Why We Need Deep Thought
Information consumption peaks. Social media, newsletters, podcasts… Our minds are filled with a fire hose, yet many of us feel empty.
Our Twitter feed is overloaded with valuable wisdom statements. But coming across them only once, reduces the value to a fortune cookie. We stumble upon inspiring thoughts every day. Thoughts we’d wish we would reflect on. Thoughts we wish they had a long term effect on our reasoning, our mind — our life.
This wish comes with two challenges: First of all our memory is leaking. We forget and lose thoughts all the time. But even more challenging is the fact, that we ourselves are lost in thought most of the time.
How does Personal Knowledge Management Help?
To augment our lossy and unreliable memory we got plenty of support by so called personal knowledge management (PKM) software.
We need the possibility for a quick capture of thoughts, whether they are our own, or we read or heard them somewhere else.
Capture has to come with minimal friction, so it doesn’t interfere with our flow in the current moment. Otherwise we tend to let too many thoughts slip.
We need to process the information in a way that ensures valuable retrieval in the right situation. Sometimes we need to add context, sometimes we have to categorize it by tagging or sorting.
And we need a routine and interface that actually enables us to retrieve the thoughts in the right moment, with the right combination, in the right mood.
The Problem with Personal Knowledge Management
Tools that are great at capturing don’t help much with processing and retrieval. Think of Apple Notes or Evernote.
Tools that are great at processing come with unhandy capture and merely inspiring retrieval. Think of Obsidian MD or Roam Research.
All tools have in common that using them feels like work. We are confronted with more information than we can handle. We have to spend a good amount of our cognitive bandwidth on navigating and organizing (not to say “managing”) the information. This leads to less intuitive association and less inspiration. Heavy users regularly report information anxiety. The fear to loose something due to a lack of care.
But let’s leave this on the side for a moment. The second challenge we face is even trickier.
We are Lost in Thought
“Thinking” is generally seen as something we actively do, rather than something that happens to us.
But think of the last moment you felt inspired. This feeling has part of its magic precisely because you became aware that you are not entirely in the driver seat. We get triggered by thoughts that provoke energy patterns in us, which accelerate the rise of related thoughts.
If you are irritated by the claim “thinking happens to you”, try the following. Try to not think. Just for the duration of ten breathing cycles. Close your eyes and don’t think anything. Just perceive and silently count the breaths. One on the exhale, one on the inhale, two on the exhale, two in the inhale and so on…
If you are like most people, it didn’t take long until a thought appeared. You didn’t intend this, but it happened nonetheless. All thoughts in our mind are merely appearing and vanishing again. Again and again. But while they are present we tend to identify strongly with them. Some we are proud of, some might be scary.
There is an interplay between the thoughts that appear and the things we give attention to. The more attention we bring to a particular topic, problem, or wish, the more thoughts arise in this domain. And the more thoughts arise in this domain, the more attention we attribute to that topic. This builds up to a perfect flywheel — or sometimes vicious cycle.
Our thoughts steer our attention. Our attention steers our thoughts. And as our thoughts constitute our mind, it is irresponsible to not interfere with this cycle deliberately, but fly through life on auto pilot.
We Need to Cultivate Deep Thought
Cultivating deep thought is twofold. One part is to regularly remind ourselves of how we think and how it shapes our mind and our reality. We have to built up this awareness regularly. Because it swiftly fades away. Fortunately the rise of mindfulness meditation and metacognition helps tremendously with this.
The other part is to establish a system that we trust with quick capture, easy processing and inspiring retrieval. That’s we we build Napkin.