Are you following love into fear?

 

Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. –Helen Keller

When I was 14 years old I realized that I could either: 1) do something that scared me every day, or 2) live under my bed hoping to catch and eat the occasional mouse, like a snake. I was so frightened of life that I could see my life as an agoraphobe rising over the horizon.

I chose a life of fear. Thank God.

I’ve been guided by fear my whole life, but not the way you’d think. Being afraid of something—as long as the something sounded remotely interesting—became my cue to throw myself into that very thing.

All my life, I’ve addressed crowds because I’m scared of public speaking, traveled because I’m afraid of jetlag, written books because I’m pretty sure that everything I’ve ever written flat-out sucks.

All I wanted was a life that kept me out from under the bed. I didn’t expect that my full-frontal-fear lifestyle would give me a profoundly meaningful career, deep and lasting love, and countless experiences so amazing I’d think I dreamed them if I didn’t still have the receipts.

I’m so grateful for all this bounty.

And I’m still terrified.

Today, I have to pack for a retreat I’m running in Africa, write my column for Oprah Magazine, and begin shaping my ideas for a new book. These activities all scare me spitless, which means I absolutely will do them.

Damn it!

Of course, even though my fear never vanishes, things are easier now. Because these days, I know that other terrified people (maybe you’re one of them) are walking right beside me. People who’ve joined my tribe of hardy Wayfinder Life Coaches, or ripped open their souls for the Write Into Light course, or started their own books.

I won’t tell you that you can’t get hurt doing this. You can get devastated. It’s happened to me a hundred times. It’s happened to everyone who follows love right into fear. Too bad. Try it anyway. Climb out from under the bed. Spit out your last mouse tail. Grab one of our clammy, shaking hands, find a fear—got it?—and forward march.

 

Stop Doubting and Start Writing

“When I write,” Kurt Vonnegut famously said, “I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth.” We all feel that way when we set out to do something truly important. I doubt that Vonnegut ever believed his writing achieved as much as he wanted it to. But it changed a lot of things, all over the world. For one thing, it changed a Mormon girl growing up in Provo, Utah. It changed me.

The best parts of my childhood were made of books. That’s why, as I grew up, I came to see every task as trivial compared to sacred process of writing. Written language is such a huge magic, such a magnificent castle to explore with our minds, that it’s both magnetic to me, and scary as hell. The first time I had to write a poem for school, I didn’t sleep for five nights. They had to put me on Valium. But after that—even when the Valium ran out—I found that I felt much, much better when I continued writing. Writing became my sanctuary, my trusted friend.

Do you feel this way too? If so, I have some good news, and some bad news.

Bad news first: Those of us who know we’re supposed to write can no longer afford the luxury of procrastination. The world is a freaking mess, have you noticed? The madmen are running the asylum. Monstrous narcissism and lethal short-sightedness dominate every sort of social pyramid. Earth’s ecosystems are failing. Something has to change.

Now the good news: WE CAN CHANGE THINGS! ALL THE THINGS! We can change them in our pajamas! We just have to use the full, healing magic of writing.

For decades, I’ve been devising ways to use writing as a two-stage healing process. First, I use different strategies to “write inward,” discovering and expressing truths I didn’t know I knew. Then I find the flow reversing direction, finding different strategies to “write outward,” sending my newly discovered truth out to help someone—anyone—else.

Writing, you see, is equal-opportunity magic. It loves us all.

I believe with all my heart that if we use writing in this way, we can fix almost everything have broken. I know it’s an audacious belief, but what the hell, writing is audacious magic. One clear thought, powerfully phrased, can literally change history. You don’t have to create a book. Your message can be on a blog, or a tweet, or a damn T-shirt. But you have to write it.

I can sense you out there, feeling armless and legless, mouthing your one pathetic crayon. You probably feel like your crayon isn’t even the right color. Dear one, we all feel that way. IT DOESN’T MATTER. The time has come to stop doubting, and start writing.

Need community to cheer you on? Join the Write Into Light course. Need a role model? Read great writing. Need a reason? Look around. As Toni Morrison says, “There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.”

