Bathe yourself in boredom.

Why filling every moment of your attention is sapping your creativity, your ability to concentrate and your enjoyment of life.

Originally published on Medium

Something I realised I was doing wrong in 2018, aside from peeling bananas, was filling every moment of time with doing something. Whether it was listening to a podcast when walking back from the gym, playing Angry Birds while on the subway, or having Netflix on in the background while I colour my comic strip, I never had a single moment of silence, much less boredom.

In an interview with Tim Herrera in The New York Times this morning, Cal Newport revealed a small tidbit from his upcoming book Digital Minimalismin which he teases:

The second rule is to “embrace boredom.” The broader point here is that the ability to concentrate is a skill that you have to train if you expect to do it well. A simple way to get started training this ability is to frequently expose yourself to boredom. If you instead always whip out your phone and bathe yourself in novel stimuli at the slightest hint of boredom, your brain will build a Pavlovian connection between boredom and stimuli, which means that when it comes time to think deeply about something (a boring task, at least in the sense that it lacks moment-to-moment novelty), your brain won’t tolerate it.

Late in the year, I realised that 90% of my waking hours were spent with Bluetooth earbuds in, listening to podcasts, Instapaper articles or music and 10% was allowed for my brain to catch up on all of that information. The only time allowed to process it and make any sense of that enormous amount of input was during sleep — which, as you can imagine, was pretty restless.

I reinstated my daily practice of meditation which made a massive difference. It made me more mindful of my tendency to reach for my phone or fill some dead time with something.

The reality is: boredom is important. It allows your mind to wander and make connections it mightn’t have had the opportunity to while you were listening to another episode of the Tim Ferris podcast.

Creativity requires quiet. Part of the reason you get your best ideas in the shower is that you don’t have any other input — and your subconscious is on autopilot with something you’ve done routinely for decades — leaving you with the ability to make creative connections and come up with great ideas you might have missed out on having if you plugged up that time with further input.

Taking a walk?
Take out your earbuds. Just walk.

Taking a bath? (a #ScotchBath, I hope)
Don’t take a book. Just sit.

Taking a baby?
Put it back. Don’t take babies.

I now carve out entire blocks of time with nothing in them on purpose. It was an experiment I tried in 2018 and the results were astounding. The space I carved out yielded more creativity than anything I could have activelyscheduled in those blocks of time.

I would implore any creatives to try it and see what comes of making time for nothing.

Today's New Yorker Daily Cartoon: Complaining about the cold

Mine and @Scottdool’s cartoon in The New Yorker on this chilly Tuesday...

Funny story! I got the ‘ok’ on this one while I was on set of Doodle Wars this past June. I was sitting around between takes with Hilary F. Campbell and, tired as hell, we both filled the time drawing to stay awake. I inked it in on my sketchbook before getting called away to finish the show.

Actual interesting part of the story: When this cartoon was first pitched, it was June and people were just starting to complaining about the heatwave that had just engulfed New York after a particularly frosty spring. So, the original cartoon was actually reversed. Here’s the rough:

After it had sat in the drawer at the New Yorker for the Summer (In comedy, timing is everything… same with publishing cartoons!) I decided I might switch the gag around and re-send the artwork to use when Fall decided to snap into place.

Sure enough, I woke this morning at 7am to draw up the rest of my batch and felt that fresh bite on my toes. I had a feeling we might see this cartoon today…

You can hear Scott and I coming up with this one in an earlier episode of Is There Something in This? A weekly podcast where we come up with New Yorker cartoons. Available wherever you subscribe to pods.

Come see our live show tomorrow night (Wednesday) with a VERY special mystery guest, for just $5! Tix: bit.ly/ITSITlive2018

The Simpsons Turns 25

Published 17th December 2014

Not since M*A*S*H* has an entire generation enjoyed a host of characters as genuinely funny as the people of Springfield.

The Simpsons happens to be the longest running sitcom in history and one of the most quoted television shows to boot. It can't be understated enough how difficult it is to keep a weekly show -not just a cartoon that has to be animated- but a prime time comedy show going for 25 consecutive seasons across more than two decades, and still be successful.

A lot of people will tell you The Simpsons 'lost it's mojo' in the early-to-mid 2000's for whatever personal reason, and they stopped watching. I can say with some sincerity, whatever they thought was lost, is back now. The Simpsons is funny, and it's better than ever.

