1: Author Steven Kotler starts his writing sessions each morning at 4 AM.

Why so early?

“‘Non-time’ is my term for it,” he writes in The Art of Impossible: A Peak Performance Primer: “That vast stretch of emptiness between 4:00 AM, when I start my morning writing session, and 7:30 AM, when the rest of the world wakes up. 

“This is non-time, a pitch blackness that belongs to no one.  It’s not close to morning, so the day’s pressing concerns have yet to press.”

What does Steven love about these early morning hours? 

“There’s time for that ultimate luxury: patience,” he observes.  “If a sentence takes two hours to get right, who cares: this is non-time.  If I have to write five paragraphs, throw them out, and write five more–well, there are no clocks in non-time.”

Creativity needs this non-time, he believes. 

We “need a little distance from our problems,” he notes.  “This distance allows us to see things from multiple perspectives, to consider another’s point of view.  But if we don’t have the time to get that psychological distance, to get space from our emotions and take a break from the world, then we don’t have the luxury of patience or the uplift of alternative possibilities.”

To maximize our effectiveness, we need to create extended time blocks of 90 to 120 minutes of interrupted concentration to do what author and professor Cal Newport calls “deep work.”

“It’s a high flow bit of non-time, and one that pays significant long-term dividends,” Steven writes.

2: Another important strategy: Constraints boost our creativity rather than diminish it. 

Rather than think “outside the box,” we are smart to think “inside the box.” 

As jazz great Charles Mingus once said: “You can’t improvise on nothing, man; you’ve gotta improvise on something.”

In an experiment at Rider University, one group of students was provided with a list of eight nouns and told to create a series of rhyming couplets.  “The kind that might show up on a greeting card,” Steven writes. 

A second group was instructed to “simply write rhyming couplets.”

Then, an independent panel was brought in to assess the work.  “Time and again,” Steven writes, “the participants who started with eight nouns–a predetermined limit–outperformed the others.”

This research aligns with how improv actors are instructed.  “Improv actors are taught to be specific,” University of North Carolina psychologist Keith Sawyer says: “Rather than say, ‘Look out, it’s a gun!’ you should say, ‘Look out, it’s the new ZX-23 laser kill device!’ 

“Instead of asking, ‘What’s your problem?’ say, ‘Don’t tell me you’re still pissed off about the time I dropped your necklace down the toilet.'”

3: The big takeaway?

“Limits drive creativity,” Steven explains.  “The blank page is too blank to be useful.”

As a writer, Steven always starts with a beginning and an ending. 

“These are limits that liberate.  If I have these twin cornerstones in place, whatever goes in between—a book, an article, a speech—is simply about connecting the dots.  But without these dots to connect, I can get stuck or, worse, waste time wandering into tangential territory, which helps explain why my first novel took eleven years to complete. 

“If creativity is required, not knowing where you’re going is the fastest way to never get there.”

More tomorrow!


Reflection: How might I use Steven’s concept of “non-time” to boost my creativity?

Action: Read The Miracle Morning and put Hal Elrod’s ideas into action.

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