Leaving my head

The TED website hosts a large collection of inspiring talks on many different topics. The talk on how schools kill creativity is particularly fantastic; both funny and insightful, and is in fact the most-watched TED talk to date. During it Ken Robinson makes the following remark:

There’s something curious about professors in my experience — not all of them, but typically — they live in their heads.

Not to put too fine a point on it, this describes me perfectly. (Although I am a graduate student rather than a professor.)

This behaviour has both its strengths and weaknesses. For example, I have almost never felt lonely in my life, despite being alone a good portion of the time. Perhaps this is because by living in my head I am able to keep myself company. Indeed, my modus operandi when thinking about something could be described as a “conversation” with myself in which I try to make arguments for both sides of an issue.

However, like all human emotions, loneliness undoubtedly exists for a reason. In this case, it seems to be a trigger to make friends, which in turn improves one’s well-being. Without loneliness one has less short-term pain, but also less motivation to seek out ultimately beneficial connections.

In my case, I never gave much thought to the downsides, or even viewed them with a kind of perverse pride; the “cost of doing business” as it were. In short, I didn’t make much of an effort to ameliorate the absent-mindedness; in fact, I thought such traits were essentially unchangeable.

Early this year I decided to make a conscious effort to get out of my head. There were multiple reasons, but one is that almost every job I do involves interacting with other people in some way, so I figure that becoming more empathetic will actually improve the quality of my work.

How does one go about venturing out of their head? Well, I am still learning that. One step I’m taking is to learn—and remember!—the names of people I recognize from somewhere. I haven’t had a 100% success rate, but I’m already much better than I was previously, when I would be likely to forget someone’s name before my conversation with them had finished. Additionally, I will not ignore the fact that yes, I have a body, and to this end will pay more attention to things like exercise, diet, and appearance.