Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance by Jonathan Fields
I liked this book much better than his first one, and it also popped on my radar just as I needed it. I particularly like the idea of rituals.
It’s hard to sell mastery of entrepreneurship, marketing, and lifestyle without being able to succeed at those very things in your own business and life.
The interesting thing about these ratings is that they aren’t based so much on the difficulty of the entire climb as on a set of moves known as the crux. Crux moves are the most challenging moments of the entire route; they often require you to push physically, emotionally, and intellectually, to take big and often blind risks in a way no other part of the climb does. There may be multiple crux moves along a single route. The manner in which you handle the thousands of smaller moments of uncertainty and challenge along the way determines whether you get to the crux moves. But the way you handle the crux moves themselves so strongly determines whether you’ll actually reach the peak that the difficulty of the most challenging crux sequence is often used to rate the entire climb.
The book begins with an in-depth exploration of the three psychic horsemen of creation: uncertainty, risk, and exposure to criticism.
When you begin, nothing is certain save the drive to create something worth the effort. The more certain you are of the answer or the outcome in advance, the more likely it is to have been done already—to be derivative—and the less anyone will care, including you. Anything certain has already been done.
Or you can stand up and make a conscious choice to wade back into uncertain waters, knowing you’ve now invested time, money, and energy in an endeavor that, without substantial alteration, is going to end up a dud. These are tough moments, and ones that no creator in any realm can avoid.
Creators need data. They need judgment, feedback, and criticism.
But the possibility of loss is also a signpost that what you’re doing really matters, that you’re vested in both the process and the outcome. Knowing that fuels a deeper commitment to action and to striving not just to create something, but to create something amazing. Risk of loss has to be there. You cannot create genius without having skin in the game. Kill the risk of loss and you destroy meaning and one of the core motivations for action.
The more you’re able to tolerate ambiguity and lean into the unknown, the more likely you’ll be to dance with it long enough to come up with better solutions, ideas, and creations.
The two banks, it turns out, deliberately built their core philosophies, modes of operations, and culture around radically different ideals. For her book Bullish on Uncertainty (2009), business professor Alexandra Michel conducted a three-year study of the two banks.
This approach was designed to deliberately amplify uncertainty, to force bankers to constantly reexamine what they were doing and why, and to keep them from falling into a pattern in which their perception of knowledge, expertise, and prestige blinded them to seeing the needs of any given client at any given time.
It wasn’t unusual for them to report feeling overwhelmed and anxious as they tried to navigate those waters with very little structure. They immediately had to abandon a sense that they could rely on their own abilities and knowledge to get any deal done. Instead, they learned to harness all the resources of the firm and respond with the freshest eyes possible to what was in front of them.
The ability not only to endure but to invite, amplify, and exalt uncertainty, then reframe it as fuel is paramount to your ability to succeed as a creator.
Genius always starts with a question, not an answer. Eliminate the question and you eliminate the possibility of genius. However, that’s where things get really sticky. For all but a rare few, “living in the question” hurts. It causes anxiety, fear, suffering, and pain. And people don’t like pain. Rather than lean into it, we do everything possible to snuff it out. Not because we have to, but because we can’t handle the discomfort that we assume “has to” go along with the quest.
The aversion to uncertainty, it seems, is hardwired into most people.
a part of the brain known as the amygdala, which is a core instigator of fear and anxiety, lights up, triggering a cascade of physiological and psychological events, sending impulses and chemicals rushing through our bodies that induce a state of hyperalertness and, for many, anywhere from mild to severe fear and anxiety.
“Remarkably, eliminating the possibility of evaluation by others makes ambiguity aversion disappear entirely.... Introducing the possibility of evaluation . . . is sufficient to make ambiguity aversion reemerge as strongly as commonly found.”
We’ll create with abandon, make bolder choices, lean into uncertainty, and take risks far more readily if we know that whatever comes out of that effort will never be revealed to others. The moment we introduce the element of exposure, judgment, criticism, and the potential for rejection, most people run for the certainty fences. And in doing so, they become less willing to push boundaries, take risks, and choose less-certain options that often yield the greatest opportunities.
