Inspiration overload

Published by Lori Pickert on July 1, 2010 at 01:52 PM

If attention is a finite resource, we need to be careful how we allot it.

If you have ever gotten caught on tumblr or flickr browsing 800 images of home offices, gardens, or kid spaces, you know what inspiration overload is. Especially when you find yourself addicted to looking at other people’s art projects and art studios but you haven’t touched a pencil yourself in ages.

The problem with too much input is, it leads to too little output. What is the point of endlessly gathering new information if we never do anything with it?

We can’t inundate kids with experiences and not give them time to create some meaningful work out of their processing, their questions, and their own ideas.

We need to concentrate on spending the majority of our time doing something real. We want to be something other than an appreciator of other people’s ideas, other people’s work, and other people’s lives.

Money, as the saying goes, isn’t the root of all evil — love of money is the root of all evil. In the same vein, inspiration isn’t evil — neither are great experiences and fun activities. But overconsumption of these things weakens us as makers, doers, thinkers, producers, idea-havers. The slice of time we spend absorbing other people’s ideas gets bigger, while the slice of time we spend creating gets smaller.

Our children need to spend the majority of their time chewing over ideas and experiences, then making them into something new — adding their own ideas, their own spin, their own questions, their own connections.

We don’t want our children to see each new experience, activity, or idea as one in an endless string, soon to be replaced with another. We don’t want them to become passive consumers of life, craving novelty, trained to have a short attention span because things change so often. “Give me something new to do! I’m bored — give me something else new to do!”

We want our children to react to a new experience, activity, or idea by seeing it as a starting point. We want them to immediately see the possibilities — to recognize what they can do with this new information. We want them to be active producers of life, makers and doers.

To do this, we need to model a life of active engagement rather than passive reaction. And we need to keep giving them adequate time to ponder and work with new ideas rather than overwhelming them with a constant supply of new information.

The world needs dreamers and the world needs doers. But above all, the world needs dreamers who do. — Sarah Ban Breathnach



Comment by Jessica on July 1, 2010 at 03:09 PM

I am in the process of streamlining my online lifestyle--unjoining forums, deleting unnecessary accounts (Shelfari, e-mail, Yahoo!, Ning), unfollowing blogs, etc.

I found I was spending too much time online gathering information and...never using it OR completely forgetting I had bookmarked it!

I found this post at exactly the right time. :)

The internet (especially) is monopolizing my time and attention--I'm finding it difficult to really focus on anything long enough to feel I've mastered it. I bookmark a dozen articles on one topic but never actually sit down to read them, let alone use any of the information found within. Or, I buy five books on a topic but never spend enough time reading and processing the information to make them effective. I'm wasting a lot of time and too much money!

I need to be careful I do not model the same methods of "internet browsing disguised as research" with my son. I don't want him to think you simply bookmark links, reserve 30 books from the library or browse YouTube for an hour when you wish to pursue a topic...I want to model the same methods I used in graduate school--effective methods. And, I want to him to always feel he has ample time and the know-how to pursue *any* topic. With or without my help!

I'm babbling. But, hopefully you got my point: I'm grateful for this post! :)

Comment by Lori Pickert on July 1, 2010 at 03:40 PM

jessica, perfect. :^)

there's nothing inherently wrong with the internet (or, say, tv) -- it's just so darn *compelling*. it's such an intellectual candy store. and unfortunately we all know what happens when we eat candy all day.

i think you are on the right track. we have to actively make a life for ourselves that has a certain-size slot open for taking in inspiration and new ideas, a certain amount of time allotted to browsing the internet. but that purposeful, designed life has to focus on being something and making something real, on doing real things.

Comment by Naomi on July 1, 2010 at 05:17 PM

Excellent post! Every now and then I go through a cleaning spree of my attention grabbers so I have more time to do things with my kids. It's amazing how easy it is to waste time getting ideas!

