Mind & Heart
Thinking Is Not a Sometime Thing
5 min read

Thinking is watching the surface of the ocean and understand there’s a whole world beneath it that needs to be explored.  

It is an intense concentration on a subject to understand his depth, implications, and consequences. 

Thinking weeds out the trivial from the vital.

With thinking, we explore ideas to pick up the few that we will focus our time and energy on.  

In fact, it’s the process of selection that helps make sound decisions and commit to them. 

Thinking is an act of worship.  

How many times did the Quran mentioned thinking, pondering, and reflecting?  

More than hundreds of times.  

We can think about the miraculous signs of God, history, or about ourselves. 

The ones who don’t think either can they know themselves, nor can they know their Master. 

How do we learn about thinking? 

In his essay Solitude and Leadership, William Deresiewicz gives us a hint on how do we learn to think. 

“Let’s start with how you don’t learn to think. A study by a team of researchers at Stanford came out a couple of months ago. The investigators wanted to figure out how today’s college students were able to multitask so much more effectively than adults. How do they manage to do it, the researchers asked? The answer, they discovered—and this is by no means what they expected is that they don’t. The enhanced cognitive abilities the investigators expected to find, the mental faculties that enable people to multitask effectively, were simply not there. In other words, people do not multitask effectively. And here’s the really surprising finding: the more people multitask, the worse they are, not just at other mental abilities, but at multitasking itself. 

One thing that made the study different from others is that the researchers didn’t test people’s cognitive functions while they were multitasking. They separated the subject group into high multitaskers and low multitaskers and used a different set of tests to measure the kinds of cognitive abilities involved in multitasking. They found that in every case the high multitaskers scored worse. They were worse at distinguishing between relevant and irrelevant information and ignoring the latter. In other words, they were more distractible. They were worse at what you might call “mental filing”: keeping the information in the right conceptual boxes and being able to retrieve it quickly. In other words, their minds were more disorganized. And they were even worse at the very thing that defines multitasking itself: switching between tasks. 

Multitasking, in short, is not only not thinking, it impairs your ability to think. Thinking means concentrating on one thing long enough to develop an idea about it. Not learning other people’s ideas, or memorizing a body of information, however much those may sometimes be useful. Developing your own ideas. In short, thinking for yourself. You simply cannot do that in bursts of 20 seconds at a time, constantly interrupted by Facebook messages or Twitter tweets, or fiddling with your iPod, or watching something on YouTube. 

I find for myself that my first thought is never my best thought. My first thought is always someone else’s; it’s always what I’ve already heard about the subject, always the conventional wisdom. It’s only by concentrating, sticking to the question, being patient, letting all the parts of my mind come into play, that I arrive at an original idea. By giving my brain a chance to make associations, draw connections, take me by surprise. And often even that idea doesn’t turn out to be very good. I need time to think about it, too, to make mistakes and recognize them, to make false starts and correct them, to outlast my impulses, to defeat my desire to declare the job done and move on to the next thing.” 

Practical tips for exploring ideas 

The one who doesn’t think is just reacting to every option in front of him, jumping from one to another, or worst, spending time and effort becoming good at the wrong thing. 

Asking questions

Thinking is the continuous process of asking and answering questions.

We ask questions that empower us and move us forward.

Also, we gather information when we don’t have the answers to create a foundation. 

The key is to keep asking questions until our heart is satisfied. 

Questions act like a filter – they separate the relevant from the irrelevant. By asking powerful questions, we put in place criteria that help us make better decisions. 

Does it worth my time and effort? 

Why do I have to become better at this? 

Is it something that can make me happy? 

What Allah has for me if I follow this path? 

How can I benefit others? 

Find your own questions. 

Set the time

If the Prophet, who had a greater mission, had time to think. If the CEO of multi-billion companies has time to think. Then, you and I can do the same.  

When we make thinking a priority, we set a specific time for it.  

The most important is to do it repeatedly. We set a time and stick to it. 

“Thinking is not a sometime thing. It’s an all the time thing. 

You don’t think once in a while. You think all the time. 

Thinking is a habit. Unfortunately is not thinking.” 

(I stole this phrasing from “Winning” by Vince Lombardi. I find it fits perfectly well for thinking)

Thinking without distractions

Thinking is focusing. We don’t think while receiving phone notifications. Multitasking is the enemy of thinking. 

You’ll find out more about distraction in my article Distractions are all about energy (so are starting good habits)

Finding our cave

The Prophet used to reflect in a cave or during the night prayers, alone. Thinking is a solitary act. At least at the beginning. Then we can seek other opinions to refine our thoughts.  

In the Parks, libraries, or alone at home, every space can become our cave.  

Keeping a journal

By jotting down our thoughts on paper, we can accomplish two things: declutter our brain and gain clarity. 

Thinking is a messy process. When we write everything down as it comes, we can see clearly.  

Tracking our thoughts

We are forgetful creatures.

Being able to go back and review our thoughts provide us with priceless data on ourselves:

How do we move from thoughts to actions?

Why did we fail to act?

Are we still on the right track?… 

Thinking is overlooked. Let’s don’t miss this practice.