Ep16 – Building the Unmistakable Creative with Srinivas Rao

Srini Rao is an author and podcaster focused on what makes us creative. He joins Dr. Hill on Head First to discuss how to build that into your life, with tips on creative output, how to find your unique voice, and other lifehacking wisdom and strategies.

“Stop trying to beat everyone else. True success is creating work that no one else can replicate. Don’t aim to be the best — Aim to be the only” — Srini Rao

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Srini Rao, an author and podcaster specializing in the intricacies of creativity, joins Dr. Hill on Head First to explore methods for integrating creativity into one’s life. They delve into techniques for enhancing creative output, discovering individual voices, and sharing life-enhancing insights and strategies.

The podcast with Srini Rao covers:

-Podcasting, storytelling, and diverse guests.
-Creativity, productivity, and success through daily writing habits.
-Branding and website design in the startup world.
-Creativity, process, and outcomes in business and art.
-Creativity, productivity, and designing daily routines.
-Finding balance in a demanding life.
-Managing distractions and mental health in the digital age.
-Internet addiction and personal productivity.
-Developing a writing habit using brain science techniques.

Speaker 1 0:00
Hey folks, welcome to another episode of headfirst with Dr. Hill. Today’s guest is Srini Rao, who’s the host and founder of the unmistakable creative podcast. He’s also an entrepreneur and author and an accidental biohacker. And so, welcome to the show. Srini. Nice to have you.

Unknown Speaker 0:23
Yeah. Thanks for having me.

Speaker 1 0:24
Um, for those of our listeners who aren’t familiar with your podcast, are you personally can you give us a little taste of who you are and what you’re doing in this space these days? Yeah.

Speaker 2 0:34
So as you mentioned, I am the host and founder of the unmistakable creative podcast where I have interviewed probably more than 700 people from every walk of life imaginable. I mean, they’ve ranged from, you know, performance psychologists like yourself to, you know, bank robbers, to drug dealers, to authors to entrepreneurs. With the the common theme, I think, being that every one of them is insanely interesting in some way, and has managed to take you know, this insanely interesting part of their life and make it a really big part of who they are and their own work. So, you know, it started about, I think, almost nine years ago, 2009, I was on the tail end of an MBA program and couldn’t find a job. So I just started tinkering around with, you know, blogs and content creation. And eventually, I started a blog as a part of that blog, I started a weekly interview series called interviews with up and coming bloggers, which was really the foundation for what would eventually go on to become unmistakable, creative. And, you know, the, you know, short version of a long story, which we can get into more detail about is that all that after about nine years has turned into this sort of multi hyphenated career as an author, a speaker and entrepreneur.

Speaker 1 1:40
Great. So, nine years, we’re just getting started with this one, I feel a lot of content.

Speaker 2 1:46
Yeah, it’s definitely a ton. I think the thing that, you know, we what’s interesting is the idea of nine years seems ridiculous to most people, because the world moves so fast. And you know, I think people have a very warped perception of what longevity should look like, like they think a year is a long time nowadays. But, you know, I think in my mind, I was not looking at okay, how do I, you know, make something that makes a splash for a year, I wanted to make something that has a lasting impact that stands the test of time, you know, because, you know, is what my friend Ryan Holiday would refer to as something that’s perennial, right, something that remains a classic, I would much rather have something that grows slowly, but stands the test of time, then something that, you know, becomes an overnight sensation, and then is forgotten about next week.

Speaker 1 2:32
So, you know, a lot of these performance podcasts of which you have one I have one are really focused on high level individuals. How did you end up with drug dealers and people that had, you know, robbed banks? How did that come into Your? Your content? Yeah.

Speaker 2 2:45
So, you know, one of the things so, you know, as I mentioned, we started out as a podcast for bloggers, and we could kind of see where the podcast world was headed. And we thought, you know, we, we wanted to do a rebrand. And we thought, you know, we want to have a much wider range of guests in terms of what’s possible, which is what kind of drove the rebrand because we were realizing we were being limited in terms of not just our potential audience, but our potential guests, too, by being branded the podcast or bloggers, the other thing we saw is that suddenly podcasting was becoming this thing, like you just said, you know, everybody sort of interviewing the same people over and over again, you know, you could see like the entrepreneur podcast, if you go through iTunes and look at them, it’s largely the same guests on every single show. And, you know, the downside to that is that makes it really hard to create anything that stands out. So, you know, we basically kind of said, you know, what, we’re really at our core, a storytelling show, you know, my friend Chris Ducker once said, he’s like, even if you don’t necessarily, you know, know what the interview about, about is about or care who the interviewer view is, you can’t help but listen, because it’s like a TV show. You know, I think we’re entertainers first educator. Second, we happen to blend both. But I think that you can’t overlook the fact that podcasting is largely an entertainment medium, and that the human brain is wired to listen to stories, we find stories much more compelling naturally. So that is a big part of why we’ve ended up with this sort of guests that we do. The other part of it is my own personal curiosity. Like I thought, you know, there’s so much more to the world than just people who start online businesses or blogs. I mean, they’re all these fascinating people out there. And some of the most interesting people on our show are the ones that you’ve probably never heard of, it’s great

Speaker 1 4:24
to pick your pick your mind or go through your old show for some guests for myself, you know, my strategy for getting out of that rut of the same the same thing every time was being less of a guest and more of a host and, you know, flipping the tables, but now I find that I often don’t, you know, talk about the things that I want to talk about as much so I need to find that balance, I think. So. Tell us what also you’re doing. You’re doing this this this podcast, you’re also an author, you have a book you’re working on or you’ve published.

