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Thinking Time

Thinking Time

January 1, 2019 3:30 pmComments are Disabled

Happy New Year 2019.

I’ve decided to take a page out of Fred Wilson’s book and write a blog post every day, even if it’s a short one, as long as it’s meaningful.

This comes on the heels of 2018’s grand experiment where I committed to, and succeeded, in posting one photo per day. I’ll continue to invest in that medium this year, but writing is the thing I’ve always wanted to do more of and haven’t forced myself to commit to, so I’m giving it a shot.

Right now, I’m a friend’s flat in Athens, recovering from an 8-hour driving day capping off a 2600-km New Years’ road trip through Greece and Bulgaria. It was a rewarding experience and deserves its own blog post, but what’s on my mind about the trip right now, specifically, is thinking time.

It’s hard to imagine what two people spend 24+ hours in the car together doing or talking about, and the short answer is, not much.

The human brain–though I can only speak for mine I believe it applies to most–has a remarkable ability to pass idle time marinating in its own thoughts. This is what surprised me the most. If you ask me ahead of time, the prospect of driving for 3-5 hours straight at a time sounds crazy boring.

But the time really does fly by, even when there’s supposedly “nothing” going on. Your own thoughts can be fantastic company. It’s a wonder we spend so much time and effort doing everything we can to distance ourselves from them.

For me, a normal day is abuzz with distractions from every direction. Colleagues, friends, social media, a book, a podcast, WhatsApp, Netflix, the iPhone news screen which annoyingly vanishes the interesting headline right before you have a chance to click through. I’ve written in the past how rare it is to enjoy just fifteen minutes without anything going on except the thoughts in your own head.

Surely this is a modern development. Humans have always craved distraction but never before has the distraction been so, well, distracting.

Long driving, like meditation (something I’ve read about but never actually tried), is an empty headspace, absent music, which can have its own hypnotic quality. Can’t text, can’t call, can only talk about so much before you start repeating your own stories. Only so many things on the road to look at or moments to talk about.

We spend so little time in our own headspace perhaps because it can be scary in there. A lot of thoughts come up when there’s no indicator that says “Playing Next Episode in 5…4…3…”

That embarrassing moment from years ago that still gives me anxiety. That came up.

The burst of panic that I left my passport back on the dresser in Varna. That came up.

The realization that I haven’t heard from someone I consider a close friend in long enough that they might not be a close friend anymore. That came up.

But for all the dreaded, awkward, fingernail-squeezing mental anguish one’s own brain can unleash on itself, it was also a positive opportunity to think about what my 2019 is going to look like. What my new Instagram handle is going to be. Which friends I want to invest more in this year. Which, unfortunately, less. What my first of three hundred sixty-five blog posts is going to be about.

Because unlike in conversation, on TV, or on the menu at a restaurant, you can never control what crazy, weird, fun, scary or enlightening ideas occur to you in your own head. The brain will wander through the vast repository of thoughts and memories it has available to it and tell you what it wants you to pay attention to.

Which is, admittedly, why I, along with so many in today’s world, crave distraction, because paradoxically, those distractions are under my control. But this isn’t good for me, and it isn’t good for the world. The world needs people, in the worthy words of Wordsworth, to “wander lonely as a cloud” in order to find and be inspired, to invent and create, ponder and grieve and plan and worry and hate and love.

We evolved big brains to use them. Or, more correctly, our big brains evolved because they were useful. We should use ours.

So, I’m going to start 2019 by resolving to make an effort to limit my distraction time and maximize my headspace time, be it in a car, staring at the sky, or some other equally meditative exercise. Though, for the record, not meditation. That sounds crazy boring.

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