So put fear aside, my brave world-healer. Wriggle your way over to the nearest wall. Take your crayon firmly in your lips. Begin.

Freedom from Fixed Ideas

Almost every client I’ve ever coached, including multi-millionaires, has been worried about money. Everyone’s after the magic that will pop abundance into their bank accounts. Often, that magic is hideously oversimplified, boiled down to ridiculous magical thinking.

On the other hand, everything I’ve observed in decades of coaching and observation tells me that there really is a process—subtle and far from obvious, but real—that draws wealth to some people, and almost seems to snatch it away from others.

I’ve spent enormous amounts of time pondering this, thinking of all the people I’ve coached, trying different processes myself. Recently, I realized that I’d formed a subconscious conclusion—one that surprised me. In my experience, two things combine to enable financial success. No, they are not family wealth and the ability to cook blue meth. They are freedom from fixed ideas and attention to inner guidance.

The first element is one very few of us ever try to develop. We’re told to believe a thousand things, but the value of releasing beliefs easily isn’t one of them. For about three centuries the Western economy has been dominated by jobs that require fixed, repetitive actions. A large number of these jobs, up to…um…all of them, are now vanishing. (For a great current analysis of the decline and fall of jobs, check out this article in The Atlantic: A World Without Work.)

The possible disappearance of all jobs isn’t bad news for those who are willing to fall back on the traits that made us such a successful species long before jobs were ever created: our ability to master unfamiliar environments and tasks by playing, fumbling, experimenting, and observing. Returning to the open mind-state that’s natural to all of us enables us to spot new opportunities when old ones disappear and create innovative solutions to unprecedented problems. And this is how one succeeds financially in a time of massive change.

Freedom from fixed ideas also opens our attention to a subtle but consistent source of guidance that seems to come from within. Think back on any major decision you’ve made, bad or good. Hold the memory of making the decision in your mind, paused like a frozen screen. Now, get very quiet and feel within yourself for a calm knowing that said either, “Yes! You go!” or “Um, no. Not so much, dear.” I used to think this kind of guidance was only available to the enlightened. But in working with thousands of clients, I’ve come to believe it’s always right there, nearer than near, whispering a calm truth. Find that voice. Follow it. You are guided.

If these instructions sound frustratingly nonspecific, it’s because I can’t know what your internal guidance will say. Only you can. Ask yourself, right now, how to succeed at anything you’re trying to accomplish. Then let go, get still, and allow. An idea may occur. It will be simple, straightforward, and clear. It won’t tell you your future. You’ll simply know to do something, now. Do it. Then repeat. Luck won’t get you to the life you want. Neither will hard work, good grades, or connections. But freedom and faith in yourself will. Despite everything you may have been taught, it’s letting go, not holding on, that can always show you the way.

Turning Failure into Success

I spent at least half my childhood drawing. By the time I got to college and signed up for my first drawing class, I was pretty comfortable with a pencil. My teacher was a brilliant draftsman named Will Reimann. To impress him, I fired up all my best tricks: lots of varied lines, fade-outs, soft gradients. One day while I was drawing, something landed on my sketch pad. It was a mechanical drafting pen.

“Use that from now on,” said Mr. Reimann. And he smiled the smile of a man who has hatched an evil plot.

Oh, how I hated that damn pen! It drew a stark black line of unvarying thickness, making all my faboo pencil techniques impossible. You’d think my teacher would’ve been helpful, or at least forgiving. But no. He’d glance at my awkward ink drawings, groan “Oh, God,” and walk away holding his head in his hands, like a migraine sufferer. My art grade plummeted. I writhed with frustration. A few weeks later, as I sat in another class taking notes with the Loathsome Pen of Doom, something happened. Without my intention, my hand started dancing with that horrible pen. Together, they began making odd marks: hatches, overlapping circles, patches of stippling.

The next drawing I completed won a juried art show. “How did you figure out a drafting pen could do this?” one of the judges asked me.

“I failed,” I told them. “Over and over again.”

