The pen is mightier than the sword,
but you must be precise when you thrust.
Human vision is amazing. Standing in my kitchen early one morning my eyes picked up the tiny, jerking movement of a very, very small moth. But my first thought was not “this is a moth”. Rather, it was “this is not a mosquito”.
Right now we’re in the middle of mosquito season and I’m always alert for ones that have invaded my home. I knew this bug wasn’t a mosquito right away although I didn’t have my glasses on and couldn’t clearly see it. It was the movement that gave it away. A mosquito seems to glide smoothly through the air while a moth makes erratic seeming movements in all directions.
My vision system registered all of that in a split second. Had it been a mosquito I probably would have reacted instantly by swatting at it since I’ve programmed my brain to think of them as needing to be killed before I get bit. Since it was a moth, I didn’t have to spring into action.
It’s amazing how the human brain reacts to its built-in sensors and makes a split second decision whether to put the body into motion or not. Most of the algorithm my brain used to make this decision was formed over years of seeing bugs in flight, categorizing them and determining if they were dangerous or not.
Learning any task or skill is bult up the same way. Repetitive input through the eyes and ears along with movement from the rest of the body program the brain to recognize patterns and respond to them. At the same time the brain uses these recorded programs to send feedback to the body that allows it to output the pattern. A skill is born.
What I’m interested in now is finding ways to imprint those patterns on the brain faster and more permanently. Of course one has to practice skills. But is there a way to aquire them more efficiently?
The punk mentality insists, “Why not try it?” Instead of waiting around for the ideal moment, find a simplified version, a micromastery. Instead of learning to play the guitar, learn one song. Play it a lot. Experiment with it.
In the never ending battle between right and left brain thinking I too often let the left hemisphere rule. When I drive I seek the most efficient route rather than the nicest one. When I shop I have on blinders in the form of an explicit list and I exclude everything else from even the consideration of purchase. And when I work I focus intently on the logic behind what I’m building.
None of these left brained tendencies are bad. But left unchecked they become authoritarian dictators that squeeze out exploration, wonder and the beauty of design. This is why I’m trying to make it a concious point to approach events in my life through a lens of creative observation. I don’t always make it happen. Sometimes I’m in a hurry. Sometimes I need to accomplish something that requires a logic-only process and I neglect shifting into a right brain thought pattern. But whenever I am able to view the world in a creative, spatial or exploratory way, I tend to be more satisfied at the end of the day.
My son and I were looking for a new video game to play today when we came across one called CTRL-CV. Your character tries to navigate different rooms with platforms, spring loaded platforms, spikes and holes in the ground. At the same time you have doppelgangers that multiply rapidly around you.
The longer you wait to move, the more difficult it is to distinctly see yourself and where you’re moving. It gets disorienting very easily. But, if you move quickly, before you get swarmed by your other selves, you can see clearly enough to get through the obstacles unscathed.
The game reminds me of how early adopters of things like blogs, Youtube and Twitter were able to capitalize on those technologies and build huge followings. Now, there are so many millions of content creators and consumers on these and other channels that it’s extremely difficult to have your voice heard.
I love blogging, tweeting and posting on Youtube. But to have anything I produce discovered on a large scale by others I either have to rely on luck or find different channels that haven’t yet hit their peak. And who can tell what parts of the web will take off and what parts will disappear into the void next week?
It just goes to show that when you write, produce videos or any other creative online endeavor, you’re better off doing it because you love the journey. Not because you want to get online famous.
Have you ever been watching TV show where someone is having a heart attack and you start to feel a tightness in your chest or a pain in your left arm? Or maybe someone is standing on top of a tall building and you start to feel dizzy? When you watch a show or read a book you can get so engrossed in the story that your mind convinces your body that you are the one living it out.
When our minds encounter a story, they become extremely susceptible to the suggestions those stories put across. You can use this phenomenon to your advantage and hack your mind and body into doing what you want. You simply need to tell yourself the story you want to have come true.
OK, maybe that’s a little simplistic. Telling yourself you want to be in shape will not make it so. But telling yourself (with conviction) that you are athletic and can easily get into shape with the right exercise regimen will go a long way to getting you there.
