I Rest My Pace

This week I sliced my thumb nearly to the bone, smashed my knee so hard my head exploded, bought $400 worth of software it turned out I did not need, and spent one long day griping at everyone I saw. This, gentle reader, does not fulfill my self-help motto “live it to give it.”

At the end of that awful day, bruised and bleeding from both my thumb and my bank account, I realized I had lost the life rhythm of my essential self. I was working flat out and accomplishing very little.

This is not a first for me.

Past experience has taught me that although we all have the same amount of time in one day of our lives, we can put a great deal of life in our days by re-establishing our natural rhythm. It’s not about working harder, smarter or faster; it’s about working in harmony. (Check out this month’s telecourse below to get Terry and Susan’s take on this issue)

The rhythm of our essential selves is like almost every other rhythm in nature. It has two phases which I call “rest” and “play.” When you rest in harmony with your essential self, you feel as drowsy and contented as a cat in the sun. Right now, look back on a wonderful lazy day in your past. Maybe you were falling in love or you just finished a huge project. For some reason, you’ve given yourself permission to just goof off.

For the next ten minutes, give yourself that permission again. For me, it helps to pretend I’m in the company of “resting buddies.” These are real people in my life with whom I’ve goofed off in the past. As I picture them, that energy of loving relaxation comes back easily. It can also help to be around an animal — a horse, an iguana, or a dog — who is just being.

As you stay connected with your essential self through rest, there will come a moment when something piques your interest. You will want to get up and investigate, or you’ll be thrilled by the idea of exploring some area of your life – familiar or unfamiliar. (For me, this often takes the form of something I want to write.)

This is your signal that the essential self has finished resting and wants to play. Let it.

In previous posts, I’ve mentioned the idea of using the word play to replace the word work. If you have no way to feel playful doing your work, get different work. One of my coaches will be happy to help you.

This is not to say that play is easy. Real creativity, which is the essence of play, can feel absolutely grueling. But ultimately there is a sense of joy and meaning in having done it. The essential self doesn’t mind hard work. But it will reject meaningless work.

Of course you may not always be able to dictate the times when the external world wants you to work or play. So make conscious deals with your essential self (I’ve shown you how to do this in my first-ever video blog) Say right out loud, “Essential self, I promise you, that if you get up now and drive to the office with me, I will spend 2 hours goofing off this evening.” (For me “goofing off” is always watching TV with my family.) Or “Essential self, my body’s too tired to keep playing and I need rest. I’ll play your favorite computer game so you can wind down.” You’d be amazed how your energy cooperates when you make and keep such promises.

This is what I did to get back in touch with my own harmony. Though I felt as if I were slowing down, every good thing in my life suddenly quickens. People who had been ignoring me once again began returning my emails and getting my work done. Once I’d rested deeply, the project I was “playing” on developed with astonishing speed and ease.

You get more life in your time when you find the path of harmony, rather than the path of force. And it really, truly feels as if you have more time in your life, too.

More time. Can you imagine that?

I Can’t Stop the Waves, But I Can Learn to Surf

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Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa: I’ve had a checkered history with blog posts because of old mental patterns I don’t want to release. My computer was once my sanctum sanctorum, the place I went to write, the object of fiercely undivided attention. Since I have a massive case of ADD (doesn’t everyone?) focusing my entire mind on one thin line of prose is no easy task for me, and once I’ve managed that, the imposition of other people into my quiet space can feel almost unbearable.

These days I’ve come to accept that very few things can have anyone’s undivided attention any more. I’m having to make due with divided attention. For example, blogs are divided attention—anyone can read them—and because I’m writing them I have less time for individual coaching, or sending long and frequent emails to my dear friends and relations. This goes against my grain, stirs up all sorts of painful stories in my mind: But they NEED my UNDIVIDED attention! It all makes me just a tiny bit stressed, like a lab hamster in an experiment that involves setting off deafening smoke alarms right in my cage at random intervals.

