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 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.

Topic covered:

– Founder of Unmistakable Creative podcast
– Bringing back creativity for its own sake
– Little c vs. big C creativity
– Viral fame vs. organic success
– Creative output: quantity and timing
– Echo chambers or copycats of others’ blueprints of success: good or bad?
– Modeling vs. mimicking what works
– Keeping your uniqueness
– Surfing as a metaphor for business and life
– How do we sustain creativity throughout our whole lives?
– The uncertainty of creativity
– Not using technology in the morning
– The value of meditation, nutrition, exercise, and things that make you happy
– Reactive life vs. control of your behavior
– Getting rid of distractions
– Habit forming platforms and the benefits of changing the defaults
– The problem with social media: comparison and misrepresentation of reality
– The draw of intermittent reinforcers via social media
– The thousand word habit
– Minimizing the activation energy for habits

folks welcome to another episode of head first with dr. hill today’s guest is shri near al who’s the host and founder
of the unmistakable creative podcast he’s also an entrepreneur and author and an accidental bio hacker and so welcome
to the show Serena nice to have you yeah thanks for having me for those of our listeners who aren’t familiar with your podcast or you
personally can you give us a little taste of who you are and and what you’re doing in this space these days yeah 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 performance
psychologists like yourself to you no bank robbers to drug dealers to authors 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 um 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 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-hyphenate career as an author a speaker and an entrepreneur great so nine years we’re
just getting started with this one I feel a lot of content yeah it’s definitely a ton I think the the thing
that you know we what’s interesting is the idea of nine years seems ridiculous to most people because the world moved
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 lat impact that stands the test of time you
know because I you know as 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 than something that you know becomes an
overnight sensation and then it’s forgotten about next week 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 rob banks how did that come into your your content yeah 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 without 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 podcaster 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 it about is about or care for the interview view is you can’t help but listen because
it’s like a TV show you know I think we’re entertainers first educators second we happen to blend both but I I
think that you can’t overlook the fact that podcasting is largely an entertaining 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 the 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 there are 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 create my pick your pick your mind or good girl’s show for some guests for my stuff 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 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 um 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 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 unmistakable why only is better than best and currently I’m working on a
second book with penguin about creative habits and and you know how you stay productive and creative and an
increasingly distracted world and also making you know a case for creativity for its own sake I think that you know
one of the the sad byproducts of the world that we live in is that every
single thing that anybody does creatively is always design done with you know some outcome in mind or some
you know goal in mind like I have to monetize this 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 Popov’s 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 one 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 that’s the ironic paradox is
that you know in your obsessive desire to try to reach an audience of masses of
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 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
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 doesn’t 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
kind of kind of missed out on any of the benefits you would have had from all that exposure I I’m 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
PG edging and performance there’s a lot of research showing that engaging in creative endeavors be it art or music or
fear 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 vs big c
creativity yeah we’re little see creativity essentially is you know not quite too silly but macrame macking to
Macaroni things on paper that you do for your mom let little see 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 C they may have a large impact and during some of these guests you’re
describing something they started off with little C these seven links that were sent on to friends these are little C things but yeah then they became big C
impactful sure you know artistic works in all people you’ve worked with are you
seeing that transition you know is it organic to people as you mentioned earlier focus too much on the you know
public facing aspect of creativity or our people is it more organic do they just get pulled into that because things
go viral because they are creating so I think the the people who I’ve seen like
truly outliers success like the the brain paintings 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 a all this 10 step formula that was given
to me by some successful online marketer yeah and if I follow these steps I’m going to 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 responsible and ludicrous and 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 it as far as sort of just off the charts like you know really really
big present 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 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 diseases will work
overtime right yeah yeah I mean I think the you know so I read a thousand 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’re 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
change 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
going to have this daily writing habit when I have an opportunity write a book for a publisher by the time that I had the opportunity 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 not have enough content or ideas fleshed out we talked about the
creativity has many uses and high level output creativity happens when you have
output right you can’t have you know a higher increased amount of works out there means a 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 and their schedule I think that’s a you know probably getting into less of
that creative muscle as you described yeah I’m slowly so so you told us about a couple books you have written one
you’ve written one you’re writing unmistakable why only is better than best that what is that what I 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 so you know the core message of you know unmistakable was this idea it was based on something based on you know
personal experience when I started in 2009 the thing that prompted my start was I saw this girl named Jamie Barone
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 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 a hundred reasons why somebody should hire me but
I really what I had done is I look 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 seven eight nine years of doing this was that
pattern over and over 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 the the probably the most hilarious example of this is Jon Stewart and Demetri Martin did a sketch about life
coaching where a woman goes to a life coach and you know Demetri Martin asks her at the end of her session you know
have you seeing a difference in your life 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 going to write about because all these minimalists are you know having so many people read their
