Ever suddenly discovered a really simple answer to something complex and asked yourself ‘Why didn’t I think of that before?’
Yesterday I was fitting out a small box room for my son’s use. Now this room had previously had in it a ‘shorty’ bed, that is a children’s bed, and actually the width of the room wouldn’t admit a bed any bigger. My son had set his heart on an office bed, you know, one of those bunk beds with an office underneath but of course as I discovered they don’t make office beds in a shorty size. So I used my brain and came up with an elaborate solution involving a bookcase and cupboard of similar height, several boards, a mattress and a stepladder – genius if I say so myself! It was only yesterday in constructing the first set of shelves that I realised what a simple error I’d made. I started to lay out the pieces of the shelf so I could put it together and of course the room was too small for me to lay them out width-wise, so I tried laying them out in a diagonal fashion. That didn’t seem to work either so I said to myself “Why don’t I try laying them out in the length of the room?” I tried it, and they fit … as would an adult size bed! What a first class idiot I felt! Seeing the bed that was already there I had not thought to question that you might put a bed along the other wall in that room. That wall was about 20cm longer. I could have bought him a regular office bed, and I would have got something perfect at a great price in the recent Argos sale!!! It’s rare to never that I stew in regret, but I did spend a few minutes kicking myself, before I started to see the advantages of what I’d done.
I had been the victim of what cognitive science describes as ‘functional fixedness’ – because of my previous experience with a particular object (the bed that was previously there) I had been unable to see a different way of using the object (putting the bed along the other wall). The opposite of this is ‘cognitive flexibility’ being able to transfer knowledge to novel situations. The classic experiment that displays these human tendencies of ours is Maier’s Two String Problem (1931). The subject is brought into a room in which two strings are hanging from the ceiling, given a chair and a number of objects including a pair of pliers and asked to join the two pieces of string. The strings are of such a length and such a distance apart that when you are holding one you are too far away to reach the other. Your task is to join the strings. The solution? You need to use the pliers in a novel way, as a weight, rather than as they were designed to be used, tie them to the end of one of the strings and set it swinging and then go grab the other string and wait for the first one to swing towards you, so that you can grab that one too! Most subjects in the experiment do not at first discover the pliers solution, although Maier found that if he walked across the room and ‘accidentally’ brushed against one of the strings, setting it swinging, then the subject often suddenly made the cognitive leap and worked out the solution. I too had accidentally discovered that a full size bed would have fit in the other direction, through trying to solve a different problem – that of how to construct the shelves in such a small room. Unaware of this experiment at the time, I redeemed myself in terms of cognitive flexibility later – by using an old pair of earphones as a string and a pair of pliers as a weight to give myself a line along which to nail the backboard to the shelf underneath that I couldn’t see … so I don’t have to feel too cognitively sorry for myself!!
How do you avoid ‘functional fixedness’ and embrace ‘cognitive flexibility’? In other words how do you become the kind of person that can come up with novel solutions to a problem? Well seeing as we tend to choose solutions based on our previous experience, I say ‘Get as Much Experience as Possible!’ Grab life by the horns, and learn everything you can – then you will have a great variety of previous experiences to choose from when finding a novel solution. I also recommend brainstorming and experimenting. When faced with an ‘unsolvable’ problem I like to use the ‘no holds barred’ approach, and list as many answers to the problem as I can, one after another, without filtering them for common sense or practicality. Sooner or later you then ‘accidentally’ discover a new approach that linear thinking would never have found for you. And if all else fails, sleep on it. How many times have you gone to bed with a question on your mind and woken up in an ‘Aha!’ moment, sometimes in the middle of the night, with the perfect key to your conundrum? By doing this you give your powerful and intuitive unconscious mind a chance to have a crack at it, and the solutions you discover are often so neat and simple that you can’t help asking yourself “Why didn’t I think of that before?!”
Have a week of novel approaches 🙂
Would you believe it? It’s almost the end of March and I’m embarrassed to say I’ve only just completed my year’s goals!!! Better late than never. I started as I meant to go on of course, in fact I started before January was even upon us. To do your goals properly, really you need a concentrated amount of time when you switch off the phone, put on some music to inspire you, and then you let your imagination and desires run free and see where they take you. Hmmm. Couldn’t have been more different this year.
