3 Benefits of Doing What You Love: Life in the Genius Zone

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Genius Zone" by Gay Hendricks. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Does your mind tend to get stuck in negative places? Do you feel like you’re not really able to be yourself and thrive in your own way?

Gay Hendricks uses the term “Genius Zone” to refer to the mind-body space that you enter when two conditions are met: You’re doing what you love to do, and you’re using your skills to make a positive impact in the world. This, he says, is where you should devote your time and attention.

Continue reading to learn the three benefits of doing what you love and making a difference in the process.

The Benefits of Doing What You Love

In Hendricks’s view, striving to live in the Genius Zone offers a more fulfilling alternative to what might be your status quo: going through your daily life doing work that doesn’t fulfill you, criticizing yourself for things you have or haven’t done, worrying about things you can’t change, and wishing that you could control what other people do or what they think of you. He writes that you’ll become happier by stepping outside of these negative thought patterns and replacing them with efforts to spend your time and energy in the Genius Zone instead. Then you’ll start enjoying the benefits of doing what you love.

How Reducing Negative Thoughts Improves Your Life

Just as Hendricks writes that reducing negative thoughts can help you live a happier life, other experts say that replacing negative thoughts with positive ones can reduce stress and improve your health, both of which could make you feel happier. Researchers find that people who practice positive thinking have lower rates of depression, better psychological and physical well-being, reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer, and stronger coping skills.

These researchers recommend turning negative thinking patterns into positive ones by identifying the areas of your life that you tend to think negatively about, evaluating your thoughts throughout the day, interacting regularly with positive people, and making a rule that you’ll treat yourself kindly—which means that you won’t say anything rude to yourself.

Hendricks writes that spending your time in the Genius Zone has a number of benefits, both direct and indirect. He explains that, as you shift your focus to tasks that engage your genius, you’ll make changes that have two direct effects: You’ll decrease the frequency of your negative thinking, and you’ll increase your ability to access and express your creativity. Also, as an indirect result of the change in your thinking and behavior, you’ll improve how you relate to other people. Next, we’ll take a closer look at each of these benefits.

(Shortform note: The benefits of living in the Genius Zone sound similar to the benefits of spending time in flow. In Ikigai—a book about the Japanese philosophy of finding your purpose at the intersection of what you love, what you’re good at, what you can get paid for, and what the world needs—Héctor García and Francesc Miralles explain that learning to experience flow can help you find your ikigai. They note that when you experience flow, your mind is focused, you’re living in the present, you feel confident and in control, and you feel led by the task rather than by your ego. By integrating flow into your life as much as you can, you not only experience these short-term benefits, but you can also more readily access and fulfill your purpose.)

Benefit #1: You’ll Curb Patterns of Negative Thinking

The first benefit of doing what you love (living in the Genius Zone) involves reducing your negative thoughts. Hendricks writes that, every day, you have hundreds of opportunities to enter the Genius Zone, and each one comes to you through your tendency to worry about things you can’t control. When you’re thinking negatively about something outside of your control—maybe something that happened in the past, or what other people think of you, or things you can’t change about your circumstances—you can either keep doing what you’re doing, or you can let go of your negative thinking and self-criticism to engage your “genius” instead.

(Shortform note: Many experts say that it’s common for people to dwell on things that they can’t change, and they offer a variety of strategies for curbing this tendency. In Who Will Cry When You Die?, Robin Sharma recommends trying to focus on things that you can improve in the present or the future, rather than ruminating on things that happened in the past. For instance, instead of obsessing over a mistake you made, try to reframe it as a lesson, learn something from it, and then move your focus to something that’s within your power to improve.)

Hendricks characterizes cycles of self-blame and self-criticism as addictions that sabotage you in the pursuit of your goals. When you redirect your attention away from the negative thoughts that you habitually think about yourself, then those thoughts have a way of receding into the background. He explains that this is much more effective than fighting negative thoughts, which just become more persistent the more you try to suppress them. 

