How to Have the Most Successful Culture

We all know the power that culture has in a workplace. Strong, healthy cultures create more than just happy employees. They foster a more successful and adaptable company that…

Wait a minute.

How do we know that?

I mean, it sounds true. It feels true. We’ve all worked in places with a toxic culture that have circled the drain. But how do we know that isn’t selection bias? Do we know that a good culture makes a successful organisation? Is there data to back up this claim? Continue reading

Dark Creative Arts

Ever get stuck in a rut? Ever feel like your creativity has stalled? You’ve made excellent progress but now, everything has run dry. A small, insignificant problem has derailed your efforts and you can’t think around it. You try, but you keep thinking the same thoughts. You can’t see the problem with fresh eyes. And it’s killing you.

Have you ever felt like that? I think every creative person has, at one point or another. There are ways around it. I can share with you how to think with a fresh perspective. But you don’t have to keep reading. Be warned: some of these tricks are dangerous. Because they are powerful and risky, you don’t have to continue. They push your mind into new places but this comes at a price. Use them at your own risk.

But before we get into it, have you ever noticed how many creative people are alcoholics?

Continue reading

Review: Presence, by Amy Cuddy

The mind-body connection is something that has always interested me. I find it fascinating that solely addressing psychological issues can, in some cases, treat physical conditions like chronic pain or digestion issues. That is only one example of how appreciating the mind-body connection – something that can seem almost mystical – can improve your life.

What’s interesting about this is that the connection runs both ways. What you do with your body also shapes your mind. It’s a simple truth that contains immense power.

Presence elaborates on this. It’s an engaging read, densely packed with the how and the why behind using your body to change your mental state.

Simply put: if you hold your body as if you are confident, you will feel confident. If you physically act as though you are scared, you will become scared. We know that the mind leads the body; the body also leads the mind.

The logic behind this is intuitive. I’m sure you can think of a time where forcing yourself to smile has made you happier, or when hunching your shoulders and trying to disappear has rendered you a nervous wreck. As Cuddy explains, these effects are more dramatic than you might realise – a few minutes with poor posture measurably changes your hormone levels (for the worse, of course).

This isn’t a philosophical discussion of the spiritual joys of yoga. Presence is quantifiable, repeatable science.


Should you read it?

The book is Cuddy’s famous TED Talk (which currently has almost ten million views), only in more depth. So you might be wondering: should I buy the book, or is watching the TED Talk good enough?

You should buy the book if:

  • you loved the talk and want to learn more,
  • you watched the TED Talk a while ago but haven’t been applying its lessons,
  • the science of body language fascinates you,
  • you are intrigued by the concept but not completely convinced,
  • you have unanswered questions, like how power poses work if you have a physical impairment,
  • you have ever suffered from imposter syndrome

On the other hand, if you enjoyed Cuddy’s TED Talk and use power poses often, you might find the book is simply more of the same.


What does Presence mean for creativity? Can you apply these lessons to your artistic endeavours?

Oh, yeah. Big time.

Creative thinking works best under finely tuned and often contradictory mental states. What those states are probably varies between people but some would be widely applicable. For example, you need to be energetic (to think up new ideas and power through the obstacles) without being hyperactive (to focus on the task).

You also need to be confident without being arrogant.

Everyone has something to offer the world. Everyone has things that they need to improve. It’s easy to forget these truisms. It’s even easier to grow discouraged. Setbacks are common and sometimes a bad review can get under our skins, despite our best efforts. Presence allows us to moderate these emotions, to hack our brains for fun and profit.

The lessons of Presence focus on getting you through the normal, everyday challenges – job interviews, public speaking, dealing with confrontation. The techniques work because the confidence boost allows you to be truer to yourself; when you are comfortable with what you are doing and who you are, you focus less on what other people think. You dedicate yourself more to the task at hand.

Is this relevant for creativity? You tell me.

Confidence isn’t a dirty word, nor is it something that ‘other people’ have. Literally embodying confidence might not make you feel more creative directly but it will help you persevere in the face of difficulties.

How to Open Your Mind in 5 Minutes

Take a moment to notice the sensations you normally ignore. Are there thoughts in your mind, floating below conscious level? Are there feelings in your fingers and toes that you can barely notice?

Many people have these elusive sensations. If you don’t feel them or aren’t sure, take a deep breath. They will come to you soon.

Why am I talking about these shadowy feelings?

Because you can use them to open your mind.

