Previously we took a deep dive into the idea of Deliberate Action, which was a very important idea brought up in the Life Simplified series. Very closely related to this idea is the concept of Intensity of Stimulus.
This is a big idea and has a LOT of implications. This is worth a read! I will do my best to express my experience without getting to bogged down by details. There will be more posts on this topic (stay tuned!).
NOTE: I will bring up some terms relevant to the brain and so I will briefly define them here for reference. A more in-depth discussion over my experience with learning about the brain will occur in a later post (stay tuned!).
- The basic unit of work in the brain, a cell of the nervous system. It is used in networks of the brain to process information that has been communicated from other neurons.
- (Neural) Connections
- The connection between neurons where information is passed. This allows for communication between neurons to occur.
- Thought Patterns
- The repeated activation of particular neurons such that the firing of the group of neurons had led to a wiring together of those neurons that ultimately all fire together during future stimulus. This is represented in the form habits of both behavior and thinking, this includes the words you tend to use and how you tend to say them and your response to your environment under certain circumstances.
- Neural Circuitry
- The network of neurons that are involved in a thought pattern.
- Neural Plasticity
- The ability for your brain to change, no matter the age. Any new experience you have will cause changes to the brain. Anything that involves sensations through sensory organs leads to the formation of an experience and thus changes to the brain.
- It is through changing the brain that you can achieve anything from overcoming unproductive habits to solving that complicated math problem.
Also, to remain general, in order to prevent distracting away from the main idea that I am trying to present, I will refer to the action or skill that is the subject of concentrated attention (such that all else is distraction/irrelevant) in general terms. This action or skill could be anything that requires attention to some degree, such as tying your shoe, learning to cook a new recipe, playing a musical instrument, practicing soccer, writing with your non-dominant hand, memorizing a shuffled deck of cards, building muscle or strength, improving your social and relationship skills, studying for an exam, and so on. What it is isn’t important, just that it can be broadly applied to just about anything, especially if attention is required to some degree.
It is important to primarily focus on the action, not the objective or the goal. Since Intensity of Stimulus is all about focused and deliberate attention which demands presence in the current moment and does not have any concept of past or future built in. Objective is a better wording than goal is since it has a stronger connotation of clarity and deliberation than a goal does, but “objective” still implies the future and therefore distracts attention away from the present moment. The action is the current item at hand, nothing else matters. I take the time to clarify these subtleties because it is important in understanding the big picture to Intensity of Stimulus, otherwise it would be too easy to “miss the point”.
What is it?
Big Idea: Complete and utter attention brought deliberately to a single action.
Basically: Improved decision making, less brain fog, long-term success.
Stimulus in “Intensity of Stimulus” is a general term that is meant to encompass all stimulation that is experienced. This includes thoughts, feelings, sensations of touch, smell, hearing and so on. There is a more precise and often more useful way of wording this which is “Intensity of Thought”.
Intensity of Thought refers more to mental thought patterns than physical sensations, but physical sensations themselves are the result of the sensory organs providing your brain with the sensory input. This wording was what I used during my initial discovery and exploration of this which I discovered during my process of improving my ability to learn.
The implications of “Intensity of Thought” are very useful in learning of all sorts from habit manipulation (forming and breaking), irritation and emotional management, skill development and plays a large part in attention/focus. Intensity of Thought even has far reaching suggestions on effective ways to influence, teach and encourage change in others.
The wording “Intensity of Stimulus” is used to remain general in order to prevent caging anyone in to a particular way of thinking. Just as math is taught in the general so that it can be applied broadly through the promotion of “transfer-ability” (an important concept in effective meta-learning) so too is the intention with Intensity of Stimulus. Intensity of Stimulus is such a big idea in my theory of Effective Living (which I will lay out more explicitly later and have only been providing the foundation for) that it shouldn’t be restricted in any way because its implications are so incredibly broad that I am even still discovering them.
With that said, I find “Intensity of Thought” to be more readily applicable and understandable, so for the sake of effective communication I will use “Intensity of Thought” where the concreteness would be best served. Just understand that it is interchangeable with “Intensity of Stimulus” and that the bigger-picture idea is the concept of a higher degree of stimulation.
That is all very abstract, so let’s get a bit more concrete. Intensity of Thought is deliberate focus. It is attention. When you concentrate on a thing, anything, you are applying a degree of attention to it, that degree is what the “Intensity” in “Intensity of Thought” is.