For a start, being a life coach, I like to make sure I’m using the best system so that I can teach it to my clients and workshop attendees, so this year I tampered with the systems I usually use and ended up using an amalgamation of both! Then, being a mother of 3 active young kids, of course I didn’t get to do it all in one sitting – not by a long shot. So whilst the first sit down session was one with the phone off and music, by the time I got round to the last (yesterday) I was sitting in the hubbub of Costa, in between one errand and another, just getting it done.
Tell you what though there is something to be said for the ‘spaced repetition’ method. Over the course of the 3 months or so it has taken me, I’ve had to look over my desired outcomes and really think about them a number of times. You know what I realised yesterday? That just in reminding myself of them regularly, I’ve actually done quite a few of them already 🙂 I was able to cross a number of things off before they even made it onto my official list for the year.
I’ve also learned two things about the methods I use. Years ago I used to use the method a brilliant coach, Phillip Humbert http://www.philiphumbert.com/ made available to download. But I’ve also vacillated between that and the Wheel of Life method taught by Tony Robbins. This year I’ve decided for once and for all that I actually like the wheel of life method (with my adaptations to it) better. What I’ve learnt from PH though is the addition of the category of ‘Environment’ which I’m now going to add to the other categories I use: Family, Finances, Professional, Fun, Health, Spiritual, Relationship, Friendships, Contribution and Growing. And something else I’ve realised is that while every year your goal setting method invariably asks you to write down all your most farfetched and long term dreams in each area, you then only pick the most short term ones to work on. Now some of those farfetched long term things I really want, so I’m adding another category: ‘Plans’.
So who wants to know what I’m focusing on this year (now that I finally know!!!)? Here’s a short selection: Create an amazing summer, full of mountains and lakes etc, Make monthly inspirational hangout at my house, Read an enlightening book a month, Run a weekly personal development class, Write to change the world, Build my internet presence, Lovingly give each child their hour a week, Get 6-8 hours sleep a night, Put all birthdays on outlook and synchronise to phone, Grow my enlightened presence within my marriage. There are more of course – too many to list here! I know you’re supposed to emerge with three or four desired outcomes to focus on … but I don’t like to do things by halves…
So now let me ask you … I’m sure you’ve been far more organised than me and got your goals done in January – so the end of March is the end of the First Quarter of the year…. how are your goals going … come on now – I want answers! And for those of you that got delayed, like me, and haven’t finished, or even haven’t started, well are you going to wait till next January, or are you going to get going NOW? How are you supposed to have the life you want, if you haven’t even defined what you want? I want to hear some goals and desired outcomes, people!!! For those who are scared to comment in WordPress, if you comment in Facebook I will bring your comments over to WP – how’s that for an offer? And by the way, why do you think I told you some of my desired outcomes? So you could hold me to them! If you tell everyone what you want to achieve, you’re far more likely to achieve it – it’s people power!
Now is the time either to be re-evaluating your goals and how far you’ve got on them, or at least stating them before another year goes by. I’m not going to go into a full on goal setting session now – I’ll save that for the New Year. Just remember, ask for your heart’s desires – if you don’t ask you don’t get, be careful what you ask for, and make sure they’re things that you can bring about yourself – ie: that don’t rely on anyone else.
Here’s to persisting and getting things done (eventually 😮 ), and here’s to the life of your desires!
This week my nephew becomes a man. At the tender age of 13, his reading of a portion of the Torah marks the beginning of his responsibility as an adult in the Jewish religion. You might think 13 is quite young to suddenly be considered an adult, but some youngsters are out there making babies at that age, so perhaps it’s appropriate after all! “What’s the point?” You might ask? So there will be a great hoo-hah, everyone will be looking even more young and beautiful than usual, you know who you are ;-), and we’ll all mark the occasion with the solemnity it deserves and then party on afterwards, but so what?
Actually I think these things are really important, and I’ll tell you why. You know in the old days when pretty much everyone had some form of religion or at least some form of superstition, don’t you think that life’s events were marked a little better? Important occasions in a person’s life were always communal occasions- be they births, marriages, deaths or anywhere in between. You had some form of support and acknowledgement as you passed from one stage to another – and you had living proof around you that other people had done the same and survived it. Except death of course – and even then many traditions had it that your deceased relatives would come out and accompany you to heaven, if you were lucky enough to get there. So what could potentially be a scary event if you did it alone became a celebration of moving on and moving up. A celebration of becoming more than you were. Religion has done harm as well as good of course and hence been ditched by many, but sadly I think a number of bathing babies have been thrown out with the bath water, one of them being that we don’t have the same sense of community as we used to and sometimes have to navigate life’s passages alone.