In reality, we may not be as hardwired to avoid uncertainty as we are hardwired to avoid wanting to be judged for taking the lessmainstream path and coming up empty. Fear of judgment stifles our ability to embrace uncertainty and as part of that process delivers a serious blow to our willingness to create anything that hasn’t already been done and validated.
One of the biggest awakenings as you strive to build a project, a career, and a life worthy of a legacy is that, in the end, there is no there there. No resting point. No certainty. No place to hide from either the inner or outer critics. The book may be finished, the movie wrapped, the company launched, or the product revealed. But what will you do when you go to work tomorrow? You and what you create will remain, to varying degrees, in a state of constant evolution.
For Winsor, it’s not about tempting fate, it’s about going to that place where magic happens. “When the risks are big,” Winsor shared with me, “it’s where I feel most alive. In a weird way, it’s almost a meditative thing. When a lot’s on the line, whether it’s a big business deal or surfing a scary wave, I get so focused. Things slow down. The tiniest of details become alive, the feeling of a pebble beneath your shoe on a rock wall or the real meaning of a sentence in a business deal.” That experience, to Winsor, is what it’s all about. Rather than deterring action, he’s figured out how to experience it as the place from which the greatest opportunities arise. Indeed, the very activities he engages in, especially outside of work, and the consistency with which he undertakes them may be at the root of his ability to experience scenarios that would paralyze others as opportunities to go deeper.
Junger’s seeming ability to harness the fear that cripples so many other creators, especially writers, is something that’s been with him for as long as he can remember. In a later conversation with me, he revealed, “I just figured out how to disengage from my experience of the fear and I do that with a lot of different emotions. I can do it with anger, frustration, whatever. I start feeling it and then I could just unhook from it.... I was a climber for tree companies and I’m scared of heights, but I never got over my fear of heights. I just figured out how to not think about it. It was really simple.”
FROM THE DAWN of religion, nearly every faith has been built around not just scripture, not just community, but ritual.
But if you strip away the beliefs and leave only the underlying rituals, you may be surprised to discover that rituals alone still have immense power as tools to counter the anxieties of an uncertain life.
A certainty anchor is a practice or process that adds something known and reliable to your life when you may otherwise feel you’re spinning off in a million different directions.
For the creator, whose very existence depends on the ability to spend vast amounts of time living and operating in the ethereal sea of uncertainty and anxiety that is creation, rituals in every part of life serve as a source of psychic bedrock
Joe Fig’s fascinating look at the daily routines of artists, Inside the Painter’s Studio (2009), reveals that many of them maintain a near-dogged attachment to daily routine
Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance
In her classic book The Creative Habit (2003), legendary choreographer Twyla Tharp shares how she would awaken at 5:30 a.m. every day, take a taxi to the gym, work out with the same trainer, shower, eat three hard-boiled egg whites and coffee, make calls for one hour, work in her studio for two hours, rehearse with her company, return home for dinner, read for a few hours, then go to bed. Every day, the same routine. “A dancer’s life,” she said, “is all about repetition.”
Commenting on the role of certainty anchors in his life, Steven Pressfield, whose book The War of Art (2002) opens a window into the power of ritual in creative work, shared with me his belief that to be a writer is to live in total insecurity. You never know where your next job is coming from, you never know if the next thing you do is going to find a market. “So . . . let’s say managing my money,” he offered, “I’m the most conservative person in the world. I just give it to a friend who takes care of everything for me. The only place I take risks is in the work. And then that’s where I feel like your job is to take risks.”
Creation unfolds in two fairly distinct phases: • Insight/Dot Connecting/Disruption • Refinement, Expansion, and Production.
Steven Johnson, author of Where Good Ideas Come From (2010),
REP is all about building out, testing, expanding, refining, detailing, debugging, and improving big ideas and insights. For entrepreneurs, it’s where the visionary individual generally ends up butting heads with the operations and process people charged with turning the idea into something executable and profitable.
This is where ritual and routine, done right, add immense power to the process. Ritual helps train you to sit down when you most want to stand, when you’re forced to work on the part of the process that leaves you anywhere from bored to riddled with anxiety.