Speaker 2 4:49
Yeah, so I have multiple books, actually. So I have a self published book called The Art of Being unmistakable that actually is no longer available because we just had a book come out last year with Penguin portfolio called the unmistakable white only He is better than best. And currently, I’m working on a second book with Penguin, about Creative Habits. And you know how you stay productive and creative in an increasingly distracted world and also making a case for creativity for its own sake, I think that, you know, one of the sad byproducts of the world that we live in is that every single thing that anybody does creatively is always designed, done with, you know, some outcome in mind, or some, you know, goal in mind. Like, I have to monetize the thing, I have to build an audience. And in that sense, we’ve kind of lost creativity for its own sake. But what’s interesting is, when you look at many of the really wildly successful creators, they didn’t follow some sort of formula. A lot of them, you know, really were like, I want to do this thing. And I find this thing incredibly rewarding. You look, a perfect example, I think, is something like Maria Popova is brain pickings, which started out as a link, you know, collection of links that she sent to seven friends, and now has millions of readers. I think that when we think too much about the idea of millions of readers or fame, or, you know, sort of external accolades, I think the problem with that is that what, you know, you and I have had some conversations about meditation and presence, when you’re thinking so much about the external, you’re not present. And if you’re not present, the quality of your work suffers. So that’s the ironic paradox is that, you know, in your obsessive desire to try to reach an audience of massive people and millions of people, you actually lessen the likelihood of that happening when that is all you’re concerned about. Whereas if you’re focused on the quality of the work, I think the quality of the work goes up. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that, you know, the, the audience shouldn’t be taken into consideration, especially if you’re trying to build a business. But I think that, you know, people are kind of putting the cart before the horse, you know, they want to create an audience for something that does not really deserve an audience. If your work is not up to snuff, even if you reach an audience, it doesn’t matter because they won’t stick around, you know, you could have something go viral. But it’s kind of like a giant bait and switch, you have this thing that suddenly makes you popular, but if there’s nothing to follow it up and nothing to back it up, then you know, you’ve kind of kind of missed out on any of the benefits you would have had from all that exposure. I’m

Speaker 1 7:09
thinking about creativity as a concept right now. I teach a lot at UCLA I teach courses in gerontology, I have a lecture, which is on creativity, which is on how creativity is a healthy intervention, if you will, for peak aging and performance. And there’s a lot of research showing that engaging in creative endeavors, be it art, or music or theater, or whatever else, dramatically reduces visits to the doctor pain, mobility issues, all kinds of broad reaching things. But we also go into this idea about little C versus big C creativity, where little c creativity essentially is, you know, not quite the silly but macro may macchina, macaroni things on paper that you do for your mom, that little c or or even you know, writing in a journal or things for yourself that aren’t necessarily meant for public consumption, or little C, and the big magnum opus works that are really for public consumption or capital See, that may have a large impact. And hearing some of these guests you’re describing sounds like they started off with little CDs, the seven links that are centered on your friends, these are little see things, but then they became big see? impactful? Sure, you know, artistic works. In all people you’ve worked with? Are you seeing that transition? Is it organic to people, as you mentioned earlier, focus too much on the public facing aspect of creativity, or are people is it more organic? Do they just get pulled into that because things go viral? Because they are creating. So

Speaker 2 8:34
I think the people who I’ve seen like truly outlier success, like the brain, pickings of the world, their stories are much more organic than the ones who are forced, I feel like the ones that are forced, they never quite, they don’t reach a true inflection point, because the work is so forced, you know, it’s, Hey, I’ve got to follow this 10 step formula that was given to me by some successful online marketer. And if I follow these steps, I’m gonna get the result. And of course, what that doesn’t take into consideration is the most important variable, which is them, you know, like, you can’t neglect the fact that you are a variable in this equation. And to leave that out of the equation is is, you know, irresponsible and ludicrous and makes it less likely that you’re going to create something that stands out. So I think I see a lot more people that are organic, as far as sort of just off the charts, like, you know, really, really big presents success. In my mind, every one of those has been organic. And I think part of the reason that it’s organic is because those people, they started out with this sort of burning desire to create something that they wanted to see exist in the world, and they were going to create it whether there was an audience or not. Whereas, you know, some people basically say, okay, like, I’m not going to do anything, unless there’s an audience for it. It’s one of those strange paradoxes, right? You create this thing without an audience for it, and then you’ll have an audience for it. But if you’re insistent that you’re only going to step it up, you know, when you have millions of people, then you’re never going to have millions of people because if that’s Your excuse for mailing it in and creating lousy work, then you’re going to basically have an entire body of work that doesn’t get any attention because it’s lousy. So

Speaker 1 10:09
underscores the idea that if you’re only creating, when there’s a deadline, when you have to produce something, you know, that’s not when the when the best creativity shows up, it shows up when creativity doesn’t wait for inspiration or the right time when it’s a Yeah, a work habit. That reduces all the work over time, right?

