The Infinity of Processes; the Limitation of Things


I'm writing to you from sunny Iceland. (In case you're wondering what Iceland is like, imagine that a spaceship full of friendly Nordic hipsters had landed on a planet, and they were only partway through terraforming it.) Today I'm going to ask you to do something very brave, and very powerful. I want you to believe that you'll never run out of good ideas.


On the face of it, that sounds obvious. Of course you're never going to run out of ideas, in the same way that you're never going to say, "Right! I have now officially done everything. I have literally cleaned All The Things." But there is an instinct which kicks in every now and then, the instinct of scarcity, which goes like this: ideas are precious. Precious things are scarce. Scarce things need to be hoarded.

No! No! No!

Sure, we are surrounded by things that can run out if we over-use them. Biscuits, petrol, goodwill, rainforests… a lot of things do run out eventually, so it’s natural to worry about exhausting them. But sometimes we worry about exhausting things which can never run out. And that’s completely crazy, because the best way to run out of ideas is to try to suppress yourself from saying them out loud, acting on them, having them in the first place.

The more that you let yourself have ideas, the more ideas you’ll have.

You don’t run out of things like that. It may be tempting to imagine yourself as some kind of glorious urn filled with idea emeralds, and every so often, a shining idea plops out of you, leaving you with fewer shimmering green ideas to express in the future. But that leaves you wanting to hold on to your ideas, only reserving them for special occasions, or for people you want to impress. A better analogy would be that you are a raging river of ideas trying to get past a dam, and the more you express your ideas, the more you poke holes in that dam.

That's because ideas are processes, not materials.

Materials can run out. Processes becomes stronger the more they are used.

If we treat processes as if they need to be hoarded, they may wither.

As much as I know this to be true, I still find myself slipping occasionally, so I'm guessing you do too. If you hear yourself say any of the following, think about whether you are trying to mistakenly conserve an infinite process.

"Let's get this done before my luck runs out."

Whoa! Luck is a process, not a thing. The more you use it, the stronger it gets.

(If that sounds too "magical" then let me point out that the luck I'm referring to is a mixture of hard work, creativity, good timing, careful planning, ingenuity, seeing the beauty in things, being pleasant, having wonderful friends, and having a sense of humour).

"It's only a rehearsal (or practice). Save the good stuff for the actual show (or game)."

If you use training time to do mediocre work, you will train yourself to do mediocre work.

"Oh dear, a dinner party, and I'm not a good conversationalist. I'll eke out my interesting stories throughout the night, so I still have something to say by the end."

Interesting talk stimulates further interesting talk (actually so does interested listening). Don't feel pressured to blurt out all your major news immediately - unless it's crucial and riveting - but definitely don't pressure yourself to hold back.

"I don't have the energy to be energetic."

Finally, please remember that movement is a process. Whether it's running, dancing, playing sport, swimming, the more you use your body, the easier it gets and the more joyous it is. The more we say, "I'm too tired," the harder we find it next time.

Ok I'm off to enjoy a fjord. 

Be well,