Some late-summer doses of information and inspiration to bring out the creativity in all of us.
1: The answer is in your dreams
A study reported in the Journal of Sleep Research suggests that emotional support and solutions to challenges that may be bothering you could be as close as your pillow.
The study got 470 people to record their dreams and rate them as to their intensity, emotions, and impact. These people also recalled various events that took place up to a week before. Independent judges were then asked to evaluate the dreams and their possible contribution to solutions for problems arising from those events.
They concluded that dreams do offer solutions and insights in the week following the emergence of the problem. The process starts the night after the problem comes up, and also occurs six to seven days later.
ACTION: Keep a notebook by your bedside and jot down your dreams every morning (practice makes it easier to remember your dreams). Once a week, sit down with these jottings and see whether your subconscious mind is using your dreams to offer help for any problems you're encountering.
2: Driven to distraction?
A study reported in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology reveals that creative people are poor at shutting out irrelevant information. At the extreme level, this is linked with mental illness, but at a milder level it could be possible that creative people are creative exactly because they can see how information that is seemingly irrelevant may actually relate to a problem. Nonetheless, this tendency can make it hard to concentrate and therefore could work against you.
ACTION: My favorite means for coping with this is a set of noise-reducing headphones. I originally bought these to use on airplanes, to reduce the drone of the engines and other unwanted noise. You can plug them, instead of the cheap headsets the airlines provide, into the airplane's entertainment system, and you'll get much better sound.
But you can also wear them (unplugged) anytime and anywhere that you want to reduce distracting noise. If you feel self-conscious, just tuck the plug into your pocket and people will assume you've got a mini-iPod in there. (By the way, once made exclusively by Bose, and expensive, these types of headphones are now made by several companies, and the price has come way down.)
3: Quiet, please!
We're all assaulted by information overload. Fortunately, there are strategies that you can use to reduce the assault on your senses. Here are some ideas suggested in an article by Jeffrey Cstari in Men's Health magazine:
- Listen to soothing music during your commute to work
- Turn off your cell/mobile phone during lunch
- Take a walk during lunch
- At home, turn on your answer machine during mealtimes
ACTION: Decide which of the above suggestions would add most to the quality of your life and try it out today or tomorrow.
Here's a quick trick recommended by researchers at the University of Toledo for when you have problems remembering something: move your eyes back and forth horizontally (in other words, left to right and right to left) for twenty seconds. Apparently this activates the part of the brain that improves recall.
ACTION: Try this the next time you forget where you left those keys...
5: Are you distorting?
Cognitive therapy offers a lot of useful tools for improving our thinking. Here are three distortions that are very common:
- Overgeneralization: the tendency to think that one event represents a pattern. Example: you're late for a meeting and beat yourself up by thinking, "I'm ALWAYS late."
- Disqualifying the positive: the tendency to ignore or discount positive developments. Example: You win the account but tell yourself that it was a fluke.
- Mind reading: the tendency to assume you know what someone else is thinking or their motivation. Example: Someone ignores you in the hall, and you decide the reason must be that they don't like you.
ACTION: The first step is to notice when you are thinking in these ways. One good method for clarifying your thinking is to write down what you're thinking when you feel bad in some way. Then challenge the statements you've written down: Are you really ALWAYS late? Why was winning the account a fluke? What other reasons might there have been for that person not saying hello in the hall?
The more you question these kinds of situations, the more you loosen the grip of distorted thinking.
6: And a thought from Brother David Stendl-Rast:
"Wherever we may come alive, that is the area in which we are spiritual. To be vital, awake, aware, in all areas of our lives, is the task that is never accomplished, but it remains the goal."