States of Mind Over Matters

David Krueger MD

We enter and exit states of mind fluidly and invisibly, like the precision passage of the baton between relay-team members. Each of us has a set of different states of mind: Relaxation. Alertness. Anxiety. Anger. Centered attention. 

A state of mind is a psychophysiological state, an internally organized software program of expectations, attitudes, meanings, and feelings. From an infinite sea of stimuli, the unique software package of each state of mind determines what data are relevant for input, and how processing occurs.   

Each mind-body state determines how we perceive and process information and how we respond. A key element is our awareness of our different states of mind, in order to know which state works best for what purpose. For example, creative writing and editing require different states of mind; brainstorming and completing a project also require different states of mind.

The regulation of feelings and states of mind involves the understanding and mastery of access to each of your different states. Some examples of how artists and authors enter a creative state to fit their intended work:

  • Dame Edith Sitwell would lie in the stale solitude of an open coffin as a prelude to entering the state of mind she needed to write her macabre literature.
  • Dr. Samuel Johnson and the poet W. H. Auden maintained a continuous state of stimulation by constantly consuming tea as they wrote.
  • Willa Cather read the Bible to set the right tone prior to her writing.
  • Voltaire used his lover’s back for a writing desk.
  • Diane Ackerman writes (as did Benjamin Franklin) on a pine plank while soaking in a bathtub to get the “floaty, relaxed” creative state
  • The painter Turner liked to be lashed to the mast of a ship and taken for a sail during an incredible storm, so he could later recreate this experience on canvas.
  • Some authors play a piece of music repetitively during the course of writing to create an emotional framework to house their evolving story.

The corresponding state of mind in the reader often matches with that of the author, who guides the reader to a state of mind through the senses: the music and voice of the words, the texture of imagery, the rhythm of feelings.

Each of us has a continuum of states.  Mastery results from recognition of which state is most effective for creative endeavors, cognitive planning, a business presentation, to relaxation for sleep.  And how to enter each state.

  • Self-regulation involves different parts of the brain. It is internal—emotional and cognitive. In order to reach longer-term goals, we need a different kind of goal-setting and brain involvement.  Here are a few applications of the principle:
  • Schedule blocks of uninterrupted time to sustain a state of mind and its “flow.”
  • Preclude interruptions by turning off telephone and ringer.
  • Recognize the best time of the day to do certain tasks, such as creative time, and protect those times.
  • Write out the tasks of that day, in one-hour blocks.
  • Cluster the activities that require the same state of mind (errands).

The Art, Craft, Science, and Business of Authoring Your First Book

By David Krueger MD