A brief guide to going to the library to revivify your mind

(This is a distillation of my long personal experience with the technique; take from it what makes sense to you.)

This is a way to till up your mind-soil and get little thoughts into solution to crystallize them into seeds of tranquility, or something. I mash my metaphors purposefully, because this technique works by mixing up your thought-patterns to get you out of those boring little loops.


Set aside a two to three hour span of uninterrupted time. It’s best that you be unhurried and unpressured, but this technique can also help you get to that state, so no worries if you’re worried.

Walk to the library. Or use some other human-powered locomotion. Getting your body energy into the act helps get things flowing. On your walk, let your mind drift. If you’re troubled by something, just go ahead and ponder that, but expose your worries to a layer of honest analysis, too. If you’re untroubled, just think about kitty-cats and flowers and such. This is the tilling part. You’re preparing your mind by loosening it up.

Upon passing through the threshold of the library, put aside any worry-type thoughts. In the library, you’re going to run a simple little exercise, two to four times. This is the solution/crystallization phase.

Identify a section of the stacks. If you have a tendency to visit one place in the library a lot, you can start heading there. Or if you have a topic that’s been on your mind a lot lately, type a few keywords into the catalog and choose a book at semi-random from the list and go toward it. Or if you just see a space that seems to be relatively free of other people, drift there. The idea is not to find a specific book or a specific topic, but just to get near things that you’ll probably like.

While moving casually toward your target area, keep your eyes open for any interesting oddities in the stacks. Books that attract you with their nice colors or hot keywords or cool titles or I’ve-always-been-curious topics or whatever. If anything looks good, you’ve found your place. Otherwise, keep going to your original target.

Grab a book. Don’t give any thought to whether you understand the topic well enough to read the book, or whether it’s something worthy of discussion at the watercooler, or whether you’d normally be seen reading such a thing. Just grab something good. Open it to a random page about a third of the way through. You could use the table of contents, or something, too, but probably just go with randomness. Start reading. Don’t stop because they’re referring to some term defined previously in the book, or there’s an equation that you don’t like. You’re not trying to win an award for Awesomeness In Reading Stuff You Already Understand, you’re just activating parts of your brain and getting excited about some ideas and how they connect.

Read for five to fifteen minutes. Maybe break that time up in between two or three books in the vicinity that grab your attention, or just stick with the first one. If you spend too little time, you won’t really get things activating. If you spend too much time, you won’t really get things stirred up.

Repeat the exercise a few more times. I know I already said, that, but it bears repeating. Two times (total) will at least start cross-pollination of ideas, four times is probably best if you have the inclination.

While you’re working on your second or third go-round, you’ll find that things are starting to connect. Ideas expressed in a book about machine learning algorithms will be echoed eerily in a book about sketches by famous designers. This is the crystallization, and it pretty much always happens if you’ve run the exercise according to the basic outline above. It’s pretty awesome.

After a sufficient period of crystallization, you’ll be all revivified and feel better. You can head home, and as you do, just keep going on the various connecting threads. Also, look at trees and sidewalks and telephone poles. Sit in a park for a few minutes. That kind of stuff.


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