I spent the last few days in New Orleans with a few hundred (brilliant, fun, engaging) folks from Estee Lauder Companies. New Orleans is one of my favorite walking cities, as I never know exactly what I’m going to run into around the next corner. (Literally.) Each time I visit Nola I see things that become permanently etched in my sub-conscious, which also probably explains my irrational fear of jesters.
It’s not just the density of stimuli that makes Nola so intriguing, it’s the diversity as well. Color, taste, (definitely) smell, touch, and especially sound are all represented generously on the city streets. There are musicians offering their gifts for passersby and at cafes in exchange for a few dollars here and there, and performance artists – like clockwork – appear on the city streets at 6pm every night. You’re likely to find anything, whether you want to find it or not.
I don’t know about you, but I tend to be a creature of habit. I tend to wake at about the same time each day, go through the same morning rituals, and take the same routes everyday to my favorite haunts. This ritualistic tendency also creeps into my work life. I write with the same cadences (and use a lot of parenthetical comments), return to the same well of phrases and use the same methods for solving problems. The advantage I have is that I’m the guy who helps OTHER people avoid ritualistic traps so I’m able to recognize them when they creep up on me. Still, I find that – left unchecked – my tendency is to default to what seems most safe at the time. Unless obstructed in some way, both water and the human will always find the lowest ground available. I recognized a long time ago that I must find a way to diversify my experiences or my world will become a smaller and smaller set of concentric circles. I become my own point of reference for everything, which is a sad state indeed. Sometimes it takes something like a trip to New Orleans to wake me up to what I’ve been missing.
Here are a few ways I’ve chosen to diversify my diet of experiences and stimuli over the next period of time:
1. I’ve committed to returning to my ethic of reading no less than a book a week. For a while I’ve been trying to read more broadly and less deeply as stimulus queue experiment. I’ve found, however, that doing this prevents me from reaching the saturation point in my studies and causes me to think less deeply about each topic I study. I’ve also found that I’m bouncing around inside the echo chamber of the web. I need to choose a good, diverse set of materials and focus deeply on them.
2. I will accumulate experiences like they are hard cash. It’s funny the things that humans will do for money. We make compromises to our health, our relationships and our personal stability. We compromise our experience of life so that we can – someday – experience life. So strange, and so unnecessary. I’ve decided that the handful of experiences that have been offered up to me – the ones that may affect my immediate-term income – are more important in the long-term than earning a few more dollars right now.
3. I will stop saying “in a little bit”. I’m going to make decisions to do something, or not to do them. When I defer I am dooming myself to a kind of experiential purgatory that has my head in one place and my heart in another. Saying “not now” closes the conversation, but allows for a more intensive and diverse experience of the here and now.
These are just a few ways in which I’m changing my tune about how I treat opportunities and experiences. Do you want to add to the list? How is your diet of stimuli/experience and do you need to make any changes?