“Television, radio, and all the sources of amusement and information that surround us in our daily lives are also artificial props. They can give us the impression that our minds are active, because we are required to react to stimuli from the outside. But the power of those external stimuli to keep us going is limited. They are like drugs. We grow used to them, and we continuously need more and more of them. Eventually, they have little or no effect. Then, if we lack resources within ourselves, we cease to grow intellectually, morally, and spiritually. And we we cease to grow, we begin to die.”
― Mortimer J. Adler
The most important asset you possess is your capacity to think, to act rationally. You may think that you are always thinking, but just because you can hear your brain giving opinions about absolutely everything all the time, doesn’t mean that you are actually thinking in the sense that I mean here.
I mean thinking to solve problems and to answer important questions about your life. Questions such as: What the hell am I going to do with the coming recession? Or, how can I earn more money? Or, how can I find out what I actually want to do with my life?
The headline from this blog post may seem like an insult to you. What?! You’re telling me that I’m not thinking?! That I’m a brainless potato?!
And for that my friend I will have to say, yes.
Day to day life
Daily life requires a lot of thinking, of course. When you are working, for example, even if you don’t notice it, you are constantly asking and answering (at least unconsciously) questions about how to get something done. Your brain is on a type of HOW mode. That is why, if you work on a computer the entire day, at the end of the day, you’ll be very, very tired. And that is because you were using your brain to answer questions.
Anything you ask to your brain, it will come with an answer. Answering some questions is harder than answering other questions. 4*4? 16, easy, 45465412354 * 4561321561, not so easy, right?
When your brain is working it constantly tells you where to go next or what to do next and so on.
Now. The problem is that, most of the time, we only use our brains for work, or to get us out of immediate trouble, but almost never in a conscious manner to mold and to give direction to our lives.
I got this idea from Mortimer Adler’s great book, How To Read A Book. The main lesson from the book is that, if you want to get the most out of a book, you need to ask questions as you read it. You need to ask questions to really comprehend what is being talked about and understand it fully.
I tried reading other books in this way and he is right. In the past, whenever I read a book, I just read it without really asking me anything, just kind of surfing through it until I got to the end with maybe one solid idea in my mind. But if you were to ask me about what the whole book was about, I couldn’t provide you with a satisfactory answer, just a half baked answer to what I just read.
As with books, so it is with life. Your most important asset is your rationality, your rationality is nothing more than asking questions in your head and then wait for the magic. Think about it. How utterly and unbelievably amazing is that, if you ask yourself a question, an answer will spring from nowhere and into existence within your brain. The workings of our minds are truly incredible.
We all have problems that we need to solve. Having problems is not bad, it’s just the way life is, and the quality of our problems, it is said, determines the quality of our lives.
“What would have become of Hercules do you think if there had been no lion, hydra, stag or boar — and no savage criminals to rid the world of? What would he have done in the absence of such challenges?
Obviously he would have just rolled over in bed and gone back to sleep. So by snoring his life away in luxury and comfort he never would have developed into the mighty Hercules.
And even if he had, what good would it have done him? What would have been the use of those arms, that physique, and that noble soul, without crises or conditions to stir into him action?”
― Epictetus, The Discourses
How to use it right
As I said before, most likely you are currently using your brain to solve the immediate problems of life. Like work and keeping you and your family up and running in the world.
But! Life is not just that, life can be really damn fun, and it should be. I’m sure you have other things you’d wish to do or to be as well, just for the fun of it. And for that, exactly for doing that, is why you need to sit down and ask better questions.
Your head is going to be on idle chatter endlessly unless you direct it somewhere with a question. When you are reading a book, for example, you constantly ask yourself, what is he trying to tell me up until now. And you think about it until you can provide an answer yourself. Only then will you know that you truly understand it.
“The person who says he knows what he thinks but cannot express it usually does not know what he thinks.”
― Mortimer J. Adler
I recommend to sit down with a notebook and think about your problem. Which can be whatever, and then formulate a proper question that, if answered, would solve the problem. It doesn’t have to be just one question, of course, there can be as much as the complexity of the solution requires.
But what happens when you ask the correct question, is that you begin to form a path that will eventually get you to the solution and to better, more complex problems as well.
Ask questions and follow the path of your answers. I’ll end this post with this jewel.
“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…”
― Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!
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