Recently, a friend of mine, Bill Pennington (@blazing_b on Twitter) shared an amazing reminder of an article called “The No. 1 Habit of Highly Creative People.” I really got to thinking a lot about this, and all the really creative people I know that have been successful in flourishing within the confines of their right-brain (the more complex, amorphous and sometimes torrential, side of our intellect – my opinion of course).
The average American adult spends 8 1/2 hours a day staring into screens. We have gotten down on our knees and ripped the faucet off the water main of information with mouths and hands wide open. By majority, we are a culture of people in a constant state of waiting for the next thing to do, the next thing to react to, to eat, to drink, to socialize, to attend, to take care of, to engage on whatever level enough to prompt us to feel like we know what we’re supposed to do next while we are awake. I truly believe it’s NOT human nature that we are control freaks with how much idle time we allow. I believe we are taught by our environment how to, and why we should limit our solitude, deviate from it, stay misinformed on how to leverage it for personal growth. We do this out of fear. To us I think deep down we know that solitude is the ultimate place of vulnerability, where we are forced to face the truth, ourselves, with no distraction, and it’s uncomfortable.
I think our full tilt culture lacks balance in a way that creates more unnecessary stress, turmoil, and bad decision-making than we give it credit for. We are feeding our brains a TON of info without allowing them enough time to process what we’re taking in, apply it to our psyche the way it’s meant to be physiologically and emotionally applied, and then purge the excess “noise” from our short-term memories so that we can move onto the next thing.
The Similarity Between Mental & Physical Process
The average American eats about 1,800 pounds of food per year, or about five pounds per day.
Our brains are the digestive systems of information. Our actual digestive systems are a process, a series of required steps to do their job correctly, only beneficial if all steps are allowed to happen. Just like when we consume food and beverages, we chew it, swallow it, digest it – methodically processing and getting all required nutrients where possible and then disposing of the unnecessary.
Now if, relatively speaking of course, we ate 100 times the amount of food we normally do, for one day (500 pounds vs. 5 pounds), but only allowing our bodies to only process and dispose of it at the same frequency we do on an average day when we ate only 5 pounds of food, what would happen? Would our body adjust and allow more throughput to accomodate the massive increase in regular input (food)? Would our stomach eventually learn to produce a 100 times more acid to break down food faster? Would our intestines eventually adjust, able to work 100 times harder to absorb nutrients? Would our bodies eventually be able exploit and take advantage of 100 times the intake of vitamins from those nutrients? Would we be able to eventually expel 100 times more waste after processing? I know that’s a little graphic but you get my point.
My Answer: Hell NO it wouldn’t.
Our bodies would shut down. Heart attacks, strokes, bursting organs, and aneurisms would dominate the mortality charts of the U.S. Department of Health within 48 hours. The reason for this is that our bodies are designed for a certain amount of input within a range, a range whose boundaries guarantee the survival of our species. It is to this point, I believe that our brains have their own set of limitations as well when it comes to input. The Information Age has really put humanity’s processing power to the test. [I went into more detail on my opinion about this test in this post.]
Our Capacity for Input, The Natural Limitations
SMS, Facebook, IM, Email, RSS, Breaking News from 100 sources at within seconds via web, smartphone, and now iPads and other tablet computers, is now becoming a normal way of life. To boot, that is all information that blasts us in the side of the skull OUTSIDE the face-to-face part of our daily lives (raising children, having significant others, working in an office with other professionals, talking to friends, doing dishes and laundry, et al.).
I do believe that we’ve been able to adjust quite well to the amount of information now instantly available via computer and phone. But I still think that we have limits that we are inadvertently overlooking. The implementation of boundaries supporting these limitations is our responsibility and is only possible with balance.
Solitude & Balance
The sister post to the one about Creativity on ZenHabits.net was called “The Lost Art of Solitude.“ What an amazing post this was. And until I applied it to my life over the last year or so, I had no idea how important this was for our daily existence.
I’m a single dad with 3 sons that I have half the week. I have a challenging and busy (sometimes more than full time) corporate job that I spend at least 45-50 hours a week on, sometimes more depending on what’s going on, and I’m in a band (95% fun, 5% work). Whether it’s fun or work, it’s all activity, input requiring a response or some tending to from me.
When I started carving out one day a week for solitude, it was a dramatic visceral experience at first. I equate it with me freeing up a traffic jam of information, a gridlock made of of millions of cars filled with frustrated drivers and passengers waiting to get through to reach their final destination. When I allowed myself to be alone for a day, letting some of these proverbial cars through, I was not only able to start processing what I had experienced during the week, I was also freeing up issues and thoughts, good and bad, in my brain that had been buried for a LONG time, issues that were long overdue for some TLC.
I found that the most significant shifts in development as a person, both personally and professionally, happen when I’m alone, giving myself some time to process life’s input. I end up more inspired, more grounded, more clear-headed, more patient, and more thoughtful in everything I do, even if I just give myself one day, or even one evening a week.
I highly recommend to anyone that they schedule some time for themselves if they don’t already. I don’t believe people should always be alone and not socialize. Just make sure to balance them. The better you balance socializing and solitude, the more you’ll get out of both.
[image borrowed humbly from distractible.org]