Stunting for the sane

By » Fri, June 15 2012
6287771281 de3624c065 450x299 Stunting for the sane

This girl ponders the start of her all-pigeon diet. (img by Beth Jusino)

When we think of stunts, we think of stuff like this:

It’s fun to watch, but most of us will never do anything like it. But there are other kinds of stunts. A.J. Jacobs pulls what book critics call “literary stunts”. In a literary stunt, the author does something weird, like living according to every single law in the Bible (including stoning adulterers), then writes about the experience.

Jacobs defends and explains literary stunting in Wired:

A successful stunt requires a writer who is passionate and open to change. In fact, change is crucial, almost mandatory—without it you won’t have much of a story. Luckily, if you take your stunt seriously you can’t help but change. When I was obeying the Bible, I came to realize how behavior shapes our thoughts: I forced myself to utter compassionate sentences, as the Bible instructed, and eventually I started to feel more compassion.

In fact, I think everyone—even those without book contracts—should do stunts. You don’t need to grow a beard and wear a linen robe, as I did. Try small experiments. Sample a new toothpaste every week. Swear off gossip for a day. Get your news from the opposition channel, be it Fox News or MSNBC. You’ll carve new neural pathways in your brain, which is always healthy.

I want to push things further. You don’t have to write to pull a stunt. Just pick a thing and a timeframe and do it. Blog optional.

Here are some ideas based on things actual people have told me they’ve done:

  • Live using only natural light
  • Change your diet
  • Turn off your phone for an extended period of time
  • Spend a long time in an unfamiliar (or very familiar) place
  • Write a novel in a month
  • Draw something for 4 or 8 hours
  • Blindfold yourself for a day
  • Take a short term vow of poverty or silence
  • Try a new kind of exercise

You’ll start seeing the very idea of stunts differently. And who knows, you might try something as a stunt and end up doing it for the rest of your life.

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