Continue reading

What Works For Me

I talked about energy and a simple exercise to help you understand it. It might be helpful to run through the exercise again so it is fresh in your mind. It will only take you a moment.

There’s a cheeky little trick with this exercise – some people find that when they survey their energy landscapes, they realise they have more energy than they feel. It seems odd, but I’ve felt it a few times – beneath a layer of fatigue is a glowing ball of energy, just waiting for you to grasp it. So when you do this exercise even once, you come out of it feeling refreshed.

After you do it a few times, though, you feel something on a whole new level.

This exercise is more than just a way to relax. It deepens the connection with your body. Patterns and rhythms stand out – most of which you already know, some of which surprises you. It brings you in touch with something at your core and helps it grow.

I can’t tell you what patterns you might find between your activities and your energy levels. Fortunately, you are already an expert in yourself – I’m just here to shine a light on some of the forgotten corners. What I can tell you is some of the stuff that worked for me.


Relaxing into a warm, cosy bed is fun and soothing. And yet, I have to be disciplined to do it. There are only so many hours in the day and sometimes I get on a roll with something (frustratingly, I tend to do my best writing late at night). The temptation to put off sleep can anchor me to the real world as I squeeze a bit of extra time from the day.

This is fine, on occasion. It starts to lower my energy when it becomes a habit. How much sleep you need varies from person to person but the key is making sure you get enough. All the research in the world, plus your own observations, show that after a few weeks of even mild sleep deprivation, two things happen. This first is that your mental abilities drop. The second is that you delude yourself into thinking they haven’t.


Some light exercise most days of the week – that’s all it takes to keep my energy levels high. Exercise boosts your mood, abilities and energy levels. Even if it didn’t, it adds some variety to your day – that alone helps keep things mentally fresh.

Not all exercise is equal, though it all helps. I find that bringing balance gives the best boost. I’m naturally a skinny, manic sort of guy – this means that lifting weights balances me more than cardio does and, sure enough, I find it makes my energy levels skyrocket. If you are more grounded with a solid frame, consider cardio. But like I say, anything is better than nothing.

Projects, Hobbies and Activities

It’s amazing how much you can get done when you add a little variety. I have quite a few things that keep me going – this blog being one – and if I stopped doing one, it would make it harder to do the others.

That’s not to say you take on so much that you burn out or neglect some of them. It’s about slowly and naturally adding things to your life. Dabble broadly and dive deeply. It’s surprisingly energising spending an hour working on one thing then switching to an hour on another… I find it more relaxing than watching TV for that time.

There’s an element of society that will guilt you for wasting even a single evening. These people will tell you that every day needs to be jampacked full of excitement and awesomeness. I don’t mean to add weight to the message but there’s truth to their crazy – but only if what you are doing energises and enriches you, instead of it being an obligation.


We’re talking about energy, so we have to mention the fuel. Eating the right foods for you is one of the most dramatic ways to improve your energy. Imagine being free of food comas and sugar crashes. Imagine having enough energy to clean the house and go to the gym even after a long day at work. Imagine being able to turn down – without effort or difficulty – bad foods that you normally can’t resist. It all happens when you eat right.

For me, the best improvement was when I cut out sugar. I didn’t think I could do it since I craved sugar all the time – the thing is, once it cleared my system those cravings went away. Everything improved, from my weight to my mood to my quality of sleep. My energy levels are not only higher but much more stable, too.

Maybe it won’t work for you like it did for me. The thing is, if you don’t experiment with your diet then nothing will change. Every year the quality of the food I put in my body improves and every year my energy levels climb straight up.


My old job started off okay. But a few years in, I started to stagnate. I was bored, unchallenged and unfulfilled. I spent months working on projects that no one seemed to care about. There were few opportunities for promotion, learning, anything.

When I switched jobs, I realised how much energy I was using up just making it through the day. Even though I was working less hard than I am now, it was far more exhausting. My new job is challenging, engaging and packed with variety. Every day, I can see the difference I am making. I am learning new skills and even adding a few qualifications to my name. Doesn’t hurt that the office is a fun place to work, either. The difference this makes is that I have so much energy left over from work.


My energy levels have been higher than ever these past few months. Ever since I started writing about energy and creativity, my attention has been on how I feel and what works for me. Writing about it makes me think about it, so I think about it all the time. There’s no wonder that my energy levels have reached unparalleled heights.

This list isn’t complete. Something as simple as a few days without sun can throw off my energy levels. The thing is, most of the above will work for most people. Imagine living your life but with more energy – isn’t that worth a bit of practice?

