I think The Genius Zone is a book that would benefit those looking to enhance their creativity and who are in search for their purpose and calling, but I also think there is something essential in this book that ties into living a good life and simply being happy.
I read this book because I wanted more explanation and teaching from the author on an intriguing idea from his book The Big Leap, which was the “zone of genius” concept. To my pleasant surprise, I found that he’d written this short book that was exclusively dedicated to the idea of the zone of genius.
At it’s core, I think this book is about actively and repeatedly eliminating addictive negativity from our mind, and focusing on positive thoughts and positive actions, which lead to positive feelings, as well as greater success.
The genius zone
The genius zone is a concept that refers to spending our time doing what we most love to do while contributing our greatest gifts to humanity. The author believes that the combination of creativity and contribution is the highest form of expression of our lives.
This might sound trivial, but clearly this is not a belief that most people feel in their bones, otherwise we would not be filling our minds with copious amounts of nonsense through television, news, and other media in our free time. We would instead be using that time as much as possible to create, or perhaps to be contemplating what we want to create. The creation skills of most people are highly atrophied. We are conditioned in schools to largely be compliant producers. From an early age, we are taught to please others (peers and adults), rather than search inside for what brings us joy.
A thread across Gay’s writing is that fortune comes from committing to positive thoughts and actions.
He states that all success comes from what we’re committed to — as does all hardship.
This point of view is that we are responsible for what our lives and our experience of life is like. That whatever we have created over the course of our lives is a product of both our conscious and our unconscious commitments.
This idea can be difficult to accept, since it risks unjustly blaming people for circumstances outside of their control. I used to immediately dismiss this idea, believing that most of what happens to us is a product of forces outside of our control.
Since then I think I’ve managed to integrate these two seemingly contradictory ideas. I think of them as analogous to the concepts of genotype and phenotype in biology. Our genes are static, but our the expression of our genes (phenotype) is fluid and extends over a certain range. I now see the “phenotype” (range) of our happiness and success as a combination of our conscious and unconscious beliefs, as Hendricks and others have claimed.
Examples of destructive unconscious commitments could include relationship patterns like repeatedly choosing partners who don’t really love us or with whom dramatic conflicts happen often. Or patterns of self-sabotage with work in which we “find” ways to fail right at what would otherwise be fortuitous windows of opportunities.
Hendricks cites the quote, “A man will renounce any pleasures you like but he will not give up his suffering” (Gurdjieff) to illustrate this point, that we have unconscious “addictions” to our limiting beliefs.
While it may be a bitter pill to swallow that our struggles and failures in life have a lot to do with what we’ve been unconsciously committed to, it’s empowering once we internalize this. If we can get stuck in suffering due to unconscious beliefs, that means that if we can change our unconscious beliefs and commitments to be those of success, we will automatically steer ourselves toward success.
Another idea is that of frequent and repeated “recommitting” to keep us on track. He talks about flying an airplane across the country, with hundreds of course corrections along the way. This is important because it conveys the hard work needed to change. It’s not a single decision we make, it’s a continuous effort over our lives.
Another idea that was stated well was that we have to stop bad habits before we see what purpose they were serving us.
The genius move
“The genius move” is a label the author applies to choosing what is within our control. It is recognizing when we are focused unproductively on what we can’t control, and choosing to focus on something else.
I liked the simple statement that “we get unhappy when we focus on what we cannot control, and we get happy when we focus on what we can control.”
Among things we cannot control, he covers “the past” and what others think of us.
The book encourages focusing on what we can do now, or in the next ten minutes, to create happiness. This sounds obvious to the conscious mind, but since most people most of the time are not doing this, I have to consider that it’s not so obvious to the unconscious mind.
“Wonder questions” is a concept of asking something that invokes wonder and redirects us toward something we can control. The book suggests that we make a practice of creating wonder questions and spending time answering them. Examples include:
- How can I spend the most time doing what I love and contributing my greatest gifts?
- What do I most passionately want to learn?
- How can i get the love i want and need?
- How can i generate the money i need doing what I most like to do?
The book concludes with advice on nurturing creativity.
There is the idea of “wooing” creativity, as though one would woo someone they were in love with:
- Dedicating our body, mind, and soul to it
- Making space and time for it
- Celebrating it’s existence
He suggests asking, “how committed am I to the fullest expression of my creativity?” as well as tuning into how true it feels to say, “I am grateful for my creativity.”
There is some valuable thinking and advice on making a physical space for creative work, making time for creativity, and eliminating interactions with people who don’t celebrate and value our creativity, and spending time with those people who encourage our creativity.