Day #64:Three Ways Your Wandering Thoughts Can Actually Be Constructive

We tend to hold a wandering mind as a silly, if not bad thing, long-associated with creative types: Thales, the pre-Socratic philosopher, is said to have to been “so eager to know what was going on in heaven that he could not see what was before his feet” and had a habit of falling into wells. Any super thinky people you know have probably done the same.

This post originally appeared on Fast Company

Are your mental meanderings a must-have feature of your cranial life or a bug in your skull system? Peter Killeen, the psychologist who explained to us the neurophysiological step-by-step to mental wandering, asked as much in a recent paper.

If My Mind Is Wandering, Am I Losing It?

Meandering has maladaptive connotations. A widely cited study by Harvard psychologists Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert found that folks are “less happy when they’re mind-wandering no matter what they’re doing.” For instance, if you’re commuting to work, you’ll feel better if you’re focused on the slog at hand rather than letting your mind get lost.

But new research shows that wandering can also be adaptive to our hyper-busy, hyper-social lives because, as the study says, “not all minds that wander are lost: the importance of a balanced perspective on the mind-wandering state.” The paper, authored by Jonathan Smallwood of the Max Planck Institute of Human Cognitive Brain Sciences, Leipzig, Germany, and Jessica Andrews-Hanna of the The Institute of Cognitive Science, University of Colorado combines the assembled knowledge on mental wandering.

They found that yes, mental wandering—which they term as the much more stately self-generated thought—may lead to negative experiences, but that depends on the content of the thought. As in, if your mind begins to wander in the form of depressive ruminations—thinking of the ways that fate has vexed, hexed, and jilted you—then the user experience of your commute is probably going to get worse.

But wandering need not be grump-inducingly destructive; if you’re good at it, self-generated thought can be life-affirmingly constructive. Here’s how:

A Wandering Mind Helps Us Project Our Past and Future Selves

Evolutionary psychologists have found that hindsight and foresight—what you might call mental time travel—are unique to humans. Looking back on our experiences allows us to integrate them into our present time, allowing us to act with a little more wisdom. Additionally, self-generated thought allows us to consolidate our memories into a sense of self.

A Wandering Mind Helps Us Make Successful Long-Term Plans

This is a pretty awesome survival technique: if you can anticipate what the future will be like, you can align your present actions to it, whether you’re planning to kill a mammoth or build a career.

A Wandering Mind Can Be a Source of Creative Inspiration

Psychologists call the time between when you’re presented with a complex problem and you arrive at its solution as incubation, which is cute and illustrative. Research has shown that if you’re working on a simple task—something like brushing your teeth—letting your mind wander allows for connections to arise. But if you’re doing something complicated—like driving down a busy road—you’d best pay attention.

The lesson, then, is to have a sense of meta-mindfulness: If we’re doing something simple, we can let our minds wander. But if the task at hand is complex, we might fall into a well.


Day #63:Seth Godin: Are you Going to Matter?

Seth Godin,  author of several best selling books delivered this talk  at  CreativeMornings recently to remind us why it’s important to do work that matters. In a typical Seth Godin style, he challenges the audience with thought provoking questions asking; “How much of your day is spent working to get better clients? (Or bosses?) How much is spent pleasing the clients you already have? And is pleasing the clients you already have the best way to get better clients?”.

He continues with the following queries.Is a better client someone who pays you more? Or “are you selling your soul and selling out your career by taking someone today who’s going to put you in the wrong box versus choosing your own path to find the client who is capable of giving you the platform you deserve?

While the whole talk is well worth the watch, let’s pull out a few key points.

Seth trusts that you will be a success, But what he’s more interested in is knowing whether you’ll matter.  To matter, he says you have to do work that transforms people: makes a change happen, makes someone cry, saves a life.

That sense of transformation isn’t only for the person that encounters your art or your work, but your clients and bosses, too: He paraphrases Michael Schrage, an MIT fellow and asked the Big Question of who do you want your customers to become?

Example: Apple. The genius of Apple was that they made their customers people with better taste, people who cared about what their devices looked like and how it was to interact with them. If they got into design, they’d get further into Apple.

The task for you (and me), then, is to figure out how we want our bosses and our audiences to change. That transformation happens through the work we do for them–and doing work that makes our bosses look good gives potential for forming the platform of exposure Godin speaks of.

When you think about what change you want to make in your clients, in their customers, in your boss, and you realize that your work can make that change happen,” Godin says, “you’re more likely to do that on purpose.”

And while purpose is the work of a lifetime, it’s also the work of a day.

Day #62; What Warren Buffet teaches us about not having a plan B.

In 210 BC, a Chinese commander named Xiang Yu led his troops across the Yangtze River to attack the army of the Qin (Ch’in) dynasty in what is known as the Battle of Julu. Pausing on the banks of the river for the night, his troops awakened in the morning to find, to their horror, that their ships were burning. They hurried to their feet to fight off their attackers, but soon discovered that it was Xiang Yu himself who had set their ships on fire, and that he had also ordered all the cooking pots crushed. Xiang Yu explained to his troops that without the pots and the ships, they had no other choice but to fight their way to victory or perish.

Despite being heavily outnumbered, Xiang’s forces scored a great victory after nine engagements, defeating the 300,000 strong Qin army.

Xiang’s story is a perfect example of what happens when we destroy options of having plan B. Of course it’s the logical and rational things to do, have a plan B in case plan A fails; you have something to fall back on. On the contrary, a plan B only makes you lazy, relaxed and unwilling to give everything. Since you know even if you fail, you have an out and you always have something to get back to.

