Category Archives: end scatterbrain

Mind, Body, and Spirit

I’m trying to document all of the areas that I’m zeroing on in my pursuit to think clearly and focused at all times. What I’m learning, and what I’m truly believing, is that the mind, body, and spirit work together in sync and influence areas like focus, concentration, memory and other areas like creativity, happiness, outlook, etc. Many overlap, but I tried below to put some of the tools, strategies, and theories into the 3 different buckets.

I’m not necessarily weak in all of these areas, but I do want to keep them in mind and not ignore any. And I will go through exercises even if I think I’m stronger in one area. Because maybe a “jumpstart” in an area of strength can boost an area of weakness.

While “spirit” scares some people off, I don’t think it necessarily means a religion or religious practice. The way I see it “spirit” revolves around a life with purpose.

In the spirit of visualizing the 3 as a cycle, there can be seemingly unrelated downstream consequences (positive and negative) to getting on or off track in one area. I’ll try to expand on each in later posts, but here are some:

Mind
Meditation – I haven’t started yet, but will start to spend 20 minutes a day in quiet meditation. Many of the sources I’ve found recommend meditation.
Mindfulness – Be conscious of your mood and state at all times. And ask yourself things like, what should (or shouldn’t) I be doing right now.
Brain and Memory Games – This might be on the bleeding edge, but I’ve been experimenting with games like dual n-back (and others), which some neuroscientists believe can stimulate and change important parts of your brain.
Choice of social circles – Birds of a feather flock together. Do your friends, co-workers, etc. help of hinder your pursuits?
Input and inspiration – Garbage in, garbage out. Fill your head with junk, then junk will come out. Intellectually stimulate the mind, and good things (ideas, etc.) will follow.

Body
Exercise – Exercise has been shown to enhance brain function.
Nutrition – Certain nutrients (like Vitamin D and Omega 3s) have been shown to enhance brain function. Others (like sugar, especially fructose) have growing evidence that show they are detrimental to overall health and brain health relating to mood, behavior, and habits.
Hydration –  Drink plenty of water. So simple, but surprisingly I find it hard to stick to.
Sleep – Get plenty of sleep. I find this hard to adhere to also.
Healthy body weight, lifestyle, etc. – No brainers (pun intended)

Spirit
Purpose in life – This can be things big and small. This is a very good place to start when setting goals.
Happiness and gratitude – Getting back to the “brain influences the mind, and the mind influences the brain,” studies show that practicing positivity and gratitude influence the “wiring” of the brain–thus influencing the entire cycle in a good way. Examples are keeping a journal or just purposely finding time each day to think about the good things.

Soon I will be posting more about each of these areas. “Stay tuned.”

Book Review: The Accidental Creative How to Be Brilliant at a Moment’s Notice

I finished up The Accidental Creative: How to Be Brilliant at a Moment’s Notice, by Todd Henry, recently. I can’t recommend this book enough. My feeling though, is a book of this type can be seen as great or not depending on where you are with your knowledge of the subject at the moment. This one struck (me) while the iron was hot. I had all of the thoughts and feelings floating around in my head, and the book summed them up and articulated them perfectly. It also gave me some actionable advice.

First, the book was very well written and flowed very nicely. There wasn’t much fluff if any at all. It drove home points very directly. I find books that get right to the point easy to read and easy to absorb. I also respect that he cited other sources.

This is the third book on my scatter brain endeavor. All three books point to the same things you must do to gain focus and concentration (be mindful, deliberate, and have purpose). The Accidental Creative’s premise is that when you gain focus and concentration, creativity will follow.

The Accidental Creative in a nutshell revolves around 5 practices (FRESH).

  • Focus – Define your challenges and pick the most important ones to concentrate on.
  • Relationships – Choose your social circles wisely as they influence creativity.
  • Energy – Plan wisely (whole life plans, periodic check ins)
  • Stimuli – Garbage in, garbage out. So choose intellectually stimulating things to enjoy.
    • Create a study plan. Reading list, etc.
    • Have purposeful experiences (cultural, intellectual, etc).
  • Hours – Carve out specific time for purposeful thinking and creative endeavors.

It is no surprise to me that these same themes are mentioned in not only the last 3 books I’ve read, but also in a lot of other resources I’m reading too. I guess what this did for me is drive home the theory that creativity depends on focus and concentration.

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m done with my discovery phase. No more reading books on focus, concentration, memory, creativity. It’s time to put the other 40 books on hold while I put things into action.

From The Accidental Creative, I’m going to:

  1. Create a reading list of classic books. And read them (duh).
  2. Go to museums, art shows, etc. with the family.
  3. Come up with a career skills study plan. Define areas/skills where I need to strengthen.
  4. Capture ideas in a journal.
  5. Define and prioritize challenges (work/company and personal).

