active thinking

In creativity, deep thoughts, inspiration, learning, motivation by Jay Clouse

As I’ve written about nearly to death over the last month, I’ve been spending the majority of my time writing! It’s surreal to effectively be a full-time course author while Unreal is sort of in “off-season mode” before the next cohort starts in January.

When I’m writing the script for a video, there are a few considerations:

  • What is/are the learning goal(s)?
  • What are some examples to back them up?
  • How can I best explain this economically, but written using simple terms?

There’s also research, on and on. The most difficult part, frankly, is being very economical with my language (max. ~500 words per script) while explaining something in simple terms that can be understood.

Most of my writing process actually happens in my head before I start writing (same with these emails) so once I begin typing, it’s only a couple proofreads away from being set.

For that process to work, I need to allow myself the space to do what I call “active thinking.” Sitting still, working through the words, the ordering…an active focus on thinking although I’m not really doing anything.

And one of the biggest threats to active thinking are screens. Holy moly do I have a habit of filling space by reaching for a screen (tabs in my browser, social media on my phone).

But when I’m scrolling through a feed or looking at a screen — I’m not doing active thinking! It totally derails the process and makes it take much longer to get the work done.

As I began noticing this, I started asking myself where else was I avoiding active thinking? And I began experimenting.

When I’ve been driving, I’ve tried driving in silence. When I’m not filling my head with music and the lyrics of that music, I’m better able to think actively.

When I’m exercising, if I’m listening to music or a podcast and focused on their words, I have a hard time active thinking. (Podcasts do seem to be less of a threat — the insight I get from interviews will often trigger some active thinking, but I can’t follow that train actively while still listening to the interview).

Recently on a flight, instead of watching a movie or sleeping, I sat in my seat and just tried to think through some of the questions and decisions I’ve been thinking through.

We have so many options now for devoting our attention and filling any “empty space.” Facebook built an empire on harvesting small amounts of attention all through the day. The Screen Time app in iOS gave me a horrifying breakdown of the amount of time I spend scrolling through Instagram — which may as well be shown as time I could be thinking actively.

I know the “social media is a waste of time” thought isn’t at all novel. But, as I’ve put more attention into where I can carve out time to have active, productive thought, I’ve been blown away by the amount of time I’ve wasted and the thought I’ve surrendered.


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