Martin Rue

Making things. Writing code. Languages.

Be With Your Thoughts More Often

Whilst walking to work this morning, I noticed myself doing something that I wouldn’t normally give a second thought to. I took out my phone and checked Twitter. After a few minutes of avoiding lamp posts whilst scrolling through tweets I’d missed the night before, I moved onto Facebook.

A few minutes later I was content with the world of Facebook and instead trawling through the endless pictures of pugs and selfies on Instagram. Apparently, a 15 minute walk was ample time to also check my email and take a brief look at Hacker News before arriving at the office.

When I first started doing this, it gave me certain sense of productivity. In a short 15 minute walk I would have an idea of what my friends were doing, what was being discussed in the various Facebook groups, projects/issues being talked about on Hacker News and the current state of cute pugs on the internet.

But it’s not really productive at all, of course. In fact, it’s dangerous and it’s a big distraction.

How could it be a distraction when I was simply walking to work – what was I being distracted from?

The problem with needing to be busy at every moment of the day is that it leaves no time for pure thought. Our brains are the most amazing, powerful tools we have and yet we often try our best to avoid being alone with them, constantly looking for external motivators to keep us occupied.

I’ve always hated the idea of doing nothing and I try very hard to be doing something all the time. The mistake, of course, is that being alone with just your thoughts is not doing nothing. In fact, this is precisely my point. Often the most clear thought comes from situations where external distractions are impossible and you’re left with nothing to do but sit and think.

The sauna/steam room is a good example. After a good workout I like to go and sit in a very hot wooden box and let my skin reach a temperature that makes the big red ‘Panic’ button on the inside suddenly very sensible. Despite having once admired someone using a plastic bag in order to take their iPhone inside, I have so far managed to avoid having anything to do other than breathe and get out alive.

With quite literally nothing at all to do, I find my brain wandering in all kinds of great ways. Because there are very few distractions, it’s quite easy to focus my thoughts on a particular thing and really spend some time thinking clearly about it. How is that vocab trainer going to work? What will it look like and what will it allow a user to do? How will it figure out which words you should be practising?

It’s during these moments that I can be most creative, and it’s incredibly enjoyable to just contemplate and ask myself questions about the things that matter to me.

In the end, being able focus and think clearly about something is like any other skill – the more you do it, the better at it you get. So spend more time with your thoughts and practise thinking, you probably don’t do it enough.