Since we are halfway through our readings, let’s re-cap before we continue our reflective adventure of getting to know how to order our private world. So far, we’ve discussed our motives and the why behind what we do (whether we are operating from being driven or being called) as well as how we allot the time we have (whether we are truly using it or losing it). Both sectors showed us that there is so much more to life than the world often tells us (the lie that we have to be ambitious and/or busy to have value) and that getting to the core of who we are to truly live out our calling and steward our time will promote an ordered private world of peace (sounds nice doesn’t it?).
When we re-focus our understanding of our motivation and time, it frees us to consider the next important part of our inner world: the mind and how we think. According to Gordon, “thinking is the amazing capacity God has given the human being to discover and observe the stuff of creation, to compare and contrast each of its parts, and when possible, to use them properly as to reflect the glory of the Creator” (p. 95). It is this thinking that sets us apart from other mammals, and allows us to investigate, explore, and create with the world around us. It is what is allowing you to read this blog, and then hopefully wrestle with the concepts discussed here, before coming to your own opinion on what to keep with you and implement (or not) as you go along. With this in mind (pardon the pun… I couldn’t help it), we must understand and utilize the gift that is our mind, or miss out on much of what God has for us in this life.
The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste
To truly order our private world, Gordon encourages that we must learn to discipline our minds for thinking with “strong mental endurance and intellectual growth” (p. 90). This is not an easy task in our quick-paced and information overload society. Endurance, by its very nature, takes time, and it implies working with something for an extended amount of time until it is completed (like a marathon or parenting or a career or any other long-term commitment). It is not a quick Google search or asking Siri to get an answer at a moment’s notice, although there is a time and place for this type of knowledge gathering as well.
Similarly, most growth processes do not typically happen quickly (although it may feel that way). For instance, my oldest son is now 3 and it feels like I have only blinked to find him walking and talking and becoming increasingly independent, but when I look ahead, I realize the next 15-20 years are still to come and have to be “endured” (LOL) to watch him grow. To really take advantage of all that our mind has to offer, it will take our efforts to endure (founded by our motivation) and our time to grow (which we must make available).
If we do not take the time and effort to train our minds and develop those higher order thinking skills, we will operate much like other mammals around us: we will live for primary functions (survival) and amusement (or “function without thought” p.97). We will tend to conform to those around us, without question or hesitation, because we have not exercised our mind to consider, evaluate, reason, and decide. Our mind becomes like a dull blade; not having the ability to cut through the weeds of deception or every so-called “truth” out there. This dullness of mind renders our private world weak and defenseless to protect ourselves from the many distractions we face each day.
Believe it or not, the type of thinking that we are talking about (the kind that employs both wisdom and knowledge without dulling) does not come naturally to us just because we are humans. These higher order thinking skills must be learned, and practiced over time to reap the benefits. In the educational realm, these skills are called cognitive skills, and there is a classification system known as Bloom’s taxonomy that allows us to understand how our mind works from innate to higher order methods of thinking (see illustration below). As teachers interact with students, they attempt to move students from remembering and understanding to the higher order skills of applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating.
When we move to the higher ranks of thinking, we start to integrate the knowledge and wisdom we are acquiring into our selves, and then give it back with our own little twist. We sharpen our minds to thinking beyond simple memorization and actually interact with the material in front of us.
Imagine if we did this with most things in life: If I went beyond remembering and understanding how to eat healthy, and actually applied what I know, analyzed and evaluated what I was eating, and then started creating healthy alternatives to meet my goals. Or what if I went beyond remembering and understanding a sermon on Sunday morning and actually began to apply the principles, analyze and evaluate how those principles interact with my life, and create new choices or behaviors as a result? This is higher order thinking in play, and it is an amazing thing to both experience and watch.
How does this apply to me?
Confession time here: There are seasons in my life where I have witnessed the dulling process (or lack of mental endurance and growth) in my own life. These typically occur when I begin binge-watching large amounts of television (thank you Netflix and Hulu). I like a variety of shows, from the somewhat weird like Wayward Pines, to the reality home shows like House Hunters, to survival shows like Man vs. Wild, to shows with a flare for the dramatic like Nashville, or my ultimate favorite which is a beautiful culmination of all of the above: LOST. And while at certain times this is not an issue (like when I am temporarily sick and have to stay in bed), on the regular, it can become a fruitless endeavor that really is only for my amusement/entertainment. There is nothing productive about my time here: I tune in to tune out and turn off. If I allow this to become a habit, much like my time that can be full but still lost, my mind can be occupied but not growing.
