July Brainstorm

Jul 10 2007 by Jurgen Wolff Print This Article

It's been a season of loss: first my dear friend Linda, one of the most vibrant, always-curious people I've ever known and who had the right to expect another couple of decades on this earth, and then my mother, who had a very long and eventful life and for whom passing on was a release.

Of course our loved ones live on in our hearts and maybe the best way we can honor them is to remember to live every day of our own lives as fully as we can. I hope the following ideas will help you do that.

1: A Rose is a Fragrant Rose is a Blooming Fragrant Rose

There was a recent report on ABC's 20/20 that reflects the importance of what we call things. When a student cafeteria relabelled peas as "power peas" and "vegetable stew" as "creamy vegetable stew" and "vegetable juice" as "rainforest smoothie," not only did students buy more but they also rated the taste as being much better.

Similarly, in my "Create Your Future" workshops, participants found they felt much more empowered when they thought of a challenge as a "hero's journey" rather than just as something to cope with.

Changing what we call things in a way that allows us to experience them in a different way often is called "reframing," and it's a powerful technique.

ACTION: What language are you using to describe the challenges and events in your life? Take a moment to consider how you could reframe them in a way that adds perspective and encourages you to move forward.

2: Does Thinking Make It So?

An experiment conducted by Harvard Professors Ellen Langer and Alia Crum also centered on the powerful effects of language, but this one is more mysterious.

They involved a group of 84 hotel workers. Half of them were told that their work of cleaning hotel rooms is good exercise and satisfies the Surgeon General's recommendations for an active lifestyle. The other half were not told anything.

One month later, the control group had not changed but the other group had decreased their weight, blood pressure, body fat, waist-to-hip ratio, and body mass index.

It's not clear what mechanism is at work here: Did they do their work with more gusto, thereby burning more calories? It's hard to imagine that this would make that much difference. Is it a purely mental process - believing that they were exercising created the effects of exercise?

ACTION: Even if we can't explain this effect, we can use it. Again, it's really an exercise in reframing. What are you doing that could be considered exercise? Start thinking of it that way. What are you doing every day that could be considered creative and fulfilling? What will happen if you start thinking of it that way?

3: We Have Met the Enemy and it is Not Us

Dan McAdams, a professor at Northwestern University, and doctoral candidate Jonathan Adler, studied how people describe their problems in therapy. Adler concluded that it can be helpful to describe the issue as an outside enemy. One example of this is Winston Churchill's characterization of his depression as his "Black Dog." By moving the issue outside of yourself, you may be able to establish a distance between it and your core being, and be able to see it more clearly.

ACTION: If you are facing a challenge, try giving it a name and an image. Notice how this may change your feelings about it. Work out a strategy for defeating or, better yet, transforming it. It may help to also create a name and image for the way you want things to be, and then to consider what you need to do to change your current situation in order to effect that transformation.

4: You Want the Bad News AND the Good News

Another finding from the work of McAdams and Adler is that people who do well in therapy tend to link their negative experiences with positive ones that came afterward. For example, if they did something embarrassing, they linked it to learning a lesson from the experience and doing better next time. This is in contrast to those who tend to view negative experiences in isolation.

ACTION: If there are any memories that bother you or to which you return too often, put them into perspective. What did you learn from those experiences that helped you afterward? Make a mental image of them and shrink them to same size as more positive memories.

5: Another Fine MessÖ

A book called "A Perfect Mess," written by Eric Abrahamson and David H. Freedman, claims to reveal "the hidden benefits of disorder--how crammed closets, cluttered offices, and on-the-fly planning make the world a better place.

Booklist summarized it this way: "moderately disorganized people and businesses seem to be more efficient, more robust, and more creative than the obsessively neat.

As examples, the authors cite a hardware store crammed to the gills with every sort of product in seemingly disorganized fashion that does twice the business of the 'neat' one down the block; a grade school where the students are allowed random access to learning materials with no structured lessons, and no discipline problems; and the seemingly chaotic life of Arnold Schwarzenegger, who refuses to make appointments and sees everyone on the fly."

ACTION: If you're messy and cluttery, like me, start by reframing it. We are eccentric free spirits who enjoy spontaneity! (Wearing a beret is optional.) Instead of trying to transform yourself into a neatnik beholden to long lists of things to do, just make one simple list every day, containing only the three highest-priority items that you know you can complete that day.

If you have time left over (and if you're doing the list right, most days you should), choose to do whatever takes your fancy.

6: And a Quote to Consider:

"Every great advance in science has issued from a new audacity of imagination."

John Dewey

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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".