A Penny For Your Thoughts

© industrieblick / Fotolia.com

© industrieblick / Fotolia.com

This week as I was brainstorming to come up with relevant and juicy ideas to promote a start up I suddenly wondered where my thoughts were coming from. That started me on a journey to get the inside skinny on thoughts, which are the basis of ideas, and this is my cheat sheet.

My starting point was ‘what is a thought?’ and I quickly discovered that getting a clear answer is not easy. It appears that a variety of disciplines like neuroscience, philosophy and psychology each have a perspective that differs from or opposes each other.

In fact, some may even diss my earlier thought: that a thought forms the basis of an idea.

My cheat sheet revealed

Anyhow, I turned to Tim Bayne, a philosopher of psychology, who spelled out some of his thoughts on thoughts in New Scientist. In particular, he highlighted features that make a thought a thought and I’ve summarised the ones that tackled my curiosity:

Thoughts are a mental activity. So, to use my recent brainstorming topic, I imagined myself at a property home inspection. I could see lots of people at the front gate (my perception) and I wondered when I could go inside and how long it would take for me to reach the real estate rep at the top of the stairs. These are my thoughts.

Thoughts are conscious and often unconscious. If you’ve ever had a problem and slept on it to find the answer in the morning, you’ll understand the unconscious nature of thoughts. Read more on the benefits of sleeping on a problem in an earlier post.

Thoughts and perception are different. We can think about stuff that we can’t perceive. I’m currently working on a Linked In post that talks about Captain Kirk of Star Trek and in the process my mind ventured into thoughts about space travel. I’ve got no idea what space travel looks like but I can still think about it.

Thoughts allow us to make associations and connections. Having a thought enables us to relate one situation to the next and make a connection. The ability to make connections is what science and technology rely on when inventing stuff.

Uber, an on-ground transportation service, was created after its founder thought that people needing a ride would want a different experience. From there, he made a series of connected ideas and developed an App based service focused on “moving people”.

Why Thoughts Matter

The reasons thoughts mean a lot to me are because:

  • They are the basis for problem solving
  • I can think anywhere, anytime
  • I can make my thinking public or private
  • They are the basis of ideas and creativity

So, after dipping into the research I ran into more questions on which I’d offer a penny for your thoughts:

  • How do I stop my thoughts wandering?
  • Is there a limit to my thoughts?
  • How do I make bad thoughts go away?

Tim Bayne’s “Thought: The Inside Story”, published in New Scientist, 19 September 2013, inspired this post.

  • How do you stop your thoughts from wandering?


  1. I think of thoughts as a river flowing out to sea. Getting in their way, obstructing them in any way cost way more than just letting them float on through to their final destination… keeps my head clear… most of the time!

    1. Hey – it’s nice to hear from you and amazing backbend, by the way…You’re right. The more I try and stop thinking about something, the more it pops up. Next time, I’m going to visualise any pesky thoughts just floating away. Pronto. 🙂

  2. As someone who has experienced the challenge of intrusive thoughts and has been given the tools to manage them, my advice is that the best way to stop thoughts wandering or make bad thoughts go away is to first accept them. For example – if someone tells you not to think about a blue elephant, what’s the first thing that pops into your head…? 😉

    The process I find most helpful for intrusive thoughts is to accept they’re there and visualise them as thoughts only, rather than engaging with them (I find visualising a thought bubble containing the thought itself is useful). Then, ‘thank’ the thought and tell it that while it’s not helpful to you right now, you might come back to it later. Then you’ll find you can quite easily let it go.


    1. Hey Cath,

      Thanks for this…Your advice is priceless…And, I’ll try it out next time my mind wanders off somewhere…:)

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