Tag Archives: head space

Organization vs Passion: List the benefits

hamster in a metal hamster wheel

CC image “Hamster wheel” courtesy of sualk61 on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

I’ve been thinking a lot about lists lately, because my life seems to be filled with them.

I have to-do lists for the day, the week, the month. Shopping lists, story brainstorming lists, lists of essay ideas, speech ideas, blog post ideas, blog improvements, lists of birthdays, of appointments, packing lists, lists of items I need to repair on my car, lists of my student loans, and so on.

Sometimes I think the lists are a blessing. The most obvious benefit is an increased level of organization, coupled with a sense of control over my life. Often, though, I feel trapped by my lists. Like a hamster on a wheel, I am running, running… and seem never to be getting anywhere. My life has become a list — a list which taunts me like Sisyphus’s stone.

Let’s get organized!

The number one advantage to creating a list is organization. Organization is a big watchword nowadays. We all lead such busy lives, there’s not enough time in the day to accomplish everything. From pundits to parents, advice columns to job postings, organization is acknowledged as a universal good.

Consider the daily to-do list. A simple and effective maneuver, scribbling a to-do list takes only a few minutes, and serves as a reminder throughout the day. When we get side-tracked by unexpected events or need to prioritize, the to-do list is our friend. Groceries versus Pilates class? Vision statement or agenda prep for afternoon teleconference? Following up with Sue or Sam? Remembering what the heck was that important deadline this week?

Did you know that lists are good news for our health, too? Creating lists can help:

  • reduce anxiety by giving us a sense of control over what we need to get done
  • boost our brain power by using parts of our brain we otherwise may neglect
  • improve focus by keeping our immediate goal in front of us
  • increase self-esteem through the sense of accomplishment we get by crossing items off our list
  • organize our thoughts, such as when we are faced with a tough or complex decision

Health, stress reduction, meeting deadlines, and getting all the items we need from the grocery store. Who could possibly object to the clear beneficence of the lowly and workmanlike list!

Where’s the fire?

To-do lists, grocery lists, packing lists — all of these have immediate, obvious utility. They’re not very romantic, though. Then there is our least favorite list ever (at least according to pop culture): the New Year’s Resolutions (if you’re feeling adventurous enough that you have more than one resolution, of course. I am guilty of this. I am an overachiever. Scorn me). We start this list with grand plans and fanfare. We feel bigger than life. Bring on the world!

Yet how often do we actually complete that list? Maybe we’d be more accurate calling New Year’s Resolutions our “New Year’s Ideas & Suggestions Box.” Drop in the slip of paper with your idea. As time goes by, those little slips of paper become less interesting, even, perhaps, accusatory.

Making a list — for New Year’s or otherwise — can become a stand-in for doing what’s on the list. Too often, we start with a good intention, fall into a habit, and then just continue with it brainlessly. Making lists over and over can slowly drain us of our initial passion. When we began, we were excited by the subject, the work, the company, the project… One sheet of paper couldn’t contain all our ideas. Gradually, however, our vision has narrowed until we can’t see the horizon anymore for the slip of paper.

We’ve forgotten what got us started in the first place.

Regaining Control

Like any strategy designed to help us out, keeping a list can become a self-perpetuating monster. Whether our list is a fluffy Shih Tzu or a Great Dane, we need to remember who’s in charge. I’ll give you a hint: the boss should be the one holding the leash.

Lists are a tool. Like the alphabet. In order to write effectively, we need to know how to form the letters, how they sound, and the ways to arrange them to convey meaning. But the letters themselves aren’t the meaning — they are the vessel by which meaning is made clear. We write the letters, the letters don’t write us.

Don’t get trapped on the hamster wheel. Eventually, you will need to actually write that story, shoot those pictures, finish that telephone follow-up, pack that suitcase. If you find that you’re spending a lot more time on your list than your life, remember that the brain needs playtime, too. Play hooky. You may be surprised how inspired and enlivened you become as a result.

You might even have plenty more fodder to add to your lists!


Do you keep track of aspects of your life using lists? Do any of your lists pertain to your creative projects? Let us know here!

Attentional bias and what it means for your work

or: the magic of little red cars

two little cars outside apartment complex, one red

The Hunt for the Little Red Car” CC image courtesy of screenpunk on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

I recently discovered that there was a name for a phenomenon I’ve been experiencing a lot in my life lately.

Its popular name seems to be the red car effect. More learned folks talk about cognitive biases and label the process selective attention or attentional bias.

These names describe the way we notice all the little red cars on the road after we’ve bought a little red car. We’re pretty sure that there weren’t this many just a few days ago, but now we can’t help seeing them everywhere.

Did all of us visit the dealer in the same week?

Or are we just now noticing the red cars because we’ve started paying more attention to them?

Our new sight isn’t just restricted to cars, or even the purely physical. Everyone seems to be talking about personal empowerment, these days. A lot of folks are into my obscure favorite band (judging by the T-shirts). Have you ever noticed how many people are speaking Polish?

