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have a peaceful Christmas

Christmas should be a time of peace.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! The sound of jingle bells can be heard everywhere, everyone is in good cheer, and the world is lit up with twinkling lights. Or is it the most stressful time of the year? There’s so much to do and so much to buy, that the spirit of Christmas is often lost in the fray.

If you want to have a peaceful Christmas this year, you’ll find ten ways to achieve this below.

1. Set the Goal of Having a Peaceful Christmas. Instead of telling yourself that Christmas is a stressful and chaotic time of year, and there’s nothing that you can do about it, set the goal of having a peaceful Christmas. Once you’ve set your goal, plan how you’re going to make it happen. Then, stick to your plan, regardless of the Christmas chaos that may surround you. This will help you to stay focused on the peace and joy of Christmas, instead of muddying up your Christmas with stress and anxiety.

2. Set Holiday Limits. “Overwhelming” is a word that often describes the Holiday season. There are tons of gifts to buy, parties to go to, decorations to put up, food to prepare, and so on and so forth. At the same time, “overwhelm” is the opposite of peace.

The way to make Christmas less overwhelming is to set limits. Do the following:

  • Set a limit on the amount of gifts you’re going to buy. You can also set a limit on the amount of money you’re going to spend on those gifts.
  • Set a limit on the number of Christmas parties you’re going to attend.
  • Set a limit on the amount of Christmas activities you’re going to participate in. You don’t have to do “Elf on the Shelf”, and go Christmas caroling, and bake a gingerbread house, and put on a Christmas play, and have a Christmas village, and be the house on the street with the most Christmas lights, and so and so forth. Choose your favorite Christmas activities and just stick to those.
  • Set a limit on the amount of food you’re going to cook (and eat).

You get the picture. This time of year, limits are you friend.

3. Recite a Christmas Mantra. A mantra is a word or phrase that helps to interrupt a negative train of thought and focus the mind on something positive. When you find yourself thinking, “I’ll never find time to do everything I have to do before the 25th”, or “I just wish the holidays were over”, switch your focus by repeating your Christmas mantra.

Choose a mantra that reminds you of the joy of the season. Here are some ideas:

  • “I hold Christmas in my heart.”
  • “Joy to the world, the Lord is come.”
  • “Peace on earth and goodwill toward all people.”

4. Add Some Fun to Your Christmas Chores. Let’s face it, Christmas involves a lot of chores that most of us would rather not have to do. Here are some examples:

  • Driving to the mall in horrible traffic.
  • Deep cleaning the house in preparation for the family Christmas dinner you’ll be hosting.
  • Wrapping presents.

Ask yourself how you can make these things fun. After all, it’s easier to feel peaceful when you’re enjoying yourself. Here are some ideas:

  • If you’re stuck in Christmas traffic with your kids in the car whining that they’re bored, start a “Christmas Scavenger Hunt”. No one will care that you’re moving at a snail’s pace once they’re each trying to be the first to find a snowman, Rudolph, a nativity scene, or a candy cane.
  • Cleaning can be made fun–or at least a little less awful–by playing Christmas music and singing along loudly. In addition, clean in fifteen minute bursts, followed by fifteen minutes of watching Christmas specials.
  • Turn wrapping presents into a fun social event by doing it with a group of friends. Have some easy to prepare snacks available, like a cheese board, grapes, and some cookies (store-bought cookies are fine). And, of course, eggnog spiked with rum can turn almost anything into a joyful occasion. :-)

5. Set Aside Five Minutes Each Morning. Set aside five minutes each morning to sit quietly with a cup of Christmas blend coffee and just breath. Use this time to ground yourself and prepare for the day that is to come. Beginning each day peacefully will help you to carry that peace with you for the rest of the day.

6. Create a Christmas Gratitude List. Christmas can remind us of what we don’t have.

If there’s someone who’s no longer in your life, it may make you sad to think of spending Christmas without them. Also, the season has turned very commercial, and you may find yourself wishing you had more money to spend on gifts and lavish decorations.

However, thinking of what you don’t have is a peace-sucking, pointless activity that you should refrain from at all costs. Instead, count your blessings by creating a Christmas gratitude list. Here are some ideas:

  • List the Christmas activities you’ll be participating in that you’re really looking forward to.
  • List the people you’ll be spending time with.
  • List the sights, sounds, and tastes of Christmas that you love.

Each time your mind wanders and you start to think of what you’ll be lacking this Christmas, refer to your gratitude list and refocus your mind on all of the wonderful things that Christmas brings.

