RFS Blog | by Karl W. Palachuk – Relax Focus Succeed. Learn more at www.relaxfocussucceed.com

Oct/18

8

Do You Need to Be Done?

I realized a while back that I no longer strive to be “done” with a lot of things.

Some things need to be done, of course. But others are never done.

When I’m writing a book or putting together a new presentation, I love the feeling of making progress. I track it on Excel spreadsheets. I post chapters and share milestones. I love finishing the first draft and moving from the “creating” phase to the editing phase. And even though the post-writing phase is a lot less fun, I push through so I can be done. Done done. Really done. Go-do-something-else done.

But there’s a whole different class of things that are never done. For example, I love paying bills. I know that sounds odd, but I’ve always loved paying all the bills and making payroll. There’s a real sense of accomplishment that I can make enough money to pay down all those bills and have money left over. This used to be more fun back in the days when bills showed up as pieces of paper and were paid with checks in envelopes. Now bills show up electronically and area often paid the same way. Money just sort of magically moves around.

Laundry is another thing that’s never done. It’s always nice to be “done” with laundry. But, unless you do laundry naked, you know it’s never done. There’s always another towel, another pair of pants. I knew someone who was so obsessed with having the laundry done that she ran an entire washer and dryer cycle for one single sock. But of course, later that day, there was more laundry.

You can probably think of many things in your life that are never done. Cooking meals, mowing the lawn, cleaning everything, and getting ready for all the stuff you have to do in the next day, week, or year.

We all have never-ending chores. And we like some more than others.

One of the great lessons of my life is that it’s okay to accept that some things will never be done. When I stop mowing the lawn, it probably means my grass is dead. That’s no good. So mowing the lawn forever is a good thing. And, really, paying bills forever is a good thing. The same is true with filing paperwork, vacuuming, and figuring out what meals I’m going to eat in the week ahead.

At some level, I think it’s a universal human trait to enjoy finishing things. I wonder what that sense of accomplishment does to improve our lives or chances for survival. Is there an evolutionary reason that we are motivated to both start and complete projects? I can’t think of any. But I do think this is a universal human trait. I don’t think birds have a sense of accomplishment when they add the last twig to a nest, or fish when they swim to the place of their birth. For them it’s just a thing they do.

So I’ve divided my accomplishments into two types: Those with “Done” as a legitimate goal, and those that will never be done. And I’m at peace when certain things are never done and never will be.

Now, excuse me while I load the dishwasher.

:-)

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Sep/18

24

Your “Before” Picture

Here’s a quick exercise for you. Take a selfie with your cell phone and label it “Before.” How do I know that this is your “before” picture? Because change is coming in your life.

Portrait of a happy young man making selfie photo on smartphone isolated on a white background

You might know what’s coming. It could be the book you’re writing, the goal you’re working toward at work, the new degree, the new child, or a million other things. Or you might not know what’s coming. Life has no shortage of surprises for us. But something’s going to change.

This might be the time before you get a raise, before you make a new friend, or before you get an unexpected day off. Whatever is coming might be large or small. But change is all around us, all the time.

When we look back, we can easily define the before/after moments that affected us the most. Before we learned to read; before we learned to drive; before we got married. And of course, there’s the before and after of all of our family and friends. Before my child was born; before she graduated college; before she bought her first house.

While it’s easy to identify these points after the fact, you can also tune in as life progresses. How is life going for you right now? How about work? And family and hobbies? All those things are going to involve change in the next year. If nothing else, start a “now” journal or a “before” journal and take stock.

It can be very exciting to be self-aware when you’re in the middle of change. So often, we let life happen to us. But if you know you’re in the before time and you choose to tune in to it, you don’t have to be passive. If you tune into change, you can choose to mold that change and affect what it looks like.

One very common way we do this is to create some ceremony around change. We have graduation paries, give greeting cards, and take friends to dinner. We acknowledge certain points in our lives.

The only real difference between responding to change and affecting change is that we choose to do one or the other. We all play both roles, depending on the circumstances.

I encourage you to use some morning quiet time to take stock of how things are going in your life. And then speculate what “after” is going to look like. After all, the more you spend time thinking about it, the more you’ll be able to influence it.

:-)

 

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Sep/18

24

Why does it take pirates so long to learn the alphabet?

Why does it take pirates so long to learn the alphabet?

Because they can spend years at C.

:-)

 

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Jul/18

30

Priming Your Brain – Part 3

In my last two blog posts (Part 1 and Part 2), I introduced the reticular activating system (RAS) and talked a bit about how you can “prime” it to focus on your goals. In this blog post, I want to touch on what happens when you don’t focus your attention.

