Remember last month when we talked about the importance of sitting with uncertainty? Today we're going from philosophical to practical. We'll look at how we might work with our biology to turn uncertainty into creative energy. And no, ChatGPT is not your third brain, we'd all be doomed if we relied on AI alone.

One way to turn uncertainty into opportunity is reducing the overwhelm. We could do that with mindfulness or meditation, moving the body like in yoga or running, or creative practices like drawing or cooking. Ever had a great idea while doodling? That one! We give our brain a little break from the constant loops of worrying and suddenly, somehow, we can process the things that seemed so complicated and overwhelming a moment ago.

Another approach is to organise and digest the flood of information we're constantly receiving - both literally and figuratively. Our bodies have evolved sophisticated systems for processing information, from our brains to our guts. Did you know that your gut is often referred to as the "second brain"? Dr. Michael Gershon's book The Second Brain (1998) popularised this concept, highlighting the complex network of neurons lining our gastrointestinal tract. Ongoing research, like that of Tim Spector, continues to uncover the profound ways our gut influences our overall health and even our decision-making processes.

But just as we digest food, we also "digest" information in many ways. In the realm of critical intelligence (CI), we've developed Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) systems - digital "second brains" that help us organise and retrieve information, much like our gut processes and stores nutrients. These different "brains" - our cognitive brain, our gut, and our digital systems - can all work together to help us process uncertainty and create meaning. Let's explore some intuitive ways we can harness the power of these multiple "brains" to process information and generate new ideas.

Intuitive Processing - Morning Pages

There are different ways we can deal with uncertainty in a generative way. You might have heard of morning pages, where you sit down every morning and simply fill a few pages of paper with anything that comes to mind. It's a stream of consciousness writing, allowing the brain and the body to process.

It's one of the core tools Julia Cameron writes about in her bestseller The Artist's Way. The physical activity of writing can be transformative for a lot of people. We process information differently when we move, even if we just move our hand. I noticed personally that I struggle with morning pages, because my hand cramps up, and I can barely read my writing. And yet there is something in that process of sitting down and moving my hand across paper that unlocks something new. What works well for me is going for a quick walk around the house instead, or talking to my cat about my ideas and problems.

How do you like to process intuitively or somatically?

Do you journal? Pull tarot cards? Make watercolour paintings? Go for a run when things get a bit much? Sketch things out? Dance it out and make shapes?

Strategic Processing - PKM

Other people get into personal knowledge management (PKM). Tiago Forte and his PARA Method are one very popular way of thinking about it and Nick Milo has some amazing videos explaining PKM and how to build your own PKM system in this open-source app called Obsidian if you want to dive deeper into it. (It's a bit of a rabbit hole, don't get lost. Start small and make it yours.)

Essentially you break down your ideas into small "atomic" notes. Each idea, each concept, and each thing that's on our minds becomes one file, and we link them together. So one day I might be thinking about uncertainty, like I did last month, and I'll make a note of it. I might call that note "Generative ways of dealing with uncertainty". Another day I might think about how I show up as a coach, and how I market my coaching, how I talk about what I do, and I'll make a note for each of those. Or I'll reflect on a book I read, making individual notes on key themes and ideas that resonated. It's like your own curated mini-Wikipedia.

We can link these different individual thoughts, these little notes together. It's a little like the internet, each note/page leads to another. Over time little clusters of themes start to emerge. It becomes like a little network of the ideas in our brain. That's why people call it the second brain. We can search, we can look for themes and ideas, or we can follow those links between notes to rediscover ideas we had earlier. And in a way that's another way of tapping into that uncertainty, and giving our brain and our bodies a little help to get back to those little notes, or get back to the morning pages, and noticing what stands out, what themes keep coming up, and what might that mean about how I want to deal with uncertainty in my life.

How do you organise your memories, ideas and projects?

Do you have any system to note down and remember things you're interested in? From "bookmarks" of other people's ideas in tools like Readwise, Pocket or Pinterest to collections of your own thoughts in your phone's notes app, a physical system of notes in journals and folders or a digital archive in Obsidian, Notion or Evernote,...