I’m getting there!!!

5 Whys

I’m not sure what this has to do directly with focus and attention, but I thought I’d post it anyway. Scatterbrained or not, I was always a great problem solver. Part of my strength, I think, is not accepting one cause (which may be a symptom). One tool that helps tremendously in getting to a root cause of a problem is to ask why 5 times.

So very simply, lets say your car runs out of gas.
1) Why did I run out of gas? I forgot to fill up. (duh, right?)
2) Why did I forget to fill up? I was in a hurry and didn’t notice. (hmmm ok)
3) Why was I in a hurry? I woke up late.
4) Why did I wake up late? I went to bed very late.
5) Why did I go to bed late? I was out partying…

That’s a very simple example. In practice, you probably won’t use it on such examples, rather in that case you can say to prevent running out of gas when I’m late, let me never go under 1/4 full. So rather than saying the partying caused me to run out of gas (which it did), I would say that carelessness did.

I did kinda sorta put this exercise on myself and challenges I faced and signs that would not normally be brought to light kept bubbling up to the top. Like focus, concentration, and attention.

Try putting 5 whys to work for you.

What I’ve Been Up To (short)

If you want the long story, I wrote a very long post on my personal blog.

Here is the long story short(er) errr, not as long.

Key Methods:

  • Be mindful – be in and aware of the present
  • This means not having your head buried in a smart phone and checking Twitter every 2 minutes. I’ve read enough studies that show how this behavior is detrimental to the brain. Yes, detrimental to the brain itself.
  • Be deliberate – force yourself to ask “what am I doing now and why?” and “what am I not doing, and why?” and “what should I be doing, and why?”
  • Have purpose – The previous series of questions should uncover productive things. If not, find something productive/enlightening/intellectually simulating/ social, etc.
  • Like a couch potato, you should not let your brain become a potato either.

I had no idea how much downstream those methods positively affect. What I’ve learned recently is so, so, so eloquently described in a book I’m reading right now, The Accidental Creative. I highly recommend the book.

Also, one overarching method above all else is to DO. I’m not saying I’m finished with this endeavor, but I’m sure I’ve pinpointed my roadblocks. Had I not started to travel down this road full steam, I would not have stumbled into these critical realizations. There is a point where you need to put theories to the test. And if they don’t work for you, surely you’ll learn something else or be put on another path, and eventually the right path.

I’ve also taken the advice of the other books I’ve read. I’ve forced myself out of my comfort zone. I’ve identified and focused on what I’m passionate about. I’ve completely dropped any time wasters. And most importantly, I haven’t forgotten my current strengths while working on my weaknesses.

Also, I’ve stumbled on some far out stuff… Only time will tell if this stuff will prove successful. It doesn’t hurt to try, right? Through all of this, I sort of came across a relatively newer field of neuroscience (disclaimer: I’m not a doctor, I don’t play one on TV, and I did not stay at a Holiday Inn last night) that deals with neuroplasticity. In layman’s terms, just like you can adhere to a healthy diet and exercise program for the body, there are things you can do to influence and improve the brain (like meditation, positive thinking and certain brain games and exercises). I’ll post more about this in upcoming posts, but I completely believe in it and trust the neuroscientists on the forefront of this. I’ve started the brain games and will start meditation soon. One book I read mentioned, “the mind influences the brain, and the brain influences the mind.” So you can very easily put yourself into a downward vicious cycle of a spiral if you don’t do the right things to stimulate your brain–or vice versa.

Also, also… There is not doubt that there is interconnectivity between the mind and body. So physical exercise and healthy eating is a big part of this all too. You can read about my healthy living pursuit on my personal blog as well.

What I’ve Been Up To

In October and November, I decided to very carefully analyze my life and come up with meaningful new year’s resolutions. The entire process in coming up with them and even up to this point has yielded what I consider some real breakthroughs and realizations. The process of seriously and honestly looking inward has gotten me to a point where I feel I’ve nailed down bottlenecks to more success (and perhaps more happiness) in life. Like any “problem” the consequences masked the root causes. And like any problem, you can fix anything unless you get to the root. And like any problem, trying to fix the consequences is futile and frustrating.

I can be obsessive. But that’s something I was always aware of enough to stop, think, relax, and come back to earth. So, during this quest of mine I compiled a list of over 40 books to read. They revolved around focus, creativity, memory, and other areas I felt could use some improvement. I kept adding, prioritizing, and re-prioritizing books depending on what I learned day to day. Also mixed into the list are other business books–not only personal development material. This doesn’t include blogs, videos, and other sources of information. I was aware that the long list of books was becoming too obsessive.

