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Adding Balance to Genius

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Adding Balance to Genius

(Julia Comerford/The Fordham Ram).

(Julia Comerford/The Fordham Ram).

(Julia Comerford/The Fordham Ram).

(Julia Comerford/The Fordham Ram).


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By Aislinn Keely

(Julia Comerford/The Fordham Ram).

When we think of genius, associated words like madness, eccentricity and extremism spring to mind, yet ‘healthy’ is nowhere near these synonyms.

In an age where the wellness market has boomed, and in many ways was pioneered by ‘geniuses,’ we still romanticize an unhealthy idea of success. We have an image of a caffeine-laden man or woman at a laptop, someone whose lack of sleep has lead to an abundance of eureka moments in their field. We use cups of coffee consumed and hours of sleep lost as small brags to each other, concealed in complaints of fatigue and busy day.

This culture of grinding towards success has left behind what makes most ‘geniuses’ across fields truly successful – health.
Writing is perhaps considered one of the most unhealthy professions. We think of writers smoking cigarettes, drinking in excess and suffering through mental illness as a sign of commitment to their craft, but some of the most successful modern writers show this isn’t the case.

Haruki Murakami is the famed author of over 20 books including “IQ84,” “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” and “Kafka on the Shore.” He has been heralded as one of the most important Japanese writers in the 20th century and a contemporary literary force. In his memoir “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running,” Murakami discusses the positive impact that his distance running hobby had on his career.
Murakami has participated in marathons, swimming competitions and triathlons to ground his writing. If writing is an unhealthy profession, Murakami points out the importance of a healthy lifestyle in his memoir, writing, “an unhealthy soul requires a healthy body.”

As it turns out, genius needs routine, and the routine needs exercise. It is impossible to sustain work at a high caliber if one’s day to day is an obsessive mess. Murakami likens this lesson to running, writing, “to keep on going, you have to keep up the rhythm.” It’s this rhythm that we seem to have lost sight of, particularly in college, a time of late nights that bleed into early mornings, dietary choices made out of convenience and a baseline of elevated stress.

Over time, these choices aren’t sustainable. They become a chaos of daily catch-ups, when it is rhythm that is so crucial to a life well lived, and in turn, personal success.
Furthermore, sleep often becomes the most negotiable thing about our day. We romanticize dark circles and venti coffee cups, believing those hours of rest lost will lead to years of success down the line.

In reality, sleep deprivation will only lead to long term consequences, and ‘happiness down the line’ is more likely to turn into mental health problems and neurological disorders. The truth is, genius needs rest.

Max Deutsch, an entrepreneur, a technologist and ‘extreme learner’ was profiled by the Wall Street Journal for his “Month to Master” project of completing advanced tasks with a novice’s knowledge and a month’s preparation. Deutsch achieved feats like having a conversation on the future of technology entirely in Hebrew, solving a Rubik’s cube in record time and completing a standing backflip, with each skill prepared over 30 days while working a regular job. He even challenged world chess champion Magnus Carlsen to a chess match and held his own for the first half of the game.

Deutsch is the kind of person we would think of as a modern genius. He can pick up any skill in a matter of days. When the Journal asked Deutsch about his process, he highlighted his commitment to sleep as leading to his ability to hyper-focus on tasks. He called his nightly eight hours ‘non-negotiable.’ The idea of exercising and sleeping being intrinsic to people who seem so far ahead of the rest of us seems anticlimactic. Balance in its purest form isn’t sexy. Health that readies the mind lies somewhere in between doing daily yoga and an entirely vegan diet; Red-Bull soaked all nighters.

The capacity to make something great starts with a degree of balance. A rested mind and well-fed body brings the average person closer to the prodigy than an all-nighter ever will. Amidst a culture of multitasking and quick-fixes, well-rested mindfulness will ultimately solve tasks more effectively.

Before the next big project, sweat it out and sleep on it.

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Adding Balance to Genius