Note: The Mindfultainment Experience Series has been discontinued. For current programming visit the Eureka Room website.
The exact origins of The Eureka Room idea are lost to the ages but at some point I decided on a concept I called “Mindfultainment”. This evolved from the Happiness Interactive Lab project.
I’m one of those people who reads a lot of self-improvement and productivity books. I find some of the books incredibly helpful and have made a real difference in my life. I wanted to share that with other people and help them benefit in the same ways that I had.
There were a few problems that I wanted to solve:
- Many people are put off by the woo-woo and rah-rah that many of these books (usually the worst of them) have.
- Many of the books themselves are written by academics, not people who spend a lot of time acquiring skills on writing books to appeal to the general public. They can be pretty dry or tedious at time.
- A lot of people read these books and understand their life could be better if they adopted new habits and ways of thinking. Unfortunately, far fewer people actually do what the books suggest.
My solution? Take the best of these ideas and make them more accessible. Make them fun and inviting. Don’t just tell them about the practices – give them a place to sit down and do them.
This seemed like a reasonable and good idea (and still does, but I’ll get to that in a bit).
I thought the portmanteau “Mindfultainment” summed it up nicely and was curiosity provoking.
Also, the domain name mindfultainment.com was available.
The Mindfultainment Experiences
I made up seven programs to test out this idea. At the time, the Eureka Room was envisioned as a room that fit maybe 6 people, had a large projection screen on the front wall and some ambient lighting that was coordinated with whatever was on the screen. So, for example, if the majority of the screen had red tones, the walls would have a red light. There were no LED lights at this time involved. It was effectively a 2D movie screen with ambient lighting.
What’s important to understand is that all the programs were made for a flat screen, not what you see today in the Eureka Room.
Here is the full list of Mindfultainment Experiences. Details for each program can be found by clicking on the links.
- Mindfultainment: The “Gratitude” Experience
- Mindfultainment: The “Emotional Conjuring” Experience
- Mindfultainment: The “Word Cloud” Experience
- Mindfultainment: The “Control The Universe With Your Mind” Experience
- Mindfultainment: The “Ohm Run” Experience
- Mindfultainment: The “Cognitive Distortions” Experience
- Mindfultainment: The “Face It ‘Til You Make It” Experience
Results And Observations
Results: People hated them.
Observations: Visceral hatred. I asked one person what they thought of it and their first response is a stern and defensive “Don’t tell me what to do” followed by nothing but quiet glaring. Another person said “I really really wanted to just walk out”.
So what happened?
Failure #1: Expectations were not set correctly.
These programs were shown to people who had come a few months earlier to the 2018 East Austin Studio Tour showings. Those were fun, lighthearted and weird. Intended mostly as a quick fix for a crowd that was trying to see a lot of different places on the tour. Many of those people loved the programs and signed up on my newsletter to see more programs.
Additionally, the programs were written for 2D and hastily transformed into 3D. For the most part, the sidewalls were just ambient light, as I had pictured in the original vision. Not much movement at all. The kind of thing a lot of people now have in their homes.
Not only that, for reasons that escape me now, I didn’t tell them the content of these new programs. I wanted them to be a surprise. (Hoo-boy. They certainly were.)
So these wonderful people spend their evening to come over to my house to see a crazy colorful immersive art show of 14,000 LEDs…. and instead they were asked to journal all the things in their life that were making them sad and frustrated.
I’m going to bet The Eureka Room was at the top of the list.
It seems so so obvious in retrospect. But I don’t think I’m alone in having done something like this. It seems like companies do this all the time with new products, product changes, failed rollouts costing millions and millions of dollars for things that look obvious failures to the public.
I wasn’t sure how, but in the future I was going to have to make sure I was setting expectations correctly.
Failure #2: Jokey and Serious are very hard to combine.
I could feel it when I was making the programs. I could see it. I could hear it in my multiple voiceover retakes. It’s hard to make introspectiveness light and playful. It’s like they are almost opposites. Introspectiveness requires focus. Playfulness requires chasing whim. Even if I could clearly communicate what to feel/do when to participants I think it would have been jarring and exhausting to go back and forth between them. You can’t make digging into your anxiety and fears fun. Or, at least, I didn’t have the skills. And I didn’t want to have the skills. Which brings me to the third and perhaps most irreconcilable failure:
Failure #3: I didn’t have the skills for this and didn’t want to develop the skills for this.
To do mindfultainment right (if it could be done at all), it was going to require someone with deep knowledge in these different positive psychology areas. I did not have that. Nor did I want to develop it. I love doing these practices for myself in a way that works for me, but I would struggle to help other people unless I took these things under much more serious study. And that just didn’t call to me.
Additionally, I had received some inquiries from the website, such as “I have a lot of anxiety and depression and the eureka room looks like it could help” and simply a foreboding, “I need this”.
I had pictured people like me. Not depressed but looking to improve. People who want to identify a problem, apply a fix and move on. I don’t like entertaining serious emotions all day. I just want to work through them and move on.
I was attracting people with real problems and I was not qualified to help them. I didn’t want a stream of depressed people at my door. God bless all the therapists out there that do that work, because it’s a job I definitely do not want to have to do. I had no business helping someone to solve their deep-seated personal issues. This was supposed to be lighthearted self improvement.
It’s at this point I sort of crashed on The Eureka Room (again). I had been working this mindfultainment vision in one way or another for a couple years. It wasn’t working and I knew it. And I didn’t even want it to work.
I did, however feel that this “mindfultainment” was close to the thing that I SHOULD be working on. I wasn’t sure what it was. Some of the testers were kind enough to stay after I had bombarded them with awfulness to give me some better direction. The direction was the EAST programs. My sort of throwaways. That’s what they liked.
And here’s the thing: that’s what I liked, too. Those were fun to create, fun to share and fun for visitors. But this would mean throwing out work from the last year and starting with something fresh. It was agonizing to think about doing that. But I knew something had to change. I decided to dedicate time to really thinking about, experimenting, and discovering what The Eureka Room really is.