Since then I’ve had many occasions to celebrate failure, in myself and in others. From my life-coaching seat, I’ve noticed that the primary difference between successful people and unsuccessful people is that the successful people fail more. If you see failure as a monster stalking you, or one that has already ruined your life, take another look. That monster can become a benevolent teacher, opening your mind to successes you cannot now imagine.

The Optional Agony of Defeat

My dog-groomer friend Laura breeds and shows prizewinning poodles. One afternoon she arrived at the off-leash dog park looking thoroughly dejected.

“What’s wrong?” I asked her as our pets gamboled about.

“Ewok,” said Laura, nodding mournfully toward her well-coiffed dog. “He didn’t even place at the show yesterday. Didn’t…even…place! And he just hates to lose!” Her voice was so bitter I winced. “He should have been best in show,” she said. “Look at him—he’s perfect!”

I looked at Ewok. He looked fine—but perfect? Who knew? To me, saying a poodle with long legs is better than one with short legs seems absurd. A poodle’s a poodle, for heaven’s sake. I think Ewok would’ve agreed. He certainly didn’t seem to be the one who hated losing. He’d discovered a broken Frisbee and appeared to be experiencing the sort of rapture Saint Teresa felt when visited by God.

Laura’s desolation stemmed not from what actually happened at the dog show but from her ideas about success and failure. Lacking such concepts, Ewok was simply enjoying life. Going to dog shows and winning, going to dog shows and losing, going to the park and scavenging—from Ewok’s perspective, it was all good. Meanwhile, Laura’s thoughts about losing had tainted all these experiences. Thankfully, she’d managed to avoid a pitfall even worse than failure: success.

“Success is as dangerous as failure,” said Lao-tzu, and any life coach knows this is true. I can’t count the number of times people have told me, “I hate the job I’m doing, but I’m good at it. To do what I want, I’d have to start at zero and I might fail.” Dwelling on failure can make us miserable, but dwelling on success can turn us into galley slaves, bound to our wretched benches solely by the thought, “I hate this, but at least I’m good at it.” This is especially ironic because researchers report that satisfaction thrives on challenge. Think about it: A computer game you can always win is boring; one you can win sometimes, and with considerable effort, is fun.

With time-killing games, where the stakes are very low, pretty much everyone’s willing to risk failure. But when it comes to things we think really matter, like creating a career or raising children, we hunker down, tighten up, and absolutely refuse to fail. Anyway, that’s the theory. The reality is, we are going to fail. Then we make things worse by refusing to accept this.

Tammy came to me distraught because her 17-year-old son, Jason—her perfect son, whom she’d raised with perfect love, perfectly following every known rule of perfect motherhood—had been arrested for public intoxication.

“I’ve failed,” Tammy sobbed. “I’ve failed Jason; I’ve failed myself!”

“Yup,” I said. “You got that right.”

Tammy stared at me as though I’d slapped her. Clearly, that was not my line. I shrugged. “You’ve failed a million times, and you’ve succeeded a million times. Welcome to parenthood. Do you know any mothers who never fail their kids?”

“Sure,” Tammy said, nodding. “A lot of my friends at the country club are perfect mothers.” She wept even harder. “And they say horrible things about the bad mothers. Now they’ll judge me, because Jason…” She dissolved in sobs.

“Tell me,” I said, “do you actually like any of those women?”

The sobbing stopped abruptly. There was a long moment of silence, and then Tammy seemed to transform before my eyes. She sat up straighter.

“You know, I don’t,” she said. “I don’t really like any of them.”

“I believe you,” I said. “I don’t know your friends, but if I had to live with someone like the person you were a minute ago, I’d start drinking too.”

“I do live with her,” said Tammy wryly. “And I’d love a drink.”

“Hear, hear,” I said. “So go home and apologize to Jason for imitating mothers you don’t even like. Try being real with him—teenagers love that. Every moment you’re real with him, you’re succeeding as a mother. Every moment you lose yourself by trying to be perfect, you’re failing. And the moment you accept that you’re failing, you’re succeeding again.”

Tammy squinted at me. “You’re telling me to accept failure as a mother?”

“Whenever you fail,” I said. “Got any other options?”

“Well, no…but accept failure? As a mother? I can’t.”

