When Thinking is Not Productive, Stop Thinking

For the longest time, to me, “meditation” was just something on my to-do list that I never got to do because I was busy. It made its way on the to-do list because a lot of people I look up to (in science and sport) practice it daily. I didn’t realize what it was, and perhaps I still don’t, but at least I have a better idea.

Meditation is the practice of controlling your focus, by first emptying your mind of all thoughts and eventually being able to let the thoughts back in one at a time (if at all).

I rarely practice meditation by actually sitting down to “meditate”. I practice it by performing a specific task (writing, programming, drilling jiu jitsu moves, etc) and meditate by not letting any other thoughts except those related to the task enter my mind. I think of it as “productive meditation”, kind of like the state of flow. Josh Vogel writes a lot about meditation, I recommend his blog highly.

There are certain tasks which I do every day that require an exceptional amount of mental willpower, though I’m embarrassed now to admit it. For example, I have started to drill particular jiu jitsu moves at home for about 40-60 minutes. It’s basically a chain of 2 minute solo drills that hit a bunch of different movements that are essential in jiu jitsu and that don’t absolutely need a partner to drill. My mind seems to have an allergic mental reaction to doing these. It’s incredibly difficult on many days to get myself to do them. Here’s what goes through my mind:

Why am doing these drills? I’m really tired and I have a lot of work left to finish for an upcoming deadline. I’ll skip today, because I already trained hard in the morning, so it’s not like I didn’t do anything. (2-5 minute pause in thinking). I’m an f’ing scientist, I should be behind a computer working, there’s a journal paper due in 4 weeks and I’m not close to finishing. This is stupid. How many other researchers are drilling jiu jitsu moves? And so on…

The problem of course is that a lot of this thinking has truth behind it. However, the practice of drilling for 40 minutes is in no way preventing me from accomplishing my goals in academic life. This is clearly just my brain feeding me legitimate-sounding excuses to stop doing something that’s challenging.

I think a lot of us has something like that in our life that we should be doing but find excuses to not do. That’s where “meditation” can really help. The moment these negative thoughts arise, you just let them pass over you. Focus on enjoying the simple challenge of the immediate task at hand. Enjoy the flow of it.

That’s just something that works for me. But I’m always learning more and more about it. The power of mind is incredible. You just have to be brave enough to trust it, and dedicated enough to practice controlling it.

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