Way #49: Organize Your Mind
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Way #49: Organize Your Mind

Way #49: Organize Your Mind

The human brain is a sophisticated filing cabinet. Organize in order to access that information.

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Upon completing the 48 Ways, there is an additional crucial step: Organization.

Imagine an office where paperwork flows each day. The only way everything will be accessible is with a good filing system. You search for an urgent document... Frustration builds as you grasp for information you know is there, but cannot find. It's buried in a pile!

So too, the human brain is an extremely sophisticated of¬fice into which new information is constantly flowing. You've learned so many important lessons about living – friendship, spirituality, business, coping with disappointments, patience, handling money, etc. It becomes a mass of unmanageable details. Where will you file it? How will you access that information in the future?

That's why the 48 Ways has an extra Way #49 – Ha'mech'aven et shmu'ato, which means "think over what you've heard." Create a mental filing cabinet. When you hear a new piece of wisdom, automatically place it in the correct file, making it available for future use. Wisdom needs to be accessed and applied, and the more organized you are, the more power you'll have for living.

Find the Flow

The key to organizing wisdom is to develop a framework that doesn't turn your mind into a red-tape bureaucracy.

Always look for the logical flow. For example, when you pick up a book, first read through the table of contents to develop an overall sense of structure. Then, take a few minutes to imagine what will be discussed in each chapter. As you begin reading, this will help you to see how each aspect differs from the next – and how all the material connects together.

Rather than have an idea explained to you, it's better to try to project the idea yourself, to seek out its implications on your own. This way, you are focusing, taking part in the process, and analyzing the information as you go. This imprints the idea in your mind much better than simply having it explained to you. And you'll have a better basis to reach a conclusion about whether or not the material has credibility.

In Jewish learning, we give each section of the Torah and Talmud a name that defines its essence, and then write summary statements for each section. For example, the 48 Ways are defined essences, a sort of table of contents for attaining wisdom.

Pay attention, see the connection. It makes the information infinitely more manageable and helps you recall it and apply it down the road. Try this method in whatever you learn. It's worth the half-hour investment now.

The Logical System

Imagine someone who can't balance a checkbook. His desk is piled high with withdrawal and deposit slips, account statements and credit card slips. It's impossible to manage this chaos. So he might as well give up...

So too, with wisdom for living. Every day you learn a lot about life, and unless you organize it, the isolated pieces of wisdom will discourage and depress you. It kills your optimism and desire to grow and change. You figure: "I've forgotten other ideas in the past, I'll probably forget this, too."

You can't afford to go on like this.

In Judaism, a classic system of organization is to memorize all 613 mitzvot. Maimonides' Mishneh Torah, for example, organizes the 613 mitzvot into 83 sections, collated into 14 volumes.

What's the value of memorizing this list? This gives you 613 "file folders" in which to place any new piece of wisdom. For example, if you gain an insight into the harmony of nature, you can file it under the mitzvah "to know that God is one." Or if you find a new way to help homeless people, you can file it under the mitzvah of tzedakah, charity.

With this method, you'll understand life altogether differently. You'll see the genius of how one piece connects to another. And that tool will benefit you forever.

There are other methods, too. Some people have thousands of flashcards organized alphabetically by topic. When coming across a new piece of information, they write it on a card. Using computer software, this system is easy to implement, and you can even set up a hyperlinked network of personal information.

The main thing is to pick a system that works for you – and build your "wisdom database" around it.

Accessible Wisdom

You are constantly picking up new information, spending time and money to acquire it. If it's worth gathering, it's worth keeping and using. If you paid $50 for something, you'd use it. And isn't wisdom is more valuable than money?

Before beginning any important project, open a new file folder to store information. Whether it's money management or home repairs, be diligent in organizing your info. When you come across a good article, don't just stuff it into a drawer somewhere.

For example, if you're starting a family, assemble a litany of handy tools for how to raise children. You want them to be healthy – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. But learning on the job may be too late!

It's not enough to have a bunch of facts and figures stored neatly away in your office. Equally important is to open a parallel "mental file." Be able to apply the information even without immediate access to the printed material.

One key method is to extract the principle behind any idea. This is a lot easier to memorize than a bunch of details. The Sages compare it to carrying around paper money versus a large sack of coins. Once you have the principle, you can apply it to a variety of situations.

Memory Devices

Simple "awareness" of an idea is not enough. To really "own" the idea, you have to know it by heart. Memorization is tremendously powerful. It puts the idea "in your pocket," immediately accessible at your mental fingertips.

There are two ways to memorize an idea:

  1. repeat it over and over, memorizing by rote, or
  2. unravel its logical flow

Which is the better method? Number Two. Suppose you want to memorize all the bones in the human body. Using method #1, you'd memorize the name of every bone in alphabetical order. Using method #2, the logical way, you'd start from the head and move down to the toes. As you go through the body, each bone triggers a hint for the next.

The mind likes mnemonic devices. Try to extract the essence of an idea, and record it in a catch-phrase that can be easily memorized. This way, rather than struggling to re¬call it from scratch, you'll be able to rebuild the entire idea from your catch-phrase.

Here are some effective memory techniques:

  • Assign a one- or two-word description to each idea.
  • Take the first letter of each concept, and make a fun acronym out of the letters.
  • Create an imaginary scene or story, in which the key concepts all appear together. (The more outrageous the scene, the easier it is to recall.)
  • Put the ideas into a song. The tune will enable you to remember the series of words.

