Going Renegade: Daily Practices That Fuel Epic Journeys

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Did you ever notice that certain people seem to consistently excel in business and life on a level that trumps everyone around them? It almost doesn’t matter what comes their way or what profession they are in. They relentlessly defy the odds, see solutions and opportunities invisible to everyone else and operate, day in and day out, on a whole different level than the world around them.

They seem to have a near-mystical ability to survive and thrive.

When these individuals are your mentors they inspire a die-hard work ethic and devotion. When they are your colleagues, they engender deep respect. And, when they are your competitors, they cultivate frustration, awe and even envy.

Ever wonder what it would be like to be able to do what they do, stand in their shoes and consistently win like they win?

“Well,” comes the instant response, “unfortunately, I wasn’t born into genius the way they were. Some peoples’ brains just work differently.” That may be true. Some peoples’ brains do just work differently. But, as we’ve seen in my article on Effortless Success, genetics alone is rarely the answer.

There’s something else. Actually a number of other things.

Hard work and intensive study? Definitely part of the equation. Personal and professional alignment. Yup. But, still, there’s something more. Something the most-elite performers know that you don’t. A secret. Actually, 3 secrets. Okay, there are really a lot more, but we’ll stick with 3 for now, so your head doesn’t spin too violently.

These three practices have become essential parts of the daily routines of many of the top entrepreneurs, athletes, artists and C-suite execs in the world. Many have figured out, through experience, that these practices have an astonishing impact on creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, efficiency and ability to function at peak levels through long hours and high-level stress. But, only recently has science begun to validate the professional-impact of these practices.

Enough already, what are they?

This is the first post in a 3-part series that will explore three renegade practices. Ones that begin to form a foundation for epic journeys, creative breakthroughs and visionary success. Onward, then, to the first Renegade Practice.

Practice #1: Building In Space

Huh? Yes, building in space. Simple fact, the greatest innovations, the boldest solutions, the most creative options rarely ever come when you are deep into the process of innovating, solving or creating. How is that possible?

Legendary Harvard Medical School professor, bestselling author and founder of the modern relaxation-response, Herbert Benson, explains it beautifully in his book, The Breakout Principle.

Benson describes a common scenario. A business-person puts in a seemingly gargantuan effort to solve a problem, without success, only to give in to exhaustion. At her wit’s end, she decides she needs space and steps away from the quest. Once removed, lightning strikes. A brilliant solution literally “come out of nowhere.”

You only need to look inside to know this works.

Reality is, you don’t need to hang your hat on this anecdote in order to connect with the concept. Think about your own personal processes. Trace your way back through some of your most powerful visionary moments, your greatest innovations and most creative solutions. Very likely, you’ll remember working like crazy, putting in long hours, getting close, but not quite coming up with the answer.

Then, often driven by frustration, you step away, go for a walk, take a nap, hit a bucket of balls, listen to B.B. King and Stevie Ray Vaughan playing Blues at Midnight (my personal fave)…and suddenly, it hits you. A solution that allows you to move forward and very likely continue to operate on a higher-level for some time after.

Hard work is still a critical part of the equation.

That’s not to say that hard work is unnecessary. In fact, there are two steps to this process. Before stepping “away,” you need to first invest a serious effort in discovering your breakthrough solution or creation. Struggle with it, toil with it, think of every conceivable option, permutation and invocation. Put in the time, the hours, the energy. You need to do the work first. This is where you plant the seeds.

Then, once planted and gardened with all your heart. If the answers coming aren’t at the level you need them to be. It’s time for step two—step away. Completely away.

Make a deliberate effort to build space into your process.

Turn off your cell-phone, blackberry and computer. Get out of your office and away from everyone who draws you back into the process. Because that is the place where magic often happens.

There is some interesting science behind this Renegade Practice.

