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The Tinkered Mind
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May 27th, 2021
Many ingredients are required to create the optimal conditions for good work. Nutrition, exercise, low stress, and of course, a good night sleep. A clear and focused mind is the ideal, right?
What if it’s in fact the other way around? What if the work has to be good enough to create optimal conditions for that work to be done?
One of life’s truly great experiences is to be so immersed in some work, some project, some goal or mission that all those presumably necessary ingredients for good work become irrelevant. Food? A complete after thought. Sleep? A long lost fantasy. Exercise? Ha, I have better things to do. When the work is good, and the mission and it’s fruition are imminent, the work becomes our sustenance, if only for a short while. Such stretches of sprinting are not sustainable, but they can persist for an impressive amount of time.
There is something so counter-intuitive about this phenomenon: it makes the rest of life and it’s offer of pleasures pale in comparison to the chance to…. Work more. Humans are, for the overwhelming part, predisposed toward idle laziness. In fact it’s probably accurate to say that all work and productivity is just a short break from our default activity of being lazy and just existing, something social media excels at aiding.
So what’s the deal with that special type of work where we seem to get high on the challenge? Such a phenomenon has many names: one’s calling, a passion, one’s mission, etc. But the ting is we can experience this same frenzy of focus and productivity in multiple disparate domains of life. The experience seems to be independent of the actual activity. It’s a meta-mode of our cognition which can arguably take anything and maybe even everything as it’s object of work.
This is the primary insight of the autodidact who revels in the experience of moving from new skill to new skill looking for the common threads of learning and skill acquisition that lace through all human activities. There is a kind of meta-cognition, a way of thinking that can handle a greater and greater variety of situations and problems more effectively. This is, in essence, learning how to think, as opposed to learning how to do any one specific thing. And the only metric for this process and goal of self-teaching is to hunt for that instance when the mind falls into it’s own rhythm of work on a new goal or skill. The ability to concentrate on something totally foreign with single-minded, undistracted focus is the crown jewel of learning. Often this happens when we are having fun, especially when playing a new game: we can fall into this state rather fast and the learning likewise occurs with increased speed. This state, achieving it and being able to revel in it is really the one metric we need when it comes to any complex goal we seek to accomplish.