The Johns Hopkins University professor Dr. P.M. Forni, who made a name for himself as the founder of The Civility Initiative at Johns Hopkins, has now turned his talents to the subject of reflection in his new book, The Thinking Life: How to Thrive in the Age of Distraction. “If we agree that life is important, then thinking as we go through it is the basic tribute we owe it,” writes Forni. “It also happens to be the golden way to the good life——the kind of life in which happiness blooms.”
Why did you write this book? To address what is for me just about the most urgent of the problems that we will be called to tend to in the next several years. That problem is that our thinking is increasingly becoming rare and shallow. We should realize that this trend is here and reject it before it’s too late.
In our culture, we are big on promoting the value of exercise and eating right, but we never talk about taking time to think. Why is that? In part, it is the heritage of American anti-intellectualism. We think of ourselves as doers, not thinkers.
Can you give us some tips on the best way to put aside time to think every day? Think in terms of 15-minute appointments with your brain. These are appointments that you will make a point of keeping no matter what. On Sunday nights, put them in your calendar for the whole week: one 15-minute appointment per day. I call these embedded appointments. You may wish to embed them within——for instance——commuting time, lunch time, gym time, or running time. During these 15 minutes, you will not use digital devices of any kind, nor will you read a book. You will just reflect. You may think that 15 minutes is a short time, but you will be surprised at the amount of good ideas, which will result.
How can we keep our electronic devices from distracting us? By not making them the default choice.
How can taking time to think help make us happy? We often do what we do because that is the limit of our imagination. One thing that thinking does is widen the spectrum of the options among which we can choose in any circumstance in life. Then it helps us in choosing wisely among these options. Choosing well makes our lives good, which in turn makes us happy.