why tapping into your emotional sweetspot = your most remarkable creative work

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One of my favorite anecdotes concerns bestselling author Steven Pressfield. He was a struggling screenwriter who decided he would only work on projects that he deemed ‘commercial’. When that didn’t get him anywhere, he decided Fuck it (I’m paraphrasing) and wrote exactly what he wanted to write. Which of course is when his career took off .

He had tapped into his emotional sweetspot.

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Some people might think of it as ‘passion’ but I think it’s a little more complex than that. Passion – as Brett Kelly points out – means strong and barely controllable emotion.

And as Cal Newport discusses in his book and blog, the whole idea of what ‘passion’ is or how to find it can be misleading. People think that first you identify your passion, and then you start to act, when in reality you act first, and then act again, and continue to act toward what interests and stimulates you until one day you wake up and discover that your ‘passion’ has found you. Marcus Buckingham would refer to this as “following your strengths”: noting the activities that make you feel strong, energized, confident, and organizing your time (and your life) so that you do more and more of those activities and less and less of the activities that make you feel weak, exhausted, depleted, incompetent.

I have a passion for writing (and blogging), but there are times when I’m writing out of my emotional sweetspot, and times when I’m not. I know when I’m writing out of my sweetspot. It’s a deep, visceral, ‘full’ kind of sensation that runs through the center of me. And I noticed that it’s not only when I produce my best work, it’s when I produce my most popular work. It’s as if the sweetspot is a point of connection. It connects me to my subject matter, to the truth of who I am, and it also connects me to something else, something deeper – call it humanity, the creative spirit, the collective unconscious, whatever. Because when I write from the sweetspot, my work not only resonates with me – but with others.

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So what is it, exactly?

I think of it as a special state of mind in which everything aligns: your strengths and interests and values and abilities. What’s more, there’s an overlap between what you offer and what the world (or some segment of it) wants to receive. It’s a deeply creative place to be. It’s not like being in the zone, exactly, but when you are in your sweetspot it’s very easy to slip into the zone.

The sweetspot is where magic happens. It’s where the juice is. And the fire.

I have a theory about why this is. The sweetspot is where different interests of yours intersect with each other, one body of knowledge melting through another and then infused with something that is exquisitely you: your personality, creative intelligence, worldview. As Fran Johansson points out in his book THE MEDICI EFFECT, it’s precisely at this crossroads of disciplines that creative thought and innovation take flight.

One discipline contains one set of ideas that can be combined in only so many ways.

Another discipline contains its own set of ideas that can be combined in only so many ways.

Smash these two disciplines together, however, and you’ve got those two sets of ideas mingling with each other, forming new and interesting combinations that maybe haven’t happened in quite that way before.

And this can lead you to something else that’s pretty cool.

Your niche.

Your thing.

That thing you do, that unique brand of voodoo, that differentiates you from everybody else in your field.

Imagine if you were working out of your emotional sweetspot all the time. If you identified the actions and interests that put you there, and managed to slowly but steadily eliminate everything else.

If you subtracted.

If you stripped yourself down to the fire that burns so clean and pure at your core. If everything – or at least most of the things — you created came from that sweetspot.

You would know who you are.

(And you would develop one hell of a ‘brand’!)

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Okay, whatever. But how do you get there?

Finding your sweetspot = finding out the truth about yourself. About what you truly care about vs what you think you should care about, or want to care about, because of what you’ve internalized from family and friends and your culture in general. Perhaps you’ve built an entire career, or even a life, around those shoulds. At the same time, you recognize a wrongness about your life. It exhausts and depletes you. You feel a yearning towards something else, but you also know that following those yearnings would force you to change in ways that are damn inconvenient, and maybe costly, and might demand sacrifice.

There is no easy solution for that (or if there is, I don’t have it).

Instead, think in terms of small acts. Small steps.

Schedule for yourself some free time, some wandering-around time, to expose yourself to things, to follow up on whatever interests you, even if it’s as simple as buying a magazine to read over coffee. Feed your head with stuff that educates and stimulates you. Feed your soul with stuff that nourishes you. Pay attention to those moments in your day when you feel strong and confident and most fully and thrillingly yourself – and note what you were doing to make you feel that way. Pay attention to the people you admire. The people you feel drawn to. The people with careers that you would most like to emulate. These are all small things – clues and glimmerings – that will lead you down the path to your sweetspot. String these glimmerings together, and they light the way. When you hit that sweetspot, you’ll know it.

And maybe I’ll see you there.

image by Vladans

Mar 2, 2011
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12 comments · Add Yours

WOW!! This was one awesome, honest, timely post! Thank you. I love the idea of creating until you find your passion. It makes better sense to do it that way, but I was one who thought you should know your “passion” before you start. This was just what I needed today.
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The idea of the “emotional sweetspot” is fascinating. I feel like I’ve found mine at times when I’m creating, but I still find myself creating from a spot that isn’t my sweetspot more than I am from it. The sweetspot is fleeting, but becoming easier and easier to find as time goes by.

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Thanks, Catherine & Lovelyn. I think creating is its own kind of thinking, if you know what I mean, and you have to create/think your way toward the stuff that truly moves you. A lot of creative expression depends upon finding the right materials to work with — Ken Robinson talks about this in his book THE ELEMENT — which means you first have to have the experience of working with them, of thinking creatively through them. And those materials can involve ideas, subject matter, as much as anything else.

I’m also getting better and better at stepping into that sweetspot — of recognizing the combination of things that seems to take me there, and what that feels like. Like anything else, it takes practice. (Unless maybe you’re superlucky or supergifted.)

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Very insightful post. I guess I’m sort of in the process of trying to find my spot, but not quite getting there.
Exposing yourself to new things is probably an important part of finding your sweet spot, for if you’ve never had experience with something, how would you be able to know if it moves you?
Thanks for the post. I’ll go ahead and try to find my sweet spot (I think it lies somewhere between writing fiction and writing cheques).

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Great advice for writing, and for living life!

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That’s some pretty profound truth you’re serving up there, Justine. I wish more creatives realized this and put it into practice (instead of clinging to old methods of distribution and creativity).

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It’s been years, but I still remember the sensation when I truly hit the sweet spot–it was a physical sensation, almost of pleasure, that warmed my body in an almost sexual way. I was writing an animation script, comedy, and tapped into my humor vein in a way that I knew WORKED. That still happens now and then, and it’s a great feeling. Thanks for the post.

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This spoke deeply to me. Thank you.

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Beautiful! Truth! Thanks!

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Beautiful. Truth. Thank you.

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Hi Justine, This truly resonated with me. As a writer, visual artist and dancer, I believe the sweetspot is a gateway to authentic expression. And, yes, it does take practice. But when you discover it: sweeeeeet! There is no turning back! :-)!! Thank you for sharing!

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I think I can find that spot… the problem is trusting it. I second guess, doubt, I’m unsure I’ve got it right. When I step back from my work and try to edit and polish and all that, I worry that I’m crazy to think something is good. So, the trouble isn’t always finding it, it is trusting, knowing it is okay to feel the way you do.

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