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Leonardo da Vinci's creative process
How to approach problem-solving like da Vinci
The importance of curiosity and observation
If aliens were to visit the Earth and observe us living our lives, perhaps what would baffle them most about our species is not our struggle to co-operate with each other, but our struggle to co-operate with our own selves.
You’d think a sentient organism should at a minimum be able to adhere to its own decisions — to leave in time to catch the early bus, to do the lunch dishes right after lunch, to refrain from eating the entire sleeve of Oreos, especially after making explicit vows to do precisely those things because they make perfect sense.
For whatever evolutionary reasons, part of the game of being human is to wrangle ourselves into acting out the choices we’ve already determined are the right ones, and the resolution is our first-order tool for doing that. You make a promise to yourself – whatever that means exactly — that you will indeed do the thing you worry you won’t do
Resolutions are kind of pathetic if you think about how they’re supposed to work. We fear that we won’t act wisely when the time comes, often because we’ve just let ourselves down, so we simply assure ourselves that we will act wisely next time, and we mean it. This is more a gesture of hope than anything — that a moment of gathered resolve and earnest vows now will somehow cause us to possess the necessary wisdom and discipline later, in some future moment of truth when that promise is tested.
The resolution is an attempt to control our future selves from the present, by simple decree.
the Future Self has its own feelings and concerns, and it will conduct itself as it sees fit. If we have any direct control over whether we keep a given self-promise, it is only in that sole Moment of Truth, when the choice is finally made for real – the moment the crinkly blue Oreo package is being slid over to you, or the moment you begin to contemplate postponing today’s run. Resolve can only be exercised there, in the Moment of Truth itself. If it’s not present then, it doesn’t matter how much of it you had earlier.
Instead of harnessing your guilt and frustration to create a spontaneous personal transformation, you can play a different game, one which can actually be won: learning to recognize the approach of the Moment of Truth, and executing a simple plan to take Action B at that moment rather than the usual Action A.
Action A is the reflexive, habitual response – to grab the chips, to argue with the internet trolls – and it might always be the easiest thing in the world. But if you know you’re in the Moment of Truth, and you have an alternative move prepared, that alternative move can be pretty easy too – to say “No thanks” and go get a glass of water, or to click the browser tab closed and stand up.
This simple strategy of replacing a reflexive action with a more conscious and empowering one, is the way human beings train for any skill or activity.
And it always feels funny at first. Action B – the new, more effective way of responding to a particular moment — always starts out feeling unintuitive, and Action A starts out feeling so compelling it’s hard not to do it. But each instance of doing B over A reverses this difference a bit. The game is in recognizing the signs that the Moment of Truth is approaching, and knowing the new move you’re going to make when it arrives.
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