I went into an isolation tank this weekend. It’s a coffin-sized enclosure filled with a few inches of saltwater. You go in and you float on the water for 90 minutes or so.
You are completely in the dark, no sounds except for your own breath and your heartbeat. Total nothingness.
When people talk about information overload, they’re usually talking about digital stimuli. Mass media, social media, email. The isolation tank helps with this.
But there’s a different kind of information overload that you can’t stop by crawling into a tank or wearing a sleep mask.
It’s the kind that happens when you see it when you share an idea with someone before it’s ready. And they give you their opinion, and just like that, your idea has changed. Maybe you lose a little confidence in yourself, or maybe you change your idea without being aware of it. New ideas are fragile. They’re vulnerable to the opinions of others, and they’re easily swayed from their original course. In a sense, the problem is that there’s too much information out there. The new idea gets overwhelmed and crippled or altered to an unrecognizable state. The extra information didn’t help.
The same thing happens when you hear a brilliant piece of advice from a book or a friend. You cling to it because you know it’s important. But soon it gets crowded out. Diluted by the constant flow of social interactions and activities and information that make up daily life.
Emerson wrote about this: “None of us will ever accomplish anything excellent or commanding except when he listens to the whisper which is heard by him alone.”
It’s tragic that we are usually aware of these fragile ideas and important thoughts, but we let them die anyway. We are often keenly aware of our failures to protect them. The whisper that Emerson mentioned is lost like a sine wave in a sea of white noise.
Limit your consumption of literal information, media, messages, but also limit the exposure to anything that makes it harder to hear the whisper. Identify and avoid things that sap your confidence, upset your flow, and make you second guess your intuition.
Information doesn’t just come in the form of a scrolling feed on your phone. Information is an unenthusastic opinion. It’s standoffish body language. It’s reading so many new books that you forget the best parts of the old ones.
There is value in deprivation. In having fewer thoughts and less social exposure so that your thoughts can mature and take root. And once they do, if they last long enough, they become strong and sturdy like an oak tree.