Refilling the well

Inspiration isn’t something that can be emptied. Sure, we can feel blocked at times. But in reality, it’s just our own self getting in our way.

There’s no real trick to finding inspiration. One study suggests that focusing on a non-mentally demanding task can free up the subconscious to do its work. It’s why showers often bring good ideas, and thinking of a question before going to sleep can net you an answer upon waking.

Another good practice is to experience the ideas of others. I’m torn by what Seneca says about reading – “Be careful, however, that there is no element of discursiveness and desultoriness about this reading you refer to, this reading of many different authors and books of every description. You should be extending your stay among writers whose genius is unquestionable, deriving constant nourishment from them if you wish to gain anything from your reading that will find a lasting place in your mind. To be everywhere is to be nowhere. People who spend their whole life traveling abroad end up having plenty of places where they can find hospitality but no real friendships. The same must needs be the case with people who never set about acquiring an intimate acquaintanceship with any one great writer, but skip from one to another, paying flying vists to them all.” (italics for my emphasis)

I do see the value of spending time reading one author’s work and digesting it, not just glancing over it. This rumination could be akin to what Cal Newport calls deep work.

However, it’s also good to gain perspectives from many sources, especially when looking to pull from your own source of creativity. Gaining a multitude of ideas is how the well is filled.

That brand of yours

Building a brand is easy, assuming you have one unified interest. But, what if you’re someone who likes to dabble in many fields, to try new things?

The tech mogul who wants to improve healthcare. The reknowned actress campaigning for social justice. Or the one holding down a job while doing anything creative on the side.

The most important thing is just to stick with it.

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas Edison

Gauging success

The metrics for success can sometimes leave us bogged down, rather than letting us focus on the important points.

I know one thing I often consider is that success is gained in the completion of a project. The important thing for me, then, is to make sure that I’m following through on actionable items and seeing the end result.

Others measure success differently, so it’s important to be honest with yourself when determining how you want to view the success or failure of something you’re working on.

The man in the arena

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Theodore Roosevelt

Failure is an option

In creative endeavors, mistakes are made – and usually accepted. In some cases, such as Google, who says, “reward failure”, mistakes are celebrated. Yet often, when it comes to mistakes, we shame them. 

Failure is not a shameful experience. It is exceedingly important to fail when trying to create anything worthwhile. There is room for failure. It’s okay to screw up in pursuit of something important. 

More on distractions

It isn’t enough to not take on distractions. There needs to be a systemic method for canceling out the desire to be distracted. 

Because we have programmed ourselves to feel pleasure at distraction. It isn’t necessarily our fault. It’s a side effect of the technological age. Similar to the marketer/shopping reward scenario that made consumerism such a pleasurable sensation. We are rewarded by checking social media, or email, or taking momentary breaks in our day.

So systems that we put in place to limit distractions get us closer to performing at our highest levels.

 

The undistracted mind

It’s easy to focus when nothing else grabs for your attention. But we aren’t built to handle distraction. When you consider that we were often beset by predators on a daily basis, it makes sense that our attention would be easily pulled away from what we were doing – lest we’d be eaten.

So handling distraction isn’t so much a matter of will power, rather than it’s a function of setting your environment up in such a way that potential distractions are blocked before they can even reach you. I like the description in Cal Newport’s Deep Work of Carl Jung: “He began with a basic two-story stone house he called the Tower… [including a private office]. “In my retiring room I am by myself,’ Jung said of the space. ‘I keep the key with me all the time; no one else is allowed in there except with my permission.”

In a practical sense, maybe you can’t have a tower out in the woods. But you can set up distraction-proofing.

That means, for me, working on a computer with the internet off, notifications off, noise-canceling headphones, a song on repeat (this one certainly takes some getting used to, but I’ve found that once the song fades into the background it is easier to concentrate than with other ambient noises), and a block (or blocks of time) that are strictly for the work.

The one about the job search

Oh, right. Now that COVID has canceled my summer season, I’ll be looking for work once again.

The thing about job hunting is that it was unpredictable before the outbreak. Now, well, I’m sure I find myself like many Americans.

But hey, opportunity from adversity! Good luck to all, and to all a good night.

The Abundance Trap

How easy is it to get lost in the minutiae of having so much? So many emails, or obligations, or *gasp* books to read.

You would think that the more inputs we put into our life, the more product we should have to offer. In economics, the downward side of that bell curve is an example of the Law of Diminishing Returns. “Advantages gained from slight improvement on the input side of the production equation will only advance marginally per unit and may level off or even decrease after a specific point.”

And it seems that we all run in the mode of diminishing marginal productivity. We don’t realize it, but we constantly reach input overload, causing our productivity to level off, or even decrease.

So where is that sweet spot? The point on the graph where you’re at optimal performance, not wasting any input while maximizing your output?

Finding it may be impossible, but we can try to get as close as we can.

Recharge your batteries

A lot of what I’ve been writing about over the past few weeks seems to have been on energy, streamlining your life, and putting the focus where it most matters.

But none of it means anything if you’re draining down your battery. You can go and go, get everything accomplished, but if you’re too tired to enjoy it, what’s the point?

So what reenergizes you? For me, it’s solitary times. It’s spending moments in contemplation away from the pull of anyone else’s agenda. Certainly, I like being of service, and helping where I can. But this can easily lead to burnout. (I mentioned Alex Strohl’s advice previously.)

There are times when drastic measures are needed. Complete revamping. But that’s not about recharging. It’s more of attempting an upgrade.