For example, if you were asked to “think really hard about something”, you would probably feel a contraction of sorts, as if a weight is being applied, concentrating your attention towards something in particular, like a flashlight focusing its beam. You may find that the amount of intensity you apply to this “thinking hard” varies and you can scale it in and out like activating a muscle. If you were asked to “think harder” you may find an even more intense concentration resulting from your efforts, you may even shake a bit and then when you relax it may feel like a weight slowly being lifted.
Now, I am NOT saying that to think effectively you should always be in a state of clinched intensity, the reality to effective thinking is far more subtle and involves a balance between the so called “focused’ mode of thinking and “diffuse” mode of thinking (where the mind is relaxed, such as in a warm shower or on a quiet walk). The point of the above example was to give you a simplification of what I mean when I say “Intensity”.
When applying Intensity of Thought the overall idea I am trying to communicate is focused attention on the single thing that you are engaged with and want to improve. This means to remove all distractions or to remove what is not relevant, to drill down to what needs improving, and slow down the anxious stream of random and uncoordinated thought to instead regain control and start back up deliberately.
The development of this is very subtle and gentle, brute force will not work and is very counter productive. It is like trying to reduce your breathing habits from large volume and from the chest (as modern society promotes through stressful living) to a more natural gentle, soft, endlessly smooth, and from the diaphragm. Such an adjustment can’t be approached through brute force of simply “trying harder” as that will cause stress and anxiety which will cause a speed up of breath! The same can be said about anything that involves mental thought patterns, anxious thoughts cause an increase of irrelevant thoughts which distract away from the original thought and hog cognitive resources making the new connections weaker and quicker to decay which impacts how quickly you can learn or develop the intended skill.
The subtlety with Intensity of Thought is that more is not necessarily better, in particular, more is not better when it adds irrelevant clutter or otherwise distracts from the intended action. For example, the idea of Intensity of Thought in studying for an exam is a useful way to cue yourself to improving your concentration on the material at hand and refocusing during times of distraction (like a compass needle being temporarily knocked off the heading and being brought back through a sudden burst of recentering intensity), but doing so to the point that you beat yourself up for not coming up with an answer right away or other anxious thoughts (e.g. self-doubt, “it’s not working”) is no longer effective.
Basically, the bigger-picture idea here is effective action, where Intensity of Thought is a tool at promoting effective action. Intensity of Thought requires full and undivided attention on the action at hand, so if you strain yourself to the point that self-doubt or anxiety rushes in then you are defeating the purpose since those anxious thoughts will use up cognitive resources that could be going to developing the neural circuitry that is relevant to the action at hand. It is subtle and requires exploration and practice.
It is subtle precisely because it requires a degree of trust, just as the skill of falling asleep quickly is subtle because trying to do so impedes your ability to do so. You have to trust yourself to let go, in the sense that you have to literally trust letting go of your conscious awareness but at the same time not get caught up in the idea of “have to” or other anxious thoughts that distract away from the intended objective (i.e. falling asleep).
Falling asleep is not meant to be an example for applying Intensity of Thought, it is used to help achieve my objective of communicating the subtly involved with the Intensity of Thought.
So, to recap. Intensity of Stimulus is a more broad term for Intensity of Thought which is used instead so that it can be more tangible during initial exposure and exploration as the concept is introduced. Intensity of Thought is basically deliberate attention in its simplest form but it carries a deeper meaning and a more practical and fresh connotation. The opposite of Intensity of Thought is distraction or the lack of presence, which implies a lack of awareness and clarity.
That is it, Intensity of Thought is simply complete and utter attention brought deliberate to a single task with a strong dose of both awareness and clarity towards the intention or objective.
It is meant to be interpreted as a practical tool in the form of a lever of some sort where the degree of intensity is controlled by the movement of that lever. This gives you the ability to dynamically (i.e. in real time) adjust your focus to promote effective action (e.g. quicker and more efficient learning or decision making, higher quality of life, etc.), Are you learning something new and need to apply focus to “load” up your mind with this new information? Then crank the lever to ensure that your brain is prioritizing its resources to storing that information and forming new connections. Have you just had an intense burst of studying and your brain is loaded with new information? Then get into a diffuse mode of thinking by going for a walk, meditating, journaling, or some other quiet, low-stimulus, activity that doesn’t involve loading more information (e.g. scrolling through social media, watching TV), this will ensure that the information you have just loaded your mind with will effectively be processed without other information (e.g. that from social media or TV) competing for the mental resources. This results in faster learning, improved decision making, deeper and more fluent understanding of a thing.