Over time, ritual has a funny side effect. It creates momentum. It becomes a habit that builds its own head of steam, one capable of overriding the call of Twitter, Facebook, Green & Black’s Dark 85% chocolate, and trying to learn whether the rumors about Apple’s next product are true.
Over time, through sheer force of practice, you begin to get better at the side of the process that empties you out. Maybe never as good as someone whose creative orientation pulls them toward it, but good enough to be better than most others who don’t work as hard at it as you do. Better than you thought you’d ever be at it. And when that happens, you begin to experience that side of the dance with greater tolerance. The distaste and anxiety diminishes just enough to make you no longer hate it. Repeated exposure to it reduces your fear of it.
When writing his most recent book, Be Excellent at Anything (2010), Schwartz structured his day into three ninety-minute writing bursts that allowed him to complete the book working only four and a half hours a day for three months. Our brains, Schwartz discovered, become easily fatigued. They need breaks in order to refuel, to be able to refocus, create, and produce.
In his book How We Decide (2009), Jonah Lehrer points to the part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex (PFC) as the seat of selfcontrol or willpower. The problem is, the PFC is easily fatigued. In a Wall Street Journal article, Lehrer recounts an experiment conducted by Stanford Graduate School of Business professor Baba Shiv that divided students into two groups. While walking down a hallway, the members of one group had to recall a two-digit number, the members of the other a seven-digit number. During these walks, each student was offered a slice of chocolate cake or a bowl of fruit. The students trying to remember the seven-digit number were twice as likely to choose cake. Remembering the extra five digits so increased what Shiv called the “cognitive load” on their PFCs that their brains literally lost their ability to resist the cake.
Willpower, it turns out, is a depletable resource. Tasks that involve heavy thinking, working memory, concentration, and creativity tax the PFC in a major way, and as Shiv’s experiment shows,
Why should you care? Two reasons. What we often experience as resistance, desire, distraction, burnout, fatigue, frustration, and anxiety in the process of creating something from nothing may, at least in part, be PFC depletion that reduces our willpower to zero and makes it near impossible to commit to the task at hand—especially if the task wars with our creative orientation. In addition, what so many creators experience as a withering ability to handle the anxiety, doubt, and uncertainty as a project nears completion may actually be self-induced rather than process-induced suffering.
Certainty anchors, dropped both within the context of your broader life and the boundaries of a specific creative endeavor, can be highly effective tools to counter the pull of fear, anxiety, and resistance.
Explore Your Lifestyle Ritual Look at your life outside of your primary creative endeavor and see if you can create routine around the mundane, day-to-day activities.
Look at your life outside of your primary creative endeavor and see if you can create routine around the mundane, day-to-day activities.
Identify Your Creative Orientation Figure out which creative orientation fills you up and which empties you out: insight and big-idea generation, or refinement, expansion, and production. You may be able to evolve your starting orientation over time, but with rare exceptions we all come to the process with certain strong preferences.
Ritualize Your Creation Time and Work in Bursts and Therapeutic Pauses When building your creation rituals, limit your bursts to no more than forty-five to ninety minutes, at least in the beginning. You may be able to train yourself to stay focused longer over time.
Refuel Your Brain Between Bursts Between those bursts, exercise, meditate, nap, walk, eat—do whatever helps you refuel.
It’s a bit like Shambala Buddhism founder Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s famous quote: “The bad news is you’re falling through the air, nothing to hang on to, no parachute. The good news is there’s no ground.”
All the founders make a presentation to the group on a weekly basis. There are no secrets. Nobody gets selective protection. Everyone is exposed. Transparency is the rule.
This dynamic doesn’t remove judgment, nor should it. As we’ve already noted, judgment, done well, is feedback, and feedback is manna to the creation process. But what it does is change the psychology of feedback by leveling the field. It creates a group dynamic in which each creator becomes far more open to input because that input is clearly driven by the desire to help improve the creation. The all-in nature of the feedback loop also helps lessen the blow. It’s not just your ideas that are being put on the block; everyone’s ideas are. That’s the process. And that’s a good, necessary thing, as long as it’s done right.
