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

CAT | Habits

Jul/19

21

The Goldilocks Rule

In James Clear’s book Atomic Habits, he defines the Goldilocks Rule this way:

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“Humans experience peak motivation when working on tasks that are right on the edge of their current ability. Not too hard. Not too easy. Just right.”

That really is the key to success: Not too hard. Not too easy.

It’s interesting to contemplate. And if you think about it for just a bit, you realize it’s true. Here’s why:

If you know something very well – for example the basic skill of a job – it cannot be challenging. It is, by definition, an entry-level task. If you have been doing it for any period of time, it has probably worked its way into your muscle memory.

All tasks that we learn go from “hard” to “easy” over time. Everything we can’t do is hard the first time. Then it becomes possible. And over time it becomes easy. And that makes the next level of competence possible.

What do we do as we advance in our profession (or hobby)? We pass off the simple tasks to people who entering the field. These chores are not challenging and therefore not very interesting. We want to work on the edge of our competence. That’s where the work is harder and more fulfilling.

And the more time we spend in that “top 5%” of our ability, the more often we bump up against the limits of our ability. We stretch and learn, eventually increasing our ability a little more and a little more.

If you’re unhappy in your job, I’ll bet you’re spending a lot of time at the middle of your ability or below. It can’t be motivating. You become bored and feel unfulfilled.

You don’t have to be a workaholic to constantly improve yourself. In fact, it’s human nature to keep your mind engaged. And that means constantly improving yourself.

Where are you on the ability scale for the things that occupy most of your time? Are you on the edge of your ability? If not, consider changes you can make to start working on the edge. Chances are very good you’ll like it!

:-)

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I’m a big fan of working from priorities rather than a calendar. Yes, we all need calendars, but only for one reason: Our lives intersect with other peoples’ lives.

It takes a lot of effort to learn to work from priorities instead of a calendar. The good side is that you get a lot more done – and you know you’re always working on what’s important. The bad side is that most people don’t do this, and they can get upset with you for not adding their low-priority stuff to your calendar.

One of the huge benefits you get when you work on highest priorities first is that you take time to improve yourself and your life. Here’s what I mean:

All too often, we “know” we should do something, but there’s never time. I know I should study for an exam. I know I should upgrade my certification. I know I should read a book in my field. I know all that – but these things don’t make their way onto my calendar.

Everyday, we look at the high priority things and don’t do them because they take time. And since we’re focused on the calendar and the clock, time is so precious that we don’t make time to do what’s important!

For example: Let’s say you’ve been told – and you believe – that reading a specific book will dramatically improve your life (or sales process, stress level, relationships, etc.). You “know” that this book will change your life for the better.

But it’s been sitting on your shelf for a year. Why? Because reading feels like you’re not doing something. And, as a result, reading that amazing book never makes its way onto your calendar.

There’s a certain irony here, especially if you are struggling with something and you “know” this book will help. You don’t have time to take time to do something that will make all your future time more effective and positive.

What?

I love the old saying, “She’s too busy mopping the floor to fix the roof.” It’s very true for very many of us.

Some people find it hard to believe that I read, write, and meditate every day. The most common thing I hear is, “Where do you find the time?” The answer is, I don’t find the time. I find the priority.

I know absolutely and definitively that reading and writing every day will improve my future life significantly – both personally and professionally. So I set aside time to sit in a chair, get comfortable, and read.

You can do this. You don’t have to write every day. Or read every day. But whatever thing you know you need to do, just set aside an hour to do it.

And relax about it. It’s okay to block off an hour in your calendar for self improvement. Remember the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey? #7 is Sharpen the Saw. In other words, work on YOU.

Once you accept that something will improve your life, you have do it, right? That hour will pay you back with many better hours in the future.

:-)

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May/19

25

Leave Gaps

Nothing is important. Um . . . Let me rephrase that: Leaving space in your life for new things is important. Leaving space for “nothing” means leaving space for opportunity.

We modern humans have a natural tendency to over-pack, over-schedule, and over-commit. We stack our day with frenzied activity and act surprised when one domino knocks down all the rest.

