The science of creativity is a big deal nowadays. We’re obsessed with the traits of genius, the ingredients that make up the gifted, innovator-type of mind. Persistence is the magic key, according to some. Others say it’s grit (which is really just persistence in a slightly different, more emotional, form). Or it’s intuition. It’s associative thinking. Habitual optimism. Productive habits already in place. Training yourself to get up at 4am every morning.
It’s all of these things and none of them. It’s something we can’t quite put our hands on.
Which is why we’re so obsessed with it, probably. Because there is nothing we humans love so much as to get our hands on things.
I just finished reading the big Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson last week, which is a fantastic book. If you’re at all interested in creativity, technology, history or ethics I can’t recommend it highly enough. As I read my way through Steve Jobs’ life I had similar questions about genius going through my mind, and I suspect that most other readers also picked up the book to get those same questions answered. Because, let’s face it, what everyone really wants to know is:
Why was Steve Jobs so much more successful than most other people? What was his secret?
My answer gleaned from the book is that it was his reality distortion field.
In Isaacson’s biography, it’s revealed how Jobs pushed his product teams harder than anyone else, especially when they were building the Macintosh computer, the iPod, and the iPhone. People who worked for him dubbed the experience of dealing with his impossible expectations, “the reality distortion field,” after a term used in an old Star Trek episode. Jobs’ reality distortion field grew to be so well known that it now has its own Wiki page here.
People who experienced it explained that it was due to personal charisma, high intelligence, insight, or domination tactics used by Jobs to get what he wanted. But the truth is that it was really just a plain old belief system Jobs had in place. What made it so successful was that Jobs ensured his belief system was stronger than any other outside force.
So Jobs wasn’t a magic man, imbued with wizard-like skills and possible immortality.
He was just a dude. Just a person, like any of us. The big difference was that he continuously examined the thoughts and beliefs that populated his mind and he made them work FOR him instead of against him.
This sounds simple but it’s a strategy that is light years beyond positive thinking and productive habits. This is not about hoping for the best and concentrating on an outcome that you would like to see happen. To use Jobs’ strategy, you commit instead to making sure that what you want does happen. That might mean you learn three new skills you’re super uncomfortable with in a short amount of time. It might mean you break through your comfort zones in a big way, instead of gently moving outside of them when you feel ready. It might mean you say “yes” to something you know is right and good for you when you’re scared to death and your ego is yelling no no no!
By challenging yourself like this, even if you feel uncomfortable, you start building the foundation of your own reality distortion field. And if you’re serious about being a writer, a creator, an innovator, or a change-maker, you must have a reality distortion field in place. You know those people who don’t understand what you’re doing with your life? And the people who have told you, “that’s not a good idea,” or, “you can’t do that”? Yeah, they don’t go away. In fact, the more successful you become, the more they will pop up and try to derail you. It’s like a videogame. The better you get at the challenges, the bigger the challenges get.
Steve Jobs dealt with the doubters, the naysayers, and what he called the “B-players” by using his reality distortion field to render them powerless to influence or affect his dreams in any way possible. He only saw what he determined he would see. We all do this to a certain degree, because we’re all human. Every one of us lives inside the cage of a belief system. It’s just that most of us never examine our own cell. The bars were built by other people and we never test their strength, we never push on them to see if they’ll give even the tiniest little bit.
Most of us unquestioningly accept the belief system we live in as unalterable truth. We never figure out that we can make it our own. We can change it, at a moment’s notice and whenever we want, in order to form it into a tool that will take us where we want to go.
As Jobs discovered, if your belief system is weak, mostly unexamined, or saturated with low self-esteem, it’s easy for someone else to come in and tell you that your dreams aren’t worth shit. However, if you’ve been mentally and spiritually training yourself to withstand doubt, uncertainty, and being uncomfortable then your belief system morphs into a fully-functional reality distortion field. And you go from hesitant B-player to creatively confident A-player.
No one else is responsible for your belief system but you. It doesn’t matter if you’ve traced your issues back to your dysfunctional parents, your difficult childhood, or your current unavoidable limitations. Everyone has limitations. Everyone has stuff in their past that was horrible and hard and broke them in some way. Building your reality distortion field and using it to cut your own path is a new task that is entirely in the present.
Now is your time. Right now. Stop waiting.
Because the only person you’re waiting on is yourself.