knowing what you want

Among my current reading is a book called The Creating Brain: The Neuroscience of Genius, by Nancy Andreasen. Andreasen separates creativity into two camps: the ordinary creativity possessed by all, and the extraordinary creativity which is sometimes called genius. The distinction, she says, is in the way that people of genius access their unconscious mind - the rich web of associations that links things that have not been linked before until order emerges.

Setting goals is a creative act: we focus attention on something that does not yet exist until we bring it into being. To the extent that we treat it like a creative act - an act of reaching into rapid, random unconscious process and allowing order to emerge - we create goals that are compelling and achievable. These goals are quite different than those that are produced by making obvious links between obvious next steps, often under a certain amount of pressure from other people. They are quite different from what the poet Yeats called, "the thoughts men think in the mind alone."

As this year begins, why not find out at least one thing that you really want, one thing that surprises and challenges you and ultimately settles into an order that seems true and inevitable? Find it the way poets find poems and composers find symphonies (and mathematicians find formulae): 1) become intensely curious about everything you encounter; 2) value all the thoughts that bubble up within you, especially the ones that don't make sense; 3) do whatever makes you feel relaxed and ready while your unconscious forms the mass of associations necessary for insight; 4) when your idea takes shape, stabilize it by writing it, drawing it, or telling people about it; 5) appreciate your idea the way an editor appreciates a great manuscript or an audience appreciates a fine performance.

Enjoy the first weekend of the new year.


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