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How to Be Interesting

Sketch of a Plant by Leonardo.

Drawing by Leonard da Vinci, via Wikimedia Commons

Nobody wants to be boring.

It’s not exactly the done thing to say “I want to be interesting”, but the enthusiastic response to Russell Davies’ article How to Be Interesting suggests that it’s something we aspire to. And with good reason. Over three years before Seth Godin told us in Linchpin that being remarkable (and therefore indispensable) is the key to a successful career, Russell said essentially the same thing:

the core skill of any future creative business person will be ‘being interesting’. People will employ and want to work with (and want to be with) interesting people.

If you work in the creative industries, this is pretty much a no-brainer, but now that we’re living in the age of the creative economy, when more and more businesses are being urged to think like media companies, it starts to look like a recipe for survival and success in any industry. [Read more...]

Best of Wishful Thinking 2007

Old Royal Naval Colleage, Greenwich

Photo by judepics: Planet Greenwich (home of Wishful Thinking)

Thank you for reading Wishful Thinking in 2007. It’s been great fun writing it and connecting with so many interesting and creative people – online and in person.

Here’s my personal selection of the best of Wishful Thinking in 2007, based partly on my own judgment, partly on the amount of visitors, comments and links they attracted.

I hope you (re)discover something to inspire you. Have a great New Year, see you on the other side…

January

How to Maintain Your Enthusiasm When Things Get Tough

7 Ways to Stop Worrying When You’re Under Pressure

February

7 Ways to Tap into Enthusiasm

Interview with David Amor, Creative Director, Relentless Software

March

David Armano on Management

Business Coaching: an Introduction

April

Chris Ritke Interviews Me at 49Sparks.com

The Manager as Coach

May

A Blog Is for Life, Not Just for Christmas – British Library Talk

Getting in Touch with Creativity – Roger von Oech’s Ball of Whacks

Brian Eno – 77 Million Paintings [Read more...]

7 Ways to Tap into Enthusiasm

Following on from my earlier posts about Enthusiasm v Confidence, Ludivine’s question about How to Maintain Enthusiasm When Things Get Tough and Ways to Stop Worrying When You’re Under Pressure, I’ll finish off this mini-series with a few tips for tapping into your natural enthusiasm.

You’ll be pleased to know that you don’t need to be stressed out to use these tips – they work equally well if you’re just looking for a boost of enthusiasm to get you started (or restarted) on a project that matters to you.

The key to enthusiasm is not to try to force it – I like the phrase ‘tapping into enthusiasm’ as it suggests a natural spring that rises up of its own accord, especially if we don’t block it.

1. Start with curiosity

What has this got to do with enthusiasm?

I once went to a writing class with the poet Craig Raine where he said writing poetry is a bit like stripping wallpaper. Once you’ve started, you end up with little ‘tags’ of wallpaper sticking out, which you start to pull slowly – sometimes the tag breaks off in your hand and you’re left with practically nothing. Other times, you pull on the tag and it gets bigger and bigger, till you’ve got a long strip of wallpaper coming away in your hands. Sometimes the strip goes on and on until you’ve pulled away the paper from a whole section of the wall. If you hadn’t been curious enough to pull the little tag, you’d never have managed such a spectacular achievement (in wallpaper-stripping terms).

Where are the ‘tags’ that are piquing your curiosity? A book you meant to read? A film you meant to watch? Someone you’ve been meaning to call for a while? Something you’ve always wanted to learn? An idea you never got around to trying out? Follow your curiosity wherever it leads you – lots of times it will trickle out, but if you keep trying, sooner or later you’ll feel it swell to a rushing torrent of enthusiasm. [Read more...]

7 Ways to Stop Worrying When You’re Under Pressure

In my last post, How to Maintain Your Enthusiasm When Things Get Tough, I started answering a question from a comment on my post 5 Reasons Why Enthusiasm is Better than Confidence. Ludivine wanted to know what to do ‘when worrying about practical and financial issues stifles enthusiasm’.

I began by suggesting that:

  1. Maintaining enthusiasm is key to overcoming such difficulties, particularly for creative professionals.
  2. In order to maintain your enthusiasm, you need to stop worrying.

