Time to think

I get my best thinking done while taking a shower. There is just something about the calming white noise of the water falling, obscuring my hearing and vision, that allows me to retreat into my thoughts undistracted. Unfortunately this state of meditation lasts just a few short minutes each day. This time is precious. I feel the need to increase my shower time. But how can I do so without wasting gallons of water and turning into a prune each day?

The first step is cutting back on media consumption. Ever since my first job out of college (where I met Curzon) I have been training to be a voracious media consumer. I learned how to increase web consumption efficiency by using (hundreds of) RSS feeds. I turned my “downtime” into “productive” time by listening to lectures, audiobooks and podcasts while doing chores, commuting, etc. Everywhere I went I had my iPod plugged in. I thought I was _learning_ when I was actually just _consuming_. I was so effective at packing each minute of each day full of articles and books that I squeezed out any quiet time just to sit and think.

I have a “wide array of interests”:http://cominganarchy.com/2008/06/17/younghusbands-glorious-cloud-of-interest/, and keeping track of all of them each day snuffs out time for contemplation of the interests themselves. Keeping up to the 24-hour news cycle has always been difficult. With the proliferation of the internet “bloggers”:http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/06/technology/06sweat.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all are having an even worse time: the curse of homo mobilus. I need to get out of this arms race of information consumption and set aside some time to _truly_ process the information that is important to me.

I had a taste of this while “writing my master’s thesis”:http://cominganarchy.com/2007/06/23/information-overloaded/. During the final writing phase I became an information Spartan (iSpartan?). I was living alone in a house in the suburbs of Kingston, secluded with my thoughts. Since graduation I have lost all that precious time in the blissful freedom of post-academia. However, my contemplative life force has duly suffered. I am turning into an information consuming automaton. Consumption has been slowly robbing me of my attention. It is time to shift out of “sponge” mode and begin producing some original thought, and do so without the side-effects of semi-permanent wrinkled skin.

Darwin used to stroll along the “entangled bank.” Kaplan has his house in Massachusetts. I snatch moments of lucidity standing naked in a metal box. Where do you do take time time to think?

About Younghusband

Sir Francis Edward Younghusband (1863-1942) was a British explorer, army officer, military-political officer, and foreign correspondent born in India who led expeditions into Manchuria, Kashgar, and Tibet. He three times tried and failed to scale Mt. Everest and journeyed from China to India, crossing the Gobi desert and the Mustagh Pass (alt. c.19,000 ft/5,791 m) of the Karakoram mountain range in modern day Pakistan. Convinced of Russian designs on British interests in India, Younghusband proactively engaged in the nineteenth century spying and conflict over Central Asia between the British and the Russians known as the Great Game. "Younghusband" is a Canadian who has spent a number of years bouncing back and forth between his home country and Japan. Fluent in Japanese and English with experience in numerous other languages from Spanish to Georgian, Younghusband has travelled throughout Asia. He graduated with an MA from the War Studies Department at the Royal Military College of Canada, where he focussed on the Japanese oil industry and energy security issues. He has recently returned to Canada from Japan, and is working in the technology sector.
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11 Responses to Time to think

  1. Curzon says:

    Like you, I also am a voracious media consumer. Every waking moment I’ve got access to the latest information, thanks to modern information technology. I read news stories on my cell phone as I take the train or sit on the pot, listen to speeches and lectures while at the gym or while riding my bike or even before bed. I am constantly wired and really don’t have time to “just think” — but I find that the best thinking I do is when I’m doing what I’m doing and I’m not wired. Forgetting my cell phone or mp3 player while out of the house or on the road is the best time to just think.

  2. Younghusband says:

    Heh heh. I know you are connected. You commented before the post could send a trackback to my old post! Talk about instantaneous!

    I think this gluttony of media consumption is the reason for my dearth of posting on Coming Anarchy for the past while. At least while in school I had lots of “forced” contemplation time in terms of papers to write on various topics. Once that went away I turned to pure consumption. Hence irregular posting.

    Not that I am advocating an information-free lifestyle. Obviously, any good thinking must be based on the gathering of good information. It is what one does with this information once gathered that is important.

  3. My “draw down” time comes from sitting on a couch reading a book. My mind drifts and I start connecting all that I have consumed and start creating real substantial thought. The jogging in the morning, for me, usually just irons out the kinks. Something about struggling to keep oxygen in my blood cells does wonders.

  4. Kotare says:

    On long walks with the dog. I find swimming lengths at the pool quite meditative, in the sense that you don’t think, you simply focus on stroke, breathing and kicking.

  5. Alfred Russel Wallace says:

    Like Kotare, I get my thinking done at the pool, plodding back and forth. I used to do a bit of thinking while walking the dog, but now get an education instead – mp3 versions of classic books from Librivox.org

  6. Eddie says:

    I used to sit on the carrier fantail and watch the ocean. Now I don’t have that option so its replaced by my morning shower and cooking/eating breakfast, a 25 min. block of the day. Realistically though, I am learning important critical thinking and analysis techniques and tools in school now so I still don’t process the information as well as I could.

  7. I’m with Glenn: Depending on the book I’m reading, I’m able to relax quite well while reading, and consequently connect my thoughts together. This might require that I re-read paragraphs as my mind wanders, but that is just fine. I call this contemplative reading.

    However, other books require concentration that deep reading requires, and I cannot allow any wandering. This is deep reading.

    I find that both contemplative and deep reading are skills that can be built, with effort.

    Also, during long runs and my daily 1:10 commute are good periods of contemplation.

  8. Jay@Soob says:

    This will sound odd, but I find I’m able to lose myself to thought while playing pool (alone) and even while shooting targets on the range. The solitude and repetition bring about an almost meditative state. I find my mind neatly divided. One half devoted the mechanics and considerations of the action and the other kicking around some idea or seeking solution to some problem.

  9. Michael says:

    My work requires a long commute each way, much of it through empty prairie. Good time to think, play Pimsleur language CDs, or just veg out.

  10. This is a very important point. Time to think is a precious commodity, and it frequently gets run down to zero since spouses, bosses and even you may think it is “doing nothing” when there are always limitless demands to be “doing something” is the tiny amount of time we all have.

    Peter Drucker, in the Effective Executive specifically says that the best executives made sure they defended their undisturbed thinking and planning time.

    As a practical matter, I have eliminated all television. The Net — YouTube — and DVDs fill that gap as much as I could possibly need, and more.

    Between work and children, quiet time is very scarce. Fortunately, I can read anywhere, at any time, including walking down the street, and tune out distractions. Like Smitten Eagle, I find that some reading is a way of weaving things together, especially if I am reading something off-angle from subjects I already know about. New connections, analogies, etc. suggest themselves.

    Always, always, always have a book handy so any spare moment can be seized for reading.

    All that said, good thinking / pondering / praying time, when you can do it, is early in the morning before the rest of the house has awaken. If you live by yourself, this is a little easier to come by. Still, it means getting up early enough that you have some un-rushed time before you have to dash off to work.

    I do not find it possible to think very well on the treadmill, BTW.

    A bunch of random responses … .

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