I’m glad my nephew has his loving family around him as he begins to move away from being a child and starts to take more responsibility for his world – I wish him Mazal Tov (congratulations) and would like to reassure him that whilst adulthood brings responsibility, it also brings you the power and resources to do all the things you’ve always wanted to do. Just as having power gives you responsibility, taking responsibility gives you power … use it wisely!
Ritual isn’t only found in religion of course. When you think of ritual as something you oblige yourself to make a habit out of, or something you engage in ‘religiously’ until it becomes an action you almost can’t stop yourself doing, in it’s looser sense we engage in ritual quite a lot. There are global rituals e.g. taking a bath every now and then and personal rituals – e.g. the time you choose to wake up each day. I have a road ritual, to do with what I think is called ‘lane discipline’. I make sure I ALWAYS stay cleanly in whatever road lane I’m in, or if I’m changing lanes that I do so tidily and having indicated, instead of making free with the road as some drivers do when there are no other cars around. I do that because I want it to be such an ingrained habit that I’ll drive safely even if I’m exhausted, or if my concentration is low that day.
That particular ritual has served me well (so far at least!). Which brings me to my point. Rituals are there to serve us. What you do repeatedly and with focus becomes who you are. What you practice when you have energy to spare can save you when you are low on gumption. So here are my questions to you:
*What rituals do you have that serve you? Do you regularly get enough sleep and wake up at a sensible hour? Do you make a ritual out of regular exercise? Do you have a group of positive people that you regularly spend time with. so much so that you’re almost obliged to touch base with inspiration, no matter what mood you’re in?
*Are there any rituals you have that don’t serve you? Destructive eating habits? Smoking? Watching the same TV programme each week that you know is going to annoy you, just because everyone else is? Renewed awareness is the first step to making a change!
*And finally, what rituals can you install? Remember, what you do repeatedly becomes who you are. So who are you now, and who do you want to be?
Want to be healthy and fit? Get thee to a gym, or find what else works for you. Make a habit of buying the right foods. Make time to prepare the right foods – very few healthy things come plopping out of a tin, so if you want healthy food you’re going to have to make time for that. Want to be inspired and inspiring? Hang out with those kinds of people regularly, and read and watch things that inspire you … on a regular basis. Want to be a giving person? Sign up for volunteer work, or perhaps set regular charity payments on your account even if it’s only a small amount of money a month. Maybe make a habit of considering the well being of strangers around you to be your partial responsibility. This is something I’m personally working on at the moment. To be honest it doesn’t come naturally to pick up other people’s litter when I’m walking out in nature, or stop my car in the middle of the road to move the stray road cone out of other people’s way, instead of just driving round it. I’m doing those sorts of things anyway when I can – because that is the kind of person I want to be.
I find a diary helps with installing regular habits, and if you can set alerts on your phone and actually schedule in time for the habits you want to take on, you’re on to a winner. You can also use NLP to install triggers that remind you to do a certain action, when a particular event occurs – ask me how – it’s a pet subject! However you do it, make sure you do it – and you WILL change your life for the better, guaranteed.
Take on great rituals and celebrate the great rituals you already have … in fact why not go forth, get your rain dance on (or whatever those guys in that fantastic picture are doing) and have a ritualistic week!