“Sure you can,” I said. “Try this: Think about the fact that you failed to control Jason. Notice how you’re all scrunched up, thinking, ‘Oh, no!’?”

Tammy nodded.

“Okay, now unscrunch, and instead of saying, ‘Oh, no!’ say, ‘Oh, well…'”

I beamed at Tammy. She waited for me to go on. I didn’t.

Tammy laughed. “I can’t believe this,” she said. “I came here thinking you could tell me how to fix my son, and the best advice you’ve got is, ‘Oh, well’?”

“Damn. You’re right,” I said. “I’ve totally failed you.” I took a deep breath, and relaxed. “Oh, well…”

Tammy looked at me for another long minute. Then she said, “Just your saying that makes me trust you.” This is the magic of accepting that you’ve done your very best but failed. Own your failure openly, publicly, with genuine regret but absolutely no shame, and you’ll reap a harvest of forgiveness, trust, respect, and connection—the things you thought you’d get by succeeding. Ironic, isn’t it?

Blasting Through Attachments

I owe my ability to accept maternal failure to my son Adam. Though I bred young, never smoked or drank, ate right, and all that, Adam showed up with an extra chromosome, mentally challenged. Oops. From the word “go,” I’d failed to make him a successful student, athlete, rocket scientist. In my mind, nothing could compensate for such massive failures.

This was when I discovered that the bigger the perceived problem, the better it delivers failure’s great gift: freedom from attachment to ideas about success. A lucky person escapes her enemies. But a really lucky person (as the poet Rumi puts it) “slips into a house to escape enemies, and opens the door to the other world.”

This can happen in tiny ways and huge ones. The day my pencil-proficient mind accepted failure and allowed my hand to start dancing with that mechanical pen, a door opened on a new way of drawing. Accepting that I’d failed to create a “normal” life for my child blasted away much bigger assumptions, bone-deep beliefs like “Successful mothers have smart children” and “My kids should never fail.”

This hurt like a sonovabitch, but when the rubble cleared, I found myself in a world where all judgments of success and failure are arbitrary and insignificant, as ridiculous (no offense) as the American Kennel Club’s definition of the “perfect” poodle. Without judgments, it’s obvious that joy is available in every moment—and never in anything else.

I can see that Tammy gets this. Jason’s rebellion becomes a gift as failure does for Tammy what I’ve seen it do for so many others: soften, mellow, calm, enrich, embolden. The poet Antonio Machado expressed it this way:

Last night as I was sleeping
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.

I can’t say I look forward to the failures that await me. But they’ll be along in no time, so I feel lucky to know what to do when each one arrives. It will work for you too. Unscrunch. Exhale. Let go of “Oh, no!” and embrace “Oh, well…” Then, whatever door opens, walk through it.

Failing Upward

By my sophomore year in college, mechanical pens were my favorite drawing instruments. Trial and error (and error, and error) had made me so comfortable with them that they felt like extensions of my hands. Being a masochist and a fool, I signed up for another class from Mr. Reimann. One morning while I was drawing, something landed on my sketch pad. It was a watercolor brush.

“Use that from now on,” said my teacher. “You’ll hate it. You put a mark down on the paper, and half an hour later, it decides what it’s going to look like.”

I picked up the brush. “You’re not going to help me with this, are you?”

“Well, let’s put it this way,” said Mr. Reimann. “The sooner you make your first 5,000 mistakes, the sooner you’ll get on to the next 5,000.” And he walked away smiling his evil-plot smile, having arranged yet another dance with failure, inspirer of all uninspired artists, master teacher of all master teachers.

Radical Fun

So this month I was curled into my usual fetal position wondering how to make good things happen without moving at all, when I came upon a thought. The thought was this: Since the energy of every effort creates a result in the same general zone of energy, my usual habit of working throughout most of every day was generating a great deal of what we might call “energetic fertilizer” (in other words, poop). I was trained for years to work myself to the point of feeling pooped, and I am very good at it. But who, I thought, wants to buy pooped energy? It seems we all generate plenty of that on our own. What I wanted was more energy of fun. I presume this is also what many of my customers and clients want. I decided to run an experiment. I decided that for two weeks—the final two weeks of April–I would dedicate myself not only to feeling passively well, but to having fun. Radical fun.

