Empty Your Mind to Spark Creativity

There are an endless amount of books and workshops dedicated to the topic of creativity.  We’ve all heard at one point or another that incredibly annoying phrase: “Think outside the box”.  Whether your work is in art, construction, accounting or management, we all need to get creative in order to be innovative and cutting edge in our chosen field.

The creative process begins in our brain.  Many of us, however, are using so much of our brain power to remember “stuff” that we aren’t leaving a whole lot of space for being creative.  We are so busy trying to remember appointments, plans, schedules, dates, names, numbers, facts, responsibilities and about a thousand other things, that we can’t very well afford a lot of time and energy on creativity.

So what to do?  Get all of that “stuff” out of your head! Here are my Top 5 tips to activating your creativity by emptying your mind:

#5 – Learn To Say “No” – You can’t do it all.  Respectfully decline requests and favors that you just don’t have the time (or interest) to do.  Creativity takes time, so using your time wisely will contribute to your pièce de résistance.

#4 – Practice the Two Minute Rule – Sometimes procrastinating on a task uses more energy than if you had just done it in the first place.  A great rule of thumb is if you can take an action on something in two minutes or less, just do it.  This works really well for email and delegating.

#3 – Write (or record) All Those Amazing Ideas – I tend to think of the most ingenious ideas when I’m driving, waking in the middle of the night or showering.  Then I promise myself to remember the idea at a more opportune time.  Which I don’t.  So when the next epiphany strikes, write it down or record it on your phone’s voice recorder immediately (or as soon as you’re out of the shower)!

#2 – Get Everything (yes, EVERYTHING) Out Of Your Head And Down On Paper – This was no easy task, but a truly life-changing one.  I literally wrote down every single thing I was trying to remember:  Upcoming birthday’s, errands to run, emails to send or respond to, phone calls to make, ideas to research and explore, shopping lists, to-do lists and so on.  This exercise took about an hour but resulted in nothing but space in my brain (zero points for any and all jokes resulting from this line!).  I truly had nothing to think about but ideas, concepts and theories.  It was like having Disney World all to myself!

#1 – Use A Project Organization Software Program  – You aren’t freeing your mind if you don’t trust the system you use to maintain all the “stuff” you just emptied. You can use a good old fashioned filing system, but I prefer Nozbe.  (There’s a free version too.) I put everything I wrote down in Tip #2 into my Nozbe account which alerts me when an action is due.  So Nozbe does the remembering for me.

Some of these ideas came from David Allen’s book “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity” which is also featured in my March ‘Recommended Read’.

If you’d like to take your creativity to the ultimate level, I recommend that you check out two of my favorite books on the topic:

“The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield                                                                                                               “Steal Like an Artist” by Austin Kleon

I’m not kidding when I tell you these steps have been life-changing for me.  The first few days after using them, I came up with some really original and creative ideas.  I was also more relaxed and quicker on my feet because I wasn’t using so much of my brain power to remember things.  Tell me in the comments section how you keep your creativity charged.

Hurry Up and Wait – 4 Steps to Achieving your Goals

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I sure am ready for Spring!! Right around the end of February each year, I start to get that itch to go outside and do things.  (That ‘itch’ is in hibernation pretty much from November through February for me!)

As Spring in New England approaches, I plan hikes and excursions and bike rides and picnics and parties and horseback riding and on and on and on.  There’s just one little thing…I don’t actually DO half of it.  I talk about it excitedly, even research where I’ll go or how I’ll do it, but ultimately, it’s the same old, same old.

I’m in this big rush to do stuff, and then I wait for the next weekend or holiday or season.  But when November returns, I realize I really haven’t done what I was so excited about in the Spring and Summer.  So how is this year going to be different? I’m so glad you asked!

First I’m going to identify my goals.  My youngest will be college-bound in only two years, so I want to put an even bigger emphasis on quality family time.   I want to be more physically fit than I was last year.  I want to focus on delivering more innovative, kickass results professionally.  I want to build relationships with more people beyond my inner circle.

Then I’m going to brainstorm actions that support those goals.  I will consult with family members to come up with activities we can do that everyone will enjoy and commit to.  To meet my physical goal, I will reach out to those who can help keep me motivated and challenge me (I have WAY too many “Mud Runner” friends!!!).  I will avoid “death by research” and take action on my findings each week.  I will schedule time to network or take advantage of opportunities that will expose me to new people.

