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What is Killing Your Deep Work Ability?

Every superpower has a weakness. Has something that neutralizes it. The most famous of course is Kryptonite. So if deep work is the superpower of the 21st century, what is its Kryptonite.

Last week, I defined what deep work was. This week, I want to talk about what has killed your ability to do it.

What kills your ability to do deep work?

I gave you some simple steps to actually start doing deep work last week. How did that go?

If you set aside an hour to read a next level book in your field, you may have found doing that reading very hard. You may have said:

“Oh, it’s boring.”
“What is this guy even talking about?”
“I don’t understand this at all.”
“What’s the next episode of insert your favorite TV show”

If you made it an hour, you’ll have noticed very little had stuck in your brain.

How did this happen to you? You a smart person, why is studying so hard?
We can go back to a previous distinction and use the fitness vs health metaphor.

Doing deep work is hard because your mind isn’t healthy, nor is it fit.

Your mind isn’t healthy because you’ve been feeding it a steady diet of intellectual junk food to the point your thoughts are fuzzy, slow, and any shiny thing captures your attention.

It isn’t fit because 5 minutes into reading a non-fiction science book you will start feeling overwhelmed, dumb and a little crazy. It’s the equivalent to feeling like your heart is going to burst out of your chest after 5 minutes of running.

Intellectual Junk Food

You’ve trained yourself to have a short attention span.

I remember growing up how adults said kids didn’t have very long attention spans because they watched too much TV. They couldn’t sit still for longer than a 30 minute cartoon.

Well, nowadays kids can’t sit still for a 30-minute cartoon. Not without pulling out a device and scrolling through twitter.

Social media is constantly training your mind to only consumers shorter and shorter content. It gives you a constant feed of tiny superficial bit of information. It leaves no place for thinking and integrating anything you might learn.

The idea that any idea of significance can be written up and understood in 256 characters, one Instagram picture or a 1 minute TikTok video is crazy. And things just keep getting shorter.

You realize we created TikTok because YouTube videos were too long. Twitter because Facebook posts and Blog posts were too long.

Our culture is constantly trying to train your brain to switch thoughts at ever shorter intervals.

Then there is multitasking.

You feel you must always be doing multiple things at the same time. You only want to stay on any activity for a very short period of time.

Want to find out just how intellectually out of shape you are? Try and study something for an hour.

When I was 40 I went to paramedic school, I’d been a computer programmer for almost 20 years at that point. But having to study was a shock. The different aspects of reading to learn, memorizing, and integrating for application of the medical material was hard.

Those first few weeks were like that first hour long run for marathon training.

How do you improve at deep work?

All right enough theory, and crotchety old man talk, let’s talk about actually doing deep work. It’s time to start training for the marathon.

Improve Your Mental Diet

To get your mind healthy you are going to have to improve its diet.

I’m not talking about actual food here, but that is important too. You won’t become an intellectual superhero on a diet of doughnuts and Jolt cola.

But the impact of your food choices on your brainpower is outside of this video. Might be a worthy area of study for you to do some deep work on.

You are going to have to start doing things that condition your mind for deep work and stop doing things that condition it to be a squirrel.

Here are some quick tips.

  • Get rid of the junk food. Limit your use of social media and very short-form content of any type. Move your social media apps off the front page of your phone, and put your book reader there.
  • Uni-task as much as possible. Deep work is never multi-tasked. Practice this on less deep work things. Just wash the dishes, don’t watch TV while you do it. Watch TV without scrolling through Twitter while you do it.
  • Do long-form things. Read books on subjects instead of just a bunch of google searches. Dive deep into one subject, instead of bouncing from one subject to another.

As you eliminate the things that are making your mind weak, you can start doing actual deep work.

Question of the Day: What things are most killing your ability to do deep work?

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