05/12/2014 11:56 am ET

Why You Should Clean Up, Not Empty, Your Mind

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Even though our minds ostensibly belong to us, we don’t always control or know what is in them. There are always some ideas, bang in the middle of consciousness, that are thoroughly and immediately clear to us: for example, that we love our children. Or that we have to be out of the house by 7.40am. Or, that we are keen to have something salty to eat right now. These thoughts feel obvious without burdening us with uncertainty or any requirement that we reflect harder on them.

But a host of other ideas tend to hover in a far more unfocused state. For example, we may know that our career needs to change, but it’s hard to say much more. Or we feel some resentment against our partner over an upsetting incident the night before, but we can’t pin down with any accuracy what we’re in fact bitter or sad about. Our confusions sometimes have a positive character about them but are perplexing all the same: perhaps there was something deeply ‘exciting’ about a canal-side cafe we discovered in Amsterdam or the sight of a person reading on a train or the way the sun lit up the sky in the evening after the storm, but it may be equally hard to put a finger on the meaning of these feelings.

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