Guest Post by Hannah La Joy Johnston
Alice in Wonderland always stressed me out. I thought Wonderland would be so cool if it weren’t so random. Plunging down rabbit trails with all their frantic twists and turns seemed erratic and chaotic. But whenever I sat quietly to think for any extended period, my thoughts did just that: inevitably bounded down rabbit trails and often lost the main Thought Road altogether. One day, I finally decided to take control of my thoughts. Intentional thinking was tough at first, but it opened a new ironically sane Wonderland for me to explore inside my own head.
As a kid, I was never without heroes: Jesus (standing entirely on His own level), J. R. R. Tolkien, Gandalf, Dumbledore, King Arthur, the Samurai in general, and Batman. They all had one thing in common that stood out to me—they were Deep Thinkers, Great Considerers who often stood apart from the crowd. Each were men of action, but before the action always came careful consideration of wise, internal counsel. I admired that because it was something I desperately wanted, but couldn’t seem to master or enjoy. One day I told myself, “Intentional thinking is important. So suck it up and just do it.” And here’s how I did it.
1. I learned to be comfortable with silence.
When I was 12, I started the basics of self-disciplined thought this way: I sat outside perfectly still with my Doberman and my pet pig (yes, my pet pig—I was homeschooled and lived in Arizona in the middle of nowhere) and swept away any bombarding thought, only allowing myself to observe what was going on around me. Nothing else.
If we were to continue the rabbit trail analogy, this allowed me to stand at the start of the Thought Road and consider which way I wanted to go, rather than charging down the first available stream-of-consciousness path. I learned not only to be comfortable with silence, but to truly love it. Peaceful silence is vital for intentional thought.
2. I decided to actively give attention to my observations.
The second step came when I realized that I couldn’t recall something simple, like a person’s face, when I wanted to. You try it right now. If you were asked to describe a colleague’s face in detail, could you do it? If you can, bravo!
When I was 14, I met a boy I liked and invited him to church. I had a panic attack as I waited for him to arrive because I realized that I couldn’t remember what his face looked like! I agonized that he may not be as good-looking as I’d bragged to my friends. When he showed up, I recognized him immediately (and he was very cute), but I couldn’t have described him beforehand if my life had depended on it.
I realized I couldn’t just passively observe anymore; I needed to actively give attention to what I observed. I needed to intentionally take note of what I experienced on my Thought Roads.
3. I discovered the absolute necessity of thinking on subjects outside their allotted time and place.
In college this helped me remember clear details about Thought Roads I’d already traveled so I could easily revisit them when I wanted.
For example, my two degrees in speech performance required that I memorize verbatim long performance scripts every few days on top of my normal coursework. I made it a point to proactively think (not just rote memory study) about class information outside of those class and rehearsal times. I actively asked myself questions about the material to increase personal associations, and repetitively wrote down information that I needed to stick. It solidified the material in my mind so much better than those quick cram sessions in class. My memory stretched and strengthened until quick, clear memory became second nature.
Thinking intentionally has helped me to be more decisive, much more efficient and focused in my work, and more empathetic in my relationships. I used to be unsure of my thoughts on many topics simply because I hadn’t really considered them fully. Now when asked, I know where I stand. It has also helped me be much more fluid in my teaching and speaking. It really is like walking a familiar road. Since you know the way so well yourself, it’s easier to take others along with you.
In Part 2 I’ll give you some quick, easy steps for finding your own Thought Roads!
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With her BA and MS degrees in speech performance, Hannah La Joy Johnston has been a performing arts instructor for over 5 years at Pensacola Christian College in Pensacola, FL. In 2016 she self-published her first book, Butterflies In Formation, and continues to write children’s books from home with her husband, her husky, and her hound as her daily inspirations. Several of her children’s books are nearly ready for publication. Be on the lookout for Dirty Paws, an epic war between the birds and the bees, this winter!