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Stewing is worse than doing: How to overcome procrastination and overwhelm

Do you ever feel overwhelmed and exhausted by all the things you need to do? And when you feel overwhelmed, do you sometimes complain, procrastinate and not take any action at all (or spend hours on social media)?  And all this time, you are building resistance. You are not alone. Many people can relate to this experience. Resisting and complaining sap your energy. Whenever you feel the build-up of resistance, you want to stop and think about how you can transform that inner resistance into strength and action.

Stewing is worse than doing.

What causes procrastination?

There may be several causes of procrastination. Here are some common reasons why people procrastinate:

  • Poor time management habits;
  • Feeling of overwhelm;
  • Perfectionism;
  • Resistance to the task itself or other people’s expectations;
  • Lack of focus, purpose, or commitment;
  • Lack of confidence;
  • Indecisiveness;
  • Fear of failure;
  • Fear of success.

So, how do you move from the state of being “stuck” and resistant to acceptance and action?

You have to find your “tapas,” and I am not talking about Spanish appetizers here, albeit delicious.  I am talking about one of the Niyamas in yoga – habits and practices of healthy living. The word “tapas” in Sanskrit  means heat. You need to build your inner fire of enthusiasm and self-discipline strong enough to burn off any causes of procrastination above. Just like you engage the core muscles in your body to maintain balance, power and control, the following six-pack practices will help you build your mind muscle and start moving forward.

1. Visioning.  Connect your project to your core goals and values. Why is it important in the long term?  How will it help you become a better version of yourself? What are the potential rewards of your labor? Enthusiasm can grow as you become more engaged in the task. What can help you get into the state of flow?

You can also purposefully generate some external pressure to help your build your inner fire.  Talk to people who can motivate you for action. Make public commitments to get things done by certain dates. When other people expect to receive something, you will be more likely to deliver on that promise. Time constraints may be a good thing as they can drive creativity. Create a schedule and a routine around the activities you need to do. Remember that the brain loves patterns and routines. Make sure that your new patterns include a cue to get yourself started and periodic rewards to keep going. This cue – action – reward cycle is at the core of habit formation. What will you do for fun to reward yourself for your great work? Think of little rewards you can give yourself when you complete each part of a longer project.

2. Assessing progress. Organize your thoughts and assess your progress objectively. Mentally run down the list of burning questions you must address. Here are a few favorites to get you started:

  • What needs to be done?
  • Why would it be desirable to do those things?
  • What have you already accomplished that will help you move forward with this project?
  • What do you need to know to complete this project?
  • What kinds of resources and help will you need when you start working on the project?
  • What’s the next action step?

Write out your answers. Writing brings clarity, calmness and objectivity to the mind. Notice any shifts in your mental and emotional states once you have done the exercise.

3. SMART goal setting. Create a plan or action. Define objectives, deadlines, and milestones for your project. It’s time to set SMART goals:

  1. Specific
  2. Measurable
  3. Achievable
  4. Realistic (but don’t be afraid to stretch yourself)
  5. Time-defined

Try a three-tier structure for your goals: the theme, the goals to support your theme, and the steps to accomplish your goals.

Your theme can be the big reason behind the project, the main aspect of it, or the crucial learning and development point. The theme helps to unify the parts of the project, provide additional motivation and momentum to move forward.

Break your project into well-defined goals that will serve as the milestones for your work. When deciding upon goals, make them big enough to really stretch your comfort zone. We often underestimate what we can achieve.

Picture the benefits you gain from completing your goals. Visualize the outcomes. How would you know you have accomplished your objective? How will it feel to succeed? Capture your best reasons on paper and return to them when you need extra motivation.

Identify the cost of your goals. Each goal comes with a price tag. What do you have to give up for the opportunity to achieve your goals? Identify those trade-offs and decide if you are truly willing to pay the price.

Prioritize and eliminate inconsistent goals. The goals we set often compete for our time, effort, and resources. It’s important to know the priority of your goals and check for conflicting objectives. You may be as passionate about visiting Italy as you are about traveling to Bali, but you can’t be in two places at the same time. You must choose.

