My Brain Is My Favorite Toy

Once when Barbara Walters interviewed Truman Capote she asked him if he were ever bored. He answered,

No because I’m terribly curious. It’s very hard for me to get bored….

Does that quote resonate with you at all? It sure does with me… it strikes a chord deep in my being. I wouldn’t say I never get bored, but I actively avoid getting in situations where that happens (unless it’s for a good cause). I was seriously depressed when I was a child because I was bored out of my mind, and I never want to go there again. That means being proactive, understanding the optimal amount of challenge I need in my life and providing it for myself.
 
graph showing the optimal amount of stress for happiness and productivity
How do I do that? My challenges are mostly mental and spiritual:

  • I love to solve problems,
  • I love trying to understand how the human mind works,
  • And I’ve known since I was a late teen that my mission in life was to understand what makes people happy and to make my small corner of the world a happier and friendlier place.

That’s a modest enough goal… no dreaming big for me… but it’s been enough to keep me challenged and fully engaged in life. It works for me, and I’m grateful.

Mental Training

I majored in physics at Stanford University, and in upper level classes there were always one or two problems in the weekly homework that couldn’t be solved logically. Just knowing the material wasn’t enough. Your mind had to make a creative leap before the answer came. It was a frustrating way of operating, to be stumbling in the dark, with no control over the results. All I could do was play around with the problem… to give my subconscious mind a chance to work on it… and hope for the best. The answer invariably did come… usually in the middle of the night before the homework was due… but, oh, Lord, was it a crazy way to live. I would drop off to sleep, then wake up with an idea, get up and check the math to see if the idea worked, see that it didn’t, go back to sleep until the next idea woke me up, and repeat the process until the answer finally came.

On the plus side,

  • I’ve been grateful ever since that I never have to go through that again. :)
  • I’ve never had trouble getting an interesting job, my main motivation for choosing that major.
  • And I became fascinated by how the human mind works, especially how it makes creative leaps.

Living Deeply and Creatively

I was much more interested in creative problem solving than in physics, so professionally I used my training to design software for scientific research. Whenever I could I took projects that other people didn’t know how to do, ones that required insight, a different way of looking at things. There was pressure, of course, because I didn’t know how to solve the problems either, and there were deadlines. But part of the challenge was to learn how to handle that pressure well, to learn to calm my body while my subconscious mind was working on the answer. I’ll talk more about this in a future post. The important thing is I was integrating my professional skills with my true love… how to create a happy, fulfilling life.

When I talk about happiness I don’t mean never having problems to deal with with, never having setbacks and losses to mourn. For me it’s more a matter of being fully engaged in life, of following my basic philosophy:

Stay curious and open to life. No matter what happens keep learning and growing. Find what you love to do and find a way to share it with others.

My Favorite Toy

Those of us interested in personal development are living in a great time… we have a multitude of techniques at our disposal. I’ve already written about some of my favorites. But more important than individual tools and skills is the attitude of curiosity and playfulness…of being open to new ways of seeing and doing things. For me that means not identifying with everything I think and feel, but being able to stand back at times to notice how my brain works. By standing back and paying attention, I’m free to make changes if that would work better for me. And to make those changes I have to be in tune with my subconscious mind…that’s the powerhouse for me. I’ve spent years feeding it information relevant to my questions and trusting it to find answers for me. And when I’m successful in making changes, that’s the part of my mind that does the work of changing my automatic habits.

So, thanks to my brain, I’m seldom bored in life. And because I work best in a spirit of playfulness, it’s not too much to say my brain is my favorite toy.

What about you? What makes you feel fully alive? What keeps you from being bored?

Thanks to Evan, Sharon, Shilpan, bikehikebabe, Evelyn, Lance, John, Avani-Mehta, rummuser, Tim, Joan, Robert and betty for commenting on last week’s post.
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22 Responses to My Brain Is My Favorite Toy

  1. I like your basic philosophy. To begin with, when you adopt curiosity, you open yourself to plenty of possibilities. Your state of mind adopts a posture of learning and growing, allowing every chance for more food and nourishment. Your mind never ages but grows in wisdom, so to speak!