Weekly ‘pulse’ checks will keep me on track.  I will review my week every Sunday to see which goals I met and any periods where I went off track.  Then I will look at the week ahead and ensure there are enough actions planned that align with my goals.  As new opportunities arise, I will ask myself if they will contribute to, or take away from, my goals.

Finally, I’ll yell it from the rooftop!  For a little accountability fun, I’m going to make sure anyone and everyone is aware of my goals AND schedule a time to Pay the Piper! There’s nothing like a weekly blog for this step!! SOOOO….my November 16th, 2014 blog post will be my “Pay the Piper” post (say THAT ten times fast!!)!

So tell me in the comments section, when do you find yourself ‘hurrying up just to wait’, which of the four steps above would help you the most and what tips do you have to ensure you accomplish your goals!  I’d love to hear from you!!

8 Tips to Upping your Proactive Prowess

Are you exhausted after work each day?  Mentally and physically drained?  Do you feel like most days you are just putting out one “fire” after another?  I know I’ve been there and I speak to people almost every day who are there.  This type of energy expenditure is not sustainable.

First of all, let’s consider your health.  It is not healthy to be in a “state of emergency” every day.  Our bodies aren’t equipped to deal with constant “fight or flight” issues.  This type of overwhelm can result in poor eating and exercise habits potentially resulting in increased blood pressure, elevated cholesterol and other health concerns.

Secondly, if we use all of our energy in our work, what will we have left to give ourselves and those we love?   We need to nurture ourselves and our relationships.  Over time, neglecting these areas of our life can lead to depression.

Thirdly, how does this look from a professional standpoint?  While we all have to be able to react to a work crisis effectively, it shouldn’t be consuming our every day.  Put yourself in your boss’s or client’s place for a moment.  Would you promote/hire the person who put the most fires out, or the one who prevented the most fires?

Ready to hop off this fiery crazy-train?  Here are 8 tips to upping your proactive (Smokey the Bear) skills so you can save your reactive (Firefighter) ones for real crises:

  • Take a Crisis Inventory – Write down the most common fires that occur in your day-to-day operations.  This may include an employee calling out of work, an angry customer, a piece of equipment breaking, etc. (You are likely going to have to do this exercise on your own time if you are too busy putting out fires every day).
  • Make a Plan – Using your Crisis Inventory, make a list of actions you could take to address each issue, then actions you could take to prevent each one.
  • Communicate to the Team – If you have others on your team, it’s likely they are dealing with these fires as well.  Communicate your emergency plan with them and leave the plan accessible to them so they can react appropriately without direction from you.
  • Take Breaks – Step away from your work day to regroup and rest.  Eat a healthy snack, turn off the phone for 5 minutes, step outside for some fresh air, you get the idea.  Clear your mind.
  • Keep Sight of the Forest – Don’t get so wrapped up in your fires that you lose sight of the big picture.  What is your ultimate purpose and goal? What potential hot spots could surface over the next month, quarter, year?  Write these down and make a plan for addressing and preventing each one.
  • Quit the Blame Game – Control what you can control.  Take action where you can and act.
  • Use Your Resources – Communicate your needs to others who can help you.  These may exist internally or you may have to outsource, but help is always available.
  • Be a Smoke Detector – Check throughout the day, week and month for “smoke”.  Train your team to do this as well.  If you can catch these hot spots before they become fires, you my friend, will be on your way to becoming a Proactive Master!!

Take control of your workday instead of letting your workday take control of you!   Share in the comments section which one of these steps you need the most and any tips you have to help others take the wheel of the Proactive Train!

Sending the Wrong Vibe – 6 Tips for Conveying the Right Message

I recently had a conversation with someone who is described by others as “ornery”, “cranky”, “miserable” and “mean”.  A few of these same people also threw in that he “had a good heart though”.  I knew him as being a little ‘rough around the edges’, but he had always been pleasant with me.  So when I saw him, I asked how he was, what was new, how life was, etc.  During this conversation, he said something that struck me.  He said something to the effect of, “Life would be so much better if people were just nicer.”