Benson actually goes a giant step beyond describing the phenomenon and adds a biochemical explanation. He argues that releases or “puffs” of nitric oxide (NO), one of the body’s most powerful and ubiquitous chemical messengers, during the downtime that follows intense bouts of brain-function, are behind these superhuman bouts of innovation and creation. And, his research delivers, at the very least, strong “correlative,” if not “causative” proof of his theory (for more details, check out his book).

Interestingly, many ancient contemplative practices acknowledge a similar revelatory effect.

Indeed, many schools of philosophy and religion teach the need to take regular breaks from day to day activities as a tool to awaken realizations and solutions.

In his book, The Diamond Cutter, Geshe Michael Roach advocates taking a Circle Day once a week—a day away from work, family and any distractions—as a means of facilitating clarity and enhancing creative breakthroughs.

He literally builds in a full day of space. And, credits this with helping to build a $100 million diamond business in NYC (don’t ask what a Buddhist Geshe was doing covertly building a diamond empire, that’s for another conversation).

So, where does this leave us?

With a simple three-step practice. The more we honor it, the most powerful it becomes.

  • Step 1 – Define the challenge/problem
  • Step 2 – Work like crazy to find a solution
  • Step 3 – Build in space. Make a deliberate practice of stepping away, completely away and giving your brain and biology the opportunity to deliver unwitting greatness into your lap. Or, if you’re able, set aside a true Circle Day or half-day (or hour, whatever is practical with your job/life), commit to it for 90-days, and watch what unfolds.

Test it yourself!

As always, I’d never ask you to buy into anything you cannot test with your own experience.

So, now we know the first of our three foundation Renegade Practices. But, we still have two extraordinarily powerful practices to dive into. And, it only gets more impactful in parts 2 and 3 of this series.

So, stay tuned and be sure you’re subscribed so you don’t miss parts 2 & 3…

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38 responses

38 responses to “Going Renegade: Daily Practices That Fuel Epic Journeys”

  1. Diane Ward says:

    Jonathan, I just started receiving your newsletter/blog and I LOVE IT !!! The “circle day” is right on target. It’s a way to allow ourselves to get out of our own way. I was recently told that I need to slow down and stop running in so many different directions…divine guidance often tries to assist us with the answers, but…its very hard to connect with a moving target. Thanks

  2. A long hot tub soak, a glass of wine and a pen and notepad nearby – a nap is always good of course. – Love the content and your style of writing.

  3. Jonathan Fields says:

    Hey Diane and Schelli,

    You guys got it!

    The notion that the fastest way to move ahead is to occasionally step aside is horrifying to most of us, but immensely powerful when we try it.

  4. Viv says:

    Yes – I agree with these thoughts- I would like to put it another way though- I call it stepping out of “ego” – if you stand aside from your ego and just “go with the flow” of your own creativity great things start happening. I call it consciously unconscious -I use it a lot in my painting. Also live completely in the moment – very hard to do but if you get it right it can be magic!

  5. Paul M. says:

    That is true, Viv. My ego is blocking me very often. Be humble, forget about your ego 🙂

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  9. Wilson Usman says:

    I can truly see how just taking a circle day or a nap or walk whatever it is. I think when you are alone in these moments is when our brain just throws all these crazy ideas and thought at you. I know it talks to me a lot when I have no distractions. Its just me and my thoughts.

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  11. Thanks for the Post! I am going to revisit the Diamond Cutter on Vacation and mull over the principles of EBM.

    …For the win!!!

  12. Tim Brownson says:

    I’m going to add something else to why this works mate.

    Ever had a great idea whilst exercising or singing in the shower, or maybe even meditating?

    Lots of people do and one of the main reasons is because when you tie up your critical conscious mind doing one thing it allows your much more powerful unconscious mind to do other stuff.

    The conscious mind can only deal with 7 (+ or – 2) things at once, but your unconscious can do way, way, way more than that.

