When your work contains an element of joy, you learn faster. This is called ludic learning, or learning by playing. What makes it so effective is the space it allows for positive emotions. Emotions drive attention, and attention drives learning. Physiologically, creative play releases endorphins, tiny molecules that put you in a good mood. When you’re happy, you’re more creative. When you’re unhappy, you lose access to your intuition. Happiness and creativity are mutually supportive.

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How do you know when you’re in the joy zone? When you lose track of time and all you can think about is the work itself. This doesn’t mean that your task suddenly seems easy, or that you’re aware of having fun, but that you’re completely absorbed in your challenge. You’re working in the Goldilocks channel: not too easy, not too hard—just right. People in this state can learn new skills up to ten times as fast as those who are anxious (with a too-difficult task) and those who are bored (with a too-easy task). Long hours become short hours when your work is playful.

It’s generally acknowledged that creativity seems to happen “out of time,” as if the clock doesn’t matter. What’s less acknowledged is that creativity actually requires this condition to flourish. Creativity simply takes as long as it takes. The more you try to rush it, the less you achieve. The less you try to rush it, the more you achieve. You can’t reasonably expect to have an epiphany by 11:45 or an innovation a week from Tuesday. But if you forget about the clock, you may well have an innovation a week from Tuesday, if not sooner.

Creative learning assumes freedom—the freedom to find the right balance between your personal ability and your challenges. You have to identify your strengths, discover the right medium in which to express them, and allow yourself the necessary time to experiment and push the limits of your understanding. Ludic learning is often the doorway to genius.

Next week: Make educational mistakes.
In creativity, mistakes aren’t mistakes. They’re clues

The Rules of Genius is now a book with a bonus section called “How can I matter?” that includes 10 essential rules.  Buy here.