But just now, I ran across a tidbit of thought that is reorienting my feelings about our current Age of Distraction. It’s an article by Steve Silberman in this month’s edition of the magazine Shambala Sun. The author describes a conversation with the wonderful Buddhist teacher John Tarrant, who says, “People first learn to meditate while sitting, then while walking. Eventually they learn to cultivate the mind of awareness while talking or preparing a meal. Why should websurfing be any different?”

Tarrant goes on to describe how he experiences a mindful approach to the Internet. There is a calm awareness deeper than physical or mental sensation, the compassionate observer who merely notices events going on around us or in our chattering “monkey minds.” Tarrant says, “It’s calm and having a good time, noticing, ‘He’s got a headache,’ or, ‘Hes online now, and he thinks his attention is scattered.”

“He thinks his attention is scattered.” This sentence is a revelation to me, and also an objective. I plan to begin observing myself online as I observe myself during my morning ritual, when I sit by the window, sip a cup of tea or coffee, and sort the disturbances of my thoughts and emotions from the calm of the observing awareness. I plan to pay a lot of attention to my divided attention.

Strange Book Preview

Hey, everybody!

I just discovered this cool program called “wordle.”  Google it!  You paste in a bunch of text, and according to word repetition and frequency, it creates a “word cloud” that represents your whole text in one schmear. Here’s what the first 90 pages of my new book The Team look like in Wordle. I know it’s tiny, but you can check it out by enlarging your screen view if that’s one of your computer’s features. Me, I just mash my corneas directly on the screen these days…

By the way, I’m fully aware of the irony that the word I’ve use most often in this book so far is “wordlessness.”  

Try Wordle yourself–maybe this is the new direction of book writing.  Wonder what War and Peace would read in Wordle…and something tells me we’ll soon find out.

THE TEAM SO FAR

Wordle: Team so far

Creating Brilliant Ideas

In many ways, one thing you can never anticipate is the quagmire of logistical and psychological problems that may confront you when you set out to find your own North Star.  It’s hard for me to write about your particular real world dilemmas, since everyone’s life is unique and conditions are changing so quickly that many of the problems that you are experiencing today probably didn’t exist five years ago.  (How do I reclaim my twitter account after it’s been hijacked in an identity theft?)

That’s why I’ve been studying ways in which some of the world’s smartest people solve unprecedented problems.  I’m especially enjoying the work of Barry Nalebuff and Ian Ayres, two Yale professors whose book Why Not: How to Use Everyday Ingenuity to Solve Problems Big and Small has handed me more aha moments than I usually get in a month of Sundays.  

I highly recommend this book, and I’m looking forward to implementing the authors’ ideas in this month’s telecourse “Brilliant Ideas and How to Create Them.”  Try this: think of an annoying dilemma you’ll face today, one that makes you think “someone should do something about this.”  Then try something Ayes and Nalebuff call the “Croesus solution”: if you had infinite financial resources how would you address the problem?  Once you’ve thought of at least one answer, switch to “the look for less” strategy.  See if you can apply a similar solution for less money.  

For example, suppose there’s someone very needy in your life who constantly demands caretaking.  If you were filthy rich you might:
1.  Hire a doe-eyed college sophomore to gaze adoringly at him while he whines.
2.  Put armed guards throughout his house to threaten his life if he makes a sound.
3.  Pay Dr. Phil to spend quality time with him (why not, he’d do it for Brittany?)

To get this effect for less you could:
1.  Pay a psychology graduate student to do an hour of reflective listening.
2.  Buy a bow and arrow and threaten his life yourself (this avoids the inconvenient delay necessitated by a firearms background check.)
3.  Rent a boxed set of the Dr. Phil show on DVD and insist that the complainer watch every episode before you speak to him again.

Would these necessarily work?  No, but just by thinking of them, your paralysis around this issue will begin to soften and brilliant solutions to the problem will begin percolating over from the right side of your brain into conscious awareness.  If you’re having trouble coming up with Croesus solutions, jump in and brainstorm with us during our telecourse on September 23rd and 30th.  

Enjoy Why Not. And write and tell us about the brilliant solutions that come to your mind as you read it. 