If you can’t do it live, do it online. We saw an example of that in Scott Belsky’s creation of Behance.net and The99Percent.com. These are both huge creative communities catering to the broader set of “creatives who like to get stuff done.” Now, with millions of monthly page views, they serve as tremendous showcases and sources of feedback for the participants’ work. For Belsky, the communities also serve as gateways to the suite of wonderful creative productivity tools under his Action Method brand.
So far, we’ve explored how making certain changes in behavior (certainty anchors, ritual, routine, working in bursts), environment (hives), and access to individuals (like-minded colleagues, mentors, heroes, and champions) can have a significant impact on your ability to lean into the uncertainty, exposure to judgment, and risk that come with the process of creation.
WELL-CRAFTED, CONSTRUCTIVE CREATION hives, buttressed by peer feedback and guidance from mentors, heroes, and champions, can be powerful supports in the quest to embrace the uncertainty of creation. They allow us to get the information we need to move the creative ball forward while minimizing the anxiety that often comes from haphazard exposure to less tactful or even maliciously inclined colleagues and leaders
A huge part of the uncertainty, fear, and anxiety that defines the typical quest to create comes from a lack of input during the process of creation from those we’d most like to appeal to with our creations. When we plan a business, book, painting, or product, we take our best guesses at what will work. Then we work to either find the sweet spot between what we are organically compelled to create and what we believe people will want or ignore those we hope will eventually love our creations in the name of staying true to our muse. The process, for many, is largely blind. And that often leads to extraordinary levels of uncertainty, fear, anxiety, and suffering.
“My philosophy,” Rowse told me, “has always been just to start it and then again just start testing to see whether it’s worth spending any money on it . . . I’ve always been very conservative on that front . . . I don’t like to start things that I don’t think will work, and I don’t like to start things that other people don’t think will work.”
Over time, the repeated exposure to user feedback served to diminish Rowse’s potential fear of judgment and intolerance for uncertainty. The same can happen for you: The repeated exposure to criticism becomes the functional equivalent of exposure therapy, one of the core tools in the fear arsenal of cognitive behavioral therapists. The more you act in the face of it and survive, the less you feel its stranglehold.
The tenets of lean manufacturing are generally agreed to include: 1. Eliminate waste. 2. Amplify learning. 3. Decide as late as possible. 4. Deliver as fast as possible. 5. Empower the team. 6. Build in integrity. 7. See the whole.
In the lean start-up, everything is done in the name not of profits but of learning.
Teams build what Ries calls a minimum viable product (MVP) that represents the “least amount of work necessary to start learning.” This product is then released to potential users as a series of experiments; feedback is solicited, then folded into the next MVP.
The word “pivot,” which in start-up circles means the process of making serious changes to nearly every assumption your big business idea was based on and everything that’s grown out of that idea,
As the legendary Silicon Valley serial entrepreneur and venture capitalist Randy Komisar revealed in his book Getting to Plan B (2009), the vast majority of companies, even vetted ones backed by venture capital, get serious elements of their business model, solution, and market demand completely wrong.
A willingness and ability to own those mistakes as early and as often as possible has become exalted by a growing number of mentors, founders, and investors
Creators of all types are tapping a very different online platform—Kickstarter.com—to fund their creations, solicit feedback, and even pre-sell their creations while they’re still in the idea stage, altering the fear and certainty dynamic in a profound way. According to the description on the company’s Web site, Kickstarter. com is “the largest funding platform for creative projects in the world. Every month, tens of thousands of amazing people pledge millions of dollars to projects from the worlds of music, film, art, technology, design, food, publishing and other creative fields.... This is not about investment or lending. Project creators keep 100% ownership and control over their work.”
In the three years preceding the book’s publication, Rubin had taken to blogging and had built a substantial, engaged community. She tapped that community on a regular basis to ask questions, share ideas, and offer hints of what was coming in the book. The blog also became fertile ground to test content and see what people were responding to. Then she went a step further and created what she called her tribe of Happiness Project “superfans,” a gathering of readers who got more access to Rubin, along with the opportunity to learn more about the book and share insights and ideas.
