Spring has sprung (kind of) and we're in the middle of some Spring
cleaning here at the Brainstorm world headquarters, in our secret
laboratory deep under the surface of busy London…oh all right, it's
not that exotic, but getting it all in order is getting me energised
for new projects. I hope you're feeling the same way, but if not, maybe
the following items will help:
1: Getting into Flow
You may be familiar with the concept of "flow" as written about
extensively by Professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced
"chick-sent-me-high"). It's that state in which you are so involved
with whatever you are doing that you lose all track of time. Often it's
an exhilarating experience in which we do whatever we are doing more
easily, more quickly, and at a higher level than normal. The question
is, can we induce such a state rather than waiting and hoping for it to
occur spontaneously? The Professor says yes, and here are a few factors
that can help evoke it:
a) Pick an activity that you enjoy, and work on a related task that is
at or just above your level of ability. If it's too hard or too easy,
you won't enter flow. Often the key to doing this is to break a bigger
task down into smaller chunks, each of which is at the right level of
b) Make sure that the task includes immediate feedback, so that you
know as you go along whether or not you are doing well. Generally, you
need to feel positive at the beginning stages, and eventually the task
may so absorb you that you stop thinking about how you're doing it, or
c) Create an atmosphere in which you have as few distractions as
possible. Again, later in the process, you may be so involved that you
don't even notice things like a phone ringing but it helps if you can
start off in an environment that makes it easy to concentrate. This
also includes setting aside a period of time when you won't feel you
really should be doing something else.
ACTION: Schedule some time during which you want to tackle a project
and create the conditions described above. Go into the process with the
idea that if flow occurs, that will be great, and if it doesn't, you'll
still get a lot done (that mentality makes it less likely that you'll
distract yourself by asking 'am I in flow yet?).
2: Guess Who Has a Gift Shop
Can you guess who not only has a gift shop but grosses more than
$200,000 a year from it? It's the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office.
No, this is not a late April Fool's joke, they actually sell things
like beach towels and coffee mugs with white chalk body outlines, as
well as caps, pens, tote bags, wrist watches, and note pads (if there's
someone special on your gift list who this would be right for, you can
also order by mail order…). And they've now licensed their goods to
be sold in Japan. The profits go to support the office budget and a
Youthful Drunk Driver Visitation program. Why am I telling you all
this? Because from now on, when I have an idea and start to censor it
because it's too far out, or I assume 'nobody would buy that', I'm
going to try to remember the L.A. County Coroner's Office, and I invite
you to do the same.
ACTION: Is there a 'crazy' idea that you've been considering but have dismissed as being too far out, too unlikely to succeed? Consider
3: Do You Have a Panic List? (If not, don't panic…)
As mentioned in the current issue of The Writer magazine, author Janet
Groene says she has a panic list: a list of phone numbers and supplies
she keeps handy in case of emergencies. On the phone list are the
numbers of her computer consultant, the support lines for the software
she uses, her office supply store, an office machine repair shop, and a
temp agency that can send over an assistant at short notice. Her
emergency supplies include packaging and paperwork for overnight mail and FedEx. If something goes wrong when a deadline is looming, she's prepared to handle it.
ACTION: Every person will have his or her choice of items for a panic list, but it's a great idea to have one with at least two options for
each type of person you may need to call upon, and several of each of
the key items. I'd include an extra set of inkjet or toner cartridges, an extra hard drive you can boot up from if your main hard drive crashes, and extra batteries of various kinds.
Coming up: my one-day Masterclass in Right-Brain Scriptwriting, at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in central London, Saturday, June 18, at the subsidized price of only 50 pounds. For more information, email Sheridan at BstormUK@aol.com.
4: Meetings Made Painless
I liked this characterisation of most meetings, from Michael Begeman of
3M: "Here's my mental image of what happens in most business meetings: You could take the people out and replace them with radios blaring at each other, and you would not have changed very much." Fortunately, he has some ideas for improving matters:
a) First be clear about the purpose of the meeting. Is it a
brainstorming session? Is it to discuss a topic in order to get more
information? Or it supposed to result in a decision? Make the purpose
explicit and use that as a guideline to keep everybody on target.
b) Rather than fighting people's instinct to have some chatting time,
set a time limit on it. Go around the room and let everybody say a few
words about how they're doing, and to express anything they need to
before they focus their full attention on the matters at hand. Ten
minutes of this at the start of a meeting can help everybody to really
c) Finish the meeting with a quick (five minute) review on what worked
well in the process of the meeting, what took the group away from the
task, what was done or learned that would be useful to incorporate or
avoid in the next meeting.
d) When you write up the notes of the meeting, focus on only three
things: decisions reached, action items that people need to follow up
(and who will do so, by when), and open issues.
