Paul Graham (whose essays are pure gems of wisdom) posted a new essay The Top Idea in Your Mind which spawned a brilliant discussion on Hacker News the other day. The concept is simple – the top idea in your mind is the thought that you drift towards when you’re taking a shower. Think about it – when you’re showering, you tend to wander spontaneously and impulsively to something that has been on your mind. This, is the top idea in your mind and takes much of your attention. If it’s a productive one, you’ll make progress and get something good out of it. If it isn’t or if it is a worrisome one, it will end up sapping your energies.
I am amazed at the collective thought, intelligence, and wisdom of the Hacker News community. One discussion thread wandered into how most people have a ‘ground state’ – a state of mind that we tend to naturally gravitate to. For some this may be writing, for other watching TV. When we don’t find ourselves occupied with something else much, we tend to drift towards this activity.
One of the threads veered off into how bad ideas tend to take a stronger hold and stay longer in our minds. It is harder to ward them off. One HNer posted a cool zen story to illustrate this point:
“Two monks were returning to the monastery in the evening. It had rained and there were puddles of water on the road sides. At one place a beautiful young woman was standing unable to walk across because of a puddle of water. The elder of the two monks went up to her, lifted her in his arms, and left her on the other side of the road, and continued on his way to the monastery. In the evening the younger monk came to the elder monk and said, “Sir, as monks, we cannot touch a woman?” The elder monk answered “yes, brother”. Then the younger monk asks again, “but then Sir, how is that you lifted that woman on the roadside ?” The elder monk smiled at him and told him ” I left her on the other side of the road, but you are still carrying her.”
Going back to the original thought, I, too, have always believed that the best ideas and solutions in your life often come to you when in the shower or while driving – if something productive or constructive is on your mind, that is.
What is the top idea in your mind now?