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The Secret to Creating What Matters

How deliberate Mind Breaks can lead to lifelong success

What is this life if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare?

W. H. Davies

(from Good Poems, Selected by Garrison Keillor)

Take a stance on these digit-dazed days. If you want to achieve optimal productivity over the long haul, seeking wonder, no matter where you live, what career path you’re on, and what beliefs you hold true, will make all the difference.

Quick creative spurts might work for you today, but if you want to shape a meaningful, coherent, creative life over four, five, six, seven decades, you need to establish a creative, persistent, wonder-filled routine.

Here’s how to craft a life that includes revenue and purpose and creativity that holds you and your tribes spellbound: take deliberate breaks and imbed wonder into your day-to-day.

Persistence in the Day-to-Day

With Ann Godoff and Penguin Press, Kay Larson authored the book, Where the Heart Beats: John Cage, Zen Buddhism, and the Inner Life of Artists, which traces the spiritual life of John Cage, arguably the mid-twentieth century’s most controversial and most influential thinker and artist.

“This is the result of 15 years of work,” the art critic, practitioner, and author recently told me. She didn’t just spend two, three, even five years on this research. She dedicated 15 years to the book.

Poet W.H. Davies learned the art of persistence, as well. He spent his early days as a recalcitrant teen and homeless vagrant, but later, with a British vagabond’s determination, self-published his first collection of poetry in 1907, The Soul’s Destroyer. Upon publication, he mailed copies to wealthy and influential people, asking them for payment in return. Of 200 copies, he sold 60, including to a journalist who later helped Davies become among the most popular poets of his day.

Like Larson, Davies held onto what mattered most – namely the spaces between wonder and work. Both authors sought the space to think, to grow, to persist.

Making Space for What Matters

In his seminal essay, Quitting the Paint Factory: on the virtues of idleness,” Mark Slouka makes the case that when were indolent, we’re democratic. His reasoning? It’s when we’re not hustling and bustling that we can stand and stare at the big questions surrounding not only our personal lives but also the government, justice, truth.

We know best rest practices for optimal creativity and productivity. We know that most human beings can go in create-and-work flows for 75, 90, 120 minutes at a time, but at some point, we need breaks. We know that musicians who rest every 90 minutes during practice are more likely to excel in performance  – and more likely to endure in their long-term career as a professional musician.

If we don’t take breaks and instead, keep going, going, going, we start to operate on “generator energy.” That’s why Mind Breaks are the secret to creating what matters.

A Mind Break is a shaped space that allows you to merge your creativity and workflow. The capacity to take Mind Breaks and seek wonder in that space – that’s crucial.

To refresh the creative mind and return to your task with a new perspective, it’s important to spend your 20 minute breaks on wonder.

Stopping, staring, pondering. This reignites your drive, your purpose. This is what keeps you going for 15 years (and longer). These purposeful breaks help you achieve your long-term goals. Don’t believe me? Studies show that we’re driven when purpose drives profit and meaning drives money – not the other way around.

Seeking Wonder on Your Mind Breaks

Let me put it this way: Every day is a series of decisions, some small, some monumental. Yet, when a thousand thoughts compete for attention at any given moment, the mind’s debris cloud our ability to decide, invent, innovate, and create with any real wherewithal.

When our mind is crowded, we default to the safest route that requires the least resistance and least energy. And we likely cannot make gut decisions aligned with our intuition because mental debris blocks the signals. Gut? What gut?

Taking Mind Breaks clears mental debris that often makes us immune to change and the unknown. And we know the province where things change in unknown ways is the territory of true wonder and of captivating and enchanting creativity.

Slouka is right: Stopping the personal production line can toss the worker into serious reflection. At the very least, three or four times a day during your “Mind Breaks,” you can check in with the big personal questions:

  • What question am I living in today?
  • What am I writing this article for?
  • What am I making this product for?
  • How is this activity part of my larger vision?
  • How is my larger vision part of something that matters to me and to the world?

Imagine your day like a piece of clay. How will you shape it? And where, among the clay, will you make spaces? First thing in the morning? Lunch break? Mid-afternoon? Evening? Before bed?

Mind Breaks don’t expect tasks to be completed, decisions to be made. They simply ask that you step away from the stress, from the office, from the chaos of the world. Mind Breaks just want you to stand and stare – and wonder.

As we ponder big questions every day, this one wild life – regardless of the occupational suit and habit we wear – becomes a creative (and deliberate) quest.

A version of this article originally appeared at trackingwonder.com.

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