If you study a lot of self-help and “success” literature, you’ve probably noticed that one of the most common recommendations across all these works is to spend some time at the beginning of each day planning the day. For some it’s prayer. For some it’s meditation. For some it is simply reviewing a schedule. But no matter what form it takes, they all involve spending time just thinking about the day ahead.

Without knowing it, this advice is really about telling your reticular activating system what to pay attention to. In Part 2 of this series I went into some detail how I use this to give lots of attention and focus to something. Today I want to talk about what happens when you don’t do this – when you don’t consciously choose what to put your attention on.

We’ve all had the experience of worrying about something. Sometimes, we get “stuck” worrying. We start to focus on something and then we can’t stop. We get more and more worried until something snaps us out of it. Very often, the thing that snaps us out of worry is simply the passage of time as we realize that the bad thing didn’t happen.

As Mark Twain famously said, “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.”

Money is a common worry. The safety of our children is a common worry. Success in business. Fall sales numbers. Grades. Taxes. The list goes on.

Here’s what we know about the RAS: Whatever you choose to focus on, it amplifies. That’s great if you’re focusing on your goals and ideals. But if you’re focusing on “bad stuff” like worries, it’s going to amplify that as well. Here’s why:

The RAS has a primary function of filtering OUT virtualy everthing you could be paying attention to. Hundreds of millions of things happen every day don’t get your attention. You simply can’t process all that. But the RAS has a secondary function of filtering IN the things that are most important to you.

Some important things are reinforced so much over time that one could argue they are hard-wired. For example, if you’re a parent at the State Fair, you will hear your child’s voice say “Mom” or “Dad” through a huge crowd of people. Hearing that voice calling you under any circumstances is important, so it gets filtered IN to the top of the list of stimuli. Years and years of responding to this call have burned it into a pathway that says there’s probably nothing more important for you to respond to – ever.

Worries and fears and problems can be the same way. We choose to pay attention to our children, our spouse, our business, etc. But very often we do not choose to pay attention to worries, fears, and other negative things. They take some of our attention. But they don’t dominate our attention unless we get carried away. If we let them in, don’t push them out, and don’t tell our RAS that we’d rather pay attention to something else, then we end up paying attention to them again.

This pattern reinforces itself. If you don’t choose what to reinforce, the RAS (which has no brain of its own) will automatically choose for you. More and more research is showing that we can break patterns of negative thought. We can lay down new neural pathways. We can change our overall tendencies to focus on certain things and instead focus on more positive things.

One of my mottos is, “Nothing Happens By Itself.” I believe that is very true and applies to every aspect of life.

Positive attitudes don’t happen by themselves. New ideas don’t just happen. New business plans. Renewed marital happiness. Nothing happens by itself. But almost anything can happen if you put your attention on it.

If you ignore your attitudes and your preferred thought pattterns, then you get whatever random stuff other people throw into your life. But if you focus on what you want – the attitudes you want, the goals you want, the friends you want – then your RAS will work hard to help you GET what you want.

For me, the best part about all this is its simplicity. The RAS is like an audio amplifier. You speak into the microphone and a loud voice comes out the speakers. You tell your RAS that you want to focus on something and it responds with massive attention on that thing. And the more you prime it, the more it gives you in return.

:-)

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Jul/18

23

Priming Your Brain – Part 2

In my last blog post, I introduced the reticular activating system (RAS) and talked about it’s basic functions. The RAS helps us filter the world around us. That has two primary features. First, it keeps out millions of things we don’t need to pay attention to. After all, we’re exposed to literally millions of impressions per day. Second, it helps to focus more clearly on what IS important.

That second part is the most interesting to me because we can “hack” our RAS to help us focus even more. Because the RAS helps us decide what is important, we can feed it stimuli. Your conscious brain can literally seed what your unconscious brain pays attention to.

In my book Relax Focus Succeed, I give an analogy between the brain and a filing system. All day long, you go through your day pulling cards out of the filing system and throwing them on the floor. Some cards are problems, some are experiences, some are ideas. And then, at night, your unconscious brain picks up the cards, sorts them, and files them away again. Every once in awhile it picks up a “problem” cards and an “idea” card that match. Your unconscious brain has solved a problem!

But you’re asleep and you’re not aware that you’ve solved a problem. That’s where meditation comes in. It allows your brain to relax and do that background work while you’re still awake.

Of course it’s all much more complicated than that. But here’s how you can use meditation to seed your RAS so that your focus is pointed directly where you want it.

