My impression is that ridiculously successful people think constantly about their craft. Richard Feynman was tinkering with mechanical and electrical things at 10. Obsessively. By 13 he was devouring calculus textbooks. He liked the stuff. And then there's the stereotype of great scientists who walk headlong into traffic because their minds are busy manipulating solar systems.
Which you gets wondering: how much does obsession matter?
I'm not talking merely about working hard and focused for 70 hours a week. I'm talking about folks who just can't help it, no matter what they're doing- showering, eating, bearing their wife's babble- they can't help it, some cognitive restoring force nudges their attention back home to their obsession. Here's Sam Walton:
It’s almost embarrassing to admit this, but it’s true: there hasn’t been a day in my adult life when I haven’t spent some time thinking about merchandising. I suspect I have emphasized item merchandising and the importance of promoting items to a greater degree than most any other retail management person in this country. It has been an absolute passion of mine. It is what I enjoy doing as much as anything in the business. I really love to pick an item—maybe the most basic merchandise—and then call attention to it. We used to say you could sell anything if you hung it from the ceiling. So we would buy huge quantities of something and dramatize it. We would blow it out of there when everybody knew we would have only sold a few had we just left it in the normal store position. It is one of the things that has set our company apart from the very beginning and really made us difficult to compete with. And, man, in the early days of Wal-Mart it really got crazy sometimes.Tricking hillbillies to buy bulk flyswatters they don't need gives Walton a boner. Maybe it's a coincidence that he's spawned a tribe of retail billionaires. Probably not.
What fraction of my waking hours since I turned 20 have I spent consumed by work, or thoughts useful to work? By "consumed" I mean in a state of flow, like you experience playing a fun video game? That rules out any time spent working hungover, or tired, or detached, slouched in my chair hurrying to finish something Good Enough, or passively reading a book. And by "useful to work" I'm quite permissive: any kind of stock research, any kind of study on math, business, econ, and science. I'll even give partial credit to political crap if genuinely consumed in it, since rational analysis is a general skill worth practicing.
It's a low number. It can't be more than two hours per day, or 1/8th of my waking hours. And it might be much lower. That's simultaneously embarrassing and promising since it implies I'm lying flat on my ass staring way up at my ceiling.
People like Greg Cochran got me thinking about this because the guy seems superhuman. The breadth and depth of his knowledge boggles my mind. Reading Cochran feels like getting tomahawked on by Lebron James; depending on your mood it's either cool or sorta frustrating. Sure his IQ is probably 160. But I wonder too: does this guy spend, say, half of his waking hours immersed in something?
Seems worth thinking about ways to increase my immersion quotient. You can't brute force it, the mind won't cooperate. Several ideas:
- Find compromises between the Best and Easiest things to do. Do the Best thing that's interesting at the moment.
- Cut out absorbing but useless things like fantasy football, sports in general, TV, political porn, etc. Like, literally, cut them out entirely, and then maybe everything else will seem a bit more interesting.
- Use self-created Anki cards. Rifle through to stimulate interest and ideas. Use them as a launching pad, something to do between work, to find the next thing interesting thing to work on.
- In down time use Anki i-phone to tear your mind from whatever neurotic, pathetic, useless shit you're thinking about to something better. (I'm increasingly convinced that the stickiness of memories and connections depends lots on the sheer frequency of recall.)
- Notice that entirely novel topics are frustrating, entirely redundant topics are boring, and partially redundant ones are ideally interesting and useful. Focus on building out from your existing base one overlapping piece at a time, until your web consumes more and more of what you encounter. Notice that formerly boring topics become interesting once you understand them a bit better, which implies that, as your web expands, more topics become interesting, and the Best thing to do may also be interesting more frequently.