Learning Not to Think About It



Here is a quote from Ernest Hemingway that I often refer to in my own professional life:

I learned not to think about anything that I was writing from the time I stopped writing until I started again the next day. That way my subconscious would be working on it and at the same time I would be listening to other people and noticing everything, I hoped.

I added the emphasis on the word “learned”.

You see, I’ve always taken that quote and referenced the part about how he would let things brew in his subconscious. Which is pretty common advice. People tell you all the time that when you’re stuck on a problem you should go take a walk or build a kitchen table or something.

But what I’ve always missed is how he says he had to learn not to think about anything he was writing.

Let’s break it down:

  1. He would not think about anything he was writing.
  2. He had to learn how to do that.

So often I bring my work with me wherever I go. And by “bring my work” I mean that I keep thinking about it when I leave my office, or go on an errand, or go out to eat with friends.

A few months ago I decided to stop reading business books in the evening before bed. They would get my mind too fired up to sleep. So instead I read fiction.

It is a challenge to stop thinking about the things I’m currently writing or working on. It’s a skill to be able to shut off work. To learn to give my mind a break and not to think about what I’m currently writing. But I’m working to learn it.

One of my goals with my creative business is to continue the work I’m doing now for several more decades. And a big part of that requires that I work at a sustainable, healthy pace. A marathon pace, if you will.

And to do that well, means leaving work at work. It means learning not to think about anything I am working on from the time I stop working until I start again the next day.

Not only does this lead to a higher quality of work produced, but it also leads to a less stressful lifestyle. Win-win!