Here are SIX things I learned, thought were interesting, or found useful.
Find The Time To Get Bored
I’m increasingly fascinated by the vast number of benefits of spending chunks of time being bored and by what the mind is doing when you aren’t doing anything. And, by the vast number of forces that prevent chunks of time being bored. The prolific Neil Gaiman was once asked where he gets all his ideas. “From daydreaming,” he said. “You get ideas from being bored. The trouble with these days is that it’s really hard to get bored. I have 2.4 million people on Twitter who will entertain me at any moment…it’s really hard to get bored.” If there’s any difference between him and less creative people, he said, “I’m much better at putting my phone away, going for boring walks, actually trying to find the [time and] space to get bored in. That’s what I’ve started saying to people who say ‘I want to be a writer,” I say ‘great, get bored.’”
Train The No-Go Circuit
One of the forces that can prevent one from spending time being bored is our impulse to go. In the brain, there is what’s called the basal ganglia. The basal ganglia is responsible for controlling and integrating thought and action. It has two main circuits, which Dr. Andrew Huberman refers to as the “go” and “no-go” circuits. In the famous Stanford marshmallow experiment on delayed gratification, when the kid can’t resist eating the marshmallow, that’s the “go” circuit. Or when you feel an urge to reach for your phone to relieve a moment of boredom, but you resist and sit with the boredom, that’s the “no-go” circuit. “One of the things I do,” Huberman said, “to reinforce these circuits is every day, I try to have 20 to 30 ‘no-go’s.’ And the ‘no-go’s’ can be trivial—like I’m ready to pick up my phone, but I force myself to not pick it up.” Huberman looks for these opportunities to train and reinforce the no-go circuit, he said, because neural circuits are “generic”—when you get better at resisting that urge to pick up your phone, you get better at subordinating impulses in general.
Work Like A Lion
Another force that can prevent one from spending time being bored is the feeling that one could always be working. Naval Ravikant has a good framework: work like a lion. “The way people tend to work most effectively, especially in knowledge work, is to sprint as hard as they can…and then rest.” It’s like a lion hunting, he says: sit, wait for prey, sprint, eat, rest, repeat. The way to work most ineffectively is to work like a cow standing in the pasture all day, slowly grazing grass.
The Most Dangerous Form of Procrastination
Another force that can prevent one from spending time being bored is that being bored looks a lot like doing nothing. Most of what’s written on topics like productivity and procrastination leaves a reader feeling like they always have to be up and doing. It can be hard to avoid the feeling guilt when one has found some space to be bored. So, often, to avoid looking like you are doing nothing, you waste chunks of time looking like you are doing something. This—looking busy—is “the most dangerous form of procrastination,” as Paul Graham says. “Because it doesn’t feel like procrastination.” You’re doing stuff. Just the wrong stuff.
Move Slower, And Do More Execution
Another force that can prevent one from spending time being bored is other people. You may pick up the work habits of a coworker, for instance, neglecting the fact that no two brains thrive on the same habits. Abraham Lincoln’s law partner, William Herndon, had a brain that worked faster than Lincoln’s. Lincoln’s biographer tells the story of a time Herndon made a comment that he wished Lincoln could work faster. Lincoln told him his mind works differently than Herndon’s. To illustrate the difference, Lincoln picked up a short twin blade knife a long jack knife. He picked up the small knife: “See here it opens quickly and at the point travels through but a small portion of space.” He then picked up the long bladed jack knife: “It opens slowly and its points travel through a greater distance of space than your little knife: it moves slower than your little knife, but it can do more execution…Just so with these long convolutions of my brain. They have to act slowly—pass as it were through a greater space than shorter convolutions that snap off quickly…I commence way back like the boys do when they want to get a good start. My weight and speed get momentum to jump far.”
Predetermine the Stopping Point
From what I’ve read and heard him describe about his work habits, Jerry Seinfeld works like a lion. For instance, he doesn’t sit down to write without predetermining when he will stop writing. Most people sit down with an open-ended timeframe. “That’s a ridiculous torture to put on a human being’s head,” he said. “It’s like if you hire a trainer to get in shape, and he comes over, and you go, ‘How long is the session?’ And he goes, ‘It’s open-ended.’ Forget it. I’m not doing it. It’s over right there. You’ve got to control what your brain can take. So if you’re going to exercise, you got to know when it’s going to end. ‘When is the workout over?’ ‘Let’s do 30 minutes.’ ‘Okay, great.’ Now we’re getting somewhere. I can do 30 minutes.”