point A to Point B, doing a long labor task like raking leaves, or washing dishes. That is not to say it's aimed towards eliminating daydreaming or coasting altogether; just when they're not constructive, such as when excessive daydreaming might erode concentration. Daydreaming is still necessary for things like taking a mental rest, but only when used judiciously.

Several examples are called for to clarify, as it involves many aspects which may make confusing what is used when.

For me, this was my solution to an intellectually dull shift of a washing dishes, where ten or more hours may be dedicated to just pure physical labor. When I'm standing by that dish machine scrubbing and putting plates in my attention is not challenged; I've mastered it to the extent that no attention is required: I could almost literally do it with my eyes closed. In that period, I employed Deliberate Thinking to flip through subject after subject in my head, and see which one I may not have fleshed out enough in my thinking, don't understand enough, have questions about, or whatever. The point is that during this period I'm simply not allowing myself to daydream if possible. That way, what may have been hours of mental doldrums can instead result in deeper understanding, a better memory for some material, or new ideas to act on.

This carries over into other activities, such as walking from the parking garage to work, waiting for and riding in elevators, or going on staircases. These are all times that aren't mentally demanding for the attention, and some valuable thinking can be done, especially if it's so long as a ten-hour dish washing shift. Mind your methods, however, as for situations as crossing the street you may want to stick to purely internally-verbal forms of thinking, lest internal imagery shade your eyes and get you run over. I tend to be visual whenever I'm standing in one place, such standing in front of an elevator door, and stay purely verbal when moving about.

A different method comes into play whenever experiencing something new, however. For instance, when eating a new food at a restaurant, I might exert myself to heighten attention to document its qualities into my memory, verbalize as many descriptives as possible to enable me to write and speak about it, contemplate its production method, contemplate its cooking method, contemplate its chemistry, and indefinitely on. I'd attack whatever thinking thread possible to milk maximum intellectual benefit, to a perfect memory of its qualities, a deeper understanding of its production, questions to research, etc. The simple act of eating a piece of chorizo sausage can be intellectually profitable under Deliberate Thinking.

A yet still different method comes into play in learning something. When learning or being taught something, take all your knowledge of note-taking and good study practices and simply apply it in purely mental terms. If a chef were to teach me a new prep task I might repeat the order of the process in my head over and over, to get memorized. If learning about sauces, I may set up categories in my head and start arranging the sauces in their appropriate spots, compare and contrast, explicate my personal preference, etc. If spice history is relayed to me I might pretend to open a filing cabinet for my knowledge of that spice and review, review, review it to ensure I memorize and digest what the person has said to me.

Does this sound intense and exhausting to keep up long-term? Holy crap it is. 

As of yet I haven't mastered it as a daily practice, and really need to put myself to the grind with it again. It requires keeping up such a heightened form of attention that it drains one's energy fast, and it can be easy to peter out quickly. My goal is to master it so that it becomes a staple of all my days, all day long -- offset by occasional daydreaming and coasting, lest I blow a gasket -- but so far I've never been able to keep it up for more than three or four hours straight, for which after comes nothing but "trying" to do it, but failing.

It's really, really, really, tough. I ain't gonna lie to you!

Regardless, there are tangible benefits, amazing ones at that. After a few days practice of this attention-intensive method a cook to me was giving me a brief overlay of the basic sauces, and in my concentration I was impressed to see I grasped and memorized it immediately. The very next day I repeated the information to myself and was surprised it was all there, intact, with the minimum amount of rehearsal (i.e. I didn't have to study it); I had learned it the first time around. I was thinking faster. I honed my ideas faster. My concentration was far stronger. Overall, my cognition had improved in important ways! Continued, this could be key to establishing the most desirable memory, cognitive processing speed, and quickest sense of innovation possible to an individual, and all it requires is that you perk up your attention and direct your thinking!

Nonetheless, this is a method where additional "recharge" practices are required to keep it beneficial, or else you'll fry your circuits and may not find your way back to the habit. For me, I had a very good first week with it, employing Deliberate Thinking in about the first four hours of my dish washing shift, but by the second week it had so worn me out that I was unable to do it all of the next week, even for a scant hour. I was clueless as to how to get my energy back up, as several nights of sleeping weren't doing it.

