THIS ARTICLE IS ABOUT something so obvious
and so simple, I ought to be embarrassed to tell you about it.
But I'm not. I'm embarrassed to tell you that as obvious and
simple as it is, I don't use this method nearly as much as I
could. But when I do, I am always amazed at the calm it produces.
The method is simply to take time to
think (T4). You can T4 while walking, which is my favorite
way to do it. Go for a walk where you won't be disturbed too
much and bring along a little writing pad and a pen (you'll get
ideas sometimes you'll want to remember, and instead of using
your mind to try to remember, you can write it down and free
your mind for more thinking). Walk at an easy, comfortable pace.
Another way to T4 is sitting and thinking,
again with paper and pen handy (for jotting brief notes).
Do you want peace of mind? Clarity? A feeling
of being grounded and centered? A feeling of certainty about
what you're doing? A clear sense of direction? All you have to
do is take time to think.
The reason I tend to avoid T4 is that it
basically involves doing nothing not watching TV, not
reading, not working. Nothing. Just sit there. Don't even try
to think. After awhile, your mind will begin to think about things.
Let it think.
the contentment of childhood
Time with nothing to do is natural and
necessary for good mental health. Do you have a lot of great
childhood memories? Does it seem like you had a lot of fun back
then? Have you ever wondered what you had then that you
don't have now?
Think about it. What do you think you had
then that you don't have now that would contribute to having
You know what I think it is? You had time
with nothing to do. And you know what? You didn't want it or
like it, even though it contributed to your happiness.
Just as we have more carbohydrates available
to us than is natural, constantly tempting us with foods we aren't
supposed to eat, our visual and auditory world constantly tempts
us with more stimulation than we have evolved to handle. Quiet
time with nothing happening is the remedy. Whenever I have spent
an hour or more doing this, I have always ended feeling profoundly
calm and relaxed. My mind feels uncluttered and at peace.
It takes a little while. At least it does
for me. For fifteen minutes, sometimes twenty, my mind is restless.
I feel bored. I want to do something. But then my mind starts
to relax and sort things out, all by itself.
If you find that after a half hour you
are simply obsessing about a worry and getting nowhere, you can
switch to a writing exercise: problem solving or arguing with
yourself or making a list, etc. (see list below).
I've sometimes felt as if I've found what
everyone is searching for a path to peace of mind. In
the aftermath of my newfound clarity and peace, I want to tell
everyone about this great invention of mine. But of course, it
isn't my invention. It is probably the oldest self-help
method there is.
Time to think. There's nothing to it. Your
mind will naturally do it. The only hard part is making yourself
take the time. And
you do have to make yourself. There is always some
work to do, or something you feel you ought to be doing, or some
TV program you want to watch, or any of a hundred other interesting,
appealing, diversionary things you want to do besides just sitting
there. Just as we are naturally drawn to eating sweets, we are
naturally drawn to filling our attention with stimulation. But
it is calming to spend some time when your thoughts aren't being
You know how difficult it is to get anywhere
in a conversation when you are constantly interrupted. Can you
imagine having a serious conversation about an important topic
with someone bursting into the room every two minutes to give
you important news? It would be very difficult to enjoy the conversation
or get anywhere in your conversation.
The same is true for dialog with yourself.
There are some things you need to think through, but your thoughts
are so continuously interrupted, you're accumulating a backlog
of unresolved issues in the back of your mind. I think this leads
to extra stress hormones. That's probably why you will always
feel so much calmer after taking time to think.
I once believed that the feeling of being
grounded and unfrantic must come from a religious experience.
But T4 produces it.
Gandhi, Lincoln, Emerson and many
other (maybe all) great leaders spent an unusual amount of time
doing nothing but thinking.
Decide ahead of time how long you will
think, and stick to it. I suggest an hour. Do nothing. Don't
knit or whittle or floss your teeth. Make brief notes, and nothing
When should you T4? Whenever you feel unmotivated
about your goal. When you don't know what to do next. When you
feel confused, anxious, depressed, frustrated, or unclear.
variations on the theme
As I have described it, T4 is a very natural
process. Sit still and do nothing, and your mind will sort things
out on its own. The basic method is to simply take the time to
think. However, you can think in particular ways for specific
purposes. It still involves taking time to think, but it is more
directed. Here are nine specific ways to use T4:
1. UNDEMORALIZE YOURSELF
When you feel upset or bothered by something, taking time to
think about it can make all the difference. Especially when you
specifically aim to root out the negative thoughts you think
automatically, and argue with them. For more on this, see the
article, Undemoralize Yourself.
