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Making Sense of It All

Done a lot of research? Good for you. Now you need to get it organized to achieve the maximum benefit from all that work.

Eyes on the Prize

Before you dive in, remember your goal: prepping for the planning stage. Successful thinking is built on a solid, comprehensive, and organized knowledge base that you have developed for a specific purpose. Don’t rush it.

Selecting, sorting, and stacking information take effort and time. You want this resource to make sense now and in the future when questions you don’t know yet will come to mind. Moreover, you want the information to be useful, relevant, and credible. That means (Surely this step isn’t a surprise?) evaluating your research before your organize it.

There are two main challenges to sorting data properly: your beliefs and your brain’s filtering system.

Beliefs

A recent study by the Brain and Creativity Institute at the University of Southern California found that people who hold firmly to beliefs show little to no openness to contrary evidence. In other words, most of us don’t let facts get in the way of our opinions.

It should be the other way around, of course: our opinions shouldn’t blind us to facts. But they do. Religion, politics, things our parents told us, peer values, and many other factors cannot just be set aside to make us “objective.”

Accepting this allows you to mitigate the effects of personal beliefs at least somewhat. Hold on to your values, but admit that some of your beliefs may be cutting you off from new facts. Make yourself listen to ideas you don’t agree with long enough to see what sort of evidence backs them up. This same evidence may enhance or expand rather than threaten your beliefs. This is what it means to be “open-minded.”

And hey, maybe some of your beliefs will change. Maybe some of your old beliefs are the reason you need something new in your life.

Our Brain Filters

The brain constantly processes information, even when we are just vegging in front of the TV. That information includes our desires and plans. Our subconscious minds are stimulated through visualization and goal-setting, which means that a change in those plans automatically involves our subconscious.

In particular, we need to deal with our brain’s fancy-sounding reticular activating system (RAS), which operates like a traffic cop, managing the information and stimuli that bombard us throughout the day.

A simple example of this will happen when you decide to buy a specific kind of car, like a Ford Mustang. Once you make that decision, your RAS kicks in and brings all Ford Mustang-related information to your attention. “Hey! There’s a Ford Mustang for sale!” your brain will say. “Look! Here’s an article on the Ford Motor Company.”

Before you sort through your research, figure out some (not too many) key points to notice by telling yourself (and your subconscious) what you want. This programming your RAS to notice what your want to notice.

Write down a few goals, the more specific the better. Don’t write, “Marathons are nice.” Write, “I intend to complete the Walt Disney World Marathon on January 12, 2020.”

Finally, stimulate that RAS with basic visualization. See yourself where you want to be, and make a visualization board to help out, if you like.

Tell your brain what you want, and then let your brain do the work, even while you sleep.