Living a more thoughtless life

by Kristin on February 21, 2014

in Culture, ideas & paradigms


I seem to be on a roll, lately, when it comes to making significant decisions without much thought.

Decisions made without much thought, I suppose, could be called “thoughtless decisions.” And I guess many of the decisions I’ve made in the past year could fit into that category. They lack logic or metrics. I didn’t devote a respectable number of nights to “sleep on it,” nor did I fill enough pages in a notebook with lists of pros and cons, or internal-debates journaled as proof they happened.

As one who loves logic and reason, most of the explanations I might come up with for my behavior assume a negative stance—they’re based on the premise that making decisions without proper “head work” is lazy and dangerous. The excuses themselves fall into these general categories: I have been too busy and overwhelmed to properly think things through. I have been emotionally charged and vulnerable, and have therefore let my emotions bully my brain and call the shots. I have made rash moves out of fear or impatience, in a way that would surely mark my doom if life was a game of chess.

And yet, when I give that bossy part of my brain a Xanax (as writer Lauren Winner liked to encourage us to do in her Glen Workshop two summers ago), the feelings I’m left with are calm and clear, not frantic and tangled. I feel in touch with myself, like someone who knows and trusts who she is. I feel brave—not scared—and willing to think in whole new, adventurous ways, rather than thinking in circles in the same, safe box. Rather than feeling like I’ve ignored all that my brain has to offer, I feel like I’ve offered my brain new material and new tools—a scenic overlook from which to see my life in new ways.

Feeling that way is surprising for me, to say the least.

Today, as I was wondering how to employ my brain to help give these feelings shape enough for a blog post, I ran across this FastCoCreate article: “Innovation—You’re Doing It Wrong: How to Put Intuition and Ideas Before Tests and Analyses.” Here’s how it begins:

There’s a costly misconception hindering innovation. Marketing models hold that strategic reasoning must always precede and inform emotional execution. Before we decide to try an idea, we must first prove its worth by conscious knowledge untainted by feeling. But neuroscience suggests this is not only wrong, it’s backwards.

If “knowledge is power” we must understand cognition or the “process of knowing.” Cognitive science tells us that discoveries and decisions are made largely unconsciously. And feelings not reasoning come first. Emotions precede and inform rational understanding.

It’s time to flip the script and listen first to our bodies and then our minds. As French mathematician and inventor Blaise Pascal presciently observed, “The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.”

Um, yes! Right? It just feels so strange for me to come to terms with this. For so long, I’ve feasted on overthinking—it has sustained me, even if it hasn’t satisfied. I’ve bought into the idea that “The more I think, the better!” I’ve taken great pride (even self-righteous pride) in being able to build a solid case for every decision I make and every action I pursue. I’ve been striving to be one who “lives with intention” and “acts deliberately,” because in certain realms, “careless” and “thoughtless” are the opposites of those paths. (Living “with intention” is a whole thing, you know? Especially in the blogosphere.)

It will, of course, take me a while to get used to this “thoughtless” approach—to wear it in like new shoes, until it’s so comfortable I hardly know it’s there. And maybe it can never be second nature for the likes of me. But in my heart (of course—in my heart!) I know Blaise Pascal speaks a truth that I can trust, maybe even with my head:

“The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.”


Photo by Jesse Millan

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