Daily rituals of scientists: Albert Einstein

Welcome back to another piece of our series, Daily Rituals of Scientists. This time, we are looking at one of the most remarkable and recognizable characters in science – Albert Einstein.

Many know that Einstein’s life is a tale of intrigue, insatiable curiosity, creativity, misfortune, and perseverance. But what about about his day-to-day life? Did he just wake up in the morning and immediately work until late at night? Did he have any secret method for boosting his creativity? In this article, we’ll discover Einstein’s daily rituals, and you’ll see they’re not what you think. But first, let’s take a look at his life.

How does one become a genius?

Early life

Albert Einstein was born in Germany in 1879 into a secular, middle-class Jewish family. One of his first fascinations was a compass. At age 5, he was flabbergasted by the invisible forces moving the needle. Little did he know that this interest in invisible forces would persist throughout his life.

However, he was an odd kid. He didn’t speak until age 3, avoided other children, and faced challenges in school. Einstein had a distaste for the conventional schooling system, as it offered very little for originality and creativity. The story goes that a professor even told him that he would not amount to anything in life.  

Young Albert Einstein

At 16, Einstein’s life took a turn when his father moved to Milan for a business opportunity, leaving young Einstein in a Munich boarding school, where he was expected to graduate soon. However, young Einstein ran away and joined his parents in Milan. As a high-school dropout with no real skills, his future appeared bleak. But, despite the difficulties with school, Einstein excelled at mathematics and physics. With some luck, he was granted a pass at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology under the condition that he finished his formal education.

These years at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology would mark the happiest time of Albert’s life. Here, Einstein found a haven for freedom, friendship, and self-expression, excelling in his studies and laying the foundation for his future groundbreaking work.

Blossoming

As time progressed, Einstein’s career soared with each published work. In 1905, otherwise known as a “miracle year,” Einstein published 4 papers, each changing the course of modern physics. This made him wanted by many universities, and he eventually settled for the University of Berlin.

Einstein being awarded the Nobel Prize

During these years, Einstein met many influential figures, such as Sigmund Freud, the Indian mystic Rabindranath Tagore, and Charlie Chaplin. In 1921, he received a Nobel prize for his work on photoelectric effect. Einstein became a celebrity, doing world tours and delivering lectures for audiences of thousands. However, this wasn’t to last long.

Nazi Germany and moving to America 

As World War II loomed, the Nazis targeted Albert Einstein and his theories, branding them as “Jewish Physics.” Facing threats to his life and witnessing organized book burnings, Einstein had to leave his homeland in 1933. He never returned to Germany. He sought refuge at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. A hub that would soon attract the world’s foremost physicists.

Einstein receiving his citizenship
Albert Einstein receiving his certificate of American citizenship from Judge Phillip Forman on 1st October 1940

In 1930, his son Eduard was diagnosed with schizophrenia, leading to his institutionalization. In 1933, Einstein tragically lost his close friend, the physicist Paul Ehrenfest, who took his own life. Another profound sorrow struck in 1936 when Einstein’s beloved wife, Elsa, passed away.

Despite the adversities, Einstein stayed dedicated to his scientific pursuits and continued to reside and work in Princeton. He passed away there in 1955 at the age of 76, leaving behind a legacy that continues to influence the world of physics and our understanding of the universe.

Now that we’ve glimpsed into the life of Albert Einstein, let’s delve into the core of it. While in Princeton, what daily practices did Einstein adopt to fuel his creativity, perseverance, and success?

Habits and rituals: A day in the life of Albert Einstein

Einstein had surprisingly simple routines. Mornings were for breakfast and newspapers. Around 10:30, he would leave for Princeton, often on foot. He would walk about a mile and a half (ca. 2.5 km). It is said that he loved to walk and that his role model was Darwin, who had three 45 min. walks every day. On the occasional days when the weather was bad, a station wagon from the university would pick him up. Then, he would work until 1pm, returning home for lunch.

After a 1,5 hour lunch and a tea, he would nap. Einstein was famous for taking regular naps and sleeping at least 10 hours at night. He had a particularly peculiar napping system. He would settle in his chair with a spoon in his hand while placing a metal plate on the floor. As he would fall deeper into sleep, he would drop the silverware, and the sound of the spoon hitting the floor would wake him up, preventing him from sleeping too long.

After a nice break, he would continue with his work, writing letters, hosting visitors, etc. The supper was scheduled for 6:30, after which he would continue writing and working in his home.

Einstein on the cover of Time Magazine, 1929

Although Einstein had a humble way of living, he was famous around Princeton. People not only found his achievement exciting but also his peculiar appearance. Einstein did not wear socks or suspenders, and with his hairstyle and the “lost in thought” look, he naturally attracted many eyes. When stopped on the streets, Einstein would often indulge people and exchange a few words or pose with them, before going on his way.

What makes a genius?

So, what’s the secret behind genius, and how can we incorporate lessons from Einstein into our daily lives? Let’s break it down.

Sleeping for 10 hours and daily naps

Einstein’s sleeping habits suggest a significant link between unconscious states and groundbreaking insights. For instance, his theory of special relativity reportedly emerged from a dream about electrocuting cows (yes, you read that right!).

Now, I can’t promise you will warp into the next Einstein by simply sleeping longer. However, numerous studies underscore the paramount importance of sleep for both physical and mental health and performance. Effects of good sleeping habits include memory enhancement, improvement in cognitive function, better ability to focus, as well as improving your overall emotional well being. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend reading the book “Why We Sleep”, written by one of the leading figures in sleep science, Dr. Matt Walker.

P.S. – Einstein’s funny nap tactic was also quite brilliant. Napping too long can cause sleep inertia, which leaves you feeling drained and negatively impacts your cognitive abilities. This is why many people dislike naps, and they report feeling worse afterward.

Elsa and Albert Einstein
(Besides being his wife, Elsa was also Alberts cousin! Guess Darwin and Einstein had more than a few things in common)

Daily walks

In my last article, I mentioned the curious fact, that many scientists and geniuses have an affinity for walking. The common belief is that walking can positively impact the thought process, clearing mental space for new ideas to flourish. Einstein embodied this philosophy as well.

Walking is proven to help with creativity, and it reduces the amount of neural activity in certain areas of the brain. In simpler terms, walking can calm down the noise in our heads, allowing us to feel unburdened and get to those creative thoughts – the kind of thoughts that might not be available while stuck at your office. While further research is needed to fully understand the mechanisms at play when walking and thinking, the abundance of anecdotal evidence suggests that taking a stroll is well worth a try.

Avoiding socks?

As far as styling goes, Einstein had a recognizable look. Not wearing socks or suspenders was just one of the quirky characteristics of Albert Einstein. Not everything has to make sense or be a genius plot in a novel. The man just disliked socks! And if perhaps there is some merit to it, I am afraid socks mean too much to me to try it out myself. However, if you want to give it a go, let me know how it went!

Conclusion

There are plenty of things to be written about Albert Einstein’s life, but one thing that stands out – is his perseverance. Despite facing hardships—struggling in school, being exiled from his country, and losing his wife—Einstein lived humbly and dedicated himself to his work. He achieved the pinnacle of recognition in his field, arguably changing the world. Even his unconventional style became globally recognizable. In closing, I leave you with a quote from Einstein himself:

“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”

Image sources:

ETH-Bibliothek

Library of Congress

Flickr

Wikimedia Commons

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