I’m a productivity hacker. I’m always seeking out the latest biohacks and life optimizations. My opinion is that sometimes we need to turn up the heat, and when we do so with intention, the benefits can be incredible.
I’m also a root-cause seeker. Curiosity guides me in everything I do, personally and professionally — I always want to know why. So when I noticed that I started feeling more down than usual this past November, it got me thinking.
It turns out that since I live on the East Coast and don’t get a ton of vitamin D, I’m susceptible to the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder, commonly called SAD (a fitting acronym).
The combo platter of being inside too much during a pandemic combined with pushing 40 was a major wake-up call that I need to take better care of myself.
You don’t need to be Gwyneth Paltrow or a celebrity to see the many benefits of a self-care routine that includes infrared light and chromotherapy.
Tim Ferris, the king of life and productivity posts, also has talked about the healing benefits of red light therapy.
There’s one more thing that drives me: patterns. I couldn’t help but notice how many health-obsessed personalities talk about the profound impacts of light therapy. So, I found myself diving down the rabbit hole after midnight one night looking further into what’s ultimately an ancient practice, and found a slew of benefits.
- Reduced inflammation
- Better sleep
- Increased weight loss
- Faster recovery post-workout
- Mood regulation
- Detoxification from heavy metals
It became clear to me that my health could improve dramatically by making space for self-care.
This is something that many of us — myself included — can be pretty bad about.
We’re all creatures of habit, but the truth is healthy habits can be hard to form. That reminded me of the book, The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. In it, he talks about the critical point to create change: the cue.
What better cue to trigger self-care, then, but walking by my new infrared sauna?
Before diving into such a large purchase, I, of course, tested a few different types of saunas.
As my research continued, I put on my design thinker and marketer hat. I read countless write-ups and often thought to myself, Oh, that’s just a BS marketer trying to sell me something.
Plus, I didn’t want just any sauna. Slapping a “panels by jacuzzi” didn’t sell me. It actually repelled me.
And so, I went deeper. I knew I was looking for something more… authentic. This is how I found Jen Heller, a sauna wholesaler. But she’s much more than that.
Here’s the beginning of her LinkedIn profile:
“You know when you fall in love with a favorite recipe and want to share it with the world? That’s exactly how I feel about infrared saunas.
It wasn’t until encountering my own health challenges (heavy metal toxicity + severe overweight) that I realized just how important it is to practice consistent healthy habits and the power of infrared blew my mind.
I quickly discovered what I wanted to do with my life: help other warriors fighting for health and happiness with the power of infrared therapy. My mission is simple: to educate and support healthy, vibrant lifestyles and share the safe, natural healing energy of infrared heat.”
You can’t underestimate the power of storytelling when it’s infused with passion and purpose. But to get to that place, you’ve got to clear the decks to create connections and unlock possibilities.
And then, you have to insist on delivering the best and leaving the rest.
Sitting in a sauna is a metaphor for sweating the details. Information bloat makes it hard to tell the signal from the noise. The noisier it is, the easier it is to miss the signal. You’ve got to pause and make some space.
It’s on us to be present. To learn what ails our clients, work to detoxify the environment, and deliver sparkling solutions that make their lives better.
Similarly, we designers of demand must insist on clearing the decks and approaching problem-solving with sharp mental acuity, pure curiosity, and unfettered imagination.
Unfortunately, we’re often so focused on the instant gratification culture that we don’t take time for critical thinking. We ignore the law of gestation, which says that all good things take time.
There is a workaround, which I stumbled upon while watching a new furniture design reality show competition, Ellen’s Next Great Designer, on HBO.
I know, I know — a TV show? Saunas? What do they have to do with each other?
Beyond the obvious intersection — design — both have the answer to the challenge built into the process. The key in both cases is to make space to imagine, ideate, and create, authentically and innovatively.
Find the Personal Connection
So we all know how reality shows work. The contestants get a tough assignment with limited resources, time, and budget.