The subtle tricks to building an effective vision board

by Pamela Slim

If you have been around the field of personal development in the past 20 years, you have surely heard of vision boards as a great way to graphically illustrate your hopes and dreams, as well as increase the likelihood that you will get what you wish for.

Martha was recently on Oprah talking with Louise Hay and Cheryl Richardson about the Law of Attraction.  Helping to demystify  “the secret behind The Secret,” they discussed practical ways to attract more of what you want in your life and less of what you don’t.

Martha and Cheryl brought their own vision boards as examples.   Martha’s included elements of friends and spirituality, as well as a picture of a dog that now hounds her to go for a walk.  Cheryl’s included a picture of a man representing her future groom (who later appeared, and married her).  The show also featured two young sisters, Dominique and Brittany, who demonstrated that you are never too young to put the Law of Attraction to work.

If I would have known about vision boards at age 12, I would look like Cheryl Tiegs, be married to Tony Orlando, and have the Bay City Rollers play at my wedding.  It takes the expression “Be careful what you wish for; you just may get it!” to a whole new level.

But since I am putting together my first vision board at the age of 41, I tuned into a conversation with Martha and Master Coach Theresa Anderson for some tips on unconventional ways to create an effective vision board.

The basics

The mechanics of creating a vision board couldn’t be easier:  get a piece of poster board, glue, magazines  and scissors and cut and paste to your heart’s content.  If you are really motivated, go to the scrap booking section of your local art store and get some fancy stickers, colored paper or other creative materials.

Beyond the basics – how to make the experience much more powerful

What these basic steps fail to take into account is the impact of our social selves on the visioning process.  If we let our brains run the show, we can end up with a board with more bling than Mr. T, but devoid of real purpose and emotion.  This is unlikely to attract much of anything except dust on a shelf.  Instead, consider these tips to super-charge your vision board:

  • Create the “anti-vision board,” either literally by creating a board with images that make your stomach turn, or just by thinking about all the things that you don’t want in your life.  The metaphor Martha used when describing this is the feeling of jumping in a deep diving pool, then pushing off the bottom to shoot up and see how high you can go.   When you know what you don’t want, it can help clarify what you do.  It is related to Chapter Two of Finding Your Own North Star which I wrote about in a prior post, Was Nancy Reagan right?  How just saying NO can change your life.
  • If you just grab the magazines lying around your house,  you may miss images that represent a future you haven’t yet imagined.  Instead, go to a bookstore that has a really great magazine selection and play the Hot-Warm-Cold game:
    • Get as calm as you can by relaxing, breathing deeply and imaging an extremely positive experience in your life (a “+10 for those familiar with the scale).
    • Stand in front of the magazine rack and squint your eyes so you can’t read the words but you can see the outlines of the images.
    • Grab any magazines that jump out at you, regardless if they make sense to your rational mind (Bug Collectors Today, Maxim, Off-Road Vehicles and Martha Stewart Living may be odd companions, but don’t question it!)
    • Go sit somewhere comfortable and leaf through the images.  Weed out those magazines that truly don’t resonate with your body.
  • Feel, don’t think your way through the exercise.
    Our rational minds imagine our futures in neat, organized steps.  So it is very tempting to search for images by thinking things like: “What is the logical next step in my career?’ or “What kind of man would make me happy?” or “What tropical destination is most affordable for a family of five?” Martha says: “To act without thinking is almost unthinkable in our culture!  Powerful action can occur without any thought.”
  • Observe your process of making the vision board; it can clue you into the way you operate in life. So if you take too much time looking for the “ideal images,” you may find that perfectionism gets in your way.  If you never make time to complete the exercise, you may find that you spend so much time taking care of everyone else’s needs that you neglect your own.

