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Does lack define your life?

>> 29 September 2010

When I grew up, we did not have a lot of money.

We were not poor mind you.

We went on holiday, had decent clothes and enough toys to make us happy.

We just never seemed to have enough money for extras, nice things you want to have when you're a kid.

My dad was born during the second World War into a family of 10 boys and 4 girls. So no nice things for him except maybe a luxury orange at Christmas.

For me, as a kid, these nice things represented books. My parents are no avid readers and could not understand how I could read several books per week.

Living in a small town, there was no library. Luckily we had a library on wheels which would come every month or so and I always went home with my arms full of books.

But buying them, to keep them, read them again, was a luxury I was denied.

The result being that I now buy books every chance I get :-)

To me, this is a need or behavior, which was clearly born from a LACK of the past.
And I had quite a few of these...

I took me a while to realize that these behaviors were holding me back.
They were actually very frustrating and guilt ridden.
Whenever I bought something, I had second thoughts.

Did I really need this?
Could I get this somewhere else cheaper?
Could someone fix the old one for me?
Could I haggle to get a better deal?

Until I realized that this behavior kept me stuck.
It burned up my energy.
I was not growing.
I was not enjoying things.
I was not investing - in anything.

I was sitting on the proverbial stack of money under my mattress. Sure, nobody was taking it, but  I wasn't gaining anything from it either.

Do you let lack define your life?
  1. Do you turn every penny around twice before buying even the smallest thing?
  2. Do you surf the web for hours, days, even weeks, to find the best holiday deal? (I admit I still do this... :-)
  3. Do your turn around the parking lot for a few minutes because you want that spot up front?
  4. Do you hate getting monthly bills (even though you know they come and you spent that money)?
  5. Do you try to keep EVERYONE happy?
  6. Do you try to be the perfect anything (host, secretary, partner, organiser etc)?
  7. Do you find it difficult to say no?
  8. Do you insist on doing everything yourself (including the tasks you hate or are not good at)?
  9. Do you usually put other people first?
  10. Do you have trouble making a choice because 'something better might come along'?
If you answered any of the above questions with a yes, changes are that at least some of your life is defined by a lack.

So how do you turn a lack into abundance?

Take Action!

Action gets you focused. You think of something. You create something. You decide something.
This doesn't have to be big. Actually it shouldn't be big.

  • Set some time aside for yourself
    Allow some time for laziness, boredom, play, creative thinking,...
  • List the things that bring you real joy (writing, a massage, gardening, giving advice...)
    Then try to add more of those into your daily life.
  • List the things or people that stress you out, tend to take control of you.
    Then try to find small ways of reducing those.
  • List the actions that eat up your energy and waste your time (this includes things you hate doing).
    The try to find ways to get ride of one or two.
Rome wasn't built in a day. Habits and behaviors aren't changed in a day either.

Don't set your goals too high. Take baby steps. You'll be amazed where they will lead you.


Creativity tip - Fail to succeed

>> 26 September 2010

Have you ever failed in your life?
A project. A marriage. A test.

How did that feel?

Were you mad? Sad?
Did you feel shame?
Did you feel incompetent?
Did you give up?

From when we are little, we are taught that making mistakes is bad. Our entire school system is built on making as few mistakes as possible and on the fact that there is only one correct answer.

No wonder that we are averse to failure
No wonder we get laughed at or fired when we fail.

But failure is inevitable.
There is no learning without failure.

Or as Dr Linus Pauling put it “The way to get good ideas is to get lots of ideas, and throw the bad ones away”. 

And even Thomas Edison said "I have not failed. I have merely found 10,000 ways that won't work."

Here are a few examples:
  • James Dyson (yes, of THE Dyson) says in a Fastcompay interview “I made 5,127 prototypes of my vacuum before I got it right. There were 5,126 failures. But I learned from each one. That's how I came up with a solution. So I don't mind failure. I've always thought that schoolchildren should be marked by the number of failures they've had. The child who tries strange things and experiences lots of failures to get there is probably more creative.”
  • Charles Goodyear (whether he admits it or not) discovered vulcanized rubber by making a sloppy mistake.
  • Atlanta pharmacist, John Pemberton discovered coke while trying to prepare a medicine to cure headaches.
  • In 1928 Scientist Alexander Fleming decided to go on a vacation without cleaning his workstation. Guess what he discovered?


