The brain takes cues from
As creators and communicators of ideas, part of our job is to activate the creative
subroutine in our head, bring up our energy and snap ourselves into the appropriate
state of mind to do our work. In the same way that the physical act of smiling
triggers the chemistry in our brain associated with happiness, the on ramp is
the cue for releasing the chemicals that stoke our work fire.
That’s why so many creators start every day of their lives
in the exact same way. They don’t want to have to wake up, drag their butts out
of bed and look for options of what to do first. That’s just another
unnecessary decision making process that’s exhaustive, stressful and wastes
valuable energy that they should be dedicating to their ideas.
To make matters worse, most people’s creative processes are solitary
endeavors. Which means the inevitability of showing up has to be created by
sheer willpower. They have to summon tremendous reserves of discipline and
energy. And so, the power of the on ramp is, it allows creators to cultivate the seeds that have already been
planted, as opposed to going out into the rocks to chip away at a brand new
There’s an intriguing book called Old Type Writers, which explores the obsessive habits and quirky
techniques of great authors. Turns out, many of our most cherished creators used
methods that were just as inventive as the works they produced:
Joyce wrote in crayon.
Colette picked fleas from her pets before picking up her pen. Poe balanced a
cat on his shoulder. Hugo placed himself under strict house arrest, wearing
nothing but a long, gray, knitted shawl. Schiller filled his desk drawer with
rotten apples, relying on the pungent smell to spark his creativity. Steinbeck
always kept exactly twelve perfectly sharpened pencils on his desk. Christie
munched on apples in the bathtub while pondering murder plots.
Each of these creators, whether they relied on specific tools,
eccentric routines, strict schedules or bizarre environments, steadfastly
adhered to them. The combination and accumulation of which constructed the
creative on ramps that enabled their prolificacy.
ramp is to spend the first half hour of every day inhaling. Not just reading,
because that limits the medium, but inhaling. Breathing in. And doing so promiscuously.
The routine is, I read and browse and learn from a diverse range of websites,
blogs, pictures, comic strips, trending memes, online publications, interviews,
research studies, books, articles, songs, street art, store signs, podcasts,
eavesdroppings, conversations and other sources of inspiration. Plus, I take notes. Lots
of notes. And by the time I’m done making my
rounds, my desktop is littered with new documents and ideas and perspective and
insight. I feel engaged with what’s going on in the world. I view the news as a
source of energy, not just a source of information.
practice, this creative subroutine, ensures that the first part of my
day has a cadence and rhythm that includes movement. By giving my ritual of thinking the primacy it deserves, never forcing it to
compete for my attention with anything else, I find that I’m able to stay
your on ramp?
I have a
therapist friend who specializes in sleep hygiene. He tells his clients the key
to ensuring restful, effective sleep is to establish a soothing presleep
routine. According to the famous Harvard
Medical School Guide to a Good Night’s Sleep, this presleep ritual, an hour
of relaxation before bedtime, reduces the body’s secretion of the stress
hormone cortisol––which is associated
with increasing alertness––and helps to ease the transition from wake time to
particular subroutine focuses on sleep, but it still points to the same general
principle: The human brain craves routine
and likes to know what’s coming. And so, the goal is to establish a clear
association between different types of activities. To prime ourselves to do our
creating. To set the tone that it’s time to go to work.
reminded of the book The War of Art,
which has inspired people around the world to defeat the internal foe of resistance.
In fact, it’s the only book I’ve read once a year, every year, for the past ten
years. And although it was written for writers, it has also been embraced by
business entrepreneurs, actors, dancers, painters, photographers, filmmakers,
military service members and thousands of others around the world.
opening paragraph of the book gives us an inside look at how the author
activates the creative subroutine in his head:
“I get up, take a
shower, have breakfast. I read the paper, brush my teeth. I’ve got my coffee
now. I put on my lucky work boots and stitch up the lucky laces that my niece gave
me. I head back to my office, crank up the computer. My lucky hooded sweatshirt
is draped over the chair, with the lucky charm I got from a gypsy for only
eight bucks. I have my lucky nametag that came from a dream I once had, and I
put it on. On my thesaurus is my lucky cannon that my friend gave me. I point
it toward my chair so it can fire inspiration into me. I say my prayer, invoke the
muse, and I sit down and plunge in.”
That’s his on ramp. The ritual that prompts the work mindset
and merges him into the creative process.