While doing these things, watch out for these 5 DON’Ts:

  • Don’t be seduced by the marketing.
    If you flip through one magazine for too long, you will get pulled into the advertising trance of the images and words.  Tune into how the images are making you feel:  anxious, jealous, joyful, trapped?  Pick out the images that make your body feel great – like the way favorite food tastes when you are hungry.
  • Don’t stick with what’s possible.
    If you have a big pile of images that don’t seem to go together, don’t worry about it!  You may not know what a fly fisherman in Montana and a yurt in Mongolia have to do with each other.  Don’t try to make a rational connection, just accept that both images mean something to your Stargazer self.
  • Don’t look at the images in a conventional way.
    Turn the magazines upside down and look at the images as designs instead of literal pictures.  Notice how your body reacts.  Many people will lean towards images that feel right, and lean away from those that feel wrong.  Others notice a very “open” feeling in their head or chest towards attractive images and muscle tension when viewing repelling ones. As you gaze at these images, your mind may try to identify their literal form.  Martha says:  “Knowing what that thing is will not help you as much as picking it without thought.”
  • Don’t fall for clichés
    While researching for this post, I thought I would see if there was software available for this traditionally homemade activity.  And I will be honest:  every site I visited made me want to vomit.  Because they contained, along with slick sales letters and cheesy audio greetings, extremely materialistic and cliché images:  Palm trees.  Beaches.  Fast cars.  Dollar signs.  Beautiful women.  In short, every get rich quick symbol possible.  The point is not that you can’t have a picture of a palm tree and a beach on your vision board.  But only include these images if you are magnetically attracted to them.  Don’t put anything on your board that doesn’t feel extremely juicy and appealing.
  • Don’t settle for second best.  If you get a strong feeling that you want to interview with Matt Lauer on The Today Show but can only find a picture of your local consumer affairs reporter, leave the space blank!

Why does a vision board work?
While many claim the power of vision boards are rooted in the Law of Attraction, Martha explains it a bit more simply:

“When you put your attention on something, you experience more of it. Maybe it is created by a magical force of attention. At the very least, you are going to selectively pay attention to these things you like once you selectively start to gear yourself to focus on them more.”

Once the board is created, how to get the most of it:

  • Don’t cling to it.  Put it where you can see it, and think “this is a picture that makes me happy.”
  • Don’t get frustrated that you don’t have it yet.  As much as you can, detach from outcomes.
  • Take a picture of it so you can look at it outside of its physical location.  You could store it on your cellphone and flash on it while in line to pay your light bill.  Or you can save it on your laptop at work and view it while pretending to analyze a sales graph in a meeting.  Per the points above, this is not so you can become obsessed by the images, but rather to have a pleasant glimpse into the future that awaits you.

Other fun, inspirational sites to stimulate your creative thinking and collect images:

  • istockphoto – use keywords to search from a gigantic database of beautiful photo images (this is a paid service since it compensates the photographers who contribute photos, but the quality is exceptional).
  • Our favorite creativity coach Christine Kane wrote a post about her own experience with a vision board, which she followed up with How to Make a Vision Board which got a healthy 97 additional comments from readers!
  • PostSecret is an amazing blog project where people create anonymous postcards with their deepest secrets.  It is another great place to get inspired by hand-created images, and the power of the authentic voice.
  • 2008 Design Trends has some beautiful web design images that can stimulate your design eye.
  • The cool picture of the day site has some really unusual and creative photos.

Finally, if you want to listen to Martha describing the process herself, check out How to Create a Starlight Vision Board.

I hope that you enjoy the process of creating your vision board as much as I did!  Please share your tips or comments on making effective vision boards here.

How to Be Wildly Successful

1446406_66287862It was a problem I’d never anticipated: My brainy daughter was having trouble in school. Katie began teaching herself to read at 15 months and tested at a “post–high school” level in almost every subject by fourth grade. Yet her middle-school grades were dropping like a lead balloon, and her morale along with them. I cared more about the morale than the grades. I knew Katie was quickly losing something educational psychologists call her sense of self-efficacy—her belief that she could succeed at specific tasks and life in general. People who lack this trait tend to stop trying because they expect to fail. Then, of course, they do fail, feel even worse, shut down even more, and carry on to catastrophe.

