Becoming Pavlov’s Dog

After receiving an electric orange juice squeezer as a wedding present many years ago, I accidentally turned myself into a creative Pavlov’s dog.

It was during one of my many periods of writing for an hour in the morning before work. I got into the habit of squeezing a glass of orange juice as soon as I awoke, then planting my sleepy-eyed self in my living room bay window with my favorite pen and notebook so I could watch the world wake up as I scribbled my brilliant morning reflections.

At some point, as usual, life intervened and my morning writing sessions dropped off. That’s when I discovered I’d inadvertently been psychologically programming myself. Because for years—I’m not kidding, it was YEARS—after that, whenever I even smelled fresh-squeezed orange juice, I experienced a very strong urge to write.

Dog -- Arty

With no further reinforcement (I had tired of fresh squeezed orange juice and moved on to the hard stuff in the morning: Earl Gray tea), my Pavlovian o.j. writing response eventually disappeared. But now I’ve decided to intentionally become a creative Pavlov’s dog again. This time I’m going to use music.

So I have let my iPod choose a random song for me: it came up with Herb Alpert’s Mexican Shuffle. I didn’t even remember that song was on my iPod, but it’s not a bad choice: It has no distracting lyrics, and it makes me smile, because my sister and I used to play our parent’s Herb Alpert album when we were little girls and dance around our living room. I remember us spinning in circles until we fell down, dizzy and laughing.

I am going to play Mexican Shuffle every time I start writing something for this blog, and I won’t listen to it at any other time. I’m hoping it will help me focus on writing creatively, even on days when I’m not feeling inspired. I’ll report back later on how this experiment works out!

I would love to hear about any similar experiences anyone else has had with this kind of self-conditioning, or with any sounds, scents, tastes, etc. that inspire your writing.

Also, if anyone wants to try this experiment with me, let me know—we can compare notes on how it’s working!

Copyright @ Sandy Ackers, Strangling My Muse: Struggling to Live a Creative Life in a Stressful World,


4 Responses to “Becoming Pavlov’s Dog”

  1. 1 Rochelle Ritchie Spencer May 28, 2009 at 2:16 pm

    Hey, Herb Alpert still makes me want to twirl around the living room until I fall!

    I hesitated to answer this because my situation is a little different – I don’t have a healthy drink or music that inspires me to write, however, writing inspires me to smoke! And I have been! Not every day but still. I just can’t get that ol’ image of the prolific writer tap, tap, tapping away and dropping ashes into her typewriter. It’s bad bad bad, I know – I’m just saying. But I’ll try and think of something good – thanks for inspiring me to be good Sandy! 🙂

  2. 2 stranglingmymuse May 28, 2009 at 3:06 pm

    Hey, it could be worse — you could be downing a fifth of whiskey during every writing session like some infamous writers! I actually thought about mentioning the writing/smoking connection in my post, because I know that’s a common one. If you decide on “something good” and want to become a fellow creative Pavlov’s dog, let me know how it goes. I’m interested in seeing how this experiment works out, when it’s done intentionally.

  3. 3 carrie May 31, 2009 at 7:18 pm

    Sandy: Lots to comment on re: the blog. It’s beautiful, I still love the header, I don’t yet know how to make photos the size and shape I want, so I’m envious there. But regarding your Herb Alpert trick: I need one now, but in my college days I’d use a particular chair in a a particular common room when I needed to get a paper written. I had to lug my electric typewriter up there, but it was worth it. And I’ve frequently been struck by inspiration writing in the shower. But I really have to work on summoning up the muse with a song!

    thanks for the idea,

  4. 4 stranglingmymuse June 1, 2009 at 10:01 pm

    Thanks, Carrie! I don’t know much about photos either. I just stick them where I want them and it seems to work out. Your comment reminds me that I had a place I loved to write my papers at college, deep down in the stacks where not many people went. Just me surrounded by the silence and the books. And inspiration in the shower–happens to me all the time! I’ll probably be mentioning that in a post soon. Let me know how it works out if you try the song idea…

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Kaizen-Muse Creativity Coach and Writer.

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