Here’s a little known fact.
J.K. Rowling struggled to finish the last Harry Potter book, The Deathly Hallows.
In order to finish the book, she had to make a grand gesture.
“As I was finishing Deathly Hallows there came a day where the window cleaner came, the kids were at home, the dogs were barking,” Rowling recalled in an interview.
It was too much, so J.K. Rowling decided to do something extreme to shift her mindset where it needed to be: She checked into a suite in the five-star Balmoral Hotel, located in the heart of downtown Edinburgh.
“So I came to this hotel because it’s a beautiful hotel, but I didn’t intend to stay here,” she explained. “[But] the first day’s writing went well so I kept coming back… and I ended up finishing the last of the Harry Potter books [here].”
In Deep Work, Cal Newport explains that Rowling’s decision to check into a luxurious hotel was an example of a strategy in achieving deep work, the grand gesture.
The concept is simple: By leveraging a radical change to your normal environment, coupled perhaps with a significant investment of effort or money, all dedicated toward supporting a deep work task, you increase the perceived importance of the task. This boost in importance reduces your mind’s instinct to procrastinate and delivers an injection of motivation and energy.
If you had to pay $1000 a day to write a book, finding the energy to begin and to focus is easier than if you were working in your bedroom.
The novelty from going to a luxurious hotel can also help you get in the state of flow, a state where you are focused and absorbed in your work that everything else just vanishes.
The author Steven Kotler would go to a new coffee shop whenever he needs to get some serious work done, as a way to induce flow. Doing your work in an unfamiliar environment, like a coffee shop you’ve never visited, creates novelty, which generates dopamine and helps you focus. If you need to do something difficult, create novelty. Try breaking the mundane and daily environment to get flow.
I always like to go to new coffee shops whenever I want to do some serious studying. I’ll go to a place far away from campus, where it’s hard for me to backtrack, as a form of grand gesture. Not only do I get a dopamine hit from being in an unfamiliar environment, but I also get to enjoy a cup of coffee, making the process of studying enjoyable.
I’ve been struggling a lot to replicate that during the pandemic season, and I’m still figuring out how to get the same effect when studying at home, but I’ve been experimenting with listening to different instrumental music for each study session, which is quite fun as well.
If you’re struggling to get something done, ask yourself, how can I make a grand gesture?
Thanks for reading,