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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?

By | 2017-03-27T16:21:43+00:00 March 27th, 2017|Attention, Brain, Change, Creativity, Peak Performance, Yoga|0 Comments

The word play ritual to spell release, intention and surrender

As the year end is getting closer, people take time to reflect on the months past and set their vision for the future. Today, I offer you a ritual that can bring more creative play to this process. Words, rituals and play captivate the brain in their own unique ways and facilitate transformation. Words can cause the brain to create a vivid and real experience of whatever these words represent to us.  Rituals tap into the predictive power of the brain to set expectations and rewire the brain to give commands in accordance with such expectations.  Play liberates our creative spirit, silences the inner critic, and allows us to see a broader range of possibilities and solutions.

The ritual below is a form of contemplative practice, so it should not be rushed. You may have heard that the popularity of coloring books for adults have grown over the past years because they help people release stress. Coloring is easy and gives an opportunity for the mind to wander. In addition, research suggests that using your hands to write or do crafts, like knitting, for example, also benefits the brain. The word play ritual offers the same benefits but in a more personal and creative way. Children can have fun with it too.

It is inspired by nature and the change of seasons. While trees let go of the leaves and stay bare in their dreamy rest through the winter, our human cycle of activity tends to speed up during the holiday season.  Amidst this hustle and bustle, it is useful to find a practice that can bring us to the roots, ground and center our energy. As leaves decompose in nature to fuel the growth of plants in the Spring, our dry plant ink will help us let go of anything that is no longer needed and cultivate the quiet intention for the transformation we want to bring into our lives.

You begin by preparing your dry plant ink. For my ink, I used dry rose petals, chamomile flowers and lavender flowers that I often use to brew teas.  Dry herbs, spices, tea leaves are all good options. You can crumble the dry plants with your hands or use a rolling pin.

I like to collect my dry plant ink into a mesh sachet bag. I may even through a few of my favorite crystals into the mix.  When not in use, you can keep such sachet on your desk for its beautiful aroma, which will serve as another reminder to your brain of your set intentions. (The sense of smell is the only one of the five senses directly linked to the limbic system – the center of emotions in the brain.)

For your project, you will also need a surface to work on, such as a sheet of paper or a canvas. Instead of a pen, I roll a paper cone to spread my dry plant ink on the surface. You can just use your fingers to spell the words too. I have a little paint brush and a broom to help me along.

Once you have everything ready, it is time to think of the words that represent something that you want to release. For example, I chose to spell the word “fear” as something to let go of. I “sit” with this word and the feelings it may stir in me as I spell it with my dry plant ink. As you paint your word, notice what comes up for you in the process. For example, I noticed that I wanted to rush and finish the “unpleasant” word faster. This is not surprising because we want to avoid unpleasant feelings or discomfort associated with them. However, I chose to slow down and make it beautiful nonetheless. Those negative feelings are there for us to warn or alert us to something. They are worthy to be acknowledges and accepted for what they are.

Once the word is completed, take time to appreciate it before you let it go. I sweep it with my tiny broom. You can mix it up with your hands or even blow it away. This represents the impermanent nature of our emotions. We can move from one mental state to another.

Now is the time to pick up a new positive word that represents something you want to focus on or bring more of into your life.  You use the same dry plant ink to transform the negative into the positive as you invite the lessons of your negative experience to fuel the positive change. Savor the time and the process as you spell your positive word. Notice what comes up for you now. My positive word ended up much bigger and fuller than my negative word. I added more ink to complete it. Keep it as long as you wish before you feel it is time to return it back into the sachet bag and breathe in its lingering aroma. I left mine on my daughter’s desk for now as a surprise when she comes back from school. Perhaps, it will inspire her to paint her own.

Try it and let me know how it goes. Maybe, you will want to share your picture too.

I wish you a happy and peaceful holiday season!

[UPDATE] This is what I got back from my daughter 🙂

By | 2016-12-21T12:49:31+00:00 December 20th, 2016|Brain, Change, Communication, Creativity, Learning|0 Comments

Featured Expert: Nancy Kaye on writing and creativity

Nancy KayeNancy’s acceptance speech for Creative Writing
Instructor of the Year UCSD ext. Award

My dear friend and colleague Nancy Kaye agreed to chat with me about her work of helping experts and writers overcome writer’s block and let their creativity flow.

Nancy’s background includes hosting her own TV and radio shows in Chicago, New York and California. She is an internationally published writer (122 countries), having interviewed many famous people, including H. H. Dalai Lama, Dr. Deepak Chopra, Dr. Wayne Dyer and many more. She is an engaging and inspiring keynote speaker.

