May 18, 2014

The Science of Slowing Down

MacLain Christie, Weekend Director at Self Spark, belongs to a pantheon of wunderkind millennials, if only by virtue of his inherent interest in the all-but-forgotten art of understanding. While we’re all running around like headless chickens, frantic about the future, MacLain actually takes the time to stop and digest, carefully untangling the synapses in his brain to find the meaning in the make-up. For that very reason, I invited him to share some cognitive-hacking tips for keeping calm and actually thriving in uncertain and insecure times.

Frances Nguyen: So, what is Self Spark and how do you relate to the work that it does?

MacLain Christie: Well, I studied brain and cognitive science in college, which looks at how to apply practical knowledge of the brain to optimize (pretty much) everything, from one domain or discipline to another. It was kind of a serendipitous collision to find that that’s what Self Spark does: we use technology to enhance behavior-change strategies. We help people achieve their most ideal lives by teaching them behavioral science and bringing them the best of science and technology to, basically, help achieve their goals faster and more effectively.

FN: And how did you come across them? How or what was that intersection?

MC: I came across James, the founder, in Seattle about seven months ago. I’d found out about them when I attended a tech meetup. When I first sat down with him, I was surprised that this was actually something that was in the form of a company. I’ve always had this passion for helping people optimize their lives or performance, and with Self Spark, I’m doing what I’m aligned with. It was basically what I would’ve scoped in 10 years; if I were 10 years older I’d be on this same personal growth path, so it was just too good of a match to pass up.

FN: Very impressive. I don’t think that’s particularly commonplace nowadays, though; for a lot of us, it takes us years to find out what it is that we want to do to get a bit more depth in our work beyond punching in the nine-to-five.

MC: Yea, I definitely see that a lot with my peers: they rush to secure some sort of stability, and they don’t necessarily wait until their purpose—or what they’re drawn to—comes out in a way that they understand. The challenge in behavior change is that we want to avoid unknowns and risks. We’ve evolved and are just hardwired that way. But it doesn’t work for the society we’re in now.

FN: What does work in our society, then? How do we break from that sense of urgency, not only to adapt but thrive now?

MC: I think you just need to spend some time with yourself in order to step outside of that channel, that trend, and see what’s actually going on and what it is that you really want. If you feel some sort of motivation or drive towards a particular goal, take time to work with that vision, because then you’ll start to internalize it, and the motivation will turn into action. Once you do that, you might find the freedom from fear or uncertainty to jump on whatever opportunity comes to you.

Though MacLain’s advice may seem almost counterintuitive to the “Go get ’em!” culture that we celebrate—the contagious entrepreneurial spirit and the YOLO attitude—I find tremendous merit in the simplicity of just thinking things over. Above all else, I find relief from fear of wasting my time. I actually consider myself lucky to have talked with MacLain at a time in my life when I’ve been all but ready to jump ship. Now, I’m getting the impression that, sometimes, it pays to break with the trend and be disruptive by taking the time to figure out how.