(Shortform note: Psychologists say that many of us internalize negative messages that we then perpetuate as self-criticism. Both the habit and the content of self-criticism have negative effects and contribute to depression and anxiety. Fortunately, you can kick even a persistent addiction to self-criticism: Practicing self-compassion by treating yourself with care even in stressful situations can help. So can practicing techniques like mindfulness meditation and loving-kindness meditation, tools that are both proven to help reduce self-criticism.)

Benefit #2: You’ll Gain More Access to Your Creativity

The second direct benefit of doing what you love (living in the Genius Zone) is learning to access your creative skills more readily. Hendricks writes that, to live your life in the Genius Zone, you have to commit to pursuing your full creative potential. By making this commitment (and following through on it), you’ll spend more time exercising your creativity. You’ll also learn to avoid the negative emotions and coping mechanisms that accompany the feeling of unfulfilled creative potential. 

(Shortform note: Nobody wants to feel creatively unfulfilled, but it’s challenging to figure out how to practice your creativity instead. In Keep Going, Austin Kleon writes that it helps set the right goals for your creative pursuits. You might feel accustomed to setting results-based goals, but Kleon advises setting process-based goals instead. He writes that process-based goals center the creative process and the things you enjoy about it, in much the same way that cultivating flow is about focusing on the satisfaction you derive from the process. For example, instead of setting the goal of creating a YouTube video that gets viewed millions of times, you might set a goal of just making a video for a friend and enjoying the process of making it.) 

Hendricks writes that, when people feel that their creativity is stifled or that they’ve stalled, they compensate by developing various “addictions” to distract themselves. This might look like what we traditionally think of as addiction—such as drinking or smoking—but it could also manifest as another coping mechanism that helps you forget that you’re feeling creatively unfulfilled. (Maybe you watch Netflix all evening instead of working on your own screenplay.) Hendricks notes that you probably always have time for these habits, even when you don’t have time for creative pursuits. When you stop telling yourself you don’t have time for your creative work, you can confront your sense of unfulfillment and recommit to pursuing what you love.

(Shortform note: Though Hendricks uses the word “addiction” to describe distractions that become bad habits, other experts differentiate addictions as conscious behaviors that have negative consequences for your health. When a behavior becomes a habit, you tend to engage in it automatically and subconsciously. But, an addiction is anything but subconscious: You spend increasing amounts of time thinking about and engaging with it. An actionable way to think about the ways you limit your creativity might be to look for the excuses you make: Experts say that when we make excuses to limit ourselves, it not only prevents us from achieving the task but also hurts our motivation. So making excuses might be the habit you want to break.)

Benefit #3: You’ll Improve Your Relationships

A benefit indirectly associated with doing what you love (living in the Genius Zone) is improving your relationships. Hendricks writes that learning to let go of things that are outside of your control to pursue life in the Genius Zone can have profound effects on how you relate to others because you’ll learn to accept other people as they are, without trying to control them or worrying about what they think of you. 

Additionally, taking stock of how you’re spending time can help you evaluate whether you’re dedicating your time to relationships where you’re appreciated for your creativity. Hendricks writes that many people dedicate significant time and energy to relationships that hold back their creativity. But if you want to spend more of your time in the Genius Zone, you’ll need to cultivate the relationships that support your creativity.

(Shortform note: Most of us enjoy feeling that our time and skills are appreciated, but not all experts agree with Hendricks that we need to worry about feeling supported and appreciated. In The Courage to Be Disliked, Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga write that happy people focus on helping others, and they feel satisfied when they contribute to others’ well-being. That means that they just need to feel useful, and they don’t feel an emotional attachment to other people’s opinions of them or their work. In this model, you might only need to feel that your creative pursuits are helping other people—not necessarily that other people appreciate your creativity—to feel fulfilled and happy.)

3 Benefits of Doing What You Love: Life in the Genius Zone

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  • Why you should be devoting your time to creative work
  • How tapping into your creativity helps you build a happier life
  • Hands-on methods for getting in touch with your creativity

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, science, and philosophy. A switch to audio books has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a creative nonfiction book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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