There I am, feeling a right nincompoop, half way up a mountain somewhere in Wales, aching feet, out of breath, ridiculously heavy backpack, tearful with effort, wondering what the heck I thought I was doing when I put myself up for this. Mountain Leader Training?!! Hah. Just cos I love being in the mountains, doesn’t mean I need to volunteer to be stuck in the middle of nowhere with two ex army guys, and three hefty outdoor adventure guys, all of whom are secretly or not so secretly wishing I wasn’t there so they can go bounding over the earth like mountain goats instead of waiting for little slow coach to catch up … Character building? I’ll give you character building. You try chasing those chaps up and down rock faces … when we finally got back to the bottom, and I trailed in, an hour after the first mountain goat had arrived, they all stood up and slow clapped me. And I’ll tell you something else too … several years later when my brother went to the same training company they were still talking about me! Talk about notoriety … Ah well, at least I’ll have a story to tell my grandchildren…
Anyhow, I’m glad I went, because I learnt something. I learnt (now pay attention …) that when climbing a rock face, you never underestimate a foothold or handhold. What I mean to say is, say you see a small foothold and it’s only 10cm or so above the one your foot is on, if there’s nothing else available you take it. And something astonishing happens. Your point of view changes. And you see other footholds and handholds that you couldn’t see 10cm lower down, or that weren’t available from slightly lower down. You work out your next move from where you are at the time (though of course you keep an eye on your general direction so that you don’t climb yourself into a bush or something), and you find that there’s always a way up, even if its 10cm at a time.
I think life can be a bit like that. Sometimes it really does feel like an uphill struggle, and there are times when the only available options are less than inspiring. The thing is to pace yourself, take one step at a time, and use those little options, if they’re all you’ve got. And your point of view changes. You begin to see other options that you couldn’t see before. You gain experience. You gain a sense of mastery. You get to feel great about pushing your limits, when you discover you can go farther than you expected. You can start to take joy in the moment too – joy in just being, joy in the privilege of having got this far. Once you begin to enjoy the process, the load seems lighter, and as you relax and start to smile your muscles loosen up just a little so the climb gets easier. Then at a certain point, you notice that you’re actually quite near the top. Your step quickens, and you’re happy to push yourself even harder. You clamber over the last few bumps and … you’re there.
If you’re climbing a mountain you get to survey the view. A beautiful lake glinting in the sunshine. Maybe a few little clouds huddled round a neighbouring mountain top. The deepest blues and the most verdant greens. Waltzing grass and patient rock. A tiny lone figure in the distance. A cooling breeze caresses the smile on your face as you stand there and just be. Nothing else exists but this moment.
If it’s life that you’re scaling, you can also let yourself celebrate those wins – there’s nothing quite like putting in everything you’ve got, and getting results you only ever dreamed you could achieve. When you go for something you truly want, that’s always been a part of who you are, and you get it … don’t you just think to yourself “I could die happy right now!” I love those moments. You feel like you’re stepping more deeply into being yourself. You almost glow, and the feel-good is infectious. People around subtly get the message “If you’re willing to do what it takes, you can achieve your desires”. And so your success becomes a beacon of possibility, lighting the way for others.
In either case, all the blood sweat and tears you put in are forgiven and forgotten as you rejoice in just being … after all, what else is there?
This week live in the moment. Take little opportunities that come your way. Know that you will get there … and rejoice in the process as you move closer and closer to your next summit.
Every morning, as I brush my teeth, like a trigger the dentist’s voice rings in my ear ‘electric toothbrushes are always better than manual ones’. And every morning I say to myself ‘how do they know?’ Well ok I suppose electric toothbrushes can be better relied upon to brush more strongly, provide more brush strokes and thereby remove more plaque … but how do they know that more vigorous brushing won’t wear away your tooth enamel … or maybe the vibrations from the toothbrush might, I dunno, rattle your teeth about too much and make them fall out earlier … who knows? Yet we’re all willing to accept the dentist’s recommendation to use an electric toothbrush…
Well, as my mind was pondering this bland conundrum the other morning I followed the thought along to ‘Just think how many other things we take as fact, which are actually just theory’. That we’ll be well and healthy tomorrow, that nuclear war won’t break out, that we are actually the child of our parents (hospital mix-ups do happen you know!), our religious or spiritual standpoint, or the lack of it, that when you see something red, and somebody else sees something red that you actually both experience red in the same way … the list goes on. It’s a little unsettling when you first think about it … that a lot of what we base our lives on is theory. What if the theory is wrong? What if I get to 70 and all my teeth fall out because I’ve used an electric toothbrush for so long?
I like living on a theory though. For one thing, life is never dull and you never quite know what tomorrow will bring … but I think it’s more than gratuitous excitement. You see if you live in a world of theory, the possibilities are endless. Once you realise that pretty much everything is unstable, if you can find a way to place yourself ‘at cause’, i.e. be a force that makes things happen, or holds them as they are, or stops them happening, then you can do anything.