Worry is a many-headed beast, like the Hydra – it’s hard to stop it at the first attempt, but if you are persistent and try several different points of attack, you can overcome it in the end. It will probably take a few of the following techniques in combination – so experiment with them and see which ones work for you.

1. Physical activity

A few years ago I was dealing with a series of financial, work and emotional problems that I won’t bore you with here. My typical emotional state veered between anxiety (“What am I going to do?”) and depression (“It doesn’t make any difference what I do”). One of my ways of dealing with the situation was to run round my local park every day. I made myself do the run because afterwards I would feel significantly better than before it, and found it much easier to stay present and centred in my body. Because of this, I was much less prone to get lost in worry.

Physical activity is a great way to get ‘out of your head’ and recover a feeling of calmness and mental clarity. You’ll get most benefit from a really good workout, but any physical activity that engages your senses can make a difference – washing the dishes, walking down the road for a pint of milk, enjoying a hot bath or making something with your hands.

If you want a calming physical activity you can easily incorporate into your daily routine, here’s a walking meditation exercise I learned a few years ago from the monks at Amaravati:

  1. Choose a time and place where you won’t be disturbed. Early morning or last thing at night are good for setting you up for the day or a good night’s sleep.
  2. Pick two spots, from 6 to 15 feet apart, and clear the space so you can walk between them.
  3. Stand on the first spot, close your eyes and focus on your feet. Notice how they feel right now – warm? cool? tense? relaxed? Feel the floor pressing against the soles of you feet. Don’t try to relax, just notice how your feet feel right now.
  4. Gradually sweep your attention up your body – up your legs, your torso, down the arms and lastly up to the crown of your head. For each part of your body, just notice the physical sensations you’re experiencing right now.
  5. Once you have your whole body in your awareness, from head to foot, expand your awareness to listen to all the sounds around you, near and far – while still keeping your attention on your body as well.
  6. Lastly, open your eyes and notice all the colours and shapes you can see – while still listening and sensing your body.
  7. Very slowly walk towards the other point you chose at 2., noticing how your muscles feel as you move them.
  8. Don’t worry if your mind wanders! It happens to everyone. Each time you get lost in thought, bring your attention back to your body.
  9. Keep walking up and down as long as you like. Doing this for even a couple of minutes a day can have a noticeable calming effect on you. The more often you practise it, the better you will feel. [Read more...]

How to Maintain Your Enthusiasm When Things Get Tough

My post on 5 Reasons Why Enthusiasm is Better than Confidence has turned out to be the most popular piece I’ve written on Wishful Thinking. It’s been very encouraging to receive the comments, links and e-mails from people who say it resonates with their experience and they find it helpful in igniting their enthusiasm.

And of course, there are times when it’s not so easy to feel enthusiastic. Yesterday Ludivine raised a very good question in the comments:

what about when worrying about practical & financial issues stifles enthusiasm ?

I’ve worked with lots of clients facing exactly this issue. Plus I’ve faced a fair share of ‘practical and financial issues’ myself. It’s a situation most of us face at some point in our lives, and the artistic/creative disciplines have a particularly strong tradition of financial hardship on the way to success. So I think it’s worth taking some time to consider it and offer some suggestions.

I’m going to assume there’s no quick fix for the practical and financial issues, and concentrate on how to minimize worry and maximise your enthusiasm in the face of such difficulties in order to overcome them.

In this post, I’ll cover two key points:

1. Enthusiasm offers you a way out of your difficulties

2. To release your enthusiasm, you need to find a way to stop worrying (even before the difficulties are resolved)

Then in my next two posts I’ll offer some Practical Tips to Stop Worrying and Ways to Tap into your Enthusiasm.

1. Enthusiasm offers you a way out of your difficulties

Your enthusiasm is one of your most valuable assets – financially as well as emotionally. If you look at the description in my original post, you can see that enthusiasm is a state you achieve when you’re at your most energetic, engaging and productive. Work done with enthusiasm doesn’t seem like work – it’s something we do for the sheer joy of it. And I’m not talking about self-indulgence – if you look at the post above you can see that enthusiasm isn’t about being focused on yourself, but on the task and on other people.If you consider enthusiasm in blunt practical terms, when you focus on a task and its impact on others, and do it with the maximum energy and commitment, that’s when you deliver the greatest value in your work. Which of course is when others are most likely to sit up, take notice and reward you financially (and in other ways). [Read more...]

