You probably associate Einstein with mind-bending theories and tedious science. But how about this: The man whose name is synonymous with “genius” was as sentimental as he was smart—and proved over and again that passion and intellectual prowess don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
Without passion, the great man said, a person is as good as dead, for it’s passion that keeps us going in the most trying of times. “The daily effort comes from no deliberate intention or program,” he said, “but straight from the heart.”
Passion, however, is a finite resource. Whether you’re studying for finals, starting a business, or training for a race, passion can be hard to sustain when facing the hard climbs, frustrations, and stumbling blocks.
Here are some lessons you can take from the world’s most brilliant mind on fanning the flames of passion—and becoming smart in heart as well as mind.
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Bright Idea #1: Know How to Forget Time
In 1915, two days after he had finished his ground-breaking theory of general relativity, Einstein wrote a letter to his 11-year-old son who was living with his mother in another country.
Proud of his achievement and understanding that people are happiest and most productive when wrapped up in work that they love, he encouraged his son to keep with his own passions, writing, “That is the way to learn the most, that when you are doing something with such enjoyment that you don’t notice that the time passes.”
Several decades later, Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi popularized this notion of complete creative immersion with a description he termed “flow.”
Apply this theory: If you’re struggling with a particular project, find the part you most enjoy and commit to clinching that. Csikszentmihalyi claimed it should be challenging enough to require your full focus, but not so hard that you can’t complete it.
So sign out of Facebook, turn off your cell, or put a “do not disturb” sign on your door. Give yourself the chance to get fully immersed in the task at hand. You’ll be surprised at how satisfied you’ll feel when you realize time has passed and your work is done.
Bright Idea #2: Keep Your Curiosity Sharp
Of his genius Einstein said: “I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.”
Curiosity at its core means regarding things differently. Todd Kashdan, psychologist and author of Curious? Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life, writes that people who are curious are more willing to take risks, embrace challenges, and feel happier doing so.
They’re open to new ideas and greater possibilities, which drives their learning and feeds their passions. Einstein agreed. “The important thing is not to stop questioning,” said the man who consistently queried the accepted scientific thinking of the day to find his world-changing theory of relativity. “Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”
Apply this theory: Try a new sport, talk to a stranger, read up on a culture you know nothing about. Don’t be afraid to “not know something,” Kashdan writes. Instead, ask questions that require longer answers than “yes” and “no” and really listen to the replies.
Bright Idea #3: Live Deeply in the Moment
“Any man who can drive safely while kissing a pretty girl,” stated Einstein, “is simply not giving the kiss the attention it deserves.”
In other words, it’s important to be fully present in those moments that can bring us the most pleasure in life. Not only will we develop an appreciation for all that we have, but practicing this kind of mindful awareness can boost our brain power.
According to a 2010 study published in Consciousness and Cognition Journal, people who underwent brief mindfulness training saw significant improvements in memory, visual-spatial processing, and executive functioning (cognitive skills like time management and attention to detail).
Apply this theory: Whether you’re sharing an ice cream with your kid or are halfway through your first Spartan race, stop focusing on your inner thoughts and start noticing the sights, sounds, smells, and feels of everything around you.
It doesn’t matter what problems you’re having at work or how many bills you have waiting for you at home, being fully present in a given moment can help you appreciate life all the more.
And it doesn’t take an Einstein to realize that.
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