I replayed this conversation many times in my head over the next week.  I tried to see the world through his eyes, considering every possible angle.  Like trying to solve a puzzle, I was trying to correlate his perceptions with those of the people around him.

How could someone, described as he was, be so unaware of how he was contributing to his own unhappiness?  Didn’t he realize that the vibe he was sending to others was off-putting and unapproachable?

I started to think of times when I had an expectation of someone I was speaking to.  Maybe I heard they were condescending or I feared they would be unimpressed with me.  And guess what?  Most of the time I was right, but not because of who they were, but because of who I was projecting myself to be.

Was it possible that I was sending a vibe that invited someone to be condescending with me?  Could I be unimpressive because that’s the unspoken message I was conveying to them?

Call it “Law of Attraction”, “Power of Suggestion” or “Self-Fulfilling Prophecy”…I’ve found it to be true.  As so many of you have commented on your love of lists, here are 6 tips to ensure you’re sending the right vibe:

  • Acknowledge Your Fears – Name them, accept them,  then tell yourself that your fears don’t define you (do all of this out loud if you can) Once revealed, it’s harder for those fears to sneak in
  • Give Yourself a Pep Talk – Remind yourself of your awesomeness and that NO ONE is better than you
  • Focus On Your Message – What are you trying to convey? Confidence, warmth, concern, admiration, joy, seriousness? Be clear on your intention and why this is important to you
  • Expect Acceptance – When speaking with others, expect that they will like and accept you as you are
  • Shake Off Mistakes – If you misstep or let that fear creep in during the conversation, shake it off and get right back on track
  • Be Aware of Non-Verbals – Make sure your body language and facial expressions are congruent with the vibe you’re sending – these are what people will perceive first about you

Follow these tips right before you speak.  Whether this is one-on-one or with a group, the same rules apply.  Just be you! You ARE awesome!!

Comment above which nasty little fears have a tendency to creep up on you and how you battle these vibe villains!

Living Your Dream, One Step at a Time

Many of you know that I fall under the ranks of “multi-passionate”.  The idea of settling on just one “thing” horrifies me.  I’m always looking at the new, exciting and shiny.  I embrace change (for the most part).  I enjoy trying new things.  Some things stick, others enjoy the short-lived “Flavor of the Month” title. One thing is certain:  If I hadn’t taken some sort of action, I’d never know what “stuck”.

The other night, I was reviewing my business finances and preparing an expense report for my accountant.  It reminded me of how far I’ve come in the past year.  For years I’d said I’d NEVER want to be an entrepreneur.  Dealing with finances and taxes?  Bleh!!!! No thanks!  But then I realized how I could turn my passion for helping people into a business.

That was about as specific as my business plan was.  I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to do it, but I was determined to at least try.  I enrolled in training workshops, watched webinars, listened to podcasts, read books, hired professionals.  I learned so much!! More than I thought I was capable of.

I was DEFINITELY outside my comfort zone, but I was learning so much and trying so many new things.  I did it all at my own pace.  I made mistakes and survived.  I had those self-doubts, “Who do you think you are? What do you know about being an entrepreneur?” They hurt and at times I considered the validity of those questions for longer than I should have.  But then I reflected on them and either took measures to learn what I needed to or just shut down that naysayer in my head.

I also realized that for the most part, people wanted me to succeed and wanted to help me achieve my goals.  I met a ridiculous amount of new and wonderful people, many of whom I expect will be in my life for years to come.

Even though I started this journey knowing virtually nothing about starting a business, one short year later I’ve come a long way.  I had my doubts at certain points but everything came together and I’ve had an incredibly successful first year.

The point, please Watson?  Sorry, the point is that I would not have discovered this had I not taken the first step.  Here’s a quote by Lisa Sasevich to illustrate this, “God can’t course-correct you when you’re standing still.”  If you don’t take some sort of action, you may be missing out on some golden nugget of awesomeness in your life.

What are you passionate about or even just interested in?  What’s something you’ve wondered about or dreamt of doing?  It doesn’t have to be starting your own business.  It could be learning about photography, owning a beach home, leading a yoga class.  Stop waiting and take the first step.  That’s it.  Just the first one.  When you’re ready you can consider what the second step is, but do something!

