For example, a waiter tries to work it out. “I am supposed to take the order and bring the food and drinks.” That’s only a start. Yes, he’s supposed to do those things, but part of his job is his attitude. He could add, “with a good attitude,” but it doesn’t quite encompass the whole thing, because what about special requests? What about going beyond the call of duty?
He works with it and finally comes up with: "Help them have a good time." This encompasses everything. It helps them have a good time if he takes their order — and helps even more if he takes their order when they want it taken. And it helps them have a good time if he brings their food and drink to them — especially if he brings it right after it was made.
And all the little things he does is part of his purpose, beautifully and simply expressed in the phrase, "Help them have a good time." And it’s a phrase short enough it can zip through his mind quickly while he’s working.
And that’s why you want your slotras short and sweet. Most tasks require some of your RAM, some of your mental attention, hopefully quite a bit. So if you try to think about your slotra and it is long and difficult to remember, your effort to remember will interfere with what you’re trying to do.
Practice saying your statement of purpose when you’re not doing anything important. Repeat it to yourself often. And then when you’re actively engaged in a task, think about it once in awhile and make sure you stay on purpose. It’ll make your work more efficient. It’ll make you more effective. It’ll keep you from being sidetracked.
After repeating your purpose for awhile, the thought will come to you when you need it most. Automatically. When it does, heed it.
“One of the most dangerous forms of human error,” wrote Paul Nitze, “is forgetting what one is trying to achieve.”
No matter where you are or what you’re doing, this is true: The best use of an idle mind is thinking about a purpose. When your mind is cut loose of needing to think about something, it’ll tend to eventually think about something unpleasant. There are at least two good reasons for this: First,l negative stuff is more compelling that positive stuff. I mean, how often do you see a crowd gather when a person helps an old lady across the street? But if the old lady gets run over by a bus? Well, then you’d get a crowd.
This is not a criticism of the human race. Not at all. It is not a comment on how low we have sunk. It is nothing like that. We are animals. We have evolved to survive. And part of that is that we have evolved to be acutely aware of danger. Dangerous information turns all our senses on high and compels our attention, even against our will.
Because of that, worries are more compelling that the thought of something nice that might happen, so as your mind wanders around, it won’t stick as often on a nice thought as it will on a scary thought.
But the second reason an aimless mind will gravitate toward negativity is that there are more negative possibilities that positive, so just by the numbers alone, the chances are, even if it was random, that your mind would think about more negative stuff than positive.
What do I mean there are more negative possibilities? Well, think about health, for example. A positive possibility is that you will be in good health, and for that to be, your spleen has to be functioning right, your knees need to be painless, your teeth need to be cavity-free, and so on. Any one thing wrong and you are not in good health or feeling good. How many negative possibilities are there? As many as the number of things that can go wrong with the human body.
But when you think of good health, it’s all one thing, usually. You don’t think, “Boy I feel good today. My liver feels good, and my shins feel good. Even my eyelids are doing great!” It’s all one thing, and so there’s not much to think about, except all the million things that could go wrong.
And another reason your mind will be more likely to think negatively when it’s idle is that negative things like pain compel you to pay attention. In other words, when your elbow hurts, you notice it. You can’t help it. The pain draws your attention. But when your elbow is feeling fine, what is there to notice? What would alert your attention to your fine-feeling elbow? Chances are your elbows have felt fine all day. But until I mentioned it, did you give even one little thought to your elbows today?
An idle mind is like a warm damp place where unhappy thoughts and feelings, like bacteria, grow and multiply.
How do you stop your mind from being idle? The best use of an idle mind is thinking about a purpose. If you’re actively working on a purpose, there’s nothing to worry about, because the purpose and the task at hand will organize your mind and keep your attention too occupied to worry.
But when you’re not actively working, when you’re driving somewhere or waiting in line or taking a shower or lying in bed waiting for sleep, that’s when to start thinking about a purpose of yours.
If you have an overriding goal, that’s the one to choose. Think about how you’re going to get it done. Think about the advantages of accomplishing it. Think about why you want to accomplish it, and think up new reasons. Think about better and more efficient ways of accomplishing the goal. Ponder the goal. Mull it over purposefully. And if you can think of nothing else, use your goal as a slotra and repeat it over and over. This itself, you will notice, brings up new ideas that can help you.
And when you are thinking up good reasons why you want to accomplish this goal and thinking up the advantages you will gain from its accomplishment, make those into slotras. Repeat the advantages to yourself.
You can accomplish things without being motivated: Simply make a promise and make sure you keep it. But it’s more fun to accomplish things when you’re motivated. And fun is worth a lot.
One of the best things to focus on when you are driving your car or taking a shower and your mind is wandering aimlessly, is why you are doing what you’re doing. Why do you want to accomplish your goal? What will it do for you, for your family, for the world at large? And what else? And what else?
It seems strange, but sometimes people set a goal for very good reasons, and then get so busy pursuing it, they actually forget the reasons. And then the task starts feeling like you’re just going through the motions. It feels like you have to do what you’re doing. It’s not fun any more.
What's the solution for this? Keep yourself aware of your motivations by making slotras and practicing thinking them.
Create slotras of your purposes and motivations, and practice thinking those thoughts when your mind is idle. This will keep your mind focused on what you want and prevent negativity from invading your mind. And the process of coming up with good slotras can help you clarify your purposes so you have a better idea of what you want to accomplish.
Read the next chapter: The Magic Of Motivation
This article was excerpted from the book, Slotralogy: How to Change Your Habits of Thought.