This is part 2 of the series “Change your state”. For part 1 see Change your state — how I became a relaxed management consultant
I found myself sat on a designer square-shaped black chair alone in a dark room fitted with a single projector. Enjoying the pause for what had been a very long day of walking, I took stock of what was before me — a geometric, almost epileptic, shining representation of the sun speaking in the voice of Steve Jobs about the meaning of death.
Suddenly I felt different.
An overwhelming sense of happiness was intertwined with a mild sense of grief, connection and inspiration. It was created by a mix of stimuli — a beautiful visual composition, engaging and deeply familiar sounds as well as a very unique location. This was an exhibition by Michael Joaquin Gray in the Chronus Art Centre in Shanghai’s famous art district M50 (莫干山路50号).
The location was essential to this process. Chinese artist communities organize themselves in ways radically different from their Western counterparts. The London art scene is scattered, with clusters of markets, museums and galleries in Southbank, Shoreditch, Broadway and many more locations. These neighborhoods don't feature art exclusively, they allow for restaurants and other businesses to co-exist in a broader lifestyle space.
Shanghai and Beijing, however, have managed to isolate their arts scenes from the rest of everyday living. They are based in abandoned industrial districts filled with galleries, shops and graffiti-rich walls. While still family-friendly, these areas create a sense of non-belonging in anyone but the most artistic among us. These are locations where the rules of the city are being rewritten by the members of the community. These are immersive locations that create a pure artistic context in which you can enjoy art without the distraction of uninspired pragmatism that is inescapable in Asia’s biggest cities.
In the Cronus Art Centre, the impact of this unique environment was further enriched by the style ant setting of the room, the immersive video and the engaging sound. These in combination directed my mind state without any of my own conscious support. This is the power of context, first of the four pillars of state manipulation we laid out before (context, framing, focus action).
External influences dominate our minds not just in fleeting moments. A water view in the UK property market is valued at 20%-70% of the house price. Yoga classes, spas and the best health salons are equipped with relaxing music to enhance therapeutic effects and improve focus. You might also realize that modern advertising values strong emotion over clarity of message. Like every animal we are wired to respond to the outside world and our society revolves around these links.
An even more compelling reason to understand this influence is our potential to take control over it. While we are incompetent at taming our minds, we do know how to manipulate the environment. We can expose ourselves to a wide range of visuals and sounds from every device connected to the internet, and we can even transport ourselves to a multitude of serene locations in a number of hours. This mastery over our environment we just need to translate into a mastery of our emotions.
The amount of different contexts we could be exposed to for mind-state manipulation is vast and best discovered through experience. In a style borrowed from Prometheus Rising, a controversial book about brain circuit theory, I finish this post by providing exercises to start exploring your own emotional wiring rather than offering general theory. Trying any of the exercises below will set you on a path to discovering your most effective contexts.
- Self-diagnosis. Ask yourself at different points in the day “what am I feeling now?” Try to understand what is creating a particular feeling. Compare how many emotions are externally-driven and how many are driven internally.
- Immediate gratification. See if you can generate the four most popular neurotransmitters. Listen to your favorite song(s) for an immediate dopamine release. Watch a stand-up comedy video to create an endorphin release. Hug someone to experience an oxytocin release. Expose yourself to bright light to experience a serotonin release (more difficult). See if you can distinguish between how the four neurotransmitters feel.
- Sensory overload. Seek out locations with extreme impact on the senses. Beautiful landscapes, loud clubs, a quiet library, a well-scented spa. Examine the effect on your emotions. See to what extent you can replicate the emotions in your own house (e.g., respectively with landscape art, playing club music, shutting windows to create quiet, installing a scent-emitter).
- Emotional regeneration. Go back in memory to a happy moment. Imagine yourself in this moment now. Do this at the exact location of the even if possible. Observe how you are able to recall the emotion.
- Artistic immersion. Watch the video mentioned at the start of the article.
- State transfer. Identify how your state is affected by the state of others around you. Is this a significant or limited influence? Learn to simulate different emotions and see if you can affect the emotional state of other people (with their consent).
- Targeted music. Targeted music can be used to prepare yourself for better performance and enjoyment of a certain activity. This could mean playing rap music before going to the gym or listening to upbeat music before going out. This link will be familiar to most, but we tend to underestimate its impact.
- Hard work for endorphins. Pick your favorite exercise and increase intensity (without exposing yourself to health risks). Continue until experiencing a “second wave”, jolt of happiness from an endorphin release. Work out in groups to increase intensity. Compare strength of release compared to laughter induced endorphin.
- Facing adrenaline. Create an adrenaline response through an extreme sport or high-acceleration activity such as roller coaster riding. Then, conquer a fear in a social context — approach a much more senior colleague or attempt to resolve a difficult situation. Try to push yourself to overcome situations that feel similar to the former.
- Initial state management. Now that you are reflecting on your emotional state throughout the day, whenever you sense an emerging presence of a negative emotion, try to employ a technique to counter it with the release of positive neurotransmitters.
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