Speaker 2 10:25
Yeah, yeah. I mean, I think the you know, so I write 1000 words, every single morning when I wake up, it’s something that I’ve done for the better part of five years. And, you know, I learned that habit from a guy named Julian Smith, who had one of the most popular blogs on the internet at the time. And you know, when he told me that I was like, Okay, well, you have one of the most popular blogs on the internet, you must be doing something, right. And that is a habit that I can model and nothing changed has changed my life more. I mean, I can attribute everything that I’ve experienced in terms of success to that one habit, whether it’s the opportunity to write books, but like you said, if I only decided that you know what, I’m only going to have this daily writing habit, when I have an opportunity to write a book for a publisher, by the time that I had the opportunity to write a book for a publisher, I wouldn’t be in creative shape, like my muscles would not be built for this. You also might

Speaker 1 11:07
not have enough content or ideas fleshed out, we talked about that. Creativity has many uses. And high level output, creativity happens when you have output, right, you can’t have a higher increased amount of works out there means the likelihood of a better work, because you see your work externalize because you can improve, you know, get ideas off your plate, your mental plate and make room if you will, for the next idea to come up. So if you’re only operating on a schedule or a deadline, when you have demands or you know, academics who only write you know, for that one day, they can clear every month on their schedule. I think that’s, you know, probably getting into less of that creative muscle as you described. Yeah, absolutely. So So you told us about a couple of books, you have written one, you’ve written one, you’re writing unmistakable. Why only is better than best? What is that? What you mean, only is that meaning that the only person that has the branding, the product, the creativity, what’s what’s going on there? Yeah.

Speaker 2 12:07
So you know, the core message of you know, unmistakable was this idea, it was based on something based on, you know, personal experience. So when I started in 2009, the thing that prompted my start was I saw this girl named Jamie Rowan, who started this website called Twitter should hire me. And Twitter should hire me by all accounts was incredibly successful, you know, led to national media attention, multiple job offers, and you know, a ton of demand for her work. And of course, it led to and spawn copycats, me being one of them. And I had a website called 100 reasons you should hire me. And it was a total flop, because not only could I not come up with 100 reasons why somebody should hire me. But I really what I had done is I looked at something that somebody else did, and tried to replicate that thing, more or less. And, of course, what I started to see over the better part of, you know, 789 years of doing this was that pattern over and over and over again, you know, people would see that some, you know, famous author would have their website or their branding designed a certain way. And of course, you’d see you know, 20 people design their website that way, you know, like the probably the most hilarious example of this is John Stewart and Demetri Martin did a sketch about life coaching, where a woman goes to a life coach, and, you know, Demetri Wagner asks her at the end of her session, you know, have you seen a difference in your life since going to life coach, and she says, yeah, now I’m a life coach myself, which is, you know, of course, it’s slapstick and funny, but it’s also a very appropriate comment on what is effectively an echo chamber, right. So like, you get all these people suddenly writing about minimalism, of course, because one minimalism blog takes off, and oh, you know, what minimalism is. Now, the thing I’m gonna write about, because all these minimalists are, you know, having so many people read their work and you know, see this happen over and over again. And what ends up happening, of course, is you create work that at best becomes a pale imitation of something that already exists, and at worst gets completely ignored. And so the sort of core message behind unmistakable was that if you could do something that is so distinctive, that nobody else could have done it, but you in the way that you do it, and it’s immediately recognized as your work being meaning that is, you know, the definition of unmistakable, your competition basically becomes irrelevant, because you’re the only option you’re not the best option

Speaker 1 14:17
for unmistakeable you know, work product. But what about I mean, in the startup world, Silicon Valley, Silicon Beach down when you’re in San Diego, there’s a huge number of tech companies that have maybe, you know, less fleshed out products and there’s a big emphasis on presenting your product your pitch, doing it like other products that have done it before, you know, I want to help start to brain but four years ago, four and half years ago now, big emphasis on Well, what should our website presence look like? I don’t know what is Warby Parker look like what is Barkbox? What is me undies? What are all these other startups that are in the same sort of strata? What do they look like? And we managed true brains initial website was inspired by a few of Warby Parker’s. And that changed how we were viewed and it made us a player in that space. It was signaling if you will social signaling to VCs and entrepreneurs and angels who might want to get in bed with us. So, you know, if you’re producing amazing creative work that is unmistakable, that is clearly no one else’s, but you’re doing it on a mountaintop, you know, in the Himalayas, and you can engage with people to consume that work, because your work is too unusual or you haven’t, you know, it’s so unique that it hasn’t, that maybe, let’s say the, the corporate consumers wouldn’t necessarily be able to justify it as a value. I mean, is there a risk for being too unique and too unmistakable? To out? Yeah, of course,

