I hope that Spring has brought some great new energy for you and that your year is going well. If not, declare a New Year right now and get a fresh start - why be bound by the conventions of the January - December calendar! To help you along here are some tips to inspire you:
1: Are you under-estimating your brain?
In a book called The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain: The Surprising Talents of the Middle-Aged Brain, Barbara Strauch reveals that the latest research shows that the human brain hits its prime between a person's early thirties and late 60's (hooray!).
Apparently we use a larger portion of our brain as we get older. She says this should get us to re-think the current practice of telling people to get out of the way at 62 to 65 and appreciate that the combination of life experience and brain power of people at that age may actually make them more valuable than they were when they were starting their careers.
ACTION: A lot of how well we function is based on self-perception. If we expect to decline in or after middle-age we look for signs of it, and when that's the filter we're using, we'll see them. That in turn can have a negative effect on our behaviour - and soon decline becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. If you're in that age group, see your brain as (to use the author's words) "ripe, ready, and whole."
2: Three ways to give your brain a boost
You can help your brain functioning with some simple tactics:
1. Improve your memory with a cup of coffee. Researchers at Innsbruck University found that 100 mg of caffeine (about the amount in a couple of cups of coffee) activated the part of the brain that relates to memory, managing tasks, and prioritizing information. Of course it's not the case that more is better, and drinking too much coffee can have health drawbacks including making you too jumpy.
2. Give your brain a ten minute break. You don't have to meditate to get the benefits of a few minutes of quiet in the middle of your busy day. Neil Shah, of the Stress Management Society, advises taking five to ten minutes to lie down or sit with your eyes closed in a quiet environment. You're not trying to nap, just to get a short respite from the non-stop information bombardment.
3. Keep your blood sugar levels stable. A recent report shows that many so-called energy bars that appear to be healthy actually contain a huge percentage of sugar. For instance, the Tesco "Healthy Living forest fruit and raisin bar" is 50% sugar! (By way of comparison, Haagen-Dazs chocolate ice cream contains 20% sugar). The sugar high you feel will be followed by an energy crash.
ACTION: Consider adding a daily break to your routine. Check your 'healthy' snacks for sugar content (which could include glucose, fructose, dextrose, and glycerol, as well as the artificial sweetener sorbitol). If you go for caffeine, experts advise sipping a cup over a longer period of time rather than glugging it - that helps prevent a caffeine crash.
3: The star principle that could turn your business around
If you're a free-lancer or any other kind of entrepreneur you may be interested in what Richard Koch, master businessman and author of "The 80/20 Principle", calls "the star principle."
I think it's a brilliant way to define what you should be doing. Koch, who has made more than £ 100 million investing in Betfair and other businesses, says you should follow two rules:
First, target a market that is growing at least 10% a year. This could be big categories like people going green or people attaining retirement age as well as smaller niches like people doing scrap-booking (I don't know if this is still growing but it has been a huge trend over the past decade).
The find a niche within that group that you can dominate. That means for bigger groups, like people going green, you'd find some specific subset that is not already obviously well-served by a dominant company or individual. For a free-lance journalist, for instance, this might mean becoming THE expert on electric cars. For a craftsperson or small company making furniture, it might mean making children's play desks from renewable resources.
ACTION: If your business is not as successful as it could be, how could you use the star principle to re-define it? What would be a faster-growing arena and, within that, what would be a niche you could dominate?
3: Was Ben Franklin the first personal development guru?
When Ben Franklin was 20 he decided to improve himself by listing the thirteen virtues he wanted to develop and then practiced each one for a week and evaluated how successful he had been. The next week he went on to the next virtue, and after 13 weeks he'd be back at the start of the list and go again. He knew two key principles of self-improvement or change:
What is visible gets action - by looking at his chart every day, he kept his goal in front of him.
What is measured gets results - by checking off every day and reviewing the information weekly, he was able to see which qualities he was able to assume easily and which needed more effort.
ACTION: You can use a similar approach for anything you'd like to make a habit - it could be a task or a quality e.g., being on time, or exercising, or take a daily ten-minute brain break.
Make a simple chart with the days of the week across the top, and your tasks/qualities down the left side. At the end of each day put a check mark in the day's box if you achieved it, or a zero if you didn't. At the end of the week review your results. If they weren't great I suggest sticking with that one for another week and deciding what you'll do differently to make it more likely that you'll get a better outcome.
In fact, it's a good idea to stay with one task or quality until you've done it successfully for THREE weeks in a row - which experts agree is how long it takes to form a new habit.
4: Do you have a Mastermind group? Should you?
You may be familiar with the concept of a Mastermind group - a group of like-minded (but diverse) group of people that meets once a month in order to share ideas and give support. The ideal size for the meeting probably is about half a dozen, but because not everyone will be able to make every meeting you could start with eight to ten. However, anybody who misses three meetings in a row probably should be dis-invited (is that a word?).
Confession: I've always intended to do this and haven't - until now. Our first one meets in about ten days, so in future bulletins I'll be able to let you know what works and what doesn't.
ACTION: Why not try setting up a Mastermind of your own? If you do, let me know how it works out and what you learn in the process.
5: Do you give your dog more treats than you give yourself?
No, I'm not suggesting you eat dog biscuits... What I'm getting at is that when your dog does something good, probably you give it a little reward. Do you do the same for yourself?
Actually, here's a more radical idea: give yourself a treat just because! Just because our time on this earth is short. Because you deserve to enjoy yourself. Because why not?
ACTION: This week make a point of rewarding yourself. The reward doesn't have to be a thing, it doesn't have to cost a penny. How about a fifteen minute walk to explore a street near you that you normally don't go down? Or listening to that CD you loved but have forgotten about for a long time? Or sitting on a park bench or in a quiet cafe and reading a book you've been meaning to get to.
6: And a quote to think about:
"When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us." -Alexander Graham Bell