Comment by Stacey on July 1, 2010 at 08:58 PM

My email just got hacked a few weeks ago and it spurred me into a new gmail account. I'm not moving any of my group lists or generic emails and have been super careful about how many blogs I'm following. Still someday it really feels like the on-line world is so compelling to get lost in instead of doing things.

It takes a conscious effort to not be on the computer, and I am not a very good model for my son at the moment. He's waiting for me to finish this up so he can watch a movie on the computer. So yes this is a timely conversation.

Comment by Teri on July 2, 2010 at 01:53 AM

Great post!

Comment by chris on July 2, 2010 at 02:14 AM

I wish I could come up with a spectacular comment to share with you, but the truth is, all that needs to be said is that your words truly resonate within my heart. I gain so much perspective that actually edifies how I feel and how I am raising my children and the type of environment I work hard to create for them. Thank you!

Comment by Theresa on July 2, 2010 at 04:54 AM

Wow, Lori. You didn't pull any punches here, did you? LOL! Honestly, what you wote resonates with me very strongly right now.Lately I feel more and more like I have become exactly what you describe--an appreciator. I need to be more of a doer. Going to go chew this over and start weeding out the distractions. I want to be a better example to my children.

Comment by kristen on July 2, 2010 at 10:58 AM

Guilty, guilty, guilty! I cruise the internet, filling my bookmarks and brain with awesome images and ideas. I love it--but then I wonder why I am not productive?! I no doubt am on the train of inspiration overload--(almost daily) Really excellent post with perfect timing for me! Thanks

Comment by allie on July 2, 2010 at 12:21 PM

This is such an important point, Lori. We can look and look and look, but we'll get much deeper if we DO. I always find myself inspired by what other teachers are doing, and I have a delicious account overflowing with things to "get back to" at some point. I'm in Paris for the summer, and our temporary apartment doesn't have internet - and at first I started to panic. But now I realize that I can focus so much more on my own work. Its been ages since I just sat down with my own sketchbook to work through my own ideas.

I always appreciate your wisdom :)

Comment by Line on July 2, 2010 at 01:12 PM

I am a "silent" reader of your blog, and it has really help me to grow as a mother. Thank your for taking time to share your thoughs. Thank you for this post. I am struggling with this now (so much notes written down, and so few things done; so many things to see/read/listen, and not so many things done). I needed this reminder. Thank you again. Line, a french reader

Comment by Lori Pickert on July 2, 2010 at 01:50 PM

naomi, thank you. and so true! if you only get and never use, it does turn into a waste of time.

stacey, lucky you to get to start over with new e-mail. :^)

i think this is just a recurring problem, one that we never fully solve. (like organizing? or maybe that's just me...)

taking things in is *easier* .. and inspiration feels good. there is a hump to get over when you start doing ..

mm, this reminds me of exercising, too. ;^)

thank you, teri. ;^)

chris, thank you so much — that means a lot to me!

theresa, lol, i mean them to be soft little punches on the arm. :D

this is a trap i'm very familiar with from falling into it and climbing out again, over and over — so i can empathize!

part of why i think journaling is such a strong tool is because it tends to bring these things to light even before you realize they're happening. things tip to the inspired/appreciating side and you see that you haven't *done* anything in awhile .. you're telling someone else's story instead of your own.

thank you, kristen! i think you have a lot of company on that train. and it definitely looks like one of those cute old-timey trains that chugs around the zoo. ;^)

allie, oh, thank you so much! :^)

mm, paris, so lovely.

the thing about inspiration is, it's only *inspiring* if you actually make something out of it .. otherwise it's just putting you into a pleasant drowsy state.

if only we could carry around a field bag of finite size with us when we wander the internet .. then when it got full, we'd know it was time to go home and play with our treasures!

line, thank you so much for commenting. it encourages me to keep blogging. :^) feel free to e-mail me any time as well!

