Here are SIX things I learned, thought were interesting, or found useful.
Doing It For The Sake of Doing It
Rodney Mullen started skateboarding in a little detached garage on his family’s farm in Florida. It wasn’t much, but it was cement—the only cement for miles. It was 1974, a few years before the Ollie was invented. He turned pro in 1980 and over the next ten years, he won thirty-four of the thirty-five freestyle contests he entered and invented most of the tricks used today—the flatground ollie, the kickflip, the heelflip, and some thirty others. In 1989, he started World Industries, the first ever skateboarder-owned company. He sold it in 2003 for $46 million. The same year, he was voted the all-time greatest action sports athlete. The following year, he started Almost Skateboards, which is today one of the most successful companies in skateboarding. Rodney’s in his fifties now and still skateboards everyday. He was asked to what he owes his success, how he got to the top of his profession and has stayed there for over four decades. “I’m easily amused,” Rodney said. “It’s such a gift to be able to look at something and to love it for the sake of it…I have that. I’ve nurtured it in my life. Talent is around. I see a lot of people with talent but the one thing they don’t have is that just love of doing it for the sake of it.”
Coach Yourself Like You’d Coach Others
King Solomon was famously wise. In the Bible, the books of Kings, Chronicles, and Matthew all report that men and women travelled far and wide to stand before him and get his advice. Meanwhile, his personal life was a mess. He had some 700 wives and 300 unwedded sexual partners. He was terrible with money. His only son Rehoboam became a tyrant. He could untangle everyone’s problems but his own. Psychologists today call this “Solomon’s Paradox”—we’re very wise when others bring us their problems. Not so much when dealing with our own. Psychologist Ethan Kross found through a series of experiments that one solution is to self-distance—coach yourself through your own problems like you’d coach a friend through theirs. In his book Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters, and How to Harness It, Kross says we do our best reasoning when we take out first-person pronouns. Use “you” instead of “I”. So it’s not, why am I feeling this way. It’s, why are you feeling this way? He calls this “distanced self-talk”.
Let The Unwatched Pot Boil
Mathematicians are an underrated source of insight on the creative process. It is the mathematicians job to solve proofs—to come up with a step-by-step explanation for why something is true. They have to come up with ideas and then test those ideas to see if they are true. They often refer to their job as “worrying about an idea.” One mathematician, for example, Dan Rockmore, analogizes his job to “a dog worrying a bone, chewing at it to get to the marrow—the rich, meaty part.” In a piece in the New Yorker, after a number of anecdotes about mathematicians having a creative breakthrough when they weren’t worrying about their ideas, Rockmore writes, “an initial period of concentration—conscious, directed attention—needs to be followed by some amount of unconscious processing…the key to solving a problem is to take a break from worrying, to move the problem to the back burner, to let the unwatched pot boil.”
Quality Isn’t Affected By Enthusiasm
Andy Weir, author of The Martian, was asked how he motivates himself to write on days he’s not motivated to write. He said he thinks about what he ultimately wants: to produce good writing. Then he reminds himself that there’s no correlation between how motivated he is and how good the writing is. He has days where he feels extremely motivated, where the words pour out of him. And he has days where he feels like crap, where every word takes work. What these days have common, he said, “if you wait a week and look back on the stuff you wrote, you can’t tell the difference between when you were motivated and when you weren’t. This helps me a lot—remembering that the quality of your work isn’t greatly affected by the amount of enthusiasm you had in the moment.”
Let The Mind Think What It Wants To Think About
Paul MacCready tells the story of how he had the idea that won him the Kremer prize for building the first human-powered aircraft. He was fresh off the sting of a loan that went south and left him $100,000 in debt. “It was very hard to find any daydreaming time with those financial pressures,” he said. So he took a vacation. It was the only way he’d be able to “get away with my mind daydreaming.” And “the only time I’ve ever gotten a big idea is when I’ve been daydreaming. The mind thinks for itself. It decides what it wants to think about.”
It’s Good That It Isn’t Getting Easier
In a letter to L.H. Brague Jr., Ernest Hemingway wrote in 1959—some thirty-three years after he published his first novel—”I love to write. But it has never gotten easier to do and you can’t expect it to if you keep trying for something better than you can do.” Distance self-talk: you don’t want it to feel like it’s getting easier. If it feels like it’s easy you are not getting better.” Related: it’s good that it’s a struggle.