why tapping into your emotional sweetspot = your most remarkable creative work
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.
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.
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.
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’!)
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