As we saw earlier, whether you’re tapping a full-blown lean creation process—with rapid prototyping, iteration, and co-creation—or focusing more on just the co-creation aspect, it’s important to preserve your role as the leader and primary visionary in the process.
While there is no way to remove uncertainty from the process of creation, technology is now opening doors that allow us to reallocate how and when we experience that uncertainty.
Shift Your Focus to Learning One of the big leaps Eric Ries suggested entrepreneurs take is to focus less on traffic, sales, or profits and more on learning as much as possible as quickly as possible
Explore Your MVP Ask yourself whether you can create a minimum viable product that is finished enough to be able to release so you can gather feedback that you can incorporate in the next iteration.
Be Open to Collaboration with Colleagues and End Users If you are creating simply because that is why you are here, without reference to whether your output will ever earn enough to let you live well in the world, it’s easier to create in a vacuum. However, the moment you seek money in exchange for your creation, the opinions of your eventual buyers matter.
Bring Out Your Leader Bringing others into the process requires a set of skills that many creators either don’t normally exercise or haven’t fully developed, the most important involving leadership.
Explore Your Value Exchange If you are asking something from others, explore what type of value you can offer in exchange.
“When you step into ambiguity and uncertainty, when you surround yourself essentially with uncertainty without a life jacket,” Komisar told me, “you still have to have a foundation, a core, a center. You can’t be completely relative in that environment.... Even though you may not actually have a clear objective and you certainly don’t have a path to get there, you have to have a keel that keeps you centered. Spiritual practice allowed me to find that keel.”
Meditation had formed the centerpiece of her creative life for decades. She considers it the most essential thing she does in her business,
Practicing and mastering that one skill—touching, then dropping your current thought pattern—is hugely important for any creator.
Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance
Addressing an audience of film students at Boston’s Majestic Theater, filmmaker David Lynch pointed to yet another form of AT—Transcendental Meditation—as the source of deep calm and tremendous leaps in creativity. “Anger and depression and sorrow, they’re beautiful things in a story,” he said with the audience, “but they’re like a poison to the filmmaker, they’re a poison to the painter, they’re a poison to creativity.” Through his practice, he added, “the enjoyment of life grows. Huge ideas flow more. Everybody has more fun on the set. Creativity flows.”
Attentional training (AT) is a catch-all phrase for a wide variety of techniques that create certain psychological and physiological changes in your body and brain. Many of them are derived from centuries-old ideologies and philosophies; some have religious overlays, while others have always been more secular. Major approaches include: • Active AT • Guided Meditation • Transcendental Meditation • Insight meditation • Mindfulness • Zen meditation and zazen • Buddhist meditation • Mantra meditation • Chanting and prayer across many traditions • Biofeedback • Hypnosis and self-hypnosis
Each approach is built around a set of relatively simple daily practices. The common element is the experience of focused awareness for a committed period of time,
The point is, the right kind of physical activity can induce the AT state. And over time that psycho-physiological training filters past your physical health to your mind-set and creativity.
Mindfulness is, most broadly, an approach to how you exist in the world. Sitting and walking meditation are common daily practices, but mindfulness is also about how you wash your dishes, do your work, talk to people, and engage with the world. It’s not about seeking to create change; it’s about being with what you have and where you are, in the moment, every moment. Rather than focusing and excluding, it’s about resting a smallish bit of attention on your breath, then progressively opening to anything and everything that’s happening around you
Transcendental Meditation was introduced to the world by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi some fifty years ago. According to TM.org, “During the past 50 years, more than five million people have learned the Transcendental Meditation technique and . . . Maharishi has trained over 40,000 teachers, opened thousands of teaching centers, and founded hundreds of schools, colleges and universities.” It is the most widely practiced and probably the most standardized teaching and practice protocol around today.
TM instruction is highly standardized into a seven-session training sequence. Everyone learns the same thing, and training is readily available in many places. Once you learn it, you practice twice a day for twenty minutes at a time. David Lynch has become a huge proponent of TM practice as a tool for creators, because it cultivates a shift in brain coherence, mood, and the ability to lean into fear and uncertainty, and allows you to tap what the TM community calls the Unified Field, a form of shared consciousness that can become a rich source of creative insight.
