Batch Your Mind

It happens on a daily basis. You’ll be doing one thing, your concentration will be on that one thing, and then, suddenly, a different thing will capture your attention. Especially if this other thing requires less energy to complete, the temptation will arise to drop the first thing and jump to the second. Unfortunately, as is frequently true with temptation, giving in will leave you deprived long-term.

Why? Well, for starters, you will erode your ability to focus for any serious amount of time, a skill necessary to appropriately meet any sufficiently difficult task. More importantly, giving in actively encourages a forever racing mind that prevents you from being able to derive pleasure through attention – no current moment will ever prove good enough, the grass will always be greener.

A simple solution exists in what I’m going to make up right now and call “Active Observation.” Make a quick note of that other thing and return to the task at hand. Simply observing the thought, as mediation beseeches, is often not nearly enough for all but the elite meditators since that thought, especially a pressing one you fear forgetting, will continue remerging. The act of taking a note cauterizes this cycle. Research flights to Mexico. Buy a pineapple. Register for bowling league. Maybe the thought will indeed reappear, but now you can honestly tell yourself, “I know I’ll handle that later.”

Sadly, “Active Observation” is less helpful when the emergent thought isn’t a task. And non-task thoughts are, indeed, the most recurring, most challenging ones. They are, in fact, repetitive by design, because they can’t be “solved,” at least not in a step-wise fashion that arrests task-thoughts.

Like, you keep thinking about that girl who rejected you. You think about it when you wake. You think about it when you are bored at work. You think about it when you see a movie starring an amorous couple. Simply wishing this annoying thought away obviously doesn’t work. Even “motivated wishing,” where you reasonably tell yourself about your greatness, about how you’ll find someone else, about how she wasn’t really that great, blah, blah, blah, is usually, at best, good for merely an unsatisfying respite.

Let’s actually accept that thought-elimination isn’t possible until new love is discovered. 1

In that fairly depressing case, your fight should be focused on control since having non-task thoughts hijack all manner of situations must be considered unacceptable. While “Active Observation” is not perfectly applicable, the tenor can be transferred: reserve both a time and activity to deal with non-task thoughts. A smattering of implementations:

  • I’ll write about [insert non-task thought] [insert time]
  • I’ll talk to [insert friend] about [insert non-task thought] [insert time]
  • I’ll let myself completely think about [insert non-task thought] [insert time]
  • I’ll consume [insert form of art] related to [insert non-task thought] [insert time]
  • I’ll partake in [activity that countervails non-task thought] [insert time]
  • I’ll talk to therapist about [insert non-task thought] [insert time]

Armed with those actions, one should be able to dismiss recurrences with the same honest brush off employed with task-thoughts, “I know I’ll handle that later.” And with that, some control and sanity is restored.

  1. And it keeps coming
    And it keeps coming
    And it keeps coming
    And it keeps coming
    And it keeps coming
    And it keeps coming
    And it keeps coming
    Till the day it stops