I’m guest-posting today for Jeff Goins, who blogs about writing and creativity. He challenged his readers to wake up early and write every day, so I’m guest posting on some practical strategies to help us wake up earlier. Check it out.
I wanted to share another tip that has helped me tremendously with my writing and a variety of other tasks.
I’m sure you’ve noticed that being in the right mental state – being in “the zone” – can have a profound impact on how quickly and how well you work.
Sometimes we seem particularly creative, and our brainstorming and writing will flow with ease and power. Other times, we crank through Email at high speeds with focused concentration.
These mental states are important, but how do we fully utilize them?
Do we just have to act fast when we get in the zone? Or can we create these frames of mind on demand?
I believe we can be fairly creative and focused on cue. And one of the easiest ways to do this is by exploiting one psychological trick.
That trick is the power of association.
We associate $3,000 suits with powerful executives. So put on an expensive suit, and you will feel important and professional.
Put on a bathrobe and slippers, and you will feel like a relaxed homebody. Put on some workout clothes, and you’ll feel like an athlete in a Nike commercial.
We are naturally very good at connecting things like this. Environments have tremendous power to conjure up emotional states within us – and this in turn can affect the way we act.
Learn how to use this wisely, and you’ll find yourself being more creative, productive, happy, relaxed, or whatever else you’d like to aim for.
It Starts with Emotion
The first step is to consider the emotional state you’d like to be in when you’re engaging in various activities.
When I’m cranking through Email, I want to be moving quickly and efficiently. I don’t want distraction. I want adrenaline.
For blog posts, I want to be creative. I want to be focused and determined but yet intensely attuned to my creative impulses.
When I’m praying or reading scripture, a more serene and spiritually yearning attitude is what I’m striving for.
Tools to Fashion an Environment
How are you going to create these emotions within yourself?
For me, I’ve found that music works best. It’s easy to start and stop, it’s ideal for creating a variety of different environments, and music already has such an emotional impact on us.
But it could be wardrobe (that also works well for me). It could be certain smells. It could be certain items you use, like a moleskine and pen for brainstorming. Or perhaps it’s a physical location, like next to a fireplace or in a library or on you back deck.
Whatever creates that particular feeling within you.
Matching Environment and Activity
What music environment would give me the adrenaline I want to fly through Email?
For me, certain fast-paced bands or aggressive styles of music do the trick. They keep me charging ahead on routine tasks.
When I read my Bible and pray, I listen to serene choral music.
When I want to be creative, sweeping movie scores, such as the one from the Transformers movie, are amazing. They infuse what I’m doing with a deep sense of importance and urgency. I feel like I’m saving the world when brainstorming.
The real power of the environment comes through repetition. Over time, you can condition yourself to associate your particular environment with your desired activity.
That soundtrack starts playing and your mind kicks into gear. It knows what’s coming.
Protecting Your Environment
I won’t listen to the Transformers score if I’m not writing or brainstorming. I don’t want that association to be lost or damaged.
And when I put on the Transformers soundtrack, I will only work on creative things. If the phone rings, if I need to take a break, or if I want to send an Email – I actually will hit pause on the music so as not to weaken the mental link.
Entering the Environment
Sometimes the music starts playing and you can’t help but be drawn in. But at other times, you need to take a little while to let the environment do its magic.
This is the step that most leave out, but it’s the most important.
Start the music and soak in the environment. Then close your eyes and take a few seconds to mentally get in the zone. Resist the tendency to tune out the music. Listen.
Everyone talks a lot about being disciplined and focused and creative – why not make a few tweaks to your environment and allow your emotion to help you out a bit?
What do you think are some association tricks that would work for you?
Photo Credit: Rona Proudfoot (Creative Commons)
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