Comment by Lynn on July 2, 2010 at 08:24 PM

Lori, you rule my world. Both of these posts have had me jumping up and down with delight, because you've articulated beautifully (as always) just what I've been thinking. These days, I visit only my friends' blogs (yep, you're one of 'em!), and I limit my time on flickr. I've also eased up on the notion that I MUST expose my kids to this, this, and this within a certain time frame. Firstborn and his dad got immersed in geometry this spring and kept it going for ages. That wasn't the plan, but I decided in the end that the plan was artificial and useful only for soothing me, not for allowing rich learning to happen.

So glad you're back; I can't wait to see your book! xoxo

Comment by Lori Pickert on July 2, 2010 at 09:22 PM

aw, thanks, lynn! :^)

and i’m glad i made the cut! :^)

we have to keep our plan flexible so we can accommodate those powerful interests that get us immersed. if we don’t plan for *that*, we sacrifice depth for coverage. excellent example. :^)

Comment by Allie on July 3, 2010 at 12:47 AM

This is great - thank you for writing this.

Comment by Dawn Suzette on July 3, 2010 at 02:58 AM

You do rock woman!! :)
During our move I spent a whole lot of time away from the computer and things around here were much better. I got more sleep... which in and of itself makes me a better mom... and read a whole lot more... which is a much better thing to model in my life with an early reader... I was more creative with the kids and not preoccupied with "checking my e-mail" or posting a picture "real quick" to Flickr.
It is funny that I find the more stressed I am the more I turn to the computer... which in turn causes more stress... and less productivity! Yikes!
Thanks Lori! Time to get it back in check.

Comment by Kate Wicker on July 3, 2010 at 09:01 AM

Excellent post!

Comment by Lori Pickert on July 4, 2010 at 01:16 PM

thank you, allie!

thank you, dawn! :^) oh, more sleep is key for me, too! as everyone around here knows. ;^)

you are so right about stress/interwebs .. it's a downward spiral. the internet seems to be one of those things that in small doses is energizing but in large doses becomes a depressant!

thank you, kate! :^)

Comment by Brambly Thicket on July 4, 2010 at 04:10 PM

Another silent follower coming out to say how much I love this post. I am an artist, a mother that home schools, an urban farmer and all of these parts of me are guilty of looking to the Internet for inspiration when I get stuck or am feeling discouraged. It can be useful for helping me get re-motivated when I am in a funk but if I am not careful, it sucks my time and my personal vision, leaving me funky and unproductive. I too have been disconnecting myself a bit to clear my head and allow more time for doing. This summer I have been feeling more creative and thankfully funkless for this effort. Now if I can stick to this plan when the weather gets cold and the skies turn gray and I am desperate for inspiration and connection. Heh. I am sure going to try.

Thanks for expressing so clearly what I have been thinking about but haven't been able to express myself.

Comment by Lori Pickert on July 5, 2010 at 01:06 PM

hi b.t., and thank you!

oh, i like it when my silent followers speak up! :^)

you raise a great point — the more hats one wears, the more time they can spend looking for ideas & inspiration .. for all their different interests.

of course, it's all about balance — but it's always tricky/surprising when the thing that throws us off balance is something that seems so innocuous .. or fun .. or positive (like inspiration).

you were writing recently on your site about journaling. journals are a powerful tool for reminding ourselves of what we want our lives to be about. we can use them (private or public) to frame our existence and tell our story. and, as i said up above, they can help us see when we're telling someone else's story more than our own.

thank you for speaking up! ;^)

Comment by Jeannine on July 5, 2010 at 07:41 PM

Oh, just YES ten times over! I have been thinking a lot about this myself. I find that I am spending more time appreciating what others have made and done than using the ideas myself.