work and you 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 for unmistakable you know work product but what about I mean in the startup world Silicon Valley
silicon beach Denver 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 trubrain about four years ago four and a 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 runners
startups are the same sort of strata what do they look like and we been asked in a true brains initial website was
inspired by a few old Warby Parker’s and that changed how we reviewed and it made
us a player in that space it was signaling if you will social signaling to VCS and entrepreneurs and 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’t engage with people to consume that work because your
works too unusual or you haven’t you know it’s so unique that it hasn’t that
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 to I’m take about two hours yeah of course there is I mean you know the thing is that you know 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 distribution 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 you know not something even more thing 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 you’d like you know spend money 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 that the website descriptions um here’s what 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 copy the 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
basically um it’s you know you’re almost a derivative at that point in something
else and so what you’ve created really is a pale imitation now again you know like I said they’re 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 going to do this almost our failure of the top of the bottom-up
sort of internal driving out 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 ten movies that have the same type of character in the same setting
and the same sci-fi genre and nine out of ten 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 of galaxies 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 you telling people in these books what else what are
unimportant messages um well I think that you know an unmistakeable in particular we use surfing as a metaphor
for business because I’m an avid surfer and I think surfing either just the experience the ocean has so many
parallels to life every every aspect of the ocean you know it’s just 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 follow 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 look at the core messages in it because each aspect of surfing in a lot of ways
parallels creativity and parallels business and parallels life so basically grinding until you hit until everything lines up perfectly yeah that’s one way
to put it so I’m a I grew up in the on the ocean in the Northeast waters a little colder there and I grew up you know hauling
lobster pots and fishing and doing that engines but I still have another spective 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 has that
had that enter my life what else you working on you you said this another book you’re you’re working on now at
penguin what’s that title so we 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 about 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 a music album falls from the sky I think that what people don’t
often see is you know the labor that goes in to all this work because you know 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 and 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 in particularly the Western world and you know in the United States but
you know most of the outcomes are usually the result of following a process and 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 but how 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 you know activities
he or she has a sense of what I’m looking for and what the outcome what success would be but I’m doing creative
work I mean when I’m 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 I thought it’s not borne out until later until I
determined was that decision I made to open an office here promote that person construct this you know 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 to producing
things that are congruent with this internal maybe even a more fist vision when you’re doing other creative things
or or being or building companies how do you know if the effort you’re putting is on tasks I don’t think you do
necessarily right I think that that’s that’s gonna 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 surf 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 going to 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 all going to turn out you know that that wouldn’t be
particularly interesting so you can’t necessarily know if the work you’re doing is 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 a thousand other words every morning that’s 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 ninety percent of them don’t and stress out in under produce and you know don’t do their
grant applications and don’t submit papers but the ones that have a habit versus an inspiration for running seem
to have a lot of productivity in and how do you how do you scaffold an octave and
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 day 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 of gumball I and you know don’t 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 robot 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 can hope
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 check email you’re getting the 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 7:30 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 you know deep sort of flow state levels of concentration after that I write in a physical physical notebooks
you notice that the one of the big themes here is that I avoid technology for the hour of my day mainly because I
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 experience that you know like I 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 in there I knew I was like all right 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 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 it’s just for
you that that’s going to affect you know I mean my simple rule is if you put garbage into your body you’re going to basically produce garbage in terms of
creative output that’s that’s really the pay 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 and say I look for
things that produce adrenaline and 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 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 decisions it’s important to have intention not momentum yeah where you set your moments instead of react and
also it says this but you’re something you’re setting reminds me of the cure for everything in salt water the ocean sweat or tears yeah and you still got
the sweat on the ocean down in terms of disconnects and resets you know you know I wake up in the morning I’m usually up
by about 5:00 I’m often a couple hours of yoga between you know five and seven and then starting at 7 a.m. I am
responding to I have four or five different peak brain offices of student feedback 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 in San Diego technicians in you know of course LA and Portland all over the world and
they’re clamoring oh so-and-so is here we have this question here’s here’s a treatment requirement or treatment
protocol so not everyone has a completely structural 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 into 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 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 being
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 the biggest benefit of
developing any new but is not not even that 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 deliver it 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 have you 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 a
brian scott moore who’s with the co-founder of 1-800 GOT JUNK with cameron harold he wrote a piece on
medium titled what successful people spend ten 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 to just kind of be quiet and be
