Praise the smartphone! Podcasts, music, video, news briefs – I am almost always consuming something.
For most people, this is status quo. We look at our phones, check Facebook, tweet something, watch HBO Now, read articles, listen to music. We can’t stand in a grocery store line without looking at our device. The problem is that we have become a society of inputs all the time. We are uncomfortable with peace, silence and – dread the thought – boredom. The unfortunate consequence is that we’ve forgotten how to think.
At our company – to advance to the Principal and Vice President ranks, one must complete a Point of View. The POV is sort of like a dissertation. You come up with an idea that is new in some way and that will add value to the company and to our clients. This process requires you to go deep. As I thought about my own POV, doing my research, choosing the topic and then refining it, I decided to shut out external electronic inputs. I adopted an electronic silence policy – walking, driving, my train commute… all were done without interference. I found that it really opened up my thinking. Ideas suddenly came to me, even when I wasn’t trying to think about my POV topic.
It so happens that there’s plenty of science that supports my approach.
I recently heard an interview with Judah Pollack, an author who is working on a book called Wiring the Breakthrough Brain. I heard him on The Art of Charm Podcast, which I could not recommend more highly. Turns out that neurologists have discovered that the human brain has something called the default mode network. This is a part of your brain that is active in a wakeful resting state, when you are not processing excessive external stimulus.
There is a reason why Thoreau and Einstein took walks to think. They may not have known the science, but when you walk it’s just enough physical activity to keep the blood flowing, but not so much that it draws blood from your brain. Plus, walking is a muscle memory activity, i.e. you do not need to think about walking in order to walk. Consequently walking (without ear buds in) is an excellent way to activate your default mode network.
The take away here is that if you really want to think, to figure out something, you need to stop feeding your brain with external electronic input. What you’ll find is that your brain will keep working on the problem even when you are not consciously trying to solve it. When you’re driving, walking, falling asleep, waking up, just hanging out, your brain will be working for you. Just stop getting in its way and enjoy the silence.
I’m interested in your techniques – How do YOU make space to think?