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Get rid of clutter and success will follow

>> 29 December 2010

What do the following items have in common?

  1. A loose button on your shirt that you have meant to mend for weeks.
  2. Your grandma's old china that you never use but keep anyway.
  3. An old grudge against an old friend.
  4. Unworn clothes in your wardrobe.
  5. Gifts you received but don't really like.
  6. Fear of failure in your future business
  7. The oil change your car is in desperate need of.
  8. The rented DVDs you need to return.
  9. The filing you need to do.
They are all clutter.

Clutter doesn't have to be a physical object (like the candle holder you got for your birthday that fits neither next to the television nor with the colors of your living room).

Clutter can also take the form of a thank you note that you have meant to write but didn't, a dentist's appointment you know you should make but keep 'forgetting'.

Whether it's the physical or incomplete clutter, they both drain your energy: every time you see them and they bother you, every time you think about them being unfinished.

My coach told me that you get up in the morning with 100 units of energy.

This is the energy you need to focus on your life, your intention, your passion, your happiness, the things you want to achieve.

Every time you come across some clutter, some units are taken away from you.

You are leaking energy towards either past events (the grudge your holding against your old friend), or imagined future events (fear of failing in your future business)

And these leaks keep you from focusing on what's important in the present: your goals, your intention, your future business, your healthy teeth, your car not breaking down.

How to get rid of clutter?

The above list of clutter didn't arrive on your doorstep this morning. You have been piling them up over the last months or even years (remember those old books and photos from university? when was the last time you look at them?).

And it is impossible to get rid of them all in a day. You need to proceed in small steps:

  1. Make a list: You can't fix what you can't name.
    (A4 landscape, make three columns)
    For the physical clutter, it is easiest to go around your house and write down what bothers you. Divide the list into each room of the house.
    Don't start with the basement.
    Take the least cluttered room, the bedroom for example (write down in first column):
    • Dirty socks on the floor
    • Coat hangers on the dresser
    • Clothes on the chair
    • Shirt with missing button
    • Old, ugly wallpaper
    • I hate the color and pattern of the bed sheets
    • That statue doesn't fit there
    • Kids toys under our bed
    Then move to the next room.
    Don't pick things up. Don't start clearing things away. Don't start being overwhelmed.
    Just write them down.
  2. Make another list:
    (A4 landscape, make three columns)
    For the incomplete (or unfinished) clutter, create another list. Empty your brain (first column):
    • Make dentist appointment
    • Write thank you note
    • Make service appointment for the oil change
    • Clear grudge with old friend
    Don't look for solutions, just write them down as they come up.
  3. Understand the purpose:
    These two list you have created are not TO DO Lists.
    They are there to:
    • make you aware that these items drain your energy
    • make you start repairing those energy leaks
    • give your brain a break (it's on the list, I don't have to continuously think about them)
  4. Create actions: you can't fix it if you don't know how
    • Take two items of one of the two lists (pick those that are easily doable/fixable) and circle them.
    • In the second column, write down how you can fix this problem - you can write down multiple solutions:
      • find a place for the statue
      • give to my cleaning lady (ask her first! you don't want to make your clutter hers!)
      • bring to the Salvation Army
    • In the third column, write down a completion date.
    • Do these two items this week.
  5. Don't over-unclutter:
    Next week, pick another 2 or 3 items off one of the two lists, add a solution, and do them during the week.

  6. Feel victory:
    As you start accomplishing more and more of these actions, notice the difference.

  7. Welcome success:
    As you start literally cleaning up your life and space, you are getting rid of leaks that drain your energy. This energy can now be used to create the life you intended for. You are able to focus and success will naturally follow.

  8. Future leaks:
    Although you will create new habits which prevent most energy drains, it is normal that over time, small leaks creep in. Now you have the tools to identify and fix them.
    If something is not going so well in the future, ask yourself which energy drain might be the cause of it. Maybe you didn't exercise enough, lag behind in your filing or haven't had a massage in a year. Put it on the leak list and fix it this week!


Creativity tip: hack others' ideas

>> 26 December 2010

Being creative is often not more than taking two existing things or ideas to create something new.

So basically, you are stealing from others to create your own, new version.

It is not enough to add a new feature to an existing product.

It's more like working for a glue company, sitting on a plane, seeing a woman use a lipstick and coming up with the first glue stick. A-ha!

So look at common objects and think what you could turn them into.

