Thinking without thinking 🤔

Thinking without thinking

Work is the practice of gathering string. But it is the empty mind that weaves experience, knowledge, and ideas altogether.

The apple may have hit Newton's head, but his insights into gravity were brewing all along.

There is no such thing as Eureka, just the gradual harmonization of distilled moments that become apparent when we least expect them to.

We think to get rid of thoughts just like “the blues is played to get rid of the blues.” But we can't think our way to innovation.

We think most effectively when we turn off the monkey mind and permit creativity to break through the hush of silence. Off is on.

Even when we are not thinking — when we're relaxed in the shower or doing the dishes — we're thinking. We are always chewing on context, bringing excitement to the habitual self.

art via giphy

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TED Talk: Tim Ferriss ‘Fear-setting’

As an entrepreneur, writer, podcaster, investor, motivational speaker, and life hacker, Tim Ferriss is a jack of all trades.

Like many of us, he's obsessed with work and optimizing work habits. But he learned the hard way. A near suicide and a breakup with his girlfriend made him change. Instead of being goal-driven, he played with ‘what ifs' in what he calls fear-setting.

To much chagrin, he left his business in 2004 to spend a month in London. It turned out all those fears he had – his company would collapse, the IRS would come after him — never happened. The opposite unfolded. He ended up traveling the world for a year where he lived more and worked less. an experience which led him to write his best-selling book The 4-Hour Work Week (Amazon).

At the core of Tim's life-practice is stoicism, an age-old philosophy that has guided successful leaders from George Washington to Bill Belichick.

So around 300 BC in Athens, someone named Zeno of Citium taught many lectures walking around a painted porch, a “stoa.” That later became “stoicism.” And in the Greco-Roman world, people used stoicism as a comprehensive system for doing many, many things. But for our purposes, chief among them was training yourself to separate what you can control from what you cannot control, and then doing exercises to focus exclusively on the former. This decreases emotional reactivity, which can be a superpower.

There are two quotes Tim always keeps the top of mind in his daily life. The first is that “We suffer more often in imagination than in reality,” wrote the Stoic philosopher Seneca the Younger.

The second comes from a modern-day Stoic Jerzy Gregorek “Easy choices, hard life. Hard choices, easy life,” which became the backbone in his survival as a political refugee and endurance as four-time world champion Olympic weightlifter. 

Fear-setting is a life practice. It takes a lot of nerve to imagine our worst fears and take calculated risks, but the cost of inaction is even worse. Remember things are never as bad as they seem.

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Facing the blank canvass

The blank page means go. Attack. Write for five minutes straight. Put “TK” (to come) in for things that need to be flushed out or fact-checked. But keep writing, jogging the brain.

Once you have everything down on paper go back and dig through the trash. It's like sampling music: pluck the highlights and play with them, recasting them into something new.

Never be afraid get into the weeds, get more specific, and explore the deeper angles of a thought or a word.

The writing process is messy. It's supposed to be, like smacking paint on a canvass. Writing is observing, splurging, and then editing. It only knows work and process.

So how you do write? You spill your thoughts first, and then you go back and clean up the mess.

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What do we read next?

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We suffer from the infinity of choice, to what type of books we're interested in, all the way down to the format we want to read them in.

Amazon's recommended book algorithms allay the frustration of making decisions by taking into account your past reads and what others have read to suggest what to consume next.

Algorithms (or recipes) therefore resolve two things: Indecision fatigue and the wisdom of crowds.

Spotify Discover Weekly works the same way — after it gets to understand your habits and preferences it recommends prebuilt playlists to appease your taste.

Algorithms free up our brain space to do rather than toggle between the options. They are the antidote to the chaotic linear 21st-century feed.

The more time we spend consuming rather than selecting what's next is time well spent. By outsourcing our digging, we create more time to learn.

Even the proactive tastemaker must yield to the occasional “if and then” statement to build on top of the symphony of algorithms. A remix is not always artistically lesser than its origins.

In an increasingly algorithmic world, there can still be an element of human touch to prove we're not headed toward complete thoughtlessness after all.

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A barometer for inspiration

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Image by Wells Baum

Inspiration fuels aspiration. Without inspiration, we relax on our laurels and accept things the way they are.

There's no lack of material for inspiration. It can found everywhere: on the Internet, in a book, from a role model, or in a chat with a loved one or a friend. But a surfeit of inspiration can backfire. Seeking too much of it can descend into inaction and stagnation.

The advice I like to give young artists, or really anybody who'll listen to me, is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work.

Chuck Close

If we aspire to be an artist, we have to sit our butts down and grind it out. This means acting like a professional. No one's going to pity the artist that skips practice and doesn't ship their work.

Inspiration is just a temporary stimulus, no different than coffee. It helps motivate artists to be consistent and push through the hard times but it doesn't guarantee success.

By all means, seek inspiration. Aspire to be great. But avoid seeing inspiration and aspiration as prerequisites for action.

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Are you an egg person or an onion person?

A gif of eggs cracked in pain

Introverts are egg people. They’re not hiding anything (per say), they are mostly reserved. And once they start to get comfortable, they are as open and talkative as anybody else. “Don't think of introversion as something that needs to be cured,” writes Susan Cain in her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking.

Extroverts, on the other hand, are onion people. They contain so many layers of bombast that it’s hard to know when they are being authentic, showy, or just spewing flotsam. Yet, extroverts are most likely to be leaders because they talk loud and carry a big stick.

George Mason economics professor and Oxford humanities associates Robin Hanson sums up the egg and onion divergence:

I’ve sometimes been tempted to classify people as egg people and onion people. Onion people have layer after layer after layer. You peel it back, and there’s still more layers. You don’t really know what’s underneath. Whereas egg people, there’s a shell, and you get through it, and you see what’s on the inside.

Are ambiverts egg or onion people?

Ambiverts are more like salad people, easy to digest and mix in with all types of other folks and scenarios. They’re adaptable like a chameleon depending on whatever social situation they’re in.

We all contain multitudes. But it is the mouth that separates us apart, with different levels of signaling.

Words are the original memes, for which some things are still best unshared and unsaid. Sometimes silence does all the messy talking, reveals all that needs to be conveyed. As Susan Cain puts it: “We have two ears and one mouth and we should use them proportionally.”

art via giphy

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Imagining life without work

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Some people are obsessed with work. It defines them, gives them a structure. Without work, they'd sail away at the mercy of the waves and get lost at sea.

But technology facilitates creativity. The accountant becomes a music producer at night or a photographer on the weekend. He or she identifies more as being an artist than a professional that crunches numbers. Their online persona is who they really want to be.

Everyone wants to pursue something meaningful. We want to do something that matters. Work, whether it's the day job or an artist, is supposed to reflect our life philosophies. Most jobs though are solutions to a practical problem: we need the cash to live.

The pressure to blend work and life is the result of our obsession with the careerism in a twenty-four seven hyperconnected world. So what would we do with all that free time if we didn't work? We'd probably just do stuff: read, hang out with friends and family, watch and play sports, and listen to music. It would look like a lot of a vacation.

Will we be ok when the robots take over, and the concept of labor fades away? Will making art suffice? We're born off balance. It's how we dance with the uncertain future that shapes who we are.

Read The Shame of Work

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