Comment by David on July 7, 2010 at 11:54 AM

Hi Lori
I have been following your blog (quietly in the background) for just over a year now and I wanted to let you know that I am continually finding inspiration, challenges and affirmation in your well-written, and often re-read, posts. I have worked as an Early Childhood Educator in Australia for 17 years now and I love what I do. I have been prompted to respond to this post in particular because I really wanted to let you know that you will certainly NOT be one of those blogs I will be clearing from my computer in my attempts to create more of that incredibly important white space! Thank you!! Please keep us informed of your book.

Comment by jen on July 7, 2010 at 01:03 PM

Mmmmm - good stuff - for my kids, but more so, possibly, for me. I find this balance hard. I continually have to pare down on what is coming in. It's so hard to do when there is so much good stuff out there, and there is so much that I want to learn about. I know in my mind, yet forget that true learning is taking something and turning it over and over in your mind, using it, thinking it through, making something out of it (whether that is making discussion or making an hands-on project or making a lifestyle of it). Thanks for the reminder.

Comment by Lori Pickert on July 7, 2010 at 01:47 PM

jeannie, yes, exactly. and thank you. :^)

david, thank you so much! :^) i was secretly hoping i'd be a keeper. haha

i love ECE so much and still follow a dozen blogs even though i'm no longer running a school and no longer have ECE-age children. :^) there is nothing more inspiring to me than a group of young children working together to make something important to them.

thank you again so much! and if you or your school has a blog or website, please send me the link!

hi jen. :^)

you touch on something i think is key: the impulse that leads to overdoing on inspiration (and therefore underdoing on doing) is tied to something really positive — a passion for learning and doing. it is wonderful to have a lot of interests! it's just easy to lose our way and never get into the deeper, more meaningful work — our *own* work. you said it beautifully .. true learning is when you make it your own.

Comment by akari on July 9, 2010 at 04:21 AM

I've called it the problem of constipation... Too much eating not enough digesting and sorting out what is useful for growth and what is not... Time, time, it must be also the problem of how i conceptualize time.. to feel so rushed. Perhaps you are talking about the need for fasting and re-aligning priorities.

Everything is finite and nothing is actually disposable unlike what capitalism has tried to make us believe all these years... For me right now, the adventure is in looking to find what is a 'really' sustainable path and method...

Thank you once again for you, your processing and your generosity to share.

Comment by Lori Pickert on July 9, 2010 at 02:21 PM

akari, interesting metaphor. :) digesting, yes! fasting .. well, anyone who knows me in real life knows i would never advocate fasting. haha

but slow learning .. definitely we want to make sure that the experiences don't come along so quickly that they begin to pile up on top of one another. each should be had and savored and discussed before there is another. this is part of our job as learning mentors .. to set the pace.

thank you so much for your kind words, and thank YOU for your great comments.

Comment by shannon on July 13, 2010 at 08:18 AM

This has been on my mind lately as well. I think Summertime is such a great opportunity for kids to have the free time they crave to sit and think and then do...but it's that connection between dreaming and doing that takes a lot of work to build. In my case, I have more than one child who would like to think and do at the same time as the others. So, it's a test of my patience and fortitude to make things happen and inspire with creative ideas and supplies with cheer and a macro managerial approach. We have recently implemened new rules regarding "screen time" for each of my 4 children who are computer able. This has really helped them to get off the couch and get a life! It has also held me more accountable for the time I spend "researching" on the internet. It's amazing how much time I can spend combing the archives of tutorials and blogs, yet don't take the time to work on those projects, or blog about what I have actually taken the time to do. Thanks for the reminder! The phrase, "Stop starin' and start sewin " comes to mind! ;)

Comment by Lori Pickert on July 13, 2010 at 01:43 PM

what a great way to put it, shannon -- it *is* that connection between dreaming and doing that we are building. there needs to be inspiration, then exploration and dreaming and play, then creating and communicating and making. the balance is key.

lol stop starin' and start sewin' .. that works. ;^)

you make a good point, too, about how things improve when we have to follow the same rules we set up for the kids. :^)

Comment by Barbara in NC on July 18, 2010 at 10:29 AM

What a treat to wander over here and find there were new posts! And what an inspiring string of them!

