Feed a hungry mind

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Editor's note: This article ran in the Nov. 30 edition of Dairy Exec newsletter, published by Dairy Herd Management.

Everyone gets the same 24 hours in a day. Yet some, like the legendary Leonardo da Vinci, do more with their day than others. The obvious question is, “why?” A recent NPR article may help shed some light on that age-old question.

According to a new book by Toby Lester that will be released in February 2012, da Vinci used to travel with a small notebook hanging from his belt, and "whenever something caught his eye," he would make a note, or begin "sketching furiously."

"It is useful," Leonardo wrote, to "constantly observe, note, and consider." But when you are Leonardo, what sorts of things are buzzing around in your head? Well, Toby Lester describes what is essentially a "To Do" list buried in one of those notebooks, a bunch of things Leonardo planned to do one week, or month, in the early 1490s.

“Cannons, wall construction, studying the sun, ice skating in Flanders, optics, and that oh-so-casual, "Draw Milan." It's like his mind could wander off in any direction at any time. How did he concentrate? How did he focus?” queries article author Robert Krulwich.

He suggests that there are benefits to not focusing, to letting your mind wander and see what it can conjure.

“Minds that break free, that are compelled to wander, can sometimes achieve more than those of us who are more inhibited, more orderly, Krulwich notes. He cites a recent behavioral study which found that “Minds that break free, that are compelled to wander, can sometimes achieve more than those of us who are more inhibited, more orderly.”

Finally, part of the answer also lies in embracing curiosity. 

“Leonardo, that icon of a Renaissance Man, wanted to know everything. On one page of his notebooks from the early 1480s, you can see he has gotten a new pen and he's just doodling, testing it out, and as his mind wanders free, what does he write?

‘Says Toby Lester: it's a riff on the phrase "Dimmi" ("Tell me"). Leonardo jots the words, "Tell me...tell me whether...tell me how things are...tell me if there was ever."

“These, says Lester, "are the tics of an increasingly hungry mind."

“A very hungry mind,” concludes Krulwich.

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