If you say or hear something over and over, you will start to believe it’s true. If you believe something is true, your actions will typically support that truth. This is why self-help gurus are so big on mantras. They help shift your mind into a gear that’s in sync with what you want. In fact, many business writers suggest telling yourself that you are already successful before you actually are. Shifting your mindset
Of course this trick can be used negatively too. If you find yourself constantly mumbling things like “Nobody would ever hire me” or “I’m such an idiot”, you are much more likely to never get hired or do stupid things. Some people have been known to be chronically ill because they continually tell themselves they don’t feel good.
So whether you’re wanting to get healthy, become a better photographer, get an A in a class or improve your relationships, you should have a positive outlook on your situation. Not only that but you need to continually tell yourself the story that you want to have come true. Write it down and read it or say it out loud to yourself to ingrain it into your psyche.
Speaking what you want out of life is no a guarantee that you will get it. But you will be much more likely to get where you want to go with a positive outlook and consistent self-messaging.
I’m always trying to find somewhere interesting to go on my daily morning walks. Going on the same route every day gets boring after a while. Yesterday I walked to two nearby business plazas and walked along the store fronts looking at what businesses were there.
Now, I had been to these plazas before to go to a restaurant, a bookstore and a martial arts studio. I also drive by them almost every day. But I was surprised at how little I knew about the other businesses that were in there.
By my count I walked by 32 businesses. I had only been to three of them and before yesterday I couldn’t tell you the names of more than one or two of the other ones. I’ve written before about being observant and really noticing things in the world around you. The problem is, there’s so much to notice and a lot of it isn’t relevant to your immediate life. For example, I didn’t need to know there was a women’s hair salon or a travel agency and SCUBA dive shop.
Your brain is very good about blocking out unnecessary distractions and only allowing you to see what you need to see to get you through your present situation, whatever that might be. Mindful observation is a way to hack your brain’s normal functioning so you can be aware of more around you.
I was practicing mindful observation as I walked up and down the business plaza’s parking lot looking at store fronts and making all of the early arriving employees nervous.
OK, who cares? So I made a point of paying attention to a bunch of stores in a couple of strip malls. Is this supposed to mean something? Well, sure. It means that I’ve purposefully put diverse input into my mind. That input is combined with other knowledge and ideas I already have in my head and has the potential to become new creative ideas or solutions.
Of course, I don’t yet know how my mind will combine the ideas of a prosthetics shop, a yoga studio and a cat lounge but at least the comedic implications are obvious.
Creative block happens to everyone whether you’re a writer, programmer, salesman or builder. I’ve found the best way to overcome creative block is to do something else creative that’s totally different than the thing you were originally trying to do.
For example, if you’re stuck trying to write a chapter for a book, leave it and go sketch a landscape. On the other hand, if you can’t think of anything to draw or paint, go play the guitar, write a nonsense poem or try your hand at flower photography.
When you have creative block the problem is usually that you’re thinking too hard. You’ve allowed the “rules” of your art to put up a barrier to the creative freedom that you need to be able to come up with new ideas or develop existing ones. The exercises above give your brain permission to play and not be inhibited by the arbitrary rules it has placed on your original task.
When you go do your alternative artistic task, tell yourself that there are no rules. It doesn’t have to be good, presentable or even sensible. It just has to be you creating something new.
I find my original task is much easier to get started on after doing something different for a while. It’s amazing how quickly your mind can be convinced to abandon rules and embrace creative freedom.
A few days ago I couldn’t get very far past just staring at the wall. I decided to get out my sketch book and draw something. Instead of starting with an idea of what I wanted to draw, I closed my eyes and just drew a squiggly line on the page. Then I started using the random shapes I’d created to sketch out whatever came to mind. I just kept adding to it until I decided to end it. Doing this opened me up to making other drawings and to doing some writing that I had been putting off.
So next time you find yourself stuck for ideas or otherwise unable to do the task at hand, remember to pivot over to another task that you’re not so intent on. Loosen up your brain and you’ll be able to tackle any project.
Don’t be afraid of making something bad.
Be afraid of making nothing at all.
The above quote really hit me. I’m guilty of letting the perfect be the enemy of the good all the time. I’ll sit down to sketch something or write something and five minutes into it I’m already judging it for not being good enough. It’s not exactly how I’d envisioned it or it doesn’t compare to someone elses work. So I end up quitting or starting over.
Instead I should simply be creating. The editing, the correction and the reworking comes later. It’s a lesson I have to keep teaching myself.
If you have a few minutes, watch Jolie’s TEDx talk below. She’s not only a great artist but an inspiring speaker too.