You’ve heard of “mindfulness” meditation. Many people define this as a type of meditation where you try to clear your mind of all thoughts. For example, you just sit there and, when a thought wanders into your mind, you acknowledge it and then set it aside. Other people define mindfulness as simply experiencing what’s going on. In this variant, you sit there and name the things that enter your attention. A truck driving past. A bird. The breeze. Someone walking.

In both variants of mindfulness, you are attempting to NOT think – no not solve problems, not worry about money, not plan the day ahead, etc. It seems miraculous, but this lack of focusing on anything often results in major epiphanies. We’ve all had the experience of coming up with a great idea while you’re in the shower. That’s because it’s just you and your brain with no outside stimuli from radio, TV, the Internet, etc.

Let me suggest a technique that I use. I think you’ll be amazed at how easy it is.

First, choose an object for focus. It might be a poem, an idea for work, a problem with the kids, etc. Anything. Sit quietly and think about the object of focus. If you wish, take notes. The overall idea is to simply fill your mind – your attention – with thoughts and questions about this topic. I generally take anywhere from five to thirty minutes for this. The more time you give it, the more focused you become.

Here’s what’s going on physiologically: You are telling your RAS in no uncertain terms that you have something that needs your focus. You are doing this in a relaxed manner without frenzy or panic. You are, in fact, simply setting its agenda and letting it know that this is important to you.

Second, put an end to that and move into mindfulness meditation. Find a technique that works for you. STOP thinking about the problem you just spent time on. Focus on your breathing. Or do a whole body scan. For beginnings, I think full body scans or Yoga Nidra is excellent. Take as much time as you can. I recommend no less than fifteen minutes. If you can do thirty, that’s even better.

There’s no cheating here. You really are trying to clear your mind of everything. Clean the slate. Relax. Be open. Just experience your breath moving in and out. When ideas float by, acknowledge them and then move your attention back to your breath.

Third, go about your day. That’s it. Just do whatever you need to do. Go to work. Cook dinner. Have a beer. Enjoy some television. Whatever you do, just do that.

Here’s what’s really going on: You have put serious, focused attention on an object (problem, idea, etc.). That has given your RAS notice that you want attention on this. And as you go through your day, you will notice that lots of things seem to be related to the object of your focus. People you meet have ideas that are related. Snippets of news you see on the Internet are related to it. Comments you overhear are related.

It’s as if the world has conspired to help you achieve your goals, solve your problems, help you find funding for a project, or whatever you need. In reality, you have simply applied a filter. You are paying less attention to little, unimportant things, and more attention to the one thing you identified as needing your attention.

Imagine if you do this every day. Figure out what is the most important thing that needs your attention. And then spend the day finding that thing everwhere you look.

Way back in my college days, I was a camp counselor for the YMCA. Session after session, I had a cabin full of seven year olds. One of my favorite distractions was to give them a basic assignment such as:
– Everyone go out and bring back a red leaf
– Everyone go out and find a stick with a “Y”
– Everyone go out and bring me a small, smooth rock

These were simple assignments and everyone was always successful. This exercise with your RAS is basically the same thing. You’re telling your unconscious attention span to go focus on a specific object . . . and it does just that. – “Go find me a solution to this problem.”

The best part about priming your attention span is that it just works. The simple fact that you put your attention on something creates the focus that stays on that thing all day.

Try it! I would love to hear your results.

:-)

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There are many fields I wish I had studied more in college. The brain is one of them. Of course, when I was in college, we knew about 1/10th of what we know today.

 

Aside from being an efficient chemical factory for producing hormones that affect happiness, pleasure, body control, and mood, the brain is a masterful collection of information systems and sub-systems. One of my favorite sub-systems is called the reticular activating system. The reticular formation is a set of interconnected nuclei that are located throughout the brain stem. The ascending reticular activating system (RAS) represents a series of connections made between the brain stem and the higher parts of the brain.

The RAS is an miraculous system for controlling habits and perceptions in humans. On one hand, it affects the way you see the world, filtering millions of stimuli into a few things you pay attention to. On the other hand, it reinforces behavior and beliefs. So, for example, we tend to filter out information that doesn’t fit our current beliefs. (This should help explain a great deal of the political discussion on Facebook.)

Here’s the coolest part as far as I’m concerned: the RAS does a lot of work automatically (controlling automated functions of the body, filtering information, helping your sleep, etc .), but it can also be manipulated by your intentions. And when that happens, your intentions can become magnified very powerfully. Here’s what I mean.

