Ness Labs by Anne-Laure Le Cunff

Ness Labs: Escape the Algorithm 🤖

Published 4 months ago • 7 min read

Edition #205 – November 9th, 2023
The mindful productivity newsletter by Anne-Laure Le Cunff

Hello friends!
As you may know, I'm based in London, and the days are short and dark this time of the year. This is the season of staying inside, lower energy levels, and winter blues. But this is also the perfect opportunity to reflect, recharge, and recalibrate. One of the aspects of my life I like to be particularly mindful of is the way I engage with information.
The content you consume has a big impact on your creativity, productivity, and mental health. So, this week, I invite you to think about your content consumption patterns, and how they could be improved.
I also re-recorded my most popular YouTube video ever about a time anxiety, with more details and strategies. It's a topic that's close to my heart, so I hope you find it useful.
I'm collecting stories for a book chapter about the power of community. If you have benefited in any way from being a Ness Labs community member, I would love to hear from you. Please fill this form to potentially be included in the book.

Escape the Algorithm

When was the last time you had an ‘aha’ moment? If you’re like most people in today’s era of noisy information, it may have been a while. We have access to limitless data, and yet this rarely leads to brilliant creative insights. In fact, this constant assault on our attention can quietly corrode our creative capacities.

When we’re perpetually overloaded, our brains never get a chance to make the unexpected connections that spark original ideas. When we mindlessly consume whatever the algorithm is feeding us, we don’t provide our minds with the creative fuel it needs to generate interesting ideas.

To get quality creative output, you need quality creative input. So, how do you balance the two?

Anti-fuel for creativity

We live in an era where the overall availability of information is not a problem anymore. Social media and endless browsing bombard us with a constant stream of new information. But our brains were not built to handle the constant novel stimuli of the digital age.

Scientists have found that excessive multi-tasking and switching between different streams of information can overtax our working memory. This makes it harder for our brains to filter out irrelevant details, engage in deep thinking, and make meaningful connections, which limits our ability to think creatively.

And we’ve become so used to constantly checking “what’s new” that our minds have become scattered, even when we don’t actively engage with that endless stream of information. In fact, the mere presence of your smartphone next to you can reduce your available cognitive capacity!

Our minds need whitespace to make the unexpected connections that fuel creativity. As the author Julia Cameron puts it: “When a creative artist is fatigued, it is often from too much inflow, not too much outflow.”

With an endless influx of information competing for our attention, our creative wells often run dry. To revive your imagination, you need to be more intentional about balancing your creative input with your creative output.

Feed your creativity

Balance your input and your output means aligning what you consume with your creative goals. Consider the information you consume to fuel your mind the same way you would food to fuel your body: not too much, the right ingredients, and the occasional treat.

Here are a few tips to reduce mindless consumption with a content diet:

1. Limit time on passive social media scrolling. Use website blockers to restrict aimless browsing if necessary. Checking Twitter or Instagram out of habit rarely inspires creativity. Of course memes can be fun. Just set limits on how much time you allow yourself to indulge in low-value content.

2. Subscribe to carefully curated newsletters aligned to your interests. Avoid flooding your inbox with subscriptions you don’t have time to read. Add labels so these newsletters go into a dedicated folder you set time aside to read.

3. Go offline for focused reading. Read ebooks on your Kindle without distractions. Buy physical books, magazines, and journals to disconnect from the digital bustle. Immersive long-form reading boosts creativity better than skimming content.

4. Keep inspiring materials on hand for quick creative sparks. Build your antilibrary. When you have a spare moment, pull out your inspiration from there rather than social media.

5. Select audio content with intention. Rather than passively playing radio with random talk shows intercalated with ads, be selective with what you listen to. When driving, exercising or doing chores, put on a podcast or audiobook that feeds your creativity. This includes fiction!

With more intention, you can craft a content diet that nourishes instead of numbs your imagination, and turn what you take in into a creative catalyst.

How to practice active content consumption

While being mindful of the quantity and quality of information you consume is a great first step, changing how you consume this content is even more powerful. It’s easy to passively read blog posts and watch videos. But it’s better to make it an active endeavor.

Not only active content consumption will help you become more intentional with the content you consume (it would be quite hard to write a blog post about that cat video you just watched) but science shows that it will help you remember things better and come up with better ideas later by putting your brain into focused mode.