All my readers have contributed to my success and feeling of fulfillment, so please accept my most heartfelt and sincere “THANK YOU”!!!  I look forward to creating even more exciting ways to serve you in Year 2.  (Have some ideas on how I could add value to your life?  Please share them with me in the ‘Contact Me’ section.)

Tell me in the comments section something you’ve fantasized about doing and what the first step is on that journey.

If you would like to partner up and work on living a life by design, then an Empowerment Session is for you! Take advantage of the complimentary strategy session!

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email April@AuthenticLifeChronicles.com 

Shutting the Pie Hole – 10 Tips to Being a Better Listener

Have you ever had a conversation with a person who looks like a fish out of water when you’re speaking?  The one whose mouth keeps opening and closing as they attempt to say what they need to say even though you’re not finished yet?  Annoying, right?

Listening can be so hard but it is so important.  Everyone has great words of wisdom to impart on others.  But in our rush to help, solve or just provide evidence of our superior intelligence to others, we may miss the best parts of what someone is saying.

This lack of listening is not always done with bad intentions.  For instance, I used to frequently (and still do occasionally if I’m being honest) try to finish people’s sentences.  I did (do) this to either help them out if they were struggling to find a particular word or to show that I was (am) paying attention and TOTALLY got what they were saying.  The only problem with this was my accuracy was only like 90%.

I didn’t realize how annoying this was until other people started doing it to me.  I also became hyper-aware of people doing it to others.  (The ‘fish out of water’ analogy is based on these observations).

People have so much to say, blah, blah, blah.  Shutting the pie hole is THE BEST way to learn where another person is coming from. And if you need to influence them in some way with your words, you really need to know where they’re coming from. Here are 10 tips to help you become a better listener:

  1. REMOVE ALL DISTRACTIONS – silence cell phone, hold calls, close doors (if possible) and tell any unexpected visitors you’ll catch up with them later.
  2. MAINTAIN EYE CONTACT – this communicates that you are intently focused on only the other person.
  3. KEEP YOUR BODY LANGUAGE OPEN – uncross arms and legs and lean towards the speaker.
  4. NOD YOUR HEAD to indicate understanding and attention.
  5. GIVE VERBAL CUES that encourage the speaker to continue – like ‘mmhmmm’, ‘yes’, ‘right’, ‘I see’, etc.
  6. TAKE NOTES only if appropriate – this includes what they are saying and any responses of yours you don’t want to forget
  7. DON’T INTERRUPT! – no matter what you’re feeling, allow the speaker to share their perceptions and feelings.
  8. START YOUR RESPONSE WITH A QUESTION – once the other person is done speaking, FORCE yourself to start your response with a question.  This could allow for further elaboration (ie: “When you say ‘yelled at you’ do you mean increased volume or tone of voice?”) or to confirm you understood them correctly by paraphrasing (“If I understand correctly, you feel belittled when you raise an argument. Is that accurate?”).
  9. AVOID COMPARING your similar ‘story’ to theirs – this is not a competition.  Avoid trying to ‘one-up’ them with your ‘bigger’ story.
  10. KEEP YOUR DEFENSES DISENGAGED – how they feel and perceive things is NOT up for debate.  Defending your actions, thoughts or feelings is unnecessary.  Listen to the other person and share your perspective tactfully without trying to counter their perception.

There are times when simply acknowledging the other person and their perception can be enough to avoid any escalated issues.  So never disregard or minimize what another person is feeling.  Perception is reality to that individual.  Respect that.

Odds are that if a person feels heard and understood, they will be much more open to considering opposing perspectives.  “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”  – Stephen R. Covey

Your turn:  Share in the comments section a time you listened fully and how this helped prevent an ‘issue’ from forming!

Love You or Love You Not?

This can be a crappy time of month for those who are single or in an unhappy relationship.  Pink and Red hearts and cupids are EVERYWHERE.  Flowers, candy, cards and jewelry are advertised as the ultimate social proof of being loved.  Stupid.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a chick after all and certainly love me some flowers, candy, cards or jewelry! My aggravation comes from the insinuation that you are validated on this day ONLY if someone gifts you with an “I love you” gift.

