Awake at the Wheel

Exploring the intersection between work, play, and the creative process.

Daily Practices That Fuel Epic Journeys (Part 1)

Daily Practices That Fuel Epic Journeys, Part 1

Did you ever notice that certain people seem to consistently excel in business and life on a level that trumps everyone around them? It almost doesn't matter what comes their way or what profession they are in. They relentlessly defy the odds, see solutions and opportunities invisible to everyone else and operate, day in and day out, on a whole different level than the world around them.

They seem to have a near-mystical ability to survive and thrive.

When these individuals are your mentors they inspire a die-hard work ethic and devotion. When they are your colleagues, they engender deep respect. And, when they are your competitors, they cultivate frustration, awe and even envy.

Ever wonder what it would be like to be able to do what they do, stand in their shoes and consistently win like they win?

“Well,” comes the instant response, “unfortunately, I wasn’t born into genius the way they were. Some peoples’ brains just work differently.” That may be true. Some peoples' brains do just work differently. For some, effortless success seems all but a natural state. But, genetics alone is rarely the answer.

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There’s something else. Actually a number of other things.

Hard work and intensive study? Definitely part of the equation. Personal and professional alignment. Yup. But, still, there’s something more. Something the most-elite performers know that you don’t. A secret. Actually, 3 secrets. Okay, there are really a lot more, but we'll stick with 3 for now.

These three practices have become essential parts of the daily routines of many of the top entrepreneurs, athletes, artists and C-suite execs in the world. Many have figured out, through experience, that these practices have an astonishing impact on creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, efficiency and ability to function at peak levels through long hours and high-level stress. But, only recently has science begun to validate the professional-impact of these practices.

Enough already, what are they?

This is the first post in a 3-part series that will explore three remarkably simple, yet transformative daily practices. Ones that begin to form a foundation for epic journeys, creative breakthroughs and visionary success. Onward, then, to the first practice.

Practice #1: Building In Space

Huh? Yes, building in space. Simple fact, the greatest innovations, the boldest solutions, the most creative options rarely ever come when you are deep into the process of innovating, solving or creating. How is that possible?

Legendary Harvard Medical School professor, bestselling author and founder of the modern relaxation-response, Herbert Benson, explains it beautifully in his book, The Breakout Principle.

Benson describes a common scenario. A business-person puts in a seemingly gargantuan effort to solve a problem, without success, only to give in to exhaustion. At her wit's end, she decides she needs space and steps away from the quest. Once removed, lightning strikes. A brilliant solution literally “come out of nowhere.”

You only need to look inside to know this works.

Reality is, you don’t need to hang your hat on this anecdote in order to connect with the concept. Think about your own personal processes. Trace your way back through some of your most powerful visionary moments, your greatest innovations and most creative solutions. Very likely, you’ll remember working like crazy, putting in long hours, getting close, but not quite coming up with the answer.

Then, often driven by frustration, you step away, go for a walk, take a nap, hit a bucket of balls, listen to B.B. King and Stevie Ray Vaughan playing Blues at Midnight (my personal fave)…and suddenly, it hits you. A solution that allows you to move forward and very likely continue to operate on a higher-level for some time after.

Hard work is still a critical part of the equation.

That’s not to say that hard work is unnecessary. In fact, there are two steps to this process. Before stepping “away,” you need to first invest a serious effort in discovering your breakthrough solution or creation. Struggle with it, toil with it, think of every conceivable option, permutation and invocation. Put in the time, the hours, the energy. You need to do the work first. This is where you plant the seeds.

Then, once planted and gardened with all your heart. If the answers coming aren’t at the level you need them to be. It’s time for step two—step away. Completely away.

Make a deliberate effort to build space into your process.

Turn off your cell-phone, blackberry and computer. Get out of your office and away from everyone who draws you back into the process. Because that is the place where magic often happens.

There is some interesting science behind this Renegade Practice.

Benson actually goes a giant step beyond describing the phenomenon and adds a biochemical explanation. He argues that releases or “puffs” of nitric oxide (NO), one of the body’s most powerful and ubiquitous chemical messengers, during the downtime that follows intense bouts of brain-function, are behind these superhuman bouts of innovation and creation. And, his research delivers, at the very least, strong “correlative,” if not “causative” proof of his theory (for more details, check out his book).

Interestingly, many ancient contemplative practices acknowledge a similar revelatory effect.

Indeed, many schools of philosophy and religion teach the need to take regular breaks from day to day activities as a tool to awaken realizations and solutions.

In his book, The Diamond Cutter, Geshe Michael Roach advocates taking a Circle Day once a week—a day away from work, family and any distractions—as a means of facilitating clarity and enhancing creative breakthroughs.

He literally builds in a full day of space. And, credits this with helping to build a $100 million diamond business in NYC (don't ask what a Buddhist Geshe was doing covertly building a diamond empire, that's for another conversation).

So, where does this leave us?

With a simple three-step practice. The more we honor it, the more powerful it becomes.

  • Step 1 – Define the challenge/problem
  • Step 2 – Work like crazy to find a solution
  • Step 3 – Build in space. Make a deliberate practice of stepping away, completely away and giving your brain and biology the opportunity to deliver unwitting greatness into your lap. Or, if you’re able, set aside a true Circle Day or half-day (or hour, whatever is practical with your job/life), commit to it for 90-days, and watch what unfolds.

Test it yourself!

As always, I’d never ask you to buy into anything you cannot test with your own experience.

So, now we know the first of our three foundation Transformative Practices. But, we still have two extraordinarily powerful practices to dive into. And, it only gets more impactful in parts 2 and 3 of this series.

So, stay tuned and be sure you're subscribed so you don't miss parts 2 & 3...

Jonathan Fields is the author of Career Renegade: How to Make a Great Living Doing What You Love.  He writes and speaks on meaningful work, being a lifestyle entrepreneur and creativity at JonathanFields.com and is a twitter heavy-user at @jonathanfields

Jonathan Fields is an attorney turned lifestyle-entrepreneur, speaker, and author of Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt Into Fuel For Brilliance.

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