Thanks especially for this one. You've really articulated something that I've seen happening in my own life but hadn't been able to pull it together clearly. We've had a crazy and challenging half a year or so--too busy, and this really took a toll on my energy and ability to focus. Which of course filtered down to the kids. I'm realizing that when I'm feeling tired/overwhelmed/stressed, I tend to cruise around looking for inspiration and reading about what others have done. When in fact what I really need to be doing at those moments is my OWN doing, because that's what helps pull me out of those more challenging places.

I think the distinction you draw between active and passive participation is so important. It's like too much passive intake of others' ideas saps my energy for my own projects. Or it just takes up the time that could otherwise be spent doing. But it can be so hard sometimes just to step away from the screen.

We are currently on our annual trip to upstate NY, where we stay in a little cabin, spend lots of time outside, and have basically no media access at home. And guess what? I'm sewing instead of staring! And the kids are engaged-engaged-engaged.

It makes me think that I need to do some thoughtful bracketing of media at home--for me, too, not just for the kids. But it's not really my way to set strict rules, particularly with the computer, which can be a learning resource as well as a place to watch videos. ; ) Sometimes I long to be that mom who just says "no screen time!" for the simplicity of it, but honestly it's the source of too much good fun and information for us to do that. So I'm in the midst of mulling over how to approach limiting media in a way that doesn't feel arbitrary to the girls but still clears some media-free space for us in our days.

Comment by Lori Pickert on July 18, 2010 at 02:40 PM

barbara, i am so in favor of breaks like the one you are taking right now. and we can make our own breaks whenever we want, without leaving the house. when people say they are "stuck" or things are stale or they're not sure which way to go from here, i'm always recommending that they jigger things up .. change their schedule, get up early instead of late, get up late instead of early, quit a commitment, add a commitment, try some structure, dump some structure .. sometimes you really just need to be jolted out of your routine to wake up and get re-energized.

i agree that the computer is a source of great fun and information/learning, but i also think it can be an easy fix for kids when they are bored .. a time when i would prefer they not have such an easy fix. :^) and you know i'm anti-limits .. here are a couple posts about that topic ..

.. but i also think we're here to mentor our children, and that mean helping them develop all of their abilities. setting some no-computer hours can still leave plenty of time for both playing and working on the computer. and if *you* are also having no-computer time, your girls may love it. :^) just an idea. as usual, you should do what works best for you and your family -- but feel free to experiment. you could always try it for a week and see what happens. i am all about experimenting. :^)

Comment by Amy on July 22, 2010 at 03:04 AM

I see the issue as having to do with changing the way we make decisions because we no longer have to struggle with scarcity - we actually have new problems around filtering, prioritization, and organization that come from having abundance (of inspiration, of connection, of information, of consumer items etc). It's amazing that we have so much to enjoy but the context has changed so our navigation strategies have to change also.

When there is so much to take in, linear strategies of organization don't work as well - I find intuitive ones work better. Intentionality plays a key role - it helps with the 'less is more' method.

Comment by Lori Pickert on July 22, 2010 at 03:38 PM

amy, can you share what intuitive strategies of organization work well for you?

Comment by Amanda on July 25, 2010 at 03:16 PM

This is such an awesome, thought-provoking post. I'm glad you linked it again. We got home from our big summer roadtrip, and I just wanted to sit around mulling over our adventure, but it felt like we were immediately being dragged back into the race of social obligations, deadlined projects, and obsessive homeschool planning. I really wanted to keep this year a bit quieter for the kids -- but it's going to be a hard-won battle of "no"s.

Comment by Lori Pickert on July 25, 2010 at 03:40 PM

hi amanda, and thank you. :^)

coming home from a trip is always hard for me .. i want to keep hold of that completely relaxed, focused time. i get the bends coming back to "real" life!

good luck with your battle of the no's — i think it's worth fighting! :^)

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