For those who are single or in unhappy (or un-gifting) relationships, this can be rather depressing.  IF they buy into this that is.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how much you are loved by another human being if you don’t love yourself.  There are too many people who need this validation from someone else in order to believe that they are worthy of love.

How about proving your worthy of love by loving yourself?  Need some help?  Here are 7 ways to give yourself a little love this Valentine’s Day:

  1. Write a Valentine’s card or letter to yourself.  And don’t be lame.  Write about all those great qualities you possess, nice things you do, good intentions you have.
  2. Buy yourself a bunch of your favorite flowers and put them in a place you’ll enjoy them frequently.
  3. Take yourself out to dinner.  You can do this alone or make it a ‘Friends Date’.  Make sure you get your fancy on – dress to impress! (impress yourself of course!)
  4. Wear some sexy and daring underthings beneath your everyday attire (or for that matter, wear nothing underneath) to remind yourself that you got it goin’ on!
  5. Get yourself a treat like a box of chocolates, bottle of wine, 12 pack of beer or the fixin’s for a Cosmo, then enjoy slowly and lovingly.
  6. Go check out some jewelry stores and buy yourself that piece you really love.  Maybe it’s a ring, or pendant, watch or cuff links.  Go ahead and spend a little extra, you’re worth it, remember?
  7. Hit the spa and get a manicure, pedicure or massage.

Word of caution:  These acts are not intended to replace or stand-in for someone else.  Do these for no other reason than to show yourself some love.  Really put your heart into it.

Doing kind and loving things for yourself will remind you how awesome you really are.  Giving someone else the task of determining your worth and value is a really bad idea.

If someone happens to gift you with something this V-Day, BONUS!  But get excited about how you’re going to gift you!  Won’t you be your valentine? Post in the comments section ONE thing about you that is worth celebrating!!

What a Perfect Month To…

Now that we’ve caught our breath from the whirlwind of November-January, we are in a prime position to take some proactive action, as opposed to the reactive action many of us have been reeling from.

So what’s so great about February?  Well, as the shortest month, it’s a perfect time to start a good habit or give up a bad one…if only for 28 days.  After all the talk about New YEAR’s resolutions, why not try a smaller time frame?

I few years ago, I really wanted to start jogging.  I also was well aware that I had zero aerobic endurance.  So I went to a biking/walking trail several times a week.  The paved trail had a milestone every 15-20 yards, usually telephone poles.  So I would walk from one to the next, and then jog during the next set, then back to walking and so on.  Each week, the distance I could jog increased.  Having those “markers” helped me push myself just a little further.

I’d like February to be your trail with milestones.  What’s a good habit you’d like to try for 28 days (or 27 as of this posting date)? How about a bad habit you’d like to try to quit?  And don’t overwhelm yourself!  Your February Challenge could be something you do 3 times a week during the month.

I’m trying two Challenges – flossing every day.  (I know, yawn, but hey, like the dentist always says, only floss the ones you’d like to keep!), and eating healthier – via the Paleo diet, (no dairy, sugar, carbs or processed foods).

There is plenty of debate on whether you can create a habit in 21 or 28 days.  I say, who cares?!? Just do something that would benefit you this month.  If it sticks, great!  If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.

Here are some ideas for you:

  • No TV during February
  • Walk for twenty minutes every day
  • No alcohol during the week
  • Volunteer at the food bank every weekend this month
  • No chocolate (forget it, I don’t even know who typed that!!!)
  • Go to bed fifteen minutes earlier each night and read that book that’s just been sitting there
  • Start jogging
  • Stop smoking in the house or car
  • Do ab exercises five days a week (bet you’ll be RIPPED!)

You get the idea.  Just try it.  It’s only one month. One short month! Good Luck and Rock On Readers!!!

Thanks to Christine Jette from Inspired Angel Connections for sharing the article that inspired this post.  To read the entire post that inspired this one, click here: http://www.kevinelliottcounseling.com/blog/?p=1928

Tell me in the comments section above, what Challenge YOU are going to give yourself this month.

Carpe Diem

Today would have been my dad’s 74th birthday.  It’s been almost nine years since he passed.  Going through old pictures recently, there were pictures of his 50th and 60th birthday celebrations.  So many people attended these milestones.  He was so happy in all of those pictures.

