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William James’ “stream of consciousness”

Keeping Thinking About It Until It Happens

I have made the commitment to myself that I will share a blog post every week until Christmas. Today is the end of the week but I feel absolutely exhausted. I had a particular post in mind but my brain is not functioning well enough for me to do it justice.

As a backup plan, I asked myself the question:

I didn’t want it to be too vague or too cliché. This is what I came up with:

When you really don’t feel like doing something, just keep thinking about the very next step until you do it.

The usefulness of this may not be immediately apparent, but it is both simple and effective.

I have lost track of the number of times I’ve woken up in the morning and the last thing I feel like doing is getting out of bed. I start running through all the things I need to do that day, trying to force myself to appreciate the importance of getting up, but usually this causes my brain to get overwhelmed and want to run away from the challenges — it asks for another 15 minutes of sleep to prepare itself… and we all know where this ends.

However, the above advice can be a game changer on these mornings when your body feels very heavy and your bed super comfy. If you force your mind to keep the one thing that you need to do in your head (ie. getting out of bed and sitting on your chair/getting in the shower), then it is only a matter of time before you do it.

This can be applied more widely. If you want to start doing some work, forcing yourself to think about starting the work, and only about starting the work, will inevitably lead to you doing just that. If you want to go for a run, just think about putting on your running shoes until you do it. Then think about going out your front door, etc. It can be applied to any action that you want to take but really don’t feel like doing.

This may sound too obvious, but our brains aren’t hard-wired to keep things this simple and, in my experience, our brains can sometimes play tricks on us and cause procrastination.

The scientific basis for this is psychologist William James’ “stream of consciousness”. He modeled our brain as a continuous river of conscious thoughts, with those thoughts that we hold onto for long enough becoming actions.

Most of the time I find this technique unnecessary, but on days when I really don’t feel like doing something that my past self has decided I should do, I have found it very helpful and I hope you do too.

Data Scientist + Junior Doctor in London, Cambridge medicine grad, striving to improve healthcare through technology and education.

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