I couldn't be more enamoured of an internationally syndicated comedic, satirical cartoon show that captures the zeitgeist of each decade each episode was written in. The whole shebang is an incredibly difficult thing to pull off, and with incredible consistency the writing and production team have done it so well.

I had the great pleasure of meeting one of The Simpsons' great Directors, David Silverman. Name one of your all-time favourite episodes you can remember and the odds are, he directed it.

"Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire" "Bart the Genius" "Bart the General" "Life on the Fast Lane" "Some Enchanted Evening" "Bart Gets an F" "Treehouse of Horror" (The Raven segment only) "Bart vs. Thanksgiving" "The Way We Was" "Old Money" "Blood Feud" "Black Widower" "Homer's Triple Bypass" "Krusty Gets Kancelled" "Treehouse of Horror IV" "Another Simpsons Clip Show" (as Pound Foolish) "Homie the Clown" "Mother Simpson" "The Simpsons 138th Episode Spectacular" (as Pound Foolish) "Treehouse of Horror XIII" "Treehouse of Horror XV" (as "The Tell-Tale Silverman") "Treehouse of Horror XVI" (as "Godzilla vs. Silverman") "Treehouse of Horror XVII" (with Matthew Faughnan) (as David "Tubatron" Silverman) "The Man Who Came To Be Dinner"[/accordion] [/az_accordion_section]

David also took on the immense task of Directing the Simpsons Movie. I couldn't begin to imagine the scale of what he and the team at Fox had to work with, on top of putting out a new episode of the Simpsons every week.

We had a day to kill together after the NCS Reuben Awards weekend in Boston in 2011, so we walked around the city on foot. One of the great things about talking to David about the show is the passion he has for animation, and for cartooning in general. You can't work in the industry for as long as he has without loving every aspect of the process and its origins. He showed me classic Pogo strips and the artwork and odd vernacular in the old comics.

Every minute with cartoonists like David is a huge and invaluable lesson for young cartoonists, and I couldn't recommend coming to the Reubens and joining the National Cartoonists' Society enough for any working or up-and-coming cartoonist. If you're in Australia, the ACA is just as great a resource.

I think the biggest thing that strikes me about why the Simpsons work is the writing. Some of the best writers in television comedy have worked on the show, and many still do. It's become something of an institution, like the Tonight Show. If you want a glimpse into the mind of one of the Simpsons longest-contributing writers, take a look at Tom Gammill's Comic Strip on GoComics, The Doozies. Lord knows he doesn't promote it enough.

And now, courtesy of The Mirror, The 16 funniest newspaper headlines from The Simpsons...

1. Incontinent old man wins Miss Teen America

2. Unusually large, ugly baby born

3. Second headline less important, studies show

4. Squirrel resembling Abraham Lincoln found

5. This one

6. Old man yells at cloud

7. Even Pies

8. Angry Mob Mulls Options

9. Spinning newspaper injures printer

10. Wiggum rescues boy no, really

11. Bumblebee man caught in sting

12. Top cop surrenders to backfiring car

13. Mayor unveils erection to cheering crowd

14. Slow news day grips Springfield

15. Parade to distract joyless citizenly

16. BONUS: The Mirror on The Simpsons

Stan Goldberg (1932-2014)


It is with a heavy heart that I report today the passing of a true great in the comics industry and someone I had the great privilege of calling a friend. Stan Goldberg passed away today from complications of a severe stroke he suffered in August. He was 82.

Stan Goldberg was best known for his with as the artist behind Archie for nearly 40 years. He was the kind of guy that makes you hopeful as a cartoonist; someone you could aspire to be like in your career, particularly your later years. Stan still had such great fervor for what he did in his 80's as much as he did in his heyday. At 82, he was still churning out beautiful pages of artwork from his very simple desk setup right up until his stroke. He and Pauline spent most of this last summer out at their beach house. He'd created an amazing piece of art for the upcoming Box Art Auction benefiting East End Hospice.

 Tom Richmond, as ever, sums up perfectly the significance of Stan's career and personality:

Stan had the kind of career in comics that in some ways flew under the radar, but in others was one of rare influence and greatly respected by industry pros. He was best known as a principal artist for Archie Comics for over 30 years, but he also freelanced for many others. He worked for Timely Comics, which would become Atlas and then Marvel, and was the colorist for their early titles, coming up with many of the color schemes for the costumes for The Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, The Hulk and other eventual staples of the Marvel superhero world. After a split with Archie, Stan continued to work for companies like Bongo, DC and others on a variety of titles.


