A Round Trip to Nowhere
I thought I was the lone ascetic that has ridden a bus to New York City during rush hour just to turn back around at the Port Authority so I could continue my writing in solitude. I understand that this sounds certifiably insane. But sometimes that uninterrupted time is near impossible to find. And apparently, I’m not alone. Just the other day, I met my match in Peter Shankman. Peter is both a prolific writer, commentator and an authority on channeling your focus for greater productivity. Peter has written and spoken extensively on how to harness his Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) as a secret weapon to create hyper focus. This included boarding a flight to Tokyo and back with the sole purpose of accelerating his writing for a publisher’s deadline that was quickly approaching. A bus trip is one thing. A roundtrip to Japan takes it to a whole other level. And he didn’t even try the sushi.
But I think that Peter is on to something. Long, monotonous journeys on mass transportation, like buses and planes, may very well be one of the last dominions of creative solitude. Despite some of the inconveniences of travel, it remains one of the few places where you can hide in plain sight. While sitting amongst strangers for extended periods of time, our internal clock freezes and invites focus and reflection. The physical journey serves as a metaphor for a personal journey, inviting your mind to wander and create curious connections. While it may not be a day at the spa, being trapped on transit can provide just the right kind of behavioral “nudge” that helps us block out the routine intrusions that diminish our capacity to focus.
Artists and inventors have long understood the importance of mental solitude to produce creative works. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that “conversation enriches the understanding, but solitude is the school of genius.” Steve Wozniak, “the pioneer of the personal computer,” retreated into the privacy of his home by himself in order to build the first prototype of the Apple computer. Contemporary creativity researchers often cite the benefit of solitude in aiding the process of incubation, in which our non-conscious mind works to solve problems that our conscious mind struggles to overcome. What Emerson, Wozniak and their legion thoroughly understood is that while collaboration plays an important role in shaping and maturing our ideas, solitude remains a key ingredient in catalyzing our creative insights and focusing our thinking.
Seeking solitude doesn’t have to be as dramatic as booking a round trip to nowhere. But it does require intention and forethought. So, here’s three easy suggestions that you can use the next time you have a fast approaching deadline or simply need to reboot your brain to regain your focus:
Spot the Opportunities and Protect Them: You would be amazed how many “trips to nowhere” exist in our lives. Waiting on line at the supermarket. Your commute. Waiting to pick up the kids at an activity. Spot the opportunity and then consciously protect that time for solitude.
Create the Opportunities: If the opportunities for solitude are few and far between, create them. I do not savor early mornings. But there is time and opportunity awaiting you if you wake up a half hour before anyone else is stirring. Or try creating a “fake” meeting with yourself on your calendar a couple of times per week, shut your door and vow to use this as your time for solitude.
Resist the Urge!: When you spot or create those rare opportunities to enjoy solitude, shut the devices down. The siren call of your device can be irresistible. Sometimes the only option is to go cold turkey. Power it down. Lock it in the drawer. Put your phone in the spa to get some rest.
The French philosopher, Pascal, perhaps put it best when he said, “All men's miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.” So, for that that next bus ride or flight, when the WIFI signal and its alluring array of green bars pops up, resist the temptation. And instead, sit back and allow yourself to enjoy some uninterrupted creative solitude.