What are you thinking?

A quote today from the Jack’s Winning Words Blog got me to thinking – “It’s not enough to have a good mind; the main thing is to use it well.”  (Rene Descartes)

Rene Descartes

Maybe Descartes should have added “or to use it at all”. How many times have you seen news stories or heard about some incident  and immediately what popped into your mind was the question, “What were they thinking?”

Maybe they weren’t thinking at all. Perhaps their actions were being driven by unbridled anger, such as in the numerous “road rage” stories that we hear about so often. Perhaps preconceived prejudices or unfounded fears had taken over, as we witness in the many stories in the news about black people being discriminated against in restaurants and elsewhere. In many news stories, we are told that they probably weren’t thinking at all because their minds had been clouded by drugs or alcohol.  In all of those cases there is no good answer to the question, What where they thinking?

Jack wrote in his post that he admired Descartes because he was not afraid to use his mind and to disagree with others in his day. It is also important to use one’s mind to question your own thoughts, opinions and actions or reactions to things that are occurring around you. I have not yet mastered the ability to completely shut out old prejudices or preconceived ideas from my past; however, I have developed more awareness of when they take over my mind or cause a specific reaction. I am more able now to stop myself quicker from proceeding down a path that those prejudices may be dictating. When I stop and ask myself the question, “What were you thinking?” the answer most often is that I wasn’t really thinking, I was letting something else control my emotions and actions or reactions. That pause to think allows me to regain some measure of control.  I only wish that I took that pause to think more often.

Perhaps the best take away from today it that you can’t go through life on cruise control or auto-pilot. Just like current experiments with autonomous cars, there are too many things that may occur in life that require that you keep your mind focused upon the steering wheel of your life.  That means using your mind, as Descartes recommended and constantly being aware of what you are thinking and (more importantly) why you are thinking that way. It is important to examine and challenge the thoughts and actions of others; however, it is just as important to challenge the basis of your own thoughts and actions and to ask yourself the question – What were you thinking?

The real challenge for us all is to move from the past tense in that little phrase and become more aware in the present of what we are thinking and why. That is what Descartes was saying when he advised that we use our minds well. It means staying in control by constantly being aware of your own thoughts, preconceived or otherwise, and making better decisions about what you allow to control your emotions and reactions to events in life. Just keep asking yourself, “What am I thinking ?” and, like Descartes, keep questioning, why?

Use your mind well today.  What are you thinking?

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