Monday, January 4, 2016

Catch yourself getting LOST in wasteful thinking

Typical human condition is described as being “lost in thought”. Majority of these thoughts are wasteful. i.e. they don’t serve any useful purpose. Is there a way to know if your current thought is wasteful? Perhaps there is no exact formula. However, I found the checklist characterized by L-O-S-T (L – Label, O – Ownership, S – Story, T – Time) useful. It doesn’t mean that every thought involving a label or a story is wasteful. However, it is a good candidate for a quick check - “Is this thought serving a useful purpose?” This article presents this checklist using illustrations from famous movies.

L (Label): Be it a movie or our life, we are in the habit of labelling people and situations. “Good-bad” and “Right-wrong” are the two most commonly used labels. When we label someone or a situation as bad, perhaps we are pointing to some characteristics or behaviour which may be inappropriate. For example, Nobel Laureate John Nash discovered that calling names to Government serves no useful purpose. And he stopped feeding those thoughts.

Social psychology tells us that most of our behaviour is influenced by the context and the culture. “Context is king” as they say. The responses to a contextual situation, such as “someone shouting at us” is almost always automatic and reflexive – deeply embedded in the neural synapses. When labelling becomes an obsession – i.e. you derive your sense of self-worth by labelling someone repetitively, say “wrong” – it serves no useful purpose. Check it out for yourself.

O (Ownership): In this famous dialogue in the Bollywood film Deewar, Shashi Kapoor is telling Amitabh Bachchan “Mere paas Maa hai” meaning – “I have mother”. “You may have a big house and a car but I am richer than you”. The popularity of this dialogue points to a deeply held belief in the culture that relationships are more precious that material stuff. Perhaps it is true, but the habit of doing account balance of what I own and comparing it with what you own doesn’t serve any useful purpose whether it is a relationship or a car. Test it. (image:

S (Story):  We all love stories. When it is a rags-to-riches story like “Slumdog millionaire”, nothing like it. In fact, we are all spinning stories in our head all the time. Many times the story has a general theme of “complaining” – and it also has a victim that is – yourself. The story is telling how the world or a specific person is unfair to you and you are asking, “How can he say or do something like that to me?” etc. Sometimes the story is about “justification”. It is telling how I did the right thing in that situation even though some people may feel otherwise. Sometimes the story has a general theme of “worrying”. The mind is spinning out several future scenarios where something is going wrong. If used judiciously, it points to useful actions. But then the spinning wheel takes over and action is left far behind. It is good to check if the current thought pattern is spinning a story without any action. (image:

T (Time): How we wish we could go back in time Like Marty McFly in “Back to the future” and change something we did in the past. Unfortunately, we haven’t figured out a way to do it so far. That doesn’t mean we live mostly in the present. In fact, we end up time traveling all the time. When we are worrying, we travel to a future moment. When we are in the guilt mode, we go back in time.  Sometimes we are leaning-forward, i.e. we are only a few seconds ahead, for example, when we are opening a door, we are already in the next room. Opening the door is just a means to an end. Sometimes, we are years ahead, visualizing the good times after graduation, or after retirement etc.  Whenever the current thought is about past or future, it is a good candidate to test for usefulness. (image:

In short, L-O-S-T (Label, Ownership, Story, Time) provide a quick checklist to test whether your current thought is useful or wasteful. Hope you find checklist useful.

The checklist is derived from Eckhart Tolle’s “9 ways of losing oneself in egoic thought patterns”, Nov 8, 2014

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