mindful even if it’s ten 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 you know like cultivate solitude in one small part here yeah now 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 if
that is that accurate please lay down some wisdom about how to handle distractions so yeah 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 us on a daily
basis Facebook Twitter Instagram all these tools are designed to be habit-forming mmm they’ve studied how
you know the brain works in order to make sure that you’re addicted yeah 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’ll 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 she said the first thing he was absolutely thrilled to do was delete all
these stupid apps he was really hot that was one of the things they found to be you know the most relief and so you know
I had a preface 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 when my phone is turned off
yeah sorry so that’s one you know the ultimate you know say you would be the best hack for you know not letting your
phone become a distraction is to turn the damn thing off and leave it out of it oh 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 rescue time 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 all day because it’s staring you in the face how does your productivity pulse is 53%
you’re thinking okay that means I did absolutely nothing today that that was a value yeah um you know like that 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 were incredibly
effective at multitasking you know like we we really really are I mean I’ll give
you an example for my own life so when I edit episodes of unmistakeable creative if I have Facebook and Twitter open or
something else or slack or whatever it is and I’m editing an episode it will take me 90 minutes if I’m not doing
anything else it’ll take me 30 and that’s that that’s the difference you know I mean it’s it’s amazing how and
yet somehow people think that they’re effective multitaskers and yeah there’s been studies done on like you know
straight-a students I mean you know at places like Stanford that should they’re not good multitaskers basically the
human brain you you can’t do more than one thing at once with it we’re cognate yeah 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 and the just
endless stream of dopamine right because you’ve got not only all these strange things happening neurochemically 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 whose 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 start-up for a hundred million dollars who gives a if I got a book deal ah 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 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 default 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 a 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 exactly when it comes down to that’s really I think you’re quite useful as you were saying these things are
designed to a dick to you essentially just to back up and do some neuroscience like strings I can’t help myself
I sort of view the Internet like a like the world’s best Skinner box Skinner BF Skinner or the father of behaviorism did
conditioning work associative learning and Skinner unlike Pavlov Skinner ticks at behavior already do and reinforces it
to do more Skinner’s pigeons already know how to peck on bars but he got them to peck in certain ways or peck
repetitively on a bar so they got a reinforcer a bubble of food or something this is different of course than
Pavlov’s dogs who took things that were not associated drooling and and Annabelle and associate and so in
Skinner we’re reinforcing behaviors that are already there and the internet it is a reinforcer in via Facebook or Twitter
or whatever or you know dating apps the most critical piece of that is the intermittent reinforcement schedule when
you’re swiping for a dating app you don’t get a match every time nor do you
not get a match every time and so the uncertainty oh it’s going to happen but when that’s the most seductively sort of
learning reinforcer the same thing happens with a facebook like or Instagram you know retweets or and
Twitter or whatever else so like you say getting sort of sophisticated and
realizing that 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 an hits midday and things just haven’t gone
the way you want you’re putting out fires all morning you haven’t had enough caffeine that would be that would be
today okay today is a perfect example that so you know 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 it you know when I around 10:00 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 am 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 was just not meant to be I don’t I
don’t not on it you know like I’m sitting in a chair that’s broken and I’m waiting for a new chair to show up from Amazon and it won’t be here till
Thursday like you know that there’s stuff that throws off the whole thing 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 alright there suddenly vanished from the from the screen we’ll know what happened but yeah 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 yes as far as a 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 thousand word habit right I said you know if you write a thousand words a day you’re probably averaging about three hundred and sixty-five thousand 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 you mean you you know
as a neuroscientist you have myelination that occurs when you do anything consistently inevitably you’re going to
get better so the fact that you’re going to do this thing consistently makes it completely okay that you have a bad day
practice for this writing habit the morning 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 a thousand words are are there writing prompts things you
have to get done things you enjoy so I’ll walk you through the process of how I developed the 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 Achor book the happiness advantage i attribute directly
to my ability to develop this habit so he talks about a few different things in happiness senators 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 I’ll 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 distractions every day is critical for this you know
period of time and then you know another concept that you know worked for Sean’s
book you know when people don’t know what to write and 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 and 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
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 a
thousand words but you’ve already got a hundred work quote there well now you only have 900 to go so suddenly it doesn’t seem like that route right 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 rate I mean you as a
neuroscientist probably are aware of many more of them than I am but that was 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 a thousand 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 a thousand to three thousand words I mean there when I can hit a flow state I’ll
go from a thousand to three thousand words in the next 2,000 words will take me 30 minutes to write and the first two
thousand may take you know an hour right yeah so you’re not sort of limiting okay
I get my thousand words and I’m done it’s more like seeing what you can accomplish in the first hour 2:00 in the morning well these are all wonderful
tools you’ve dropped a little hints of we’ll 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 we’re working on course the unmistakable creative podcast is a wonderful show I may be biased cuz
I think I was on it but it’s a great show so folks should definitely check that out but where else can they find
the things you’re doing where can they pick on folks you’re working on sustainable creative is the main place but I also have a substantial presence
on medium I think my school I think my user name for some reason is still my old Twitter handle it’s medium calm
slash at school of life s Kol of life and if you do a search for unmistakeable
CEO medium you’ll find me there okay so our guest today was srini rao
thanks so much for calling in and giving 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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