Why is it Important?
Big Idea: The speed and degree of change that occurs depends on the intensity of stimulus
Basically: Achieve more, more quickly, longer lasting, and in a compounding manner.
Intensity of Thought is very subtle since it is dealing with something that is hard to “point to” with words. There is a balance and a fine-line that may seem complicated at first, but you already have a head-start if you have any experience with attention. The objective is to bring this control over thought and attention into conscious awareness so that it can be honed and properly fine-tuned to be developed in a concentrated, deliberate, and meaningful way that will ultimately lead you to a quicker and more profound ability to improve anything and everything.
Whether you want to admit it or not, you can not develop anything without Intensity of Thought, since it is defined very similarly to attention and in order to improve at something you have to apply attention to it (in order for the adaptations in your body and mind to take place).
Intensity of Stimulus is the key to high performance, growth, change, psychological flow, etc. Consider the psychological flow stages:
- Loading or Struggle Phase
- Release or Relaxation Phase
- Flow or Ease of High Performance Phase
- Recovery or Replenishment of Cognitive Resources Phase
Psychological flow is basically the state of high performance (phase 3 in list above), the state where action seems effortless and you are completely absorbed in the moment. Flow comes in various forms from “helper’s high” to “runner’s high” and varying intensities. All flow follows the 4 stages mentioned above, there is a period where you have to essentially overwhelm yourself (loading information. In the second stage, you relax (no TV, social media, or other information-rich activities, but instead have a power nap, go for a walk, meditate, or some other quiet and relaxing activity) during this stage your subconscious mind takes over the problem and applies past experience and the vast range of other resources that the conscious mind doesn’t have access to. After a period of relaxation or release, when you return to the activity (e.g. a tough problem you’re working on at work or that “aha, I should of put that as the answer” moment after walking away from an exam) you’ll find that action flows more seamlessly. All these stages are followed by a period of mental exhaustion where you’ll feel depleted as your body and mind recovers.
Psychological flow is brought up because the loading phase is exactly where Intensity of Stimulus is applied. The degree of intensity helps to determine how much flow gets “wound-up” or “pulled-back” like a sling shot such that after the release period the profoundness of the flow stage is dependent on that initial degree of intensity brought during the loading phase.
So, this is to say that Intensity of Stimulus is a prerequisite to high performance. This is true for everything that you want to improve at (e.g. exercise, learning). The speed of learning is directly dependent on the attention brought to the action at hand. And attention can be regulated through intensity of stimulus, this intensity of stimulus is something that is 100% in your control. And that is why Intensity of Stimulus is important, it is the foothold you can get to leverage your mind’s ability to adapt and learn to improve whatever you want in life, to remove bad habits, to build good habits, to improve your health, fitness, relationships, etc.
If you want change of any sort, the answer is simply to consistently increase the intensity of a desired action or behavior. This is also known as “progressive overload” and is fundamental concept behind improvement. The stronger this intensity the more likely the necessary neural changes will occur in your mind to reform the habit or behavior. Deliberately reapply this intensity regularly and change will become more and more noticeable in proportion to the intensity you brought to the change.
For example, consider an irritating sound…
The irritation of this sound originates in your brain, or else everyone would be experiencing the same irritation. You experience it in an “irritating” way because of how your brain has wired a series of experiences which you’ve applied meaning to in such a way that suggests that sound to cause a particular response in your body that your brain has learned to interpret as a negative emotion. This event may trigger several other thought patterns, for example what you might say to that individual if you could or perhaps rehearsing how you will ask them to stop or how you could express how irritating that sound is to you which could lead you to thinking of how they might think you are weird and reject you.
If you want to change your response to this irritating sound, you would need to apply an intensity of thought in such a way that your brain rewires itself through less and less use of the previous thought patterns (by deliberately deciding to not go down that undesired path of thought, which as we learned in the Deliberate Action post is best done by first bringing deliberate action in as early as possible, preferably at the start because it is easier to carry a sense of consciousness and deliberation from moment to moment instead of going from distraction to deliberation, it is easier to maintain than it is to change). At first this intensity of thought in not going down the old thought pattern and instead having a different thought pattern response (that you choose, such as “when I hear that sound I will flick my wrist band and take a few deep breaths”) will at first seem very difficult, you may even get lost in the previous thought pattern before realizing it. As we have seen in the post on Awareness, as you practice this more and more your awareness will improve to the point that you can begin apply deliberate action earlier and earlier to the point that you are able to go into the previously-automated response to the irritating sound with a more conscious state of being. Over time this will feel less and less “heavy” as the old thought pattern goes more and more unused and thus decay (whither away) and the new thought pattern grows.