Speaker 2 15:35
there is. I mean, you know, the thing is that you made a good point, right? If we’re, if you’re, you can’t completely neglect the idea of the fact that if you want this to reach an audience, the audience has to be taken into consideration. It’s a strange paradox, right? Because you don’t want to cater, like pander to the audience and cater to the lowest common denominator, because then you just keep watering down the work until it’s not something even worth paying attention to. But yeah, of course, you know, like, I think Sonia Simone put it really well. She said, You know, you might have a blog about naked mole rats, but the audience for the blog about naked mole rats is pretty damn limited. You know, not many people are going to be like, Yeah, okay, I want to find out and, you know, like, you know, spend money on on, you know, learning about naked mole rats, like, it’s just, you have to absolutely take those into consideration. Now, to your point about the website descriptions, here’s what I would say is that I think it’s important to model what works, I think the problem is that there’s a big confusion between modeling and mimicking, like I’ve seen, people literally copied the branding, the design, the logo, the coloring, all of it to the letter. And in my mind, you know, you kind of deny, you know, what makes you so special. When you do that, you know, you you basically, it’s, you know, you’re almost a derivative of that point of something else. And so what you’ve created really is a pale imitation. Now, again, you know, like I said, there are probably things that you should absolutely borrow from the design of the Warby Parker website in terms of layout, but there are elements of it that you can bring to it that are absolutely your own, that you should bring to it. And that’s where we tend to get into trouble is because people say, okay, oh, this is exactly how this person did it. So I’m gonna do this

Speaker 1 17:12
almost a failure of the of the bottom up sort of internal driving that thing, this reminds me a lot of what happens in Hollywood these days, which is, oh, that movie was successful. And the next year, there’s 10 movies that have the same type of character in the same setting in the same sci fi genre, and nine out of 10 of them fail, because there’s nothing coming from within that’s unique. It’s just trying to be the next Avatar, the next you know, guardians, the galaxy, whatever. So it’s, it’s very derivative, as you say, You’re clearly not doing that. So you have so best or only is better than best. So that’s the only what else? Are you telling people in these books? What else? What are some other important messages?

Speaker 2 17:50
Um, well, I think that you know, and unmistakable. In particular, we use surfing as a metaphor for business, because I’m an avid surfer, and I think surfing, you know, just the experience, the ocean has so many parallels to life, every every aspect of the ocean, you know, it’s, it’s this thing that’s constantly changing, its dynamic, it requires you to be present, it challenges you, there are days when you just get the hell beat out of you. And you have to come back every day, you fall a lot. You know, I mean, there’s so many profound metaphors for life inside of an activity like surfing. And so I think that, you know, the, the metaphor of surfing was really kind of what became the overlying structure of the book and the core messages in it. Because each aspect of surfing and a lot of ways parallels creativity and parallels business and parallels

Speaker 1 18:34
life. So basically grinding until you hit until everything lines up perfectly. Yeah, that’s one way to put it. To me. I grew up in the on the ocean, in the Northeast, the waters a little colder there. And I grew up, you know, hauling lobster pots and fishing and doing that end of things. But I still have enough respect of the ocean to know how variable and changeable it is. But don’t have quite a sense of surfing. I know we’re in Southern California. Now I really should start surfing, but I haven’t yet. Had that had that enter my life. What else are you working on? You said there’s another book you’re working on. Now with Penguin? What’s that title? So we

Speaker 2 19:04
don’t have a title yet for the book, but I can give you the subject matter. It’s largely about Creative Habits. And you know, how do you you know, we’re talking about creativity being a daily habit. And that’s what largely this book is about is how do you sustain and maintain creativity throughout your life on an ongoing basis? Right, because I think that, you know, part of the challenge that we have is we don’t necessarily like we have aspirations for what we want to do or what we want to create, but we don’t really have a structure or process for how to do that on a repeatable and consistent basis because you know, you’re making original work, but the the process you can borrow from lots of other people and you can model some of it, I mean, of course, you have to find elements of it that works for you. But I think that you know, you kind of have this we generally have this misperception of a creativity is this you know, weird sort of thing that people do they go sit in a room and they paint or write or whatever and then you know, magic just happens and they come out with you know, a book a year later or they music album falls from the sky. I think then what people don’t often see it is, you know, the labor that goes into all of this work. Because, you know, as, as you well know, from from having built what you have any creative project, whether it’s a company, whether it’s a book, whether it’s a work of art, all of those are, you know, require immense amounts of labor that nobody actually sees. And nobody actually knows that, I think that, you know, to emphasize, the role of the process is really critical here, because we’re pretty obsessed with outcomes. You know, it’s but particularly in the Western world and in, you know, in the United States, but, you know, most of the outcomes are usually the result of following a process. And, you know, so what we’ve done really is dissect, you know, developing a daily process for how to produce creative work on a regular basis, like to get into a sort of rhythm and flow on a consistent basis. How

Speaker 1 20:47
do you know if what you’re doing is on point is creative? I mean, when I, you know, have one of my senior employees run through a bunch of activities, he or she has a sense of what I’m looking for, and what the outcome what what success would be. But I’m doing creative work. I mean, when building a company, which can be creative, I mean, I think it has been for me, I’m making decisions. And the only justification is, well, I think this is the right call, and I trust my own vision and my own creative, you know, perspective on this. But it’s not borne out until later, until I determine was that decision I made to open an office here and promote that person constructed this marketing message, I don’t discover later, until it’s out there in the world if it was successful. And that’s not necessarily what creativity is, in my perspective, it’s really this generative and refining process, we get closer and closer to producing things that are congruent with this internal maybe even amorphous vision. When you’re doing other creative things, or, you know, building companies, how do you know if the effort you’re putting is on task?

