How to Keep your Mind

On March 29, 2020, Canadian business mogul and TV personality, Kevin O’Leary, shared this picture on LinkedIn:

The caption accompanying the photo read as follows: “My #miamibeach studio in the sunshine. Yes I know its a mess. All of a sudden I’m living like I’m in college again, I just ordered a pizza for breakfast. I have to admit this quarantine thing is starting to get to me!

In my opinion, it was quite encouraging to see a billionaire struggling to keep it together in the midst of our global lockdown because it confirmed two truths for me:

  • I’m not the only one who has had difficulty maintaining a regular routine during the COVID-19 pandemic. I journaled for hours in early 2020 to make it an even greater year than 2019 was by establishing realistic and challenging goals, as well as better structuring the systems that would allow me to accomplish them. But this unexpected turn of events has thrown me for a loop and confirmed a second truth.
  • Environment trumps will power. In his New York Times bestseller, “Atomic Habits“, James Clear frequently affirms the fact that no matter how resolved you are to get work done in your office, you will not cross a single “t” or dot any “i’s” if your office is not set up properly. If you’re resolved to form, build, maintain, or eliminate a habit, the environment you design has to account for your strengths and weaknesses. I know that I clearly have room for improvement.

I also came across this image on LinkedIn:

It was shared by Noah Gift, data scientist and founder of Pragmatic AI Labs, along with this text:

“Moved into a new “lair” right before things got locked down. This is my remote setup.

At least 10X more productive than a regular office.

Fitness Integration (Day begins with each of these)

  • Rogue Pullup Bar
  • Dip Bar
  • 50-pound medicine ball
  • Pushup Platform
  • Kettlebell

MacBook Pro System (Main Software Development)

  • 49 inch LG
  • MacBook Pro
  • Heil Microphone
  • Standing Desk
  • Bose Headphones (conferencing)
  • Apple Airpods (conferencing)

Center:

  • 5U rack
  • 24 port Gig Switch
  • 8 port Scarlet Digital Mixer
  • Two Furman Power Bricks

Right Dell System (Deep Learning and Hardware)

  • 39 inch LG
  • AWS Deep Lens
  • Intel Movidius
  • Dell Linux/NVidia GPU Laptop
  • Standing Desk”

That post confirmed the two truths mentioned above all the more!

As mentioned in our previous post, thinking is our super power, and it’s times like these that require ever more creative and ingenious thought. But to use a relevant analogy, trying to think of creative solutions without the maintenance of a sound mind is equivalent to attempting software development while completely disregarding that hardware that we’re using.

So how do we go about navigating this pandemic without losing our minds?

Well, we could try to learn a thing or two from people who leave all of their comforts behind for the sake of a greater accomplishment: astronauts and monks.

Scott Kelly recently published an opinion piece (included in our Pandemic Reading List) in the New York Times on how he preserved his own sanity while on the International Space Station for a year. He opens the article by sharing the difficulty of going to sleep and waking up at work, which is something that medical staff and first responders are quite familiar with and which much of the now remotely working world is discovering. To facilitate the proper conceptual compartmentalization required to stay sane while in outer space for a year, Kelly followed a simple regimen that he’s encouraging the world to consider: Maintain a regular and steady schedule, go outside, take up a hobby, connect with others, journal, and fill your mind with valuable information provided by reputable sources (we’re trying to help with that process by building our COVID Operation Resources list). His article is worth the read, especially if you’re looking for a roadmap to help you regain control over your own life. He also includes well-researched information that makes his case all the more convincing.

Walter Ciszek, SJ, was a Polish American Jesuit priest who decided to pursue missionary work in the Soviet Union during the Cold War. In his memoir, With God in Russia, he recounts his experience of being wrongfully imprisoned as an “American spy” and being placed into solitary confinement. Aware of the fact that he could easily lose his mind while held in captivity, he decided to follow the schedule that he once did as a seminarian: Wake up, morning meditation, breakfast, chores (scrub the floor), pray the rosary, recreational reading (try to recall from memory), lunch, etc.

One could make the argument that religion has no place in a medical blog, but Buddhist and Christian monastic communities have been the subject of many studies and the source of many valuable scientific insights. I still remember when an areligious friend of mine told me that he had looked for the secular equivalent of a monastic community while working on his PhD in neuroscience at Oxford University precisely because studies continued to show that monks and nuns were consistently the happiest people in the world.

He wasn’t able to find one.

And in addition to reporting higher levels of happiness, monks and nuns regularly practice meditation, which has been found to moderately and positively affect brain structure, and they regularly study and learn new things (including languages); one of greatest studies looking at the relationship between linguistics and dementia used Christian nuns as its sample and found that knowing four languages is what gives one the extra edge over the rest of the monolingual population, not just two.

So, to sum it all up, what can we take from these business people, astronauts, monks and nuns to help us not lose our minds while quarantined?

  • Establish a realistic schedule that you can follow steadily.
  • Be honest with yourself when setting up your environment.
  • Take breaks to go outside, breathe, and meditate.
  • Take up a hobby.
  • Learn something new (like a language; this can count as your hobby).
  • Fill your mind with valuable information from reputable sources (try a social media fast).
  • Journal, reflect, and try tackling life’s bigger questions (can be incorporated into your meditation).
  • Connect with others, especially those you may not have seen for some time now (electronically, of course).

Whether you’re like Kevin or I, ordering pizza for breakfast and struggling to hold on to your habits, or like Noah or Scott, absolutely crushing it in your secluded work station, I hope these insights can be of some value in helping yourself and others to continue building and strengthening mental habits.

Daniel

(C) Laughsatives ’20

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