5 Reasons Why Enthusiasm is Better than Confidence

Enthusiasmos

Image by ForsterFoto

We all want to be confident, don’t we? It’s a word that crops up fairly often in coaching sessions, even with people who are very talented and successful. We’re all human, and for most of us there are times, places, audiences and situations where we feel we’d like to be a little more confident. For creative professionals, these typically include high-pressure performance situations, such as presentations, pitches, interviews, auditions and stage shows.

Of course we want to perform at our best in these situations, but I think the word ‘confidence’ creates more problems than it solves. I usually advise clients to change the word to ‘enthusiasm’. Here’s why:

1. Confidence is about you – enthusiasm is about your subject

As long as you’re focused on ‘being confident’, you are the focus of attention. And when it’s all about you, it’s very easy to get caught up in self-doubt (“Am I really up to this? Will I be able to do it?”). But when you focus on a subject that’s important to you – the work you’re presenting, the information you want to share, the message you’re trying to get across – then chances are you’ll find yourself overtaken by enthusiasm. You’ll be energized, your voice will sound stronger, your hands will start gesturing, you’ll find your whole body moving as you warm to your task. You’ll lose your self-consciousness and be lost in the work itself, in the words and ideas you want to get across.

2. Confidence is about you (again) – enthusiasm is about others

I repeat – when you’re trying to be confident, your attention is on yourself. But when you focus on your audience – whether one person, a roomful or a whole stadium – you stop worrying about your own performance. Instead, your attention is on the audience’s experience: How are the ideas coming across? How do they look? Engaged? Confused? Intrigued? Have they ‘got it’ yet? If not, what can you do to help them? What feedback are they giving you? How can you use this to make it easier for them to learn, to enjoy or to see your point of view? How can you get them to share your enthusiasm?

3. Confidence is impressive – enthusiasm is infectious

How many times have you watched a presenter or met someone and been impressed with their confident manner – but without really warming to them? Confidence can be impressive, but beware the kind of impression you’re leaving. Enthusiasm on the other hand, is highly infectious. Think of a time when you heard someone talk about a subject you had previously no interest in, but they were so enthusiastic about it, you couldn’t help being intrigued, even fascinated. There’s something contagious about the body language of enthusiasm – when you see someone talking excitedly, smiling, gesturing, full of energy and keen to share what they know, you can’t help responding. It’s as though at some level we look at an enthusiastic person and think “That looks good, that looks fun” and can’t resist the urge to join in.

4. Confidence is certain – enthusiasm is creative

You can feel confident when you know what you’re doing, and are sure you can do it well. There are lots of times and places for this kind of confidence, but too much certainty can be stifling. With enthusiasm, there’s always an element of uncertainty, the excitement of not knowing exactly what you’re going to say next and looking forward to surprising yourself. That’s why scripted speeches are so dull, and why the atmosphere at an improvised show is electric. Accounts of the creative process abound with stories of images, ideas or words ‘popping into’ someone’s mind – and invariably, the subject or medium is one for with the person has huge enthusiasm.

5. Confidence is serious – enthusiasm is fun

When you start talking or thinking about being confident, you’re likely to start taking things a bit seriously. When you want to be confident about doing something, it’s because you think it’s important. And when something is important, it means Bad Things can happen if you get it wrong. Thinking about Bad Things is enough to make anyone serious. But when you’re enthusiastic, importance translates into passion – and the whole thing becomes fun. There are few things more enjoyable than talking enthusiastically about something you’re passionate about, and feeling others share your enthusiasm.

I’ll climb off the soap-box now. Enthusiasm is one of my enthusiasms. What are yours?

EDIT: in the comments below Ludivine has asked a really good question:

what about when worrying about practical & financial issues stiffles enthusiasm ?

I’m answering this question with a short series of posts: How to Maintain Your Enthusiasm When Things Get Tough, 7 Ways to Stop Worrying When You’re Under Pressure and 7 Ways to Tap into Enthusiasm.