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Spark Creativity With Input-free Time

Instead of constantly feeding your brain, let it digest sometimes.


Angelo Belardi

May 14 2021

4 mins read


In the pursuit of great habits, I've often tried to make every moment count. But cramming more into every waking hour might be detrimental. Sometimes, we just need time with less. Less distraction, less sensory input from our environment, and less of whatever is buzzing through our minds.

Failed attempt to make every moment “count”

A while ago, I began listening to audiobooks while running. That gave me the feeling of being productive while exercising. Combining a physical workout with a mental one. I had been doing that for years when exercising in the gym, so making all these running hours more productive would certainly be a good idea. 

The result? I finished a bunch of books that had been lying around for years. From this perspective, it was a great success. Lately, I’m not so sure about that anymore.

This may have been the wrong approach.

Give your mind time to process the information it already has

The book Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport opened my eyes to another idea: Solitude—quiet time for yourself—is a rare commodity in today's digitally hyper-connected world. And it’s not just rare, but also vital for our mental well-being and creativity. Instead of banning it from our lives, we should embrace and nurture it.

“It’s now possible to completely banish solitude from your life. Thoreau and Storr worried about people enjoying less solitude. We must now wonder if people might forget this state of being altogether.” - Cal Newport in Digital Minimalism

“Solitude deprivation: A state in which you spend close to zero time alone with your own thoughts and free from input from other minds.”

Newport describes, for example, how the philosopher Nietzsche spent a lot of time walking and hiking during those years when he crafted his most substantial writing, or how Thoreau made good use of solitude during his time at Walden Pond.

I remembered how much I had loved running without headphones for years. No audiobooks. No music. No input but nature. I enjoyed the chirping birds and rustling leaves in parks and forests. And I remembered how I would work through problems in my mind or come up with ideas, eager to write them down as soon as I had come back to my apartment. 

I had to get back to those runs. 

Instead of trying to make my workouts more worthwhile by feeding my brain with external input, I might have to let it digest. There is enough information pouring in the rest of the day. I should keep those times running outside more sacred. So that they can once again become calm islands of mindfulness and deep thought in the noisy sea of life. Time for contemplation and processing.

Embrace solitude deliberately

To make the best of our time, we might not always have to cram more stuff into our heads. Instead, we should embrace the quiet and solitude of some moments more deliberately. Which moments that are might be very individual. But running and walking seem to be especially well-suited activities for this purpose. Light exercise in nature sparks creativity and supports deep thought surprisingly well.

I’m leaving my headphones at home for my runs again and go for more walks alone. There is still plenty of time to plug into an audiobook or listen to music, e.g. to make a long commute or a chore more worthwhile and enjoyable.

But some times are better left to ourselves.

To let our minds rest and digest.


Questions about habits or anything else? ✍️ Hit "reply", write to ✉️, or reach out on twitter: @habitguide 🐦

"Success is the sum of small efforts repeated day in and day out." - Robert Collier

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