You know that emoji depicting the little yellow dude’s brain exploding? It sits atop my frequent emojis screen because it is the one that most accurately describes what I’m feeling on a daily basis at this stage in my life.
As I trudge through data collection and analysis for my dissertation, I feel like if I lean my head to the side, brain matter will ooze out. Disgusting picture, I know. Trust me, this feeling isn’t due to the size of my brain, but rather the fact that more than any point in my life, my brain is exhausted.
A dissertation is demanding, but so is life in general, our jobs, our families, our friendships, our obligations across the board. Everyone has something.
Stay with me…I’m going somewhere with this!
One of the best things I’ve learned in my doctoral program is not some astute research finding, or academic insight, it’s a process. The process of thought trials. Thought trials? What the heck is that?
|The legend, Dr. Chelladurai|
I’m blessed to have one of the foremost researchers in sport management on my dissertation committee, Dr. Pakianathan Chelladurai. He instilled the importance of these sometimes elusive thought trials on day one of my first class.
He described thought trials as an active approach to let your mind conjure up something and actually letting your mind continue down the thought path until it reaches a natural ending point. Think of it as a maze in your head (hold on while I mentally remove the spiderweb that exists there now).
|My kids love these things…as should we.|
Ok, so a maze in your head. There are all sorts of different paths, many of which result in dead ends, some of which may not even have an end at all, you may have to exit that maze and start in another one. All of those individual mazes are thought trials. Sometimes you’ll reach the end and get the cheese, sometimes you won’t. Sometimes an “Ah ha!” moment occurs, more often it does not.
|This mouse looks much happier than the one that found the cheese, in the trap, on our front porch.|
The point is, it’s not necessarily about the result, it’s about the process and practice of allowing your mind to traverse these mazes. It builds a capacity to think about things differently, extend your mind, correct your course, and who knows, even stumble on an inquiry you’d like to explore, a solution to a problem, or even a possible reason why something is happening…this last one underpins the premise of phenomena, hypotheses and theory in the research world.
So how do you do this “thought trial” thing? Well, I’m no expert, but I’ll give you the steps that I’ve found helpful.
1. TURN OFF YOUR DEVICES.
2. Sit somewhere quiet and peaceful, like a porch swing, or a park bench (preferably with a cold or hot beverage in hand).
3. Think about something that has captured your interest lately…an idea for your family, an opportunity at work, a broader vision you have, a dream, an academic question…this can be anything.
4. Enter the maze, think “why”, “how” and “I wonder if…”and let your mind take thoughts on the topic to completion. Go down those rabbit trails, avoid distraction. This sounds weird, but I promise, you can do it.
5. Next, think about “will what I’m thinking ____?” The blank could be things like “work”, “solve the problem”, “achieve a goal”, etc.
6. Take some notes (NOT on your phone) about what you discover, and just as importantly, what your rule out.
|Here’s another good mental image.|
The premise of thought trials may seem rudimentary, but our minds need exercise, just like our bodies. I’ve found at times when I exercise through thought trials – whether for work, personal life, or school – when I need to recall this skill for necessity, it becomes more readily available. Every single person reading this has great ideas, vision and contributions to make, it’s time for us to put our minds to work to bring them to fruition!
As Daniel Webster said, “Mind is the great lever of all things; human thought is the process by which human ends are ultimately answered.” This is Stoll on Sports.