There is no single greater resource in the modern age than the ability to focus. Multitasking is a lie. We do not thrive on multiple systems running at once; therefore, we should not be striving to create a mind that does the same thing.
Creativity depends on emptiness. Man cannot create in chaos. Go ahead and tell yourself your mess is essential to your process, or that creatives are statistically more likely to work in unorganized patterns. Keep downloading more and more files into your databases.
In his book "Super Rich," Russel Simmons talks about the concept of Junk Mail. If your inbox didn't have a good junk mail filter, you couldn't even get to your essential tasks. The good information would be lost amidst the bullshit.
Now compound email with Social Media, news updates, menial work tasks, trivial websites, and any other stress we throw on top of our minds each day. Every alert is a distraction. Every time we check our inbox, we are breaking our flow.
How often do we browse the internet with a million tabs open and a hundred programs running in the background?
We must learn to find stillness. Inspiration comes through peace. Woody Allen would take hour-long showers while he daydreamed screenplays. Schopenhauer took walks you could set your clock by. Solitude is a creative's best friend.
Enter super sleuth, Sherlock Holmes. In 1887, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote:
"I consider that a man's brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skillful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones."
Memory is a finite resource. Concentration is a finite resource. Willpower is a finite resource. Every time we take in something new, every time we switch tasks, we absolve a bit of our resources. Creativity thrives on deep work. Creatives do not create without empty space.
When we consistently shift tasks and add points of data to our brain, what are we actually doing? By continually checking email, texting, checking Twitter, posting to Facebook, checking Instagram, listening to podcasts, or whatever the dopamine drip may be, we lower our IQ by 15 points.
There is a time and a place for consuming information. How else does a writer know what they like to write but by reading? How does a filmmaker know what to shoot but by watching movies? The secret is that the brain oscillates.
We need moments of deep rest if we want deep concentration, and when we are off, we need to be off. This is true in sports as well. The athletes who make the most strength gains in their training are the ones who treated their recovery as seriously as they treated their training.
Think about it, when we were kids, what did our parents say to us? Could we stay up all night and watch TV, maybe hoping to catch Cinemax after midnight? Could we play video games and neglect all our homework or dinner? No. And yet, now as adults, we don't set any restrictions on the constant flow of information we allow on our phones and computers.
We fall into the trap of, "But, it's the news! I have to stay up to date," or, "I'm learning! If I want to get smarter, I have to keep learning."
Remember, the people designing these websites do not have your best interest in mind. Video games, YouTube, Netflix, Facebook, virtually every form of social media in existence, is designed to keep you coming back for more. Social media is the cigarette of this generation.
Every time you look at your phone, go to a website or buy something that data is stored. There are thousands, if not millions of designers behind that screen, you are looking at, and they are all focused on keeping you on the page for longer and longer.
The antidote for this is learning to be okay with stillness. Just as there is poetry between the lines of a play, there is beauty in the silent moments of life.
It seems counterintuitive, but as creatives we must learn to be comfortable with quiet. We must learn to enjoy moments of peace. The human body can only handle so much stress.
Just as we need ample rest, if we wish to grow our muscles, our minds need ample time to decompress. Otherwise, we tap out and fry our ability to concentrate.
Don't be afraid to take a breath. Don't be afraid to take two breaths. Inspiration loves to strike when we least expect it when we are relaxed. Gustave Flaubert, the author of "Madame Bovary," wrote, "Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work."
One day we sync with our technology and becoming living superheroes. The deductive power of Sherlock Holmes will pale in comparison to our ability to play a video game, have sex, write a play, record a YouTube Video, and solve all our friends' political issues at the same time. But until that Dr. Manhattan moment arrives, we must work with the hardware we have, and the best thing we can do for it, right now, is to give it a goddamn break.
Brock D. Vickers
This is the beginning of a new part of life: a habit: an idea: a routine to dig at what makes a man great.