I think that’s a real key to life. Being comfortable in instability. A lot of people like things to remain stable and when elements of their world change unexpectedly that’s unsettling for them. Instead of being rattled by the change though, you can see it as an opportunity. To create something new, to be the most updated version of you, to understand something in a deeper way.
Embracing the possibility of instability allows you to be truly alive. If we always wait for ‘absolute facts’ before we make decisions, we delay and delay in taking action, and often those opportunities go stale and pass us by. If, on the other hand we’re willing to act on an estimate or a 70% likelihood, we get to take action more frequently, and get to live life far more on our own terms. The ride may be a little choppier, and sometimes we’ll make mistakes, but we’ll get more of what we want and boy will the process be exhilarating!
So this week embrace uncertainty, live on the edge and push the boundaries of possibility – it will be the ride of your life!
Ps: A quick shout out to my colleague Sara Jane Tepper (http://www.facebook.com/sarahjanetepper), who gives a fantastic full body massage amongst other things. If you’re living on the edge you need to take good care of yourself and this is one way! – check out Sara Jane’s website http://www.hertsholistic.com from where I copied the following:
Herts Holistic is run by Sarah-Jane Tepper and is based at Elstree Film Studios in Hertfordshire. She is ITEC and VTCT qualified and has Diplomas in Anatomy & Physiology, Massage, Indian Head Massage and Reflexology . She trained at the Central London College of Reflexology and the Middlesex School of Complementary Medicine. She is also qualified in Reiki I and II. Sarah-Jane writes Being Holistic, a column for At Home magazine online and is an independent distributor for Forever Living. She is fully insured and a member of the Association of Reflexologists and the Federation of Holistic Therapists.
I’ve got a thing for stubborn people. Sure they can drive you crazy, but you know what, they don’t stop till they get what they want, and you can’t argue with that for a skill!
As you may have heard, my colleague Ronit Gerber and I were on Salford City Radio on Monday for a show entitled ‘Harness the Power of You’. To sum up the show in a sentence the message was: When you are authentic to yourself, you attract a life that fulfills you. If you want to hear the show you’ll find links to the right of this page under Newly Added Resources. Anyhow, on that show we took questions live by email. Several listeners spoke about how they’d lost their job or relationship and found themselves looking for something new. They were looking for motivation and strength, and more than anything looking for a way to change the way they felt about life so they could move forward. And where did my mind go? Finding Nemo. You can see what I do in my ‘spare time’!
In Finding Nemo (for those readers who actually get to watch movies for grownups!!!) the lead character, a young clown fish called Nemo is captured in the Great Barrier Reef and taken to Sydney. His timid father, Marlin, then travels all the way to get his son back. Many adventures ensue (which I’m not going to recount, you might be relieved to learn!) and there’s a point where Marlin accompanied by his scatty, amnesiac friend Dory, feels like he’s never going to make it. And she starts singing “Just keep swimming, Just keep swimming …”
I love that line. Cos sometimes life is tough. Sometimes you can’t see any way forward. Sometimes every route seems to be blocked, and you don’t want to be upbeat about it! Sometimes you’re angry and sometimes it’s overwhelming and all the motivation and ‘happy happy’ cheering up in the world isn’t going to help. Let’s admit it – we’re human and we all feel like that sometimes. So in those situations I say to you ‘just keep swimming, just keep swimming …’. Sometimes it’s just a matter of keeping on, until you perceive an opportunity to change things.
That’s where stubborn people win out. They just keep on keeping on, and eventually they get what they want. We can learn something from that.
I’ve found that if you do keep going it’s as though G-d/The Universe takes notice of that. It’s almost as though a proclamation rings out “Heavens! This person is actually serious about their goals! Let’s give them a helping hand …” and then as if it was happening by itself, things start to turn around. You get the loan you need, you suddenly realise that you know exactly the person to help you or perhaps whatever was pressurizing you eases off and vanishes. Persistence pays and it seems The Universe likes those with a stubborn streak too! Just look at evolution if you need evidence for that – the most flexible, persistent life forms are the ones that survive to thrive.
So this week if there’s something getting you down or a situation that doesn’t seem to have a solution … you know what I’m going to say… JUST KEEP SWIMMING!!!
Have a great week!