7. Schedule Your Christmas Activities. Once you’ve carefully selected the Christmas activities that you’ll be participating in this year, schedule them. There’s nothing that will rob you of your peace of mind faster than trying to find a turkey on the 23rd of December, or running around a store on the 24th desperately trying to finish shopping for presents.

In addition, make sure that your schedule isn’t jam-packed. If it is, refer back to the second point in this blog post (setting limits).

8. Choose Your Reactions This Christmas Season. It doesn’t matter how well prepared you are to have a peaceful Christmas, you’re going to come across rude and boorish people who will make it very hard to remain peaceful. Plus, something with almost certainly go wrong.

However, know that nothing can interfere with your peaceful Christmas if you don’t let it. Look at the following:

  • If someone pushes ahead of you in line, remind yourself that the problem is their lack of manners. Their reprehensible behavior has nothing to do with you. In other words, don’t take things personally.
  • If you hear of a Christmas party that a friend is throwing which you weren’t invited to, be grateful that you have one less event to attend. That is, choose to interpret everything in the most favorable light you can.
  • If you discover that your Christmas lights no longer work, tell yourself that you would have preferred that they work, but your happiness and peace of mind are not dependent on whether or not the Christmas lights light up.

You can’t control what happens around you, but you can control how you react to it. Choose to react to your environment in a way that is conducive to having a peaceful Christmas.

9. Avoid Situations that You Know Will Rob You of Your Peace of Mind. There are two types of difficult situations: those that can’t be avoided, and those that can. For the former, refer to the previous point. For the latter, follow a strategy of avoidance.

Here are some examples:

  • If there’s a relative who belittles your accomplishments every Christmas, don’t invite them to your Christmas dinner. This may seem harsh, but there’s no reason to put up with toxic people, especially at Christmas.
  • If there’s a store in which the shopping attendants are routinely rude, avoid that shop at all costs.
  • If there’s a time of day in which the shops are packed, shop at a different time.

If you plan well, many difficult situations can be avoided. After all, why put yourself in situations that will put your resolve of having a peaceful Christmas at risk?

10. Simplify Your Christmas. There may be one or two things you’ll want to go all out for this Christmas. For everything else, embrace simplicity. Look at the following:

  • Do you lack the time to wrap presents? Get some nice gift bags and just use those.
  • Are you racking your brain trying to come up with gift ideas? Just call up the people on your gift-giving list and ask them what they want.
  • Is the turkey recipe you were planning to follow incredibly elaborate? Choose a simpler recipe.

Whenever you start to feel stressed this holiday season, just ask yourself: “How can I simplify this?” After all, peace and simplicity go hand-in-hand.


This year, set the goal of having a Christmas filled with peace. Use the ten points above as inspiration for achieving this goal. Live your best life by having a peaceful Christmas.

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gratitude prompts

Use these prompts to make an inventory of the things you’re grateful for.

I’ve already written about the benefits of gratitude, of which there are many. Although we should be grateful all year round, November is often recognized as the month for giving thanks. The Thanksgiving holiday on the last Thursday of this month is often a time for taking inventory of just how blessed we are.

A  couple of Novembers ago I published a post that contains 22 gratitude exercises. One of those exercises is to create an inventory of 100 things that you’re grateful for. To help you with this exercise, I’ve created a set of prompts which I’ve published below. I’ve included my answers to the prompts to give you some inspiration. Your answers can be more detailed and specific, if you’d like. You can also choose to include images and a short explanation of why you’re grateful for each of the things that you include on your list.

Here’s a collection of prompts for giving thanks to help you create a list of 100 things that you’re grateful for:

three things I hear

three things I see

three things I smell

three things i touch

three things I taste

three blue thingsthree animalsthree friendsthree teachersthree family membersthree things in my homethree people who hired methree tripsthree physical activitiesthree holidaysthree booksthree character traitsthree strangersthree things to wearthree technological gadgetsthree things I take for grantedthree tv showsthree things I'm good atthree opportunitiesthree luxuriesthree life lessonsthree service peoplethree simple pleasuresthree giftsthree goalsthree fond memoriesthank you ahead of time


I hope the prompts above help you to create your own list of 100 things to be grateful for. Live your best life by giving thanks.

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free online resources for learning french

“Learning a new language is becoming a member of the club -the community of speakers of that language.” ‒Frank Smith.

