Using solitude to develop ideas

If you’re like me, I spend a lot of time listening to others, reading people’s writing and generally being exposed to new ideas from someone else. And you probably don’t spend a lot of time pondering these new ideas and concepts, giving them enough time and energy to integrate into your world view. I am guilty of this and since it was brought to my attention, well I’ve been thinking about it a fair bit.

Interestingly this came up listening to a podcast – the Ezra Klein one where he was talking with Cal Newport about his latest book. I have read some of his stuff before – Deep Work specifically and found it very interesting. But back to my reflection on this… My trip to and from work is usually occupied by a podcast, then into work or conversely into family activities. There is no time for reflection or consideration of what I’ve just heard – sometimes this blog has been the reflection on what I’ve heard or read, a way of exploring a concept through writing. But the tricky bit has been making it all fit together in a way I can explain or even write about cogently. The podcast therefore came up at an opportune time to consider how I absorb new information.

We don’t spend a lot of time alone with our thoughts anymore – this is the main thrust of Cal Newport’s next book, and he spoke on it to Ezra Klein. From my own perspective, I do not spend much time alone with my own thoughts. I’m listening to something else, or reading something else or tied up in the work/family dynamic with no time for a moment’s thought. Even sitting quietly to write this blog is an effort. Finding the space in time to absorb information and allow it to become part of my thinking is tricky indeed. I write this not to whine, but to consider the next steps – how can I make this better? How can I get this to be a situation where I do have time to think and integrate new ideas into my world view?

To answer this, I’ve looked at how I spend my time now and how I can better adapt that. While listening to music I’m less engaged – more able to think about other stuff with the music just being a quiet hum in the background and more able to consider concepts or ideas that have come up. So my afternoon travel is now to music or better yet – to silence. This gives me a couple of hours a week to think and I’ve started being able to really ponder some ideas. The uptake of new information has slowed, yet the existing information is being embedded more firmly. Time will tell whether there is real utility to this, but so far its going pretty well. I don’t hate the quiet, or being alone if I have something to really think about – and that’s a key concept to keep in mind. If you plan out alone time, plan what you are going to do with it. Nature abhors a vacuum so don’t give it one. Have something there to be focussed on and work it. And make sure the phone is off! Time apart from the phone is important not only for solitude work, but also to let your mind relax and have space to float around. I have found it very refreshing. My time for solitude and thinking on this is now up. Good luck with it.
Photo by Rakicevic Nenad from Pexels

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