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Friday, February 1, 2013

MMM Library: 3,000 Thoughts a Day and Counting

by Dustin (bio)

This post was originally published on June 2, 2011.

Image by Steve Dunleavy.

I was watching the NBA Playoffs several weeks ago when a car commercial caught my attention. It opened by saying that humans have more than 3,000 thoughts a day. I imagine it went on to talk about their car and its features, but I wouldn't know because this statement jarred my thoughts away from the commercial (read: marketing failure) as one thought in particular popped out of nowhere. How do I weed through the endless flood of meaningless thoughts I have each day to hone in on the truly important ones? What can I do to identify the life-altering thoughts that are placed in my mind by God and that are generally sandwiched somewhere between "what should I have for an after-dinner snack" and "my foot itches"?

The first thing we need to know is that the most profound thoughts -- the ones that will be truly meaningful to our life in the moment -- will come from the Holy Ghost. These thoughts include those little strokes of genius that come to our minds seemingly out of nowhere that, when followed, lead to joy. These might relate to career path, Church calling, solutions to problems in work, church, or family, or simple things that keep us from danger or that inspire us.

Once we recognize that the meaningful thoughts will come from the Spirit, we need to figure out how to isolate them and focus on them long enough to make a real difference. I followed up on this thought (this is key to making a real difference) and came across a great read by Gerald Lund from the July 2004 New Era entitled "Is it Revelation?" He said the key to identifying the thoughts that come from the Spirit (in other words, the meaningful thoughts) is to quiet the "inner noise." Inner noise may be obvious such as sin, anger, tiredness, hunger, or apathy. It may also be more conspicuous, such as wanting something so badly that our judgment is clouded by emotion (i.e. that car would make for a much better commute...what's the point of a savings account anyway!?). Take a moment to identify your inner noise. What is distracting you right now?

So here are five ways to quiet the noise:

1. Take a moment of silence: I typically use my commute to alternate between listening to Clive Cussler and letting radio DJs determine my fate. But yesterday I felt inspired to do nothing. I decided to sit in the car in silence and reflect. Through this process, I discovered two things: 1) the things I needed to focus on rose to the top and 2) doing this for more than ten minutes not only hurts your brain but gets a bit awkward. I have a short attention span.

2. Take a long shower: This really serves two purposes. First, for whatever reason, many of us think more clearly in the shower. The combination of going through a daily routine and hot water creates fertile ground for the mind to concentrate. The key is write down what you think of so that you can act on it. Second, you take a shower. Simple as that.

3. Carry a postcard or sticky note with you: We learn this technique as missionaries when we carry a blue planning card or other notecard with us during the day. As ideas come, you jot them down and spend time later that evening diving deeper into them. The principle is the same post-mission. I now power through "Post-It" notes like its my job. As ideas come, I write them down. Following through on those ideas is the tough part, but that's a different blog post.

4. Stay on your knees a bit longer: After praying at night, I generally prostrate myself face down on my mattress with arms spread out like wings, waiting patiently for my wife to finish her personal prayers so we can get to the "couples prayer" that is standing between me and a heavy sleep. But lately, I have used those few moments to clear my mind and review my day. This usually works best when you have a question in mind, such as "was I the best father today" or "what did I learn about myself today" or, one of my favorites, "what am I doing with my life!?!"

5. Do what you're supposed to do: Elder David Bednar said, "Praying, studying, gathering, worshiping, serving, and obeying are not isolated and independent items on a lengthy gospel checklist of things to do. Rather, each of these righteous practices is an important element in an overarching spiritual quest to fulfill the mandate to receive the Holy Ghost." In other words, when you do what you have been told to do a million times throughout your life the important thoughts are more clearly identifiable.

The thoughts we were meant to focus on will generally come to the surface and we will recognize them because they will either be unique and combined with that "a-ha!" feeling or they will be things we have thought about over and over again -- these latter thoughts may keep resurfacing because we haven't done anything about them!

Is it any wonder that the best ways to hone in on the great ideas that come from the still, small voice require us to be still ourselves?

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