Speaker 2 21:48
I don’t think you do necessarily, right. I think that that’s that’s kind of, you know, you kind of hit the nail on the head is, is that creativity, by its very nature is uncertain. And that’s what makes it so interesting. You know, like, if I knew exactly how everything was going to turn out every day, if it was so predictable, that would be pretty damn boring. You know, like, part of the reason that, you know, I say, say people surf is because every single time you go, it’s different. Every wave is different, every surfer day is different, every surf spot is different. And that’s what makes it so appealing. And I think that that is largely what makes creativity. So appealing as well, is that it is amorphous. Because if it was predictable, repeatable, and you know, like, yeah, you’re gonna have a process that is repeatable. But what you produce every day, I mean, that’s half the fun, right? Is the surprises that show up and the things that you didn’t expect, if you knew exactly how it was going to turn out. You know, that wouldn’t be particularly enriched.

Speaker 1 22:39
So you can’t necessarily know if the work you’re doing is good until later until you’re doing a lot of that work, hopefully. But how can you regularize the process? Maybe How can you mean, you’re doing 1000 words every morning, that sounds like a great way to do it. Academics that are told to be productive academics usually spend the first two hours every day writing 90% of them don’t and stress out and under produce and don’t do their grant applications and don’t submit papers. But the ones that have a habit versus an inspiration for writing seem to have a lot of productivity in how do you how do you scaffold productive output.

Speaker 2 23:14
So, you know, I’m going to echo something that I said in one of my medium pieces that I wrote, you know, designing your life really begins with designing your days. And you know, for many people, the design of their days isn’t necessarily deliberate, right? Like they get on, on on, you know, they wake up in the morning, they turn on a computer, they check email, check Facebook, and then next thing, you know, two hours have gone by, and you know, don’t get me wrong, I have days like this, I they’re not as common as I think for many people. But you know, the idea isn’t that you’re like, completely rigid in a row up. But I think, you know, part of it is really having control over some schedule. So I’ll tell you a little bit about my sort of daily routine that I follow for the most part, you know, I wake up in the morning, the first thing I do is I write in a gratitude journal, because I think that’s a really sort of nice, energetic shift, right? When you wake up, like I literally have it on my nightstand, then you know, I brew some coffee, I meditate for anywhere between 10 to 20 minutes, I sit down, and I read a physical book. I try not to use technology early in the morning, because I think your brain is in a very suggestive state super early in the morning. I think that you know, when you use technology, when you do things like get on Facebook, Instagram, whatever checking email, you’re getting this sort of surge of dopamine when your brain is in this highly suggestive state. And so if you’ve ever done this, you probably know like, if you check your email at 730 in the morning, you might have noticed that you spend all day checking your email. Whereas if you have a day where you don’t do that, and you don’t go till you go till about noon, without it like it’s a very different sort of day, you get these sort of deep sort of flow state levels of concentration. After that I write in a physical, physical notebook. So you notice that one of the big themes here is that I avoid technology for the hour of my day. Mainly because, you know, I don’t think we were ever evolutionarily meant to be this plugged in, you know, I mean, you’re a brain scientist. So you probably know more about this than I do, but I just know from my personal life means that, you know, like, I can tell on the days when I’ve had these kinds of days that I’m just not at the top of my game. Like, I know, this morning, for example, I went dealt with a bunch of administrative stuff when I woke up. And right then and there, I knew, I was like, Alright, I pretty much shot myself in the foot, because I did that. And I knew that, you know, like, and I also knew that I was going to be screwed, because I was on my phone late last night, which I also don’t do. So, diet is another big one, I spent a lot of time thinking about, you know, what you eat for optimal cognition, you know, like, if you’re heavily carb loaded, or like eating stuff, that’s just shit for you that that’s going to affect you. I mean, my simple rule is if you put garbage into your body, you’re gonna basically produce garbage in terms of creative output. That’s, that’s really the way I look at it. And then, you know, I think, of course, you need exercise. That’s why surfing plays a big role, like, we need a disconnect of some sort. You know, one of my friends said, water creates this beautiful sort of container for people who tend towards anxiety. And for me, you know, it just calms my nerves. It’s a complete unplug, because you can’t really think about anything else when you’re doing that. I’m an avid snowboarder, as well. So you know, in case, I look for things that produce adrenaline in flow states, because those are my sort of major disconnects. And I mean, they make me happy. That’s another thing you know, is, is that I think the reason a lot of people do these activities is not necessarily the exercise, the exercise is always a convenient fringe benefit. But you get, you know, like, almost all my inspiration for my creative work comes from my time in the water. And so it’s a critical part of, of who I am. So I think part of it more than anything, what I would say is, is, you know, how much of your day is actually scripted and deliberate. And how much of it is you just reacting to stimulus, you know, and for so many people in the modern world, a good amount of their day is, you know, literally stimulus response, stimulus response stimulus response to the point where the stimulus controls their life, not their decision. So

