How does it feel to have a Second Brain?
It feels like raw power. Like energy coursing into my mind and body from every source of information I have access to. Like the world is made of ideas, and I have a key to its underlying reality. It feels like I am the master of my reality, able to draw in and shape and then deploy ideas in endlessly creative ways. I can mold my experience by tweaking and redirecting the flow of information through my life, offloading any bits that I don’t need right now and taking in others that I do. It’s like navigating a ship when all I’ve known is a dinghy, the horizon extending in all directions as my imagination expands.
Having a Second Brain gives me a profound confidence in the ambitions I am pursuing. Nothing can stop me, because I am building, collecting, gathering, recruiting every idea and insight from the world’s greatest thinkers in one centralized place. Even my mistakes and my obstacles and my challenges become fuel, the priceless wisdom of my daily experience recycled back into the engine. Like a nuclear reactor, every bit of fuel increases the critical mass, accelerates the reaction, and pumps more energy into the system.
Having a Second Brain feels like being part of a system that is far greater than I am. I am in control, but barely. It works while I sleep, while I daydream, while I’m on vacation. The longer I spend away from it, the more insights it will have for me when I return. It is like an incubator, with idea micro-organisms reproducing, intermixing, mutating, and evolving faster and faster the more genetic material they have access to. It is a greenhouse, the sunlight of thought warming and growing and pressurizing itself into an explosion of new life.
Being part of this system feels like being a node in a vast network that emerged from me, but has grown far beyond anything I can understand. It is humbling and somehow reassuring that what I contribute is just one kind of thinking among many. I give my ideas over to a vast intelligence that operates on more levels, across more disciplines, and across greater timescales than I can comprehend. I increasingly have the feeling that I am just watching the system work, that I am as surprised and delighted by what it creates as anyone. I am tweaking and changing it less and less, amazed at the incredible beauty and elegance of its thinking.
The experience I have as I work with my Second Brain is that we have a relationship. It is almost as complex as a person, with its own wants, needs, goals, and history. It is like a child – a being of pure potential, of endless curiosity and open-mindedness as it encounters each new morsel of insight. It communicates with me, sometimes aligning with my interests so we can run together, but also sometimes demanding maintenance, attention, or software updates. I know that every investment in this organism will return 10-fold, 100-fold, 1,000-fold. And not in some far off hypothetical future, but in a matter of hours, days, or weeks. Such a sure investment makes the superficial pleasures of social media lose all their color in comparison. I am on my devices as much as anyone, consuming as much information as anyone else. But I am not doing what everyone else is doing with it. I am preserving the very best of everything I am exposed to, like a patient gardener squirreling away seeds and cuttings from every garden in the world, to plant in his own magnificent creation.
My Second Brain makes me feel abundant. There are so many resources everywhere. Like a Cambrian explosion of ideas and theories and frameworks and essays and tweets and income. Enter my world of ideas and I will show you how deep it goes, how many layers there are to this game I am playing. As I teach others to play it, the game gets larger, more real. Our world gets larger, the play becomes more fun and more infinite in all directions and dimensions. Our world of ideas starts to consume the physical world, starts to make it obsolete and boring and just not important. In our world there is no competition, no scarcity, no fear. Ideas only generate more ideas, more generosity, more curiosity in an ever-expanding sphere of possibility.
Working inside my Second Brain, paradoxically, I can see that ideas by themselves aren’t worth much. When you have so many choices for every decision you need to make, so many answers to any question you might ask, so many possibilities for every unknown, it becomes crystal clear that information is a commodity. What is truly scarce and precious is humans and their stories, their desires, their dreams, their consciousness. When you can create anything out of anything, the question that becomes front and center is, “What do I WANT?” No fact or insight can answer this. But having all my ideas externalized not just in my notes but on my blog, on my social media feeds, and in my books gives me the freedom to explore it.
My Second Brain constantly deepens my understanding of myself. It reflects back to me my assumptions, my stories, and the evidence I use to justify my beliefs. It reflects back to me the identity I’ve constructed, which in the light of a backlit computer screen I can see is full of holes, and gaps, and makeshift patches. But I also have more evidence, more options, more borrowed beliefs from others to fill in those gaps. I evolve faster, on more levels, a flurry of swapping modules in and out in such a way that the system of my Self works better, but at the same time, I see that I am not the modules. I am something more, something greater than the sum of its parts. This gives me the courage to detach from that Self, to let go of my need for any one idea or theory to be right or true. I can try more of them on for size, see how more of them feel, decide which of them serve me best.
Strangest of all, my Second Brain somehow allows me to open my heart wider and wider. I am not occupied by my intellect, not tied down with the mundane details of making a living. I can spend more time exploring how my body feels, what it’s telling me. I can spend time having experiences that defy my understanding of what’s real. I can afford to let my heart be broken by the tragedy and beauty and sorrow and love the world is so full of, because I am not on the front lines of my job. I am not responsible for my to do list, so I can take responsibility for finding out who I am and what I am doing on this planet. My work serves me, not the other way around. This means I can afford to let others in, to spend the time with them, to make investments in them that won’t “pay off” in any concrete way, but that make my experience of life more vibrant, more exciting, more sublime. I can afford to let my dreams become real, to let them take over both my first brain and second brain and go beyond that to recruit other people and their second brains. I can afford to be of service, to put myself at the disposal of the world and its needs.
As I open up the subterranean channels in my heart and body, I also gain access to new kinds of knowledge that the mind simply cannot access. I struggle to describe what this knowledge is and how I know it, but I assume it is the knowledge of my ancestors, my genetic and cultural inheritance, the knowledge of my evolutionary history over eons. Ideas arise from these channels, unbidden and fully formed, with a sense of certainty that no amount of logic or analysis or proof could ever muster. This certainty carries me through my days like an unstoppable river, flowing on its inexorable path toward some kind of destiny, some kind of purpose. This kind of knowledge can’t be stored in my digital notes. But I have room for it, because my mind is vacated, which means any time I need energy or motivation I can dip into the reserve of energy stored right inside my body.
My Second Brain allows me to go beyond the veil of knowledge, to see that knowledge doesn’t change anything really. It’s all interchangeable and all leads to the same place. What really changes things is experiences, and I can create those experiences for people. I can draw them in with the promise of creating such a system for themselves, and lead them through building it, and then let them in on the joke that it’s not really about knowledge. It’s about who you become in the process of creating a system that you can fully trust. The stories you have to let go of to completely put your faith in something, anything, outside of yourself. That trust then starts to spread, to yourself, to other people, to institutions, to society. They trust you in return, and before you know it you live in a world that is fundamentally friendly and in your favor. You gain access to sources of communal power that were unimaginable when you were on guard, hypervigilant for any sign that someone somewhere is taking advantage of you.
The very best word I can find to describe what it feels like to have a Second Brain is awe. I spend more time in a state of awe than I thought was possible. Awe at the complexity of what I’ve created, what it’s capable of, what it knows. Awe at how everything works out in the end, how that last note that seems to have no place becomes the lynchpin in the next project. Awe at how all knowledge is connected on such a deep level, that the same principles turn up again and again, that I can follow any thread and it will eventually lead somewhere eye-opening. I feel awe that the underlying layer of reality can actually be uncovered, against all odds, and every inch I uncover gives me more freedom, more insight, and more aliveness. And also I feel awe that the world I am uncovering is so much more complex and mysterious than anything that could ever be written down. That feels reassuring, as well.
Subscribe to Praxis, our members-only blog exploring the future of productivity, for just $10/month. Or follow us for free content via Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or YouTube.