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Do You Want to Live a More Inspired Life?

Do You Want to Live a More Inspired Life?

    The Writing Process

    Sometimes I sit at my computer to write an article and the experience is a very logical, cerebral and practical one. To be honest, I think it’s more of a conscious process than it is a creative experience. I carefully consider what I want to convey to my readers. I think about the key messages, the communication style, some possible examples and analogies and whether or not I should share from a personal story to add a level of depth and insight to the reading experience.

    It’s fair to say that this style of writing doesn’t really come from a place of inspiration (which is okay). It’s typically educational, instructional and informative but rarely inspirational. If it does manage to inspire or excite anyone, the response is typically more about the reader than it is the article. And while I (nearly) always enjoy writing, it’s fair to say that producing these types of articles – as necessary as they may be – doesn’t really excite me (greatly) or provide me with a huge sense of achievement or satisfaction at this point in my journey.

    It’s kind of like work.

    Perhaps my days of writing “how to create a perfect arse in four weeks” (type) articles are numbered. Oh well, there’s always the archives to sift through.

    Turning on The Inspiration Tap

    Then there are times when I have no (immediate) plan to write anything but something happens and I have to stop what I’m doing and literally run to my computer. Sometimes, I feel like I’m sprinting with a glass full of milk trying desperately not to lose any of my milk (inspiration) as I run. Have you ever had an amazing idea or revelation and then lost it two minutes later? How frustrating is that?

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    Sometimes I’m inspired and stimulated in the most inconvenient and impractical places and situations. I often find myself recording ideas and thoughts into the voice recorder on my phone while I’m driving because something or someone has pushed a button or opened a door (metaphorically speaking).

    Many times in cafes and restaurants, I have downloaded ideas, feelings and thoughts onto a serviette or piece of scrap paper because the situation, conversation or experience turned on some kind of uncontrollable creative tap inside me. And that’s exactly what it’s like when I’m inspired: uncontrollable. It’s like the words flow despite me not because of me. I find that when I’m in that place, writing (or speaking, for that matter) is effortless and joyful.

    And who wouldn’t want that?

    Flow

    When my cerebral self (some might say egoic self) makes way for my creative and inspired self, anything can happen. And it does. It’s when I’m in flow. Doing what I’m built for. Happy.

    While I need and value the logical, rational, strategic, grown-up (version of) me – to make sure I don’t do anything too stupid or reckless – the ‘me’ I really like is the free-style, who-gives-a-shit-what-people-think, ten year-old that lurks within. I like him because he doesn’t write for approval, permission, respect or status. He simply opens the floodgates and stands back. There’s no filter. No censor. No strategy and no agenda. When it comes to creativity, inspiration and connection, sometimes the best plan is no plan. Sometimes, logical ‘me’ simply needs to get out of the way.

    “Brilliance is rarely found in logic.”

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    A Story

    A few years back, I had to open a convention with a ninety-minute presentation to about a thousand people. Just before this particular gig, my manager, had been contacted by a well-known speaking agent who told us that she was interested in using me as a speaker at some upcoming conferences. She also informed him that she would be in the audience (of my upcoming gig) to evaluate me as a potential speaker for her stable.

    On hearing this news, I decided to ‘razzle-dazzle’ my presentation a little. To make it a tad more polished, structured and, I hate to say it; electronic. Good grief. What was I thinking? I guess my thinking was that if I could wrap my speaking and entertaining skills around some slides, photos and maybe even a video clip, I’d blow Mrs Speaking Agent out of her chair.

    What a stupid idea.

    My Clever Plan

    So, with my clever new plan to impress, I discarded my much-loved white-board and markers (the only tools I use when I present) and took to the stage with an electronic (slide-changing) clicker in hand; the clicker that was about to take the audience and I on an electronic journey of personal growth and wonder (via my snappy new audio-visual presentation).

    Again, stupid idea.

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    Fifteen minutes into my presentation, I realised that I had totally forgotten about the clicker in my hand. What slides? What power-point presentation? What plan? What… an idiot. I panicked. I went from being ‘in flow’ and speaking from the heart, to clumsily trying to figure out what number slide I was up to. Like a deer in the headlights, I awkwardly clicked my way back and forward through random slides and felt my anxiety level rising. In the space of a few minutes, I had managed to move from connection (with my audience) to total disconnection.

    Quite the achievement.

    By switching from my instinctive, creative and freestyle mode (whiteboard boy) to cerebral, logical, let’s-impress-the-speaking-agent (ego) mode, the overall experience (for the audience and me) had gone from inspired to uninspired. The message from my heart was now coming from my over-thinking brain and I was totally losing the group. I was distracted and fighting for survival.

    Back to Free-style

    In a rare moment of clarity, I stopped all the electronic mayhem and clumsiness and walked to the edge of the stage. I put my presentation on hold for a moment and spoke to the group. “Is it okay with you guys, if I ditch the slide show? I don’t really know what I’m doing with this gizmo and to be honest, I find the slides kind of distracting and annoying.”

    Fortunately for me, they laughed and graciously gave me permission to revert to my free-styling ways. Between us, we managed to save the sinking ship, nobody died and we all learned something. Not long after I finished the presentation, I spied ‘Mrs Speaking Agent’ making her way towards me. I had totally forgotten about her. “Oh well, I blew it” I thought to myself.

    Surprisingly, her feedback was that she loved my story-telling and my humour but (not surprisingly) suggested that I never, ever use a PowerPoint presentation again.

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    Yes Ma’am.

    And yes, she gave me some work.

    Where I’m Happiest

    While my life requires a level of practicality, planning, accountability and structure (like any life), it’s usually when I escape my mind, connect with my inner intelligence and operate from a place of inspiration, instinct and child-like enthusiasm that I feel most connected, authentic, empowered and happy.

    Today, I’m encouraging you to find your inspiration.

    So, when are you most inspired? What turns on your ‘tap’? Do you want to live a more inspired life? As always, love to hear your thoughts, suggestions and ideas this topic. Even you long-time Lurkers.

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    Craig Harper

    Leading presenter, writer and educator in the areas of high-performance, self-management, personal transformation and more

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    Last Updated on July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

    More About Goals Setting

    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

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