Habit fields: Where we work impacts how we work

Where we work impacts how we work, or play. As creatures of habit, we can let certain zones remind us what to do.

Writer Jack Cheng uses a ‘distraction chair‘ at home to social network and check email while he saves focused work for the desk. Author Austin Kleon separates his desk between digital and analog.


But all habits take discipline. As soon as we start mixing tasks like skipping from Twitter to an important presentation the ‘habit field‘ loses its power as a trigger for experiences.

Whether we read from bed or write standing up, “we become what we behold,” said Marshall McLuhan, “We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.”

That tool isn’t just a computer or a notebook. It also includes the couch.

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Open spaces, closed doors

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If you want to make more office collisions, you have to increase proximity. Open spaces are now the standard design model for companies looking for more ideas and collaboration. 

Multiple bump-in conversations have replaced those at the water cooler, saving potential email threads from getting out of hand. 

But excess openness “can cause workers to do a turtle” and pop on some headphones to crowd out the excess chatter. 

Like the cubicle before it, which intended to be the ‘action office’ and instead resembled prisons where no one ran into each other, the open floor layout encourages serendipity but has come to resemble a chaotic classroom. External conversations crimp the thinking voice inside a person’s head.

Focus is already scarce in a digital world. Deep work needs time to bloom. Perhaps that’s why working from home is still the best option of all.

‘Patterns are the work of the evil’

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Creativity isn’t a faucet; you can’t just turn it on at a moment’s notice and expect genius to flow out.

So what should you do in a creative rut?

The comedian Aziz Ansari takes the lack of inspiration as a sign to do nothing at all.

“I’m not gonna make stuff just for the sake of making stuff. I want to make stuff ’cause I’m inspired. Right now I don’t really feel inspired.”

Creativity comes in waves; it ebbs and flows but finds its way back to people that are “open to detours.” Taking a walk or going on travel never fail to reignite the curious mind.


However, some artists like painter Chuck Close and writer Steven Pressfield encourage their colleagues to get to work daily. Said Close: “Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work.”

Making stuff is a habit; whether you’re having a good or bad day, feeling inspired or out of gas, there’s no excuse not to sit your ass down and get to work.

Everything is practice. 

Whether you let creativity happen or you force it out, keep the faucet on so it can at least drip. All creative slumps are merely temporary.

Let the internet empower you

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Everyone waits for the web to come to them. Such passiveness means that humans leave their decision-making up to algorithms. But don’t hide behind the machines; look yourself in the eyes as you would others and pick yourself to succeed.

The internet could save you feeling stuck. It liberates the amateur photographer or writer from holding back on their interests and tastes and instead encourages them to show the world their art. The barrier between consumer and maker is thinner than ever.


Don’t wait for the internet to come to you. Use it proactively to stumble into new worlds that inspire you to recast what you think you already know. Experiment with its distribution and feedback.

The internet is a tool you use to make stuff. Just as code changes, you too can sense patterns and update your skill set through trial and error. There’s no reason to shy away from individual oddities; feel free to trespass your fear by getting some skin in the game too.

The paradox of proximity

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So close yet so far.  It appears that the closer we are to something: the gym, the pool, a loved one even, we are less likely to invest the time with them.

We avoid what’s closest to us because proximity obviates the need for effort. When it’s too easy, we have a propensity to get stuck in inertia.

Why do anything?

Procrastination is the purest form of idleness. Convenience is a lazy compromise. We need to get off our ass and jump into the world, especially when it matters.

Mental orbit

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We are distractible, drawn away from our mental orbit into the wrath of flying tweets and other snackable debris.

We need reminders to sustain our attention: sticky notes, to-do lists, meditations, and positive mantras. As Simon Critchley writes in his 2015 Memory Theatre novel:

Memory is repetition. Sure. But it is repetition with a difference. It is not recitation. It is repetition that creates a felt variation in the way things appear. Repetition is what makes possible novelty. This is what Mark E. Smith meant. Memory needs to be imagintion. (Location 684)

There’s no sticktoitiveness without a magnetic force staged to prompt us along. We must surround ourselves with priorities and push.

26 letters, 26 doubts

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Photo by Wells Baum

Do we really need a plan A or plan B when there are so many other letters left in the alphabet to try out?

