This is the time of year when it's easy to make - and break - resolutions, but it's also the time of year when nature has a rest, and maybe we should, too.
For thousands of years the pattern of human behaviour was to plant in the spring, cultivate in the summer, harvest in the fall, and rest in the winter. So if you're tempted to be hard on yourself for not having jumped into the new year with full energy, give yourself a break! Even so, we can always use some new ideas and inspirations, so here are a few I hope you'll find useful:
1. Reconnecting with your uniqueness
This item comes under the category of "physician, heal theyself!" Last year I wrote a sitcom for Germany that was changed a lot for the worse by the director, who was backed by the producer. In my heart I knew I should quit the project and take my name off it - but I rationalized my way out of that decision. The outcome: the series flopped...with my name still on it. The moral: trust your vision and be true to yourself!
Here's what director Tim Burton had to say about this in a recent interview:
"There was a very specific moment in my life when I had a breakthrough. I was at the California Institute of Arts, and I had been getting more and more exasperated because I was trying to fit into a certain style of drawing - the Disney way - and I almost had a breakdown, and I was just sitting there and I said, 'You know what? I can't draw like this. I'm just gonna draw whatever way I draw and that's it.' And at that moment, my drawings changed. In one second, I drew completely different. In a different style and a different way. It was like a drug experience - literally, my mind expanded."
ACTION: When you have some private time, take a few minutes to review each of the aspects of your life: personal and professional. Are there any respects in which you've stopped being true to yourself? How could you get back on the path? What's the first step? When will you take it?
2. What do you expect?
A fascinating study was done recently at the University of Florida, in which researchers asked subjects to hold their hand in ice-cold water until the pain became unbearable (how do they get people to do these things?).
Women kept their hands in for an average of 69 seconds, men for an average of 109 seconds. A second group was told that the average person can withstand the cold for 30 seconds. In this group, the women averaged 60 seconds, the men 90 seconds. A third group was told the tolerance time was 90 seconds. In this group, the women held out for an average of 102 seconds, the men for an average of 112 seconds.
In all cases, men held out longer than women, which may prove women are more sensitive to pain, or maybe just more sensible. But more interesting is that in each case where they were told an average time, they tried to beat it. It suggests that our achievements are linked to our expectations and to whom we are comparing ourselves.
ACTION: Take a moment to consider whether you're comparing yourself to anyone in terms of what you'd like to achieve. Have you set your standards high enough? Or too high? What would be a better standard of comparison that you might find more motivating?
3. The fifteen-minute idea generator
In The Artist's Magazine, Grace Cohen writes about how she and her son would overcome their artist's blocks when they weren't sure how to get started: they would set an egg timer for 15 minutes, take a walk, and they would draw whatever they were looking at when it went off. After 15 minutes of drawing, they would start walking again, and repeat the process a few times.
This gave me the idea for adapting this to brainstorming, and it seems to work. Here's how: set yourself a topic or problem about which you'd like to have some new ideas (I tested this with my need to come up with a better ending for the novel I'm writing at the moment).
Set a timer for 15 minutes and start doing whatever routine tasks you need to do. When the timer goes off, take out your notepad and jot down whatever new ideas you have in that moment. When you run out, re-set it, and repeat the process. The great thing is that you don't need to consciously think about the topic while working, but often you'll find your subconscious mind continues to work on it and give you ideas.
ACTION: Give this a try yourself the next time you're doing tasks like housework, filing, etc. Have a little notepad and a pen with you. If no new ideas come up when the timer rings, review the ideas you've had previously about the topic, re-set the timer, and do it again. Let me know how you get on!
4. Reader, beware the hype machine!
Because of my interest in creativity, I got kind of excited when I read the lead paragraph of this news story: "People who sleep eight hours a night are more creative, artistic, and possibly even smarter than folks who sleep less than that, according to a new experiment that actually proves that sleep can turn yesterday's problem into today's solution, reports Reuters."
Sounds great, right? Well, stay with me and let's look at the actual experiment: 106 volunteers were divided into groups of men and women ages 18 to 32. All were trained in a math procedure. Before testing, Group 1 slept for 8 hours, Group 2 stayed awake all night, Group 3 stayed awake for 8 hours during the day.
Guess who did worst? Yes, the group that stayed up all night. Guess who did second worst? Yes, the group that had been up 8 hours during the day. And the best group was fresh from having slept eight hours.
To quote Homer Simpson: "Doh!" They conducted one trial, with only extremes. Nothing about whether eight hours of sleep is in fact better than seven or six hours, for example. Nothing about sleep actually contributing to solving problems that were difficult to figure out before the sleep session. And where does being more artistic come into this experiment, exactly?
Furthermore, the article concludes by citing several examples of "great insights that occurred after a deep sleep," including that "Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote his epic 'Kubla Khan.'" Well, actually he woke up after sleeping only three hours with the poem supposedly fully-formed in his mind and he'd taken drugs...
ACTION: As our leaders are finding, it's important to read the fine print. Increasingly, even the mainstream media seem to be going for 'sexed up' headlines and opening paragraphs. Useful questions to keep in mind are:
1. Who says so?
2. What's the evidence?
3. In whose interest might it be to hype the headline?
4. Is the supporting evidence (like the 'Kubla Khan' anecdote) really true?
5. How old are you - in days?
Writer and thinker Peter Russell has a different approach to counting his age. Here's what he says about it:
"A few years back I began counting my age not in years, but days. The day is the natural cycle of our lives. The cycle of light and dark, wakefulness and sleep, has more significance than the cycle of the seasons. Indeed, in equatorial latitudes, you hardly notice the passing of the seasons. The day is what counts.
Each day is a complete unit in itself. At the end of each day I can look back and take stock. How have I been? What have I learnt? What can I be grateful for?
I can hold a day's experience in mind quite easily. Trying to go back and take stock of a whole year is much harder. Numerous incidents and discoveries are inevitably forgotten.
I also find it far more meaningful to think that I have lived through nearly twenty thousand days this life, rather than 50 years. And it reframes the future. I have - probably - thousands of days still to come. Thousands of new days to discover, enjoy and learn from."
ACTION: If you'd like to calculate your age in days without having to get out the calculator, go to his website: www.PeterRussell.com, and click on the part of his mind map that tells you how old he is. There's a calculator there that will work it out for you instantly. And then start enjoying your age...day by day.
5. And a quote to think about
This one is from Peter Russell, too: "We're facing an unprecedented uncertainty in our lives. Living with uncertainty forces us to let go of attachments to how things should be. We'll have an excellent opportunity to practice inner flexibility, to look at our expectations and step behind them...The greater our personal creativity, the better we can ride through it. Inner strength is what will see us through."