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 more fun?
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 continuously interrupted.
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 more.
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.
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.
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.
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 the questions:
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 so.
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.
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 to.
T4 is a tool with which integrity can be attained and maintained.
T4 is really a core activity, the key, the secret.
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.
Adam Khan is the author of Slotralogy, Direct Your Mind, and co-author with Klassy Evans of What Difference Does It Make?: How the Sexes Differ and What You Can Do About It. Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.