How do you reliably separate thinking from feeling?

This is the second post on Ray Dalio’s book “Principles.”

In this post I’d like to focus on the difference between thinking and feeling. How do you make decisions? How do you make the right decision? Ever had a gut reaction that lead you to make the wrong decision? Read on to learn the one secret tactic we humans have been using for centuries to separate our thinking from feeling, allowing us to examine our thoughts to determine the best thing to do every single time.

Over the past few years I’ve been meditating as often as possible – two times a day for 20 minutes. Sometimes when I get out of the meditation a thought or a new avenue to pursue a solution will come into my mind.

After such a therapeutic and restorative meditation new ideas seem magical and destined. But it’s not until you implement some of the ideas that you learn that not all epiphanies gotten through meditation are equal.

Imagine my surprise when I read that Ray Dalio meditates and has his own sifting system to separate the good actionable ideas from the duds:

“When thoughts and instructions come to me from my subconscious, rather than acting on them immediately, I have gotten into the habit of examining them with my conscious, logical mind. I have found that in addition to helping me figure out which thoughts are valid and why I am reacting to them as I do, doing this opens further communication between my conscious and subconscious minds. It’s helpful to write down the results of this process. In fact that’s how my Principles came about.” – Ray Dalio

Like Dalio, I’ve found that writing things out allows my amygdala to shine in private. Also like Dalio, I’ve found that writing further shines the thought and most importantly holds it up to the light of day to see if it’s worth anything.

When you find that your best intentions are not always best, how do you find out if your feelings are close to reality? You need to test your feelings against reality before implementing them publicly:

“Know that the most constant struggle is between feeling and thinking. There are no greater battles than those between our feelings (most importantly controlled by our amygdala, which operates subconsciously) and our rational thinking (most importantly controlled by our prefrontal cortex, which operates consciously).” – Ray Dalio

How do we go from thinking with our amygdala to thinking with our prefrontal cortext? I believe that we humans have been using a single effective  method to test our ideas for centuries – we write things out!

“Writing is nature’s way of letting you know how sloppy your thinking is.” – Dick Guindon

Here’s my challenge to you – next time you have a great idea, before you start implementing it, before you demolish the house, before you empty your 401k, write it out. Write out the why you need to move now. Write out what you think will be the outcome.

Then, and only once you’ve written it out, implement your idea. If the idea doesn’t work out the way you thought it would, you have a blueprint for how to move forward and try something else next time.

By writing things out before you do anything you give yourself time to consider how prepared you are to take on this task.

And finally, written thoughts will allow you to have a concrete document that you can use to make less mistakes.

Do you write out your task list? Do you journal to figure out how you’re feeling before you act? Contact me if you need any help getting started.

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Author: David Neely

Professional Software Developer. Technology and Web Coordinator at the University of Hawaii's Manoa Career Center.