Optimal Reflection Conditions
How do you think more? Do less, but specifically. Not generally.
Reflection and Big Thoughts can be deliberately spurred by how you craft your environment and how you shift your state of mind.
Eliminate Distraction and isolate your Focus (but HOW you do this is key)
I took a week “off”, but as my lovely life partner will tell you I didn’t just relax.
I mean, I definitely lounged. Like horizontal for 80% of my canonically allocated hours over 8 days lounged. But I also had my synapses humming and firing and zapping as I sipped my successively stacking Jack and Coke’s (which apparently people have strong feelings about. Who knew?).
Some days were more about laying out life plans together and others were more about fully leveling out my technical foundations in Web3.
And some days were about wondering through the things that need to be built for the promise of this interesting economic incentivization technology layer to be delivered upon fully and equitably. These thoughts are coming soon.
This whole process reset my brain a bit and made me think a lot about the why behind the things I do (or don’t do) and how to make a period of reflection successful. If you’ve been following along with my stream of consciousness then you’re probably familiar with some of my…quirks. What follows is part analysis and part remedy to working within the limits of my corporeal form (tbh don’t click that link unless you’re ready to read some straight insanity). So by the end of the week, I learned a few new things and relearned some things I already knew. I also developed a pretty simple checklist of ways to maximize future periods of reflection.
To set the stage, I tried to somewhat emulate a Bill Gates Think Week (while also balancing enjoying time with my aforementioned core life partner)
While I couldn’t unplug fully because I had just spoken about Crypto at a military veteran startup conference and needed to coordinate the wave of meetings this spurred (good problems), I did successfully limit myself to one batch tech check per day…mostly.
Some Quick Lessons
The “check my device” twitch is powerful and WILL win if you’re not careful. I mean, duh, but it’s always good to call this out. Even without the device, your brain tries to think about checking the device. Wild.
I was reminded I’m physically incapable of sitting still for too long (thanks to anxiety stemming from a crippling fear of stagnation) but also was pumped to realize I’m too damn excited about the world right now to just sit and do nothing.
Big, simple, lucid thoughts are hard to think. They don’t play nicely with your brain, especially when your brain is used to being distracted. It takes conscious effort to not pleasantly distract your kind with the free serotonin that is mainline-able via the internet’s endless cat videos or whatever your brain drug of choice is (also I’m sorry to tell you the fancy chocolate that is Hacker News is still junk food).
Interestingly, now that I’m back I tangibly feel like I “care less” about the barrage of emails and news in my inbox. Maybe it’s temporary and will creep back in, but I’m currently taking advantage of the ruthlessness with which I can cull newsletters that aren’t improving my life materially.
I am going to allocate more time in my normal schedule for big thoughts. Not necessarily deep thoughts (hopefully), but big thoughts. Things that really really matter and affect change. It seemed to work for people smarter than me at Bell Labs and I am dedicating more of my life to this in the hopes that it will unlock more big insights. To do list focused work is addicting for people like me. It creeps and creeps until all my time is focused on trivia.
Rules for Future Reflection Periods
Leave whatever device humanly possible at home. You’re not strong enough to not touch them.
For whatever device you HAVE to bring (be brutally honest), turn it off when you’re done with it and ask your partner to lock it up or hide it if you can. The more barriers to usage the better.
If you’re not alone in a cabin in the woods, then set reminders to stay present when it’s time to be present. These can be physical reminders (written notes) or you can ask your lovely partner to pull you back when you start drifting off when you’re not supposed to. Someone smart told me once that life is rarely sequential. You can’t focus for a year on work then a year on family then a year on yourself. This means you need to fit in a balance of your most important things most of the time. Staying in the context you’re supposed to is crucial to succeeding at that.
It might take a few days for the physical techno itch to subside and even longer for the mental flitting from shallow tree thought to shallow tree thought. Don’t get frustrated. Just chill. Having something easy, but tangible to do helps (like working on a tan or hiking). There’s a reason why wizards have an arcane focus.
Bring out some Big Brain books. Preferably written by people you don’t quite agree with. Some of the best writing advice I found was to write from abundance and I believe thinking works the same way. When you have to regularly stop and ask yourself “do I really believe this?” and analyze why you become a much more active reader and consequently a much more active (and effective) thinker.
Sequence the books. I found a technical book followed by a philosophical/qualitative book set me up for the most interesting thoughts.
Take notes. Not on facts. Take notes on things that make you go hmmm. This forces you to focus on them for just a little bit longer so you can squeeze just a teeny ounce more of wisdom out of the phrase. I take paper notes when I can because it makes that process even slower.
Stay passively ready to write down things inspired by other things aka keep the notebook close by as your most interesting thoughts might happen as you’re showering off the sunscreen from earlier or watching the sunset at the bar on the beach. The subconscious mind has mysterious gears that crank and turn with stuttering effectiveness when you aren’t asking them to do so.
Be zen. The more you try to force lucidity, the more you close your mind to serendipitous realization. Remember that the Dude abides.
Be stupid. If you assume you’re smart from first principles, how are you supposed to ever learn anything new?
It’s good to be back folks.
I hope this added value to your day.
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