Set a deadline for each of your goals.

Schedule regular intervals to revisit your goals and track your progress.

Finally, divide your goals into smaller tasks or steps, giving each task a target date for completion as well. These steps will give you a clear picture of what you should be working on at any given time.

4. Mental rehearsal. Use procrastination to brainstorm and mentally “rehearse” the project. Give yourself permission to come up with bad ideas and don’t filter anything. Your unrestrained imagination may lead you to innovative solutions. You can also use this time to create a mind map of your project. Those of you with a perfectionist streak may find it therapeutic to produce something fast without worrying too much about quality. Remember, it’s just a rehearsal. That way, you will have something to build on and improve later.

5. Gamification. To make your project more enjoyable, bring in some game elements. Schedule periodic rewards to have something to look forward to. Find a way to get more feedback about your performance by soliciting it from your network or sharing some ideas on social media.  Make sketches, draw or doodle to find new creative ways to present information. Take time to daydream as it is associated with increased creativity. Change your surrounding and try working in a coffee shop or park to bring some fresh sensory experiences to your brain. Look for the sources of inspiration.

6. Staying energized. You want to keep your inner fire burning without getting burnt out. Give yourself extra time to plan for any unforeseeable delays.  Make sure you get a good amount of sleep. Your brain needs oxygen and nutrients for optimal performance. Both nutrition and exercise directly affect the quality of your thinking. Rest, walks, meditation, listening to music help to recharge your brain. Self-care is not a luxury, it is a prerequisite of productivity.

How do you build your tapas, or inner determination, to stay on course?

3 Surprising Patterns of Reading Online

eye2

While writing content for online environments you must think of the following paradox: reading is the PRIMARY action performed on the web. AND people try to read as LITTLE as possible (online) 20%!

So the goal for any visitor of your site is to scan as efficiently as they can to understand whether they like what they see or not (in which case they will click away).

Because users read differently online than they do offline – we need to utilize different techniques while writing for the web.

There are 3 main patterns that users employ when they access a website according to Nielsen et al.

1. F-Pattern

When users first come to your site, they will most likely implement an F pattern
F pattern

They will first move in a horizontal movement, usually across the upper part of the content area.

NOTE: sometimes users disregard the whole line if the 1st word is not appealing!

Then, if they like what they see in the first line, they will proceed along the  second horizontal movement that typically covers a shorter area than the previous movement.

Finally, they will explore the left side in a vertical movement.

If their initial scanning fulfills their needs, they will move to the second pattern:

2. Layer Cake Pattern

Now they are using a more committed pattern, a layer cake pattern- where they explore horizontal lines quickly to see if the section they chose strikes their interest.

jucy cake 2

3. Spotted Pattern

If the layer cake scan pattern shows that the user is still interested, he/ she will proceed to a spotted pattern- choosing looking for the main ideas.

So how can you implement this knowledge for your online writing? You need to make the text more scannable.

Make sure that you position most important words and ideas along the F line breaking the text into convenient paragraphs; that each line starts with the catchy word, and that you utilize the following elements for better scanning:

~ bolded words

~ underlined text

~ words in color

~ numbers as numerals

~ words in capital letters

~ long words

~ words in quotation marks

~ words w/ trademarks, copyright

~ words around any of these elements

Using these techniques will increase the usability and convertability of your site.

Now, in the comments below suggest YOUR strategies for breaking the text for better scannability.

P.S. Multimedia solutions, such as brief video explainers, games, assessments, scenarios, and animations, can make your content marketing more engaging. Visit www.bookphoria.com to learn more. Want our opinion on what kind of multimedia solution you could create? We’ll mentor you for free.
Click here to set up a free rapid fire mentorship session with us.

By | 2015-01-23T15:52:24+00:00 January 23rd, 2015|Attention, Communication|0 Comments

5 ways to generate compelling visuals for your content marketing and presentations

collageAs the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words… well, maybe not a thousand, but 1.5 words at least. We do remember pictures better than we remember words. Studies by Paul W. Foos and Paula Goolkasian shed light on the difference between memory for pictures and words. They found that pictures were correctly recalled about 1.5 times as often as printed words. Researchers at the University of Iowa James Bigelow and Amy Poremba have found that when it comes to memory, we don’t remember things we hear nearly as well as things we see or touch.