On the personal development front, I bought two books that were about focus and attention. I wrote reviews on my endscatterbrain.com site, which I developed to catalog my endeavor on this “focus” branch of my resolutions. There were some very common themes in both books, which got me to pay more attention to some things (no pun intended).

During all of this, and also another resolution of mine, I was also hammering away at a serious household budget. Now seeing the cost of 40+ books made me consider going to the library instead of buying all the books.

Luckily enough one book high up on my priority list was available at the library, so I pushed it up on my priority list. It was lucky in two ways. One that I got a book I wanted to read (for free–or better yet got my tax dollar worth), and two that I got to read this one sooner than later. The book is The Accidental Creative, by Todd Henry.

Call me a hypocrite, but I despise written reviews of books that start out like “I haven’t finished the book yet, but…” Because you can’t really review a book you haven’t finished yet or have had a chance to put the ideas into practice yet, right? Right?

Like I wrote on EndScatterbrain, a book can be either great or not depending on where you are with your knowledge and needs of the subject at the moment. Well, I’m half way through The Accidental Creative and already it’s helped tie everything together so well that I now have perfect clarity. And I also have the start of a serious and more focused plan and the desire to DO things that I think will blast me through hurdles (imaginary or not) that I’ve stumbled over for years. The book has hit home so much, that I can’t wait to adopt the lifestyle changes he’s going to suggest in later chapters. If the common themes to the other books provide any clues, I have a strong suspicion of what these lifestyle changes are going to be. Plus he alluded to some, which I know, understand, agree, and are thankfully very doable.

So tonight I decided enough is enough. The other 40 or so books will go unread for now. I’m going to cool down the blog reading and video watching a little too. I know what I need to do. FOCUS. And I need the time I would have spent reading and I need to START DOING.

What’s funny is that the process I started in October, WAS really a big part of the breakthrough in disguise. The books, content, etc. are just support material (tips, tricks, advice). But the support material has reinforced things I know I need to start doing. I love coming up with my own Yogi Berra’isms… So, I already knew what I needed to do, but I had to read about it to realize that I knew what I already knew.

The common themes in all three books is mindfulness, deliberateness, and purposefulness. And to put things into action. What got me to this point, are exactly those things. What’s going to get me far beyond this point, I’m confident, are those same things.

Also, habits and lifestyle choices have profound downstream consequences. For example, staying in your comfort zone and not forcing yourself to try new things can put a damper on creativity. Checking Twitter every five minutes rather than being in the moment (even when on line at the supermarket), has consequences on focus later on in the day. Going about your daily routine without a firm grasp of the day’s purpose can make you feel like you are in a rut, and also keep you from recognizing priorities.

Those are just a few of the things I came to realize and which I have already seen improvement.

I’m going to write a post explaining the above in better detail on EndScatterbrain soon. I’ll explain why I think focus, memory, and creativity are interrelated and what to do to improve those areas. Of course I have to wait some time for me to actually put more of the strategies into practice and see more success before I’d recommend them to anyone. But in a very short time, I have already seen enough improvement that I am confident to go full speed down this path.

One thing’s tried and true enough to declare. You’ll see it in every business book and in every self-help book. And while I always knew it in the back of my mind and applied it so many times, I guess it wasn’t so clear in my mind to apply to personal development as much as I could have. It’s to put things in motion. You can’t get from a to z without taking the first steps. There will be mistakes, failures, learning, re-routes, etc. You will also discover other things you would never have if you were wasting time and energy trying to be perfect at the starting line. I’ve seen this in my own healthy living endeavor and in so many work projects, but yet it escaped me to apply it here (until recently).

Another important thing to note… One of the books was deliberate in stressing that while you are working on improving areas of your life, you should never lose sight of your current strengths. And you should continue to put your current strengths to work. That advice has helped me avoid feeling that identifying and admitting you have areas to improve means you are inferior. Focusing so much on improvement can make you compare only your weaknesses to others. Instead you should see it for what they are–challenges and a pursuit of betterment. It puts things into a very healthy perspective.

Book Review: Find Your Focus Zone: An Effective New Plan to Defeat Distraction and Overload

I recently finished up Find Your Focus Zone: An Effective New Plan to Defeat Distraction and Overload by Lucy Jo Palladino. While it got great reviews on Amazon, I don’t recommend it. I was expecting a lot more detailed and thorough strategies and exercises to combat distraction. I guess every author comes up with some kind of analogy to build a theme around. She categorized strategies as keychains and keys, which at multiple points I found very confusing and distracting.

As with all other advice out there, the premise is to be self-aware and mindful. I don’t mean to belittle that point as it’s essential to change and improve anything (focus, weight loss, attitude, etc).