A more convincing argument of this can be applied through some basic understanding of the brain but I will save those relevant details for later. The most important concept that would be involved in such an argument is Myelin. For now the point is to understand that if you want to change something you will need an appropriate degree of intensity. In general, the higher the degree, the quicker and more profound the change. How often something is repeated and how deliberate the action is both go hand in hand with the formation of new thought patterns, habits, and behaviors. For any given moment the focus should be on the intensity of stimulus for a single thing that you are wanting to develop or change, this will ensure that you optimize all of the available neural resources for the particular action at hand such that you’ve done all that you could for this given moment to progress you towards your objective, but in order for the changes in the brain to last you will have to repeatedly apply this intensity of stimulus/thought over time for the same particular action or else they will decay. The more you appropriately (i.e. with proper spaced repetition) repeat the action and with more intensity, the longer the thought patterns will last (e.g. the longer a memory will remain before being forgotten).
Take for example memory, the act of remembering something requires attention, the amount of attention you apply to the thing you are trying to remember directly impacts how well that memory is formed and therefore how long you will be able to remember it and how easily it can be recalled. Memories that go a long period of time without being recalled will decay, the rate of decay varies and depends on how impactful or relevant the new information is. Basically, a memory is an encoding in the brain that is meant to provide an experience (a feeling of sorts, of which gets interpreted as a scene) about a particular event the brain (AKA “you”) have encountered so that it can use that information to improve its chances of reproducing, surviving, etc. How important the new information is determines how strongly the brain will encode it in memory, the amount of attention paid to something is the primary indicator of importance for the brain.
The idea of Intensity of Thought is simply to take control of this process so that learning can be optimized. Every moment in life involves decisions, at the cognitive level these decisions are based on the idea of survival of your genes, but what is considered important for your survival is all dependent on your environment and the past experiences you have, which is something you control. You can use conscious effort to even control the interpretations of the stimulus as we have seen in the Life Simplified series on the Mental Realm which determine how the information is encoded and ultimately how that experience will be able to be used in the future. With an improved ability to learn and the ability to control your very own experience you greatly improve your ability to make effective decisions in life and therefore your ability to live effectively.
Your brain is “plastic”, and it remains so throughout your entire life. Meaning that you are able to acquire new information and the brain adjusts and rewires based on this new information. The very fact that you can learn a new phone number or a new person’s name proves that your brain is able to rewire itself because that is exactly what it means to learn something or acquire a new experience. A thought itself is just the sequence of neurons, or “brain cells”, firing in such a way that the “thought” forms. You have billions of these neurons in your brain and they are the foundation of all brain activity and therefore the foundation of your whole known existence, experience, and, of course, your ability to learn and make effective decisions. With more attention and a greater intensity applied to the action at hand, you greatly improve your ability to reshape your brain.
The more intense the signal (i.e. the neurons involved) for a thought fires in the brain, the more your brain will change and make that thought easier to fire in the future. This is exactly why you may find you have “reoccurring thought patterns” or in other words “reoccurring thoughts”, the words you tend to use and how you say them tend to be very similar, this is because you’ve habitually used them over and over that the neurons involved with those words or thoughts have been repeatedly used, like a path through the woods that has been repeatedly walked. You can take control of those reoccurring thought patterns (say, if they don’t do you any good) and change them to more effective thought patterns through the idea of Intensity of Thought. Intensity of thought determines how strongly a memory (or any thought pattern or experience) is formed, as well as how long that memory or experience will last before being forgotten and how easily that memory will be recalled next time.
Distraction destroys attention and thus diminishes your ability to change your brain in a long-term and profound manner (e.g. quickly remembering something). Attention is destroyed from distraction because it destroys the intensity in which the brain can allocate resources to a particular thing. If all those resources were instead directed towards the SINGLE formation of a neural thought pattern relevant to some action you want to improve at then the resources are being utilized far more efficiency and you will experience a quicker learning period.
When a system works in harmony where every component of that system adds in the same direction of an overall shared objective action is effective and profound, that is efficiency. That is how you improve the speed of developing anything.