Since visuals win the memory challenge, it only makes sense to incorporate them in your content presentation if you want it to be memorable. I once received an email from a member of a LinkedIn group after I posted a comment on one of the discussion threads. Something in my comment triggered his memory of an image I had shared in the same group many months before. He wasn’t sure but thought I might be the one who had shared it, so he emailed me to see if I could give him the source of that image. This illustrates the fact that visuals are memorable and that your expert brand can be associated with and reinforced by the content you share. In order to be effective, your visuals need to reinforce your message, be unique, and be able to stir some emotion or reflection in the viewers so that they could connect to your content on a deeper level. How do you find or create such visuals?

1. Stock up. There are numerous websites where you can search and legally download Creative Commons (CC) license or royalty-free stock photos. Always make sure you understand the restriction on the use of such images. Here are some of those websites:

Wikimedia Commons is a database of 23,769,240 freely usable media files to which anyone can contribute.

Flickr is another popular site where you can use an advanced search to find CC images.

Microsoft Office offers visuals you can use.

freeimages has a gallery containing over 350,000 quality stock photos by more than 30,000 photographers.

Getty Images now allows to easily embed and share its imagery at no cost for non-commercial use on websites, blogs and social media channels through their embed tool.

While stock images can get the job done, don’t underestimate your ability to produce your own visual content. Just pick up a camera, even if it’s your smart phone camera and begin to look around. Our surroundings abound with the rich and complex material that can help you tell your personal expert brand story. Train your eye to see it. It is easier than you think. Here are a few tips to get started:

2. Organize your existing photo collection. Chances are you already have plenty of good, funny, personal images tucked away somewhere on your computer drive or in photo albums. They all tell your story. Take time to go over your collection with an eye to possible future business use. It is a fun thing to do. Plus, it can trigger memories that may result in new stories to tell about your personal brand and your business. We did just that with our Halloween post when Marina found an old photo of us dressed up for Halloween.

3. Start taking pictures – lots and lots of them. Get in touch with your own sensibilities. Look at other photography sites and photo sharing platforms, such as Instagram and Pinterest. Notice what appeals to you and why. What moods, styles, colors, patterns resonate with you most? What makes you laugh, think or inspires you? Start capturing those “snapshots of the moment” – often mundane but also funny, puzzling, memorable aspects of your reality. Notice patterns and disruptions. Our brains constantly search for patterns and make predictions to make us comfortable in our environment. Studies show that bizarre and grotesque images are especially effective at grabbing attention. People tend to spend more time on such images as they try to figure out what is going on in the picture – their brains are busy deciphering the pattern. Be ready to capture anything surprising, bizzare, humorous, unusual – such images are likely to provoke thoughts and appeal to emotions. Analyze your own work just like you did with other people’s photos. Use Flickr or Instagram as a way to filter and store the photos you like, get feedback from your followers and grow your own collection of visuals that can be later used for various projects.

4. Turn your content into a collage. Here’s how it works. Pick the key elements and relationships that describe your concept. Then, find images that you associate with those elements. You can browse magazines if you want to make it low tech or find images on the web if you want to create your collage in a digital format, or maybe, you can sketch them yourself. After you are done collecting your visuals, arrange them in a collage trying to reflect the relationships among the underlying elements. The benefit of a collage is that it allows you to see the concept as a whole whereas the verbal description can only be sequential. Collages can serve as visual metaphors, allowing for personal interpretation. Visit Creativity Portal to explore various collage resources on the Internet.