I couldn’t understand what put Katie on this slippery slope. True, some people seem genetically inclined to believe in themselves—or not—but experience powerfully influences our sense of self-efficacy. I knew Katie had been confident as a preschooler, but her current trouble at school was destroying her optimism. I tried to help in every way I could. I created homework-checking systems, communicated with teachers like bosom buddies, doled out penalties and rewards. Mostly, though, I just kept cheering Katie on. I was sure that if she would stop hesitating, believe in herself, and just throw herself into the task at hand, she’d get past the problem.

Boy, was I ever wrong.

It took years of confidence-battering struggle—for both Katie and me—before I finally got the information I needed. It came from a no-nonsense bundle of kindly energy named Kathy Kolbe, a specialist on the instinctive patterns that shape human action. Kathy’s father pioneered many standardized intelligence tests, but Kathy was born with severe dyslexia, which meant that this obviously bright little girl didn’t learn in a typical way. She grew up determined to understand and defend the different ways in which people go about solving problems.

The day Katie and I met her, Kathy was wearing a T-shirt that said “do nothing when nothing works,” a motto that typifies her approach. On her desk were the results from the tests (the Kolbe A and Y Indexes) that my daughter and I had just taken to evaluate our personal “conative styles,” or typical action patterns.

“Well,” said Kathy, glancing at a bar graph, “I see you both listen better when you’re drawing.”

Katie and I stared at each other, astonished. Bull’s-eye.

“And you’ve both had a zillion teachers tell you to stop drawing. They said you could do only one thing at a time, but that’s not true for you two, is it? You have a hard time focusing if there’s nothing to occupy your eyes and hands.”

Unexpectedly, I found myself tearing up with gratitude. I’d never realized how frustrated I’d been by the very situation Kathy was describing. Katie sat up a little straighter in her chair.

“But,” Kathy went on, “Martha, you go about problem-solving in a different way from Katie. There are four basic action modes, and you’re what I call a Quick Start. When you want to learn, you just jump in and start messing around.”

Another bull’s-eye. I cannot count the times I’ve been defeated, humiliated, or physically injured immediately after saying the words, “Hey, how hard can it be?” But that never seems to stop me from saying them again.

“Now,” Kathy went on, “Katie’s not a Quick Start. She’s a Fact Finder. Before she starts a task, she needs to know all about it. She needs to go through the instructions and analyze them for flaws, then get more information to fill in the gaps.”

To my amazement, my daughter nodded vigorously. I’ve never understood why some people hesitate before diving into unfamiliar tasks or activities. I couldn’t imagine wanting more instructions about anything.

“There are two other typical patterns,” Kathy explained. “The people I call Implementors—like Thomas Edison, for example—need physical objects to work with. They figure out things by building models or doing concrete tasks. Then there are the Follow Thrus. They set up orderly systems, like the Dewey decimal system or a school curriculum.

“And that, Katie,” she said, “is why you’re having trouble. The school system was created mainly by people who are natural Follow Thrus. It works best for students with the same profile. Your teachers want you to fit into the system, but you have a hard time seeing how it works. If you question the instructions—which you absolutely need to do—they think you’re being sassy.”

Katie nodded so hard I feared for her cervical vertebrae. I was stunned. I’d spent years trying to understand my daughter, and a veritable stranger had just nailed the problem in ways I’d never even conceptualized. Katie wanted more instructions? You could have knocked me down with a feather.

Basic Instinct

I’ve told this story in detail because since meeting Kathy, studying her work, and seeing how dramatically it affects people and their productivity, I’ve become convinced that many of us feel like failures because we don’t recognize (let alone accept) that our instinctive methods of acting are as varied as our eye color. Our modus operandi shapes the way we do everything: make breakfast, drive, learn math. Not recognizing natural differences in our conative styles—assuming instead that we’re idiots because we do things unconventionally—can destroy that precious sense of self-efficacy.

Imagine a race between four animals: an otter, a mole, a squirrel, and a mouse. They’re headed for a goal several feet away. Which animal will win? Well, it depends. If the goal is underground, my money’s on the mole. If it’s in a tree? Hello, Mr. Squirrel. Underwater, it’s the otter. And if the goal is hidden in tall grass, the mouse will walk away with it. Now, all these animals can swim, dig, climb, and find things in the grass. It’s just that each of them does one of these things better than the others. Putting all four animals in a swimming race, say, would lead to the conclusion that one was better than the others, when the truth is simply that their innate skills are different.