    You’re unconscious is like Deep Blue whilst your conscious mind is more akin to an Atari 64, yet many of us overrule those signals (unfortunately the unconscious doesn’t communicate in the spoken language) that just don’t seem to make much sense at a conscious level.

  13. Sean says:

    There is nothing like heading out to the back country to open the mind for clear thinking and new ideas!

  14. Great post.
    I always say that my best ideas come when i’m away from my desk. usually it’s while getting a massage, a haircut, roasting veggies or walking the dog. Something happens when you stop trying ot think of the answer…that’s why i love the quote that says creativity requires long periods of dawdling and nothingness…

  15. Sally G. says:

    Excellent post Jonathan – I’m looking forward to the next two! Society as a whole will advance exponentially when more and more people learn that the stillness, the quiet, the silence are rife with potential, wisdom and creative inspiration ~ and not at all the empty, nothing, void that many still vehemently try to keep filled. Heavens, the realization of this could lead us right into Punk Eek (Punctuated Equilibrium) – but that’s a whole other blog post …

  16. Paul Hobart says:

    Hey Jonathan,
    Great post and right on the money. As I reflect on my “best ever” ideas and concepts, nearly 100% have suddenly appeared either during or just after a period of complete disconnection from the issue.

    We have so much more capability than we use, but consciously and intentionally using this process taps into an amazing resource within.

    Love your work – adapting it to my little golf world!


  17. Nikita says:

    Busy wife, mom of two teens, and CEO of a growing small biz empire who (crazy enough) decided to go back to school this year . . . so on board with this plan. I’ve learned the hard way over the years that a good “time out” is THE most effective tool in my toolkit for increasing productivity.

  18. Jim Vickers says:

    Yep, I’ve experienced what you describe many times. When it happens, the revelations come in a steady flow of consciousness. I like to be reading 2 or 3 books at the same time because it seems to trigger greater creativity as well. Thanks again!

  19. Excellent post Jonathan.

    Sometimes brute force and continuously beating on a problem or obstacle hoping to break through or chasing things endlessly round and round inside your own head, is not the solution. Creating space and time–to let what’s inside you find the answer–is hard to do … but necessary.


  20. In these times of information overload and relentless stimulation, it’s important that the space you make be truly spacious. Taking a walk while plugged into your iPod is not nearly as space-making as taking a walk in silence. We’re so accustomed to stimulation that it can be unsettling to go without it. Unsettling, but necessary if we are to get the benefits of making space.

  21. Sebastian says:

    Great post, thank you!

    If you want to dive deeper into this very interesting topic, I’ll recommend “Graham Wallace – The Art of Thought” from 1926 (Wallace combined insights from Hermann von Helmholtz and Henri Poincaré).

    He invented a 5 stage model of creativity that can be applied to problem solving in general aswell. And usually work is exactly all about solving problems (at least most of the time).

    You can get a glimpse of it at Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creativity#Graham_Wallas


  22. Ken Gregg says:

    I have had this happen many times. Though I would not say I “work like crazy” to find an answer, after studying a problem and not being happy with my solutions, I will file it away knowing that in a day or so my subconscious will give me the answer. Even when I think I have THE solution, a much simpler more elegant solution will often present itself. I always felt that my subconscious was working on the problem in my sleep.

    Looking forward to 2 and 3.

  23. Great stuff. It reminds me of a couple things: some people say the best ideas come to them when we’re taking a shower. The expression “sleep on it.” Or the reason (as I see it) for a “Sabbath” in religion and listening to “still small voices.” A reason to meditate.

    When our brains are occupied with specific tasks, how can we allow new ideas to come in? When I want to get my mind off of something unpleasant and make sure it stays away (when I need to get some work done), if I have a choice, I pick a task that requires intense focus. It might be creative (like working with graphics or something) or whatever keeps my mind completely occupied (read other people’s blogs is a good one :). Nothing else gets in. So, during times that I *want* things to flow and ideas to come, I get away from it all. I don’t allow my mind to be occupied.

