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Productivity hacks weekly in bite-size chunks. Just up your alley if you're at least slightly geeky or a tad bit obsessed with Evernote or WorkFlowy!

Thinking about thinking - the art of getting to yourself

Frank Degenaar

"Metacognition is defined as "cognition about cognition", or "knowing about knowing". It comes from the root word "meta", meaning beyond... [It] refers to the study of memory-monitoring and self-regulation, meta-reasoning, consciousness and self-awareness. In practice these capacities are used to regulate one's own cognition, to maximize one's potential to think, learn and to the evaluation of proper ethical/moral rules." - Wikipedia

Way back I read an essay on It got me thinking in the right direction. It got me thinking about thinking. It got me thinking that it's OK to analyze the crap out of stuff. If you're an overthinker, there's a space for you in this world... and you can hone your thinking into a very powerful impetus for personal change. The abovementioned article deals mostly with procrastination... but the same concepts can also be used to, say, control/ cut down on addictive activities... to really get to yourself. Here's an excerpt:

"The trick is to accept the now you will not be the person facing those choices, it will be the future you – a person who can’t be trusted. Future-you will give in, and then you’ll go back to being now-you and feel weak and ashamed. Now-you must trick future-you into doing what is right for both parties... allowing now-you to make it impossible for future-you to sabotage your work. Capable psychonauts who think about thinking can get things done not because they have more will power, more drive, but because they know productivity is a game of cat and mouse."

Another one bites the dust...

Cast of "The Walking Dead"

Cast of "The Walking Dead"

Last year I had to make some gut-wrenching decisions. A slew of awesome TV Series were gouging out a more than sizable serving of my time - gutting my productivity and disemboweling my available time. Needless to say, the willpower to resist had failed me a bazillion times. The hoards were pressing in on me, grasping for every ounce of waking moment I had. I had to wrench myself from my routine, take a step back and think about thinking. What I did - and what I continue to do - is to analyze the hell out of everything that eats into my time unnecessarily. Small example:

In culling my TV habits to the bare essentials, one of those that went surprisingly easily and without kicking up too much of a fuss was... "The Walking Dead". Despite the dramatic story of human resilience and the will to survive, along with some first-class skull-crushing makeup artistry, I had to ask myself the question: "Is there hope in a Zombie Apocalypse?" I researched (Googled) at length and came to the conclusion that there was most likely not going to be any light at the end of this tunnel. I like happy endings... so the impetus to continue watching died a sudden death right there and then. I put that particular bloodlust out of its misery - I had gotten to myself.

... And another one down

I continued down my list of favorite TV Series determined to choose only two that I would keep close - those two that I could not let go of and that would serve me well (the zombie puns continue). I had to get rid of the dead weight. I had to cut my list down to size. I convinced myself one way or another why each of my targets would never live up to my expectations. In so doing, they lost their hold on me. I had cut their legs out from under them. The thought process behind each candidate up for elimination was uniquely different. Thinking things through brought a finality. In fending off the drain on my time, I was freeing myself up to live life a whole lot more. 

The right tools for the job

Thinking about thinking - far from being a useless exercise - has saved me countless precious hours. Also, most of the time it gets the job done right - the first time. You're going to need some tools to spread out your thinking. I recommend a piece of paper, a white board, an app... anything where you can get those vicious thought cycles, those biters, out of your head and map them out. My personal preference is WorkFlowy, a simple yet powerful outliner that helps me to think about thinking... to reason things out to the nth degree... to go deeper and get more granular as I turn over every stone. I hack away at my laptop in a frenzy of keyboard shortcuts - spreading out the arteries of my thought processes - watching as the lifeblood of my procrastination and obsessions lose their pulse - their substance not what it used to be. The deed is done. Reality check - it cannot be unthought. I find closure, archive that WorkFlowy list and move on.

Whether it's habits you're trying to kick, procrastination you're trying to beat, confusion you're working through, routines you're trying to establish, conclusions you're trying to reach, decisions you're trying to make, next actions you're trying to determine... whatever it is, thinking about thinking can get you there. You need to have an end goal in mind, or at least a vague sense of one to start out with. PLUS - you're going to need a tool you're comfortable with that helps to rearrange those thoughts and make sense of them. Once it's all out of your mind, there's nowhere for it to hide. You'll be amazed at how easy it is to terminate vicious thought cycles.

Thinking about thinking wins the race 

To cap things off, here's a series of Calvin & Hobbes strips, where Calvin gives his future self a good talking to (and vice versa). It's this thinking about thinking that won the day over for Calvin in the end. You'll see... Flip through the (14!) comic strips by hitting the right arrow button. (My apologies email subscribers!)