July Brainstorm


Here we are in summer, although from here in London you couldn't really tell! I'm looking forward to a week's vacation, and I hope you're also able to take a bit of time off to watch the waves or listen to the breeze.

So much of the time we focus on what we must/could/should DO, that it's also important to slow down and BE. And with that in mind, here are some new ideas and inspirations:

In a recent article in Utne magazine, Dr. Dan Beskind writes, "...our age views multi-tasking as the normal way of getting things done. If we're not juggling a dozen different commitments at once, we tend to think there's something wrong."

But from a medical viewpoint, the opposite is true. The doc points out, "chronic stress has been shown to weaken our immune system, strain the heart, damage memory cells in the brain, and cause the insulin resistance that leads to type 2 diabetes. It has been implicated in cancer, depression, and even rheumatoid arthritis."

ACTION:If you're on the multi-tasking treadmill, try mono-tasking. Decide what is the most important thing for you to do right now, write it on an index card, and also jot down the amount of time you can realistically give it now. Then start on that task. If anybody interrupts, tell them you'll get back to them in X minutes (whenever you are scheduled to finish this task).

If your mind wanders, glance at the index card to remind yourself of what you are focusing on now, and do that one thing. Try this for at least one day and notice the difference in how you feel.

Harley Brown is an artist whose articles in International Artist magazine I always find inspirational. As you read some of his thoughts, consider how they might apply to you--whether your passion happens to be art, business, cooking, or anything else: "There are two things that are essential: Slowly uncover and carefully nurture your own distinct technique; believe me, it's there waiting to make a difference."

He adds: "And from this moment on, smother discouragement from your mind. This means buying and reading well-chosen books and articles...join up with other like-minded people...and periodically, zealously devour information from a top flight workshop instructor. Just know that the vast majority of hopeful artists get disheartened and slow down to a stop. Please don't let that be you."

ACTION:This is where Harley's secret comes in - try applying this to your own passioN:"Every day I do something with my art...Whether we're full-time artists or artists when we rush home from another occupation, we must put in our time. If it is only a few minutes, those minutes are prime. But they have to be habitual...In two weeks you won't believe the euphoria that begins to creep into your spirit."

In an article in Fast Company magazine, Denis Cortese, the President and CEO of the Mayo Clinic, discusses some of the problems of modern medical care. "It is ridiculous," he writes, "that we can't have an environment where doctors and nurses, drug companies, and patients are encouraged to report misses, near misses, and accidents...In Florida, the malpractice environment is so terrible that physicians are reluctant to write anything down when something goes wrong..." The result, he says, is that probably hundreds of hospitals are making the same mistakes and they're not learning anything from it.

What does this have to do with us? Well, I've noticed that many of us (me included) tend to rush past our failures or disappointments. Instead of stopping and learning from what went wrong, we jump back into the fray as quickly as possible--onward and upward! Understandably, nobody likes to dwell on disappointments, but are we missing a chance to learn, just as is happening in the medical scene?

ACTION:Take some time out to consider the last two or three things (work projects, personal interactions, or anything else) that didn't work out the way you had hoped. Jot down the outcome you were hoping for, and the actual outcome. Then try to figure out what were the factors that were responsible.

This isn't a hunt for who is to blame, and should not result in a guilt-trip for yourself! The idea is to find what can be learned, with the emphasis on what you might do differently next time. For example, if someone let you down, is this the first time they've done that? If not, don't expect them to change--but do consider that maybe next time it would be smarter not to expect them to come through for you.

If you have a to-do list, you may find that there are certain items that keep getting transferred from one day's list to the next. Not surprisingly, these are the ones that are the least enjoyable tasks and they may not seem that urgent--but the longer we delay them, the more weight they take on and the harder it gets to tackle them.

A useful approach is to re-frame the task as an outcome. For example, if the task is "write invoices," the outcome would be "Be caught up with all invoices!" It's a small difference in wording, but consider how it feels to think about writing invoices (or sorting tax receipts)...and now consider how it feels to think about being caught up with invoices or having all your tax receipts sorted. Big difference, no?

ACTION:If there's an item you've been carrying over on your to-do list (whether that list is on paper or in your head), try rewriting it as an outcome. Keep that outcome in front of you as you do the task, and notice the difference in your energy level.

Psychology professor Martin G. Seligman thinks that people (especially Americans) are not very good at expressing gratitude and has come up with a solution he calls the gratitude visit.

You think of a person in your life who has helped you but whom you've never thanked property. You write them a detailed thank-you letter, and then you visit them and read it out loud. (If, like me, you cringe a little at the thought of doing this, bear with me...)

Seligman is studying what makes people happy and he says these gratitude visits "increase the intensity, duration, and frequency of positive memory." Also, sometimes the people being thanked are prompted to thank others, and it starts a cycle of gratitude.

Thanks, Dr. Seligman, it does sound like a good idea, but for some of us it may be a step too far to actually have to read the letters out loud to our benefactors. Therefore, I suggest the following:

ACTION:Write those letters, maybe one per week, to people still alive and even to those who are no longer with us. It's a great way to acknowledge the teachers, parents, grandparents, neighbours, uncles and aunts, and even strangers who took the time to say a kind or encouraging word, or who created something that inspired us.

For the people who are still alive and for whom you have an address, post your letters - it'll make their day, maybe even their year. Put the others in with your photo album or wherever you keep personal papers, it'll help keep good memories alive.

"Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of nonessentials.” – Lin Yutang

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About The Author

Jurgen Wolff
Jurgen Wolff

Jurgen Wolff is a writer, teacher, and hypnotherapist. His goal is to help individuals liberate their own creativity through specific techniques that can be used at work as well as at home. His recent books include "Focus: the power of targeted thinking," a W. H. Smith best-seller, and "Your Writing Coach".