This month, some ways to overcome the fears that are holding you back, the power of the absurd, how combining opposites can deliver break-through ideas and discovering the Zeigarnik effect.
1: The most important tool Steve Jobs ever encountered
This quote from a commencement speech Steve Jobs gave some time ago has gained poignancy from his waning health, but I think it can inspire all of us:
"Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything - all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."
ACTION: The big choices consists of thousands of little choices. What's one little choice you can make today to move you in the direction of following your heart?
2: How to overcome hidden fears that may be holding you back
We often hold ourselves back from doing something we want to do. Why? It may be that there are secondary outcomes that we fear. Often these are hidden from the view of our conscious minds, but there's a way to tease them out, come up with solutions, and move forward.
ACTION: Think of something you've wanted to do but haven't. Now imagine that someone else, someone a lot like you, is in the same position. Jot down what you think is stopping this person or getting in their way. By dissociating from the process you can view the situation more clearly.
Next, come up with suggestions for how each of the fears could be overcome - not just by positive thinking, but by actions this person could take.
Put your notes aside for a day, then return to them. As you re-read the fears, which ones trigger an emotional response? Those are the ones you share. Then look at the suggested cures you came up with. Work out a plan to implement them.
Example: A businesswoman wanted to network but never did. Her excuses were a lack of time, doubt that it would be productive, and the feeling that networking was just people using each other. When we did the exercise above, she found out that her invented double actually feared that nobody would talk to her and she'd be left standing on her own, feeling humiliated.
She realized that was her own fear and her excuses were just masking it. Her solution: she contacted the organizers in advance, told them she didn't know anyone, and requested that they introduce her to some of the regulars. It worked.
3: Stuck? Be absurd (or at least read absurd)
A study found that participants who read an absurd short story by Franz Kafka later did better than a control group at finding hidden patterns. It seems that when the mind struggles to make sense of something in one context, its ability to do so in another is enhanced.
ACTION: If you're trying to figure something out (e.g., a plot for a story you are writing), take a break and read "Alice in Wonderland," Kafka's "Metamorphosis," or any other absurd work (you could try government's strategy for the recovery of the economy...). Then return to your original task.
4: For a new idea, combine opposites
Many breakthrough ideas have been combinations of existing elements. One way to work with this is to see what comes up when you combine opposites.
For example, what if we combine traditional mass market publishing with the opposite: producing one book for one buyer? That might have been the inspiration for crowdfunding, in which individuals pledge a certain amount toward the publication of a book in exchange for a signed copy, or an acknowledgement within the book or some other reward. Each person feels like part of the process, but it's the total of all of their pledges that make it profitable (or at least possible) to publish the book.
ACTION: When you want some fresh ideas about something, first determine some pairs of opposites in that realm. Then brainstorm what might happen if you combined them.
5: Put the Zeigarnik Effect to work for you to overcome procrastination
PsyBlog.com recounted that while in a restaurant, Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik noticed that waiters remembered orders only until the customers had been served, then they forgot them. She did some lab tests that showed that people who were interrupted during a series of tasks remembered more of the ones they completed.
The upshot is that when you start something, it stays in your mind until you finish it. If you don't start it, you find it easier to put out of your mind.
The implication for procrastination: start the task you're avoiding. Even if you do just a little, that will keep it on your mind and make it more likely you'll return to it.
ACTION: If there's a task you've been avoiding, spend five or ten minutes starting it today.
6: And a quote to consider:
"Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great." – Mark Twain