Said Henry David Thoreau, “Methinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.”
Walking boosts creativity. If you ever get stuck in a creative rut, science shows that you should go for a stroll to get your endorphins moving.
As learning scientist Marily Oppezzo notes in her TED presentation below, walking generates twice the ideas. Even if you walk and then sit, your mind will continue to generate novelty.
But you can’t just walk forever, nor should you run. You should discuss your ideas out loud; the good ones will stick around. If you really want to remember everything discussed, record the thinking session on your phone.
So, how do you walk and brainstorm?
Pick a problem/topic for brainstorm
Walk at a comfortable pace WHILE you are brainstorming
Generate as many ideas a you can
Speak and record your ideas
Cap your time
The chair-based lifestyle is not only killing us, but it’s also stifling good ideas. Go for a walk to freshen up your pattern of thinking.
When it comes to compliments, you accept them but you do not inhale.
Kudos is as ephemeral as a Facebook like. Congratulations acknowledge your existence and provide a dopamine boost. But they can also turn the ego into an enemy. Praise takes no responsibility for the passion and head work at play.
Like Darwin’s finches, we are always evolving. There is no constant, especially in a rapidly advancing world that imposes frequent variables.
Rather than seeking external validation, you should chase out your interests. Passion not only helps bring excitement to the job, but it also makes you antifragile — it’s impossible to beat someone who expects to keep going despite hosannas and hurdles.
“In the long run, we find what we expect. We shall be fortunate then if we expect great things.”
What goes up must come down. Complacency eventually turns into panic. Once the stream of contentedness kicks in, progress stymies. The will to compete and improve wanes. Expectations which set the tone of achievement, fall at the wayside.
Motivation is a wonder drug. As Brian Eno said, “Everything good comes from enthusiasm.” The urge to improve and inject meaning onto the world protects against a mediocre existence. Once we feel inspired, the tendency is to do as much as we can for as long as we can.
To keep it going, we have to protect against two things: burnout and lost excitement. Overburdening the nervous system with the next-task is a precondition for indifference. If we want the care to go on, we require sanity checks like rest, disconnection, and breaking patterns.
Once the spirit dips and the automaton sets in, a recharge is mandatory. To prevent spinning out of control, we seek to re-energize by inciting alertness. Once we notice that was there was there all along, salient for human eyes, we realize we’re on the road to recovery.
“Never look back unless you are planning to go that way.”
Henry David Thoreau
The dip is a sign to move on, to start again before we’re ready. The thrill of beginning again and riding the wave of opportunity keeps the good going. Long-term accomplishment is never luck but the result of the flame of hard work.
The word ‘productivity’ was originally an agricultural term meant to assess the output of farmers. As technology replaced field labor and allowed people to move into cities, productivity turned man into a machine.
Instead of plowing the fields, people cultivate threads of emails. They label manila folders into ten different categories. Indulging in the work-related tasks is a never-ending obsession.
But most productivity hacks are a waste of time. Doing more in less time risks skipping the fundamentals.
“Workaholics aren’t heroes. They don’t save the day, they just use it up. The real hero is already home because she figured out a faster way to get things done.”
Unlike making art, busy work isn’t always meaningful work. You can only get so good at Twitter and email.
When you’re creating something, at least the purpose is self-expression. Even when you plant seeds and nurture the crops you get something back in return.
Let’s be honest: What did you really do with all that “work” you put in?
The to-do list can wait.
Maybe the best way to get things done is to pursue more play, to disconnect from the tyranny of doing stuff entirely.
Arbitrary resets are more fruitful. Some of the best ideas emerge through a conversation with a friend or a solo walk in the park. Disengaging helps you out of your own head.
So what’s the work that’s worthwhile and enjoyable? Probably the vocation that lets you feel the most human, so you can less time acting like a machine and more time doing something fun, interesting, or remarkable.
Below are some of the highlights of Maria Popova from her interview on the Tim Ferriss podcast. Some of the topics discussed include how to be interesting, on doing the work, and what makes a person creative.
On being interesting
“The key to being interesting is being interested and enthusiastic about those interests.”
When Kurt Vonnegut wrote “write to please just one person” what he was really saying was write for yourself. Don’t try to please anyone but yourself.
Content implies an “external motive” for advertisement. Nobody does content from the joy of their soul. Write because it’s personal and you love it.
Summary: Write for yourself. Stay interested. Don’t call your writing content.
“Love words. Agonize over sentences. Pay attention to the world.”
“Becoming” is a life long process. You never stop evolving so what you want to become is never done.
The most important aspect to work is consistency. All successful authors are consistent about their work. They show up and do it.
The formula for greatness: “Consistency driven by the deep love of the work.”
You don’t have to have a mental illness to be creative. That’s bunk. Yet without art, you may suffer even more.
“Literature is the original Internet. Every footnote, every citation, every reference, is a hyperlink to another book.” Read books, not just tweets, to find other compelling content.
“I read to make sense of life. The writing is a record of the reading.” Moments of time, place, weather, etc impact what you read. As long as it helps make your life better and richer in moment and long run, read it.
Thoreau’s journals are timeless: “Those who work much do not work hard.”
“The pencil is a very perfect object,” says pencil obsessed Caroline Weaver in this TED video where she explains the history of the pencil.
The origin of the pencil goes back to the innovative applications of graphite. Farmers and shepherds used graphite sticks wrapped in sheepskin and paper to mark their animals.
In 1795, French painter Nicolas-Jacques Conté grounded graphite, mixed it with clay and water to make a paste that was then burned in a kiln to be inserted two cylinders of wood. This is the same method for making pencils we still use to this day!
The #2 Pencil
In the mid-American philosopher, Henry David Thoreau came up with the graphite grading scale for hardness in pencils, most notably the number 2 pencil. Number 2 pencils were thought to be the perfect balance of graphite and color. Conversely, Number 4 pencils were firmer — they contained more clay and thus wrote finer lines.
Years later, America’s Joseph Dixon is widely credited for using machines to produce the first standard hexagonal-shaped pencils.
The Attached Eraser and Yellow Pencil
Before the eraser, people used bread crumbs and rubber to get rid of marks. In 1858, American stationer Hymen Lipman patented the first pencil with an attached eraser. In 1889, the World’s Fair in Paris introduced the first yellow pencil called the Koh-I-Noor which had 14 coats of yellow paint with the end dipped in 14ct gold. Showing off the original plain wood grains quickly went out of style the iconic yellow pencil we know today was born.
Technology is not neutral. FANG (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Google) wants to make all decisions for us and dissolve us into all-consuming bots while the machines do all the thinking and making.
Humans are workers, not to be hedonistic jobless throwaways.
We seek meaning and identify ourselves through our labor. But our biggest misconception is presuming that the job we don’t like also defines us. The only benefit to rising automation is that it opens up opportunities to do what people enjoy.
The artist Brian Eno once offered this prescient advice: ‘Try not to get a job.’
By not working for cash, we can follow our deepest passions, thereby subverting the Sex and Cash theory that says that we must toil in our office cubicles so we can do what we intend to on the side.
“Men have become the tools of their tools,” quipped Thoreau, who was lucky enough to leave his job for Walden’s pond because he enjoyed the relief of a big bank account.
As Frank Chimeo once tweeted, “Thoreau had enough money to go to Walden Pond because he revolutionized production methods at his father’s pencil factory.”
The book of nature has no choice but to accept the permanent integration of Frankensteins and robots.
Those enthusiastic and creative, especially those augmented by brain chips, will still find meaningful work and develop an abstract relationship alongside the programmatic and ultra-productive automatons.