Almost any piece of creative content can be consumed in active mode:

Here are a few ways you can go from passive to active content consumption, from easier to harder:

  • Make notes by hand or digitally. Write down key points, memorable quotes, and your own reflections. Note-making will help you identify the most valuable bits of information and synthesize concepts, and reviewing your notes later will help feed your creativity.
  • Explain new concepts in your own words to others. You can simply send the link to a friend you think would be interested in the content with a couple of thoughts of your own. Summarizing what you learned and teaching it activates deeper mental processing, which is known as the generation effect. As a bonus, having to structure and communicate the ideas often yields new perspectives.
  • Write your own article. Use what you consumed as inspiration for original output. Creating something new requires you to connect the dots between disparate sources, and putting your thoughts into words to share with the world can help you discover new insights. You may even receive some thought-provoking feedback that will further spark your creativity.

Also consider stepping away from your screen and doing something completely different and unrelated:

  • Take a notebook and go to a park or somewhere beautiful to sit down and actively observe the world
  • Try cooking a new recipe you have never tried before
  • Read poetry, a novel, or something unrelated to your field
  • Take a train to go visit a new town and take some photos like a tourist
  • Go to a library and explore a random aisle
  • Find a local meetup in an industry you know little about

In an era where we are expected to be on the receiving end of broadcast communication, designed to make it feel like it was crafted just for us, to be intentional about the content we consume and the way we direct our attention is an act of freedom.

And your brain is great at making random connections given you support those processes by ensuring you have the right balance between creative input and creative output.

So try to inject more intentionality in your content diet and practice active content consumption to get those creative juices flowing!

🎬 Video of the Week

Time Anxiety: The Fear of Wasting your Time

Is it too late? Time anxiety is the obsession we have to spend our time in the most meaningful way possible. It's something I've been struggling with for the longest time, and that I'm slowly learning to come to terms with. Watch the video to learn more about it and how to manage it.

video preview

👀 Brain Picks

• While we’ve never had more ideas on our minds, making sense of them is overwhelming. Most information is noise, and the good ideas get lost in the chaos. Napkin changes the way we think. Keep the good ideas in sight. Explore them magically curated by topic.

• How many of us listen to countless podcasts and read endless books but never leverage this into true growth? Revolutionary Character provides a clear, actionable process to unlock your potential, elevate your performance, and enhance your wellbeing. Join the next cohort in January 2024 to embark on a transformative year!

Creative Doing is a simple guide to unblock your creativity in your work, hobby, or next career. In this book, you’ll find a collection of 75 simple, yet sometimes counterintuitive, exercises, and mental models from prominent artists that will guide you through your blocks to find the unique creative process that works for you. Get it as a print and digital combo, 30% off for a limited time.

Thanks to our partners for supporting the newsletter! Please email if you'd like to get featured here.

🤝 Brain Trust

If you enjoy the newsletter, you'll love our community of curious minds who grow together through interactive workshops and safe discussion spaces. Here is what we have planned in the next few weeks:

Creative Hour: The Power of Vulnerability – In this interactive session also on November 13th (9am Rio / 12pm London / 7pm Singapore), Gosia Fricze will help you explore why it can be hard to be vulnerable, what we can gain from it, and how to inject more vulnerability into our lives.
Quiet Writing Workshop – Two hours of focused writing with Faye Nero on November 15th (10am London / 5pm Singapore / 9pm Sydney) where you can make progress on any writing you like, whether it's drafting your social media posts or creating content for your blog.
Co-working Session – Join Javier Luis Gomez for our weekly co-working on November 16th so you can progress on your projects while connecting with fellow community members.

All of these and future events are included in the price of the annual membership ($49), as well as access to the recordings of all our previous sessions and past cohort-based courses.

🌊 Brain Waves

If you enjoyed this edition, please share the love with fellow curious minds on Threads, Twitter, Instagram, or Whatsapp, or simply forward them this email.

Thank you for reading, and take care!

P.S. Do you know why we like having choices but we don't like choosing?

Ness Labs by Anne-Laure Le Cunff

A weekly newsletter with science-based insights on creativity, mindful productivity, better thinking and lifelong learning.

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