For me, I stop this cycle when I start to come out of the TV-induced fog and think about what I have been filling my mind with. When I do this, it allows to me figure out if I have been spending my time looking to promote my mind through the process of learning, or if I have truly been dulling it with the distractions of amusement. To take inventory of your own mind input, Gordon gives us three objectives to consider (which you will notice that I slightly reword):
- Am I filling my mind with truth? This is a hard, but most important place to start. As a counselor, I am constantly working to help my clients discern truth from lies in their core being or self-talk so that they can be freed of things like fear, anxiety, and defeat. People are often keenly aware of the lies that have been coming from within, but we tend to overlook the lies that we allow to influence us from the outside each day. When we choose to watch and read things that are not based on truth, especially without those higher order thinking skills in play, we take the risk of not only being dulled, but being deceived into disorder like being driven or losing our time. Think of it in terms of, I am what I put in. If I am truly honest, when I am watching the television shows above in overwhelming amounts, there is little truth or redeeming qualities about them that I would want to shape me into who I am (other than the survivor skills that might come in handy one day LOL). Again, there is nothing wrong with the occasional escape into amusement, but I know I personally am more likely to escape completely if not enacting a disciplined understanding and filter for what I am letting influence me. As Gordon describes, our truth comes from Christ and the way of living described in the Bible. This should be my filter when I watch, listen, or intentionally chose the things I am using to fill my mind.
- Am I filling my mind by observing and exploring the world around me? I am a huge fan of getting outside and in touch with the world around us. Not necessarily hugging a tree (although I am not opposed to it and have done so in the past), but engaging all of our senses in the learning process. When we do so, our mind goes crazy: there are so many neurons firing as we see, touch, taste, smell, and hear the world around us. Engaging all of our senses is difficult to do by staring into our smartphones or watching the TV (even if you do have popcorn and headphones). If you feel out of practice with this endeavor, try going to a local park with your own or a family of young children. Let them lead the way! I have learned so much by observing and exploring with my little guys: the things that they see, hear, touch, smell, and yes, even taste :), are astounding.
- Am I using what I am filling my mind with to serve others? As we acquire knowledge and really begin sculpting our mind, the input will reach a point where it needs an outlet. If I am sharpening my mind for its intended use, then my output will be in line with my calling and useful to those around me. For instance, although she is not currently “employed” as a nurse, my mom went to school for and maintains her nursing license through continuing education courses to this day. And as a result, she is constantly being utilized as the community nurse and resource, getting calls in the middle of the night over a sick child, medication questions, wound care, you name it, she does it. She is living proof for me of taking her knowledge and using it in service to others. This is definitely not the case for me when I am watching hours upon hours of the shows listed above: while fun and entertaining, they do not equip me with anything to overflow into service for others.
Ok. So what do I do now?
If there is one thing I have have learned from being a student all of my life, it is that the more I am supposed to know, the more I realize I really do not know. There is still so much knowledge out there for me to learn, and fortunately, I have developed a love of learning that has sustained not only my higher education endeavors, but also my curiosity and love to explore, investigate, and continue learning outside of a classroom today. To fill our minds with the truth, experiences, and input that then overflows into the lives of others, we must engage in the learning process as much as possible. Practically, this looks like the following:
- Learn by listening: Get out in the world, ask people questions, and then LISTEN to their responses. What does your husband really think about his job and the tasks he has to face each day? What does your best friend really think about her current relationship? What does your 3 year old really think about the snow or the trees or the bug in front of him? What does your grandfather think about the current state of our country and our world? You do not have to agree with each one, but hearing ideas and thoughts from outside of yourself is a great way to start thinking outside of yourself and utilizing those higher order skills.
- Learn by reading: Or in other words, look for published forms of information to take in as well. Now I realize not everyone is a reader, and so there are great alternatives such as podcasts, documentaries, or sermons, to be able to still accumulate knowledge when others are not present. Having some sort of worthy input (refer back to guidelines above), at all times is essential for maintaining and encouraging growth. Reading this book and blog are great ways to start!
- Learn by studying: After you have listened and read, go one step further and study the material presented. For some of us, this sounds weird since we are no longer in school. However, it is really just a deeper exploration of something you have recently learned. My favorite form of “studying” is what I call “word study.” When I find a quote or scripture or experience that is especially meaningful, I take the time to investigate the definition of the words involved and see how it really integrates into who I am. Words that I am studying lately include discipline and intentional.
For this week, I encourage you to look at your mental input and ask yourself the questions above to discern if your input is really worthwhile. As a response, whether it is or is not, resolve to try one of the three modes of learning: listen to someone new or read something new or study something new and see what you encounter and how your mind grows. My hope for us is that by doing so, we will reignite and/or fan the fame of learning in our lives: to truly go beyond amusement and seek intentional thought, to question, to listen, to always be growing and stretching and exploring, to analyze, evaluate and create, and to truly maximize and not waste the mind we have been given.♥