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The Tinkered Mind
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April 8th, 2021
A streak of productivity feels fantastic. We often wary to admit it, but it’s right up there with the best of life. But unlike a shot of sugar or even fulfilling company, a streak of productivity can be a difficult thing to come by. The formula is either a fluke, or something complex, or elusively simple. But when it’s happening, when you’re in the flow, you know it. Something about the quality of one’s attention changes, it’s as though there’s a subtle rhythm despite how dynamic and varied the work might be. So, when you’ve lost it, and you need it back, how do you catch the beat?
The metaphor might be more literal than it seems at first. Creatives of all types have personal rituals to help them get into the zone so that they can produce. The fact that there aren’t any real similarities between these rituals other than the fact that they are repeated tells us something important: the core utility is in the reputation itself. With rituals, and with habits, we are creating a kind of beat that exists through time. Our repeated behavior is a heartbeat extrapolated to a larger scale, one of days and weeks.
So when caught in the doldrums of laziness, the task isn’t so much to wait for the right conditions, but to create them. But jumping straight into the creative work isn’t necessarily ideal nor effective. If it was, that’s what we’d do every time, but it’s just not that easy. Instead, we can get the ball rolling with something mindless, but something that nonetheless primes the mind to get in gear.
Brushing teeth or putting on a seatbelt is a mindless and autonomous gesture that happens without thought because both are primed by their previous activities: getting out of bed, and opening the car door, which are also mindless. Habits and ritual behaviour strings together within the mind, one triggering the other, and such mindless rituals can be used to trigger more complex behavior, like sitting down for a long session of writing or coding.
The task here, which is often referred to vaguely as ‘motivation’ isn’t so much an attempt to catch a lost beat as much as it is to try and create a beat, which creates a rhythm for the mind to lose itself in.