Linguistic conventions keep tripping me up when I write about thoughts and thinking. It sounds like there is a little homunculus in the head listening to thoughts, encouraging them to proceed, or directing them to more worthwhile topics. Often if you try to do anything to or with thoughts, the thinking process will stall. Just like with “choking” in sports: if you pay the wrong kind of attention to an action, you will disrupt its fluid unfolding.

Some behaviors are best performed on autopilot; scrutinizing them stops their flow. Behaviors require attentional resources, but this doesn’t mean the behavior itself should be the main object of attention. To focus on a behavior is to withdraw attentional resources that are best directed elsewhere – as required for the behavior to be successfully performed.  Baseball pitchers need to be aware of where they want the ball to go, which is impossible if they are focusing on the micro-movements of their throwing arm. The attentional field of speakers includes the facial expressions and movements of their listeners.

Focus on the thought and close off access to the well of inspiration that continually feeds into the thought. Focus on the thought and stop the thought. But the water will resume flowing soon enough.