The summer has finally arrived, with sizzling temperatures here in London. Half the year already gone? How could that be? Well, here are some ideas for making the most of our valuable and elusive time:
1: OH YEAH?
We all know how easy it is to fall into a routine, do the same things over and over again, and rely on others to do our thinking for us. Unfortunately, there's little in the way of innovation and creativity along those routes. One way to stay sharp and to come up with new ideas is to take the time to question what 'everybody' says.
One recent example: I was sent an email selling a new subliminal program. 'Everybody knows how powerful this method is,' the message said, and it cited a study that showed that in a cinema that flashed subliminal messages about drinking and eating, the sales of popcorn and Coca Cola shot up.
I looked this up, using Google, and guess what? The study was a hoax, and the (fake) results were published in a book by Vance Packard, which is now still quoted as the truth.
We know the cost of not questioning what 'they' are saying ('weapons of mass destruction,' anyone?) at the international level, but how much is it costing us at the personal level, too? What could we be doing better if we started questioning more?
ACTION: Schedule an "oh yeah?" day soon. On that day, periodically question what you're doing and how and why. Is it still serving you, or is it just habit? Is it really worth doing, or are you doing it because 'everybody' is doing it, or because once upon a time 'they' told you this was the right thing to do, and the right way to do it? What can you do differently that will be more fun, or more efficient, or of greater benefit?
2: THE CONSULTANT IN THE MIRROR
In another version of questioning, you can also get a fresh perspective on your life by pretending that you're a high-priced consultant who has been called in to assess how to maximize the returns in your life.
With a neutral, questioning attitude, you analyze what you're doing now and how you're doing it, where the sticking points are, where more or new resources are needed, and so forth. This could apply to any phase of your life: the outcome could be making a certain amount of money, or having a good relationship with your children, or getting fit, for example.
Usually we see our lives in the 'associated' view - that is, through our own eyes. When we look at them in a 'dissociated' state - that is, as though watching them from the outside--suddenly we get a whole different view.
ACTION: For any areas of your life in which you'd like better outcomes, play the outside consultant. Evaluate, note what's working and what isn't, what's needed, what has worked for other people, and then your recommendations. Then get back into the associated state and read the report and decide which of the recommendations you want to accept, and begin to implement them. Periodically call in the outside consultant to evaluate how things are going and what changes could help. You might even make the first day of each month your appointment with the consultant in the mirror.
3: A WORD FOR THE UNTHANKED
Author Paulo Coehlo wrote in an issue of Ode Magazine, "Sometimes, on TV, I see tunnels and bridges being inaugurated. Usually, a lot of celebrities and local politicians stand in a line, in the centre of which is the minister or local governor. Then a ribbon is cut, and when the people in charge of the project return to their desks, they find lots of letters expressing recognition and admiration.
"The people who sweated and worked on the project, who wielded pickaxes and spades, who laboured all through the summer heat or endured the winter cold to finish the job, they are never seen; those who did not work by the sweat of their brow always seem to come off best. I want to be someone capable of seeing the unseen faces, of seeing those who do not seek fame or glory, who silently fulfill the role life has given them."
ACTION: Spare a thought, and ideally a word (it could be 'thanks') to the usually unseen people in your life.
Some time ago, reader Sue Hewitt sent me the following suggestion, which is very much along these lines: "Thank people for doing their job. The next time you see someone sweeping the street, arranging municipal flower beds, polishing hospital corridors, or cleaning shop windows, go up to them and thank them for doing what they are doing. "Thanks for keeping our streets tidy." "Thanks for making our park beautiful."
They will be surprised and may think you are crazy, but it helps the universe to spread a little more love and kindness around and it's FREE!" Thanks, Sue! (And one more idea: sometimes the unthanked in our lives answer to the names 'Mum' and 'Dad'...)
4: PROCRASTINATION AND THE NEXT ACTION
Time management guru David Allen suggests that one of the best ways to handle procrastination has two simple steps. First, decide on the outcome you want (for example, "To have a finished report," or "To have an organized office"). Then ask, "what is the next action I can take to get there?" Not all the steps, just the first one. Then do it. Then figure out the next step, and do that one.
I've found it can be very helpful to write all this down. At the top of the page, write the desired outcome. Then write down the first step and do it. Then write down the next step and do that, and so forth, until you get it done, or run out of time. If you have to continue, use the same page--seeing how many steps you have already taken will help motivate you.
ACTION: What's one thing you're procrastinating about? Right now, write down your desired outcome and the first small step--even if you can't do it at this minute. Keep that piece of paper handy and the first moment you have free, do that first step and write down the next one. If you stop before the outcome is achieved, write down the next step so you're primed to do it when you resume your efforts.
5: GET NATURAL
As reported in Utne magazine, environmental psychologist Andrea Faber Taylor has uncovered some fascinating information about how contact with nature can relieve anxiety and stress and help the healing process.
She points out that 'directed attention' (used for things like making a presentation or writing a report) makes us tired, while 'involuntary attention' (such as meditating, or looking at nature with no particular end in mind) gives our directed attention a chance to recover.
She cites studies in which patients who could see trees from their hospital beds after having gall bladder surgery needed fewer painkillers and had shorter hospital stays than those who looked out at walls. She did her own study of children living in public housing, comparing those whose apartment overlooked trees and grass with those whose view was pavement. The 'seeing-nature' kids were better able to concentrate and control impulsive behaviour, as measured with standard psychological tests.
ACTION: Even if you work and live in the city, make time for looking at nature - it can be a park, just some trees, possibly even only a group of plants in your office.
6: AND A QUOTE TO THINK ABOUT
Author ("The Global Brain") Peter Russell, in an interview in Intuition magazine:
"We're on a long journey of awakening within ourselves - it's not quick - I've been at it my whole life. The more each of us wakes up, the more we learn, the more we have to give other people, and the more other people give to us. It becomes a mutually supportive situation. That sort of positive feedback is the primary ingredient toward accelerating change."