The concept of Intensity of Thought is meant to provide a framework based on fundamentals and first principles that allows you to waste less time on distraction (which is simply the “lack of traction”, or in other words, distraction is attention that is applied to something other than what you originally intended) and more of your time being effectively used in taking effective action.
How do I Develop it?
Big Idea: More time spent under stimulus and with a greater depth or sense of intensity
Basically: Deliberately apply yourself, work hard, and seek challenge.
Consider people that you consider intelligent, they probably have some preference for depth and overall are not afraid to go deep in a subject or action (whatever they may be seen as skilled or intelligent at). This is a habit of so called “geniuses”, they have developed their ability from a young age to remove distractions and hone every last bit of their attention to a particular action they are engage with. This allows the brain to efficiently form new connections relevant to that single action.
Simply put, a more intelligent individual is simply an individual who has a higher “intensity of thought” in their respective field. This can be developed. It may even be the case that intelligence is based primarily on environmental factors (i.e. not genetics) since intelligence is related to how well you function in the world (e.g. decision making). The term “world” is abstract but simply represents your environment. This means an individual can be born into any environment such as that of having a low abundance of food and thus the “intelligence” or “skill” their brain learns to develop is related to being able to hunt or scavenge for food effectively, perhaps communicate with others to trade, or whatever might be important for their survival.
Basically what I am saying is that since intelligence is directly related to how well someone can operate in their environment (or perhaps even in varying environments such that they adapt to new environments) and since the environment is something that can’t be determined until the individual is birthed into their “world” (or at least developing in the mother’s womb), and since the brain prioritizes survival, then it would make no evolutionary sense for intelligence to be fixed before birth. Nature is far more dynamic and general-purposed than that. It has to be dynamic in order to improve the chances of the individual adapting to their environment and therefore be able to function effectively.
To fully provide an argument related to intelligence here we need to formally define intelligence. That will be saved for another time. My only point right now is that intelligence and skills can be developed and so called “intelligent” people are simply those that have built up effective habits that promote intensity of thought and therefore a more efficient means at storing information (perhaps from just the right series of events in their environment that has trained their brain to remove distraction, focus on what’s relevant, pay close attention to the bigger picture, quickly simplify/abstract information to make processing more efficient, their environment was steady, reliable, and food was available such that they were not constantly worried about survival or a constant stream of other distractions in such a way that allowed them to get completely absorbed for longer periods of time on a single action with their full brain’s resources being allocated to absorbing the little nuances and details of what they’re doing etc.). Note that intelligence as mentioned here is simply your ability and process to make effective decisions and includes emotions, meaning that you can improve your ability to work with your emotions which leads to effective decision making.
If the right events were presented to an individual from say 2 or 3 years of age, then they could easily have a decade of no full-time job and full freedom to play and explore the world with very little worries (e.g. pay bills, food, etc.). This is a lot of time for anyone, let alone an individual who has the full freedom to play in their imagination and the lack of societal stigmas and other detrimental baggage that modern society imposes on people as they get older.
This isn’t entirely a tangent, the point remains. It is vital that you adopt a growth mindset where you believe that you can improve (i.e. not genetics), this will encourage relaxed thought (i.e. less self-doubt or self-fulfilling prophecies) so that intensity of thought can be properly applied since in order to do so, as much as possible or even all of your available resources in your mind must be applied to developing the relevant neural circuitry and thought patterns to improve the efficiency of the single action you are engaged with.
General intelligence is the habit of going deep, to go deep you have to have a high intensity of thought. This is to say in order to improve the intensity that you can apply to thought and other stimulus you have to build up your tolerance to go deeper. Uncertainty, ambiguity, risk, and fear may welcome you at such depths. As mention in the post on the Social Realm of the Life Simplified series, Meditation and Journaling are very useful tools in achieving depth and working with this ambiguity.
Consider Richard who is beginning to lift weights regularly. When he first begins deliberately lifting he finds lifting a particular weight to be difficult but appropriate for his particular set of repetitions. Through regular practice and repeated deliberation in lifting this weight, Richard finds that the weight becomes easier and easier to lift. Richard soon realizes that he is ready to move on to heavier weight.