So go out and FAIL:
  1. Change the way you look at failure and success.
  2. Look at your failures as stepping stones, learn from them an move up.
  3. Celebrate your failures. For what they teach you. Laugh about them.
  4. Purposefully increase your failures. The more bad ideas, the more chance of a good one.
  5. Fail early: ask people for all the negative of the idea/the project at an early stage.
  6. Dare! Go ahead and ship it. See what happens.
While you're reading this, I am running my first ever half marathon.
I'm shipping.
Let's see if I succeed :-)


Is Attitude really everything? Or how our Attention makes all the difference.

>> 22 September 2010

I recently talked about Attitude being everything.

The very next day someone I will call Melissa told me I was completely WRONG!

That got me thinking. Was I wrong? Is attitude really working EVERY time?

Melissa said that she was under stress and pressure at work and wished she had stayed at home that day. I told her that changing her attitude could make a difference in how she felt. That's when her big WRONG was fired back.

So what do I do when I'm under stress and pressure? I sure am no Wonder Woman!
I do get pulled into the vicious stress spiral like everyone else.

But when that happens, here is what I ask myself and focus on:

  1. What's my story in this? - ME versus the PROBLEM
    Why do I react like this?
    Is this something personal/emotional?
    Can I detach my emotions from the situation at hand?
    What does my reaction say about me?
    What is my issue here and why does it matter?
    Can I let it go?
  2. Life and death priorities - TIME versus the POSSIBLE
    What is the most important thing that needs to be done here?
    What would happen if I don't do this?
    Can I delegate this? And if so, will that save me time?
    Could this go away by itself?
  3. You teach people how to treat you - MY MESSAGE and OTHERS' INTERPRETATION
    How did I get into this mess? 
    Am I accepting too much on my plate because I want to show I can 'do it all'?
    Am I saying yes to too many things when I mean no?
    Have I taught people that this is ok?
    How can I set boundaries and systems that make it easier to say no.
  4. Don't make it personal - ME versus THE REST OF THE WORLD
    It's not about your nasty boss or colleague. No one's 'out to get you' by dumping too much work on you!
    You are not incompetent. Maybe just a tad unorganized - and that can be easily fixed. 
What to do when nothing works?
When it all comes down hard though, even I tend to think that 'the universe is against me' and 'I attract all this'.
Those are thoughts you put in our head. And if you put them there, you can take them out again too.
Thoughts are things. They materialize and become a solid wall, in this case a stress wall.
The more we think in the same direction, the more our neurons create connections that raise that wall.

I's all a question of how we translate situations.

Energy flows where attention goes

Melissa may be right and in her situation, attitude could not make a difference.
However, she decided to put her attention on the stress, on the problem and the pressure. And that made all the energy flow there.
That was her choice. We always have a CHOICE in where we put our ATTENTION, how we think about something or react to something. ALWAYS! Nobody is doing that for us. Nobody can take that away from us. So maybe attitude is not everything, but attention is.

What if next time, Melissa acknowledged the situation, tried not to get emotionally involved and turned her attention to other, more positive and important things?


Creativity tip - Physical surrounding

>> 19 September 2010

You say you want to be more creative.
And I have been giving you a few tips over the last few Sundays.

Besides some trips and tricks and a few exercises, there is one big, if not HUGE, thing that has an influence on our creativity.

Our physical surrounding.

Where do you sit when you are supposed to be creative?
What does your office look like?
Do you have an office at home?
Where ARE you when you get the best ideas?
What stimulates you?
Are these things physically around you?

Most of the time we sit in an office or cubicle that looks just like our neighbors'.  And most of the time we don't change anything. Because it's just a given.

But is it really?

How can your boss (or you yourself) expect you to be creative when your office is gray, with off white or brown furniture, with a whiteboard on the wall and grayish cupboards?

Nothing inspiring in that I say.

Oh, but Mimi, I am not allowed to change anything in my office!!! - says you.

Really? Have you asked anyone?

What are the rules then? Where are they written? If there are any, study them and see where the little holes are for you to sneak through creatively.

Here are a few suggestions:
  • Make your office space more creative and individual (examples)
  • Get a new table or chair or partition wall (look here for ideas)
  • Hold meetings in unusual places (the parking lot, the local park, the coffee shop around the corner, the forest ...)
  • Go GREEN: studies have shown that having potted plants around you boosts your creativity.
  • Another study says go blue.
  • Have the most diverse objects on your desk, especially things to play with 
  • Put some decorative stickers on your wall or window (example
  • Buy a cheap white Billy cupboard from Ikea to exhibit your 'stuff'. I bet you noone will even notice it's there (it goes with the rest of the non-descript white stuff, doesn't it? :-)
  • And if you can't redo your office a little, at least take a break to look at some cool creative and design ideas.
Happy decorating!