There is a big mental block to memorizing anything, but once you get going, it's fun and easy. To get started, try learning the names of the 48 Ways by heart, and review them as you walk down the street. Write down these "code words" on a small piece of paper, and keep it with you at all times. This will give you a constant point of reference.

Evaluate and Eliminate

If knowledge is power, then forgetting is the ultimate weakness.

We have two little gadgets between our shoulders. One is the "remember" button and the other is "forget." Did you ever get a telephone number and say, "Sure, I'll remember it," and one minute later it's slipped out of your mind? It happens. You pressed "forget" instead of "remember." But when the millionaire says, "This is my phone number," and it has 25 digits – no problem! You pressed "remember" and you pressed it hard!

When you hear a valuable piece of wisdom, decide: This is important, I want to remember it, I'm going to keep it. You have that power. Press the button.

If you can't process new info on the spot, then at the end of each day, review the main things you learned. For example, if you read a good article, verbalize the main points, and whatever you find valuable – file it!

Furthermore, set aside time for review of what you learned. It's easy to forget things when you're not dealing with them on a daily basis. Reviewing not only helps you remember, but will reveal an interconnectness of ideas that you didn't see when learning things the first time.

To avoid "information overload," periodically clean out your mental filing system. A lot of information is needlessly cluttering your mind. Develop a system of review and re-evaluate what you've been carrying around up there. See which issues are valid, and which ones no longer concern you. To discard what you don't need, simply press "delete," just as on a computer.

This doesn't just apply to information. If you find yourself involved in some negative activity – e.g. due to peer pressure – then make a decision to eliminate that activity. You've got to have a healthy life, a healthy head, and a healthy attitude toward living. Don't let the rotten apples disturb your digestion.

Plans and Priorities

A crucial part of organizing your mind is to establish priorities. To demonstrate the need to organize your mind, ask questions and see how fast you get an¬swers. For example, ask yourself what lessons you've learned about the three main categories of life:

  1. Issues between me and myself. What is the purpose of life? What are my goals and dreams? How did I arrive at them? What are my talents? What are my virtues? What do I ultimately want out of life?
  2. Issues between me and others. What do I know about relationships with friends, parents, colleagues, and society? What causes me to struggle in relationships? What do others like most about me?

  3. Issues between me and God. What do I know about truth, kindness, and why this world was created? What are my God-given rights, and what are my obligations?

Now, prioritize these ideas into a set of life plans. You should have a daily plan, weekly plan, monthly plan and yearly plan – with 5-year goals, 15-year goals, and lifetime goals.

What do you want on your tombstone? Asking this question is very powerful. And very painful.

Keep your priorities straight. Every human being is willing to die to do the right thing. Could you possibly kill 1,000 innocent children to save your life? You would sooner give up your life than do such a thing.

If we are all willing to die for the right thing, then that tells us something deep about our priorities. When you wake up in the morning, remind yourself: "I want to do the right thing, I want to be a good person." Of course, you may forget about it during the day. But at least you know this is important. And sooner or later you might even do something about it.

Ask yourself: What is the right thing? Who is the good person? I really should take a little time to figure out what it is!

In Judaism, we stay focused on priorities by reciting the Shema twice each day, and by putting a mezuzah on our doorposts. The Shema – "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One" – reminds us of the greatest pleasure, the quintessential essence of life.

Make sure to keep your priorities on the front burner.

Why is "Organizing Your Mind" a Way to Wisdom?

  • Organizing wisdom is the most important step in gaining control of your life.
  • When something interesting comes your way, file it in your mind so you can access it when you need it.
  • If you understand what you learn, it will remain yours. If it's superficial, it will disappear.
  • Unless you make a conscious decision to remember, you are likely to forget.
  • If a piece of information is worth gathering, it's worth organizing.
  • What do you want to achieve in five years, 10 years, 50 years?
  • "Out of sight, out of mind." Review your priorities and bring them to the fore.
  • As long as your head is mixed up, you'll feel the pain of chaos up there.
  • Pressing the delete button gives you control over your life.
  • Know the right time to take out the right knowledge.
  • Master the art of "Wisdom Management:" Organize it, control it, direct it.
  • Unless we organize it properly, what good is it?

Published: January 10, 2000

Article 49 of 50 in the series 48 Ways


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Visitor Comments: 7

(7) Anonymous, August 21, 2014 11:17 AM

Great!

This is great! Thank you so much for posting it!

(6) Patrick, June 3, 2014 1:30 PM

I too am back on track

Today I completed the 48 ways.I now have a primer for living. In my earlier years I did not receive a proper education on how to live.Rabbi Noah Weinberg's course allows me now to have a basic understand on how to live.Thank you to the people of Aish.com and wish you all a happy Shavuot.

(5) leah, January 20, 2010 9:30 PM

thanks

I have completed the 48 ways again, in the merit of Rav Noach and thank him for conitnuing to teach me. May many more people gain wisdom from his teachings and review his lessons regularly. We never know enough about ourselves, our lifes or our relationship with Hashem. Thank you for shedding more light.

(4) kay uribe, June 13, 2005 12:00 AM

Back on track

I appreciate life-saving elaboration on the 48 ways! This series has not only helped me to appreciate life and use it wisely, but it will also help enrich my role as a teacher and parent. I recently learned that I was Jewish, and was very upset that I missed out on a proper Jewish upbringing, etc..Thanks to this series, I am not wasting another moment, and getting back on track at age 36--thanks to the good Rabbi Weinberg's teaching!

(3) wunderlich, May 25, 2004 12:00 AM

Very good articles. Thank you. Petra Wunderlich

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