Honestly, you’re not all that busy

Most people work in excess of 8 hours each day. Of those 8 hours, how many do you think are actually productive hours? In fact, don’t think about other people, think about yourself.

If I am completely honest I’d say that only 3-4 of those 8 hours are anywhere approaching productive. And here’s the thing: I am probably the most efficient and effective person I know. I’m not boasting. I just get a lot done. And yet I run at lees than 50% efficiency. Egad!

Now, before we continue, please watch this video. Gautam Jain is much smarter than I am and explains this all rather well.

 

Controlling what happens in your own head can be a tough gig. First you have to understand how you actually sabotage your own chances of getting stuff done. The above video points you in the right direction. All of that chatter in your head gets in your way. It’s hard to have a clear line of thinking if all that noise is getting in the way.

Quieting the noise in your head is initially very, very challenging, and ultimately very, very rewarding.

And just how does one go about quieting all that noise? Good question. I’m glad you asked. I have a two-fold approach. It worked for me. And it might just work for you too. First, meditate. Second, learn about your brain.

Meditation. Nothing original there. Lots of people recommend meditation. And for good reason. I’ve tried a whole lot of practices and found that two sat with me quite well (no pun intended). The first is mindfulness meditation. The second is zazen.

Mindfulness is removed from any spiritual anchors. It is all about appreciating the here and now. It helps you understand that all that noise is about the past and the future, and not the present. I’ve even done a guided mediation that focusses on appreciating chocolate. Yum!

Zazen is the seated mediation performed be practitioners of Zen Buddhism. It is a little more serious, and I’d suggest finding a sangha (community) to help you down this path. The practice is quite strict and having a qualified teacher is essential. I have practice zazen at home but it is incomplete without a good teacher.

As for learning about your brain, I don’t suggest you go off an enrol in a psychology course. You can learn some key concepts by getting familiar with the basic foundations of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). Yes, there is a lot of controversy surrounding NLP and that’s due predominantly to those who use what they learn about how the minds works for less savoury outcomes. In fact, I avoided learning more about NLP for years because I thought it was all manipulation and trickery. How wrong I was.

NLP teaches that you are in control of your thoughts and feelings. It shows how you lay down memories, how you perceive the world around you, and how your beliefs can help and hinder you.

When you begin to understand how you do things inside your head, you will get a clearer picture of why you have so much noise in there.

My little two-fold approach is about understanding what goes on between your ears and then developing the requisite skills to change what is happening when it doesn’t serve you.

Closing thoughts:

  • If you want to practice a guided mindfulness mediation, I really dig Sam Harris.
  • Some of the best Zen dharma talks available anywhere are from Eshu Martin, Osho.
  • My recommendation for all things NLP is Gordon Young at Beyond NLP.

Taking control of what happens inside your head

My son, Will, is a very creative, imaginative young boy. His mind runs wild with daydreams. I feel that this will be a major asset when he becomes an adult. It is part of his greatness. His creativity and unbridled imagination have a lot of power.

In many ways Will is very different from me. As a parent I am conscious of not moulding him into something he is not, and instead celebrating and encouraging his strengths.

Of late, Will’s imagination has caused him some distress during the night hours. He has been complaining about being scared. He is not scared of anything that is real. He is scared of the things he conjures up inside his head. He knows these things aren’t real and yet they still scare him. His mind, like yours and mine, is a very powerful piece of machinery.

Trying to explain away a child’s fears very rarely works. Just because we adults understand what’s what doesn’t mean that makes any sense for the child in question. Taking a logical stance to help Will was never going to be the answer. Instead I decided to teach him a new game.

The game we played was based on a technique I learned while studying NLP. I started by asking Will what he saw in his head when he was scared. He told me he saw spiders. I then asked him a few more questions about the characteristics of the image he saw. I asked about colour, depth, size, and movement. Next, I asked him to picture something that made him feel happy and safe. He struggled. So, I suggested a few animals he likes. He chose one. And we discussed the qualities of the new image. Then the game began.

When Will complained that the spiders were scaring him, I asked him to move that image out of his head and replace it with the other image. He did this a few times. The spiders kept coming back, and each time he moved them away and instead focused on the more positive image. We made the game fun.

Will learned how to change what happens inside his own head. More importantly, he learned that he is in control. Now when he gets scared he knows how to change his thoughts. It’s powerful stuff for a seven year old to grasp. I wish I’d played this game as a youngster.

 

The power of our own minds is almost unlimited. And most of us have no idea how much control we have over our thoughts, emotions and reactions to external stimuli. If a seven year old can change his thinking, what can a more mature brain accomplish? It’s a big question.

The key underpinning premise of NLP is that we are each in control of our own worlds. No one can make us think or feel anything. Our responses are completely up to us. We choose what happens inside our heads. Far from being daunting, this is one of the most empowering revelations I’ve ever had. I am in control. You are in control. The way we move through the world largely depends on how we choose to process and perceive the world around us.

 

Do you want to play a game? Next time you get down on yourself consider the image in your head. Analyse it. Then replace it with a more positive image. It might take some practice. You should notice one of two things. Either your mood changes as soon as you change the internal image, or you learn that you are in control and whilst your mood might not improve immediately you know that you can make a change whenever you choose to.

If you can change what you see in your head whenever you want to, what else can you control? Think about it. Can you take control of your reactive emotions? Can you defeat your bad habits? Can you stop procrastinating?

 

Will is using this new game of his to help in other areas of his life too. At seven he knows more about his brain than I did when I was thirty.

