Everything in life comes with at least two sides to it, including being smart. Human beings are amazing time travelers, given our ability to imagine the future and ruminate about our past. What I have noticed is that when we encourage and reward people too much for their ability to think, we condition them to spend more time lost in thought rather than in the now.
In my own life, I was handsomely rewarded for thinking that I starting believing that thinking was everything. I was so proud of my mind being in a constant state of thinking and felt that it was a sign of intelligence, productivity and accomplishment–boy, was I so off-base! In fact, I had envisioned my epitaph to read, “He finally quit.”
Recently, when I spoke to a group of MBA students at The Wharton School of Business, I reminded them of their human ability to time travel and told them about how smart people tend to do even more of it. So, I gently challenged them to try and be in the room with me for the next 45 minutes. A couple of them came to me at the end of my talk and said that it was their most profound take-away.
Several of the students also told me during the happy hour following my talk that they wished they had heard my message during their first year of their program as they would have made a different choice in their selection of their summer internships. They had been conditioned to believe that the only two good options for them were either investment banking or consulting. Such conditioning is so rampant in so many societies, that it takes a lot of courage and fortitude to swim upstream against these social standards.
Many believe that focusing on achievement will lead to a better quality of life, but in my experience of monitoring over 140 “successful” people during a nine year period, I noticed that it is not necessarily the case. On the other hand, I have seen people who focus their attention on their quality of life almost always achieving their goal, which leads be to believe that the path can be fairly direct. I do understand that certain things have to be attained in order to meet the necessities of life and living in a society. Given that we tend to deal with tangibles better than intangibles, it is very easy for us to focus on quantifiable goals than the esoteric ones like fulfillment and happiness.
This is where I believe that our minds come into play. We need to be the master of our mind and not the other way around. By becoming aware of our thoughts and the tricks that our mind can play on us, we can stay grounded and on track. Much like how we need to use a computer to perform tasks for us, we need to use our minds to work for us, as opposed to us working for it. But, when a computer does get hijacked or infected by malware or a virus, it slows down or gets consumed it doing its own thing. The CPU is used up and the computer is not available to help us. If our mind gets clogged with thought or hijacked by our egoic self, we can lost and start promoting or protecting our false identity and not our authentic self.
Getting too absorbed in analytical thinking without cultivating our other faculties such as instincts and intuition diminishes our quality of life and riddles it with dysfunction. Therefore, be present and watch your mind carefully and be clear of what’s driving your actions–your core natural self or your egoic self.