AT drops you into a place that, as your practice deepens, increasingly inoculates you against much of the pain and suffering that accompanies scenarios that would normally bring on fear, uncertainty, and anxiety. It doesn’t change the scenario. It doesn’t alter your circumstance. It doesn’t make things more certain or less fearful or pull you out of the state you need to be in in order to create. It just changes the way you live in this place. It allows you the equanimity to lean into uncertainty, risk, and judgment with greater ease.
by Professor Yi-Yuan Tang of Dalian University of Technology and Professor Michael Posner of the University of Oregon, reported that just five days of a meditation-based form of AT called Integrative Body Mind Technique (IBMT) led to “low levels of the stress hormone cortisol among Chinese students.” The experimental group also showed lower levels of anxiety, depression, anger, and fatigue than students in a group practicing a nonmeditative form of relaxation.
In 1993, University of Hertfordshire professor and author of The Luck Factor (2004) Richard Wiseman conducted a fascinating experiment that demonstrated the potentially limiting impact of blind commitment to a goal and its connection to perceived good fortune and improved outcomes.
Good fortune, it seems, smiles upon those who remain open to inviting possibilities and opportunities outside the rigid constructs of their immediate task, mission, or vision.
The approach to visualization or mental simulation most often offered is something called outcome simulation. It asks you to create a vivid picture of a specific outcome as if it has already happened.
There is, however, a different approach to visualization that has been shown in a number of published studies to be significantly more powerful than outcome visualization. It’s also an approach that is custom-built for the daily mind-set of the long-term, large-scale creator, because it bolsters your ability to better define a project and take action on it on a daily basis. It’s called process simulation, and true to its name, it focuses on visualizing not the outcome or goal but the steps and actions needed to get there.
Over a one-week period, for five minutes each day, students in the processsimulation group visualized the actions and steps needed to complete a specified project
The driving engine and greatest challenge in any long-term, creative endeavor is to act daily, especially in the face of great uncertainty, fear, risk, and anxiety.
How do you make process simulation work for you? Emiliya Zhivotovskaya, MAPP, offers three powerful ways to put this tool to work: Define Your Daily Creation Ritual
Use It to Self-regulate or Stick to Your Ritual Here’s where this practice really shines. Actions and rituals have power when you do them.
If you’re a writer, visualize yourself putting your notebook or pad in your bag, walking to your favorite café, choosing your table, ordering your favorite beverage, spending a few minutes reviewing handwritten notes, then opening your current creation and writing X words or for X minutes or hours, then taking a break to do Y, then coming back for your second creation about thirty minutes later.
Create a Tangible Manifestation of Your Commitment While many people are strongly visual in their thought and learning, others are not. Asking those nonvisual people to visualize even small steps can be an exercise in futility, because their brains don’t operate that way. Writing, however, can be a highly effective approach to process simulation. Rather than simply thinking and seeing the steps, rituals, and actions, take the extra step of writing them down. This changes the dynamic in a number of ways.
To-do lists are perfect examples of this. Part of the reason they can be so effective (not always, for as we all know, they can be easily abused or used as crutches) is that they are effectively process simulation lists.
In her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (2006), she identifies what she calls the fixed and growth mind-sets.
A person with a growth mind-set, on the other hand, assumes that work is the core driver of success and places less importance on genetics as a determining factor
An excerpt from a 2004 interview with Murakami in The Paris Review brings home the connection between physical strength and creating extraordinary work: When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at 4:00 A.M. and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for ten kilometers or swim for fifteen hundred meters (or do both), then I read a bit, and listen to some music. I go to bed at 9:00 P.M. I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind. But to hold to such repetition for so long—six months to a year—requires a good amount of mental and physical strength. In that sense, writing a long novel is like survival training. Physical strength is as necessary as artistic sensitivity.
