I recommend “thinking on paper” * every day, on whatever issue seems important. But what do you do if you aren’t sure what to think about? Start with a “thought download.” **
A “thought download” is a page of thoughts–your thoughts.
The page could be filled with “freewriting,” a record of the thoughts that pop into your mind randomly. In freewriting, you don’t attempt to make sense of them or put them in a logical order.
The page could be filled with answers to stock questions, such as:
- What went well yesterday?
- How would I like to improve on what happened yesterday?
- What is on the agenda for today?
- How do I feel about today’s agenda?
The page could be filled with musings on the meaning of life or current events or what you want to do with your life.
It does not matter how you fill up that page. The thoughts don’t have to be true, clear, or profound.
All that matters is that you take a few minutes to write out actual sentences that are going through your mind. You write out the thoughts in full sentences, so that they are clear enough that you can determine whether they are true or false, helpful or unhelpful. You will evaluate them on a second pass, not during the thought download.
The thought download makes real what is on your mind. For this purpose, it is helpful to hear mistaken thoughts and even thoughts you think are irrelevant. By capturing them in a thought download, it will be easier to then channel your thoughts toward what is most helpful. You will discover a topic to examine more deeply with “thinking on paper.”
For example, I took my own advice one day while I was on vacation. The first thing I noticed was that my mind was jumping around. I had a little trouble staying on task, because I had not planned the day. As I asked myself what was on the agenda, 3-4 little tasks came up. I made two phone calls and worked out a “to do” list in the course of doing the thought download.
Despite the distractions, I returned to finish the thought download. By the time I had a page of sentences (only 77 words in this case), I had revealed an important desire: I wanted more interaction with the three teens in my extended family, whom I would be visiting with later in the day.
At this point, I turned to “thinking on paper.” I wrote, “How will I get more connection with the kids?” and then I worked to answer that question. I came up with three different things I will do, one with each teen, that could create a shared bond.
See the difference between a thought download and “thinking on paper”?
The purpose of a thought download is simply to raise your level of self-awareness. It gives you an opportunity to notice thoughts simmering in the back of your mind. Once you have that self-awareness, you can decide what topic would benefit from a little more in-depth thinking.
It might be that you are stewing over something, and need to introspect your emotions around it.
It might be that you notice a limiting belief that you want to challenge.
It might be that you notice a problem you need to solve.
It might be, as in my case, that you see something you want, and need to figure out how to get it.
“Thinking on paper” is the #1 thinking tactic to use to concentrate your mind to figure something out. It puts your mind in gear and gives you mental leverage so that you can answer questions that would otherwise leave you stumped. It is how you move forward.
But you can’t “think on paper” until you have a purpose–something you believe is worth a few minutes of time and attention to figure out. That’s why I recommend starting the day with a thought download. This will give you an easy starting point, from which to find what to think about today.
* I teach “thinking on paper” in my freebie, Multiply the Power of Thought, which you can find in my Thinking Directions Starter Kit.
** I am adopting the term “thought download” from Brooke Castillo.