Richard experienced progression in the weight he can lift. The speed in which he progresses will depend on the intensity of stimulus of the relevant muscles when moving the weight. This means that proper form and mind-muscle connection must be applied in order to activate the muscles that are most useful in that particular movement to lift the weight. This directly intensity of stimulus will ensure that only the muscles that are most useful in performing that movement are developed and since other muscles were not taking over due to poor form (e.g. too heavy of weight) Richard is able to concentrate the adaptations of muscle growth to the relevant muscles for that movement and thus improve his body’s ability to perform that movement under a heavier load.
This is exactly the idea of Intensity of Stimulus and how a more concentrated degree of intensity leads to more profound and lasting growth. If there are benefits to doing a particular action or thing, then doing it with a higher degree of focus and attention will only improve the speed and quality of the accumulation of those benefits, there is no negative. The changes and benefits resulting from that action will simply be more profound.
To prevent this post from going on much longer, I’ll share some more practical ways to apply and develop Intensity of Stimulus below, Intensity of Stimulus is a skill in itself which is developed the more you apply and explore it. Intensity of Stimulus has proved to be a huge component to improving myself both physically and (especially) mentally (e.g. discipline, emotional control, general feeling of well-being), there will be more posts diving into the practical applications and my experience with it (stay tuned!). For now I’ll briefly touch on a few below.
There is a particular feeling that accompanies Intensity of Thought as was suggested in the example on “thinking really hard”. This feeling starts of very subtle but can become more noticeable through practice. The feeling is the opposite of a feeling of relaxation, which is the “diffuse” mode of thinking. The feeling of the diffuse mode of thinking is that of relaxed attention, a sense of “sitting back”. I find this feeling is felt towards the back of the top of my head, if Intensity of Thought is a honing in of focus that feels like the narrowing of a flashlight’s beam to a particular action under attention, then the diffuse mode feeling is like a lifting of a weight or the increased spread of the flashlight’s beam from being very narrow/focused to more broad/relaxed.
This diffuse mode of thought is great for any time when information has already been loaded, for example creativity (linking two previously loaded and seemingly unrelated ideas) and recovery (taking the previous intense stimulus and having physical or mental adaptations to prepare for the future). But the focused mode is required in order to load up the information through the stimulus or thought. The raw material that the subconscious uses in the diffuse mode to form ideas and long-term memories needs to be already delivered through the concrete information that the stimulus or thought provides.
Basically, the time you spend doing something should be full of quality, that is the aim during every second of every moment, to produce quality. If you find that the quality is lessening due to, for example, exhaustion causing doubt, anxiety, or other unproductive and irrelevant thoughts to flood in then the quality is compromised and to ensure effective action a period of diffuse thinking is required. This period would involve something that minimizes further stimulus (i.e. information acquisition), such as a quiet walk, meditating, reading a non-fiction book but no TV, novel factual information, or social media.
Effective action requires discipline in doing what is necessary to remain effective, which is to say doing what is necessary to maintain a high degree of quality. If quality suffers it is far more effective to step away, this is very individualized and requires trial and error (i.e. exploration). Avoid your stubbornness leading to diminishing returns, I have gone down this path myself and find that it is the opposite of effective. Discipline is required.
The exact times when to step away varies and I find that there may even be some benefit to pushing past the first few waves of intense exhaustion when doing quality work with an Intensity of Thought, but there is a point of diminishing returns. I find 2-3 times of definite objectively intense waves of exhaustion is a good sign that taking a break is a good idea, the length of these waves of exhaustion also plays a role, and it even depends on the action you are engaged with (e.g. the length of waves of exhaustion vary for running vs solving a math problem, and even from run to run or problem to problem).
There are a lot of variables that I’ll flush out and provide concrete examples of how I applied this in future posts on the practical applications of Intensity of Stimulus (stay tuned!). Ultimately, it comes down to finding what works for you, which requires trial and error.
For now, the important point here is that there is a particular feeling that accompanies Intensity of Thought and it feels a lot like a strong concentrated attention, like a beam of light. You can practice feeling this “muscle” of concentration work through trying to “think really hard”, and then slowly and gently relaxing that concentrated thought as if a weight is being slowly lifted or a beam of light is slowly widening. Doing this a few times regularly (e.g. 30 seconds 6 or so times a day for a week) as well as the general awareness of opportunities to apply this concentrated thought throughout the day is a great way to begin building your ability to apply more deliberate and concentrated attention to a skill or problem you are working on increasing the speed of its development.