He did well for a man without a college degree.  After his years in the Navy, he worked for over 30 years, steadily advancing, at the same company, even with it changing hands several times.  He supported his family, was active in the community and enjoyed many leisure activities with his friends and family.

There was one milestone in his life he was really looking forward to…retirement.  He was a very hard-working man and realized that all those years of effort and sacrifice could best be appreciated in the retirement years.  We knew he’d be just as busy “retired” as he was working.

Sadly, this was not to be.  Just six months after his cancer diagnosis and thirty-four days after his 65th birthday, he passed away.

What hurt, almost as much as losing my father, was knowing how disappointed he was.  How unfair it seemed to him.  What about his plans and the accomplishments he had yet to make?

We were so proud of all that he had done.  His obituary was quite impressive for a small town, family man.  But he wasn’t done.  He had banked on having more time.

What accomplishments are you planning on achieving before time runs out for you?  Are you waiting until the kids are older?  Waiting until there’s just a little more in your savings account?  Want to pay off the car or mortgage first?

Please stop waiting.  The perfect time is NOW!  In fact, NOW is all that you have.

I have a challenge for you.  Choose the level you can handle.

Challenge #1 – (So easy even a Caveperson could do it) – Make a list of all the things you want to accomplish before you leave this world.

Challenge #2 – (Only Badass Readers should attempt this) – Write your own obituary.  The way you would like it to read.  Be sure to include awards, certificates, travels and any other aspirations you have.

Then, GET GOING!! Take the necessary steps to make those aspirations, accomplishments.

We all have loved ones that aren’t with us anymore.  Honor yours by living fully NOW.  Today I’m going to reflect on all the lessons my Dad taught me, both during his life and after his death, and wish him a Happy Birthday in heaven.  Then I’ll get back to work…there’s a whole lot more I want to accomplish!

Carpe Diem Readers!  No regrets, no woulda, coulda, shoulda’s!  Post in the comments section what you are going to get started on achieving.

Let It Go and Forgive

We’ve all been screwed over.  Just when you think you know someone… they lied, cheated or done ya wrong!  I’ve been there.  It tore me up.  Every time.  “Never again!”, I said.  “No one will ever get that close to me again!!”

I’ll admit it, I felt hatred (or something akin to it!) and I HATE hating!  But there were a few moments where I’m pretty sure I fed the “Hate Monster” a crumb or two.  I fantasized that this evil wrong-doer would be exposed to the world, break down and cry in front of this planet-sized jury and admit and apologize for all their transgressions against me.

And then what? I don’t know, I didn’t think beyond that.  I just replayed this scenario over and over again.  Wallowing in my victim status. Questioning my judgment.  Vowing to never be vulnerable and open with another human being.  And then what?  I don’t friggin know, I said!!

And then it made sense.  Hating really DOES only hurt the hater.  Think about it.  Haven’t you hurt people in your life?  I know I have.  Not because I wanted to hurt them.  It was just an unfortunate result.  In retrospect, I could have handled it differently, but at the time, I did what I thought I had to do.

What are you holding onto this year?  Who hurt you?  Are you allowing them to “drive your bus?”  Is the hurt they caused, navigating how you live your life?  Please, kindly take back control of your travels.

I bet they did something awful.  I bet they were inconsiderate and hurtful and selfish.  All of that is on them.  You don’t need to live in that space.  It isn’t serving you to live there.  Let. It. Go.  Forgive them for being a stupid human.  (We’ve all worn that badge a time or two!)

You should forgive them NOT to do them any favors, but to release them from your current life.  Maybe you’ll allow them in again one day, but not right now.  You may love them, but know they are not contributing to your path right now.

Release the baggage of hating them and reliving your victimhood.  Put those bags down, release that balloon of resentment.  Let it all go.  It’s not your “Now”; it’s your “Then”.

Surround yourself with positive energy and release all negative energy.  It’s a new year and you don’t want to waste a single moment on someone else’s shortcomings and wrong-doings.  You’ve got your own to worry about.

Forgiving and releasing is better than hating and hanging on.  Standing still in time will not change a thing.  Progress forward…leave them behind.

Share in the comments section how forgiving someone helped YOU!