Journeys Are the Midwives of Thought

From the otherwise strange book The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton, there’s the below golden nugget on how traveling can facilitate thinking. I’m reminded of my post where I argued that airplane time should be spent reading (and thus, thinking), not working on a laptop.

Journeys are the midwives of thought. Few places are more conducive to internal conversations than moving planes, ships, or trains. There is almost quaint correlation between what is before our eyes and the thoughts we are able to have in our heads: large thoughts at times requiring large views, and new thoughts, new places. Introspective reflections that might otherwise be liable to stall are helped along by the flow of the landscape. The mind may be reluctant to think properly when thinking is all it is supposed to do; the task can be as paralyzing as having to tell a joke or mimic an accent on demand.

Thinking improves when parts of the mind are given other tasks — charged with listening to music, for example, or following a line of trees. The music or the view distracts for a time that nervous, censorious, practical part of the mind which is inclined to shut down when it notices something difficult emerging in consciousness, and which runs scared of memories, longings and introspective or original ideas, preferring instead the administrative and the impersonal.

5 comments on “Journeys Are the Midwives of Thought
  • Ben – wonderful post –and I could not agree more. I was teaching a session for a corporate client yesterday and mentioned that I am averaging reading about five books a week, which drew some snide looks and confused stares, so I quickly explained that when I travel (200+ days a year) I spend every single moment in the airport and airplane reading (love those Bose noise-cancelling headphones!!!). On a typical trip from my home in Florida to LA – I can easily get through a book and a half — maybe two. Also, once I arrive – I usually unplug the TV in my hotel room and spend at least an hour every evening reading. That means I get about 14 hours a week for quiet reading and reflection. It is a very sad fact that the average business person today reads only 0.5 business books a year. That is right — only a half a book a year! I bring this statistic up in my classes all of the time — and it truly hurts me when the folks in my sessions heartily agree… and laugh. This is not funny. If a person were to read just one personal development book every other month – six business or skill building (how to negotiate, how to be a better listener) books a year = that would put them in the top 1% of Americans for lifelong learning. One book a month – 12 a year = puts a person in the top 1% in the world. I know for someone like you Ben — a total book slut – this must seem impossible, but the painful truth is… most people do not read or even listen to books on CD — for business or life improvement (yes, they might read a few trash novels or a Harry Potter, maybe some political commentary — but something to improve their job performance or life skills — no). I actually don’t even have to try that hard to prove my point — just walk down the isle on your next 3 or 4 hour flight. 70% of the people are asleep or watching a movie, 20% are reading crap (sports page, US weekly, Golf magazine, or a senseless escape novel), 8 % are playing solitaire on their computer – and 2 % are doing real work on their computer or reading a business book. Now don’t get me wrong — I love escapists reading too. I love to read history and philosophy and biographies — but to be successful in business and in life I believe it is critical to fill your mind with the very best information and ideas possible – so you have the foundation to create a life of happiness, balance, joy and success. To me –reading is fundamental to life success — and quite time in airports, on airplanes, and in trains is a gift to the mind for those that are disciplined enough to use that precious down-time wisely.

    Sorry for the rant my friend — obviously something I feel passionately about! Take good care Ben — John

  • Uh-oh, it’s a woman using the s-word, but I’m gonna say it. Like Ben, I’m a total book slut. (There. I said it.)

    Although I like to have books along when I travel, I don’t like to be burdened down by them. I absolutely adore looking out the window, and, when they seem interesting, talking to other travelers.

  • Thoughts getting influenced by the ambience and the setting. Scenic visuals enabling expansive reflections – together they offer the much needed excercise for the mind that keeps it stay ever so healthy, and helps spot the wellspring of creativity.

    Splendid post. Thanks Ben!

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