Do you have a mentor? Can you be one?

>> 15 September 2010

Many women follow in the footsteps of their mothers.
Others are bound to follow their fathers'.

What your parents teach you is of course hugely important. It shapes your life, your opinions, your behaviour.

But usually it is someone else who opens up the world for you.

Sometimes it's an uncle or aunt, a teacher, an older working colleague or an older friend.

They teach you subtleties, give you business advice, tell you all about behavioral skills. They follow you on a project, guide you, make you accountable, advise you, soundboard you, give you shit on purpose so that when the big day comes you are prepared.

Sometimes you are not so lucky as know such a person.

The good news is that you can look for one: among the people you know, or the people they know. You can find one online, at school, at work. You can find one for regular sessions or just for a pitch you are preparing.

Do you have a mentor? If not, do you need one?

Do you ask yourself any of the following questions?
  • Am I working on something where I would like to get more than just a 'love/hate' response?
  • Is there anything I would like to start but don't know how? (a business, a blog, a community garden, a painting...)
  • I know what my passion is, but could I make a living doing that?
  • I don't know what my passion is. How do I find it?
  • I have this idea. How do I know if it's viable?
  • I'm in this dead end job. How do I turn it around?
  • How do I balance my work and my private life? Oh and be happy and serene at the same time?
  • How the hell do other people do this?
  • I need to give this presentation. How do I know if it works and is good?
  • I would love to know what his/her success story is. How did he/she do it?
If any of these questions apply to your life, then a mentor could be such a life changer for you.

Take a small project. Ask someone 'older and wiser' for advice, to help you set it up.

Mentors are not there to tell you what you should do, or to give you all the keys. They help you to find your own answers, they show you and explain the different options, but you still have to choose and travel down that road yourself.
They make you stronger and surer of yourself.

Can you be a mentor?

Ask yourself the following questions:
  • What are the most important life lessons I have learned and wish I had known earlier?
  • Do I have friends who have kids and would love it if I took them away on a discovery tour for an afternoon?
  • Is there anyone I know who struggles with something I am familiar with or have gone through myself?
  • Is someone showing an interest in a topic that I could help them with?
  • What am I good at that I would love to pass on to someone else?
Why not act on it?

Mentoring doesn't have to be complicated, bureaucratic and full of rules. You don't need a diploma to become one.

It is often as simple as showing someone your passion and how you became who you are.

Sometimes it is all about asking a few questions.

And we can all do that.


Creativity tip - Take a break

>> 12 September 2010

When we are looking for new ideas, inspiration, a solution, we tend to look for it, hard. Search for it, in every corner.

We brainstorm, ask our colleagues for ideas, search the internet.

Our mind is occupied by 'the problem' non stop.

And the real problem may just be in that 'non stop' way of trying to do things.

When we do something non stop, we 'can't see the forest for the trees'.

We are so immersed in the details of the problem, that we cannot see the bigger picture anymore.

It's like proof reading a text you've written yourself again and again. You end up not noticing the mistakes anymore.

What we need to do, more often than not is:


  1. Step back and forget the problem: put your pen and paper down, go make some tea...
  2. Do something completely different: go grocery shopping, listen to Mozart...
  3. Do something opposite of your problem: if your problem is generating many ideas, do something that creates no ideas (meditate, take a nap...)
  4. Do something active and sporty: run, sing, do yoga, garden...
  5. Change your point of view: watch a black and white movie, go to a museum, do community work...
  6. Do something silly: finger paint with your kids, car-dance, play a funny prank on someone...
  7. Do nothing: sleep on it, give it incubation time, take the pressure off...
After the break, you can either come back to the problem refreshed or just let is simmer on a back burner and trust your brain or subconscious to point something at you, to make an unusual connection.

It's Sunday, go take a nap :-) and tell me what creative ideas you have when you wake up.


Is your perception out of focus?

>> 8 September 2010

My husband is driving and I'm sitting next to him.

He drives along a wet, winding, country road and when he gets to a bend, my foot twitches because this is the point when I would have breaked.

He doesn't break until what seems like a minute later. I already see myself in the ditch with a dented car...