However, as we continue to learn from people like Warren Buffet, Will Smith and most other successful people we know, having only one plan gives you a ferocious level of focus that propels and guides you into success. According to Buffet:

Do not put your eggs in many baskets. Put all your eggs in one basket – and proceed to watch that basket”.

If we compare to Xiang’s men, they simple had to fight their way forward or die.

Day #61:10 Famous Quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

On August 28th 1963—50 years ago on Wednesday—Martin Luther King, junior delivered what some consider the greatest speech of all time. Given that today is quote Wednesday, I have decide to dedicate this to the Martin Luther King’s most famous quotes.The quotes come from public speeches given by King, a letter, and one of his books. Each section contains a link to the original source.

1. “We are not wrong, we are not wrong in what we are doing. If we are wrong, the Supreme Court of this nation is wrong. If we are wrong, the Constitution of the United States is wrong. And if we are wrong, God Almighty is wrong. If we are wrong, Jesus of Nazareth was merely a utopian dreamer that never came down to Earth. If we are wrong, justice is a lie, love has no meaning. And we are determined here in Montgomery to work and fight until justice runs down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

Address at Holt Street Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama, 1955

2. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Letter from Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963

3. “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. The true neighbor will risk his position, his prestige, and even his life for the welfare of others.”

From his 1963 book, Strength to Love

4. “There are some things so dear, some things so precious, some things so eternally true, that they are worth dying for. And I submit to you that if a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.”

Speech in Detroit on June 23, 1963

5. “When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!’ ”

Speech at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963

6. “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. That is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”

Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, December 10, 1964

7. “We’ve been in the mountain of war. We’ve been in the mountain of violence. We’ve been in the mountain of hatred long enough. It is necessary to move on now, but only by moving out of this mountain can we move to the promised land of justice and brotherhood and the Kingdom of God. It all boils down to the fact that we must never allow ourselves to become satisfied with unattained goals. We must always maintain a kind of divine discontent.”

Sermon at Temple Israel of Hollywood in June 1965

8. “When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds of despair, and when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe, working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows. Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”

Address to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference on August 16, 1967

9. “We all have the drum major instinct. We all want to be important, to surpass others, to achieve distinction, to lead the parade. … And the great issue of life is to harness the drum major instinct. It is a good instinct if you don’t distort it and pervert it. Don’t give it up. Keep feeling the need for being important. Keep feeling the need for being first. But I want you to be the first in love. I want you to be the first in moral excellence. I want you to be the first in generosity.”

Sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on February 2, 1968

10. “Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like any man, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

Speech at Bishop Charles Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 3, 1968

Day #60:Using Writing to Generate Your Best Ideas.

I recently started listening to this audio book: Accidental Genius: Using Writing to Generate Your Best Ideas, Insight, and Content by Mark Levy. I think it’s one of the most underrated business books around. Let me explain, while this book looks like it’s only about writing, Mark makes a much deeper point . The book focuses on how you can use a technique Mark refers to as ‘free writing’ to develop your thought process,shape your ideas into concrete products you can develop further and help you make better decisions.
So what is free writing and how can it help you? According to the author,
“Freewriting is a fast method of thinking onto paper that enables you to reach a level of thinking that’s often difficult to attain during the course of a normal business day.This technique will help you understand your world, spot opportunities and options, solve problems, create ideas, and make decisions. It’ll also help you become a better writer,both stylistically and idea-wise”.
 It’s useful for everyone in business, education  or even if you just want to write for fun.

Day #59:The Lies About Talent and Success

Try to picture Thomas Edison as vividly as you can. Think about where he is and what he’s doing. Is he alone? Most people would said things like this:

“He’s in New Jersey. He’s standing in a white coat in a lab-type room. He’s leaning over a light bulb. Suddenly, it works! [Is he alone?] Yes. He’s kind of a reclusive guy who likes to tinker on his own.”

In truth, the record shows quite a different fellow, working in quite a different way.

Edison was not a loner. For the invention of the light bulb, he had 30 assistants, including well-trained scientists, often working around the clock in a corporate funded state-of-the-art laboratory!

It did not happen suddenly. The light bulb has become the symbol for that single moment when the brilliant solution strikes, but there was no single moment of invention. In fact, the light bulb was not one invention, but a whole network of time-consuming inventions each requiring one or more chemists, mathematicians, physicists, engineers, and glass blowers.

Yes, Edison was a genius. But he was not always one. His biographer, Paul Israel, sifting through all the available information, thinks he was more or less a regular boy of his time and place. …What eventually set him apart was his mindset and drive… There are many myths about ability and achievement, especially about the lone, brilliant person suddenly producing amazing things.

When we think of ‘successful’ people, we only think about how smart they are,how talented they were and how only few people could ever reach that level.In reality, most ‘successful’ people have a blend of  the following: a bit of talent, a lot of hard work,perseverance and grit,opportunity, being at the right place at the right time and in most cases luck.

Day #58:Create Your Own Happiness Using Gratitude

It is easier to focus on the bad things and things we don’t have than good ones and the things we have. Being grateful everyday for what you have and what is around you can be one of the easiest ways to change your mood and increase your happiness level.

I found a very helpful video of Louie Schwartzberg at TEDxSF that helps you really appreciate the wonders of natures and life around you.Watching this video for only a few minutes everyday and thinking of 3 things I was grateful for everyday not only improved my mood, it helped me become more productive everyday. I am not a Guru but I recommend you try this and see the results for yourself.