skip to Main Content

The Form/Function Nature of Thinking, The Art of Living, & The Power of Comparing Down

Resource: Getting Things Done by David Allen
Description: The function follow form nature of thinking


When it comes to your mental life, form follows function. That is, the kind of tools (form) you use to capture and connect your thoughts will influence the quality (function) of the though processes themselves.

Using a tool to capture your thoughts improves your ability to concentrate for long periods of time.

The process of capturing your thoughts forces you to clarify them. Thinking about a project or a philosophical idea is a very different experience from writing that idea down or drawing a mind-map to visualize those ideas.

Using physical paper and pen tools lends a level of concreteness to the note-taking process. Don’t be dogmatic about this, but capitalize on the advantages that may stem from working with old-fashioned tools.

Always have a conveniently accessible tool for capturing thoughts on the go. Keep a notepad, a pen, and an audio-notes capture tool at all times.

If you develop the habit of capturing your thoughts, your brain will learn to trust you and it will keep giving you more thoughts. If you don’t develop this habit, you’ll start to feel resistance towards thinking when you’re not in a position to act on it right then and there. To put it another way, your mind does its best thinking when it knows that you’re in a good position and disposition to capture the ideas.


“Function often follows form. Give yourself a context for capturing thoughts, and thoughts will occur that you don’t yet know you have. ”

“One of the great secrets to getting ideas and increasing your productivity is utilizing the function-follows-form phenomenon—great tools can trigger good thinking. (I’ve come up with some of my most productive thoughts when simply exploring a new software application that created an interesting or fun way to generate and capture data.”

“If you aren’t writing anything down, or inputting into a digital device, it’s extremely difficult to stay focused on anything for more than a few minutes, especially if you’re by yourself. But when you utilize physical tools to keep your thinking anchored and saved, you can stay engaged constructively for hours. ”

“Keep good writing tools around all the time so you never have any unconscious resistance to thinking due to not having anything to capture it with. If I don’t have something to write with or text or type into, I know I’m not as comfortable letting myself think progressively about projects and situations. ”

“Where is your closest writing pad? Keep it closer. ”

“How do I know what I think, until I hear what I say?” —E. M. Forster

Resource: Georgia O’Keeffe on Art, Life, and Setting Priorities
Description: Various musings from Georgia O’Keeffe on life


She had a preference for a life of curiosity, intrigue, and total engagement over conventional notions of “happiness.”

She believed that meaning and fulfillment could be found in any physical location.

She believed in living fully as in taking the bad with the good and finding aliveness in it all.

She believed it was good to have a sense of humor about your troubles.


On living fully all the time:

“It always seems to me that so few people live — they just seem to exist and I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t live always — til we die physically — why do it in our teens and twenties…”

On the accessibility of meaning from any location:

“I believe one can have as many rare experiences at the tail end of the earth as in civilization if one grabs at them — no — it isn’t a case of grabbing — it is — just that they are here — you can’t help getting them.”

On living with determination and being amused by troubles:

“This feeling of not knowing anything and being pretty sure that you never will is — well — I might say awful — if it wasn’t for a part of my make up that is always very much amused at what out to be my greatest calamities — that part of me sits in the grand stand and laughs and claps and screams — in derision and amusement and drives the rest of me on in my blundering floundering game — Oh — it’s a great sport.”

On her preference for solitude:

“I know I am unreasonable about people but there are so many wonderful people whom I can’t take the time to know.”

On her preference for curiosity over happiness:

“I do not like the idea of happyness — it is too momentary — I would say that I was always busy and interested in something — interest has more meaning to me than the idea of happyness.”

Resource: Think like a bronze medalist, not silver


Instead of focusing exclusively on how things could have been better, focus on how much better things have become in relation to how they once were.

Comparing up helps you get better. Comparing down helps you feel happier. Both are important.

Instead of always aiming for the best, aim for the surprisingly good.


On the importance of comparing down instead of comparing up:

“Your happiness depends on where you’re focusing. The metaphor is easy to understand, but hard to remember in regular life. If you catch yourself burning with envy or resentment, think like the bronze medalist, not the silver. Change your focus. Instead of comparing up to the next-higher situation, compare down to the next-lower.”

On aiming for the surprisingly good over the best:

“If you aim to buy “the best” thing, you may feel like gold, but when the new “best” comes out next year, you’ll feel like silver. Instead, if you aim to buy the “surprisingly good” thing, it will keep you in the bronze mindset. Since you’re not comparing to the best, you’ll feel no need to keep up with the newest thing.”

On happiness as a matter of perspective:

“I’ve met a lot of famous musicians. The miserable ones were upset they weren’t more famous, bitterly comparing themselves to the superstars. The happiest ones were thrilled to be able to make a living making music.”

Looking up and looking down are both good:

“When you’re being ambitious, trying to be the best at a specific skill, it’s good to be dis-satisfied, like that silver medalist focusing on the gold. Use that to practice and improve. But most of the time, you need to be more grateful for what you’ve got, for how much worse it could have been, and how nice it is to have anything at all.”

Back To Top