As Dr. John Ratey noted in his seminal work Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain (2008), exercise isn’t just about physical health and appearance. It also has a profound effect on your brain chemistry, physiology, and neuroplasticity (the ability of the brain to literally rewire itself). It affects not only your ability to think, create, and solve, but your mood and ability to lean into uncertainty, risk, judgment, and anxiety in a substantial, measurable way, even though until very recently it’s been consistently cast out as the therapeutic bastard child in lists of commonly accepted treatments for anxiety and depression.
In a 2002 study, Rhode Island College professor Stephen Ramocki found a significant relationship between vigorous aerobic exercise and creativity, including an increase in creativity immediately following exercise.
While higher-intensity exercise seems to be more effective in countering anxiety and elevating mood, Blanchette found that even moderate exercise yielded a significant increase in creativity that was still present two hours after the exercise was completed.
And an October 2007 Newsweek article reporting on a series of studies by Professor Arthur Kramer, a psychologist at the University of Illinois, showed that daily aerobic exercise can actually grow new brain cells, especially in the hippocampus, the area that controls memory and learning, and in the frontal lobes, which are chiefly responsible for executive function—planning, abstract thinking, decision making and adaptation, processing sensory information, taking constructive action, not taking destructive action, and knowing the difference between the two. Exercise fostered improved performance on psychological tests of the subjects’ ability to answer questions more quickly and accurately. The research also seems to show there is a “use it or lose it” effect once you are well into adulthood. Stop exercising and the increases quickly fade
Indeed, the demand for varied, community-driven exercise has begun to fuel an explosion in alternative forms of movement and exercise experiences and settings among adults. These activities—think martial arts, CrossFit, bootcamps, obstacle challenges, modified indoor cycling, P90X, power yoga, dancing, team sports, boxing, badminton, rock climbing—engage the mind, cultivate passion, and inspire joy.
• For more information on easily accessible approaches to AT and to download complementary guided meditations in mp3 format, visit JonathanFields.com/mindset.
Read her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success for detailed information about how to undertake the change
First, read Dr. John Ratey’s book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain.
When you are called to create, the psychology of the endeavor also changes. Experiencing a calling creates a sense of deeper conviction, of purpose that often you, even as the creator or vision leader, don’t fully understand.
When you are driven by a calling or a deeply personal quest and you allow that calling to inspire action, you live in the world differently. You do a thousand little things you’ve never done before. You act and interact with more confidence and vitality. Your personal energy changes.
As Guy Kawasaki explains in his book Enchantment (2011), purpose and passion enchant people. They want to be around you. They want to help you.
In his book Getting to Plan B, Randy Komisar suggests setting up what he calls a dashboard. You create a grid that identifies all of your major data points, assumptions, and leaps of faith on day one, then revisit it at regular intervals to assess what remains valid.
Belsky’s vision is not to create the current line of Action Method products, but rather to create tools and processes that make creatives more productive. What those look like will change over time. And that allegiance to a market, rather than a specific product, gives him a lot of leeway to continue to test, build, bomb, and evolve. All too often, that’s not how start-ups or even established productdevelopment teams operate. They are wedded more to their particular solution than to the notion of serving a market. When they start to have problems with that product, ones that aren’t fixable with easy tweaks, they have a very difficult time moving through these moments.
I also had a chance to sit down with Robert McKee, one of the world’s foremost authorities on the structure of storytelling. Through his international Story seminars and a book of the same name, McKee has trained tens of thousands of screenwriters, television writers, and authors, including a laundry list of people who’ve won every award possible.
Genius requires craft plus insight.
Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance
Counterintuitive as it sounds, it’s the undoing that plants the seeds of the greatest doing. What I create in any one medium is made far richer by the fact that I spend considerable time outside that medium. It may mean my path to mastery takes longer. So be it. In the end, I create better businesses because I write. I write better books, essays, and posts because I relish my time as a dad, son, brother, husband, friend, yogi, student, and teacher.
we also have an organic cap on our ability to focus. Ninety minutes is the outside window. And, honestly, that’s being quite generous. Business strategist and Be Unreasonable (2007) author Paul Lemberg shared with me that his extensive work with hundreds of C-level executives and thousands of employees yielded a number closer to twenty-five to forty-five minutes.
