top of page

GOING DARK | why some of our greatest creative ideas are developed in isolation...

Where do great ideas come from? How are great companies formed? When are the phenomenal 10,000 hours of effort taking place?

One could be forgiven for thinking that all it takes to be successful in business or any other field is simply timing, knowing the right people or being part of the 'lucky sperm club' but important as these factors may be, the key factor in creating anything worthwhile of a long term success is: ISOLATION

Isolation? That basic? Yes.

When I talk about isolation I simply mean what you do in private: those consistent habits (let us call them rituals) that we stick to irrespective of our external environment, that eventually contribute to our character and destiny.

So let us get more practical and less technical:

Take Mark for instance. Mark has recently broken up with his girlfriend of 4 years and that in turn has sent him on a downward spiral of bad eating habits and a severely low self esteem. At 26 years Mark is not exactly your picture of health. He is about 5.7'' but a mere 52 kg due to a history of chest infections and genetic diseases. Needless to say, his physical appearance does little for his self worth.

Fortunate for him, Mark surrounds himself with the right friends - people who honestly want him to be a better version of himself. One of them is a professional body builder and believes if Mark can get into the gym he can develop his body, his mind and get back his self esteem and who knows, maybe find another girlfriend?

Over a period of 6 months, Mark buys numerous muscle magazines (one a week to be exact), watches body building documentaries, develops a work out journal, sticks to a formal diet plan and stops taking any alcohol. He starts working out, slowly at first - three times a week, alternate days for an hour apiece. With time he is working out three hours a day - daily!

He has become positively obsessed with this new skill of body building. It is his religion.

At the end of the training period, Mark is an impressive 75 kg of sculpted muscle and very low fat, a disciplined employee on the verge of a job promotion and oh yeah...he got another girlfriend. That was in 2004. He is currently a family man but 16 years later, still works out like crazy. He discovered the source of his self esteem is not about what others say or think about him but what he does with himself - in private. Because that ultimately shows in public.

The Mark story is true by the way.

Q: So what magical formula did Mark use? We all want a great body, business, spouse, bank account, car, home and on and on but why can we not stick to a formula that will help us eventually get to these things? Why, if it is that simple really?

A? Impatience, indiscipline, distractions, wrong company, pressures of life, lack of money, poor health (Mark had very poor health)? All of these are valid reasons or excuses.

Q: But if we were to go even deeper, to the sub conscious mind level - what exactly prevents us from sticking to consistent rituals with laser sharp focus?

Answer: the need for validation from an external source.

The moment we base our sense of achievement on what others think or say about us, then our success is really not about what we get or not but what others THINK we have!

So, in this case the dopamine hit that your brain gives you when you get Facebook likes and Instagram views is much more important than the joy you feel from pursuing and achieving a goal for YOU. No wonder many of us are short circuiting or 'hacking' success by possibly putting out content that is not a true representation of our lifestyle. It is much easier than doing the actual work for that lifestyle plus of course, we get the dopamine hit faster.

One of the problems with this is that the sensation is short lived and so, we must keep replicating this cycle to get the same sensation! An endless dopamine or attention addiction is the result.The focus then is less about achieving a goal and more about getting attention, whether the perceived goal was achieved or not.

Q: So, how do we get out of this habitual loop? How do we move from seeking validation from others to actually achieving our personal goals in silence?

Answer: we work in isolation, expecting no praise or criticism from external sources but instead focusing on 1) the learning and growth we experience as we work on ourselves and 2) the eventual goal achievement.

If you do this, you will be in a much better space to achieve most of the goals you set out to do and will not drop off after a few days of rituals.

Back to Mark. During his early work out days, he initially had a lot of support from his body building buddies. They would wake him up, pick him up, drop him off, spot for him on the weights and commend him on his progress. But on some crucial training days they would get held up in traffic, have to travel, sometimes even oversleep!

Mark realised if he depended on his buddies, well ahead in the game as they were - he would not attain his goal of having a great body. So he went to the gym, whether or not his buddies came along. His new 'buddy' was that self image of himself he kept in his mind. That's all.

Here are some tips you can lean into when working in isolation or once you decide to go dark:

1. Adopt a growth mindset vs a fixed mindset. Read Carol Dweck's phenomenal book, Mindset to help you understand this principle best

2. Have a set of well written down and detailed goals if you do not have any yet. Make sure they are time bound.

3. Develop the DECISION mindset. David Bayer talks about that in detail in his free e-book Mindhack.

4. Share your rituals with a true accountability partner, someone who will not shy from giving you honest feedback e.g. a spouse, mentor or coach. Do not share your rituals with your drinking mates.

5. Avoid sharing your rituals, plans and goals with the masses....YET. Talk about your journey after you complete it and better still, only to those who are interested.

6. Realise you do not need to post each milestone on your social media timeline. You can document your progress in private for inspirational sharing in future, though.

7. Go on a dopamine fast.

Switch off your WiFi from time to time and focus on the real World rather than the one that exists in your phone. An example would be to have your phone mobile data or WiFi on between 8am to 5pm only. Out of that time frame, simply work on your goal oriented actions. If your goals are based on content creation dependent on WiFi then post only during select hours and avoid posting or checking other people's post throughout the day. You get the drift.

8. Curate your social media feeds. Subscribe and follow channels that only tie in to your goal(s). Delete all that other crap.

9. Be patient with the big goal and impatient with the small steps needed daily to get there. Train your mind to focus on RESULTS instead of ACTIONS. A promotion is well and good but more important would be what you achieved during the time you held the job.

10. Learn to control your tongue. Harsh as this may sound, I do not know how to put it any softer.

Even during days of great success, learn to not share your progress with all and sundry.This takes discipline but starves the need for seeking validation from external sources.

Have a great week ahead!

Go dark, isolate, and innovate but do not hate.


The author, Jan Okonji is an entrepreneur, speaker, coach, and Founder of the Pan-African accelerator BGS – Business Growth Solutions.

Jan is passionate about helping employees transition safely into entrepreneurship whilst turning their great ideas into profitable businesses and has helped entrepreneurs collectively grow their revenue to over $ 10 Million in the course of running BGS.

Get in touch with him and book a personal session HERE


Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page