Some examples:


Word of the Year 2010: CREATE

>> 24 December 2010

Some time ago, Christine Kane had the idea of choosing a word for the new year instead making resolutions one didn't keep. The original idea is described here.

I have been doing this for some years now and must say that the concept really resonates with me.

My word for 2009 was Serenity and you can read about it here.

2010 was a year full of creativity and I have a guest post today on Christine's blog about my 2010 Word of the year which was CREATE.

If you want to try it yourself, please check out her free Word of the Year Discover Tool.


“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” -- William arthur Ward

>> 22 December 2010

As Albert Schweitzer wisely said:

To educate yourself for the feeling of gratitude means to take nothing for granted, but to always seek out and value the kind that will stand behind the action. Nothing that is done for you is a matter of course. Everything originates in a will for the good, which is directed at you. Train yourself never to put off the word or action for the expression of gratitude.
Every evening, before the kids go to sleep, we review the day and I ask them what they liked best and are grateful for. It gives closure to the day and focuses on the good things. It teaches them to be grateful which will make them more balanced and happy people.

I am grateful for:
  • a loving and supportive husband (oh and sexy and good looking on top of that...)
  • having two healthy sons who are smart and funny
  • being healthy
  • living in a safe, beautiful country
  • being able to look out my window and see the sky, the trees and being able to take a walk in the countryside whenever I want to
  • my family
  • great friends who love me despite of all my flaws
  • my freedom of choice, of speech, of movement
  • all experiences that teach me something, make me stronger
  • having feelings: happy ones, sad ones, scary ones - they make me alive
What are you grateful for?


Creativity tip: use the compass

>> 19 December 2010

Often enough when we have a problem we dive right into trying to solve it.
But how can we be sure whether the problem is really well defined?
Or whether it's the right problem we should be tackling?
There may be some underlying levels that we have not even thought about.

The compass technique puts you in the right direction.

  1. Start with a problem statement (preferably as a How to... question or  We need to...statement).
    We need to improve the level of attendance to our trainings?
  2. Then you ask: WHY?
  3. Whatever the first answer to this question is, write it down.
    Because the trainers are expensive and we need to make good use of their time.
  4. Then ask WHY? again and write down the next answer.
    Spending big trainings budgets for a small amount of people is a waste.
  5. Keep repeating this process until you feel you have reached a dead end.

From each response you can derive another How to question:
- How to get cheaper trainers?
- How to make best use of the trainers' time?
- How to organize trainings for few people?

These might be more fruitful areas of exploration than your initial question.

It is a very easy and quick but also very useful technique which you can slide into a meeting at anytime without anyone noticing :-)

It can help a team get unstuck, give new direction or perspective and often drills down to the very essence of the problem.


9 simple ways to bring some WOW (Ways Of Wonder) back into your life

>> 15 December 2010

Do you still wonder?

WONDER: to be filled with admiration, amazement, or awe; marvel (at).

You are submerged with information, have all the latest technological gadgets and travel to the world's nicest holiday destinations.

But do you still wonder? Really wonder?

Here are a few things to bring some simple awesomeness back into your life.

