In sound recording there is something known as the “noise floor”. This is the amount of constant ambient noise in the recording environment or that results as a function of the method of recording.
The goal for any recording engineer is to maximize the amount of signal recorded in comparison to the amount of noise. The more noise is present, the more difficult it is to discern the signal, or the subject of the recording.
I’ve noticed this same principle playing out in my life as it relates to the kinds of stimuli I allow to take root in my mind. The more “ambient noise” that’s allowed in my environment, as defined by potential distractions or by less-than-purposeful stimuli, the more difficult it is to sort through it all and discern that which will be useful in my life and work.
I’ve had to develop the purposeful practice of sorting through stimuli and putting it into a “stimulus queue” in order to ensure that I’m not haphazardly absorbing stimuli without thinking through how it will benefit my creative process. I’m always trying to ensure that the stimulus in my life is high quality.
What are the characteristics that mark higher quality stimuli?
1. Relevant. When we are creating we are combining bits of stimulus into something new. The more relevant the stimuli the more likely we are to have a conceptual breakthrough. This doesn’t mean that we should be looking for stimuli that resolve the particular problem we are facing, but it does mean that we should be purposeful to limit our stimuli during certain seasons to elements that are more likely to focus our thought toward desired ends.
2. Diverse. While carrots are healthy for me, if I eat nothing but carrots for a month I will probably find my body in serious disrepair. Similarly, we must diversify our diet of stimuli by exploring divergent topics of interest, varying forms of media and by ingesting the opinions of others we may be inclined to disagree with. This will expand our capacity to process information, help us form new and interesting patterns and stimulate different parts of our brain than will be triggered by staying in the same stimulus rut.
3. Challenging. We need to ingest stimuli that cause us to think and that challenge us to grow our skills. While consuming pop culture can be helpful is staying abreast of trends and keeping us squarely in the flow of cultural relevance, we also need to ensure that we are communing with the great minds and experiencing mind-stretching concepts and stories.
Develop practices around the stimuli in your life. It will help you better prepare for the work you face day to day and will increase your capacity for insight and brilliance when you need it.