The last few years at the NCS Reuben Awards were special ones for Stan and Pauline. In 2012 in Las Vegas, the NCS honored him with the “Gold Key” award, inducting him into the NCS Hall of Fame. A very humble man, Stan was really moved by the recognition, but it was undeniably well-deserved. You should know you are a big deal in the world of comics when Stan Lee sends in a long video tribute to you for your award presentation! It was wonderful to see him get that award.


This past year was another special Reubens for the Goldbergs. Back in October of last year, Stan and Pauline were involved in a terrible car accident that badly injured them both. I was told that one of the first things they said after beginning their long roads to recovery was that they were determined to get better and go to the Reubens in San Diego that following May. In fact, they had their room booked right after the accident as incentive. At the Reuben Awards dinner we recognized them and let them know how glad we were they were there and how important they are to the NCS family with a thunderous round of applause. They are such special people. Little did we know we were also saying goodbye to Stan.

Stan was one of the most generous and encouraging cartoonists I ever had the privilege to meet -not to mention one of the most impressive.

Stan at the Bunny Bash

My first encounter with Stan was in 2006 when I was 21. Stan and I were guests of Bunny Hoest for her annual "Bunny Bash" in Long Island. I was a bit starstruck at first, a dorky kid who'd flown over from Perth, but Stan's softly-spoken, gentle manner soon calmed my nerves. His wife, Pauline is just as polite and warm. I had a long chat with both Stan and Pauline that afternoon and kept in touch from then on.

Eight years later I'm living in New York, thanks in no small part to Stan and his incredible generosity. Stan took the time to write to the US Department of Immigration as a reference for me becoming a US Resident.

My immigration attorney was completely taken aback by the letterhead... He said "Wait... THE Archie? This is the most impressive reference letter anyone's got!" (He was  big Archie fan.)




I got to tell Stan this story when I last saw he and Pauline in San Diego at the Reubens in May. He was tickled pink, but in his trademark modesty he wouldn't accept the praise.

In 2009 on my annual trip to New York, Stan very generously took the train all the way up to the Society of Illustrators to join Adrian Sinnott and I for a very, very long lunch. It was there he finally got to talk me through his entire career from working at Marvel, right through to his work drawing Archie comics. My jaw was dropped the whole time.

After hearing Stan's story, I thought the other Aussie cartoonists would be interested in hearing it. So, in 2010, I was very lucky to organise for Stan and Pauline to visit Australia as special guests at the Stanley Awards in Melbourne. It was my first as ACA President, and the first one I'd organised so I was nervous about the whole thing. It was a great success due to Stan, who proved to be such a popular guest that by the end he became an honorary Aussie and a lifelong friend of Australian cartoonists.

He spoke at the conference of his incredible career working for Marvel and various other titles mentioned above. He always made time for anyone who wanted to meet and talk with him about anything, young and old. That night he presented the Cartoonist of the Year Award to David Pope.

Stan's encouragement and joy for the craft was infectious, and his willingness to participate in the NCS was always so well appreciated.

After months of agonising rehab, he and Pauline made it across the country to the Reubens in San Diego, where he spoke at the NCS General Meeting. After he stood up to speak, he got a round of applause from the whole room (and then again that evening!) It was a mammoth effort getting there despite their physical hurdles. He truly valued the community of cartoonists with whom he'd shared his career, and the many more who admired his work.

a601_600Stan ended his nearly 40-year relationship with Archie with two three-part, alternate-future stories in Archie #600-605 (Oct. 2009 - March 2010), "Archie Marries Veronica" and "Archie Marries Betty", followed by some additional, final work including two pages of a flashback sequence in the 25-page "Love Finds Archie Andrews: Archie Loves Betty" in the comics magazine Life With Archie #1 (Sept. 2010), and the cover of, and an 11-page story in, Tales from Riverdale Digest #39 (Oct. 2010). In 2010, IDW released the 160-page hardcover collection Archie: The Best of Stan Goldberg, with a new Goldberg cover.

It was a great pleasure to share the time I did with Stan over the years. He'll be very dearly missed by the many, many people who had the privilege of calling him a friend.

