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71 Thoughts to Improve Your Thoughts

Photo by Iliya Jokic / Unsplash

I’m a weak man.

Actually, “inconstant” is a better adjective.

Here’s the problem: I read an insightful passage, decide that I’ll apply it to my life, and then forget about it.

Fortunately, I realized this early in life. Specifically, back in the late 1980s when I was an undergrad at the University of Michigan and then a grad student at Notre Dame.

So I started writing down the insights and carrying them with me. I used 3”x5” notecards for years. When the smartphone era came, I started putting them on note-taking apps. I consult them at odd moments.

I don’t know how many I accumulated over the years. Well over 10,000 words worth, stretched over a thousand or more observations, thoughts, and admonitions, which I’ve reduced here to 71, with an emphasis on notes I’ve added over the past 15 years in order to capture current neurological studies.

The 71 sayings are roughly bunched into seven groups: attention (focus, concentration), mental virtues (thankfulness, praise, peace), time, leisure (play), courage, littleness, and slowness. Because some of the sayings don’t neatly fall into any group or fall into more than one, you won’t see those labels below but you’ll know when you’re in, say, the “littleness” area.

A quick note on attribution: I normally attribute passages. Unfortunately, a few have blurred in the archives of my memory. If I attribute the quote to someone without quote marks, it’s a paraphrase. If there are neither quote marks nor attribution, it might just be my own saying or, more probable, sloppy notetaking or something I internalized and regurgitated later.

1.            The wise know they start each morning as beginners. Robin Daniels, The Virgin Eye

2.            "In the intellectual order, the virtue of humility is nothing more nor less than the power of attention." Simone Weil

3.            "My experience is what I agree to attend to." William James

4.            "To enjoy the kind of experience you want rather than enduring the kind that you feel stuck with, you have to take charge of your attention." Winifred Gallagher, Rapt

5.            "Choice of attention--to pay attention to this and ignore that--is to the inner life what choice of action is to the outer. In both cases, a man is responsible for his choice and must accept the consequences, whatever they may be." W.H. Auden

6.            Your life is the sum of what you focus on. Winifred Gallagher

7.            "The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another." William James

8.            "Attention is the withdrawal from some things in order to deal effectively with others." William James

9.            The best response to distractions is no response. Robin Daniels

10.          "Energy flows where attention goes." Amishi Jha

11.          If you stay focused on the right things, your life will stop being a mere reaction to circumstances but rather a work of art.

12.          Every saint's life is a work of art.

13.          Being focused is the next best thing to being happy. Winifred Gallagher

14.          Resign yourself to mere concentration, and you might get some happiness too.

15.       Intense “concentration hijacks your attention apparatus, preventing you from noticing the many smaller and less pleasant things that unavoidably and persistently populate our lives.” Cal Newport

16.          "To fill the hour--that is happiness." Ralph Waldo Emerson

17.       Most people assume that relaxation makes them happy. We want to work less and spend more time in the hammock. But they probably have it wrong. Cal Newport

18.          "The art of a fulfilled life is to be energetic without tension, dynamic without agitation, serene but not aloof." Robin Daniels

19.          The day should be a series of sprints. One-hour bursts of laser-like focus, followed by short breaks. Kevin Majeres.

20.          Treat your mind like a garden: be careful about what you plant and what you allow to grow. Be ruthless with weeds.

21.          You can train your brain toward virtue: compassion, gentleness, kindness.

22.          Constant thanksgiving makes you more alert and attentive. Robin Daniels

23.          Praise widens inner vision. Robin Daniels

24.          The first step toward getting on with your work after a setback or quarrel is "to direct--perhaps yank--your attention away from fear or anger toward courage--and forgiveness.” Winifred Gallagher

25.          What happens to you is less important to your well-being than how you respond to it. Winifred Gallagher

26.          "The common admonition to 'act calm and kind regardless of how you feel' is very good advice: you are likely to be rewarded by actually feeling calm and kind." Daniel Kahneman

27.          Blur the distinction between work and play: such blurring is the hallmark of the focused life. Winifred Gallagher

28.          In leisure, choose activities that demand focus and skill.

29.          Free time should be creative.

30.          "If most of the time you're not particularly concerned about whether what you're doing is work or play, or even whether you're happy or not, you know you're living the focused life." Winifred Gallagher

31.          "Most opportunities to build character are modest in scope and easily missed if you're not paying attention." Winifred Gallagher

32.          “Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, thereby a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.” Therese of Lisieux