Although it can be done while actively involved in a task, self-coaching
is especially effective when you take the time to do it and concentrate
on it. Read more
about that here.
3. INCREASING MOTIVATION
Use T4 to intensify your desire for a goal. Ponder these questions:
In what way will my life change when I achieve my goal? Think
of all the wonderful consequences. What would happen if I failed?
Think of all the terrible consequences. Clearly imagine what
it will be like when your goal is achieved. Daydream about it.
4. DESIGNING SLOGANS
When you decide on a change you want to make, think about the
change and the insights that led up to it and distill your self-generated
wisdom into a very short phrase. Keep playing with the wording
until it is just right. Read
more about that here.
Which would be better? To run around frantically getting as much
done as you can without ever really thinking about what you're
doing, or doing lots of thinking and less doing, but making sure
the things you do are the best things to do, and doing them with
peace and calm and doing them well because you have thought it
through? Which is better? Hmmm...gee...let me think...
Strike a balance between flexibility (easily
changing plans) and holding to the plans you have already created.
Being rigid will impair your ability, but coming up with too
many ideas will bog you down and prevent achievement. Creating
new ideas is fun, so it is something that needs to be curbed
or contained. Make to-do lists. Ask a question and generate a
list of answers. Look into the consequences of each answer and
try to think of how to avoid the bad consequences of good ideas.
This is all part of planning.
6. COMING UP WITH IDEAS
Here's how to generate ideas to solve a problem or accomplish
a purpose: Make a list on paper. Set a goal ahead of time for
how many ideas you'll come up with, and don't stop until you
hit that target. This will prevent you from stopping with the
first good idea. Always try to think of something better. Try
alternatives in your head to see how they'd work. A hard-thinking
session that didn't produce a single good idea was still worthwhile.
It planted the question deep in your mind. Coming up with ideas
primarily consists of asking a question over and over no matter
how many good answers you've already gotten.
This is a lot like meditation: Your mind
drifts away and you keep coming back to the question. One of
the most practical, universally applicable principles I've ever
used is accumulate quantity and then sort. Read more about that here.
7. PONDERING QUESTIONS
If you ever feel stumped when you're thinking, or you feel that
your thinking has become stagnant, look at the following list
of questions and find one you'd like to ponder, or come up with
one of your own. Asking one of the questions below is a fruitful
exercise. Spend an hour pondering the question, returning to
it as you do to a mantra when meditating. When you ask a question
and keep coming back to it, your mind has no problem producing
answers. I recommend an hour because it will get you past the
superficial thinking, the get-it-over-with-as-fast-as-I-can kind
of thinking, and allows you to "go deep." Here are
a. What is the most important thing for
me to do this week?
b. Take any list of principles Think and Grow Rich, Character Strengths and Virtues, Self-Help Stuff That Works, How to Win Friends and Influence People
and go through the list and ask, "What principle should
I be applying that I am not applying?" Write the most glaring
on a card and concentrate on applying it over the next week or
c. What am I grateful for? Make a list.
d. Is my integrity compromised in any way?
What would I need to do to set things right?
e. What have I done right in the last week?
Make as long a list as you can.
8. SOLVING PROBLEMS
First, clarify a problem. Take time on this first step. Try to
define a problem clearly and be very specific and as accurate
as you can. Then generate a list of possible solutions. Strain
your brain on this one. Don't settle for the few obvious answers
that come to mind easily. Dig. Then pick the best solution. Keep
in mind that creativity and selection are two different functions
and need to be separated. Read more about that here.
9. MANAGING PURPOSES
Being unhurried and unstressed is a function of the simplification
of purposes. T4 needs to be done often to clarify goals and refine
plans. T4 is for thinking up ideas, and it is also for sifting
purposes. You need to keep paring purposes down to what really
counts, what will really be effective, what you really want,
what you really feel is right, good, honorable.
It is worth taking the time to reboot:
Think again about what you want especially if you're not
feeling motivated. Chances are, when you try to determine what
you really want, it'll be the goals you've already set, but by
creating them freshly, you stop merely going through the motions
doing what you "have to." You will know you want
T4 is a tool with which integrity can be
attained and maintained.
T4 is really a core activity, the key,
Purposefulness is clarified by thinking.
Optimism is attained in thought. And the retraining of your mind
occurs in T4. You can have what you want in life (peace of mind,
successful accomplishment, great relationships) if you take time
to think often enough.
When you want clarity and deep
calm, spend an hour or two doing nothing but thinking.