I’m learning French, using my one-hour-a-day formula, so I’ve spent some time researching the best free online resources for learning French that are available. Here are 30 great resources I found (for those of you who have always dreamed of speaking French):

1. Duolingo. Duolingo had to be on this list — it’s one of the most popular free online resources for learning a new language. The site teaches several languages, including French. Duolingo provides extensive written lessons and dictation, and uses gamification to make learning fun. I’ve used it a bit. Although I wouldn’t use it as a primary learning tool, I did download the Duolingo app and plan to play with it whenever I have some spare time.

2. Imagiers.net. Imaginers,net is the most popular YouTube channel for learning French. You’ll be learning French with Vincent, who has a very pleasant voice. The lessons are short, sweet, and to the point.

Sometimes he’ll combine several of his videos, which end up being marathon-learning sessions. I would skip those.

3. Learn French with Alexa. The second most popular YouTube channel for learning French is Learn French with Alexa. Alexa is a French woman who lives in the UK. She talks a lot, but she’s good at explaining things. I would definitely recommend her videos.

4. Dictations. In addition, if you visit Alexa’s site you’ll find a series of free dictations. She reads a passage slowly so that you can write it down and practice your French comprehension and writing skills.

5. Aldebert. Listening to French music is a great way to learn French. Aldebert is a French singer who sings children’s songs which are fun and easy to understand, even if you’re in the early stages of learning French. Several of his songs can be found on YouTube.

My favorite, so far, is “J’ai Peur Du Noir” (I’m scared of the dark).

6. Stromae. If you don’t like listening to children’s songs, there’s always Stromae. I love “Alors on Danse” (So We Just Dance), which reached number one on the European Hot 100 Singles. Other great songs by Stromae include “Papaoutai” and “Tous Les Mêmes“.

When I listen to Stromae I’m reminded of how often French people make that noise that sounds as if they were clearing their throat (the French “R”).  Incidentally, there’s a good explanation of how to pronounce the French “R” here.

7. Le Huffington Post.  Le Huffington Post is the French version of–you guessed it–The Huffington Post. It’s a great resource for reading articles in French. You may want to start with the lifestyle section C’est La Vie.

8. Memrise. The people over at the Memrise web site claim that they use science to make learning easier and fun. In their A1 French course they promise to teach you “All the French vocabulary and grammar you need to be conversational in French.

9. Anki. I mentioned Anki in my blog post titled “21 Fantastic Tips and Hacks for Learning a Foreign Language“. It’s a spaced repetition flashcard program which will help you memorize vocabulary words faster than using traditional memorization techniques.

10. Quizlet. Quizlet is another online flashcard program. It lets you play games to make learning fun and take tests to measure your progress.

11. About – Learn French. The site about.com has many incredibly good articles on learning French. I use it regularly as a reference to look up anything I’m not sure about, or to clarify any grammatical rules that I find confusing.

12. Learn French in Context. The About.com site also offers bilingual stories that allow you to read the text in French and English side by side.

13. BBC -Learn French. The material on the BBC – Learn French site is very good, even though it is no longer updated.

14. Carnegie Mellon French Courses. Carnegie Mellon University–located in in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania–is a very good US college. They have a free French I and French II course online.

15. FSI. The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) is the United States Federal Government’s primary training institution for employees of the U.S. foreign affairs community. They have public domain versions of their language courses available online. These are the courses they offer in French:

16. Collins Online Dictionary. You can use the Collins Online Dictionary to look up words in French and translate them into English, or the other way around. The dictionary offers audio and the word for is each entry is spelled in the International Phonetic Alphabet to help you with pronunciation.

17. Google Translate. Google Translate allows you to type in text in one language and it will translate it into the language of your choice. An alternative is the Collins Free Online Translator.

18. Easy Languages. Easy Languages is a YouTube channel which will allow you to learn French by listening to  authentic street interviews. The interview questions are fun topics like “What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?” or “What were your childhood dreams, and did they come true?”

19. Children’s Books Forever. You’ve probably heard that reading is a great way to learn a new language. And when you’re just starting out, the best thing you can do is to read children’s books. At Children’s Books Forever youi’ll find free children’s books in French.

20. 1000 Most Common French Words. If you want to get the most bang for your buck, start learning French by learning the 1000 most common French words. You’ll find a list of those words here.

21. LearnWithOliver. I get an email in my inbox every day from LearnWithOliver. It’s free, and it allows me to learn a few new words and see how they’re used in a sentence. (They also have a premium service, but it comes with a price tag.)

22. French Pod 101. French Pod 101 is a modern learning suite which includes audio and video lessons. The free account gives you access to the 10 most recent lessons.