5. Get moving with video marketing. Videos offer a great way to promote yourself as an expert, speaker or author. According to comScore, website visitors are 64% more likely to buy a product on an online retail site after watching a video. In addition, visitors who view videos stay on the site an average of 2 minutes longer than those who don’t view videos. People have short attention spans and tune out easily. Keep your videos under 3 minutes in length. You can do a series of videos on different topics. If you use a webcam to record your videos, make sure you position yourself in the center, look into the camera, choose an appropriate background, and have light facing you. A webcam does not have the energy of a live audience, so you have to bring your own energy up through your body posture, smile, and variations in your pitch, tempo and volume. The good news is that you can re-record any number of times you want, so you get the result you like. Whenever you upload your videos onto video sharing platforms, such as YouTube or Vimeo, make sure to use appropriate keywords and links to your website to build traffic and subscriptions to your email list.

Ready to package your expertise online? Sign up for a FREE consultation with Marina and Anastasia!

By | 2014-11-14T14:09:56+00:00 November 14th, 2014|Attention, Communication|0 Comments

5 ways to power up your words and ignite the brain

brain speak“All words are equal, but some words are more equal than others.”
~ George Orwell, “Animal Farm”

Words have power – some more than others. Neuroscience research sheds light on how words captivate our brains. We know that traditional language regions, like Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area, are activated when the brain interprets words. Surprisingly, however, narratives stimulate many other parts of the brain. For example, when researchers in Spain showed subjects the Spanish words for “perfume” and “coffee,” their primary olfactory cortex lit up.  Similarly, words describing motion activated the motor cortex. It appears that words can cause the brain to create a vivid and real experience of whatever is described to us. Here is how you can power up your words to ignite the brains of your audience.

1. Write and speak for the senses.  Whenever you describe a scene, think about the sights, sounds, smells and textures it can evoke.  Close your eyes, imagine the scene and describe it in the words that appeal to all our senses. Sensory words can make your descriptions more vivid.

Be mindful of the “word aversion” phenomenon described by University of Pennsylvania linguistics professor Mark Liberman as “a feeling of intense, irrational distaste for the sound or sight of a particular word or phrase, not because its use is regarded as etymologically or logically or grammatically wrong, nor because it’s felt to be over-used or redundant or trendy or non-standard, but simply because the word itself somehow feels unpleasant or even disgusting.” Certain words – ‘moist’ being the worst offender – appear to trigger word aversion for more people.

2. Use concrete details in your descriptions. Provide enough detail for your audience members to help them visualize the scenes of your narrative, but remember that too much information can be boring. Our working memory is limited and can be easily overwhelmed with lots of detail. Don’t overuse adjectives and adverbs. While they seem to be descriptive, they are often vague.

Here is how vividly Sarah Ban Breathnach describes dreams in her book “Something More: Excavating Your Authentic Self”: “Dreams can also be like a collage, an artistic composition made up of various materials, such as paper,  fabric, and wood. Our dream collages can be as illogical as snippets of conversation spoken by a woman balancing a tepee on her head as she’s chased by a pack of llamas.”

3. Compare sensory impressions.  Comparisons can turn abstract concepts into something tangible that we can all relate to.  You can use comparisons when you describe sounds, colors, sizes, flavors, smells, and textures.  Here are some examples:

“She spoke of fruit that tasted the way sapphires look…”
~ Toni Morrison, “Paradise”

“The bed linens might just as well be ice and the clothes snow.”
~ Robert Frost, “The Witch of Coos”

4. Employ metaphors.  Our brains often blend reality and symbols. Metaphors activate sensory cortical areas in the brain that process touch, hearing, and vision. Metaphors can trigger emotional responses and influence decision-making more profoundly than abstract concepts. Beware of the power of metaphors. They can either clarify an issue or mislead by triggering a visceral reaction that may overcome rational judgment. Here are some examples of metaphorical thinking:

“It’s when I’m weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood.”
~ Robert Frost, “Birches”

“The rain came down in long knitting needles.”
~ Enid Bagnold, “National Velvet”