Speaker 1 26:43
it’s important to have intention, not momentum. Yeah, where you set your moments instead of react. And also, I forget who says this, but you’re something you’re saying reminds me of the cure for everything and saltwater, the ocean, sweat or tears? Yeah, and you’ve suddenly got the sweat and the ocean down in terms of disconnects and resets, you know, I wake up in the morning, I’m usually up by about five I’m often the couple hours of yoga between five and seven. And then starting at 7am, I am responding to I have, I have four or five different peak brain offices, which do Neurofeedback and mindfulness training, all throughout the country, we have clients all over the world, you know, in different time zones. So when I get up, it’s a never ending stream of demands on my time. So I would love to get up, have a relaxing couple of hours, make some coffee, do some writing, but it’s, it’s the most I can do to carve out 90 minutes for yoga in the morning and justify that because it keeps me sane. But the moment I’m not doing something, they are in the studio without my phone and then reach I’m back on my phone, I’m reacting to all the demands. I have, you know, technicians who are in St. Louis technicians and San Diego technicians and you know, of course, LA and Portland all over the world. And they’re clamoring Oh, so and so’s here we have this question. Here’s here’s a treatment requirement or treatment protocol. So not everyone has a completely unstructured well life, or maybe like me, they have structured their life in such a way that they are in this sort of Skinner box of stimulus response all day long. For those of us who’ve maybe slipped into that, you know, frenetic momentum driven reactive life, any advice any ways to pull back and to to? Uh,

Speaker 2 28:18
yeah, I mean, I think you kind of really hit the nail on the head is that at least one small part of your day is deliberate, you know, like, I get, you know, I’m in a unique position in that I don’t have kids, I’m not married, you know, I have a lot of flexibility over my schedule. And I don’t have, you know, crazy demands on my time. You know, mainly because I’ve set it up that way. But I think, you know, it really begins with even just taking the smallest part of your day, like you said, you know, if you didn’t make that 90 minutes for yoga, you drive yourself nuts. Yeah. And just having that one thing, I think can make such a huge difference, because it teaches you that you have control over your life. You know, like I started to realize, just a few weeks ago, I was thinking about this, and I thought, you know, the biggest benefit of developing any new habit is not not even the habit itself. But what comes from developing a new habit is the belief that you actually have control over your behavior, and you have the capability to change it. And that’s the ultimate superpower. You know, once you realize that you kind of start to say, Okay, where can I actually make changes? So, I think that, you know, it’s taking one small part of it, even if you can’t, you know, make a huge day, you know, deliberate, like you said, you have tons of demands on your time, which is appropriate, given what you do. But I think that, you know, having some boundaries and having say, okay, you know what, this 90 minutes in the morning, is what I’m going to set aside for this time, I think that, you know, it was Brian Scudamore, who’s the co founder of one 800 got junk with Cameron Herald, he wrote a piece on medium titled The way successful people spend 10 hours a week just thinking, which is definitely worth reading. And it’s a good point. I mean, you know, we don’t we don’t set aside enough time, you know, to just kind of be quiet and be mindful. Even if it’s 10 minutes a day, I think it can make a huge difference. So that’s what I would say is, you know, if you can’t stomach a huge part of your day, and you’ve got so many demands, at least take one small part of it and you know, make it very sort of have, you know, like, cultivate solitude in one small party? Yeah, no,

Speaker 1 30:02
I find a lot of the time that I’m trying to bring a lot of mental bandwidth to bear, but in the environment of lots of things clamoring for my attention that might reduce my ability to focus on any one particular thing. Now, I have a hunch, I think you said something about this new book coming out will help us get rid of distractions. Yes, that is that accurate? Please lay down some wisdom about how to handle distractions.

Speaker 2 30:27
So you know, the funny thing with distractions is so distractions are interesting in that you know, what most people don’t understand is almost everything that distracts is on a daily basis, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, all these tools are designed to be habit forming. They’ve studied how you know, the brain works in order to make sure that you’re addicted. And not only that, if you think about it, like Google makes more money, every time you conduct a search, Facebook makes more money every time you spend money on Facebook, there’s no incentive for them not to keep you there. You know, this is one of the things I was thinking to myself about online dating apps, especially swiping apps, right? Believe it or not, the odd paradox of the online dating apps is that they’re better off with you never meeting somebody because that means you will still stay a user and keep swiping. Yeah. Which is a really strange paradox, right? Because the moment you meet somebody, I remember one of my friends who got engaged, he said, the first thing he was absolutely thrilled to do was delete all these stupid apps. He was really, that was one of the things that he found to be, you know, the most relief. And so, you know, I had to preface that by saying, you know, all these things are designed to be habit forming. Of course, what’s funny is that they’re all set to the defaults, right? The default is you get notifications, the default is you get an email, every time somebody tweets you, of course, when you start to change the defaults, you start to take control of how these things are. So you know, for example, I use a tool called the Facebook newsfeed Obliterator. I don’t see anything that anybody posts on Facebook. So when I log in, if I’m there to share something, I go, I share the thing that I want to share, and I get out, I might chat with friends, you know, whatever it is, you know. And if I want to see what other people are up to on Facebook, once a week, I’ll get on my phone, enable Safari and do that. So I don’t have social media apps on my phone, because they’re just distractions, they’re unnecessary. Otherwise, you know, you find yourself mindlessly checking when you’re in line at the grocery store where you know, you’re just not present in your life. Yeah, you know, your head is buried in a screen. I think that when you’re with people that you care about, you should turn off your phones. When you’re at dinner with friends, when you’re on dates, whatever it is, like I noticed a huge difference in the quality of my interaction that when my phone is turned off, yeah. So that’s one, you know, the ultimate, you know, I would say you would the the best hack for you know, not letting your phone become a distraction is to turn the damn thing off and leave it out. That’s, that’s really ultimately what it comes down to. So that’s a big one. And then of course, we have tools, right? Like Rescue Time, like, hey, focus that allows you to block distracting websites. I mean, I think RescueTime in particular is really interesting, because it gives you a sort of awareness for where you’re spending your time, like, you know, when you didn’t do shit all day, because it’s staring you in the face, it says your productivity pulses 53%. And you’re thinking, okay, that means I did absolutely nothing today, that was a value. Yeah. You know, like that, it’s a really good sign that you’ve been wasting a lot of time. So. So that’s a big part of it. And then, of course, I think that, you know, multitasking, there’s not a single study at this point that hasn’t shown, you know, that we’re incredibly effective at multitasking. You know, like, we we really, we really are, I mean, I’ll give you an example for my own life. So when I edit episodes of unmistakable creative, if I have Facebook and Twitter open or something else, or slack, or whatever it is, and I’m editing an episode, it’ll take me 90 minutes. If I’m not doing anything else, it’ll take me 30. And that’s, that’s the difference. You know, I mean, it’s amazing. How, and yet, somehow people think that they’re effective. multitaskers and, you know, there’s been studies done on like, you know, straight A students I mean, you know, at places like Stanford that showed they’re not good. multitaskers Yeah, basically,