23. The French Experiment. The French Experiment offers well-known children’s stories–such as the Three Little Pigs–translated into French and spoken by a native French speaker. You can read along in French or English.

24. Lang-8. Lang-8 is a free language-exchange social network. Submit text in any language that you’re learning and a native speaker of that language will correct it and leave useful comments and feedback.

25. Forvo. If there’s any word in your target language that you’re not sure how to pronounce, all you need to do is visit the Forvo web site. Forvo is the largest pronunciation guide website on the Internet, and was listed as one of Time Magazine’s 50 best websites of 2013.

26. Rhino-Spike. Rhino-Spike allows you to submit text in a language that you’re trying to learn and a native speaker of that language will read the text out loud and sent you an audio file.

27. French-Test-com. French-Test.com allows you to test your knowledge of the French language so that you can gauge your progress. (I love this site!)

28. Tex’s French Grammar. The University of Texas has a nice outline of French grammar online. It’s good for getting a nice overview without drowning in the details.

29. Coffee Break French. Coffee Break French offers short French lessons which you can listen to during your coffee break. Like many other sites, it offers a free version and a paid version.

30. The French Tutorial. The French Tutorial offers a 15-chapter step-by-step course. The lessons are very short, but helpful.


If you know of any other great, free online resources for learning French, please let me know through Twitter. My Twitter handle is @Marelisa.

With all of these great free online resources available, there’s no excuse for not starting to learn French before the end of the year! All you need is one-hour-a-day.

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how to prepare yourself for success

To succeed, you have to prepare.

In her fabulous book, Do Less, Achieve More, Chin-Ning Chu tells the story of a night in the 1960’s in which Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds were having dinner together. At that time, while Clint had already played major roles in several successful films and was recognized as an international star, Burt was still a struggling actor.

Burt asked Clint how he had gotten his big break and Clint answered:

“I prepared myself for success”.

Burt understood the principle contained in these words, he applied it, and he soon joined Clint as one of Hollywood’s biggest stars. Here’s a quote from the section of “Do Less, Achieve More” in which Chi-Ning Chu talks about this conversation between Eastwood and Reynolds:

“Before the Angel of Success arrives in your life, you should devote yourself to preparing your welcome for her. Polish your craft and strengthen your body to be fit so that you can do your job and enjoy success when it comes. Sharpen your mind and spirit so they are ready to face the challenges that accompany a visitation from the Angel of Success.

“If you are not ready when the angel knocks, she will flee. And who knows when she will make it back around to your door again?”

Below you’ll find several tips and examples on how to prepare yourself so that when success is standing at your door you’ll be ready to welcome her in and offer her a seat at your table.

Create a Clear Vision of What You Want to Achieve

In his book 100 Ways to Motivate Yourself Steve Chandler narrates that in 1976 he was a sports columnist for the “Tucson Citizen”. He was assigned to conduct an interview with some unknown actor who had just retired from bodybuilding named Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Schwarzenegger was in Tucson publicizing the movie “Stay Hungry” which he had just made with Jeff Bridges and Sally Fields, and which was turning out to be a big box office disappointment. At one point during the interview Chandler asked Schwarzenegger: “So, what do you plan to do next?”  Schwarzenegger calmly answered:

“I’m going to be the number-one box-office star in all of Hollywood”.

Keep in mind that when this interview took place Schwarzenegger had just left bodybuilding and he was huge and awkward.  There was also the matter of his very noticeable Austrian accent.  And, to top it all off, his first movie was doing rather poorly.

Chandler–trying hard to keep a straight face–asked Schwarzenegger just how he was planning to become Hollywood’s top star.  Schwarzenegger answered that he was going to follow the same process he used in bodybuilding.  He explained the process as follows:

“What you do is create a vision of who you want to be, and then live into that picture as if it were already true.”

Years later, the box office receipts from his second “Terminator” movie made Schwarzenegger the most popular box office draw in the world.  Having a clear vision of what you want to achieve, and constantly visualizing yourself as having achieved your goal, is a great way to prepare for success.

Act “As If” You’re Already a Success

Chris Guillebeau has a very successful blog titled “The Art of Nonconformity”. He sells guides from his blog explaining how to create freedom and how to be a travel ninja. In addition, he recently completed his quest to visit every country in the world before his 35th birthday.

A while back Chris wrote a free manifesto called “279 Days to Overnight Success” in which he explains how he became a full time writer in under a year.