A few years ago I wrote a blog post about one of my favorite “Rules for Life.” It’s called Silence Means Nothing. (Read that now.) The gist is that we spend lots of energy filling in the mental gaps when we waiting for communication.

A very common example is when you send a text and don’t get a reply. Is that bad? Did I offend someone? Is silence a yes or a no? More often than not, silence has nothing to do with you. Perhaps the other person had to jump in the car and drive somewhere. Or their mother called. Or something. Once you tune into this, you’ll see examples everywhere.

In my “day job,” I train technology consultants to be better at the business side of their business. Very often, that means helping them to create good processes and procedures. A big piece of this is helping them manage their work load. And the biggest problem I find is over-scheduling.

Think about your average day. Is it filled before you start? Is you entire day booked up by the time you start your first task? If the answer is yes, then you’ve set yourself up for a stressful afternoon. Why? Because “something” will happen. Something always happens. One client has an emergency. Another shows up late. Somebody goes home early.

Whatever it is, something interrupts your nice, tightly-packed schedule.

Another maxim I use in by business is related to project management: Something’s going to go wrong. We don’t know whether it will be big or small, but we’ll find it and fix it. We’ll always be successful in the end; we just don’t know how smooth the path will be.

Accepting that emergencies and interruptions happen does not mean you’re a bad person. Don’t plan your day as if everything will be perfect. When was the last time that happened?

Here’s a challenge to reduce your stress in the next week: Leave gaps. Leave blocks of time un-scheduled. Leave room at the table for an unexpected guest. My guess is that you’ll actually get a lot more done. When the inevitable interruption takes place, you’ll wiggle things around a bit and take care of it without throwing off the rest of your day.

Three great advantages come from leaving gaps in your day.

  • “Stuff” happens that you didn’t expect. Now you have a little extra time to take care of it without making a mess of your whole day.
  • No emergencies or big interruptions happen. Good! That gives you time to finish everything you had scheduled and either start working on tomorrow’s list or give everything you do today a little extra attention and love.
  • In your open time, your brain relaxes and new ideas emerge. You may not have time to work out all the details, but you’ll probably have time to jot down a few notes so you can revisit the new ideas another time.

There’s a lot of great research about the chemical factory inside your brain. When we over-book and over-pack our lives, we place ourselves in a perpetual state of “Fight or Flight” – and that’s not healthy. You need it once in awhile, but as a constant state of operation, it will lead to serious health problems.

Really. Google “perpetual fight or flight” and read any ten of the five millions results that come back.

Yet another of my maxims is Slow Down, Get More Done. When you under-pack your day, you actually have a chance of accomplishing everything you need to do. AND you leave room for opportunity to knock on your door.

Opportunity has probably been knocking for a long time. You just didn’t have time to answer the door.

:-)

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Feb/19

20

Working Out Your Whole Brain

At one time, we thought the brain was just one thing. Now we know that the brain is more complicated and miraculous than ever.

You have parts of your brain that are automatic, controlling your basic functions. And you have some you can control. Others more or less lie dormant until we call on them. THOSE are the ones I find most interesting.

There’s an old saying about getting old: Use it or lose it. That refers to your body. You have to remain flexible, or you’ll stop being flexible. You have to keep walking or you’ll lose the ability to walk. You have to use your muscles or you’ll lose your muscles.

How many ways do you use your brain?

The brain works the same way. If you stop doing puzzles, a certain part of your brain basically shuts down. If you stop being artistic, another part shuts down. And on it goes for memory, attention, focus, etc. There’s new research that people who do a variety of interesting things can slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

I recently wrote in my technology newsletter about attending conferences outside the field of technology. I love going to conferences for writers in particular because there’s so much creative energy in the room.

We all spend so much time in our businesses that we end up putting on blinders. We are super focused on the here and the now and the challenges. We are focused on the next payroll and the next marketing campaign.

Conferences put us in an environment where people are talking about other things. Writer conferences are particularly good because only a few people are talking about writing. Everyone else is talking about their book project. And those subjects are as varied as the book shelves at Barnes and Noble:

Science. History. Art. Biographies. Business. Cooking. Health. Lifestyles. Technology. Fiction. Travel. Science. Romance. Everything!