Valuable questions about creativity (and following your dreams)

Watercolour Painting

The reticular activating system (RAS) is the part of your brain that processes most of the incoming information we receive. It’s pretty damn interesting. It’s also responsible for noticing the new and novel things around us. Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) talks about the RAS quite a bit. As I understand it, the RAS helped us not get eaten by sabre-tooth tigers back in the day. Not a bad piece of equipment to have on your side.

The recognition and processing of new and novel information is something that’s been front-of-mind for me lately. I seem to notice the same stuff over and over again. I know I’m not the only one. You do it to, right? Like when you want to buy a new car, and all you see on the roads is that car, in the colour you want. It’s pattern recognition. We humans are good at it. It used to keep us alive.

So, lately, I’ve been noticing discussions about creativity. They’re happening all around me. A lot of the time the discussions encompass points about the flow state, the dangers of hyper-analysis, and doing stuff you really want to do.

I often catch myself wondering why the hell I’m thinking about this stuff? Why is creativity all of a sudden important to me? Have I been missing it? Is my work now demanding more creativity than it was, say, last month?

Well, I’ve discovered that I haven’t really been all that creative this year. In fact, if I’m brutally honest, I have to say my creativity has been stifled. I’ve been focusing on a lot of dull business stuff. It’s paid off financially but it hasn’t been rewarding in the deeper sense. So, perhaps now I am seeking some balance between the creative and the less creative.

Re-activating this here blog, starting to write more often, and exploring the creative outlets that I’ve dabbled in previously are all attempts to get more creative. I’ve started taking photos. I’ve picked up my guitar. I’m paying closer attention to musical composition. I’m listening to creative masters explain their processes. I’m learning that creativity is important. Very important.

All the stuff we generally dig is made by creative people. The art, the music, the films, the books. It’s all creative. And I really want to encompass that creativity in my work.

Outside of my work time, I want to start being more creative. I sense this will have a two-fold benefit: firstly, it will help me relax, and secondly, it will help me be more creative in my work.

All this thinking about creativity got me thinking about my childhood. I recall a recent podcast interview that mentioned most people are truly content when they choose the vocation they wanted to pursue as a child. It struck home. But I had to really, really think about what it was that I wanted to do as a youngster. I couldn’t recall immediately.

It turns out, that I wanted to be creative. If I had followed my heart I would have pursued photography and graphic design. But, alas, stupid conservativeness got the better of me and I chose to study IT.

So, my reticular activating system has been working overtime lately. And I’ve been listening. The universe is trying to tell me something… Be more creative. Get your flow on. Be childlike.

 

What are you discovering right now?
What is the universe trying to tell you?
Are you listening?

How to boost your results in one quick move

It’s been my experience – both personally and as a coach – that we humans have our activity cycle back-to-front. The process by which we make the decisions that lead to action are tied up with our emotional state and belief structures. Let me explain.

The activity cycle has three steps:

  • Confidence
  • Clarity
  • Action

This is a cycle. In fact, it’s a feedback loop. It could be a negative or a positive loop depending on the results of the activity. And, of course, the step in the cycle that is either elevated or depressed is confidence. And, confidence is key.

The reason I say we are back-to-front is where we start in the cycle. We want to be clear on everything before we get started. This builds our confidence and then we take action. Me included.

The thing is while we want to go around the cycle from clarity to confidence to action, reality is not that simple.

Clarity comes after action. We cannot get clear on anything if we do nothing. So activity is required to produce clarity. Clarity never comes first.

Clarity comes after action. Confidence comes after clarity. Once we have taken action, gotten clear on the result of that action (and maybe repeated this a few times) the result is confidence. I’ll admit sometimes this takes a while. But confidence, like clarity, doesn’t just magically appear (at least not for most of us).

The key to boosting our results is simple: take action. The act of taking action will provide the data needed to make the next decision and take the next action. We all have to stop hyper-analysing everything to the point of paralysis, and get on with the doing.

As we take more action, we become clearer on the what, why and how of our activities, and that eventually leads to confidence.

Confidence feeds our future actions and the activity cycles starts to work for rather than against us.

In conclusion, take action. Now!

Questions and Clarity.

A little while back – how long exactly I’m not sure – I wrote myself a short, simple guide to less stress and more productivity. It took the form of a number of questions that I used to prompt myself to remember what is truly important so I could have more clarity.

Here’s the list in its entirety. Mostly unedited from the original. There’s some business stuff but it’s mostly bigger picture.

What’s important?

  • Life goals
  • Financial goals
  • Commitments
  • Must haves

What’s your passion?

  • Are you in the right field?
  • How can you help others?
  • Can you make money?
  • How can you do it better than others?

Who is your audience?

  • Who can you help?
  • Where can you find them?
  • Who do you want to work with?
  • How can you attract them?

What is your message?

  • Why are you different to everyone else?
  • What do you stand for?
  • What are you saying?
  • What language are you using?
  • How are you communicating your message?

What is working right now?

  • How do you know it’s working?
  • Can you make it better?
  • Is it important?

What isn’t working right now?

  • How do you know it’s not working?
  • Can you fix it?
  • Is it important?

What do you like doing?

  • Which business tasks do you enjoy?
  • Which tasks are you good at?
  • Which tasks benefit the business?
  • What do you like doing outside of work?
  • What would you do if money wasn’t an issue?

What do you not like doing?

  • Which business tasks do you hate doing?
  • Why are you doing them?
  • Can someone else do these tasks?
  • Are you an expert is these areas?
  • Can you find an expert?

What is causing you stress?

  • What keeps you up at night?
  • Which tasks do you avoid?
  • Is all your stress related to money?