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Listen to Baseball on the Radio (with a Book)

April 21st, 2017 · 29 comments

A Deep Season Begins

Now that we’re entrenched in spring I can indulge one of my favored deep work training routines: listening to baseball on the radio.

America’s pastime unfolds slowly. The experience of listening to a game lacks the rapid, shiny stimuli that defines so much modern entertainment.

This is important. The more comfortable you become in the absence of such distractions, the easier you’ll find it to persist in the non-stimulating (but satisfying) pursuit of depth.

Baseball on the radio also requires sustained concentration. To really understand what’s happening in the game, you need to have followed every pitch in the inning that led to the current moment.

This requires that you to hold your attention on a single target for an extended period of time: another effective exercise to sharpen your ability to focus.

This is not the first time, of course, that I’ve written about the neuronal benefits of FM fandom. But this year I’ve cemented a new twist to my routine: I read a book during the commercial breaks.

Let me paint the (painfully geeky) scene: I sit outside at the table in my backyard, Sony analog-dial radio tuned into 106.7, an LED headlamp on my head, and a book in my lap. When the inning ends or the pitcher is pulled, I dive into another chapter of the book; then back to the game; then back to the book — the evening unfolding in a slow concentrated present.

If there’s a more pleasurable way to train one’s ability to achieve depth, I’m yet to find it.

Now if you’ll excuse me, Bryce Harper just came up to bat against R. A. Dickey in a one-run game…this I’ve got to hear.

(Photo by Feches)

29 thoughts on “Listen to Baseball on the Radio (with a Book)

  1. Hugo says:

    The switching between reading and listening doesn’t seem very deep. Does the attention residual not lower comprehension?

    1. Study Hacks says:

      The goal in listening to the radio with a book is not to actually complete an act of deep work, but instead to practice some basic skills — comfort with low stimuli, sustaining concentration — that will later enhance your ability to do deep work when the times comes.

  2. Rohan says:

    I don’t understand, how does reading a book during breaks help you? Is reading just a way of resting your mind after concentrating, or do you read deeply with full focus as well?

    1. Study Hacks says:

      It’s just something to do that requires you to keep your attention focused on a single thing, even during the commercials.

  3. Hossain Ahmed says:

    Great post Cal. Without deep focus I can’t concentrate on anything. That’s the good idea to overcome. Some thing like mindfulness meditation.

  4. Cal,

    I couldn’t help but comment on your succinct summary: The SLOW, CONCENTRATED PRESENT.

    We can nicely juxtapose this against the many times our minds are running fast, distracted, and pre-occupied with the past or future.

    Depth then, is wrapped up in those 3 words: SLOW, CONCENTRATED, PRESENT.

  5. Pisaller says:

    This is surely a great way to improve one’s concentration that is vital to produce work that matters in any field. Baseball is a great example and reading a book during the commercial break even intensifies it. Besides listening to baseball on the radio, what other techniques would you suggest to a college freshman to incorporate into their daily routine that allow promote sustained concentration (besides engaging in meditating productivity and memorizing a deck of cards?)

    1. Study Hacks says:

      Spend large portions of your day away from your phone.

      Separate out academic work that does not require the Internet (reading, etc) and do it in places away from computers, preferably outside (search my blog for old posts on “adventure studying”).

      Adopt an athletic or musical hobby — both require sustained concentration, and are fun.

  6. Ammar says:

    Hi Cal,

    I just finished your book “Deep Work”. It is an absolutely amazing book and has surely changed how I spend my working hours and the value I create. I am a little perplexed about (seemingly) contradictory advice you gave

    1) Create a shutdown ritual. Note down things to do / ideas (and write shutdown). So as to not think about it until next day

    2) Use long walks / boredom to concentrate and go deep in solving problems.

    If I do 2) in off-hours am I not violating 1)??

    (Sorry, I am posting here on this thread. Please ignore If you have rules about that)

    1. Study Hacks says:

      It’s a good question. Productive meditation (the long walks during which you think about problems) are something I do during my work day, before the shutdown. Sometimes, I’ll also schedule time for these thinking walks outside of my work day when there’s something I want to keep noodling on…but I try to keep that pretty well contained to set times, then take notes, and shutdown that thinking right after I finish.

