Your Sound Environment
Let's move on to an environment that we know as your sound environment. So what do we mean by sound environment? Well sound environment is basically what it sounds like, everything that you hear. And sound it turns out can be really, really powerful in terms of enabling us to concentrate more, to focus more, particularly music. So Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal, who wrote a book called, Stealing Fire, they actually found that when you're listening to music, there are brainwave changes that actually move you from this sort of beta-waking state to a trance-like state, where if you listen to the same track over and over again, you start to get a lot of the things that kick you into what they call a flow state, from focus to flow which we talked about, and which we'll talk about a little bit more in upcoming modules. But you start to feel the endorphins kick in, you feel your heart race, and you start to really get into a zone. So how do you actually do this and how do you incorporate this ...
into your creative practice? So first thing I recommend is always use noise cancellation headphones, because at any given time there are a number of auditory inputs that are competing for your attention, depending on where you're working. If you're at home and you have kids there might be screaming kids in the background. There could be a TV on in the background. If it's a coffee shop, it's the constant buzz of other customers buying their coffee, or wherever you're at. So noise cancellation headphones, really, really useful, one of the best investments I ever have made in my creative practice, and they don't have to be expensive headphones as long as they get the job done. The next thing I would say is that you want to listen to one track on repeat. This is actually really interesting and it's something that I found out from talking to multiple authors, people like Steve Kotler and Ryan Holiday, who have written dozens of books. And the reason that this works so well is because of the fact that you're listening to the same track, your attention is not being forced to shift in any way at all. It's just on repeat, so it drowns out everything else. And then the other thing I make sure that I do is either put your phone in do not disturb mode or turn off all the notifications because what you want to do basically, is to eliminate every other sound that is competing for your attention other than whatever it is that you're listening to, okay. So, couple of different rules that I use to decide what the filters are for choosing your music. So the kind of music that you're gonna use is really dependent on the nature of the work that you're doing. So for example if the work that you're doing requires verbal processing, if it's reading, if it's writing, if it's anything that involves words, music with lyrics is gonna be problematic, because it's competing you know for the same, it's the same type of input that's competing for your attention, that you're trying to use to process that type of information. So I can't listen to music with lyrics when I write. Funny enough, I can't even listen to classical music when I write, because of the fact that I was a musician in high school. So when I hear classical music, I don't hear classical music. I start to imagine what it would be like to play the part in a band and basically I start to see notes and it completely distracts me, so I can't use classical music. So I use techno music without lyrics to do my writing. But if you're somebody who works with your hands and you do something that doesn't require verbal processing, that might be designing websites for example. It could be taking photographs. It could be painting. It could be sculpting. I know a lot of people who are people who work with their hands, and part of the reason they listen to podcasts is because they can actually deal with information that is verbal, because they're working with their hands. So that's basically a very simple filter for how you decide on what music to use and how you basically set up a sound environment. But I want to turn it over to you guys for questions and hear commentary on how you guys use sound, how sound interrupts you, and also answer any questions you have.
Interesting, I usually listen to podcasts when I'm designing or writing. But when I'm painting I actually go no lyrics and I have a playlist called painting without words, because it just focuses me, and 'cause if I hear words then I start painting the imagery that I'm hearing in the lyrics.
Well and that's a perfect example of the fact that this is not set in stone. Like I said, you would think that as somebody who is a writer, I could listen to classical music which doesn't have words, but I can't because of what I told you about, and that's another example of that. So it's really, I think the key here is experimenting and this is really the key with everything that we're talking about here. So none of it should be treated as gospel, all of it should be treated as guidance, treated as a compass not a map, and what you should do, is you should take ingredients that work for you and come up with your own recipe, so try different things. Some of what I've told you might not work for you, but you could modify it, and you could change it, and that applies to literally everything that we're gonna talk about today. Mark?
I created a practice a few years ago of turning on, I really love the ocean, but I live about 50, 60 miles away, but there's a Pandora station that you can put that's ocean wave sounds, so I had a practice of listening to it for just five to ten minutes, first thing in the morning. And what would happen almost half the time, it'd be 11 o'clock or something, and I'd start working but I left the ocean sounds on and it's just, it's a pretty cool, and your usually just, instead of going back and changing the channel to music or something', just leave the ocean on, like wow this is really, it just feels different, it's really cool.
Yeah, I mean that's why ambient noise machines are popular. That's why you can have Pandora stations with something like oceans sounds, and ocean sounds basically in many ways can actually provide the same benefits as being in front of the ocean. So, yeah?
So I do it a little differently. So when I have something really intense to write or I have a lot of work, I put on dance music and I dance.
Like I dance around the room. I get as physical as I can. I really try and shake it all out and then I can sit down, and somehow it will sort of calm all of the things in my brain that are moving around. It's almost like I do the best I can to empty myself out.
Yeah, I mean we'll talk a little bit about physical movement later but I think, like I said, spending time in nature in a lot of ways forces physical movement and that's why it's so powerful. I think that pretty much unanimously across the board, when I did the research for the book that I wrote recently, I kept finding correlations between people who were prolific artists and having some sort of physical practice, whether it be dancing, whether it be running, whether it be skiing, whether it be snowboarding, unanimously across the board there was some physical activity that was always correlated with,
And then I have to have, like I mean it's silent when I'm writing I've realized. Like the music and the dancing has to happen before to get myself sort of in the mood, and then I need total silence and no distractions.
Yeah, again you know, and that's a perfect example of a sound environment as well. In your sound environment you need silence. I use, I need just everything drowned out and the music kind of puts me in the zone. Whereas if I have anything else it will compete for my attention, 'cause I have a very short attention span. Do we have any questions from the online audience?
Yes, we have one question from the online audience Srini, and it goes to very often a lot of our students out there will actually keep CreativeLive on in the background, (group laughing) while they're working. I know that a lot of people can relate to that, and they listen for key words. They listen for things that'll pop up. I imagine that there are some people doing it with your class today. So talk to me about, like whether it's a good practice, a bad practice, or just somethin' that if you're doin something, sort of like a lot of our photographer people will be processing photos. So it's like, they're really just going through the motions and kinds of things. So let's talk a little bit about that.
That's a really great question. So I think that what it comes down to is how cognitively demanding is the thing that you're tryin' to work on and we'll be, actually Cal Newport will be here a little bit later to talk about, how to deal with what he calls, deep work. So if the work is incredibly demanding, then it's difficult if you have anything on in the background, like CreateLive, especially because of the fact that usually when you're listening to something like CreativeLive, you're taking in a lot of information, information that requires a lot of brain power, and cognitive processing. Whereas if it's repetitive work, like you were talking about Jim, in terms of photo processing or you know scheduling stuff on social media, then absolutely you could get away with it. I think it really just depends on the complexity of what you're trying to do. Obviously if you had your brain surgeon operating on you, I don't think you'd want him listening to CreativeLive in the background, because you know, I don't want my brain surgeon to screw up because he's listening to me talking about what I'm doin' right now. So it really depends on the complexity of the task. The more complex the task is I think the more deliberate you have to be with this. But if it's stuff that's repetitive, like checking email, I know that my friend Chris Bailey, apparently he does a lot of his maintenance work on Sundays, and what he does is he uses that time to catch up on all the podcasts that he wants to listen to, so.