Thursday, March 26, 2009

Mental Discipline: Installing the Linear Thought Process

People old enough to remember record players should recall records were played on different speeds. In the era I’m used to, long play (LP’s) were played on 33 1/3 RPM[1] and extended play (EP’s) and singles were played on 45 RPM speed, but there were also earlier speeds of both 16 and 78 RPM. This is a useful analogy for thinking about the Linear Thought Process, or a way of achieving discipline of the mind.

Imagine if a 33 or 45 RPM record were illustrative for the ever-continuing present. Imagine now that we called this a ‘linear’ process; regarding time--of staying in the present i.e. if during our mental lives we stayed on either one of these speeds we’d be living in the present.

The trouble is we humans have the quintessential propensity to drop down to 16 RPM (i.e. we think of the past) or speed up to 78 RPM (i.e. we think of the future). And the main trouble is we do this often without even noticing or realising it because our minds are essentially undisciplined. We’re born undisciplined.

Let’s think a little more about what linear thought might be.

The conventional book is based on the assumption of linear thought and is a “medium of linear expression.”[2] It takes the reader on a journey from one point or assumption to a conclusion, often diverging and converging in the process; but the process is on-the-whole, linear.

Time is a fundamentally linear concept. We never see time slow or speed up, it just ticks away one second at a time. Linear, by definition, is sequential, lines, straightness, and continuity.

Our typical yo-yo non-linear minds

Think about this sentence. I went to want it enjoy the theatre now. This is an ultra-short literary illustration of the madness of non-linear living, as our thought processes often are. We have all three tenses here; past, present and future, and they make no sense jumbled up in the same time period. It makes no sense; yet this is our predominant mental world.

We’re not designed to really live well, mentally, in the non-linear thought world. Continually skipping from present to past to future and bobbing all about randomly is quite hazardous for our balance and wellbeing; yet we do this incessantly most of the time.

The key point is this. Life is meant to be lived in the present, not the past, and not the future. The way we spend our time--our living experience--is up to us, but we’re robbed of a good life when we choose to continually dip into the past and future… I mean, as if it would help!

So, where exactly does reflecting (on the past) and planning (for the future) fit?

There is nothing wrong with reflecting on the past or planning for the future. In fact, both are not only desirable, but essential to living a wise life. The issue here is, we must reflect and plan deliberately and not as a process of wasted time, where the reasonable mind is not controlling the process.

We are much wiser to train our minds to stay in one genre of time at a time. This should be predominantly the present; in the linear world. At defined times we should intentionally reflect, and plan--both too should be done daily.

Mind training

The only way to train our minds to be continually present is through practice, focus and concentration. One day at a time, we can gradually build up our ability to live presently by focusing on what our senses perceive and honouring them by reacting in appropriate ways.

In summary…

We can never ever reach our potential if we can never grasp and master this concept; and an inability to grasp this concept is akin to a mental form of ADHD. Linear thought is like a book or time. It’s undertaken as an even-tempo process with continuity that starts at one point and ends at another, paradoxically staying put in the present as a process of toward an end.

If we live in the present and stay there most of the time, planning time for thought on the past and for the future, and get disciplined, we can eventually enjoy a wiser way of living.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
[1] “RPM” stands for Revolutions per Minute.
[2] Don A. Grady (Ph.D), Online Abstract to Linear Thought in an Age of Non-linearity: Threat of Interactive Technology to the Book in the online report on the 4th International Conference on the Book, Emerson College, Boston, 20-22 October 2006. Available online:

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