In the development of the feeling associated with Intensity of Thought, it can help to think of your attention like a compass needle. The “North” on the compass is basically your straight ahead (mentally, i.e. towards the front of your mind and not necessarily visually) and represents the thing you are intending to engage with and improve, i.e. the action or task at hand.
But this isn’t like any standard compass, in this analogy, the compass has many needles, all representing areas of your attention, when you are distracted the needles point in competing directions and provide no sense of clarity. When you focus you are taking all of these compass needles and harmonizing them to point all in the same direction (“North”). When you find yourself get distracted it may even feel like a compass needle or two literally shifts to point in another direction, to refocus is then to simply (and gently) allow those compass needles to point once more in the harmonizing direction of “North”. I use the notion of “North” as a cue to refocus myself, for example I would think these words: “Find your North”, whenever I get distracted or need to focus. It is a cue of mine to engage deeply and apply Intensity of Thought.
Basically, orient yourself to what you want to accomplish. Failure to do so will lead to mindless activity and put you are risk of distraction. Set an intent before embarking on an activity. Decide beforeheand on what you want your highlight to be. This removes resistance and ensures mental resources are allocated to the single task at hand. From there it is a matter of trusting and becoming timeless. This relates closely to Clarity.
To effectively apply Intensity of Thought it can help to anticipate and remove any distractions, if you find that being in a particular room of the house means you get bothered less, then go there during your intense focus sessions (and leave your phone off and out of the room!). Distraction is the enemy of focus, and since Intensity of Thought is all about attention and therefore focus, removing distraction is a key component in effectively developing and applying the concept.
Don’t wait until you are in the focus session to start practicing this notion of compass needles and relaxing your mind from anxious thought. Instead develop your ability to relax your mind throughout the day during a wide range of experiences, relaxing your mind under varying degrees of stimulus is a vital life-long skill that can always be improved and should always be worked on.
As it relates to the Intensity of Thought, you would relax the mind during your focus session in order to help remove the impact that sudden distractions can have on taking your attention for long-periods, distractions may very well come up, but it’s not about not noticing them, it’s just about not letting them take control, once the stimulus of the distraction is over (e.g. a sound) then bring your attention back without dwelling on what that sound may mean.
Meditation is a key way to practice this relaxing of the mind during a deliberate and quality driven session, which is to say even the practice of meditation should be approached with ideas from the Intensity of Thought concept. To improve the benefits of meditation more profoundly and more quickly, doing the action deliberately and with intense focus and commitment is vital. Spirituality may also help in clearing out worries and other baggage that society has imposed. A relaxed mind is important to ensure that as many cognitive resources as possible can go to developing the intended skill or action at hand.
The concept of “drills” is important as well and related to both Intensity of Thought and Deliberate Action. A drill is essentially the deliberate practice of a fundamental component to a larger skill or task that is intentionally manipulated in order to develop that fundamental with intense focus so that the integration of that newly developed and fine-tuned skill into the larger skill is seamless and leads to a synergistic improvement. Bottlenecks to larger skills such as the sport of soccer can be removed to improve the larger skill as a whole by applying this concept of a drill, for example “dribbling the ball” is a drill to improve how it integrates to the larger sport, even breaking dribbling down to just hitting the ball with the inside of your foot with an appropriate level of force can be considered a more fundamental skill to develop first. Basically, having the patience and awareness to objectively pinpoint bottlenecks in your performance of solving math problems or a sport or emotional control and then picking them apart to even smaller sub-skills to then deliberately practice and develop is a very efficient way of developing your ability at the larger skill. This relates to the concept of “start slow to go fast” (which relates to “starting deliberate to remain deliberate” as was mentioned in Deliberate Action). The bottleneck most people encounter that holds them back here is impatience, lack of awareness, lack of deliberation, and a lack of clarity clarity.
Additionally, if you find difficulty in applying Intensity of Thought, consider other areas that may need development such as patience and commitment. Ensure that you have committed to the action at hand and are completely willing to drop any and all other thoughts that are not relevant, since any thought requires cognitive resources and attention, so any irrelevant thought will compete and impede with your ability to effectively develop the skill or action at hand.
For any given moment, single one thing out and apply full concentration, focus, and intensity to that thing. Focus really hard on the present moment, wherever you might be in the action. There should be some priority in every given situation that deserves your full attention, sharing that attention elsewhere is exactly what distraction is and impedes the ability to develop that top priority. This top priority might be relaxation and thus thinking about a math problem would be the distraction since it impedes from the priority of relaxing. Intensely relax, feel your muscles let go, allow yourself to surrender and fall as if you’re falling asleep, this sort of relaxation with that intensity and deliberation is the type that leads to the most profound recover in the shortest amount of time which allows for more and quicker growth.