Deepest and sincerest condolences to Pauline, Steve, Bennett, Karen, Debi, Bridget, Elliott, Benji and Ari.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to:
East End Hospice 481 Westhampton-Riverhead Road PO Box 1048 Westhampton Beach, NY 11978 (631) 288-8400

New York Times Obituary: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/05/books/stan-goldberg-artist-for-archie-comics-dies-at-82.html


Just a small taste of Stan's amazing artwork from his long, successful career can be enjoyed below:

Ginger Meggs Tribute Strip

My grandparents were the best of mates for 68 years- Thelma and Harry Penn.(He called her 'Penny'). He had to say goodbye to her last month. Today would have been her 90th birthday. Poppy's still going strong at 94, he misses her so much. She used to read Ginger Meggs every day to see what he was up to. This strip ran in papers around the world today for them.


Who Writes the Words for Ginger Meggs?

THE single most commonly asked question I get about Ginger Meggs is: Who writes the gags/stories? The short answer is, I do.


The slightly longer answer is; Producing a daily comic strip (in my experience), is separated into three parts: 60% is writing, 20% is drawing (the fun bit), 20% is business and syndication.

The writing is the most time-consuming and difficult part of it. That’s not to say that getting syndicated isn’t difficult (heck, it’s near impossible these days!) but as far as time goes, you spend more time and mental energy coming up with new material day after day than anything else. It’s like a stand-up comedian not being able to get up on stage and do the same routine as he did yesterday. Every day.

It used to irk me that people would assume I just “drew” Ginger Meggs, but then I realised it was because often a comic strip cartoonist is referred to as “the artist for…” which of course would lead one to assume you just draw the strip, and someone else writes it. That setup is not uncommon (ie. Zits, Baby Blues, Wizard of Id) but it’s not how the majority of comic strip cartoonists do it.

I like the challenge, and I take a lot of inspiration from guys like Gary Clark, Jerry Scott, Paul Gilligan, Sean Leahy and Tony Lopes. These people just know how to write consistently good material, and they work hard at it.

I suppose it’s like anything- the more you do it, the better you get. I’m still a novice, but my background in writing editorial cartoons and stand-up comedy gave me a good grounding for writing a daily strip. It’s been a very steep learning curve, and I’m enjoying the experience. I hope to be doing it for a long time to come!

The first writer for Ginger Meggs was his creator, James C Bancks in 1921. He was followed by Ron Vivian in 1953, Lloyd Piper in 1973 and then my predecessor, James Kemsley in 1983. A full run-down of the Ginger Meggs history is available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ginger_Meggs

Ginger Meggs is syndicated internationally by Universal Uclick. You can read the strip every day at GoComicshttp://www.gocomics.com/gingermeggs


This is your brain on FOMO.

FOMO, or Fear Of Missing Out, has to be the most insufferable of the first-world syndromes to transform my generation from hopeful, ambitious innovators into a huddled clump of simpering drones, desperately clenching their smartphones, refreshing and checking notifications for their next hit of Derpamine. And I'm one of them. (Yes. I just officially made up a word.)

FOMO is a psychologically compulsive concern that one might miss an opportunity for social interaction, a novel experience or other satisfying event. This is especially associated with modern technologies like smartphones and social networking services. A study by some guy called Andrew Przybylski found the condition was most common in those who had unsatisfied psychological needs such as wanting to be loved and respected. So, most of us.

In a society where we're bombarded with advertising imagery to make sure we're all super-insecure, it's the perfect storm for a FOMO epidemic. Get your tinfoil helmets ready, kids!

I can't remember the last time I went out with friends and we didn't all have to compete for each others' attention. We're instantly pitted against the un-winnable battle of a universe of other non-present people who are potentially more interesting. Sometimes it literally takes playing the phone stack game to get us to engage like adults. I'm the guiltiest of my friends of this heinous social disease. I've done it for a long time.


Ever since Facebook and Twitter became available on a handheld device, I was that guy checking it for updates. Checking out of wherever I was to be somewhere else. A scorching case of FOMO not seen by the likes of any other early adopters.

Such was the severity, my friends just started excluding me from conversations. What was the point? I was just going to stop half way through and check my phone anyway right? I am also a dork. And who wants to talk to a dork? (Except the Lord)

Trying to hold a conversation with me while I was holding my smartphone was like trying to read bedtime stories to a hyena ripping into a squealing zebra. The amount of patience required not to punch me in the face couldn't be quantified. The lack of restraint on my part was unfathomably rude.

Nomophobia (which is a thing, sadly) is the chronic, crippling fear of being out of mobile phone contact. Add a hefty dose of FOMO into that equation and you've got yourself a serious social problem infecting an entire generation.