One reason I travel and attend so many conferences is to keep the creative part of my brain engaged. I refer to it as mixing up the mental DNA. I meet a variety of people and talk about hobbies, challenges, the tools they use, and the habits that contribute to their success.

One of the ways people get “stuck” in their personal and professional lives is that they stop doing a variety of things.

Really. It’s as simple as that.

Workaholism is the most visible example. People work and work and work. And then they work at night, on the weekends, and even while riding a bus or train. They don’t garden any more, or take a drive in the country.

Workaholics get obsessed with getting more and more done. They lose sight of the fact that the work will literally never be done. (And it shouldn’t be, because then you have to go get another job.)

When you stop having hobbies, painting fences, meeting new people, reading for fun, or gardening, you shut off pieces of your brain.

Workaholics aren’t the only ones. Some people get completely obsessed with cleaning or knitting or bingo. Whatever it is, they do that one thing all the time and stop doing other things.

A friend recently invited me to a local poker night at a bar. No actual money is at stake, but teams compete and move through a league similar to bowling. She was a little surprised that I said yes right away and jumped right into it. I’m not a big poker player, although I enjoy it. But it was something different to do.

I have another friend I call on to keep a level of weirdness in my life. About once a year I say, “Find us something different to do” – and it never fails. Last year is was superstar midget wrestling. This year, who knows?

But it will be a new thing for me. And I have a strong tendency to not do new things most of the time. So I’ve made a habit of saying yes to lots of stuff simply to include a variety of experiences in my week, month, and year.


What do you do to light up various parts of your brain? Remember: Use it or lose it!

:-)

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Dec/18

23

Only Do Three Things per Day

Most of us have too much to do. We are overwhelmed at work and overwhelmed at home.

And guess what? Most people are even more overwhelmed when they start making to-do lists. Why? Because they write down dozens of items and can see that the list will eventually have hundreds of items.

Most people aren’t good at managing their to-do lists for two simple reasons: First, they’re overwhelmed. So, second, they don’t make lists!

The real problem is not the number of things on your list. The real problem is confusing urgency with importance. Here’s a sad rule of life that is nevertheless true:

Everyone in your life is willing to put items on your to-do list; Only you can decide what actually gets on that list.

So, how do you make such decisions? Well, for starters, you have to spend enough time in introspection to know what’s truly important in your life. This starts with an understanding of your values and guiding principles. Once you focus on what’s most important in your life, it becomes easier to figure out what’s important this year, this month, this week, and each day.

I’m a big believer in meditation or morning quiet time. I know some people find it hard to do, but that’s mostly because they don’t really try. You can’t do anything effectively if you try for five minutes and decide it’s not for you. That includes meditation as well as playing the piano.

With regular meditation, you can identify the most important values and goals in your life. After that, tackling to-do lists and daily activities becomes much more manageable.

The key to success is to identify no more than three “roles” in your life that you will act on today. For example, your role as parent, employer, spouse, or community member. We all play several roles in our lives. But of course we can’t do everything every day!

Here’s how this helps you lower your stress and actually get more done: Choose only three things to do each day. More specifically, for each role in your life, choose one thing. If you’re lucky, you will accomplish those three things. And if you actually accomplish more, you should feel good about that.

But please don’t sabotage yourself. You will be tempted to choose three things per role, or two things per role. That sounds good, but leads you quickly down the road to overwhelm.

As a completely separate project (as more of an intellectual exercise), it is a good idea to keep some big master list of things that need to be done. But only do this if it relieves stress rather than adding more.

In general, you can reduce stress by focusing on the highest priority items in your life. It also helps a lot if you train yourself to stop worrying about all the low-priority stuff. I know: Easier said than done. But remember that most of that low priority stuff was put on your list by someone else.

When I first moved to California, Blue Diamond Almonds had an ad campaign with amond farmers saying, “A can a week. That’s all we ask.” This is sort of similar.

Do three things each day. That’s all I ask.

:-)

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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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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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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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