It's hypothetical, but perhaps meditation might be the answer. I noticed that whenever I meditated before work, during the time I had been doing Deliberate Thinking so heavily, it felt extra good for some reason, and seemed to be recharging my batteries. My folly may have been artificially restricting the meditation sessions and ending them prematurely, preventing them from inducing full healing effects. A health-interested friend spurred this insight, for in asking him how I could alleviate this stress he mentioned that meditation can relax something called the autonomic nervous system, which seems to be relevant to the portion of the brain my DT could be working so hard.

I will self-experiment with that method the next time I get stressed by DT, and do unlimited sessions of meditation, only stopping once satisfied, instead of when an artificial time frame passed by. I'll report back on it at a later date.

Anyhow, if you choose to take up DT keep this meditation point in mind, as it's necessary to have a recharge method like this or eventually you're going to hit a point in which you can't seem to recover from the exhaustion, and in taking a week or two off the habit could lapse. To detail the meditation practice is simple. Just sit or stand in a way that's easy to stay absolutely still and comfortable in for a long time, keep your eyes closed, and focus on you breathing, sensations of your body, counting inside your head, or a mantra. That's it, but it is most essential to know that, once you get your concentration going in this practice, it's important to keep it going uninterrupted for as long as you can, as this is where all the benefits are derived; any interruptions will cut it short, or make is harder to get back in the flow, if possible at all.

If you're a scholar or in an otherwise intellectually dedicated field, Deliberate Thinking may be totally unnecessary given the already existing intellectual intensity of your lifestyle. For all others -- especially those of us in physical labor -- Deliberate Thinking enables you to make maximal intellectual use of your time, to keep you learning and growing deeper in your understanding where books, pencils and papers, and computers may not be available. Why wait a half-hour on the bus daydreaming when you can be growing your brain?

Some chewable take home points:

1.) Deliberate Thinking is the practice of heightening your attention and concentration during times your mind otherwise might be idle, and instead directing it to cognitively beneficial tasks, such as doing math drills or thinking about something you've read in the morning.

* Note: It IS extremely difficult, for if you're doing something physically intensive, like raking leaves, your mind may buck and demand you coast on the easiest things while you get this chore done, but the major aim of this practice is overcoming that desire for idling and letting your freewill reign supreme. Your brain may say "No! Daydream! This is too hard!" but it's your freewill that has to shout "We shall think!"

2.) Be wise when to use certain methods. Immerse yourself in imagery-supported thinking when you're doing something like washing dishes, but stick to verbal means if you're doing something risky like crossing the street, or settle for just merely heightening your attention on such as tasks as cutting vegetables with a sharp knife. Whatever you're doing, there's always room to heighten your attention and concentrate on directing your consciousness; it's just that what's appropriate will change with the situation you're in.

3.) Like I mentioned in my article about hitting walls, make peace with what kind of limits you may first hit. My personal aim is to make this a staple of my day, everyday, but so far I haven't been able to keep such a intense amount of attention up for more than four hours straight. For anyone else attempting it may be way less at first attempts. Just relax about hitting the walls, and realize that hitting the walls is necessary to pushing them further away, as if you have to physically headbutt the limits to extend them.

* Additionally, don't fret if you're unable to keep a continuous stream of this method going due to interruptions, such as important phone calls or a meeting. This method is mainly for those empty moments to fill, like waiting for a bus. If it's possible, appropriate, or more proper for you to talk to someone before you, then feel free to relax the method to focus on this. Just worry about those times you quietly sweep the porch and whatnot.

4.) This is VERY taxing to the brain, so don't be surprised if it makes you sleepy, gives you a headache, or becomes harder to do over time. While I still have some self-experimentation to resolve the problem, it's important to have a special recharging method to help offset the stress so that one can recover as quickly as possible and get back to it. I'll report back, but my hypothesis is that meditation will provide sufficient healing, as it may relax just the right systems in the brain that are stressed by DT.

That being said, I think this all means that a scholarly-sharp mind is available to anyone regardless of his lifestyle, as it's the limitlessly multifaceted thinking method with infinite portability in your brain. Intellectuals can use this as a supplement when they're walking in hallways, and physical laborers can use this to keep them growing in mind if they happen to need two jobs to live.

Either way, life should not get in the way of the brain. A man who truly wants to improve himself with find a way to do so regardless of what life hands him.

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