Speaker 1 33:49
the other human brain, you can’t do more than one thing at once with it. Well, cognitive. Yeah.

Speaker 2 33:53
And then the other thing is that I think that we have a real sort of mental health epidemic, potentially, on our hands with all these devices, and just endless stream of dopamine, right? Because you’ve got not only all these strange things happening, neuro chemically in the brain as a result of these things, but you also have this perpetual comparison of your life to everybody else’s. And of course, there’s nobody who’s life doesn’t look more amazing on Facebook than yours. I mean, I, I remember thinking, Hey, I got my book deal. And then, you know, it’s like, dude, this guy just sold a startup for $100 million, who gives a shit if I got a book deal. You know, and if you notice something about comparison, one of the things that we do when we compare, you never compare yourself to people who are worse off than you are, you only tend to compare yourself to people who are better off than you are. So I think part of it is is learning to limit our use of these tools. And also, you know, being deliberate about how we use them, not letting them you know, be the set to the defaults, you know, because ideally, of course, they want you to keep all the notifications on so that every time that you get a notification or comment on Instagram or like you log in again, right. So you know, I think it’s understanding the design of these products and then going out of your way to design your use of them so that it’s deliberate and not set to the default is ultimately When it comes down to it, that’s

Speaker 1 35:01
really I think you were quite useful as you were saying these things are designed to addict to you essentially, just to back up and do some neuroscience lecturing, so I can’t help myself. I sort of view the internet like a like the world’s best Skinner, box Skinner, BF Skinner, the father of behaviorism. Did conditioning work associative learning and Skinner, unlike Pavlov’s Skinner ticks of behavior already do and reinforces it to do more of it. Skinner’s pigeons, already know how to peck on Mars, but he got the new Peck in certain ways or Peck repetitively on a bar. So they got a reinforcer, pebble of food or something. This is different, of course than Pavlov’s dogs who took things that were not associated drooling, and a bell and associated them. So in Skinner, we’re reinforcing behaviors that are already there. And the Internet is a reinforcer and be it Facebook or Twitter or whatever, you know, dating apps, the most critical piece of that is the intermittent reinforcement schedule. When you’re swiping through a dating app, you don’t get a match every time. Nor do you not get a match every time. And so the uncertainty what’s going to happen, but when that’s the most seductively sort of learning reinforcer, and the same thing happens with a Facebook like or Instagram, you know, retweets or Twitter or whatever else. So like you say, getting sort of sophisticated and realizing that the the reinforcers that are turned on by default, and all these tools are designed to pull you back in is probably a great bit of takeaway information for folks. So so you’re clearly a highly productive guy with a very structured day, and you’re in control of all your time. But I’m guessing that a couple times a week it hits midday, and things just haven’t gone the way you want. You’re putting out fires all morning, you haven’t had enough of your caffeine. Yeah. And that would be that would be today. Okay.

Speaker 2 36:44
Today is a perfect example. That’s a perfect example. I called my health insurance company, and I’m trying to get them to reset my password. And not only that, for some reason, our interview didn’t show up on my calendar. Luckily, I checked email, right when when, you know, when at around 10am? I mean, yeah, of course, there’s nobody who has, you know, days when they’re not like totally, like, nobody is a robot, right? I think part of it is understanding your personal operating rhythm. And, you know, you got to realize you’re going to hit diminishing returns on some days, like, I already know, today a shot, I’m not going to try, you know, it’s kind of like, okay, this morning kind of went to hell pretty fast. Between, you know, my health insurance thing. And now that I have a friend coming by at noon, and the fact that we’re about to head out of town, I was like, Alright, today, it was just not meant to be I don’t I don’t, I’m not on it, you know, like, and I’m sitting in a chair that’s broken. And I’m waiting for a new chair to show up from Amazon. And I won’t be here till Thursday, like, you know that there’s stuff that throws off the whole routine. And so yeah, like, I happen to be in the business center in my apartment complex, and I saw your email, and I ran back to my apartment, and I’m sitting in my broken chair, you know, which if I lean back, I’ll fall over, suddenly

Speaker 1 37:45
vanished from the from the screen, we’ll know what happened. But so so this stuff happens, and it probably happens more than once every few months. I’m guessing for you. Yeah. How do you how do you get control of it? How do you notice and reset? What tools do you use?