Founder of The Confident Communicator™ Workshops, she instructs one-to-one personalized and group training re-programming sessions globally in all areas of communication. The intensive curriculum is tailored to the needs of each client. She diagnoses, evaluates, and teaches clients on a needs basis, and fine tunes them offering coaching, on-call client support, and empowerment.

Nancy is the founder of Define Your Destiny™ Intensives. She unveils the secrets to creating permanent change in your personal, professional and spiritual path. This unique self-development intensive with mentoring follow-up gives you the powerful tools you can use and build on throughout your entire life. Finding deep solutions to following your destiny to discover your perfect life plan.

She is the founder of Quantum Leaps Mastermind Group.™  Nancy is the West Coast Bureau office and Contributing Editor for the Integral Yoga Magazine.  With her my multiple life and business experience, service to her clients, along with the support know-how, Nancy can help you get the results that you want. Visit http://www.defineyourdestiny.com/ to learn more.

 

By | 2015-04-10T14:08:38+00:00 April 10th, 2015|Books, Communication, Creativity|0 Comments

Look it up: the value of unsearchable questions

learn how to seeWhenever my 7-year-old daughter has a question that I cannot answer immediately, her typical response is “Look it up.”  Even with her purposefully limited exposure to the Internet, she knows that there is an answer somewhere there hiding behind the keyboards and screens.  What she does not realize is that I cannot easily look up the meaning of made-up words, the habitat of imaginary animals or what the weather is going to be on her birthday, which is in December and still months away.

In the world where many answers are available at our fingertips, there is wisdom and learning for all of us in pondering things that are not easy to look up. As speakers, teachers, trainers, and facilitators, it is perhaps our mission to challenge the audience with inquiries that cannot be solved by a piece of technology.  As neuroscientist Stuart Firestein suggests in his TED talk “The Pursuit of Ignorance,” “high-quality ignorance” – the appreciation of what we don’t know – is a fuel of discovery.  While we can and should incorporate searchable facts, statistics, theories, and conclusions into our presentations, the growth potential often lies in unique, emerging connections initiated by the leaps into the unknown that the audience is willing to take.  Here are three strategies to help your audience “to make better ignorance” – to tinker with ideas for deeper insights.

Offer questions for reflection. A question is a mirror for the mind. A search for an answer can reveal new associations and pathways that may not surface otherwise. Questions help to make your message relevant to your audience. They challenge the audience to think about how your main points relate to their lives and personal experiences. As Immanuel Kant  observed, “Every answer given on principle of experience begets a fresh question.” What can you ask your audience to highlight the relevance of your message?  In which contexts are they most likely to apply your ideas?  Make your questions open-ended to invite a broader inquiry: who, what, where, how, when, why.  Give enough space and silence for the insights to percolate to the surface. Invite your audience members to share their responses and listen actively for new connections to explore. Make reflection an essential part of the learning experience you create for your audience.

Explore life’s what ifs through scenarios.  Scenarios are mini-stories co-created with your audience. They provide hooks for your audience members to hang their own assumptions, beliefs, fears, and hopes. Scenarios offer a unique way to determine how a set of factors or a specific context can influence outcomes.  You can change things up, explore alternatives, brainstorm solutions without being threatened by negative consequences.  Scenarios help to overcome the “groupthink” and invite contrarian opinions.  In real life, we don’t always have the luxury of testing things out.  Scenarios offer an opportunity to take risks while still playing it safe.

Gamify your message. Our brains like playfulness. The desire to play may be wired in our mammalian brain as many animals exhibit playful behavior and learn the intricacies of social interactions through play. Play can relax the brain and make us more open to experiment, prepare for the unexpected and produce a more diverse repertory of behavior. In a role-play, we can assume various roles, put ourselves through different kinds of experiences, learn to better understand other perspectives and explore our own identities. Invite your audience to play, be silly, poke fun at themselves and laugh. Reward your audience members for their contributions. Random rewards boost motivation and learning as they trigger the release of the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine. Playfulness is a way to create the state of “flow” and full engagement with people and ideas. As Plato once said, “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”

By | 2013-10-01T14:31:32+00:00 October 1st, 2013|Communication, Creativity, Public Speaking|0 Comments

5 strategies to silence your inner critic and boost creativity and self-expression

yogadanceHave you ever tried yoga dance?  Yoga dance is different from what most people think of when they hear the word “dance,” or “yoga” for that matter.  There are no specific steps to follow or routines to worry about.  Instead, our yoga teacher offers a storyline with elements, such as “welcoming yourself to the space” by dancing your way around the room in different directions, “building a fire” in an exuberant circle moving with the sound of drums, or the “souls and hearts” dance with scarves.  Yoga dance is all about self-expression in a harmonious, non-judgmental way when you bring your body, your sense of rhythm and your emotions into a delicate alignment.  It is also about the power of being open, spontaneous, creative and fluid. It is about the community and trust in your ability to be yourself, no matter how sweaty or goofy you may feel.  In other words, yoga dance offers one of those precious moments when your inner critic becomes quiet, giving in to the power of music and movement.

