Losing the ability to think

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One of the things I hope to gain by simplifying my life is more time to just think and explore connections between ideas. I recall distinctly when I was stuck in a job I disliked I feared that I was losing my ability to think creatively. I was in the public service, and in a very hierarchical workplace, and I often felt that much of my job was just following processes. I did push for a move to a different area, one which required me to actually put my own thoughts and ideas into my work. Once I got there, I felt suddenly anxious – after so long just following templates, I worried that I’d be unable to really use my own brain to create any original ideas.

I haven’t really discussed this with many other professionals, but I suspect that it’s a problem amongst white-collar workers.

To go off on a tangent, though, I also wonder if this could be a side effect, somehow, of aging. I remember feeling somewhat connected, while listening to an interview with Ben Folds quite some time ago, to a comment about how deeply young people think. This interview was a long while back, I think perhaps on Triple J somewhere, and Ben was discussing the appeal of his songs to teenagers. Now, paraphrasing greatly, he was saying that he thought it was because his songs made real, and took seriously, the thoughts and feelings of teenagers. He further said that it is easy to forget how much you thought about stuff when you were a teenager. I recall, at the time, being perhaps only in my mid-20s, how correct that was, and indeed how furiously active my brain was in trying to figure out the world when I was in late high school, or entering university. I felt that I was slowly losing that – I no longer thought so deeply about philosophy, about relationships, or about why the world works the way it does. And it’s not that my brain is now occupied with other thoughts – I actually feel that now I just think less interesting thoughts in general!

In this way, perhaps trying to simplify my life is a way to try to regain something I feel I’ve lost. If I can make time for myself to just sit and think, rather than filling all my mindspace by clicking through to another blog, or scheduling another appointment, or at the worst making my mind fuzzy by having another drink, can I retrain my brain to come up with more interesting and creative ideas?

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