Start Off in the Right Mind

Written on 2018-03-12 by John Meschke

With any type of project that requires creative effort, you may often find yourself paralyzed, sitting in front of an empty canvas. Time passes without a scribble, brushstroke, or key pressed. Distraught, you walk away to do something more interesting. Soon, you find yourself in a slump, unsure of how to proceed... but it doesn't have to be this way. By setting ourselves up to be in the right mood and state of mind, we can clear this small hurdle and propel ourselves with a velocity that gets the job done much faster than expected.

When working on a project of any kind, you'll benefit by setting yourself in a good mood. In his fantastic book The Happiness Advantage, author Shawn Achor has researched and concluded that happiness precedes success. A positive mindset lets us be more creative and work better. It enables us to look for solutions instead of problems. So what kinds of things can we do to help build a positive mindset and good mood? Practice gratitude every day, even for small things. Communicate often with friends and family. Ask for help when you're stressed. Make progress one small step at a time. Practice your hobbies regularly.

Removing distractions is one of the simplest and effective things we can do, yet it's our habits that prevent us from making small changes. This first step in correcting behavior is to recognize there's something holding us from greater potential in our work. Maybe you're a writer or sketcher who likes to have the radio on in the background. The problem is that lyrical songs or talking are firing off bits of distracting linguistic activity as your brain processes the speech. Try a playlist of non-lyrical music or silence instead. Maybe you like to catch-up on social media with your phone or computer next to you. Even a quick peek can be a derailment to your work flow as you get caught in a vortex of update anticipation and small talk. Leave your phone in another room or turn it off. Schedule times you are allowed to check your favorite sites and stick to it. We must make our habits, because our habits make us.

With a rise in popularity over the last several years, you may have heard of mindful meditation. Put in simple terms, mindful meditation is the practice of focusing on the present while letting your thoughts pass through ignored. It sounds easy, but see what happens when you actively try to not think about anything. Thus, like any new skill, it requires practice. From personal experience, this has been valuable in decluttering my mind with unimportant details and calming my nerves so I can focus on the current task. Ironically, I also find it useful for brainstorming when I take the incoming thought let it bounce around for a bit before accepting or discarding it as useful. It's quite a unique mechanism for creativity. Countless meditation resources can be found online, or if you're more of a book person, The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris is a great resource that goes well beyond meditation and provides many more mental tools.

Just do something to get started. Put the pencil to the paper and draw a few shapes. Slap some paint on the easel in a fun pattern. Type up the first thought that comes to your mind. If you look back on past projects, you may notice a trend where one of the hardest parts was getting started. Creating the initial momentum to move from nothing to something is what you need to shift into the mindset of activity and creativity. Once you're actively working, each successive step becomes trivially simpler in terms of effort.

Eventually you may find yourself in a passion rut pushing yourself to accomplish the next little detail, disregarding discomfort or struggling to stay awake. Keep repeating this and you may eventually associate your passion with lack of enjoyment. If you reach this point, it's okay to take a break, you've earned it. Reward yourself and then get back to the project at a later time. As a bonus, details that went unnoticed due to being so enraptured with the process will become visible, ultimately improving the overall quality.

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