Knowledge can be a hindrance. The more we know, the more likely we’re to hesitate in times of execution.
So the overthinking basketball player misses a wide-open layup, the tennis player misses an easy return, or the painter or writer can’t seem to get their inspiration to convert on a blank canvas.
Stalling is a symptom of facing the resistance. When we try too hard to be perfect, we may do nothing at all.
So how can we stem the tide of excess contemplation?
One of the ways to think less author Flann O’Brien once said was to act “calculatedly stupid” and to enjoy what we’re doing. As Vincent Van Gogh put it: “Just slap anything on when you see a blank canvas staring you in the face like some imbecile.”
We are at our best when we’re relaxed and instinctive, free from the chaos of the monkey mind.
Unthinking is the ability to apply years of learning at the crucial moment by removing your thinking self from the equation. Its power is not confined to sport: actors and musicians know about it too, and are apt to say that their best work happens in a kind of trance.
So do the work and let go, let God. Let inspiration be free-floating perspiration.
Wonder sits at the intersection of science and art. Combining the two disciplines is what fueled Leonard Da Vinci’s creative genius. The imagination needs time to daydream and gather string, letting the unconscious connect the dots between disparate things.
Said author Walter Isaacson on the artist in his new book Leonardo da Vinci, “procrastinating like Leonardo requires work: It involves gathering all the possible facts and ideas, and only after that allowing the various ingredients to simmer.”
“I roamed the countryside searching for answers to things I did not understand. Why shells existed on the tops of mountains along with the imprints of coral and plants and seaweed usually found in the sea. Why the thunder lasts a longer time than that which causes it, and why immediately on its creation the lightning becomes visible to the eye while thunder requires time to travel. How the various circles of water form around the spot which has been struck by a stone, and why a bird sustains itself in the air. These questions and other strange phenomena engage my thought throughout my life.”
“Typically, people who exercise, start eating better and becoming more productive at work. They smoke less and show more patience with colleagues and family. They use their credit cards less frequently and say they feel less stressed. Exercise is a keystone habit that triggers widespread change.”
A strange kind of progress permeates our world. While technology advances, privacy seems to take two steps back. Social media exploits openness.
While bitcoin promises to disrupt the financial industry to give power to individuals, it smells of chaos and distrust.
Perhaps the new world order takes getting used to. After all, it is habit that puts one to sleep. But also consider that those obsessed with solutionism — innovating on top of old world problems — can do more harm than good. For instance, Facebook is an around the clock newspaper that misinforms its users every day. A culture of fast-food consumption and ‘breaking news’ outpaces reality, slipping us into inanition.
Problem-solving technologies are bicycles for the mind. However, moving at warp-speed while ignoring the status quo puts our cognition into more fragile territory than ever. Unchecked change is the root of psychological damage.
From the masks of Mexico City’s cheeky lucha libra wrestlers to the walls of art in dive bars and parks, to the boyhood fervor of an old man in his special puppet, Mexico City is very much a lived experience. To quote Edward Burnett Tylor:
“Taking it as a whole, Mexico is a grand city, and, as Cortes truly said, its situation is marvellous.”
Years elapse with no apparent intention of an end.
They want you to finish it to find closure, but they don’t understand that moving on to the next ‘big’ thing curbs the appetite of the maker.
Creators are slow cookers and even slower chewers, interspersed with periods gorging. They expect as many mistakes and regrets as discoveries– overall, full acceptance the unpredictable. It takes time to go forward and ship things, to hurry slowly unless you’re Picasso’s Guernica.
The artist never graduates, trying to be clever without being pretentious. In a cycle of learning, the beginner wades like water over rocks and tweaks days on end.
Listening seeds ideas. Overheard dialogue, especially misheard words, are auditory stimulants for the imagination. Said Joan Didion in her essay “On Keeping a Notebook:”
“See enough and write it down, I tell myself, and then some morning when the world seems drained of wonder, some day when I am only going through the motions of doing what I am supposed to do… on that bankrupt morning I will simply open my notebook and there it will all be, a forgotten account with accumulated interest, paid passage back to the world out there…”
From the dull to the senseless, an ambient awareness latches on to snippets of interestingness in any conversation. The journal archives and then whispers for a second look. Simply rereading our notes gives them a new form, turning the slightest quip into a saintly significance.
“We control the world basically because we are the only animals that can cooperate flexibly in very large numbers. And if you examine any large-scale human cooperation, you will always find that it is based on some fiction like the nation, like money, like human rights. These are all things that do not exist objectively, but they exist only in the stories that we tell and that we spread around. This is something very unique to us, perhaps the most unique feature of our species.
You can never, for example, convince a chimpanzee to do something for you by promising that, “Look, after you die, you will go to chimpanzee heaven and there you will receive lots and lots of bananas for your good deeds here on earth, so now do what I tell you to do.”
But humans do believe such stories and this is the basic reason why we control the world whereas chimpanzees are locked up in zoos and research laboratories.”
“My method is different. I do not rush into actual work. When I get a new idea, I start at once building it up in my imagination, and make improvements and operate the device in my mind. When I have gone so far as to embody everything in my invention, every possible improvement I can think of, and when I see no fault anywhere, I put into concrete form the final product of my brain.”