September Brainstorm


When you read this, I'll be on the Greek island of Skyros, teaching my Create Your Future workshop and, I hope, catching some sun on the beach as well. If I pick up any Greek wisdom, I'll let you know next time.

We humans are even more sensitive than we may think, according to the results of a fascinating experiment conducted by Lisa Zadro at the University of New South Wales, Australia. They had people play a game of "catch" on a computer with several other people who were also hooked up to the system elsewhere. In fact, the game was fixed: the only human playing was the test subject, and the computer was programmed to pass him or her the ball only twice in an entire six-minute game.

When they thought other players were freezing them out, the test subjects reported lower self-esteem, less sense of belonging, and a reduced sense of meaningful existence. Pretty extreme reactions for a little game, but it gets stranger: even when they knew they were playing only a pre-programmed computer, they still reported negative psychological effects!

ACTION: Creative people have to face rejection all the time, so it's useful to have a strategy for making sure you don't let it get to you. If you feel you may tend to over-react to rejection or other negative events, it can be useful to record each such event in a diary and rate how bad it made you feel (1 = mild negative feeling, 10 = extreme distress).

Do this for a few months, then start looking back at the earlier items. With the perspective of time, do you think you gave these events too much meaning when they happened? When you next face rejection, you can imagine yourself looking back at the event from the distance of a month or two, and you may feel an immediate lessening of its impact.

Frank Goldstin, CEO of The Experiential Agency, has a strategy for keeping regular meetings interesting. He covers the walls and ceilings of a meeting room with large sheets of white paper, turning it into a white box. Then he can change the look of the room as often as he wants, by putting coloured bulbs into the lamps, or sticking up posters, or projecting still images or a video onto one of the walls. The participants are stimulated by the 'new' environment, and the decorations or colour scheme can match the nature of the meeting.

ACTION: You may want to experiment with this yourself, if not in a meeting room, maybe in your office (or at least one wall of it). If you are working on a particular project, what images or type of atmosphere would be most stimulating? Or you and a friend or colleague could emulate those TV shows where people decorate a room in each other's homes, by doing a temporary creative make-over of each other's work space.

A friend of mine recently told me about a Swiss company that sells ideas. You can look at their menu and for a set fee that varies depending on the nature and scope of the idea you want, they will cite you a price. They have thousands of people they can consult and they claim to have turned idea generation into an industrial process.

Apparently they get questions as small as, "What can we call our new pet rat?" to "How can we regenerate a major brand that is losing sales?" If you want to find out more about them, you can look at, but it occurred to me that maybe there could be a Do-It-Yourself version, too...

ACTION: If you need an idea, why not decide how much it would be worth to you and then let everybody on your e-mail list (and everybody in your family) know that you're offering a reward. If it's a person who would feel embarrassed taking money from you, you could pay the amount to their favourite charity. (If you try this, let me know how it works out. I may also try it in a future edition of this newsletter.)

We all have things we want to change about ourselves and generally we find it difficult. One way to make it easier, according to performance psychologist Garth Weiss, is to link the new behaviour to rituals you have already established.

For instance, if you decide you're going to do ten minutes of crunches or other exercise a day, and you already always watch the news at 10pm, you could link the two. Or if you want to establish a routine of reviewing your important goals each day, if you're a man you could do it while shaving, or a woman while putting on make-up.

ACTION: Consider whether there is a new habit you'd like to cultivate. What do you already do regularly, to which you could link the new behaviour? At first you may need to remind yourself to link the two (for example, with a Post-It note on your shaving cream or your make-up mirror), but after a while the two will automatically go together.

Life is full of temptations and more and more we seem to be a culture of instant gratification. But there are scientists studying how we can motivate ourselves to resist, and they've come up some useful strategies.

One comes from G. Alan Marlatt, director of the Addictive Behaviors Research Center at the University of Washington. He calls it "temptation surfing." He says, "Temptation comes on and builds like a wave. When it peaks, you're more likely to give in, but if you can ride it out for even one or two minutes--imagining yourself surfing and observing the wave or distracting yourself with some other activity or thought--it usually subsides."

The other thing he recommends is what AA calls "think through the drink." In other words, instead of thinking just about the pleasure you'd get, continue past that to vividly imagining the guilt you'll feel, and any other negative consequences that are likely to result.

ACTION: If there's some temptation you'd like to overcome, try these two techniques. This works in reverse for positive things you'd like to do, too: if you have a healthy impulse, don't wait for it to pass! When you feel like taking a walk or doing some exercise, for example, do it right away. And if your motivation feels weak, look past any downside of the action to the upside--for example, how proud of yourself you'll feel when you've exercised, and how many calories you will have burned up.

We all want to be as efficient and alert as possible as we go through the day. Many people gulp down a big cup of coffee (or two) in the morning and hope this will keep them going. But research at the Sleep Disorder Center at Chicago's Rush University Medical Center reveals this isn't the best way to stay alert. The caffeine level builds up in the brain all at once and then falls off during the day, when you're most in need of a boost. If you keep drinking cups of coffee in the afternoon, it's likely to disturb your sleep patterns in the night.

The ideal solution would be not to depend on caffeine at all, of course, but if you're going to, the best thing is to drink a little coffee or tea about once an hour during the day. (In the tests, the subjects took a caffeine pill that was the equivalent of drinking two ounces of coffee per hour.)

ACTION: If you want to use this technique, it's probably a good idea to keep the coffee in a thermos and dole out the small amount yourself--otherwise you may find you're drinking too much.

“If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl. But whatever you do, keep moving.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

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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".