Author and journalist Joshua Foer, who trained as a competitive memorizer (of all things), writes about something called the OK Plateau. That’s the place where things are going well enough that we can stumble along fairly well without needing to improve anything. I have spent years on the OK Plateau when it comes to having fun. I have found that many clients report the same tendencies. When life gets to OK they stop thinking about things like fun. The challenge of radical fun is to take those OK experiences and make them delightful. We tend to assume that this is the result of laziness and selfishness, and that we would all do it automatically if we weren’t so disciplined and virtuous.

What I’ve discovered during radical fun month is that fun is a skill. Most of us are terrible at it. We immediately turn to tired stereotypes, clichés like sleeping on the beach, drinking, eating too much, and spending a lot of money. I have nothing against these activities, but they’re pathetic attempts at creating genuine exuberant joyful feelings. When I ask clients to reward themselves for difficult achievements they find that coming up with the reward is harder for them than the achievement itself. So right now, I’d like you to turn your attention to finding or creating a fun experience for yourself. Do this in the knowledge that the energy of fun will fuel your productivity in every area of your life–and also that any activity in your life is only worth doing if it facilitates the experience of joy.

First question, Are you tired? When you are tired no significant effort is fun. The clichés I’ve just mentioned (the beach, the drinking, etc.) exist largely because most of us are significantly sleep deprived. If your answer to this question is yes, you must–I said must–aggressively create opportunities to rest and act on them.

When you are no longer tired you can ask the second question: What did you do for fun as a child? Our fun preferences appear very early in our lives and tend to remain extremely stable over time. What was fun for you at age 2 will probably be the most fun you can have at 92. For me, one obvious answer to this question was reading. I learned to read very young and stopped only under extreme duress. However, my literacy was turned into work, first by my education and then by choosing a career as a writer. I realized that I frequently slip into the bad habit of reading only for work and not for pleasure. So just reading wasn’t enough fun for me. I needed to read something pointless, non-work-related, and highly entertaining. Thank you Hunger Games. By jumping into young adult fantasy fiction, I yanked myself right off the OK Plateau and into some radical fun. For you, reading may not be fun at all. DO NOT JUDGE YOURSELF. Just look back on your childhood and find what you did when no one was forcing you. Did you climb trees? Did you play computer games? Did you build forts? Did you dress in a ninja outfit and hide in the closet of your best friends bedroom? Don’t do that—it isn’t legal. But find an alternative based on the original fun experience.

The fabulous thing about returning to childhood pleasures is that you now have things like computers, cars, and the ability to purchase or barter for experiences to which you had no access as a child. If you liked playing hide-and-seek as a kid you can now go with your friends to a paintball maze and have a radically fun experience. If you liked to pretend you were a famous singer you can get voice lessons, then have your spouse film you using nothing but a phone and reach your fans online. This is the age when magical technologies make more and more radically fun ideas plausible, even easy. You’re only limited by your creativity and the OK Plateau.

Since I started my radical fun experiment, ridiculously positive things have been happening. I’ll tell you about them next month if they all pan out (some of them are still in process). But right now I’m telling you, according to this experimental sample of one, radical fun leads to radical positive results which seem to have nothing to do with the new fun games you are playing. Fun creates more fun. This month, insist on it.

Turn on Your Right Brain

This morning I sat down to write about how we can all learn to better use the right hemispheres of our brains. For 30 minutes, I tapped restlessly at a laptop. Nothing much happened, idea-wise. Flat beer.

Finally I resorted to a strategy I call the Kitchen Sink. I read bits of eight books: four accounts of brain research, one novel about India, one study of bat behavior, one biography of Theodore Roosevelt, and one memoir of motherhood. Next I drove to my favorite Rollerblading location, listening en route to a stand-up comic, a mystery novel, and an Eckhart Tolle lecture. I yanked on my rollerblades and skated around, squinting slack-jawed into the middle distance. After a while, a tiny lightbulb went on. “Well,” I thought, “I could write about this.”