Speaker 2 37:57
As far as the reset goes? I think part of the reset is that you get to reset every day, right? Like, tomorrow becomes the reset. Like I’ve pretty much written today off now. And this is what I always say about the 1000 word habit, right? I said, you know, if you write 1000 words a day, you’re probably averaging about 365,000 words a year. And so I tell people 90% of everything I write is complete crap. Sure it does. But the thing is, I don’t need for more than 10% of it to be good, because I’m doing so much. You know, like, if I want a 50,000 word book, I might have to have, you know, three to four good sentences or even you know, two good paragraphs a day if that. Yeah. Because I do it so consistently. And that’s, you know, one of the things that’s so profound about any habit that you do consistently, right, I mean, you you know, as a neuroscientist, you have myelination that occurs when you do anything consistently, inevitably, you’re gonna get better. So the fact that you’re going to do this thing consistently makes it completely okay that you have a bad day, back to this, this

Speaker 1 38:51
writing habit in the morning. And this is one of the most powerful things people can do. But I’m curious how you do it. Are you sort of free writing for, you know, whatever, 1000 words, are there writing prompts, things you have to get done things? You know,

Speaker 2 39:05
I’ll walk you through the process of how I developed a habit because I think that that in and of itself is incredibly important because I used a lot of tools from the world of brain science to actually cultivate the habit. So, you know, I have to give credit where credit is due I mean, Shawn Akers book The Happiness Advantage I attribute directly to my ability to develop this habit. So he talks about a few different things in happiness. And the first one being activation energy, right? The idea behind activation energy is that you reduce the activation energy for the things that you want to do you increase it for the things you want to avoid. So one of the things I do is I put out a pen and a notebook the night before. That way, just the fact that I don’t have to get it off of the shelf makes it much more likely that All right, another thing that I’ll do is all you know, open up my writing software the night before and so right when I open the screen, it’s the first thing I see just the fact that I don’t have to go click on it. And these are all small, seemingly inconsequential things but psychologically, you’ve reduced the activation energy and they increase the likelihood that you’ll do them. Of course, distraction we talked about, you know, I think blocking and distractions every day is critical for this, you know, period of time. And then, you know, the another concept that, you know, worked for Shawn’s book, you know, when people don’t know what to write, I often tell them as like just put down a quote from something that you’ve read. So I always read for 30 minutes before I write as well, because it kind of Prime’s the brain, it gets you sort of thinking many of my ideas for what I write about come from the things that I’ve been reading. So I’ll take just one sentence. And the nice thing is, you know, if you look at the concept of success, accelerants, the idea is that your brain makes progress towards a goal based on how close it thinks it is to that goal. So let’s say your goal is 1000 words, but you’ve already got 100 word quote there, well, now you only have 900 to go. So suddenly, it doesn’t seem like that. It’s a total, you know, you’re basically tricking your brain. I mean, it’s a perception. It’s a glitch that is, you know, built into the human brain. But you can use to your advantage, which there are many of these glitches that I keep finding, right? I mean, you as a neuroscientist probably are aware of many more of them than I am. But that was the those are the big ones. And so as far as the content, yeah, it largely is free writing. But what happens is, when you’re doing free writing for 1000 words, you will get to a point where suddenly you find yourself in a flow state. And when you’re in that flow, state, ideas just start to come and you’ll go from 1000 to 3000. Words, I mean, there when I can hit a flow state, I’ll go from 1000 to 3000 words in the next 2000 words will take me 30 minutes to write and the first 2000 may take, you know, an hour right,

Speaker 1 41:24
yeah. So so you’re not sort of limiting. Okay, I can my 1000 words, and I’m done. It’s more like seeing what you can accomplish in the first hour or two in the morning. Well, he’s all wonderful tools. You’ve you’ve dropped a little hints, I will put these in the show notes and give people some links to follow up. But where else can they track you down and find more of the things you’re working on? Of course, the

Unknown Speaker 41:41
unmistakable creative podcast is a wonderful show. I may be biased because I think I was on it. But it’s a great show.

Speaker 1 41:47
So folks should definitely check that out. But where else can they find the things you’re doing? Where can they pick up books you’re working so unmistakable,

Speaker 2 41:53
creative is the main place but I also have a substantial presence on medium. I think my school I think my username for some reason is still my old Twitter handle. It’s medium.com/at School of Life, S K O L of life. And if you do a search for unmistakable, CEO, medium, you’ll find me there.

Speaker 1 42:12
So our guest today was Srini Rao. Thanks so much for calling in and giving us a little bit of a hint into all the different ways you hack your productivity and how you view creativity has been really informative for our viewers, and we hope to have you back at some point. So folks, this has been another episode of headfirst. Dr. Hill take care of those brains.


Srinivas Rao

Srinivas Rao is the host and founder of The Unmistakable Creative podcast where he has conducted over 600 interviews with thought leaders and people from all walks of life, which has given him an incredibly distinctive view into branding, storytelling, and marketing. Extracting unmistakable stories out of people is his superpower.

He’s also written multiple books including the Wall Street Journal bestseller The Art of Being Unmistakable and his latest book, Unmistakable: Why Only Is Better Than Best. He also holds an MBA from Pepperdine University and enjoys chasing waves in his spare time.

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