At some point on this blog, I’m going to put together a nice concise plan and advice to combat distraction. Duh, that’s the point, right?

The long story short of this book is to be mindful of your adrenaline levels. To help, you can try to visualize it on a scale of 1-10. If you are bored (adrenaline level low), and need to take on a boring task, you should look to raise the level (music, power walk, thoughts, etc). If you are too hyped up, you may need to calm down too. The idea is to find the right balance, or “zone”. HOW to get in the zone is completely left out of the book–or at least it completely escaped me. Rather the book gets you to be aware that there is a zone and has you strive to get in the zone.

There were some takeaways though, so it wasn’t a waste of time for me to read:

  • To combat avoidance (procrastination), ask “what am I NOT doing now?” And why…
  • Envision anxiety as a false alarm and ask is it rational.
  • Focus on what you can control.
  • Let goals guide you, not govern you.
  • When you notice you are losing focus, ask why.
  • To combat overload, don’t have FOMA – Fear of Missing Out

I can see why this book may be helpful to some. Like I’m sure with a lot of books, they can be either great or not depending on where you are with your knowledge of the subject at the moment.

Book Review: 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done

I finished u18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done by Peter Bregman a few weeks ago. I actually listened to it on Audible. I’ll get into it more in another post, but listening to books rather than reading neither saves time or effort.

The book was so so. I guess because it came at a point where I was looking internally to begin with, I didn’t think any of ideas were revolutionary. And like I find with many other similar books, the multi-step (with multiple steps in each step, and steps within those sub steps), it’s not very simple to follow.

The premise is you spend 18 minutes a day making sure you are doing the right things. 5 minutes in the morning to decide what will make the day successful. 1 minute every hour to pause and to access. Then 5 minutes at night to review.

To make a long story short. Be mindful. Are you wasting time? Is what you are doing now (and perhaps later) contributing to your life goals? Do your goals align with your values? And what are your goals? Are the goals meaningful?

There were some valuable takeaways and action items for me specifically that I am going to work on, which are:

  • Pursue my passions.
  • Use spare time to support my passions.
  • Focus on what I want to achieve, believe I can achieve, and enjoy trying to achieve.
  • Be more involved in group activities to build engagement with others.
  • Experience more than mundane day to day.
  • Stop thinking so much and put things into motion.

Most importantly I need to deliberately take myself out of my comfort zone at times and not be afraid to fail. So long as I can learn from mistakes and failures.

Overall the book was ok. There were valuable takeaways. A lot were known to me, but did take the book to jog them back into focus.

2012 Resolutions Update 1

I haven’t abandoned my 2012 resolutions! Here is an update.

  1. Join and attend Toastmasters.
    • Done. I’ve joined and already have given 2 impromptu “table topics” speeches. They were horrible, but that’s what I’m there to improve!
  2. Come up with and follow weekly meal plans.
    • I need to get this going. I spent a lot of time trying to find the right apps and programs to help, but I think the good old fashioned way may be best.
  3. Set up and adhere to a household budget.
    • I gave myself time with this one, which I need. I did start to carefully analyze spending. The next step is to put limits and goals on it.
  4. Start up an IRA.
    • I at least called Fidelity. I think I need to speak with an accountant or financial planner first.
  5. Finish one thing a week.
    • This got completely railroaded by being busier volunteering at my church. I really don’t want the entire list to slip. I need to re-prioritize the list and try to squeeze things in during the week rather than only the weekends.
  6. Identify and eliminate distractions and replace them with something productive and report.
    • I’ve definitely spent a lot of energy and effort in this area. I’ve even launched another blog, EndScatterbrain.com to document it.
  7. Develop skills needed for all above.
    • Definitely ongoing. Currently, I have a list of almost 40 books to read.

Besides resolutions, I’ve tried 30 day challenges too. First was trying to write stream of conscious entries every day, but I bailed in 4 days. Second was eliminating twitter, google+, etc for 30 days, which I succeeded and learned from. Right now I’m trying 30 days without hitting snooze, which I already failed but am still trying. The REAL goal should have been to pop right out of bed (not just not hitting snooze). I’m trying to get to bed earlier so I can do that easier. I can’t believe simple things can be such hard challenges.

That’s all for now.

Be Mindful and Deliberate

One tip that’s central to most advice out there is to me mindful of your actions. This applies to focus, habits, healthy living, and much more. Of course at the risk of sounding like Yogi Berra, it’s hard to be mindful if you don’t know what to be mindful of.

Lately I’ve been paying special attention to what I’m doing at the moment. What am I doing? Am I wasting time? Am I focused? What should I be focusing on?

It seems to be helping me quite a bit. My goal, of course, is to have it all come naturally.