  7. Carl says:

    I would rather listen to corn grow. Less boring than baseball.

  8. Leslie says:

    Due to my location, I watch games on MLB.TV. There are no commercials during the commercial breaks, just a slow moving graphic and absolute quiet. It is strikingly peaceful. For these breaks, I keep a magazine at hand. During last year’s World Series, in order to know the game in real time, I had to listen on the radio, my only option to pick it up via the Internet. I am a Cubs fan, and listening to my hometown radio guys on those dark October and November nights as they described not only every pitch but every movement, every emotion, every quirk of the weather, as it happened — it was great. And somewhat poetic. My dad had become a Cubs fan as a boy out in rural Illinois, as he often explained, listening to games on the radio … I always figured that those who don’t get it are missing something!

  9. Greg says:

    Although Ihave MLB AT BAT, so I can listen to any game on my computer or phone anywhere in the world, my favorite method is via the tube radio on my desk in my den. Ebay has them.

    During a game, I do bills, emails and finances. Baseball helps me to stay focused on these mundane chores because I am continually “in the moment” of every pitch.

    Thank You Cal. I feel good to know that so many feel the same way I do about Radio and Baseball.

  10. Russell says:

    Just wondering, were you listening to the Nats or the Braves?

    1. Study Hacks says:

      Given I live in Washington D.C., Nats all the way!

  11. That’s a fantastic idea! IMO…

  12. Steve says:

    Ha! I was at that game on Thursday evening. First time at the new Sun Trust Park. Great place to visit if you ever come to Atlanta, Cal.

    And, I presume you could hear the chorus of boos every time Bryce Harper came up to bat. Not sure if that came through on the radio broadcast but it was pretty loud in the stadium.

  13. Heather LeBas says:

    Hi Cal,
    I recently got your book on deep work and I am truly grateful I did. I created cards to track my deep work hours on my wall and started limiting my social media use. One thing I noticed is that ever since I have started using your strategies to start going deep, I have had unusually vivid dreams. I don’t dream very often or at least I don’t usually remember them.

    It reminded me of a NOVA documentary I saw a few years ago where Dr. Robert Stickgold talked about the connection between memories and non-REM dreams. Thought I would share my experience.

    Thank you for writing this book and making me question and reorganize my behaviors.

  14. David Fonseca says:

    What about embrace boredom between breaks instead of reading a book?

    1. Study Hacks says:

      The goal with embracing boredom is to break your brain’s addiction to novel stimuli all the time. Listening to the game itself is providing this benefit…

      1. David Fonseca says:

        Hmm, right! Thanks for the reply Cal.

  15. Stephen says:

    I was listening to the same game. Didn’t turn out too well for my Bravos. It is difficult to listen to baseball if you did not grow up watching or playing the game. There must be some other good ways people can practice deep work skills besides listening to baseball, but this is a great one. I love your writing Cal. Here’s hoping you’re not a Nats fan.

  16. Chuck says:

    Baseball on the radio has always been my preference (over television). How about an audiobook during the breaks?

  17. Dave Ardent says:

    For folks in the UK, you could always try listening to cricket in this manner instead.

    If that doesn’t require massive amounts of mental discipline to sit through without drifting off, then I don’t know what does.

  18. Alex N. says:

    What do your wife and kids do when you read/listen to the radio in the evening?

    1. Study Hacks says:

      When I get a chance to listen to a game, it’s after I put the boys to bed. I’m happy if I can get in 1 or maybe 2 games in a typical week.

  19. Simon says:

    Hi Cal, agree with the idea of reading a book between innings. Last year I was able to squeeze in about 50 minutes of George Soros’s book The Alchemy Of Finance during game 2 of the Rangers/Jays ALDS game. A side benefit is that it can be easier to inch through a somewhat complex text in 2-3 minute chunks.

    The MLB At-Bat app is a great supplement to radio games. You can tune in during the fourth inning and quickly scroll through the play-by-play of the first three innings. Also nice to click on players you don’t know and get a quick bio/statistical overview.

    Currently figuring out an algorithmic way to condense the games to around 30 to 45 minutes as it is hard to justify 2-3 hours on sports every night. MLB has condensed games but they are too short and don’t really capture the essence of the game.

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