Here we are well into the New Year and maybe one of your goals is to improve your time management. If so, and if you're in or near London, please consider coming to the evening workshop we're offering, as described below. For the rest of you, I'll try to help by building at least one time-management tip into each e-bulletin. This month, we're taking a look at how easily our minds can be influenced–for better and worse!
1: What are you feeding your brain?
Many self-development experts have emphasized the importance of not clogging your brain with a steady diet of bad news, especially about situations over which you have no control. A study suggests negativity may influence not only your mood but also your intellect. As reported in the Journal of Gerontoloty, elderly people scored twenty to thirty percent worse on memory tests after reading a pessimistic article about aging and memory than those who read a positive article about getting older.
ACTION: What is the tone of most of your reading, especially about matters that concern you personally? If what you're reading is predominently critical or negative, it might be time for a change.
2: Bending Minds, Not Spoons
Tricksters like Uri Geller use various means to make it look like spoons are bending by themselves, but a recent study shows the role the power of suggestion plays in such situations. One group of students watched a video of a performer apparently using the power of his mind to bend a spoon, which he then put down on a table. Half the students also heard the performer suggesting that the spoon will continue to bend while on the table (which it didn't). Afterwards, 40 percent of this group said they had seen the spoon continue to bend; only five percent of those who didn't hear that statement claimed to have seen it continue.
ACTION: This is a case of the power of suggestion being stronger than the reality. It's a great example of how influential a simple sentence can be. If you are involved in influencing people, and all of us are, one way or another, it's worth considering how to (ethically) use such power. You might wish to forward this e-bulletin to at least one friend or colleague who might enjoy learning to use this power, too.
3: How You Distort Time–and How to Stop
According to a study by North Carolina researchers Drs. Zauberman and Lynch, people are much less accurate at predicting how much time they'll have in the future than predicting how much money they'll have. Generally, we tend to overestimate the amount of time we'll have, leading us to over-commit. Then we find that we have promised our time to so many people that we can't get it all done. Result: stress, late nights, loss of balance in our lives. One key aspect of this is that we tend to forget to factor in all the things that can go wrong–the computer freezing up, the flight delays, the appointment that keeps getting postponed, the family crisis that needs to be dealt with.
ACTION: Whenever you estimate how long a project will take, factor in at least an additional 25 percent for the unknown. Draw actual blocks of time on your calendar for each project, and before you commit to something new, check to make sure there are enough blocks of free time left for you to achieve it.
4: The Name of the Game
In a study using games to find out whether people use logic or emotion in making economic decisions, Robert J. Shiller, author of "The New Financial Order," found that even the name of the game makes a difference. He reports on an experiment in which one group played the "Community Game," while the other group played "The Wall Street Game." The games were actually exactly the same other than their titles, but those who played "The Community Game" played more cooperatively than those playing "The Wall St. Game."
ACTION: Take some time to look at your written communications and even the name of your business. What kind of expectations may you be arousing without even knowing it? What might be worth changing in order to create the impression and the expectations you want?
5: Playing With Procrastination
NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) expert Elizabeth Payea-Butler suggests a technique that can help you to do things you have been putting off. Begin by thinking about the positive outcomes, the good results you hope to have when you have done the project or task. Check whether you have a strong visual image of the outcome–in other words can you picture success at this task? Next check whether you have a strong auditory sense of success in the task–for instance, can you imagine hearing people praising you for your achievement? Then check whether you have a strong emotional/kinesthetic sense of success–what will it feel like to have succeeded?
Here's an example: if I want to motivate myself to work on my novel, I might imagine seeing the title on the best-seller list, and hear a reviewer on the radio raving about it, and feel a sense of pride and enjoyment swelling in my chest as I write the book's final paragraph.
ACTION: Try this with something you've been putting off. If any of the three areas are weak, build them up. If you have no auditory sense about the task, for example, imagine someone praising you for doing it, or imagine hearing a triumphant theme tune playing when you're done. Then check how you feel now about doing this task. You may find you're ready to make it happen.
6: The Power of Quotes
This tip also comes from the world of NLP, and it has to do with the difference in the way people process information when it is a direct statement, compared to when it is clothed in a quote.
Here's an example: If you're not in control of your time, you're wasting your time.
How did that statement strike you? Some people would find it very confrontational, they would bristle at what sounds like an accusation: You're wasting your time!
Now read this version: Someone once said, "If you're not in control of your time, you're wasting your time." How did you react to that version? For many people, it comes across much more softly, as an idea to consider, rather than an accusation. By making it more palatable, you're more likely to get them to actually think about whether or not it applies to them, without triggering hostility.
