We've all spent more time than we care to remember visiting those desolate islands deep within our mind. The places where ideas cease to bloom and are devoured by shadows. Inspiration is snuffed out like a match in a dirty puddle.
You, me, and everyone who’s ever written or typed a few lines with the hope of making a difference in a reader's life have all been drawn into that dark place from time to time. I call it the Desert. I’ve heard it called other names such as Tar Pit and Anxiety Hotel. My favorite is No Exit, an arid place where no one is eager to revisit anytime soon.
But the good news is that each of us has made it back, or nearly back with an idea and mental outline as to what we’ll write next.
There are many avenues to travel to lead ourselves out of these so-called idea wastelands but I’ve found it’s easier to avoid visiting them in the first place rather than digging one’s way out.
“Don’t let your people fall into a rut. Keep leading them along new paths, blazing new trails. Give them a sense of adventurous pioneering.” - David Ogilvy
The big culprit turns out to be the constant distractions that have become part of our daily lives. Excessive social media use, seemingly endless notifications, and a state of hyper-connectivity have collectively created a wall of noise wrapping itself around our most prized possession, our ability to be attentive to the task at hand.
It’s as if technology has become a ravenous horde screaming at us for our attention, one red notification bubble after another.
And these distractions and noises not only degrade our ability to find and create unique ideas for articles and blog posts, these distractions degrade the quality of the content we do manage to create. Constant bombardment of new content makes it difficult to develop our own sense of unique perspectives.
Our readers are equally distracted by the constant stream of distractions and noise. This, in return, makes it even harder for us to communicate and engage thoughtfully with them.
It’s necessary that each of us create content that will not only grab and hold the attention of our readers, but also enlighten them about an unfamiliar topic.
Take Back Your Own Attention
Before we can grab our readers attention we need to corral our own attention so we can block out the noise and distractions. Recent studies have shown that when we become distracted it can take up to 20 minutes to regain focus. Three or four distractions every hour results in never fully regaining our focus, thus never fully developing our best content.
1. Refocus on the moment. When you get the urge to check social media or you hear an interesting conversation between co-workers, remind yourself to focus and inhale. Exhale slowly 3 or 4 times, reminding yourself to make the most out of this moment and what you’re doing. The more often you pull yourself back the easier it will become to focus.
2. Keep some type of journal. Chronicle the struggles and routines you encounter. Which distractions are the most successful at grabbing your attention? Are there certain times of day when you’re more likely to be distracted? Keeping track of these occurrences make it easier to identify trends and prevent them from happening again in the future.
3. What do you do when you’re struggling to write? Pinpoint what you do with your time when your writing is blocked. Do you eat? Do you watch TV? Do you call friends? Do you play games? Do you take a nap? The more self-aware you are with your triggers, the more likely you are to recognize them.
Writing down which activities are most common for you to do allows you to catch yourself before you fall headlong into old behaviors. Why? If you can catch yourself before you repeat unwanted behaviors you can choose to do something different that may spark your imagination and creativity.
In the quote from David Ogilvy, he used the phrase “adventurous pioneering,” which I think fits perfectly into our goal for both creating great content and for how the reader feels as they consume it. We want to create something special and the reader certainly wants to both be inspired and to take away something useful as payment for giving us their attention for a few moments..
Once we understand how distractions rob us of our focus and hinder our ability to create new and exciting content we can act on that knowledge to minimize those distractions. That’s when the fun starts.
It’s time to get up from behind your desk and get your mind and body outside of your comfort zone. Pack a lunch, leave your phone in a drawer or at least turned off, and head outside to rediscover those things and thoughts that you’ve not seen or thought in ages.
New ideas very often pop into our conscious mind when we are doing things that have nothing to do with work. If you take the time to experience new experiences, you’re likely to be blissfully surprised when inspiration comes from the unexpected.
When we deliberately allow our mind to wander and expose our awareness to different things we are opening ourselves to connecting ideas together in new and interesting configurations. Great content creation is really the process of unleashing innovation within our own minds and letting it expand in new and interesting areas never before seen.
Exposing our focus and awareness to areas not usually explored will not only create a wealth of new connections and experiences to build on; it will declutter our stressed minds and make us a more pleasant person to be around.
Everyday I push myself outside to walk at least 20 minutes. I regularly shop at different places as a way of helping me pay attention to the differences. Spending time with nature, going to museums, historical sites, movies theaters, and lectures a few times a month get me out of routines and ruts.
When we disrupt our day-to-day lives we are likely to see things differently and that is vital for creating powerful content.
Creating new and interesting content is hard to do if your mind lives with only what it already knows. Getting outside your own routine will help you and your ideas to better connect and challenge your readers.