    Evelyn Lim | Attraction Mind Maps last blog post..10 Insights Into The Power Of Thoughts

  2. An inquisitive and open mind makes me feel fully alive. Learning and sharing knowledge is great, life long learning is something I look forward to.

    Like you I often get solutions and answers from my subconscious mind, they pop up in other contexts or after sleep.

  3. Jean – I enjoyed this article. I will affirm myself with these lines, “But more important than individual tools and skills is the attitude of curiosity and playfulness…of being open to new ways of seeing and doing things.” — Well said.

    Shilpan

  4. bikehikebabe says:

    I can do curiosity & playfulness. But I’m glad I didn’t go to Stanford & major in physics, waking up all night, hoping my subconscious would have solved the math problem.

  5. Tim says:

    I have been stuck in a place of limited inspiration. Once again, you have brought a smile to my face, a curious desire to find my curiosity and most of all a flicker of inspiration to my all too ungrateful state of mind…

    Tims last blog post..Hanging tomatoes not so sweet afterall

  6. Jean says:

    Evelyn, :) I agree. When we keep learning and growing, we do grow in wisdom. Old age has its disadvantages, but many old people wouldn’t be willing to give up the wisdom they’ve gained even if it meant becoming young again.

    Bengt,
    I agree, when we keep our curiosity and openness we also keep that feeling of wonder and magic we had when we were kids. We feel fully alive.

    Shilpan, :) Thanks!

    bikehikebabe,
    I’m with you…I’m grateful I don’t have to do that anymore. It’s nice to be able to pace ourselves…and to get a decent night’s sleep.

    Tim,
    Thank you!

  7. rummuser says:

    Yes, being curious will keep you from getting bored and also delay the aging process! I avoid boredom by solving crossword puzzles, yogabhyas and meditation. My life is so full that I rarely get time to get bored!

    rummusers last blog post..Shabby treatment of Field Marshal Manekshaw at the hands of Babus.

  8. Jean says:

    rummuser, :) That’s the trick, all right. I try to keep a good balance between reflection and activity, but in either case I’m immersed in my life.

  9. Brad Shorr says:

    You’ve got the right attitude. One of the things I enjoy about my work in social media and blogging is how quickly it all changes. Every day there are a hundred new things to learn. And when I say new, I’m not being redundant — these are things that weren’t there yesterday!

    Brad Shorrs last blog post..Timing Is Everything for Your Blogging Style

  10. Jean says:

    Brad,
    It certainly makes life an adventure, doesn’t it? :)

  11. Jody says:

    Hi, Jean,

    Discovered you via Rummy, and look forward to reading you
    regularly.

    I remember when I was a Junior in high school and our English teacher asked a group of girls, “What do you hope to achieve in your life?”

    This was at a rather fancy Swiss boarding school, so it should be no surprise that one girl said, Money. Another, A high-powered job. I said, “I just want to be happy.”

    And, for the most part, I’m succeeding!

    Many thanks, Jody

    Jodys last blog post..Sunday Morning With Her

  12. Jean says:

    Jody,
    Good for you! Your comment made my day.

    I checked out your blog and enjoyed it (I did have to copy your post to Word so I could read it in black on white…I have a lot of trouble with eyestrain and white on black is impossible for me). Your experience, view of the world is a lot different from mine and that’s great. Thanks so much for coming by.

  13. Jean,

    I totally agree with you. Not only do I harbor a deep fascination for the inner workings of the human mind, but also, like you, I am inveterately curious. I would be perfectly happy spending most of a given day exploring, via online research or real-world study, any one of a vast number of topics that strike my fancy and, with the exception of writing, can think of no more intellectually fulfilling way to spend my time.