It doesn’t matter how many times it takes you. 26 letters, 26 doubts.

From petty arguments to politics, do we really need to be right all the time?

Rightness is a quirk in human development. Our view isn’t valid until we can suspend judgment and try to entertain another person’s thought.


Yet there is one trait that we all share: the ability to keep learning. Self-improvement is the indispensable tool outlined in Carol Dweck’s study on work performance at Stanford:

The primary takeaway from Dweck’s research is that we should never stop learning. The moment we think that we are who we are is the moment we give away our unrealized potential. The act of learning is every bit as important as what you learn. Believing that you can improve yourself and do things in the future that are beyond your current possibilities is exciting and fulfilling.

Permanency begets stagnancy, just as ignorance blindsides us down the road. Nothing is duller than a linear path to completion. Given the plasticity of a human mind, strengthening our ability to deal with uncertainty is priceless.

Not so fast 💨

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We consume, drop, and run, looking forward to the next piece of music, article, or person to date.

We say we want to be successful, but we’re not willing to put in the work nor take responsibility for any hiccups along the way.

We want everything yesterday without spending the time to chew on our experiences to-date.


We can’t afford to live up to somebody else’s imposed ambitions, that which undermines the sum total of our experience.

We can’t skip any steps, go zero to 100 miles per hour and intend to remember the journey along the way.

There are no shortcuts. There’s only patience, learning from our mistakes, and the accumulation of small victories to celebrate along the way.

To continue rushing into the future is madness! The tortoise gets there just the same.

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Writing by walking

41NKNoExnqL“With writing as with walking you often find that you’re not heading exactly where you thought you wanted to go. There’ll be missteps and stumbles, journeys into dead ends, the reluctant retracing of your steps. And you have to tell yourself that’s just fine, that it’s a necessary, and not wholly unenjoyable, part of the process. It’s an exploration,” writes Geoff Nicholson in his book The Lost Art of Walking.

Writing, like walking, is getting lost but at the same time, trusting that wherever the pen and feet go as you ramble and amble around will be met with strange discoveries.

As Rebecca Solnit writes in Wanderlust: A History of Walking, “Language is like a road; it cannot be perceived all at once because it unfolds in time, whether heard or read.”

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Jim Carrey: I Need color

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What does making art tell us about ourselves?

For actor Jim Carrey, making art was a vocation that chose him. One New York winter, he felt compelled to bring color to his life, so he painted it out. As he puts it in the video, “artists make models of their inner life.”

For Carrey, art has become a form of catharsis. He also delves into sculpture, learning about himself through clay molding.

Whether it’s in the studio or on stage, creative diversions seem to be a form of self-healing for Jim Carrey. Perhaps it is the playful state of mind is what puts us at peace.  Uniqueness can be our moral compass.

“People that are different have a shot at being original.”

The internet could save your life

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The internet could save your life because it allows you to skip the process of being picked. Anyone can be an author, musician, photographer without waiting to partner up with a label or a distributor.

Standing out in a sea of DIY artists is the real challenge. Ryan Holiday argues that most people should not publish a book. But why not?

The internet encourages possibility and weirdness.

Your work, even if you’re a so-called ‘amafessional,’ is doing nothing to get in the way of die-hard professionals who make a living off their art. Just because your creations don’t belong in the Louvre shouldn’t hold you back from showing others what you made. The market generally favors the marketing budgets anyway.

Mediocrity never hurt anybody. If you really want to go pro, you’ll spend the extra time to improve and seek the feedback that makes you better. Everything good comes from practice, trial and error, allowing your creativity to pour and shimmer.

Remember, Van Gogh only sold one painting in his lifetime, and to his brother. With a leap of faith, casual work can turn into your most important work and stand the test of time.

6 tips for a healthy life

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105-year-old Japanese doctor Shigeaki Hinohara shared his six tips for a healthy life before he passed away in July.

‘6 tips for a healthy life’ (in summary):

  1. Retire late (very late)

  2. Watch your weight

  3. Have fun

  4. Share what you know

  5. Don’t worry about material possessions

  6. Take the stairs

In other words, keep your brain active and the curiosity engine running, don’t eat crap or in excess, relax and let go, educate and inspire, try to be minimalist, and move around often.

The mind is the kite and the heart is the string. The body and mind work in symphony. Practice what you preach.