Friday, April 30, 2010

Getting to "Aha!"

Great blog post by Mitch Ditkoff on helping the fiercely left-brained learn to be more creative. I especially appreciate his emphasis on giving linear thinkers a mental map of the brainstorming process to reduce their anxiety.

I also like his suggestion that those leading creativity sessions mention repeatedly that chaos and disorder precede breakthroughs; so many people take that wheels-coming-off moment as a sign that they're lost, rather than as evidence that they're finally beginning to get somewhere.

Most of us are heavily rewarded throughout schooling and career for being orderly, linear thinkers. Predictable. Correct. Logical!

New research (and a lot of old intuition) is showing that this left-brain approach is only a tiny part of the real capability of the brain -- and not the smartest part, either.

As trainers, we can help people trust their mental resources by giving permission to be playful, non-judgmental, and experimental. And by setting aside time for analysis and logic, when they're appropriate -- but not letting them run the show all the time.

Image via Creative Commons

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Good words

[Leonard] Bernstein was always able to take big risks. He never fell off the first rung of the ladder, he always fell off the top rung. - Stephen Sondheim

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Cheat the choke!

We've all had that horrible moment. The presentation where we suddenly can't get the words out. The big exam, and we can't remember anything we've studied. The music performance where our fingers won't work any more.

What's behind this painful self-sabotage? Jonah Lehrer discusses the latest research on his always-excellent blog, The Frontal Cortex. Choking could be described as the analytical function of the mind interfering with an "automated" action -- one that we've learned so well that our own verbal prompting impairs our ordinarily smooth operation. (Think of what happens to your golf swing when you're telling yourself, "Wrists straight! Head down!)

Surprisingly, we can actually help prevent choking by concentrating not on the details of our action but on what the experimenters called a "holistic cue word," such as "smooth" or "balanced."

This finding reminds me of a practice my teacher Cliff Missen showed me when I first learned African-style drumming. If you focus on your hands or try to count beats, you'll mess up every time. But you can keep yourself in the rhythm if you make up a little phrase (nonsense is fine) that recites your part. For example, one drummer had a rhythm that was played exactly like "I'm ex-TREME-ly late." All she had to do was mentally recite that sentence and play along.

This technique was fabulous for me, since I'm prone to verbal intrusions into everything and tend to argue and discuss with myself while I'm trying to do something else. Reciting my piece kept my overactive verbal mind happy and left my hands free to do some drumming! And usually I was able to drop the recitation at some point in the drumming session and just enjoy the groove.

As my Tibetan Buddhist teacher Ven. Tsoknyi Rinpoche used to say, "You've got to throw your mind a lamb chop to keep it happy." Another term for this process, I believe, is what Jill Bolte Taylor calls "stepping to the right": dropping the intrusive mental process of rehashing and hectoring that we call thinking, and allowing a more holistic sensibility to take over -- which it's generally dying to do!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

From the Gateless Gate

Ten thousand flowers in spring,
the moon in autumn,
a cool breeze in summer,
snow in winter.
If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things,
this is the best season of your life.

Photo by Howard Wolinsky

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Good words

We must realize, if tomorrow is going to look any better than today, that the currency for compassion isn’t what someone else does, right or wrong – it is the very fact that that person exists.

- Sharon Salzberg