My attentional bias is that I am surrounded by entrepreneurs and small business people. Where did they all come from? I was a worker bee for a long time, and hadn’t spared a thought for entrepreneurship until I started doing it myself. Now, every time I turn around so-and-so is running their own business. And I mean, I know these people. Some of them for years.

And they’ve all got great ideas that I can use. How fortuitous. What serendipity! The Universe — it’s sending me a message just when I need it!

Serendipity. Another word I have begun to look at askance, since I’ve become aware of the red car effect. Merriam-Webster defines serendipity as the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for.

A happy coincidence. Or is it?

Are you paying attention?
The Universe has been giving me a lot of information lately. Sometimes in the form of repetition. The past couple of weeks, I have been struggling with a business plan. The plan looks NOTHING like what I envisioned when I started putting it together. Like the most pampered pooch on the end of an extendable leash, the business plan has its own ideas about where it wants to go. Every time I try to be practical, structured, and business-y, the dang thing keeps pulling in creativity, play, and uncertainty.

It’s as though I’m setting out to go to the Science Museum, and instead end up in a wing filled with paintings by Caravaggio and sculptures by Rodin.

I really like being there, too. But what does this have to do with business?

I’m annoyed. The whole point of a business plan is to be logical. I can play when I’m not trying to do business.

Enter the email. The business plan and I are playing push-me-pull-you, me wondering why our relationship isn’t working, when this message comes across the digital ether and lands in my inbox:

“So many people give up when things don’t go according to their plan. When you decide to go for something, but can’t seem to make it work, don’t back down. The path to achieving your goal may not be what you expected.” (emphasis added)

I’m pretty sure I am not the only person on Coach Jenn Lee’s email list. It would be foolish to conclude the message was written just for me. Her email composition and sending schedule has a lot more to do with her particular circumstances than with my recalcitrant un-businessy business plan.

But that’s not how I felt when I read it.

I was just wondering why my stupid business plan wasn’t conforming to, well… plan.

Is the Universe talking to me (using digital media as the messenger)? Or am I just paying more attention to little red cars?

Why this matters
Here’s the sneaky part about attentional bias. While we’re busy wondering how much new information is actually new (if you’re anything like me, that is), we suddenly have a lot we can say about red cars, little or otherwise. We are aware of the quantity and variety of makes and models, and who is driving them. Which ones are shiny and clean, which have dents in the bumper, or a license plate hanging on by one corner. We notice that there are a lot of different shades of red.

We can say a lot about personal development. Or band T-shirts, our main character’s Polish grandparents, dogs who pull on their leashes. My business plan wants to hang out with Rodin. What does that mean for how I can serve my audience?

That’s the real big deal about paying attention. It gives you information you can use.

Attentional bias. Serendipity. Coincidence. Whatever you wish to call the act of recognition, the result is that the world gets bigger.

And we can do more with it.

Have you had some serendipity in your life recently? I’d love to hear about it.

Muse Hunting

3 lists you need to get creative

author with a bust of Hans Christian Anderson in Solvang

Musing… with Hans Christian Anderson

You’re supposed to be writing.

Or making art.

You’re supposed to be being productive, anyway.

What’s happened? Cat got your brain cells?

We’ve got plenty of “shoulds” in our lives. There are self-imposed shoulds, like, “I should get up earlier” (I dislike this one). There are work-
imposed shoulds, such as, “I have a deadline today at 5pm.” There are creative shoulds, similar to this one: “I haven’t made any time to shoot pictures this week. I should really do that.”

Some shoulds are more demanding than others. We could say those shoulds have PRIORITY. That doesn’t make them any easier to accomplish than the lower-priority shoulds. In fact, sometimes that makes them harder. Or it brings out our inner five-year-old, who JUST DOESN’T WANNA!

Is today such a day for you?

For those of us in chase of the muse, I have put together the following three lists of necessities for muse hunting. Fear not. They aren’t long. Just like you can’t bake a cake without flour (I’m not saying the flour has to have gluten in it), you won’t be able to get a handle on the muse without the following ingredients. Some of the items are commonplace and easy to procure. Others may be more esoteric. These lists are NOT exhaustive. How long do you want this blog post to be?

The three lists correspond to three categories: The Tangibles, The Intangibles, and The Physique. We would be wise to think in three dimensions when hunting the muse.

Here goes.


Category 1: The Tangibles
Yes, we can touch these. No hunter or gatherer (on Earth, anyway) gets dinner by sitting in a corner to meditate. Likewise, you won’t catch the muse without

  • a pen, a pencil, a piece of paper, a camera, a paintbrush, or a computer — I mean, hello!
  • a club (thank you, Jack London)
  • a better mousetrap
  • peanut butter/chocolate/wine/cheese/cookies/Chinese food or Your Consumable of Choice
  • space — to pace around in
  • a floor — to lie on when it’s just NOT WORKING
  • the ceiling — to stare at while you’re on the floor
  • curtains — so your neighbors can’t see you dancing around in your pajamas or underwear
  • pajamas and/or underwear
  • bait. With what can we tempt the muse?