Every’s had the experience of buying a car and then seeing that car all over town. Those cars were always driving all over town: You just didn’t notice them because you didn’t care. You have to filter out virtually everything you’re exposed to or you would not be able to function. The RAS does that filtering. At the same time, you can choose to focus on specific things. You can tune into the color blue, or BMWs, or plastic ducks. Most of the time, these “choices” are unconscious. They just happen. But you can make conscious choices to focus on specific information.

Let’s try an example. You may have heard of the concept of block chain. Block chain is a cool new technology for creating secure transactions. It’s going to be widely used very soon. Many companies are investing in block chain. Say the words out loud: Block Chain.

There. I’ve told you almost nothing about block chain. But I’ve planted the seed in your consciousness. You’ve probably heard the phrase block chain before, but you have not paid attention to it unless there’s a reason to. Now, I’ve dragged it out of the background fog and into the forefront of your attention. Watch over the next 1-2 days and you will probably see or hear the phrase block chain. This phrase has been floating around, just outside your consciousness. Now it will become more visible for a short time.

“Short time” is key here. If you have no reason to pay attention to block chain, this raised consciousness will fade quickly – precisely because it has no value in your life.

Now consider something else. Perhaps you want to grow your business, lose weight, learn a new skill, get your garden into shape, or any other goal. If you take time to bring that goal into your conscious brain, the RAS will recognize that it has value for you . . . and begin focusing on it more and more. The RAS becomes an amplifier for your goals.

On more than one occasion, I’ve had a “great” business idea that flashed into my head. I took time to sit down, write out notes, make some drawings, and maybe even do some calculations. In other words, I focused very heavily on this idea for an hour or so. And guess what? All day the next day, it seems that every conversation helps promote that idea. People pop into my head that might be able to help me. The radio has a story about something that affect this. And so forth.

The point is: Once I choose to give an idea a certain amount of attention, the RAS helps me give it more and more attention.

Now, if you practice this regularly, your RAS will help you amplify your focus. But only for a short period of time . . . until you continually choose to focus more. If you keep focusing on the subject again and again, your RAS will renew it’s attention more and more. It’s a lot like cramming your way through on online course. You can ignore it for awhile and your brain will have no reason to put attention on it. But when you buckle down and study every day, your brain redoubles your efforts . . . and begins working on the problem in the background when your are not even aware that your brain is working on your behalf.

All success comes back to the concept of focus. In my book Relax Focus Succeed, I say that you get better at whatever you put your attention on. Other people have said things like, “Whatever you put your attention on expands.” That’s absolutely true. You can spend your days responding to the random stimuli of the universe, or you can choose to focus your attention – And your good friend the reticular activating system help you focus even more.

:-)

 

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Jul/18

15

Dog Humor

What did the dog say when he sat on the sandpaper?

“Ruff.”

:-)

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One of the hardest things to do these days is to unplug. Technology keeps us so connected all the time that we never feel like we’re off work. This is particularly true with people who are self employed. And with people who work in big companies. And everybody else, too. :-)

Unplug

We have email on our phones, on our tablets, on our computers, and maybe even on our wrist watch. It’s literally everywhere. And our calendar is on most of those devices as well. And Facebook, LinkedIn, and whatever pop-up messaging apps you subscribe to.

It is very hard for some people to turn all that off – but you need to. A friend recently told me, “I need to be a lot less Pavlovian about work email, but I can’t help myself.”

It’s an addiction. And all that evening distraction has two primary characteristics: 1) It’s unproductive work, and 2) It robs you of the recovery time your brain needs to be productive the next day. You are using your “time off” from work being distracted by work!

I have a home office. Actually, two home offices. One is in the big front room where employees show up. The other is my study, where it’s just me. Those are my work areas. When I’m in other parts of the house, I’m “home.”

Many years ago, I started a routine of declaring, “I’m going home for the day” at about 6:00 PM. Then I stand up, turn off the lights, and leave my office to go home. I even do this when employees are sitting at their desks working. New employees find this humorous, until they realize I’m serious.

This is a great way to end your work day – even if you work at a “real” office. Here’s the whole end-of-day routine for me:

– Review tomorrow’s schedule. What is happening and when? Are there hard time commitments?

– Review email for the last time. Move it, delete it, answer it, flag it, etc. Close Outlook.

– Close all programs. Be done with all productive work for the day.

– Say “I’m going home for the day.”

I just read Deep Work by Cal Newport and he describes a very similar routine. It’s a great way to officially be done for the day. It’s a bit like plugging in your cell phone. You need to charge your personal batteries for the day. The routine also helps you check the box that says, “These things will get taken care of.” Just not tonight.