Hmmm… sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
They don’t call it “reality” for nothing. Those constraints are typical of any business project (although, of course, it’s not quite as condensed as a 45-minute TV show).
But the beauty for me in watching a show like Next Great Designer is the opportunity to peek behind the scenes and observe what goes into making beautiful objects or creations. The bonds of constraints fade away in the face of passion and purpose. It’s a fertile space for innovation and creativity.
Understanding the emotions and energy that goes into launching products and brands is so critical. It’s not just business — it really is personal. Paying attention to the process and sweating the details is the pay-off.
Everything else, when you think about it, is gravy.
The Maker’s Motivation
Now, the question is, how do you connect purpose or intention to problem-solving for a client when you don’t necessarily have a direct, immediate connection?
Two words: look closer.
Here’s a perfect example. My company, Digital Surgeons, once worked with a client in the precision metal industry. Because we’re in the business of designing demand, we had to get to the emotional connection they could offer to their customers that was more than just another metal and wire company.
Now, on the surface, that might sound impossible to do. After all, we’re talking about cold, hard, B2B marketing of an industrial product. But as a consultant and a force multiplier, I always seek the emotional connection — the humanity — in every project.
Human-centered design isn’t a buzzword. It’s essential to humanize a project and create a relationship.
Moreover, if you want to design demand, you have to make people fall in love with your product.
In the metals case, we had a designer on our team who immediately recognized the machines the manufacturer used. They were similar to the tools he and his dad used to build a Pinewood Derby car for Boy Scouts in his childhood basement.
He was able to share the joy of creation that these metal machines provided. This is an excellent example of intrinsic motivation, which Dan Pink notes is an essential component of successful outcomes.
And, of course, there are extrinsic motivations, like money and other incentives, that contribute as well. Clearly, that’s a major motivator in the business world. And if you watch any reality show trailer (including the one for Ellen’s Next Great Designer), there’s always a big to-do about the cash prize.
Again, look carefully at the meaning of that extrinsic reward. For reality show contestants, it’s usually seed money to start a business. A deeper meaning beyond making a quick buck or, in the business world, billable hours, fuels the journey with intrinsic motivation.
So, add in the desire to delight customers, do your best, and create work that makes a positive impact on others’ lives and you’re in business.
The Heat is On
Competition does a funny thing to us: it makes us think that harder, faster, cheaper is the answer.
Spoiler alert: it’s not.
Sure, you need to be agile to some degree, but not at the expense of creating space to listen. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about tangoing with time and how crucial it is to factor in flow state in your day-to-day routine.
In the world of reality shows, watching someone brainstorming and riffing is part of the “behind-the-scenes” segments. I’ve noticed that winning contestants talk about how their creation helps people, not about how awesome they are or even how much their work means to them. This makes an invaluable emotional connection with the audience.
In real life, I spend a lot of time in my sauna, away from my phone, computer, and other distractions, to think quietly about my customers’ challenges and how I can design solutions.
This allows the creation of a provocative (and winning) story. And what I think is interesting about great design, whether it be branding, UX, or a piece of furniture — is it always has a compelling tale behind it. Developing this narrative involves tapping into the series of micro-decisions and micro-moments that connect the dots in your customer experience. What McKinsey refers to as knowing your customer at every touchpoint.
Jen Heller and the makers of my sauna know that. They realize that sustainably sourced materials, high-quality, environmentally sound lighting, and craftsmanship matter. Delivering noticeable health improvements matters.
When you move away from a simple brand benefits ladder and create a legitimate emotional connection, it ignites different pleasure centers in the brain. And this bliss chemistry helps crystallize the relationship between brand and buyer. (Or audience and contestant, depending on your playing field).
And that’s the secret to success — it’s not about the competition itself. It’s about the story, the love for the craft, and the passion that drives the maker and inspires the receiver.
So, sweat the details. Remove what’s clouding your vision, separate the noise from the signal, and make the space for mastery, meaning, and purpose. Then you’ll be able to make things that matter.
What projects are you sweating right now? Hit me up in the comments.