If we’re in an environment (such as school, a job, or a family tradition) that asks us to act against our natural style, we feel uncomfortable at best, tormented at worst. Even if we manage to conform, we don’t get a high sense of self-efficacy because although we’ve managed the efficacy part of the equation, we’ve lost the self. When we fail, we feel like losers; when we succeed, we feel like impostors.

Thanks to Kathy’s work (and centuries of psychological work on conation), I’ve stopped asking others to match my instinctive style. I no longer expect squirrels to swim and otters to climb trees. As a result, I’m better able to support myself, my children, and everyone else I know. Here’s a quick primer on how you can do the same:

Accept that you have an inborn, instinctive style of action

Just learning that there are four distinct patterns of action was a huge aha for me. When Katie and I accepted that we simply had different ways of doing things, our relationship and her confidence began to improve immediately. To identify your own action-mode profile, you can take a formal online test (the Kolbe Index at kolbe.com; there is a charge), or just observe your own approach to getting something done. To give you an example, people with different profiles might respond to a challenge—let’s say, learning to crochet—in the following ways:

  • Quick Start: If you’re a Quick Start who wants to crochet, you’ll probably buy some yarn and a hook, get a few tips from an experienced crochetmeister, and jump right into trial and error.
  • Fact Finder: You’ll spend hours reading, watching, asking questions, and learning about crocheting before actually beginning to use the tools.
  • Implementor: You pay less attention to words than to concrete objects, so you might draw a pattern of a crochet stitch or even create a large model using thick rope, before you go near a needle.
  • Follow Thru: You’ll likely schedule a lesson with a crochet teacher or buy a book that proceeds through a yarn curriculum, learning new stitches in order of difficulty.

None of these approaches is right or wrong. They can all succeed brilliantly. But someone who’s programmed to use one style will feel awkward and discouraged trying to follow another. We can all master each style if we have to, the way a mole can swim or an otter can climb trees, but it’s not a best-case scenario.

So I finally stopped pressuring Katie to act like her Follow Thru teachers or her Quick Start mother. Instead I helped her find detailed information and gave her time to absorb it. She recently devoured a 1,000-page book on Web site design that I would not read if the alternative were death on the rack. It took her a month to finish the book. The next day, she made a Web site. Spooky.

Play to your strengths

Once you know your instinctive style, brainstorm ways to make it work for you, not against you. For starters, choose fields of endeavor where you feel comfortable and competent. If you love systematic structure, don’t become a freelancer. If you are crazy about physical models, don’t force yourself to crunch financial statistics for a living.

To really boost your sense of self-efficacy, think of ways you could modify your usual tasks to suit your personal style. For example, Kathy suggested that Katie might ask for permission to do detailed research reports in place of other school assignments. I nearly threw up at the very thought, but to my astonishment Katie agreed enthusiastically.

Of course, you’ll inevitably interact with people whose instinctive patterns are different from yours. Otter, Mole, Squirrel, and Mouse may all show up in the same family, workplace, or book club. Occasionally, it’s fine to conform, using styles of action that don’t come naturally—but do it consciously and for a limited time, or your sense of self-efficacy will suffer. And finally…

Team up with unlike others

As long as Otter, Mole, Squirrel, and Mouse are forced to race in the same terrain, at least three of them will be out of their element, looking and feeling like failures. But think what they could do if they pooled their skills. They could access resources from the water, earth, trees, and fields, combining them in ways none of the animals could achieve alone. They could rule the world! (Or at least the backyard.)

This is the very best way to leverage an understanding of conative style—to create useful, complementary strategies instead of disheartening, competitive ones. Many of us have spent a lifetime trying to be what we’re not, feeling lousy about ourselves when we fail and sometimes even when we succeed. We hide our differences when, by accepting and celebrating them, we could collaborate to make every effort more exciting, productive, enjoyable, and powerful. Personally, I think we should start right now. I mean, hey, how hard can it be?