Little Mind And Big Mind

I recently listened to an interview with acclaimed writer Maya Angelou. In one statement she summarized something I’ve struggled to put into words for years.

She rents a hotel room in her hometown that she uses as her office as described here. When asked what she keeps in the room, here is her response:

Usually a deck of cards and some crossword puzzles. Something to occupy my little mind. I think my grandmother taught me that. She didn’t mean to, but she used to talk about her “little mind.” So when I was young, from the time I was about 3 until 13, I decided that there was a Big Mind and a Little Mind. And the Big Mind would allow you to consider deep thoughts, but the Little Mind would occupy you, so you could not be distracted. It would work crossword puzzles or play Solitaire, while the Big Mind would delve deep into the subjects I wanted to write about. So I keep the room. I have all the paintings and any decoration taken out of the room. I ask the management and house-keeping not to enter the room, just in case I’ve thrown a piece of paper on the floor, I don’t want it discarded. About every two months I get a note slipped under the door: “Dear Ms. Angelou, please let us change the linen. We think it may be moldy!” But I’ve never slept there, I’m usually out of there by 2. And then I go home and I read what I’ve written that morning, and I try to edit then. Clean it up. And that’s how I write books!
Maya Angelou

It’s happened to me too many times and I love this explanation. I generally try and keep my mind as still and calm as possible, but maybe slipping and focusing on mundane things is really just my little mind getting distracted so my big mind trying to delve deep into solving the big-picture problems at hand.

Have you ever experienced such a phenomenon, where you’re doing a mundane task and all of a sudden a solution to a problem achieves clarity? Please share your experience in the comments!

5 replies
  1. Maria
    Maria says:

    Love this post Adam. ” It would work crossword puzzles or play Solitaire, while the Big Mind would delve deep into the subjects I wanted to write about. ” – Wow! This happens all the time. Now I know what to do. 🙂

  2. says:

    I can’t say whether the CEO of Blizzard plays WoW. Although I wouldn’t be surprised it’s pretty addictive. But I’m pretty sure there are plenty of people at Blizzard who are far more involved in building the game than the CEO is, who also play it like fiends.I think you’re probably right that Zuckerberg doesn’t play Farmville 6 hours a day. But then, he doesn’t work for Zynga either. Zynga makes Farmville. Does anyone at Zynga play it? Probably not, and it shows.


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