If I asked you to do nothing for fifteen minutes, could you?
I’m going to let you in on a secret: I’m writing my next book. It is a long, arduous, fulfilling process that makes me indescribably happy and keeps me up late at night. Don’t ask when it will be done; it’s a book, not an apple strudel.
In the stretch since my previous project, Rethink Love, I have evolved in countless ways and grown as a person and an author. One of the ways in which I have solidified my process, and perhaps more importantly found a name for that part, is in the concept of non-time.
Albert Einstein was a theoretical physicist. I am a change junkie. His thesis, A New Determination of Molecular Dimensions, is nothing like what my book will be. He broke apart, in his mind, journals, and gargantuan chalkboards, the very fabric of space-time. I dive into the wonders of the universe from a spiritual springboard and try to enlighten the people around me and the readers of my blogs and books.
Many of Einstein’s greatest ideas came to him while bobbing along the water in his 23’ sailboat on a breezeless afternoon. Contrary to popular opinion, Steve Jobs was an exceptional procrastinator, given to daydreaming and seemingly absent noodling on ideas that would revolutionize work and play. They both excelled in the field of idea incubation, utilizing something researchers have come to call “non-time.” This is where I want to take a page from both Jobs’ and Einstein’s books.
I don’t sail. I work out two hours a day, six days a week. During exercise classes, my thoughts sometimes break through, shouting that I really ought to be at my desk punching keys or scribbling furiously on a legal pad, but it’s during those workouts that I get most of my best ideas. I even carry a small journal to jot ideas, connections, and stories that come to me in my non-time.
These moments of deliberate lack of creative effort are, I’ve found, integral to my work. I believe that the best, most important things I have to say are inspired and honed by a connection to my Source. Whether Einstein believed the same about his work on general relativity or not, we all can benefit from moments of withdrawal from the constant pressure to perform and a connection to the stillness of the world beyond.
And that’s what I want for you. I want to encourage you to take a moment to allow yourself to let go of the demand that our world puts on us to churn out content. The perfect analogy of imperfection is the Twitch streamer who loses followers if she isn’t Live fifteen hours a day. She is the ultimate exponent of the culture we’ve created that equates our worth with the time of our lives we are obviously and clearly productive. But the research into non-time by neuroscientists like David Strayer runs counter-intuitive to that toxic concept of always-on, always-producing, always-talking.
David Strayer, a cognitive neuroscientist specializing in multi-tasking, did a fascinating study of Outward Bound students. He gave half of a group of hikers a creativity quiz prior to sending them backpacking into the wilderness. The other half were tested on their fourth day in, cleansed of their screens and the pressures of the material world to post, comment, and like. The second group scored a whopping 50% better on the Remote Associates Test, which asks people to identify word associations that aren’t immediately obvious, than the first cohort, suggesting scientific proof to what many of us instinctively know: we are better, more creative, and more in tune with the universe and our place in it when we allow ourselves the room to unplug.
Strayer chalked up his findings to several things: exposure to nature, strenuous exercise, and electronic abandonment. These are all wonderful elements of non-time. Non-time is a chance to sit in silence or a maddening crowd without the expectation of performance. We are giving ourselves leeway to think or not, to connect or not, in order to warm ourselves in the Light to which we belong without the stress of being “on.”
I believe non-time is useful for writing my next book. I believe it is useful in a kitchen remodel. I believe it is useful in the soft skills of parenting and loving your partner fully and finishing a crossword puzzle.
The greatest function of our brains is not thinking or creating new worlds. Our minds are incredibly adept filters. Without volition, they sort through (in my case) decades of information, input, memories, and knowledge. Giving your brain brief stretches of non-time allows it to synthesize and incubate ideas that would otherwise go unexplored. When you’ve given your mind (and ideally, your spirit, heart, and soul) a chance to breathe, it can and will reward you with your own “Eureka!” moment, as Jessica Stillman wrote in Inc.com.
But here’s my word of warning. Non-time is not the sole key to success. Einstein, Jobs, you, and I must feed our minds and souls constantly so that in those moments of blissful window-staring, the subconscious has tinker toys to construct, crash, and rebuild into new and exciting worlds. We are made to expend effort creating a more perfect life and more perfect versions of ourselves. I’m simply taking solace in the fact – and hope that you do as well – that occasionally our effort can appear effortless.
RETHINK MOMENT: What are you doing to recharge? And when was the last time your efforts to recharge felt like, well, effort?
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I understand what you mean about taking time away from creative work like writing for a period in order to reflect and refresh clarity. And I understand how doing a different kind of work can provide that space. I’m just wondering about absolute stillness, like really not doing anything, not even meditating, maybe just sitting watching listening, not having any point or agenda. I don’t know why this seems important and so difficult, it’s like if I really did absolutely nothing it would require full engagement of restriction and absolute certainty. With working out come health benefits, and in reference to spiritual work, a focus on exercise routine and movement is like dance, celebratory, and so fresh ideas from a clear place can arise when you’re open to receiving them
You have a great mind and write beautifully! And were you aware Jobs and Einstein had significant personal problems too? Successful icons shouldn’t be emulated. Everyone is a genuine self and success manifests differently. It is a delicate balance pleasing your true self and society. Doing nothing and not pursuing outward success whilst remaining happy is both harder and maybe more rewarding than chasing carrots. Recipe for good poetry and the life of a bard. People choose to balance their tme.