Think your thoughts

We live in the most amazing time for ideas. They’re all over the place. It’s never been easier to share them, and indeed they are shared at a phenomenal pace1.

It’s so easy to find ideas that it’s a little difficult to squeeze our ideas into the noise. Plenty of folks will tell you how to “build an audience”, but I want to make it personal.

Build an audience with yourself!

Make room for your thoughts to exist in your head despite all the noise that exists in our modern world.

1. Clear mornings

I’m a morning person. I do my best work early in the day. Look at my calendar, you’ll see this. One giant, defensive block to focus in the morning and get stuff done. Please — do not schedule me in the morning2!

However, I’ve come to think there’s more to a good morning than a clear schedule. Having a clear mind, with stillness and lack of lingering stressors, helps a lot! If I wake up with something bouncing around in my head, seize it or solve it. Write it down to think it through or solve tension3 my brain has dwelled on overnight.

Going deeper into a clear mind reveals the absence of others. A truly spectacular morning of creativity correlates to (almost) exclusively thinking my thoughts. My ideas in my head4 — great! Someone else’s idea, via social media, television, books; promising, but likely not as good.

2. Attention machines

Among books, television, podcast, radio, etc., ideas via social media are particularly hard to avoid. I have to put a lot of discipline/energy into “don’t open socials, chats, emails, news, etc.” before 11:30am lest another idea trample over my idea.

Modern social media has evolved, in form and function, to bypass the smart part of our brains and go straight for the emotional and often irrational part. It’s the upsetting and frustrating ideas that stick with me when I use social media. Rarely do I open my laptop, read social media for a few minutes until a good idea comes up, and then close the laptop to go think about it.

The doom-scroll demands more scroll.

The upside is, we may also live in a moment where the abundance of ideas surfaced by attention machines comes into balance as alternatives to hyper-scaled social networks come into play. I’m hopeful that to a smaller extent, Robin Sloan’s words on de-leveraging from Twitter will start to ring true as Twitter, in particular, fades from prominence:

The speed with which Twitter recedes in your mind will shock you. Like a demon from a folktale, the kind that only gains power when you invite it into your home, the platform melts like mist when that invitation is rescinded.

3. No retreat

The previous is not to imply that attention machines aren’t useful! I don’t want to Waldenpond or go full digital luddite. When I squint at it with optimism, some forms of social media look like a networked/distributed system attempting to reach a consensus5.

There are less intense attention machines that aren’t built around hyper-tuned engagement loops. Basically anything where I have a list of things to watch/read/enjoy is an attention machine: a Netflix watch list, YouTube subscriptions, Substack subscriptions, and the humble/old RSS reader. These don’t demand that I stay in a loop, thinking other people’s thoughts and consuming the surrounding ads. Which is useful because I want to get other people’s thoughts, but only on my terms.

I find that my thoughts are more interesting if I prime them with idea from specific authors via various primary sources, social networks and otherwise. It’s thrilling to discover new scenes, folks self-organizing into web-rings and networks and chats to think about or share the commonality and challenge of their work or hobby. Having that kind of energy bouncing around in my head tends to improve my ideas rather than dilute them like hyper-scaled social networks might.

Bottom line: keep using the web to find fascinating people and scenes, participate in a few of them.

4. Seize your thoughts

I return to A Precious Hour from Rands in Repose, a lot:

Each day I blocked off a precious hour to build something.

Every day. One hour. No matter what.

Every day? Yup. Including weekends.

An hour? Yup, 60 full minutes. More if I can afford it.

Doing what? The definition of “building a thing” is loose. All I know is that I get rid of my to-do list, I tuck the iPhone safely away, and if there is a door, I close it. Whether it’s an hour of Choose yourownadventure Wikipedia research, an intense writing session, or endlessly tinkering with the typography on the site, it’s an hour well spent.

Make the most of the mornings (afternoons, evenings, whenever it is for you). Work the thoughts I find compelling, not merely upsetting or prevalent. Share it with interesting people. That’s how an exciting life of thinking my own ideas happens6.

  1. For better or worse! 😬🤷
  2. This is as much a message to myself as anyone else. Too many times I’ve scheduled an appointment in the morning thinking “surely it will be fine this time” and surely enough current-me regrets the decisions of past-me.
  3. Usually: think it through by writing it down.
  4. What a concept!
  5. See also: Graph Minds.
  6. I think!
Adam Keys @therealadam