Duh.

The Kitchen Sink, you see, is one way to activate your brain’s creative right hemisphere. Every writer I’ve ever met uses some version of it, as do Web designers, cartoonists, TV producers—all “content creators” who regularly face the terrifying thought, “Well, I’ve gotta come up with something.”

If you’re not a content creator, wait a while. The 21st century is to content creators what the Industrial Revolution was to factory workers: In a world where information is superabundant, unique and creative ideas are hot-ticket advantages both personally and professionally. More and more people are finding more and more ways to parent, make money, find friends, and generally live well by relying on creativity.  The demand for creative thinking is both a challenge and an opportunity. It requires us to use more than the logical left-brain skills we learned in school. These days, we all need to get back into our right minds.

Historically, most brain science came from studying people whose brains had been damaged. Depending on the injury’s location, these patients had varying disabilities: If you lost one brain section, you might be unable to do long division; wipe out another patch, and your lace-tatting days were over. The famous Phineas Gage had an iron rod rammed all the way through his head, permanently losing the ability to be nice. One can hardly blame him.

People with left-hemisphere brain injuries may have trouble thinking analytically or making rational decisions. Many with damage to the right hemisphere, on the other hand, can still pass their SATs but become unable to connect parts into a meaningful whole. Oliver Sacks wrote about such a patient in The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. This gentleman saw perfectly but could identify what he saw only by guessing. If you showed him a rose, he might say, “Well, it’s red on top, green and prickly below, and it smells nice…. Is it a flower?” One day, while looking for a hat to put on, he reached for his wife instead, perhaps thinking: “It’s familiar, and it goes with me everywhere…. Is it my hat?” I’m sure this was awful for his poor wife, though it could have been worse (“Well, it’s the size of a small house and it needs cleaning…Is it my garage?”). But still.

For most of Western history the right side of the brain was short-shrifted by neurologists intent on helping people think “rationally.” Only in recent years have experts begun to laud the creative, holistic right hemisphere. Interestingly, left-hemisphere strokes appear to be more common than right-hemisphere strokes. Perhaps we’re overusing our left hemispheres to the point of blowout. Or perhaps illness is trying to nudge us back to the mysteries and gifts of the right brain. Fortunately, we now know we can effect this change deliberately, without having to survive neurological disaster.

In his fascinating book The Talent Code, Daniel Coyle describes how the brain reacts when a person develops a new skill. Performing an action involves firing an electrical signal through a neural pathway; each time this happens, it thickens the myelin sheath that surrounds nerve fibers like the rubber coating on electrical wires. The thicker the myelin sheath around a neural pathway, the more easily and effectively we use it. Heavily myelinated pathways equal mad skills.

Throughout your education, you myelinated the left-brain pathways for thinking logically. You were prepared for predictability and order, not today’s constant flood of innovation and change. Now you need to build up myelin sheaths around new skill circuits, located in your right hemisphere. To do this, you need something Coyle calls deep practice.

Deep practice is the same no matter what the skill. First visualize an ability you’d like to acquire—swimming like Dara Torres, painting like Grandma Moses, handling iron rods like Uncle Phineas. Then try to replicate that behavior. Initially, you’ll fail. That’s good; failure is an essential element of deep practice. Next, analyze your errors, noting exactly where your performance didn’t match your ideal. Now try again. You’ll still probably fail (remember, that’s a good thing), but in Samuel Beckett’s words, you’ll “fail better.”

Examples of people engaged in deep practice are everywhere. Think of American Idol contestants improving their singing, or Tiger Woods perfecting his golf swing. I once saw a television interviewer present Toni Morrison with the original manuscript of one of her masterpieces. Morrison became slightly distracted, running critical eyes across the page, wanting to make changes. She clearly can’t stop deep practicing. That’s why she won the Nobel Prize.

Deep practice is hard. It makes your brain feel like a piece of raw hamburger. It’s also weirdly rewarding, dropping you into rapt concentration, yielding quick improvement, and (if you’re lucky) producing good work. Here are some tricks you can deep practice to buff up your right hemisphere.