The way we perceive things and translate them.

When two people look out of a window, they will not see the same things. Our attention is individual and selective. We focus on different things.

Our perception has a major influence on how we react and sometimes we take our perception as truth and matter of fact.

Of course we did not end up in a ditch :-)

I received a visual image, which I translated into a meaning: danger, need to break, NOW.
My husband probably had a similar meaning, but the danger may not have been as imminent to him.

These meanings are created through our culture, knowledge and experiences. I may be afraid of spiders (because I just don't like the buggers), but someone else may not and can just squoosh them under his foot.

I told my husband to drive slower (and we were by no means speeding). I told him I'd have breaked earlier.

We often find ourselves in situations where we need to negotiate our perceptions with other people.
If we are aware of the differences, we are already on the right path.

Here are a few things to consider next time you perceive something differently someone else:

  • What visual image or detail did you focus on? Is it the same as the other person's?

  • Why did you focus on this point? Where does your meaning come from?

  • Ask the other person how he sees things (with open ended questions)

  • Get him to explain the why behind it (his culture, his knowledge, his experience)

  • Try for an hour to see things like that person, behave like him, be him.

  • Be open minded and non-judgmental: you will get the best stories, new insights and will learn a lot. It will also help you to be more creative as you start seeing things with fresh eyes.


Creativity tip - Random Object

>> 5 September 2010

Creativity is all about connections.
Unusual connections.

Your brain is an animal of habit. Whenever it sees or does something, it registers it. The more you see or do something, the stronger that registration is.

This registration is a link between two neurons and can be seen as your brain putting things in boxes or categories.

It comes very handy when you're a baby because it teaches you that the stove it hot.
Once. Twice. The third time the brain tells you not to touch the stove because it's hot.
It prevents you from burning your fingers.

On the other hand, it might also prevent you from touching the stove when it's not hot... you see what I mean.

Certain connections are so strong, they have become automatic triggers.

Creativity is all about breaking those worn paths and search for different links.

To give you an example:
A guy sits on the plane. He works for a glue company. He sees a woman use her lipstick and makes the connection to the glue. He invents the glue stick.

Now, creativity is not about having to invent new and groundbreaking products every day.
Nor is it about burning your fingers.

It is about seeing things differently and making connections your brain would not usually make.
It is a habit.
It is a skill.
And you can learn and practice it.

Today's tip is about breaking connections and making new connections:

For this we need a RANDOM OBJECT

Let's say you are faced with a problem: meetings are unproductive, time is lost, people are not paying attention...
You need to change things but you're stuck and don't know where to start.
  1. First define and refine your problem. Phrase it for example as a more specific HOW TO sentence.
    Example: How to get people to turn off their blackberries and phones during meetings?
  2. Then pick a random object (for example from this list or make one up yourself for future reference).
    Example: scissors
  3. Now write down a list of all the attributes of this object that come to mind (don't think or judge, just write them down):
    sharp, cut, two fingers, dangerous, two parts, metal, silver, heavy, pointy, different sizes, weapon, crafty...
  4. Look at each of those attributes and try to find connections to your problem:
    - put a metal box at the entrance for people to put their phones in
    - put a pointer in the middle of the table: whenever anyone uses his phone, point it at him
    - ...
Et voilĂ ! You're being creative.


Are you in control of your life or is your attitude?

>> 1 September 2010

"If you don’t like something, change it. 
If you can’t change it, change your attitude." 
-- Maya Angelou

Your company is restructuring.
Some people are laid off.
Some are promoted.
People are tense, out of their comfort zones and motivation is sneaking out the back door.

And you are in the middle of all this.

What do you do?

  1. jump on projects, work constructively and pro-actively, take change as an opportunity, share your enthusiasm, go out of your way to make it happen.
  2. quietly work according to the new rules, just wait until the dust settles.
  3. refuse to work like that, complain about the system, hoard any information because it means power.

That is your (RE)ACTION. It follows you around.


Your ATTITUDE is something completely different. It precedes you.

When you enter the room it tells people straight away:

  1. I love this. I am giving you the best person I can be. I will help you make this a success. I am great no matter the circumstances.
  2. I am ok with some of it. I need more convincing. I am afraid I might loose my job.
  3. I absolutely hate this. I am not going to comply until I have to.

Your attitude not only precedes you into a room, it also comes before your (re)actions.

So, who do you want to be?


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