  1. Space:
    We think we know a lot about our solar system and the stars and planets that are in it. But we only know a finite portion of what's out there. When I was little, I used to scare myself just by thinking what would be if the earth did not exist. That brought up a lot of scary thoughts and questions, but also made me go 'wow' I am so little in all this immensity.
    Astronomy Picture of the Day
    Hubble site
  2. Art:
    Have you ever seen a Van Gogh painting (or a Klimt or Monet etc)? A real one? Have you looked at the whole composition? And have you also approached the canvas so closely that you could almost put your nose against it? Try that! It gives you a different perspective about it. It shows you the tiny slow or wild brushstrokes and form little pieces of art all by themselves (visit here and click on show enlargement) to experience that with one of my favorite Van Gogh paintings).
    Van Gogh Gallery
    Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam
  3. Babies:
    Go visit a friend who has just had a baby. Ask if you may carry her/him. Look at the perfection in this miniature creature. Tiny fingernails, eyelashes, a mouth and eyes to make faces at you, their little hand clinging to your finger although he doesn't even know you...
    Anne Geddes
  4. Weather:
    It may not be the season to lie on your back in the grass and look at the amazing formations clouds provide you with (so keep that in mind for spring or summer). But the weather provides wonderful things every season: the perfect symmetry of snowflakes, the wild force of a storm tugging at your sleeves... So go out, brave the elements and look for wonder.
    Storm photos
  5. Music:
    They say listening to Mozart's music changes your brain waves. I am not a person who can listen to Mozart everyday. However, like with everything else, I like to look at it from a different perspective. So instead of listening to it, why don't you LOOK at it for a change? Take some sheet music and look at the little notes, the individual low or high ones, the ones clustered together to form a family, the ones without legs. Try to read them visually (not musically). Wow, what a pretty, moving picture they paint.
    Example: Sheet music Mozart piano concert N 21
    Digital Mozart Edition (access to complete works of Mozart)
  6. People:
    We have all heard about wonderful people such as Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela etc. But there are so many people close by and much more accessible who are equally admirable.
    Look at the nurse in your local hospital. She gets up in the middle of the night to wake up her patients every morning with a smile.
    Look at your child's teacher who has the patience to explain the world to him.
    Look at the volunteer who helps out at the soup kitchen.
    All of them, small Wow's, So say thank you to them next time you come across one.
    Random Acts of Kindness Foundation
  7. Nature:
    Being outdoors is something we tend to not get enough of. We work inside, we shop inside, we do sports inside. The outdoors is full of small wonders. Take a walk through the woods for example and approach a tree. Hug it, and look at its bark.
    The abstract art of bark can complete mesmerize you.
  8. Read:
    Read the Awesome Book to your kids.
    Read 1000 awesome things.
    Create some WOW with Bookboats for kids in Laos.
  9. Watch:
    Mr Magorium's Wonder Emporium:


Creativity tip: take your time

>> 12 December 2010

Many studies show that creativity is reduced when people's attention is more on the result and its consequences than on the question itself.

Putting people under pressure to deliver pushes them back into overdependence on familiar lines of thought.

So basically: having good ideas takes time.

Do you know the 'Bed, Bath and Bus' theory of creativity?

It basically comes down to the fact that for many people, the best ideas come to them when they're either in bed, in their bath or riding the bus...

Which is typically when they are no longer working on any problems but have shifted their minds into wandering, gazing, boredom,...

Creative people build this 'incubation' time into their creative work.
Whether it's creating a painting, working on a project or figuring out a scientific problem.

That's when they set the painting aside for a while.
It's when they let petri dishes sit for a week.

  • So, stop running after the result. 
  • Don't let yourself be pressured for an answer, an idea or a solution.
  • Take your time. 
  • Put the project/problem on the shelf for a while and go do something else.
  • Take a break.

And next time you're out jogging, shopping or riding the bus, an idea may pop into your head that puts you on the right track, brings you a step further or even hands you the solution.


Inspiration vs. Motivation:

>> 8 December 2010

Today I would like to point you to my guest post over at womansquotes.com

Do you know the difference between inspiration and motivation?
Didn't think there was one?
Well there is and it matters to your sucess.

So hop on over to read more.


Creativity tip - train your brain

>> 5 December 2010

In order to be creative you need to break connections and make new ones. Our brains however like habits and routine and those paths are neurological hardwired and often difficult to break.

Below are a few exercises you can do to train your brain differently :-)

According to Wikipedia, in psychology, the Stroop effect is a demonstration of interference in the reaction time of a task. When a word such as blue, green, red, etc. is printed in a color differing from the color expressed by the word's semantic meaning (e.g. the word "red" printed in blue ink), a delay occurs in the processing of the word's color, leading to slower test reaction times and an increase in mistakes. The effect is named after John Ridley Stroop who first published the effect in English in 1935.


Say aloud the colors of each of these words, as fast as you can:

Now do it again:

If naming the first group of colors is easier and quicker than the second, then your performance exhibits the Stroop effect.

Why does this seem difficult?

The words themselves have a strong influence over your ability to say the color. The interference between the different information (what the words say and the color of the words) your brain receives causes a problem. There are two theories that may explain the Stroop effect:
  • Speed of Processing Theory: the interference occurs because words are read faster than colors are named.
  • Selective Attention Theory: the interference occurs because naming colors requires more attention than reading words.
Now do the Interactive JavaScript Demonstration of Stroop effect and see how neuropsychologically balanced you are.

Here are some cards to train yourself or test others.

