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Crossing the Stream to Deeper

“If you want to win the war for attention, don’t try to say ‘no’ to the trivial distractions you find on the information smorgasbord; try to say ‘yes’ to the subject that arouses a terrifying longing, and let the terrifying longing crowd out everything else….

The way to discover a terrifying longing is to liberate yourself from the self-censoring labels you began to tell yourself over the course of your mis-education… Focus on the external objects of fascination, not on who you think you are. Find people with overlapping obsessions.

The information universe tempts you with mildly pleasant but ultimately numbing diversions. The only way to stay fully alive is to dive down to your obsessions six fathoms deep. Down there it’s possible to make progress toward fulfilling your terrifying longing, which is the experience that produces the joy.”
— David Brooks, “The Art of Focus”, The New York Times

The tricky thing about discovering “primary source” material is that you’ll uncover that what you believed to be primary source references other primary sources, which infers they aren’t the primary source at all. Such is the Great Conversation, spinning through life one book, interview or article at a time. We leap from one to the other, like stones across a stream, until we reach our destination with delight (and a new stack of reading material).

Something recently pointed me towards Cal Newport’s Deep Work, which is a how-to book on pushing the shallow work aside to get to the deep work, where we differentiate ourselves and find true meaning in our careers and lives. Newport, in turn, pointed me towards several articles and books that I hadn’t previously been aware of, and a couple that I hadn’t fully absorbed on the first go-around. I’ve pursued them all recently, all in an effort to get meaningful work done. For we all must go deeper if there’s any hope for us to contribute something meaningful. And that requires breaking the spell of distraction:

“Efforts to deepen your focus will struggle if you don’t simultaneously wean your mind from a dependence on distraction. Much in the same way that athletes must take care of their bodies outside of their training sessions, you’ll struggle to achieve the deepest levels of concentration if you spend the rest of your time fleeing the slightest hint of boredom.” — Cal Newport, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World

Here’s the thing: In diving into all this material around deep work, I’ve questioned whether this blog is itself deep or shallow (It aims for deep, but sometimes skims a bit shallower than I’d like). But what is the purpose of the blog but to establish a daily habit of writing and finding things out—things that gradually pull me deeper? Put another way, those stones I’m hopping across in life are documented, one at a time, for anyone that wishes to follow along. But even here, we all choose our own path across that stream of life, we just happen to land on the same spot now and then.

That terrifying longing? It’s on the other side, and the only way to reach it is to stop watching the debris float by in the stream of distraction and focus on the next landing spot, and the one after that. Our time is short, and we have so far to go. So go deeper.

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