Here’s the backstory. We came across a tiny little blurb on Slatest the other day that referenced a blog by Seth Roberts, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Tsinghua University in Beijing and a professor emeritus of psychology at the University of California at Berkeley. He discovered that when you add boring and boring, you end up with pleasant. In Roberts’ case, task No. 1 was studying Chinese via a flashcard system called Anki. Stone bore. Task No. 2 was riding the treadmill. Another big yawn. But when he combined the two, he found that both became pleasurable. He walked, he learned, he enjoyed. All about the distraction? Diversion? Multi-tasking with a purpose? Nope, writes Roberts. More like evolution:
The Anki/treadmill symmetry is odd because lots of people think we need exercise to be healthy but I’ve never heard someone say we need to study to be healthy. The evolutionary reason for this might be to push people to walk in new places (which provide something to learn) rather than old places (which don’t). To push them to explore.
Now Roberts seems to be ruminating on learning in the classic sense. But I wonder if that same evolutionary impluse to explore applies to decision-making, too, as well as creative problem solving. All of which leads me back to the power of percolation: feeding the data into the auto-brain, then letting the gray cells do some work while we’re off doing something else. When we get ourselves all tied up in knots thinking Door No. 1 or Door No 2, when we’re jonesing for that fix of perfection (note to self: doesn’t exist), when we’re lusting after that greener grass, could it be that the answer is just to go take a hike?
Seems to me that if we’re out moving rather than sitting at home angsting, we can call on our subconscious to get busy. While we’re out exploring the new route to the overlook, for example, we can let the synapses take care of business, percolating the data, exploring new connections, and quite possibly finding a new route to some answers. Maybe even helping us get in touch with our gut instincts.
Case in point. That picture up at the top of this post is from the homestretch of the Dipsea Trail, a killer of a 7 mile hike that leads from Mill Valley, Calif, up three flights of stairs as tall as a fifty-story building, through Muir Woods, then back down to Stinson Beach. It’s a no-joke killer of a hike that took Shannon and me the better part of one summer day. At the end of it, we made our way to the first bar in town and found ourselves sitting on a sunny deck, ice-cold beer in hand, with not only a sense of accomplishment — but the focus for this book.