One of my favorite things about being creative is that I often find academics writing books about ideas I had five years ago. The brain’s association network is one of them. Dr Robert Cialdini details how this works in his book “Pre-Suasion”, which explains his revelations about the inner workings of the mind’s association machine.
But we don’t need to understand the finer details. For now, let’s focus on how we can observe our own neurons firing off. That’s much cooler than academics.
Thoughts, memories and feelings are all connected. The brain is a network, a web, and one thought leads to another along a seemingly logical route. Feeling happy reminds you of happy memories, and thinking of happy memories makes you feel happy.
What would you do to peer into your mind’s network? Try what I am calling The Shower Experiment. This works best on a weekend when you have nowhere to be for a few hours, because you will have fewer specifics hogging your attention.
Bring a piece of paper and a pen with you the next time you go to shower. Leave it somewhere you can reach to without getting water everywhere.
As you step into the shower, write down the first thing that comes to mind. It can be a thought, a memory, an idea, anything. Then enjoy the hot water for as long as you like, allowing your mind to wander as minds do in the shower.
When you’re done with the shower, take note of what you are thinking of and write it down.
Whether the two notes seem related or not is unimportant. The exercise is just to get you noticing what goes through your head. You can practice this anytime, but the shower gives you time with undisrupted mental activity.
Remember that you are literally a bundle of atoms observing its own imagination. Try to figure out in retrospect how one thought logically leads to another thought. Even in the shower, when you aren’t thinking with any deliberation, there is some kind of logic to the flow of thoughts.
For example, I might step into the shower looking forward to the pleasant feeling of warm water. I know how relaxing it will be. Suddenly, a memory of my last beach vacation registers — despite that being over five years ago, and having no bearing on the current situation.
Why did my brain retrieve this memory in particular? I am certain probability is involved. But you will notice that both involve relaxation.
I have become so good at spotting the links that I can spot my own brain falling asleep — which not only involves spotting a pattern, but spotting breaks in the pattern: Right when my imagination makes a leap towards absurdity, I know consciousness is on its way out.