This all may sound like I'm being harsh on a seemingly harmless social faux pas, but as I've written before in 2010, social media exists on the very requirement of you obsessively needing to check back in and obsessively tap that little red circle to see how many people Liked or commented on your genius photo of a duck wearing a hat.

There are two parts to this:

1.) By Design

Social media sites know exactly what they're doing. Peoples' addiction to them is no accident. Facebook has been redesigned more times than Tori Spelling's chin, but there's one thing on the user interface that has never changed- that's the little red circle with a number in it, hovering over a small light blue globe. The small indicator of how many notifications are sitting there, waiting for you to check. There's a reason they haven't changed it too - the human brain.

The way the human brain forms habits and addictions is through triggers. Triggers are really powerful things. You can use them to your advantage if you want to hack your brain, but if you let them run your subconscious it's a one-way trip to the above mentioned simpering mess of FOMOsexual. (I don't know what the sexual part is. Let's not think about it. But I will gift you my new favourite word: Infornography. You're welcome.)

It taps into your propensity to Akrasia and saps your willpower -and any tendency for Enkrateia with it.

2.) The Greatest Hits.

FOMO is mainly associated with Facebook and Instagram, which provide constant opportunity for comparison of one's status.

Oddly enough, people on Facebook and Instagram don't tend to post photos or check in when they're doing nothing. They tend to image craft; posting photos of themselves doing fun things, out with friends, eating great food or having heaps of fun at a bar. With Facebook, you're getting everyone's Best Of album. Their Greatest Hits. Epic FOMO bait.

What's the solution, dork?

Solar flare? Wipe out the internet? FOMO Anonymous?

The first step is stopping the trigger. The next, ideally, is a digital diet to reset your triggers. I tried a little experiment would recommend you try if you have FOMO issues.

I wanted to see if I could extricate myself from the lure of the little red dot for as long as I could. I would see how high I could get that little number before I felt the need to click it. The result? I'm four days in and I'm recognising the desire to click it every time it pops up, but guess what. I haven't been socially excluded/missed out on anything/died. I am, however, still a dork.

The first part of breaking an addiction is recognising the trigger. (This is super easy if your addiction is guns.) I've still been logging on every now and then, checking on the events panel. I'm still responding to friend requests and DMs, but I haven't clicked the notification button. It's up to about 104. The idea that this is somehow heroic strikes me as more and more ridiculous as each day goes on.


FIG1: Derpamine Generator.

The link between seeing the red dot, and needing to click/extinguish it is diluting and my brain's circuitry is rerouting my attention to other things.

I use an app called SelfControl.app for Mac to blacklist Facebook.com and other tempting servers from access on my laptop, effectively blocking social media from my 'work' computer altogether. The spike in productivity is astounding. (and sad, really.)

My homescreen circa 2015.
My homescreen circa 2015.

Not to over-simplify neuroscience, but basically the habit forming pattern is trigger > action > pleasurable response. (Rinse, repeat.) The more you do it, the stronger the habit/addiction becomes (the stronger the neural pathways become). The more reliant on the dopamine drip you get from that pleasurable response, the less control you have over that addiction. It gets a lot more complicated; but them's the basics.

The interesting thing is once you've clicked on the red dot, the pleasure disappears. The idea of having the red indicator with numbers in it ready to click is more pleasurable than the seconds after you've clicked it. It's the same principal of the study of why window shopping is so pleasurable; The desire to buy a thing is more pleasurable than having spent your money and bought the thing.

That's the scientific reason people buy things they don't need or can't afford. The reason people feel like they need the new iPhone. The excitement of the experience of owning it is far greater before you purchase it than after you purchase it. There's a reason you can't walk into an Apple store without feeling excited about potentially walking out with one of those shiny new gadgets. It's experiential marketing, and they're very good at it. (They also use knolling... KNOLLING!)

There's a bunch more scientific research as to how Facebook makes you jealous and sad in the New York Times seemingly rehashed the same time each year.

Without getting too far off track, the basic principal of overcoming FOMO and information addiction is

..Sorry I just got distracted by an article about Bees.

What was I saying?






Interested in reading more about this stuff? Take a look at the neuroscience (new research) behind What Happens In Your Brain When People Like Your Facebook Status.

My friend here in Melbourne, Gavin Aung Than has done a great comic based on Marc Maron's bit about this. It's excellent. Click the image to view the whole thing.