Passive Processing - Voice Notes

What's been wildly transformative for me is yet another way of taking notes; voice notes. I started using this app called AudioPen, which essentially isn't much more than your voice notes on your phone (with a twist). I often pretend I'm sending a voice note to a friend. And I'm explaining things that have not had words before. AudioPen listens and transcribes it for me, and then writes a little summary. Later I can come back to those notes that I have taken without effort. I've gone through a similar process I might go through if I write notes in Obsidian, or Notion, or if I do morning pages. Only this time I just talked, there was almost no effort in remembering/recording my thoughts. When I'm done talking, there's a complete transcript of the ideas I've had, and there's a little summary that can get me started on taking the next steps with that.

How might you create new ideas or record emerging ideas without the need for them to be perfect?

Maybe you don't do voice notes, but you might make up songs about things you're interested in, or you have a friend you go for a walk with every week to "process", you might have a coach or mentor to help you process, or explain your problems to your cat. Anything goes. Extra points if there's a record of the fuzzy new idea.

Putting It All Together

One last thing that I noticed that's really helpful is linking all these practices together. I might still do a little journaling on a piece of paper. And when salient ideas emerge, I might make little notes in my Obsidian vault, and start to network those notes. I'll start to work with them, combine them, and make new ones. And I still do my voice notes with AudioPen. You might use Otter or any other AI transcription service.

Last month, I built a little plugin that links the two together, so every time I make a voice note in AudioPen, it also creates a note in my Obsidian vault (or Notion for you, if you use that instead).

And that has unlocked a whole new way of accessing creativity, because I get to think about and process ideas in a raw form, in voice. And then AI does the magic of transcribing and summarising it for me, and putting it right into my Obsidian vault. That's where I sit down to do the work, make new things, and take bits from that uncertain soup of different feelings and ideas that already have been pre-digested by AudioPen, and I get to combine them. I can just sit down and look at themes that have emerged, and start to compose new blog posts, new outlines, new ideas from those pieces.

And yes, we did use AI, but we didn't use it to create new things, we simply used it to do some of the busy work for us. Something that resonated deeply with me when I read Nico Ward's comment saying that "[...] The fundamental revelation of ~2 years of generative AI applications is that these models are great at knowledge refactoring (question answering, retrieval, search, summarisation), but not knowledge creation (ideation, original thought, creativity). [...]"

So essentially, we've helped our process a little bit. We've helped our biology by processing that overwhelm in an organic, almost passive way with the voice notes – without the need for it to make sense or be complete – and we used AI to transcribe and organise the feelings into little notes. That allows us to get back to what we do best. With our thoughts a little more organised, it's easier for our biology to combine these fragments of uncertainty, find patterns, and find new ideas that sit right between the old ones. That's really what we do best: creating new things, creating new stories, and creating new relationships.

How might you combine different ways of "digesting" ideas and information?

When you look at the three previous reflection prompts, what practices do you already have? How might you explore new ways of processing ideas? And how might you combine them?

And I invite you to find your own way of being in uncertainty in a generative way. How might you process things? How might you refine them? And how might you recombine them in a way? And what role does technology play in that? It doesn't have to be your phone or computer. Maybe technology is a pen and paper. Maybe technology is paint brushes and watercolours. But what is your thing, or your things, that you have in your life for the processing part? Being with, being in that fuzziness and that soup of uncertainty, without necessarily having to mix and match just yet. What can help you digest ideas?

Try it yourself

If you want to try my little workflow, I made a little tutorial on how to use AudioPen and link it up to your Obsidian or Notion knowledge database. So you can also try and see what happens if you process verbally and then come back to a nice written version of your thoughts, ready to be made into something new.

I didn't make AudioPen or Obsidian, I just really love them both. If you sign up to AudioPen with an affiliate link from this article, I'll get a little kickback at no cost to you.

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