Creative Momentum

I was towards the end of that last post as I started seeing my head move towards another point and I figured, rather than just execute a couple hard turns under power I could stand to just hit publish on that as it was and start on something else. The abrupt end is the lesser weevil. Enough of that.

So one of the things I’ve known for a while, since we’ve been coming to Smokey on what roughly amounts to a schedule, that I really need the couple continuous days home for my brain to really get engaged and going on creative pursuits.

I used to think I was just mildly hung over on Fridays, since we hit the whiskey pretty hard after bible study. But tracking it over time I realized that I just don’t really drink that much most of the time. Most here being more than 9/10. So what accounted for the fact that my brain on Fridays has been mostly mush?

Well it comes down to the amount of continuous time spent with my own thoughts. When we’re here having a couple on days other than Thursday it’s usually a couple/few cigars over 3-4 hours. But Thursdays I get here at something like 11 in the morning (today it was about 10:30.) I sit here and fiddlyfart on the laptop (usually writing, sometimes coding) for a couple hours. The guys start to drift in between 1 and 3, at which time I’ll pack up and head over to claim my chair, socialize for a couple hours, a couple hours of study, then we’ll drink and bullshit for the better part of 4 hours.

I’m just tapped OUT the next day, alcohol or not. But Friday afternoon comes around and I can feel my brain emerging from the chaos of having to find its place again.

What I found is that the more consecutive days up the hill (I live on a ridge) the more focused I am.

What I didn’t even consider, but should have, was that those distractions of spending my time just dicking around on the internet are at least as poisonous to sustained focus and creativity as anything else. I’ve known that I’d been training myself out of having willpower in the first place.

What I didn’t realize was that creativity is a force that might as well obey Newton’s laws of motion. And this, now that I roll it around, contributes to what will likely be my next post. But we’ll see.

Creativity obeys laws of momentum and friction. As surely as a train of thought, once interrupted, needs to start from scratch and as surely as moving something from a stop requires you to surpass the friction constant to get it moving again, the momentum of creativity is additive and will continue along a trajectory unless operated on by an external force.

I noticed an aspect of this a few months ago when thinking (and likely writing) about games. Both goofy little mobile games and more involved ones. One of the insidious secrets about those habitual distractions is that they not only interrupt and prevent your attention from being otherwise spent in the moment (for the most part. There’s a category of zenning out while you’re trying to solve a problem that’s not germane) but they take up more time and energy than you might think even when you’re not engaged in whatever the specific pursuit is.

And you can notice that easily enough. But what I found so surprising is how I didn’t make that simplest of leaps, to understanding what the repercussions of that were on the negative space of what my mind was or would optimistically be engaged in.

Even when I’d stop wondering about this or that twitter goings on and retool my mind to a coding or workshop project I always felt like I was starting from scratch. But it never occurred to me that that’s exactly what I was doing.

The problem is that perceptually it just seemed like thinking was getting harder.

From this side of things it’s a moronic low-brow insight. Well duh. I’m starting from scratch every damned time and never getting enough project momentum going to propel me through periods of inertia against the ambient friction of day to day life.

But this week, only a few days in to the month, the act of depriving myself of some of my deepest default distractive behaviors has been absolutely exhausting. I can’t quite autopilot the way I normally do. Oh my brain has found some clever tricks and loopholes. I’ve watched hour after hour of “8 out of 10 cats does countdown” videos (do yourself the favor. It’s hilarious and has been going on for more than 20 seasons.)

After all, it’s an absolute bitch to live an intentional life day to day. I suspect it’s not, rather by definition, our default state. We look for patterns of behavior and perception, habits to take us through the day so we don’t have to spend all of our brainpower incurring the stress of focusing on every single thing at all times.

But all too often we fall in the trap of defaulting that way. We’re REALLY good at it and we can let it consume us entirely.

I could say something like take a couple days and set an unobtrusive alarm on your watch or phone to buzz every half hour or hour you’re awake so you can stop and pay attention to what you’re doing, if you’re just zoning out or are actually engaged with something at a level that’s at least proximate to a Flow state. But I don’t think that really does much except making every minute of the day a twitchy anticipation of the next buzz.

Maybe that works just fine on the neurotypical. I’ll sure as fuck never know.

But the pairing of having something intentional to replace the distractive habit with and a clear imposed barrier to said habit is the combination that will likely work.

Because that friction and momentum works both ways. If you make it hard to get to twitter (or…”just hard enough”) it can shake you into awareness of what you’re doing.

What I did, because I’m a nerd, is block those websites on my home network. As long as I’m using my network, over wifi or cable, I just couldn’t get to them if I wanted. Now…I COULD disable the locks. But wanting to do so and reaching for it is enough of a reminder of what I’m doing to force me into “An Intentional Moment” where I have a chance to make a decision, rather than just plow forward on autopilot.

But like I said, without the counter pressure to have something to take its place it would be an absolutely dead moment. Like pushing a shopping cart past the frozen pizza aisle in the supermarket, if I don’t have something else in my head, some directive to which I can defer, the temptation of frozen pizza is just too great to overcome with a general “well…that’s bad for me” because “yeah but it’s delicious as shit, I’m hungry and need a damned treat” is just too damned strong.

Know what you want to be doing, what you’d ideally be doing. Play games about “what’s my fantasy perfect day” if you’ve got to. Get Right Action in your head however you can. Unfortunately I can’t really help you do that. I mean fuck, I’m 53 and am still skipping along the bottom.

Because pure admonishment in the face of temptation isn’t going to do the trick.

But once you’re going in the right direction? Holy shit! Right Action compounds. Good Ideas and creativity have momentum. It doesn’t take long once you’re moving. And I’m not going to say I’m free of the temptation to waste time, the temptation to unshackle myself from the effort required to live more intentionally.

The payoff, even on the front end of it, is crazy. These things I’m working on are exciting! I’m more interested in thinking about and working on them than I am in wasting time.

This interim project is getting more interesting as I keep adding ideas to it. Now I’m in danger over overengineering it. That’s fine. But I’ll get the basic one built (one of it’s saving graces is that it’s a cheap thing to build.) Then I’ll start right out on the next one…

adding One More Thing.