1. Sign your name every which way. My favorite teacher and artist, Will Reimann, was brilliant at getting his students to use the right side of their brains. There were many squinty eyes in Reimann’s studio, much neural myelination. Here’s one of his exercises:

Sign your name.

Done?

Okay, now things get gnarly. Sign again, but this time, do it in mirror writing—right to left, rather than left to right (just moving your hand backward fires the right brain hemisphere). Got that? Now sign upside down. Then backward and upside down. Repeat this until you can sign in all directions. Good luck.

2. Have a bilateral conversation. For this exercise, take a pencil in your right hand (even if you’re left-handed) and write the question: “How’s it going?” Then switch to your left hand, and write whatever pops up. Your nondominant hand’s writing will be shaky—that’s okay. The important thing isn’t tidiness; it’s noticing that your twin hemispheres have different personalities.

The right side of the brain, which controls the left hand, will say things you don’t know that you know. It specializes in assessing your physical and mental feelings, and it often offers solutions. “Take a nap,” your right hemisphere might say, or “Just do what feels right; we’ll be fine.” You’ll find there’s a little Zen master in that left hand of yours (not surprisingly, left-handed people are disproportionately represented in creative professions).

3. Learn new moves. You need your right hemisphere to move in an unfamiliar way, whether you’re learning a complicated dance step or holding a new yoga posture. Or cutting your own hair (actually, don’t—I speak from experience).

Try this: Walk a few steps, noticing how your arms swing opposite your legs. Now walk with your right arm and right foot going forward simultaneously, then the left hand and left foot. Is this difficult? No? Then do it backward, with your eyes closed—any variation that’s initially hard but ultimately learnable. You’ll master a new skill, sure; more important, you’ll build your overall right-brain facility.

4. Toss in the kitchen sink. Time to push your newly awakened right hemisphere into useful service. Think of a problem that’s had you stumped for a while: Your preschooler won’t nap, you can’t make yourself exercise, you need to cut expenses without sacrificing quality of life. With this challenge in your mind, read a few paragraphs in several totally unrelated books. Then relax. Play with your cat, wash the dishes, watch the neighbors through binoculars. Think of the problem periodically, then drop it again.

This process encourages eureka epiphanies, like those moments in TV dramas where the brilliant doctor or sleuth gets the “ping” of insight that solves the case. Your first few ideas may not be perfect—many will be awful—but there are more where they came from. Once you begin encouraging the right brain to churn out solutions, it will do so more and more abundantly.

Turning on your right brain is a skill, one that grows steadily stronger the more you work at it. Trigger the sensation of deep practice by mastering any unfamiliar task, feed challenges and stray information into your right brain’s database, and see new ideas begin to emerge. As they do, you’ll move more confidently and productively through an increasingly complex world. When I see you out Rollerblading, eyes locked in a vacant yet squinty stare, I’ll know you’re getting the hang of it.

Keeping Those Creative Juices Flowing

Sleeping DogA part of me is saying that this is the most creative time in the history of earth. There are more creative people doing more creative things in more creative ways than ever before – and that’s a very good thing, because it will take all our creativity to catalyze the changes we need to make in the next few years. Those of you who are familiar with “deep practice” may recall that intensely creative periods restructure the brain, and that this restructuring necessitates a lot of sleep. If you’ve read Jill Bolte Taylor’s My Stroke of Insight, you have a first-person account from a very smart brain scientist which backs up the idea that creativity, brain changes, and sleep are inseparable companions.

So my advice to you this month is to play until you feel like sleeping, and then remember to SLEEP UNTIL YOU FEEL LIKE PLAYING. Without both sides of the equation, the profoundly innovative things that are meant to come through your creativity can’t be realized as fully or as quickly. 

Sleep has been a very hot topic among my friends and coaches lately. I feel challenged to learn a new way of sleeping — to visit the dreamtime with purpose and intention, not just as something  I need to do to keep my body functioning. Our culture is chronically sleep-deprived, but we must not be. Our goal is to heal our own lives, the lives of other beings, and suffering in general. Sleep is the great healer. Claim it, embrace it, use it!