If you’re like me, you probably feel overwhelmed by all the content that already exists. When I sit down to start writing, the sheer wealth of information and amount that has already been written on any given topic can be so daunting it makes it’s hard to even begin a new piece. I know I’m not the only one. As writers, publishers, and marketers, we all want to become experts in our field and be above the fold when it comes to thoughts on our industry, leadership, ideation, marketing psychology, copywriting—pretty much everything that pertains to our customers and brand.
The race to create the best content, and to be smarter and more prolific than our competitors can be overwhelming. And part of the problem is the excess of information that we have to sift through in order to get to the stuff that actually matters. The heavy information diet that we all manage these days should ideally be informing our content, but sometimes it actually does the opposite—too much information actually blocks creativity and stops us from coming up with our best creative ideas”
Information overload and multitasking cause increases in cortisol, our stress hormone. The problem with that is that cortisol prevents the release of serotonin in our brains – a chemical that is crucial for creativity. So instead of stimulating our minds and making us more creative, information overload blocks the creative process.
[Tweet “So how do we go about dealing with the so-called “infobesity” or “infoxication” epidemic?”]
Thinking Like a Child
Buddhist psychology calls the cloud of information that we’re all wading through the “thicket of views and opinions.” It maintains that those who cling to their views are clinging to misery.
Conversely, real wisdom is gained by maintaining an open mind. This openness to new ideas leaves us with an ability to question, wonder, listen, and observe without tainting our experience of new ideas with past fears and biases. Essentially, it lets us do what we need to do to be creative.
That’s why, for everyone but especially for content creators, it’s important to get back to having a child’s view. When we’re free from views, we are more willing to learn and to wonder – and that’s where the best content comes from. Thinking like a child doesn’t mean you can’t also be a highly accomplished professional – in fact, the two should go hand in hand. Children have the benefit of not knowing what isn’t possible. They get praise for being imaginative and they aren’t scared of the ridiculous like grownups are. As far as they are concerned, every problem can be solved and the aren’t bogged down by rules, regulations and the canon of work and thought that predates them. Somehow, what is completely natural for a kid seems unnatural when we’re adults.
Basically, in order to write from a genuine place, we need some semblance of a beginners mind or what have to get back to what German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe liked to think of as the advantages of being an amateur. Goethe felt that coming of age in Germany was to his benefit because he didn’t have to contend with the stifling classics of English literature. The masterpieces existed, but he was ignorant of them, which allowed him to work with a bit more wild abandon than he may have otherwise. Considering this was so long before the age of the information overload, it can be hard to think of getting to this kind of selectivity about what you are filling your mind with in today’s day and age.
But the point is that achieving some semblance of the “beginner’s mind” isn’t about avoiding all cultural influences across the board – it’s just about being thoughtful and discerning as to what you allow into your mental catalog. “Give up everything which can produce no result of consequence to you and is not suited to you,” Goethe says.
This is a crucial distinction. While Goethe experiences the real benefits of “beginner’s mind,” he also emphasizes the importance of a rich mental reservoir of carefully selected influences on the other. In order to be the best creative we can be, we need to do two very different things at once.
Maintaining Your Ignorance: Letting Only the Important Stuff In
The idea of an “information diet” isn’t a new concept. In fact, we all probably devote a lot more time to limiting the information that we’re taking in than we do to deliberately accessing information. Daniel Levitin, a McGill University psychology professor, has conducted studies that have shown that the conscious mind can pay attention to three, maybe four, things at once. Beyond that, you begin to exercise poorer judgment and lose your focus. We make rules about keeping our internet and smartphone usage down to a few hours a day, we try not to click on certain news stories, we use apps to organize our time so it’s not scattered around various outlets. Basically, we spend a lot of time trying to get back to the way we were when we were kids – when we lived in a world that felt fresh and new and full of wonder and awe. So what can we do to get our conscious minds back on a singular track and avoid death by information overload?
How to maintain ignorance when you’re looking for ideas/ writing:
- Do a brain dump: Productivity guru David Allen recommends clearing your mind before any creative endeavors by making a big list of all the junk floating around your head. This involves categorizing everything in your head into four buckets: do it, delegate it, defer it, drop it. This helps you cut through the cloud of thought that is interfering with your creative process.
- Be selective about your sources: As writers, we have to do research and that can involve a lot of “cold googling” which can lead us down the rabbit hole of information. Instead of letting Google take you away from your focus, try compiling 5 to 10 go-to resources that you trust and admire and keeping your searches within these niches. Whether it’s Mashable, Contently, Brain Pickings or something totally industry specific, this will at least help you shut out some of the noise in your preliminary research. You can also set Twitter filters to help you bring the more relevant info to the top of your feed. Your community can be a great resource in helping you keep your mind focused on the right stuff.
- Lower stress levels: Keeping your cortisol levels low is one of the keys to tapping into your creative genius. If you are starting to feel the effects of infobesity, ditch the computer for 30 minutes and read a few chapters of a novel, head outside for a jog or meditate until you feel a little more at peace. Figure out the little things that help bring you to a more restful place in your mind and work those into your daily routine. This study cited in Forbes found that only a few minutes of meditation each day can greatly reduce the levels of cortisol in your brain.
- Admit that you don’t know: One of the keys to not letting yourself drown in the cascade of knowledge is to release the need to know everything. Adopting a more Zen-like attitude frees you from FOMO about all the information out there that you simply can’t keep up with. It’s okay if you miss a few blog posts or skip out on email for the day – in the long run the mini-vacation you are giving your mind will reward you for it.
While there is no tried and true way to go about getting back to beginner’s mind, it is helpful to just remind ourselves on a regular basis that there you can set aside everything you know and have come to accept as truth for a little while in favor of saying “I don’t know.” Go ahead, try it. We don’t allow ourselves the stance of “I don’t know” often enough. It’s terrifying to admit it sometimes, but it can be so helpful in creating foundations for thought and for making deeper connections with the material we’re working with. It’s amazing what can happen when we abandon our ideas of ourselves as experts and allow ourselves to explore a topic with joy and curiosity – to actually discover things for ourselves that others will be excited to learn about as well.
Want to use Oz to be more “thoughtful and discerning” about the material with that you allow into your mental reservoir? Learn how to focus your research efforts by clicking here.