2 years ago
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those ‘driven’ business people you read about in the Sunday Times business section. You know the sort of thing...
“Tony naturally wakes at 5.15am every morning and after a light breakfast of wild berries and fruit, jogs the 5 miles to his health club, where he takes a 45 minute yoga class. After jogging back home he showers, changes into one of his bespoke Saville Row suits before driving the 45 miles to work, arriving at 7.30am. On arrival, he calls in on key members of his team for a short briefing, before settling at his desk at around 8 am, ready to go through his overnight emails from the Far East, and his first meeting of the day...” etc.
No, if they were to ever feature me (which I’m fairly confident they won’t) it would more accurately go something like this...
“Andy normally crawls out of his bed at about half past seven - or whenever it gets light - whichever comes later. He believes that getting up in the dark is inhuman... an opinion which was regrettably never shared by some of the companies he used to work for. Now, after throwing some cold water on his face, and noting that the bags under his eyes are much worse than ever, he drags on the first clothes he can find which aren’t creased and don’t smell too bad.
He would rather be horse whipped than exercise at this ungodly hour of day, so he doesn’t. His breakfast consists of whatever is left over from what he had for tea the evening before. And any protestations about the paucity of the fare will usually be met with indignant talk of when a job’s worth doing, early birds and worms and the like.
After performing his necessary ablutions, he will commence the daily routine of searching for his car keys at around 8.15am, which will precipitate the first of many arguments with his partner for the day. By 8.25am, he will have found his keys in the pocket he left them in, and commenced his 20 minute drive to work. On arrival he will then normally either sexually harass or sarcastically abuse selected members of his staff, depending on his mood and their gender.
By 9.30 am he is ready to discuss last night’s TV...” etc.
So no, I’m not what you might call an ‘early starter’ in the traditional sense. And yet I still manage to write most of my blog posts (and, in fact, most other important stuff I write) before 7.30 in the morning.
Confused? Well let me give you a clue what I’m talking about.
I’m fascinated by dreams - not the interpretation of dreams... what they’re supposed to mean... but rather, the fact that they exist at all. We take them for granted, but if you think about it, they’re truly incredible.
While you’re asleep and totally unconscious (in the very literal sense that you’re not consciously thinking) your brain creates fantastic, detailed and vivid stories all on its own. It creates scenarios and scenes which you couldn’t possibly come up with if you were to consciously try. But go to sleep, leave your brain to its own devices, and it can do this amazing thing.
If dreams don’t convince you of the power of the subconscious mind, then nothing will... And if it can do that, what else can it do?
Active thinking rarely seems to achieve an awful lot on its own. If I have a problem to solve which requires creative thought, setting aside some time and trying to solve the problem by ‘thinking about it’ rarely works. Maybe you’ve found the same thing... the very process of ‘thinking’ paradoxically seems to preclude creative thought.
And the harder you think, the worse it gets... but totally ignoring the problem doesn’t work either!
Perhaps an example would help bring this more to life, and what better example than this marvellous blog. (I’ve been thinking about becoming more modest, but was doing it actively, so it didn’t really work.) Anyway, let’s say I decide that I want to write a new blog entry, but don’t know what to write about. What should I do?
Well, one solution could be to sit down and have a good think about it. I could set aside an hour, go somewhere quiet and actively think through the problem of what to write about. And you guessed it, I’d almost certainly come up with nothing. The other obvious solution is to ignore the problem completely and hope it solves itself... that ‘something will come up’... that my subconscious mind will create something useful. It might... but I might not live that long, and neither might you!
Fortunately there’s a better way...
You rarely reach a creative solution to a problem by thinking it through to a conclusion, and you rarely reach a successful creative solution by leaving your subconscious mind to its own devices. Why? Because it needs something to work with.
Dreams are fantastic things, but they’re pretty useless. There’s no focus to them. Your subconscious mind seems to fairly randomly select events, people and thoughts from your recent and past history, and then jumbles them up, and uses them to create a story. If your dreams are anything like mine these stories are never rational or cohesive...
They have no useful message, and they do nothing to solve a problem.
That’s because they’re ‘fed’ randomly. There’s no focus to the material that goes into creating them, so there’s no focus to the story which comes out. Garbage In, Garbage Out. So if you want your subconscious mind to come up with something useful, you have to feed it on the right material.
In practical terms that means, rather than sitting down and trying to come up with a creative solution, you sit down and bring together all the background material and information you have surrounding the problem you’re trying to solve. And then you do nothing.
Going back to the new blog article example, that could mean reviewing all the interesting pieces I’ve torn out of newspapers over the last week, all the items I’ve photocopied from books, and then jotting down details of any interesting conversations or experiences I’ve had over the last week or so...
And then doing nothing!
And more often than not, within a few minutes of waking up one morning over the next day or so... while laying there daydreaming and staring into space... I’ll have an idea for an article. And within 5 minutes or so, I’ll have it almost completely written in my head.
While I’ve been asleep, my subconscious mind has been working on the material I’ve given it to work with, and created a solution.
Now I know this all sounds a bit ‘hocus pocus’... a bit fanciful... but you already know that unfocussed thoughts, events and ideas are turned into unfocussed dreams by the subconscious mind. Is it too much of a leap to believe that focused inputs can be converted into focused outputs via the same subconscious route?
If you’ve never experienced or benefited from this process, there could be one of three reasons:
You are continually trying to force solutions to problems and challenges through active conscious thinking.
You aren’t giving your subconscious the necessary input materials to work with.
You aren’t in a position to be receptive to the solution when it comes.
This third reason can be a ‘biggie’. The subconscious works at its own pace, and there’s no telling when it will spew out its conclusions. Early morning is a key time because you’re relaxed, and the subconscious has had all night to do its work. It’s also a time when most people are in a rush, harassed, and not very receptive to new ideas and thoughts.
If you’re the sort of person who gets woken by an alarm clock, jumps straight out of bed and gets on with the practical issues of the day, then you’re going to miss this key time altogether... and any insights and ideas it might bring.
The key to benefiting from this process is two-fold...
Firstly feed your subconscious with the raw materials it needs to do its work, and then secondly, and equally importantly... make yourself ‘available’ to receive the results it comes up with. And you won’t be able to do that if you’re rushing around at 100mph the whole day.
Strange as it might seem, that means you need to set aside some time in the day for doing absolutely nothing. The first half hour in a morning on waking is ideal for the reasons already indicated, but if you can’t manage that, you need to set aside quiet time with no distractions at some other point in the day.
Most successful people are very aware of the power and importance of this process, which is why if you’re ever criticised for ‘sloth’, you can be sure that the criticism will be coming from someone who’s never achieved an awful lot.
I’ll leave you with a story about Henry Ford which illustrates perfectly what I’ve been labouring to get over in this piece...
Ford contracted a firm of Time and Motion specialists to take a look at part of his operation and report back. They asked Ford to accompany them on a tour of his offices, and they stopped at one point where a young man was sitting with his feet up on the desk staring into space.
“See him?...” said the time and motion man, “We’ve been past here a dozen times in the past week, and he’s always got his feet up on the desk doing nothing. You should fire him.”
“Well that’s interesting,” said Ford, “You see, 12 months ago, that man had an idea which saved us $2 Million, and when he had that idea he was sitting in exactly the same position you see him in now. One day, I reckon he’ll have another idea like that, and I’d hate to miss it.”
You’ve no idea how many times I’ve tried to tell this small snippet of a story! I’ve searched high and low for a suitable vehicle (no pun intended) of delivery for it.
And only the fullness of time, and your more than welcome comments will be the true judge of whether it sufficiently worked or not.
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