    Wonderful post!
    Jeanne

  14. Jean says:

    Jeanne,
    Thanks! It’s always great to connect with a kindred spirit. I don’t know about you, but where I grew up people looked down upon intellectual activities. I think our culture as a whole still does, it’s just that I no longer pay much attention. They don’t know what they’re missing. :)

  15. Intellectual endeavors weren’t especially appreciated in my neighborhood when I was growing up, either. But, my dad did have a personal appreciation for them, which always made me particularly proud when I did well in school.

    Dad was a prolific poet and, while he made his living doing manual labor and later managing others who did manual labor, he nevertheless always made time for his poetry and enjoyed exercising his mind with lengthy mathematics problems early in the morning while drinking his tea before he left for work. Whether through nature or nurture (or a bit of both), I, too, have always had a fascination for both words and numbers. (Thanks, Dad!)

    Glad you’ve learned to ignore the voices of the naysayers, Jean! Each of us must follow our own creative path, based on our God-given gifts. (Though I definitely agree that they don’t know what they’re missing!)

    I loved returning to college after raising my four kids and (finally) earning my A.A. at 53, graduating with high honors, and serving as treasurer of the honor society at my campus. And, though, at this point, I haven’t decided to seek a higher academic degree, intellectual pursuits have always been the activities toward which I gravitate and on which I thrive!

    It is indeed nice to connect with a kindred spirit!

  16. rummuser says:

    Jean, on your comment to Jeanne Dininni, we have a phrase for this phenomenon. Reverse snobbery! Neither deserves any attention any way.

  17. Jean says:

    Jeanne,
    My folks didn’t appreciate my interest in learning until I won a scholarship to Stanford. When I was a kid I was always the bookish, lazy one. Then they were proud of my doing so well at Stanford, but that was because I also had an active social life. I remember them being embarrassed once when they brought some friends into my room one vacation…they wanted to show me off and instead caught me studying. I still remember the looks on their faces. They were strongly opposed to my getting a Ph.D., they didn’t want me to be one of those people who go to school all of their lives. That’s not the reason I decided against it…I like exploring and learning on my own.

    One of the neat things about this post is I put the picture on Flickr and a woman asked me if she could use it for a T-shirt for her 4-year-old daughter and maybe another little girl. She wanted to let them know it’s all right for women to use their brains.

    I really appreciate your comments.

    rummuser, :) Thanks for sharing! That comment was made in jest. In fact, I’m not a snob. I was always close to my folks, especially my mom, and one reason I married my husband was because he would fit into my family. If I hadn’t loved them it wouldn’t have hurt so much.

    I don’t look down on people who don’t share my interests, but it still hurts when I see studious kids being called nerds and geeks. I agree with Jeanne, we each need to use our God-given talents and respect one another for it. I also believe our cultural prejudice against learning and thinking is leading to our downfall as a nation.

    Again, thanks for commenting.

  18. As far as I’m concerned, lifelong learning is where it’s at! After all, learning of one kind or another is what life is all about, because learning facilitates growth. I always have my nose in a book or my mouse on a website, and I make no apology whatsoever for the fact!

    Hope those two little girls do grow up learning that it’s OK for women to use their intellects. I can think of only one reason why God would have given women brains: so they would use them!

  19. Jean says:

    Jeanne,
    Thanks!

  20. Diane/lovewhoyouare says:

    Hi All,

    Love of learning! AHHH….

    When I was little I remember I would get headaches and the doctor told me to stop reading so much….Yuk…. So I would just rest in between. Or suffer through the headache.

    Then I was taught speed reading, I think in fourth grade…

    I love the Quantum Physics theory….its fascinating!

  21. Patrick says:

    I wish getting over a broken heart can be so easy as following a few steps.. but its not? :(

  22. Jean says:

    Patrick,
    Yes, I too have been there, done that. It hurts, but we can learn and grow from the situation. I figure if we have to go through the pain we might as well learn something from the experience and wind up stronger, with more to offer the world.

    Thank you for coming by.

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