Category 2: The Intangibles
We’re not going to be successful hunters without the right attitude. Haven’t you watched enough football movies? Anybody can hold a pencil or lie on the floor. To corner the muse and truly make her ours we also need

  • time — yes, precious!
  • a closed door — do not open it. It does not lead to the castle at the center of the labyrinth.
  • a deadline — an actual one. When you miss it, you experience physical consequences. Heartburn is a physical consequence.
  • a sense of humor
  • wit
  • cunning
  • recklessness — no muse ever cared for a safe harbor
  • a willingness to get dirty
  • a flair for the dramatic
  • selfishness — MY muse, MINE!

Category 3: The Physique
All winners train. The muse doesn’t walk up to slackers and tap them on the head. The muse wants your blood, sweat, and tears. Deliver by trying some of these

  • a walk or a run
  • yoga or tai chi
  • gardening
  • cleaning out the basement
  • throwing a temper tantrum
  • washing your car
  • washing your friend’s car
  • playing with the dog and/or cat
  • dancing — which you can do with the aforementioned curtains open or closed
  • yelling, singing, or caterwauling — alone or in chorus

What have I left off the lists? What unusual sources have you visited to find your muse-hunting tools? Let me know in the comments.

Happy hunting!

I like the rain

(and you do, too. You just don't know it yet)

Why do I do this to myself?

image courtesy of layoutsparks.com

When I was in New Zealand training for the second women’s team going to the World Ultimate Club Championships in Perth, Australia, we arranged several “training camps” for the members of all our teams (we had five: a men’s, two women’s, a master’s, and a co-rec squad) to actually play together. We had folks from all over the country, both North and South Island, who had no regular opportunity to do so before the tournament. The folks in Christchurch, or Wellington, or Auckland, knew each other pretty well; but the teams were a geographical hodgepodge. Some things we could do remotely, such as logistics and brainstorming plays. But team chemistry really means training and playing together.

And the weather was not cooperating.

The second camp, in Wellington in the winter, was a three-day event. Our time was limited. We didn’t have the option of re-scheduling. Scheduling the original dates had been hard enough. Those of us from out of town flew in on cheap Air NZ flights, and those from Welly hosted all of us — sometimes up to four or five guests — on floors and couches. Together, we contemplated our miserable luck with the weather.

It wasn’t just a little drizzle. This was a decisive, stay-put type of rain. It rained all night before the start of camp, and it was still raining the following morning. The fields were soaked. Nobody wanted to get out of the car, which was where we changed into our cleats, wincing internally about the instant we had to set foot on the saturated ground.

picture courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

One of my teammates was a kindergarten teacher in Christchurch. She was cheery at all times, something that appears to be a constitutional requirement of pre-K and grammar school teachers everywhere. As we huddled together in the cold and wet before warmup, she told us about a song she made her moody students sing when faced with nasty weather. “I like the rain,” she said, in a happy sing-song. “I like the rain. One, two, three, four…. I like the rain!”

I felt like the Grinch Who Stole Christmas, but I kept my mouth shut — until we started our warmups. Up and down and around the fields as we moved more quickly, high stepping and doing cariocas, we chanted as a unit, getting louder as we went. Squish, squish, went our feet, our shoes entirely soaked and our socks as well, sending up sprays of mud onto ourselves and anyone running close by. The rain wet our hair and seeped through our clothes. “I like the rain,” we sang, then shouted. “I like the rain! One, two, three, four! I like the rain!” Our ridiculous behavior did not go unnoticed by the other squads, warming up on adjacent fields. In response, we reacted like any good kindergartners would, prancing and throwing our arms in the air, hamming it up for the crowd.

And a remarkable thing happened. By the time we reconfigured to start drilling our plays, we actually did like the rain.

Strength in numbers.

Some things, we really can’t change. We don’t have any control over traffic lights, if we don’t work in the city department that programs them; we can’t control whether our kids don’t feel well today or whether the grocery store has run out of the most inexpensive brand of butter, or whether our boss is in a lousy mood. Some of us have no control over the heat in our building; and we can’t control the weather. The only thing we have any say over, really, is how we relate to these things. But here’s the dirty secret: relating is contagious.

It’s a good thing, too. Because I’ve chosen to run in the mud again.

image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

In the next week, I start my first ever writing workshop. It means I’m going — on purpose — to share my work, and not just some finished product, but the bones of my work. It’s a prospect both thrilling and horrifying.

The beauty as well as the yuck of writing is that it requires sinking into my own head. Sometimes it’s glorious, and sometimes the field is soggy and I don’t even want to step out onto it because I know I’ll have wet feet for the next several hours. It’s cold, and my socks will get ruined.

I just need to remember, I’m not alone out there.

Strength in numbers.

One, two, three, four….

I like the rain.