5. Highlight novelty, surprise, and contrast.  Our brains prefer stimulation to boredom.  “There are three things which the public will always clamor for, sooner or later: namely, novelty, novelty, novelty,” wrote Thomas Hood. The brain is motivated by curiosity and the search for patterns. Washington State University neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp calls this the “seeking” system of the brain.  It motivates animals to search for food, and it causes human brains to seek out information, experiences, connections. When the brain is busy searching, it increases levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is responsible for the sense of purposefulness and focused attention.  Interestingly, these neurons become even more excited when there is no pattern to be found or when the expected pattern is broken.  Novelty fuels the brain’s urge to search. Contrast and surprise captivate the brain because they violate routine expectations and patterns. They capture attention as the brain tries to reconcile the incongruities.  Here are some examples of novelty and surprise:

“The writer of originality, unless dead, is always shocking, scandalous; novelty disturbs and repels.”
~ Simone Beauvoir

“Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city.”
~ George Burns

“Wear a smile and have friends; wear a scowl and have wrinkles.”
~ George Eliot

How do you power up your words to link and sync brains? When you listen, which words carry more power for you?

Reflections on the 4th Annual Mediators Beyond Borders Congress, Part 3: Compassionate Listening

“Listening creates a holy silence.  When you listen generously to people, they can hear truth in themselves, often for the first time.  And in the silence of listening, you can know yourself in everyone.  Eventually, you may be able to hear, in everyone and beyond everyone, the unseen singing softly to itself and to you.”
~ Rachel Naomi Remen, MD

Have you ever tried to listen to someone intently for three minutes without interrupting and interjecting, without letting your attention be diluted by questions and observations popping up in your head?  It sounds simple, but not easy.  This was one of the exercises we did at a workshop entitled “Compassionate Listening: Powerful Practices for Healing & Transformation” presented by Susan Partnow and Ilene Stark of The Compassionate Listening Project.

I wrote in my earlier post about seven common barriers to active listening. The inner workings of the brain may hinder our listening capacity.

First, the brain is a prediction machine.  In a conversation, it is always in a rush to figure out what comes next, causing us to jump to conclusions and complete other people’s thoughts.

Second, the brain has a limited attention span and working memory capacity.  Our prefrontal cortex, the brain region implicated in planning complex cognitive tasks, decision making, and moderating correct social behavior, is easily overwhelmed.  We can process just about seven pieces of information in our conscious mind at any given moment.  It makes it impossible to attend to several things simultaneously that require our concentration.   It’s not easy to pay focused attention to the other person’s words.

In addition, the brain has a negativity bias.  For our own survival and protection, the brain is wired to constantly scan the environment for threats and things that may go wrong.  At the sign of a perceived threat, the amygdala triggers the “fight or flight” mode.  As a result, our mind “freezes,” and we  either launch verbal attacks or withdraw from the dialogue. Strong feelings and emotions affect our listening, reasoning and judgment.

Finally, the brain is good at conserving mental energy and resources.  It filters out information that doesn’t comport with our own beliefs.  Once we’ve made a decision, the brain is happy to look for evidence that supports our decision, conveniently ignoring contradictory information.  In other words, we hear what we want to hear.

The goals of the compassionate listening workshop was to help the listeners and speakers overcome “defensiveness and reactivity” and connect heart to heart.  There is a lot that goes into the practice of compassionate listening.  Anchoring yourself in the heart rather then the head is not always easy.  Among other things, compassionate listening means:

  • being present;
  • “accepting, but not necessarily agreeing”;
  • looking for the common ground;
  • valuing opposing views;
  • seeking the good in conflict;
  • practicing forgiveness;
  • respecting yourself and others;
  • staying centered even when the emotions become intense;
  • being self-aware;
  • suspending assumptions and judgment;
  • being comfortable with uncertainty, ambiguity, and complexity;
  • resisting the urge to offer opinions, advice, interpretations unless asked;
  • trusting each person’s capacity to solve their own problems.

For more information on the practice of compassionate listening, visit The Compassionate Listening Project.

Related posts:

Reflections on the 4th Annual Mediators Beyond Borders Congress, Part 1: Collaborative Informal Problem Solving

Reflections on the 4th Annual Mediators Beyond Borders Congress, Part 2:  Cross-Cultural Communication

By | 2011-03-20T22:08:35+00:00 March 20th, 2011|Attention, Communication, Conflict Management|1 Comment