There’s lots of research (and common sense) showing that our energy levels, will power, and work quality are highest at the beginning of the day and lowest at the end of the day. So why keep trying to work when you’re low energy, low will power, and you’ll only spit out low quality work? You actually know that your work is lower quality, but you’re tempted to keep going.

Shut off. Power down. Play a video game. Read a book. Watch something stupid on TV. Listen to music. Enjoy your life. Recharge your batteries.

So many people tell themselves, “I can’t shut off.” But you can. You just have to do it, get used to it, and learn how to shut off. It really will improve your work if you take time to NOT work.

Try it. Let me know how it goes.

:-)

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Jun/18

4

To Ponder

Why doesn’t glue stick to the inside of the bottle?

:-)

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I am a firm believer that you must control your schedule, your availability, and your communication. These things are absolutely essential to your productivity and success. If you don’t control these things, someone else will. Guaranteed!

The two most common questions I get are some variation of the following:

1) How do you accomplish so much? How do your produce so much? How do you get so many things done?

and

2) How come you never answer your phone? Are you ignoring me? Why don’t you answer text messages? Are you really offline or just pretending to be?

Some people are genuinely irritated that I am not available 24×7 to respond to tweets and text messages and emails. But here’s the key to success: 99.9% of the time, 99.9% of the people have no idea that I’m unavailable.

Perhaps the wisest thing I’ve heard in the last ten years comes from my friend Arlin Sorensen, who thinks he heard it from his dad:

“Don’t worry about what people think about you, because they probably don’t.” It’s so true. People don’t spend their time thinking about YOU. Sorry. In our nihilistic, social media-focused society, people might believe that the whole world is looking at them and waiting for them to Tweet out the next funny post. But it’s not true.

Essentially nothing on social media is productive for you. In fact, almost nothing in your life is productive. Most email is not. Most phone calls are not. All tweets are not. All of Facebook is not. Most YouTube is not. In fact, most of the Internet is not.

We fool ourselves into believing that these things are productive, but they’re not. At all. In fact, all of your productivity happens between these distractions. To become more productive (and less stressed), you need to decrease the length and frequency of distractions and increse the length and intensity of the productive periods in your day.

If you want to learn to unplug and become more productive, here are some tips. This is what I do so that I appear to be active to others, but I’m actually “off the grid” most of the time.

Step One: Commit to doing one thing at a time.

You cannot multitask (That’a a whole different topic, but trust me, you can’t.), but you CAN time slice. Time slicing simply means you do one thing and then another and then another. When you do this, you give all of your attention to one thing. This focused attention makes that one thing go faster.

Step Two: Determine the minimum number of times you need to do unproductive activities in a day.

For example, you might think you need to check email every five minutes but you really don’t. For most people, checking email once per hour is enough. You may even be able to check it first thing in the morning, 30 minutes before lunch, and once in the middle of the afternoon.

Facebook and other social media are the same way. You might only need to check them once an hour or less. In fact, if you’re perfectly honest, you don’t really need to check them much at all.

Step Three: Set a routine to cycle through each activity block.

This will help you identify a large block of time that can be spent on a single focused task.

I always remind people of the time they were in a meeting and couldn’t answer their phone. An hour later, they checked their text messages, checked their voicemail, checked their email, etc. And guess what? No one noticed that they were unavailable for an hour. The world kept spinning. There were no crises.

Here’s what I do on a daily basis to unplug as much as possible and yet appear to be online a lot. I simply make a list of things to do on a rotating basis. For me, this includes:

– Check email (Inbox, employees, clients, etc.)
– Check text messages
– Check Facebook. Interact.
– Check to see if I have anything scheduled
– Focus on the most important project I have

With rare exceptions, I simply rotate through this list all day long. Think of it as a cross between a pie chart and a clock. Allocate a time slice to each activity. Repeat all day long.

It is very important that you silence your phone, close Outlook (email), close Facebook, close everything except the one project you’re working on. What you’ll find is that email might take fifteen minutes at 8:00 AM, but it takes five minutes at 9:00 AM, and only one minute at 10:00 AM. Once you focus on this, you’ll realize that you really don’t get that many truly important messages in a day. The same is doubly true for voicemail and infinitely more true with social media.

The result is that your hourly period of productive labor grows from 30 minutes to 40 or 50. And once you realize that you can check email every other hour (along with text messages, etc.), your block of productive labor grows to an hour and fifty minutes. That’s enough time to dig deep into an important task and get a LOT of productive work done.

I know this sounds hard if you’ve programmed yourself to believe that busy work is real work. Once you realize that the world is divided into productive blocks and interruptive blocks, it becomes easier to focus on the productive.

Try it. I’d love to hear your feedback.

:-)

 

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