ACTION: Consider whether there may be times when it would be useful to clothe a thought in a quote. You don't have to name the person who said it, it can be "someone." Maybe you can find somewhere in this bulletin where I've used this technique myself…
7: And a Real Quote to Consider:
"We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give." — Winston Churchill
Until next time,
PS: Here's another installment of my "Letters to an Unknown Friend"…
You're in a trance at the moment, did you know that? A book I'm reading contends that we're in a trance of one kind or another most of the time, and it does make sense. The author, Adam Crabtree, says a trance is a state of narrowed attention, in which we get absorbed by something and tend to lose awareness of most other things. In that sense, anytime we're reading, we're in a trance. Also when we're daydreaming, worrying, fantasizing, remembering, and certainly when we're dreaming.
So far, so harmless, right? Well, Crabtree believes that we are also in the grips of trances that may be limiting us. For example, there are family trances, in which you are assigned, often very early in your life, a certain role. Maybe you were labeled the smart one, the dummy, the baby, the scapegoat, or the savior. We tend to stay stuck within the limitations those roles place on us.
We are also all part of a cultural trance that tells us how to live. Three of the major trances he identifies for Wes
tern culture are those that tell us that science has all the answers, money is the best way to get security, and if we don't have an ideal body shape there is something wrong with us. Because these trances are supported by the media and by our educational system, usually we aren't even aware that we are in their thrall. It reminds me of the saying, "I don't know who discovered water, but it probably wasn't a fish."
Crabtree doesn't say that all trances are bad. In fact, he acknowledges that they are a source of stability. But it strikes me as true that we go through much of life never questioning the major assumptions that have a big influence on how we spend our lives. For example, how do you feel about your body? Is it a source of concern or even shame that maybe you're not the ideal body shape? Is it something that you've spent a lot of money on, maybe for diet foods, gym memberships, cosmetics or supplements that promise to do miracles? I'm certainly not suggesting that exercise and a sensible diet are a bad thing. In fact, sometime I'll tell you about my various struggles with getting enough exercise to make up for the fact that I spend a lot of hours sitting in front of a computer. But there's no doubt that we spend billions of dollars a year and, worse yet, probably thousands of hours, feeling bad about ourselves because we have bought into the cultural trance of youth and beauty.
The same is true of our belief that money is the answer to most things. Again, don't get me wrong, I like having money and I can remember, not at all fondly, the years when I had to measure every potential purchase greater than five dollars. But for a society that keeps saying that money can't buy happiness, we sure spend a lot of time chasing it. When Internet wizards in their twenties were making huge fortunes I sensed an atmosphere of outrage among a lot of people who had not made fortunes. It's as though they felt they were entitled to make millions, and were looking around for someone to blame for the fact that it hadn't happened. You could almost hear their sighs of relief when the dotcom bubble burst.
I spent eight years in the show-biz world in Hollywood, and I noticed an interesting thing. I saw actors, directors, writers, and people in the music business make a lot of money and then buy a big house with a big pool, a fancy fast car, a designer wardrobe, and so on. These things didn't make them happy. So what did they learn from this experience? That obviously they needed to make more money so that they could buy a bigger house with a bigger pool, and a faster car, and a more exclusive designer wardrobe. Some of them went through this again and again, and still came up with the same moral. Some of them, of course, came to a different conclusion: that if money couldn't make them happy, then drugs could.
The third trance Crabtree mentions, that science has all the answers, is back in the ascendant. With gene mapping and various developments in biotechnology, science is making great strides. That's terrific, but maybe we're heading toward another phase like that of the Victorians at the turn of the last century. They were sure that almost everything that could be invented had been invented, and humans were close to knowing everything knowable. That's a kind of pride that ends up biting us in the backside sooner or later.
If you want to read the book, it's called "Trance Zero." But in the meantime, it might be interesting for you to try an experiment. A couple of times a day, in different situations, try waking up by questioning the ground rules of the trance you're in. For example, if you're in an elevator, you're in a social trance with generally fixed rules. The right thing to do is to look up at the numbers, not at your fellow passengers, and certainly it's not done to talk to anybody you don't know. For the fun of it, break the rules and see how startled the other people are to be woken from their trance, too.
If you're in a relationship trance, where you and the other person have a long-established rules about the kinds of things you do together, try suggesting something that will break the rules. This could be as simple as suggesting that you go bowling or that you spend a night at a hotel in your home town, pretending that you've just met. There's no telling how your partner will reactCrabtree warns that awake people are not always popular but they do tend to feel really alive.
Let me know what happens!