Start by spending a few weeks really listening to and watching your rhythms to get a good sense for the parts of the day in which you’re able to (1) do great work (2) with the greatest ease. Try working at different times of the day, maybe even rising early or staying up later to test a variety of windows.
Productive creation rituals let you check back into your nonwork life. They give you both the time and the mind space to drop into that life far more often, spend more time there, take better care of yourself, and remind yourself how wonderful that place and its inhabitants are.
Rather than allow these things to derail her, she reframes these challenges as experiences and information that will help make next year’s event even better. In her mind, this isn’t so much a one-shot deal as it is a journey that will build and unfold for years. It’s all about learning and serving. That “reframe” doesn’t eliminate the emotions but rather gives it a different context, a different story line that allows her to lean into it and move through the uncertainty, exposure, and risk with more ease. That shift alone is pretty powerful.
Reframing, in the world of psychology, is better known as an example of cognitive reappraisal, changing the story or message around fear-inducing stimuli to alter your emotional response.
Reframing literally changes the way your brain processes the experience, tamping down the fear and anxiety that might come as an automatic response to uncertainty, risk, and exposure to judgment.
One of the greatest fears of creators is the fear of failure. But that term is pretty fuzzy. It’s more of a catchall phrase that includes (1) fear of judgment (what happens when you crash and burn), (2) intolerance for uncertainty, and (3) fear of what most people would consider extreme loss. We’ll use “going to zero” as a shorthand phrase to describe that trilogy. What we’re really talking about here is the anxiety that sets in when you envision yourself losing a solid enough chunk of money, time, energy, prestige, respect, or reputation that the fall would, in your mind, spell disaster.
For many entrepreneurs, artists, and organizational innovators, the experience of going to zero releases within them the freedom to rebuild in a way they’d never have given themselves the latitude to explore had they never been stripped of their prior success.
There’s only up or down. The notion that you can just coast through life in neutral is a fallacy constructed to rationalize inaction.
By no means is the “sideways is good enough” mentality limited to the fitness industry. In fact, the challenging economy is fueling a mass movement to this position. Concerned about job security, employees who built careers on the back of innovation across a wide spectrum of industries are increasingly unwilling to take bold, creative action. Nobody wants to guess wrong in a climate where money is short and jobs are shorter. The net effect—a stifling of the very risk taking, innovation, and action in the face of uncertainty that fueled earlier success—spells troubling times ahead for many companies that don’t reaffirm their commitment to a culture of innovation, and not just in words, but in actions.
In art, business, and entrepreneurship, there is no coasting. There is no neutral. No sideways. It’s a myth, an illusion. There’s only up or down. Leading or trailing
be sure to explore the three key questions as well: • What if fail, then recover? • What if I do nothing? • What if I succeed?
When you run from uncertainty, you end up running from life. From evolution. From growth. From wisdom. From friendship. From love. From the creation of art, services, solutions, and experiences that move beyond what’s been done before to illuminate, serve, solve, and delight in a way that matters.
I built certainty anchors more deliberately into my life and my work. I created more systematic routines around basic lifestyle activities, then rebuilt work-oriented creation efforts around a series of intense bursts interspersed with activities that would give both my brain and my body a chance to recover and refuel. I created and leaned on my own creation hive, an inner circle of like-minded writers, marketers, and entrepreneurs who I knew were insanely smart, compassionate, driven, and abundance oriented—meaning we each viewed the others’ successes as our own and rallied to support them. Leveraging technology, I created my own private creation tribe, which was in part a subset of my already rich online community but also included a number of new voices drawn to share in my process and journey. I shared ideas, insights, and experiences;
Recommitting to a twice-a-day meditation practice has allowed me to find what Randy Komisar identified as a “keel” in the storm of life, as well as a place of stillness in which to cultivate ideas and insights and let them grow into actions and then endeavors.
Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance
“We all are learning, modifying, or destroying ideas all the time. Rapid destruction of your ideas when the time is right is one of the most valuable qualities you can acquire. You must force yourself to consider arguments on the other side.
— Charles T. Munger”
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