It seems to me thinking for ourselves has taken a back seat to the desire for immediate gratification. When we don’t know something we turn to Google. If something is difficult, like reading a book about a topic we don’t understand, we turn to visual mediums such as television or movies. These are not in themselves problems, unless we only read or, without doing our critical thinking and deeper research alongside.
There are many people who will say you need to know why you do what you do. Why are you trying to learn more about that particular topic? Why do you want to read that book? Why are you attempting to get better at that sport? Why do you want to spend more time: doing thing X/with person Y/in location Z? Figure it out, understand it, and you’ll be much more likely to make that time worthwhile.
When I was studying my first university degree I was very much going through the motions. I did enough to pass, and thankfully had enough base knowledge in a few subjects to get decent marks straight off the bat. I researched as much as I needed, but no more than that. I started my assignments the exact amount of time before their due date that I needed to—sometimes leaving myself only one night to get the work done! This was not healthy and didn’t allow me to produce my best work. I didn’t give myself enough time to process information I was taking in, think it through from my own perspective, and then form a cohesive assignment.
It was not sustainable.
Under instruction from my doctor I took two months away from university at home with family. Time I mostly spent playing video games and reading to reset my brain. There were many reasons why I needed to take this time off, why at the end of my third year of a four year degree I burnt out. I was only vaguely aware of some of these reasons at the time. My sleeping hours were erratic, I did not have a specific personal ‘why’ for studying the particular degree, I spent little time writing or playing music, and had abandoned any thought of prayer or finding a good church to attend. I was not conscious of pushing management of my mental health to the side and I only let it get worse as time went on. The one thing my mind could focus on were negative decisions I’d made and the consequences I faced because of them. There was no way out of my negative thought spiral. I had no strategies to lift myself out of the holes I’d dug or reach out to those I trusted for help. Through the grace of God and the loving people around me I was able to start on the journey to being better.
Looking back I see the times I was unable to think pragmatically. I was studying at university because it was, ‘the thing to do’. The degree I chose was because it would, ‘get me a good job’. I spent my time outside of university work trying to fill some part of my life with enjoyment, which included playing far too many video games. Very few—if any—of these decisions was made by thinking about what would actually help me, and how I might benefit the world around me and the people in it.
When I turned twenty-seven I made a commitment to figure out how to manage the bad days as well as the good ones. It was not an instantaneous process where all of a sudden I was ok, but I have started to create sustainable change. I am able to identify the signs that show I need to rest. I am able to see triggers which have the potential to push me back down into one of the holes I’ve dug. Some of these holes are partially filled in, but they still exist, and each still has a spade at the bottom. Often there was no identifiable reason for why I felt low, or flat, or helpless. Sometimes there still isn’t. But I am now able to access a pragmatic part of myself to pull me out of the negative cycle for long enough to make better decisions. I am able to see the right decisions to make to benefit my wellbeing.
How did we get here from searching Google and watching television? I’ll try to bring this full circle, but be kind if I’m just hashing stuff together. Sometimes I need to simply enjoy a good television show, by ignoring the analytical part of my brain and just watching. There are also times where they’ll spark inspiration for story and song ideas. When I have a brainwave I find the nearest pen and paper or electronic note-taking device and put it in writing. If I am even a little interested I devote time to research, reading books and articles to improve my knowledge. This way, when I write the song or the story, my mind is prepared. It is ready and willing to put in the creative hard work. The temptation here is to find a quick answer on Google for what I don’t know, and settle for that. What I’m getting better at is looking further than the first answer, analysing what I read and watch, to form a more complete picture. Thus (I hope) the end product is more well rounded than if I simply regurgitated information.
Are there times you find yourself stuck in fog? What are some things that pull you out of it?
On days when your mind is clear, take the time to understand why your mind is clear. Identify actions to take the next time your mind is struggling and doesn’t have the mental capacity to think clearly. Future you will thank present you.