Founder of cultural think-tank Grossman and Partners, publisher of the Zeitguide, takes a closer look into how to best channel one’s mental energies into greater creativity and efficiency.
What keeps creative people at the top of their game? Brad Grossman, of ‘cultural think-tank’ Grossman and Partners, shares a few ideas with PSFK featured in their publication The Zeitguide. In the third and final of our series of posts, we look at how by channeling our energy we can actually become more creative.
That was just one of the intriguing things we discovered while writing the 2013 Zeitguide, Grossman & Partner’s annual examination of the most vital cultural conversations underway in everything from food to finance. Research is revealing that our minds are much more malleable than previously believed. We can change our habits, create new thinking patterns, and tame counterproductive distraction.
The jury’s still out on whether the Quantified Self movement, the drive to “track everything” from sleep cycles to bowel movements, is leading to better health or just more hypochondriacs. But if it’s the latter, the DSM, psychiatry’s guidebook to mental disorders, will be right there to catch up in about 20 years.
When the last edition of the DSM came out in 1994, the Internet was in its infancy. But when the DSM-5 (officially: the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) arrives in May, it’s likely to include Internet Use Disorder—Internet addiction—along with a host of other hotly debated amendments. Asperger’s syndrome and dyslexia will disappear, to be folded into broader categories encompassing “autism spectrum disorder” and learning disorders. “Gender identity disorder” will become “gender dysphoria” to shed the negative spin of the word disorder.
What other disorders, er … issues are we wrestling with?
BUSY, ANXIOUS, AND LONELY
Much of the national wellness conversation was about breaking the distraction habit (see “Internet Use Disorder” above) and finding focus. As Peter Bregman put it, “The faster the waves come, the more deliberately we need to navigate.” The consultant’s advice to readers of the Harvard Business Review? Just say no. Decide what deserves attention, and also what to ignore.
Psychologist Sherry Turkle placed her attention on in-person human interaction—and unplugged solitude. Gadgets and social networks provide us with the “illusion of companionship without the demands of a relationship,” she wrote in the New York Times. “But constant Internet access isn’t the same as human connection. And if we find it impossible to be alone with our thoughts, then we will never know how to be solitary and we will always be lonely.”
The fact is, the “busy trap,” which Tim Kreider described so well, is near ubiquitous. (How are you? Crazy busy!) And so is the anxiety that both produces and results from it. Dan Smith, author of “Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety,” has a counterintuitive spin on what’s perpetuating this national disquiet: We’re too lazy to change the behavior and situations that agitate us. “Anxiety may come on like an affliction, but it persists due to habit,” he wrote.
Fortunately, we can form new habits. A brain-science spin made “habits” a best-seller-list buzzword, as Charles Duhigg tracked the neurobiology behind how cues, routines, and rewards etch their way onto our basal ganglia and drive what we do—often without our conscious participation. One takeaway: The brain alters throughout life based on our experiences, and we all have the neuroplasticity to change—for better or for worse.
THE POWER OF NEGATIVE THINKING
Positive psychology, which emphasizes such activities as keeping gratitude journals, is ever popular. But positive fantasies can be problematic, Gabriele Oettingen’s psychology lab at New York University found. Students who fantasized about winning an essay contest had less energy afterward than those who didn’t fantasize.
Enter the power of negative thinking. Oettingen and partners found that imagining obstacles helps people think through them in a practical, strategic way. Her team calls this method “mental contrasting”—setting a goal and direction, while simultaneously acknowledging your limits and the hurdles you’re likely to face. Another grounded view of the less-than-sunny side of life: Oliver Burkeman’s “The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking.”
There’s no reason, however, to feel negative if you wake up in the middle of the night—it might not be panic that’s breaking up your sleep cycle. Scientists and historians are discovering that humans, when given the chance, will sleep in segments. As we redefine the way the world works, perhaps we should redefine the way we think of sleep.
There was also good news about depression. Studies of a club drug, ketamine, which can produce hallucinations, delirium, and “pleasant dream-like states,” opened new avenues into treating depression: by speedily repairing mood-regulating brain cells damaged by stress. Yale neurobiologist Ron Duman told NPR that discovering how ketamine spurs synapse growth is the “biggest finding in the field over the last 50 years”—with the potential to offer relief to the one-third of people with depression who aren’t helped by SSRIs.
Brad Grossman is the founder of Grossman & Partners, a think-tank do-tank that explores cutting-edge ideas and produces custom content designed to stimulate curiosity, innovation and growth. To learn more about the Zeitguide, go to Zeitguide.com for a digital sampler of three chapters from the 2013 Zeitguide. Access to the whole thing—including a print edition tastefully dressed in emerald green (Pantone’s color of the year)—is also on sale on the site.
Images designed exclusively for the Zeitguide