A New Day
post by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky)
Somewhere in the vastnesses of the Internet and the almost equally impenetrable thicket of my bookmark collection, there is a post by someone who was learning Zen meditation...
Someone who was surprised by how many of the thoughts that crossed his mind, as he tried to meditate, were old thoughts - thoughts he had thunk many times before. He was successful in banishing these old thoughts, but did he succeed in meditating? No; once the comfortable routine thoughts were banished, new and interesting and more distracting thoughts began to cross his mind instead.
I was struck, on reading this, how much of my life I had allowed to fall into routine patterns. Once you actually see that, it takes on a nightmarish quality: You can imagine your fraction of novelty diminishing and diminishing, so slowly you never take alarm, until finally you spend until the end of time watching the same videos over and over again, and thinking the same thoughts each time.
Sometime in the next week - January 1st if you have that available, or maybe January 3rd or 4th if the weekend is more convenient - I suggest you hold a New Day, where you don't do anything old.
Don't read any book you've read before. Don't read any author you've read before. Don't visit any website you've visited before. Don't play any game you've played before. Don't listen to familiar music that you already know you'll like. If you go on a walk, walk along a new path even if you have to drive to a different part of the city for your walk. Don't go to any restaurant you've been to before, order a dish that you haven't had before. Talk to new people (even if you have to find them in an IRC channel) about something you don't spend much time discussing.
And most of all, if you become aware of yourself musing on any thought you've thunk before, then muse on something else. Rehearse no old grievances, replay no old fantasies.
If it works, you could make it a holiday tradition, and do it every New Year.
Comments sorted by oldest first, as this post is from before comment nesting was available (around 2009-02-27).
comment by Jef_Allbright ·
2008-12-31T18:55:09.000Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
Excellent advice Eliezer!
I have a game I play ever few months or so. I get on my motorcycle, usually on a Friday, pack spare clothes and toiletries, and head out in a random direction. At most every branch in the road I choose randomly, and take my time exploring and enjoying the journey. After a couple of days, I return hugely refreshed, creative potential flowing.
comment by nazgulnarsil3 ·
2008-12-31T21:18:15.000Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
the value of this is most easily demonstrated in daydream scenarios. I'm guessing that other people, like me, find themselves going through some of the same fantasies time and time again, whether they be about wealth, sex, prestige or whatever else. A few days ago I banished all these familiar fantasies and spent some time thinking up new ones. Not only was it a wonderfully fun exercise, it seemed to increase my creativity when doing other activities throughout the day.
comment by PK ·
2009-01-01T00:45:06.000Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
Wow! This post is particularly relevant to my life right now. On January 5th I start bootcamp, my first day in the military.
comment by Will ·
2009-01-01T16:28:49.000Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
On a related note, one of my resolutions is to do more reading, for this very reason. My own project thrives most when I get exposed to new and different ideas. There is so much knowledge out there, and so little time in which to absorb it. Someone could have already thought of the next critical piece I need to move forward, and I wouldn't even know it yet.
comment by Justin2 ·
2009-01-01T18:30:46.000Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
Excellent advice and I know many successful creative thinkers have taken advantage of similar strategies such as refusing to live in the same place for more than X years in a row.
comment by explicator2 ·
2009-01-01T23:07:44.000Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
I think the insight should sometimes be combined with Robin's idea about varying on one dimension and not trying to deviate from the crowd on all dimensions at once. Perhaps doing it 10 times year, where one day you vary just your mathematical techniques, etc., etc.
comment by Thomas Eisen (thomas-eisen) ·
2019-10-27T00:52:29.410Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
I've actually noticed this long before I've read the post. For me, the thought "I'm having many old thoughts" is itself an old thought now.
The same is true for the thought "the thought "I'm having many old thoughts" is itself an old thought now" and so on