There are SO MANY more implications of Intensity of Thought that I will briefly mention below and later will go in more depth to do this topic more justice:
- “What you apply thought to, grows”
- Which is to say that what you apply attention or focus to will grow stronger, this means if you have an irritating sound (e.g. nails on a chalkboard), then to rewire your brain to not have such a response to the stimulus you would need to bring a sense of intensity to NOT engaging with the thought patterns and avoid relevant dialog as much as possible that is associated with the irritation (e.g. not thinking “there it goes again”, “why can’t they just stop?”, “what’s wrong with them”, these are all ENGAGING with the irritation and therefore applying thought to it and leading to the growth of this irritation.
- “Get curious about…”
- Relates to exploring and getting curious about the sensations that come up during the intensity as a tactic to avoid labeling discomfort “good” or “bad” which suggests time in the sense that past experiences associated with such words exist and causes stigmas represented as thought patterns in the brain to fire off which is ultimately distraction from the task at hand. Curiosity and exploration of the sensations promotes presence, which is the ultimate benefit of Intensity of Thought as it promotes effectively applying your cognitive resources to the development of a single task at hand.
- Intensity of Thought helps to explain…
- Habits of anger and intense emotional reactions
- The power of memories formed from these intense emotions
- Impact of traumatic events throughout the brain or any intense experience such that the personality of the individual is adjusted in such a quick way (e.g. experiencing a mass murder or a hard relationship breakup).
- … SO many!
Intensity of thought is another example of Awareness being applied. Since the development of it starts off very subtle and grows as you apply more attention to it and use it more and more. This is exactly what I mean by principles being used for effective living: clarity, awareness, deliberate action, intensity of thought, and so on (i.e. those big ideas that were mentioned in the Life Simplified series’ Summary), these are foundational principles that are all connected that play a large part in effective living. The objective that my writing aims to do is lay out what is essential and relevant and remove what is irrelevant and clutter to have a complete set of tools that are involved in living an effective life. I will define and more thoroughly introduce my concept of effective living in another post, for now understand that it is the big-picture idea behind all of my words in all of my writing.
Big Idea: Effective living requires concentrated intensity applied to the present moment.
Basically: More intensity, more effective action. More effective action, more success.
Intensity of Stimulus is a broad term that encompasses the physical as well as the mental. Intensity of Thought is a great first step in understanding the broader idea as it is more concentrated and directly get to the source of the physical stimulus as well (i.e. the brain).
Intensity of Thought is basically attention with clarity, awareness, and deliberation all applied in a synergistic manner. There is no question as to where all of your attention should go. Effective living requires clarity, awareness, and deliberate action applied with a sense of intensity.
Any and all change can occur from an appropriate degree of intensity applied to the change. Attention and the removal of distraction is vital in the effectiveness of this change. If you ever find that you “rebound” back to your old ways and have troubles sticking to new habits or decisions, it relates directly back to the concept of Intensity of Thought.
In other words, a property of change is that the more intense the stimulus, the more change provoking it will be. This is the basic idea behind Intensity of Stimulus. The more intensely your muscle activates, the more change and adaptations will occur. The harder your brain has to work, the quicker and easier learning and remember will be. This is to say that the more intense something is, the more change will occur as a result. This goes for negative habits as well, the more emotions that are involved with a smoking habit, the more likely that habit will cement.
This is a really big idea and will require additional posts to do justice. I only briefly touched on the practical applications in this post and will go in more depth in the future (stay tuned!).
Your Call to Action
Thank you for reading!
This was a big idea! I’d love to hear how it can be made more tangible and accessible to a broader audience, please share your thoughts as well as how you can see this being applied. Share in the comments section below!
Don’t put off contemplating what the insights from this article mean, find a quiet location and think deeply about what it might mean for you. Just 10 deliberate minutes can make a large difference, set a timer, do it regularly and you will notice the changes within a few weeks. You improve your ability to think and therefore make effective decisions by spending more time deliberately thinking about the relevant subject. Consider applying journaling and meditation to see more profound changes, these are just more deliberate and concentrated forms of quiet and focused thinking. Slow down, find stillness.
I am always looking to improve my reach and the impact that I have with my writing, please provide your feedback in the comments below.
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