Your life depends on your brain. To be the ethical, engaged, creative, successful, and lively human being you intend to be, you need your brain. You need your brain and you also need to use your brain. It is not enough to possess a perfectly good brain—you must also use it. If you don’t use your brain you will find yourself trapped in trivialities, condemned to impulsivity, led around by anxiety, and duller and sadder than you have any need to be. The cliché is true: your mind is a terrible thing to waste.
People waste their brain. They allow themselves to worry about next to nothing, wasting neurons. They allow themselves to grow numb with distractions, wasting neurons. They allow themselves to run from errand to chore to chore to errand, wasting neurons on their perpetual to-do list. Because they have not trained themselves to aim their brain in the direction of rich and rewarding ideas, ideas worth the wholesale enlistment of neurons, they stay mired in the brain equivalent of a rat race, their brain spending its neuronal capital on spinning hamster wheels.
The culture applauds this brain abdication. The culture needs you to care about the latest movie, the latest gadget, the latest sermon, the latest investment opportunity. Every aspect of the culture has something to sell you and needs to grab your attention. Marketers do not want you to be thinking too strenuously about your budding symphony or your scientific research and miss their sales pitch. What if you didn’t answer your phone when it rang? How could they telemarket? What if you didn’t check your email every few minutes? What good would their banner ads do? Your brainstorms are dollars out of their pockets.
The same antipathy to rich thinking occurs at home, at school, among friends, and even with your mate. Parents tell you to clean your room, not to create your own cosmology myths. Teachers tell you to do math this hour and history the next, not turn your brain over to a magnificent obsession. Friends ask you to shop, not to think; to play cards, not to think; to join them at a hot new restaurant, not to think; to watch a can’t-miss television show, not to think. Your wife doesn’t say, “Honey, let’s spend a few hours thinking!” Your husband doesn’t ask, “Dear, what big ideas are you working on?” Indeed, if it could be put to a vote, thinking might well be outlawed. Expect such a proposition on your ballot soon.
The good news is that you can jump off this bandwagon and opt for brainstorms. For thousand of years, our wisest philosophers have asserted that the trick to creating an authentic life is taking charge of how you use your brain. It is up to you whether you will dumb yourself down or smarten yourself up. If you opt to smarten yourself up by cultivating rich ideas that have weight and worth, you will get to make meaning in ways that few people experience. The person next to you may think that the epitome of brain powering is a sharp game of bridge or a rousing fight with a crossword puzzle. You will discover that real brain powering is the holding of a rich idea over time as you productively obsess your novel into existence, build your remarkable business, or aid in the understanding of some profound scientific puzzle.
You learn to opt for brainstorms, for big thinking over time, and by so doing you fulfill your promise—and your promises to yourself. An idea for a novel sparks your imagination and, because you let it, turns into a brainstorm. An idea for an Internet business wakes you up in the middle of the night and, because you let it, turns into a brainstorm. A problem in science grips you and, because you let it, turns into a brainstorm. A brainstorm is the full activation of your neuronal forces, an activation in support of an idea that you intend to cherish and elaborate, so powerful an activation that it amounts to a productive obsession. You work on it in the mind, by thinking, and you work on it in actuality, by actually writing, by actually running for office, by actually launching your business.
Here’s to your next brainstorm!
[This post is one in a series of Redesign Your Mind posts on the art of productive obsessions.]
To learn more about the ideas presented in this blog post, please see two of Dr. Maisel’s titles, Redesign Your Mind: The Breakthrough Program for Real Cognitive Change and Brainstorm: Harnessing the Power of Productive Obsessions