The following article is taken from a chapter in a new book I’m planning to release soon. The book is about cultivating a creative and productive mindset, and using this productivity towards creating great value to share with the world, and, in turn, funding future projects through that value. It’s a book full of interesting techniques and ideas, and some very worthwhile creative method that I know (from experience) works. So, I’m looking forward to that, and I hope you’ll check it out when the time comes!
Now, on to the article…
There’s an old phrase that goes back hundreds of years – panem et circenses. It translates, from Latin, to, ‘bread and circuses.’ It basically refers to frivolous distractions, and was used to describe the diversion process that political leaders can use (and definitely still do today) to keep their people opiated. Give the people trivial pleasures and useless, shortsighted distractions, and you’ll be amazed at how fast a populace is willing to pre-divide and pre-conquer itself.
It’s so easy to not get things done; we invest in apathy all the time. Apathy can come in many forms – social apathy, civic or political apathy, financial apathy, – but, seeing as this site is about reaching your creative goals, I’m going to talk a little bit about that kind.
When I read about the big ‘movers and shakers’ from ‘yesteryear,’ either Thomas Edison or Leonardo da Vinci… (or that character Marky Mark played in Boogie Nights… ) I always noticed how they never seemed to have a ton of distractions in their lives, materially (at least in the beginning). They would work hard, conquer adversity, and become world famous. They’d win. Then, after I finished the book, or the biographical movie, or whatever the format, I would reflect on my own life and think about how spoiled I was compared to these old champions – all the easy access I have to tools that make my life more fun – all the episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm and Boardwalk Empire I’ve downloaded and could easily watch, at the click of a mouse – and I’ll look around and notice that most of my friends are in a similar boat.
It’s not like you have to be rich to have distractions, either, which… probably makes the whole thing worse, if you think about it… It’s as if we’re constantly being invited to live in some weird post-success landscape of mediocre passtimes with no ultimate value…
“Of course the folks from decades or centuries ago could get themselves off their feet and find success,” you might say, “there was literally nothing else to do!”
Ok, I’m not saying that you should throw away every DVD you have or cancel Netflix, but what I am saying is that, at least for a time, it can be EXTREMELY productive to unplug from the world of distractions, so that you might be more productive and creative when you’re forced to fill your time with your own thoughts and ideas. I know, for many, this can be difficult, if you have a job that you come home from and only have a couple of hours before bed… But if you prioritize and set a goal to manage your time, you’ll find that there’s probably SOME free time you can readily devote to this ‘unplugging.’
Now, when I say unplugging, I want to be clear that I’m not talking about going into a forest for a year; or chanting ohms in a cave, or eliminating modern technology from your life altogether. I’m not asking that you necessarily become an monk or a hippie. I’m just pointing out that it can be a good practice to eliminate (at least, temporarily) the bread and circuses in your life, and force yourself to get some of the things you wrote down on your to-do list this from morning.
You might feel strange, cutting yourself off (I know I felt strange when I first start trying to avoid TV) but you need to think about it in the long run, not just the short run. Here’s an exercise – next time you’re committed to becoming productive and want to really get going on one of your goals, and something else comes up – a fun (but possibly trivial) distraction, ask yourself – out loud – the following phrase (it can help to verbalize your ideas whenever possible, as it subconsciously makes them seem more ‘real’): “If I do X Activity, will it help me out with my long term goals, or just help me pass the time TODAY?”
Now, when I say, ‘long term,’ I’m not necessarily talking about 50 years from now, but I’m certainly trying to help steer you away from the ol’ TMFN (“ten minutes from now”) style of thinking that many (myself included) have gotten used to in this panem et circenses society that we find ourselves in.
Turn off distractions, consider the long term, and make yourself hungry. Stop merely consuming, and start producing. How are you going to get hungry enough to create anything of value if you have dozens of immediate-satisfaction-inducing experiences all around you, all the time, forever? It’s no way to create passion for a hobby, goal, business, or even basic fulfillment, that’s for damn sure. You need to make yourself hungry, insanely hungry; it’s a mental state you want to foster in yourself.
Ok, so after you take in all the previous ideas laid out concerning why it is good to get away from distractions, let me go back and contradict myself a tiny bit for a moment and say that distractions CAN be a good thing, if used right. As with most things in life, it is all about context. Using short term pleasures can be a good reward after a productive day/session. In fact, if you can discipline yourself enough, I completely recommend using trivial passtimes as a carrot on a string (even though I hate the phrase, ‘carrot on a string’) to get you to finish that last un-fun task on your list that you’ve been putting off the whole day.