33.          "We do not very often come across opportunities for exercising strength, magnanimity, or munificence. However, gentleness, meekness, moderation, modesty, and humility are graces which ought to color everything we do." Francis de Sales

34.          "Do not imagine that love to be true must be extraordinary." Mother Teresa

35.          "We need fortitude to be faithful in the little things of each day.” Francis Fernandez

36.          "The virtue of fortitude leads us to be patient when unpleasant things happen and we are given bad news. It leads us to be patient in dealing with the obstacles that each day brings with it." Francis Fernandez

37.          “Each day presents us with many opportunities for practicing the [virtue of fortitude]. Overcoming our moods is one of them. Avoiding useless complaints is another. So too is persevering in our work when we feel tired. Smiling when we find it difficult to do so, correcting people when necessary, starting each job at the right time--none of these is easy." Francis Fernandez

38.          “Every moment of our life can be the beginning of great things." Mother Teresa

39.          "Touch God's heart every day in the only way most of us can: through little things." Francis Fernandez

40.          "Start by making your own homes places where peace, happiness, and love abound.” Mother Teresa.

41.          "Be kind and merciful. Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier." Mother Teresa

42.          "Be the living expression of God's kindness--kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your warm greeting." Mother Teresa

43.          "God does not look for big things--He looks for how much love we put in the giving." Mother Teresa

44.          "We can do no great things--only small things with great love." Mother Teresa

45.          "Joy is very infectious. We will never know just how much good a simple smile can do." Mother Teresa

46.          "We must live beautifully." Mother Teresa

47.          "Smile five times a day at someone you don't really want to smile at--do it for peace." Mother Teresa

48.          "If you are humble, nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you know what you are." Mother Teresa

49.          If you’re not running through the potential outcomes of a given situation, anxiety flies out the window.

50.          Failure to live in the present makes you less kind. By thinking about the future, you become more uncertain. Uncertainty creates fear. Fear makes you over-sensitive, grouchy, and insular.

51.          “We must stop all imaginings about the future, keep our attention on what is happening now and not bother about anything that has gone before or what may follow." Jean Pierre de Caussade

52.          The appetites wear a person out. John of the Cross

53.          Peace is lost through impatience. Francis Fernandez

54.          The recovery of peace is one of the best signs of love for those around us. Francis Fernandez

55.          Jealously, decisively, guard the peace of your soul. Robin Daniels

56.          By focusing on a carefully selected peace-giving object, such as a peaceful phrase from a holy book, we screen out, ward off, the battalions of thoughts and memories that invade us, day and night. Robin Daniels

57.          "[A] loss of charity is the only loss we need really fear in this life." Francis de Sales

58.          "[D]o not make yourself unhappy about your imperfections, but always have the courage to rise above them." Francis de Sales

59.          "There can be no pact with our defects and errors." Francis Fernandez

60.          "Affability and the other virtues related to it make everyday life pleasant: within the family, at work, in traffic, with neighbors. [Such things are] directly opposed to selfishness, signs of annoyance, fiery temper, bad manners, disorder and lack of consideration for the tastes, concerns or interests of others." Francis Fernandez

61.          Cultivate innocence.  “’Innocence’ means not to harm oneself or others; not to plot, scheme or ensnare; to think the best of people unless shown otherwise. To protect this innocent core, be on your guard against shadow: any form of negative energy including – starting with – one’s own, and yet retain a spirit of open-hearted delight and discovery.” Robin Daniels

62.          Only a quality of total innocence has a chance. Robin Daniels

63.          “Thought dissects and discriminates. Thought is the fetid soil of like and quick dislike. Thought forever chatters and analyses; selects, judges, criticizes.” Robin Daniels

64.          “The more often, and the more acutely, you observe yourself speaking and behaving with ease, calmness and modest efficiency, the more you will enjoy living from this relaxed and skillful state – even in conditions that are noisy, tense, testing or combative.” Robin Daniels

65.          “Rushing is a form of aggression.” Robin Daniels

66.          He who is in a hurry delays the things of God. Vincent de Paul

67.          “Slowness increases enjoyment.” Robin Daniels

68.          “Slowing down leads to mental clarity, creativity, wiser decision-making, more relaxed encounters, deeper friendships, safer driving and better digested meals.” Robin Daniels

69.          The pace of modern life is so fast and fierce, so toxic, that most of us will have to reorder our life radically if we wish to find and establish a personal rhythm that fosters peace. Robin Daniels

70.          “Only by slowing down can we notice (and value) the gem at the core of the familiar.” Robin Daniels

71.          “To become a philosopher [a lover of wisdom], start by walking very slowly.” Nassim Taleb

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