    For me, the best ideas come to me at the oddest times. Like last night in the grocery store a solution to something came to me.

    Anyway, good stuff, don’t think I have commented before but I’ve been reading for a few months…

    Be well,

    Oh and I see you have a Buzz This…I’m going to try it lol (I just got one of those yesterday)

  24. Look at all the people who say their best ideas come to them when they’re in the shower, or brushing their teeth, or walking the dog.

    I love the phrase “building in space.” Sounds more accessible than “meditation,” and doesn’t have to officially be a specific meditation practice to be effective. Love it!

  25. This is exactly what running does for me…meditative and extremely productive. I sometimes need a notebook when I’m on the road lol.

  26. With our current productivity/efficiency focus people seem to forget that inspiration often comes in ‘unproductive’ times. Slack IS productive and necessary in creative work.

    80 % of results may come from 20 % of effort but for real breakthroughs and creative genius it is impossible to know which 20%.

  27. I’ve often found the shower to be a great time for some of my best ideas but I’ve without realizing it left a LOT of quiet time through out the day. Working from home affords me that but I generally do leave a lot of space to build in. (Love that concept)

    *Note~ I always keep 3×5 cards on me at all times to write down the ideas whether for products, lyrics, blog post ideas or whatever else pops up on my head. Something about putting paper to pend helps bring it into existence even further.

  28. Hi Jonathan,
    Interesting post. The Buddhist practice of “non-resistance” is part of this process. A tough, on-going but valuable practice. The hardest part for most of us – whether it’s a work project, a relationship or an idea – is to let go, once we have applied our best effort. We actually believe if we “hold on” (through our thoughts or action – and sometimes feeling (like worry for example) we can exercise control over it. Of course, considering that control is an illusion, it’s an energy waster.
    The examples you give in this post reinforce the point that the brain works best when freed up – and I think so do we in general!

  29. That explains it! For more than a year now, what I’ve been calling my “muse” has been waking up while I’m driving to work in the morning. I never knew there was a scientific theory behind it. Guess all the work I’ve been doing at my non-renegade job has been occupying my working hours, letting my renegade mind go crazy after a good night’s sleep. Thanks for the article – great food for thought.

  30. I can attest that this is true. My best thoughts and ideas come in the shower or when taking a walk outside.

    I’ll be sitting at my computer whacking my brain for an answer or a solution to a problem for hours and finally give up for the day. Next morning, I’m in the shower for 5 minutes and Poof! the answer pops in my head and it’s so clear and perfect that I wonder why I wasted so much time on it the day before.

  31. […] just been catching up with reading the blog posts in my inbox, and Jonathan Fields (the guy from Awake @ The Wheel, Career Renegade, Tribal Author… a regular inspiration for me to keep doing what I’m doing, […]

  32. Brilliant solutions always come when the mind is silent because when the mind is noisy you can’t hear what truth is trying to tell you.

  33. […] part 1 of this series, we introduced the first of three little-known practices that turbo-charge your creativity, […]

  34. Eva says:

    I look forward to checking out “your” methods but I’d like to add one more method – Shiva Nata http://shivanata.com/

    It might be a little too wacky for some but it fits those people who absolutely need to be slipping around on a muddy trail, in the dark. And rain. (But I wouldn’t know anything about that.)

  35. […] I’d say it’s a safe bet the first two strategies from our Visionary Tactics series—building-in space, exercise and attentional training—help refill the well, […]

  36. This is so true says:

    for people who are trying to clear their targets , any kind of burnout is liable to cause frustration. i did discover that i work best under hectic activity and once i start to slow down its time to move on to other things.

    but the trick is not to give up

  37. […] was re-reading Jonathan Fields’ blog this morning and his post “Going Renegade“ and I had some thoughts to […]

  38. […] was re-reading Jonathan Fields’ blog this morning and his post “Going Renegade“ and I had some thoughts to […]