Finally, Justification for NOT Paying Attention

By February 12, 2012 Posts 3 Comments
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It’s 3:42AM and I’m standing at my computer, with my infant son strapped to my chest, asleep. My super human wife just spent the last three hours awake, feeding and holding him since his five week old digestive system is making it difficult for him to sleep on his back. So now it’s my turn. Yes I’m groggy, but I’m also totally and completely obsessed with my son. I am completely engrossed and having him close to me and feeling the rhythm of his breathing washes away any tiredness I have because I don’t want to miss a second of this. He’s also too young for me to start biohacking…yet (can you say Quantified Baby?)
 
Over the past couple nights of waking up around 3AM – in yesterday’s case, not going back to bed and simply starting my day partly thanks to Bulletproof Coffee – I’ve discovered something interesting, I seem to get very creative at this time of night. Last night and the night before, I managed to crank out a new eBook on increasing speed during your workouts. It’s a project I’m working on for Hyperink and I was given a week to write it. When I sat down at the computer the first night, barely able to keep my eyes open, I started typing and the ideas began to flow. The second night I finished it and had several “Ah Ha” moments along the way. Now this isn’t to say that I think I’m a particularly good writer or that my writing has improved, just that the ideas flowed better. I tend to write the way I speak anyway so as far as I’m concerned as long as I convey my thoughts in a reasonably understandable manner, I’m already ahead of the game.
I stumbled upon an interesting article in Wired regarding a study done on the effects of alcohol and exhaustion on creativity. It began with a little puzzle:
 
Your task is to move a single line so that the false arithmetic statement below becomes true.

 III = III + III

Did you figure it out? Apparently only 42% of normal subjects in the study got the answer. However, 82% of patients with pre-frontal lobe damage (rendering it impossible to focus attention on anything specific) figured it out. So the fascinating and also frightening thing is that at 3:30ish in the morning, the answer was quickly apparent to me, and I am usually terrible at these kinds of puzzles. If you change the vertical line of the plus sign to make it an equal sign, you get:

III = III = III

The reason it’s so much easier for these patients is that they are not “restricted” by their attention. People without this deficit get stuck in the rut of trying to manipulate the roman numerals and they can’t as easily think “outside the box.” Basically if you put yourself in a situation where you lose your inhibitions than the creative juices can really start flowing.

You can use this to your advantage without causing permanent damage to your brain. It’s actually mind boggling simple. I’m constantly talking in this blog about finding the optimal way to do things and being the most efficient. This still applies but it would appear that when it comes to creative tasks, you should schedule them for the least optimal time in your daily rhythm. If you are a night owl, save those creatives tasks for the wee hours of the morning, and if you tend to hit your stride right after lunch time, it looks like the time to right that novella is after a night out drinking with friends (a University of Illinois at Chicago study found similar benefits to creativity when subjects were intoxicated). Incidentally I think I just made the ultimate case for telecommuting as a means of improving efficiency. How can companies expect all employees to operate at peak efficiency between 9am and 5pm when we all have our own unique circadian rhythms to abide by?

Relating this to achievement architecture, people tend to focus intently on the wrong goals. As thus study shows focusing too much attention on anything will practically guarantee that you’ll miss the forest for the trees. This is why I’m constantly pushing my coaching clients to practice self care and expose themselves to new and different things. It takes them out of themselves and helps them get out of their own way. That’s when you can take advantage of opportunities that were there all along, you just couldn’t recognize them.

The whole purpose of Less Doing is not to free up your time – that is a stepping stone along the way – but to free up your mind so you can use it for the things that make your happy. In my particular case I’m using this time that I have to be up anyway to get something useful done, and in my opinion, the end product is better than if I wrote it during my “workday.”

P.S. I wrote this post in 7 minutes without breaking, I feel like Bradley Cooper in Limitless the first time he tried NZT.

 

2 comments
Dave Young
Dave Young

So cool. Shutting down that judgemental pre-frontal cortex is the key to letting the ideas flow. At Shortcut Blogging, we just put an unreasonable deadline on creativity, which short-circuits the same part of the brain, resulting in a very quick output of awesome ideas. BTW...NZT rocks.

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