Here are three new variations of the Stroop Effect:
Interactive DIRECTIONAL Stroop Effect Experiment
Interactive NUMBER Stroop Effect Experiment
Interactive ANIMAL Stroop Effect Experiment

The original reference to the Stroop paper is: Stroop, J.R. Studies of interference in serial verbal reactions. J. Exp. Psychol., 18:643-662, 1935. You can even read this complete 1935 paper on the web!


8 ways to mindfully avoid overwhelm

>> 1 December 2010

We all lead busy lives.
Our agendas are chock-full with appointments.
Our to do lists hardly leave us time to breathe.

We have become multi-taskers, juggling work and life but struggling to find the right balance.

Usually we manage pretty well.

But sometimes, things spin out of control and OVERWHELM takes over.

What are the signs of overwhelm?
  • you don't know what the next thing is you need to be doing
  • you break down and cry because you think you are a bad mother for wanting a career and kids
  • you get head- or back-aches from too much office stress
  • you forget important things
  • you don't find the time to meet your best friend
  • you don't find pleasure anymore in the things you used to love
  • ...
Recognize any of this?
For me, the last one is ringing a bell loudly at the moment.
After running my first half marathon in September, I have not been running much.
I have lost the pleasure in what I used to love doing without having to motivate myself.

It's the beginning of an overwhelm alarm bell for me... If you feel the same and want to make a change, read on...

How can we avoid overwhelm to hit us over the head?
  1. Define and get clear:
    More often than not we tumble forward and fire-fight instead of living the life we want and were meant to live. This often happens when we lack clarity and a clear definition of what that life actually IS.
    So over the course of the next days, sit down for small chunks of time and think about your next year in broad terms. Where do you want to be a year from now?
    • I want to loose 20 pounds
    • I want to have started my own business
    • I want to find the right balance between work and private life
    Try to be be as precise and detailed as possible.
  2. Choose:
    You cannot have 3 to 4 major goals in a year to happen at the same time.
    You need to choose!
    Oh, but you want to start a business, loose 20 pounds, have a kid before you're 40, be a good wife, learn French and take cooking classes.
    I repeat: you need to CHOOSE. I am not saying you can't have them all. You can :-) in time.
    For now:
    • take poster board or flip chart and write them all down
    • glue pictures for each goal
    • draw all the advantages and disadvantages of each goal
    Do you get drawn to one more than the others? Pick that one!
  3. Define again:
    your goal and write down everything that comes to mind around it.
    • Movement: join a gym, find a sport you like, find people who like that sport, start using stairs instead of elevators...
    • Health: buy more fruits and vegetables, check out Weight Watchers, stop smoking
    • Misc.: stick picture of ideal you on bathroom mirror, etc
    What are you already doing to achieve your goal? What areas do you need to adapt? How?
  4. Take baby steps:
    It's all very nice to have a big goal, but it just adds things to your to do list, right?
    Right. That's why we chop them into small doable portions.
    • Today: print a list of gyms in your area
    • By the end of the week: call at least 2 of them to check on details
    • By the end of next week: call two more and visit at least one of them.
  5. Get accountability:
    Once you have made your list of baby steps, make sure you share it with someone. This can be your coach, your partner, your best friend, your mom. Give them a copy if you are comfortable with it. The more people you tell about your venture, the more they will support you and  motivate you.

  6. Align weekly:
    On one day of the weekend (Sunday evenings, or Monday mornings are best), set aside some alone time. Take out your baby steps list and your agenda and pencil everything in. Go through things, make changes according to what else is going on that week. Nothing is cast in stone.
    This will make you aligned and clear of your goal and actions every week.
  7. Reward yourself:
    Striving for something big is no easy task. And it can become tedious after a while. Motivation to keep it up can falter. There is a simple way to avoid that.
    Reward yourself.
    No, you should not allow yourself a burger and chocolate after you have lost 5 pounds.
    Instead, celebrate the small victories.
    Buy yourself a little candle to blow out after week one.
    Treat yourself to a massage when you have accomplished all baby steps after 2 or three weeks.
  8. Stumble, fall and try again:
    When a baby starts walking, it keeps falling down, bumping its head.
    Does it go 'Darn, guess walking was not for me.' and give up?
    No. It stumbles, falls and tries again.
There is no perfect way to reach a goal without being overwhelmed.

If during the course you feel that something is off, start with step one again and get clear on your intention again. No one said you couldn't stop or even go backwards for a while. 

If it brings you more clarity to move forward, it's all good.


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