Your Thoughts Have Different Sizes

If you imagine your mind as a room that’s furnished with your own ideas, you’ll notice a rather obvious feature. Some of the pieces of furniture are larger than others. Now, the size of each mental objects seems to be obvious: it’s determined by the importance of the thought. That upcoming tax audit is elephant size, while a political dispute in Argentina is quite tiny.

But of course, there’s nothing objective about these different sizes. The way we scale our mental objects is decided by personal values and agendas. In reality, it’s quite arbitrary.

So why does this matter? The answer is: we have choices.

What I’m calling the sizing of mental objects is an unconscious process. By the time we start thinking, the sizing process has already happened. And that has consequences. Whatever looms largest gets the most attention — but it may not deserve the most attention.

With a bit of mental effort, you can challenge the spontaneous sizing of your thoughts. First you have to notice it’s going on. Then you play with it. Try this now. Take something that’s important to you (or not!) and literally change its size in your mind’s eye. Gather up the entire IRS and shrink it into a little ball on your desk. Imagine Buenos Aires and make it as big as a planet. Expand and contract your own mental objects as if you were playing a mental accordion. This doesn’t take time — you can play the game anywhere, in seconds. The effects are profound.

Lao Tzu, the great Chinese philosopher of antiquity, had an interesting angle on this:

The ego says that the world is vast, and that the particles which form it are tiny.

When tiny particles join, it says, the world appears.

When the vast world disappears, it says, tiny particles appear.

The ego is entranced by all these names and ideas,

But the subtle truth is that the world and particle are the same, neither one vast, neither one tiny.

Every thing is equal to every other thing.

(Hua Hu Ching)

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