ACTION: If you're in charge of meetings, try implementing some of these techniques. Even if you're not in charge, you may be able to subtly introduce some of them.
We're having a special limited-time sale on my Power Trances CDs. These include guided visualisations for relaxation, for dealing with your inner critic, and a powerful way to plan long-term projects. We're offering 2 for the price of 1. That means 12 pounds UK, 20 dollars US, or 25 Euros, including postage and packing. Contact Sheridan Bolger at BstormUK@aol.com for ordering instructions so you can treat yourself AND a friend to this powerful experience.
5: Want to Be More Creative? Get Moving!
A study at Baruch College in New York found that students who participated in aerobic fitness and dance classes scored higher on a
standard creativity test than students who didn't. Some experts believe
the cause may be the increased oxygen flow to the brain, others believe
that exercise releases hormones that enhance creativity. Either way,
exercise has mental as well as physical benefits.
ACTION: If you don't already make walking, jogging, or other exercise part of your schedule, maybe now is the time to start. I find that
listening to audio books on my iPod makes the process much more
productive and enjoyable. One source of downloadable audio books is
6: And a Quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson, from his essay on
"There is a time in every man's education when he arrives at the
conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he
must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that thou
the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can
come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which
is given to him to till."
Until next time,
PS: Here is another essay from the collection, "Letters to an Unknown
Do you think of yourself as the hero of your journey? One of the tools
we use in a workshop I teach, "Create Your Future," is the hero's
journey, and I wanted to tell you about that today in case it might be
useful to you.
The hero's journey stems from the work of Joseph Campbell, who was one of the world's foremost students of mythology. He found that in many cultures there were myths that had basically the same structure: a hero going on a quest. Along the way he finds a mentor, but the mentor can only go along for part of the journey, and then the hero has to proceed alone. He faces various tests and challenges, and goes deeply into the world of his adventure. At some point he confronts the greatest
challenge and may despair of succeeding or even surviving. At this
point, he discovers a new strength or sense of purpose, and he goes on
Often the treasure he wins is symbolic–that is, something real like a gem or golden goblet that also represents some new knowledge or wisdom he has gained as a result of his journey. Someetimes this treasure benefits not only the hero but also the people around him or even his whole tribe or country.
If this pattern sounds familiar, that's not surprising, because it is a story structure also used in many novels and films. George Lucas used
it for his first three Star Wars movies and struck up a friendship with
Even more interesting, though, is that it is a pattern that fits many of our real-life adventures. When I conduct the workshop, I invite partcipants first to use this structure to describe how they have handled a challenge in the past, for example, going to college, starting a career, or learning a new skill. Often, people are surprised to realise they've been heroes.
Then I ask them to use this structure to describe how they could accomplish something they haven't done yet.
The result is always interesting and sometimes profound. Not only is
the hero's journey a useful planning tool, but the effect of thinking of ourselves as heroes and heroines on a journey of adventure can have
a fantastic motivational effect. The attitude with which we approach a
problem or challenge has a huge impact. Switching from "I have a
problem" to "I am on a quest" is a big shift. A number of participants
have reported they've also used it to inspire their children, with terrific results.
Why not try it yourself? Think of something you'd like to achieve. It doesn't have to be something huge or exotic. It might be losing ten or twenty pounds, or learning a new skill, or reinvigorating a relationship. Take a little while to daydream about it, using the pattern above. Who could be your mentor? What obstacles might you encounter and how do you think you'll overcome them? Notice not only the ideas that come up, but also how you feel. Have fun and don't be afraid to think of yourself as a hero–I bet you already are one.
April 2005 Brainstorm E-Bulletin
Spring has sprung (kind of) and we're in the middle of some Spring
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