We should all practice silencing our inner critic more often. Neuroscience research suggest that we become more creative when the the parts of the brain that are responsible for cognitive control – in particular, the left prefrontal cortex – become less active.  In one study,  researchers non-invasively manipulated neurons in the participants’ left prefrontal cortices through the method of transcranial direct current stimulation, or tDCS, thus suppressing the activation of these specific areas of the brain.  Participants saw a sequence of 60 objects, one every nine seconds, and were asked to quickly come up with uses for them that were out of the ordinary.  The researchers measure how long it took for the participants to come up with a valid response, or if they were unable to do so before the next picture appears. The participants with the inhibited right prefrontal cortices missed an average of 8 out of 60 objects, compared to 15 objects missed by two other control groups.   They were also able to provide correct responses an average of a second faster than the control groups.

Another study indicates that when musicians are improvising, the part of the brain that plays a role in self-restraint and evaluation is also powered down, while an area associated with self-expression becomes more active, compared to when the musicians play music they have memorized.

How can you silence the inner critic in situations that benefit from a creative flow of unfiltered ideas?  Here are five practices to boost your creativity and self-expression:

1. Role-play your way to different scenarios.  Play boosts creativity, imagination, and social agility not just in children, but in adults as well.  As adults we become overly concerned with opinions of others.  The fear of embarrassment and social rejection inhibits our creative expression.  Play can relax the brain and make us more comfortable to take risks and experiment.  Play helps us prepare for the unexpected and produce a more diverse repertory of behavior. In a role-play, we can put ourselves through different kinds of experiences, learn to better understand other perspectives and cultivate empathy. Are you feeling too shy to play? Try a hand-puppet to get your over the discomfort of assuming a role.

2. Give yourself a permission to be absurd. Brainstorm bad ideas and poke fun at your own assumptions.  It will take the pressure off and allow good ideas to percolate into your conscious mind. Don’t take yourself too seriously.   “Think like a fool,” advises Roger von Oech:

“It’s the fool’s job to extol the trivial, trifle with the exalted, and parody the common perception of a situation. In doing so, the fool makes us conscious of the habits we take for granted and rarely question. A good fool needs to be part actor and part poet, part philosopher and part psychologist.”

3. Let your mind wander. The daydreaming mind continues to work on your problems, increasing the likelihood of an insight. A recent study shows that the times when we are naturally less productive may be optimal for solving insight problems. In those off-peak times when we are more distracted, our brains can tap into a wider range of information, find new connections, and see more possibilities.

4. Ditch your meeting room and head to a coffee-shop.  Experiments showed that a moderate level of ambient noise (70 dB) enhanced subjects’ performance on the creativity tasks, compared to a relatively quiet environment (50 decibels).  However, if the place is too noisy (85 dB), it will hurt your creative problem-solving. Coffitivity can even “deliver the vibe of a coffee shop right to your desktop.”  This web application allows you to combine your own music and ambient noises to optimize your creative process.

5. Find a solution in your dreams. Michael Michalko, the creativity expert and author of “Thinkertoys,” once said, “Ideas twinkle in dreams like bicycle lights in a mist.”  A  study conducted by the University of Alberta and the University of Montreal of 470 psychology students revealed that dreams that occurred six to seven days after the remembered event often reflected “interpersonal interactions, problem resolution and positive emotions.”  These findings suggest that people continue to work through personal difficulties in dreams.

Sleep psychologists claim we have about six dreams each night during rapid eye movement sleep (REM sleep).  We often forget our dreams, but there are things we can do to recall dreams better and capture any creative ideas that emerged in the dream state:

  • If you’ve been working on a problem for a while, bring it back into focus right before you fall asleep.  Think about a question related to your problem that you’d like to get an answer to in your sleep.
  • When you awake, don’t get up immediately.  Instead, lie quietly as you reflect on your dream.  If you have trouble remembering your dreams, try waking up thirty minutes earlier.
  • Have a dream journal next to you bed so that you could promptly record any thoughts that came to you after you woke up.  Don’t censor, just write down anything that comes to mind. Your ideas are often triggered by your dream even if you can’t remember the dream exactly.  After all, the contemporary scientific method was first reveled to René Descartes in his dream, which he promptly recorded in his dream journal.
  • You can later go over your dream journal again to see if any patterns, ideas, or insights emerge from your dream entries.

And you can always check out yoga dance.

How do you silence your inner critic?

By | 2013-03-22T12:41:02+00:00 March 20th, 2013|Brain, Creativity, Peak Performance|0 Comments