Creative Forces: Energy

Pay attention to your energy levels right now. What words would you use to describe it? Rating how high it is is a great start but you can go deeper. Are you sleepy? Do you feel hydrated? Are your emotions calm or running on high? Are you physically tired? Mentally drained? Do you feel fulfilled and challenged?

‘Energy’ is a catch-all term to cover many states. Like all emotions and mindsets, many factors contribute to it and you know it when you feel it. If you are sleeping well, eating well and hitting the gym a little, you’ll probably have high energy… unless you are trapped in a job you hate. A lot of things can leave you feeling flat. Conversely, a lot of things can pep you up.

Think about how creative you are when you are in a high-energy state. In fact, try to imagine you being uncreative while pumping with energy. It’s hard. Feel-good moods tend to cluster – for example, if you have a runner’s high, you’ll feel love more deeply. It’s a fact of both neuroscience and common experience great feelings trigger each other. This is why energy is the beating heart of creativity.

Back to you and how you’re feeling. Take a deep breath and draw your focus inward. As you breathe in, feel your focus go deeper. Find that feeling of energy or fatigue deep within you. As you draw closer to it, notice how familiar it all is. Go past your first impression and really feel your current state.

Now, thinking back to the start of the article, notice four things about your energy state right now. Imagine all the factors that build your energy levels and mentally tick them off. Are you hungry or thirsty? Are you worn out? Are you sleepy? Are you fulfilled in life? There are no right or wrong answers, only honest and dishonest ones.

Take note of how energetic you feel. Really take note, beyond just a simple label of high or low. Feel it and remember the feeling. Store the full sensation in your mind as clearly as you can.

Now, think back to how you felt right before your last meal. If it was earlier today that’s good and if it was yesterday then that’s great too. Recall as well as you can how you felt. You probably felt a little hungry, but was this a gentle sensation or was it affecting your energy levels? Were you socially engaged? Mentally stimulated? Basking in the joy of exercise or a relaxing daydream? Think about how all of these created your energetic state. Relive the sensation as best you can.

You can probably guess what comes next. That’s right, I want you to go deeper back in time. Allow yourself to think positive thoughts. As you do, let your mind find a point in the last week that stands out. It doesn’t matter what you were doing, just let your mind do its thing. How was your energy state then? Something about this time imprinted itself on your memory – what was it? How did it make you feel? Did your body tingle with anticipation? Maybe it was more like a warm glow or a gentle softness. How were your energy levels during this time?

In your hands, you hold three energy landscapes from the past week. You’ll notice that there are similarities and differences between them. This is, of course, completely natural. Perhaps take a moment to explore these differences and similarities. How was the intensity of the energy? Where in your body did you feel it? These are questions only you can answer.

As you explore your own energy landscape, I want you to turn your mind to the future. What you are doing is a simple, pleasant exercise, one that you can do throughout the day. Just before each meal or snack, let your mind run through this game. Feel out the deepest roots of your energy. Do this regularly and allow yourself to understand the results. You are more than capable of the few moments of focus needed. Allow your mind to create a deep connection with your own sense of energy.

Do this throughout the day. Observe the rise and fall of your energy levels. Everyone is unique, following their own special rhythms. The outside world and your inside world harmonise to generate this energy landscape. Each is a fingerprint you leave on the world.

As your energy levels rise, it feels amazing. Always allow yourself to notice and enjoy the feeling. If your energy levels drop, that’s okay. Be aware of the feeling. Each bit of information lifts the connection to higher places. The more you notice the rises and falls, the higher your energy levels lift.

Feel free to go about your day soon. But before you go, I want you to appreciate the role that focus has in this. Practicing focus allows you to hold your attention longer and more powerfully, but that’s not the important part. The important part is that by focusing on your energy levels, you are telling your brain that this is important. Which, of course, it is. It trains your mind to notice your energy levels, to draw connections about how what happens in your day changes your energy landscape.

All you need to do is focus on your energy a few times a day. That’s it. Your brain will do the hard work. It will follow your focus and assume that this needs investigating. It will monitor your energy levels throughout the day and analyse patterns in the background. It will even do this while you sleep. Only if you remember to keep telling it that energy matters to you.

Think about some daily events now. Your morning coffee, the bus ride home, brushing your teeth. Let these act as reminders for you to focus on your energy. As you lift your head into the real world, new instincts will form that drive you towards energy-increasing behaviours. And as this starts to happen, you’ll be amazed at how creative you become.