One of the success secrets he shares is to “act as if”. Using blogging as an example, even if you have a tiny blog with very few readers, act as if you have thousands of readers.  That is, post regularly, give great care to the topics you choose to write about, and make sure that you provide lots of value in each post.

You’ll probably never have a lot of readers if your attitude is the following:

  • “Well, this post isn’t all that great, but there’s really no use in spending lots of time to write an awesome post when I really don’t have that many readers anyway.”
  • “I’ll save my really good stuff for when I have more readers.”
  • “I’m kind of busy this week so I won’t post anything, but I’ll make sure to post three times a week once my blog is popular”.

You can’t wait until you’re successful and until you have a large audience to start doing your very best.  Instead, you become successful and you gain a large following by producing top quality work even when you’re tiny.  This concept applies to everything, not just blogging.

In order to be successful, act as if you’re already successful.

Have Something at Stake

I wrote about Roger von Oech and his Creative Whack Pack in my last post. One of the cards in the Creative Whack Pack is titled “Have Something at Stake”. On that card, von Oech tells the story of a frozen-fish processor who was having trouble getting repeat sales of its new line of frozen fish.

After asking for feedback they discovered that the problem was that their customers didn’t like the taste of the fish. Specifically, they stated that it tasted “flat”. The company proceeded to try everything it could think of to keep the fish fresh, but to no avail. They weren’t able to improve the taste of the fish, and repeat sales continued to be low.

A short while later an expert on the natural history of fish happened by. The man offered one comment: “Why don’t you put a predator in there with them? That should keep them fresh.”

The company followed his advice, and it paid off. Since the fish had to keep moving around in order to keep from being eaten, they retained their vitality. Sure, there was some loss, but the increase in repeat business more than offset it.

The moral of the story is that you have to have something at stake. Most people are great at coming up with all sorts of excuses for not doing what needs to be done. They tell themselves things like the following:

  • “I’ll take this project seriously when I have more time.”
  • “I’ll wait until I feel more inspired.”
  • “I’ll can take it slow; there’s no rush.”
  • “There’s always next week (month, year, decade).”

As a result of this line of thinking, they never put enough effort into whatever it is that they’re trying to achieve, so they don’t get very far in achieving their goals.

In order to succeed you need to light a fire under your butt (you know the word that really goes here). And the way to light a fire is to have something at stake—self-esteem, money, reputation, and so on. To prepare yourself to succeed, raise the ante.

More Tips to Prepare to Succeed

Here are some more ways to prepare for success:

  • Constantly plant seeds for your future success.
  • Always seek to create value.
  • Know that what you focus on expands.  Stop focusing on your set-backs.
  • Make sure to be well-groomed and well-dressed.
  • Invest in yourself: read good books, attend seminars, and learn all you can.
  • Take care of your body: exercise, eat well, and get enough sleep.
  • Surround yourself with people who are more successful than you are.
  • Release fear of failure.
  • Each day do the best you can with what you have.
  • Be gracious to everyone you meet.
  • Be as happy for the success of others as you are of your own.
  • Honor your worth.
  • Take responsibility for yourself.
  • Demonstrate ease: stop complaining, stop making excuses, don’t overreact to problems, don’t promise more than you can deliver, and don’t take on more than you can do.
  • Know what is unacceptable to you and communicate boundaries.
  • Give yourself permission to be and do what you want.
  • Follow your inner guidance.
  • Expect success.


When the angel of success knocks on your door, will you be ready? Or will your lack of readiness cause her to flee? Live your best life by preparing yourself for success.

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constraints and limitations

Constraints set you free.

Most people see constraints and limitations as something negative which stops them from achieving their dreams. They tell themselves that they would write their novel, start their business, or travel more, if they had the time and the money, or if this or that weren’t in the way. But what if the opposite were true? What if constraints were a good thing?

Igor Stravinsky–one of the most important and influential composers of the 20th century–once said the following: “The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one’s self. And the arbitrariness of the constraint serves only to obtain precision of execution.” A lack of constraints is paralyzing. You have too many choices; there are too many possibilities. Constraints and limitations, on the other hand, give you structure and set boundaries which allow you to channel your creativity and direct it toward the goal that you’re trying to achieve.

Here are ten examples that illustrate how constrains and limitations are good for productivity and creativity:

1. Quick Prototypes. Marissa Ann Mayer, the current president and CEO of Yahoo!, explains that “Constraints shape and focus problems and provide clear challenges to overcome.” Mayer adds that when she was vice-president for search products and user experience at Google, she would create constraints such as the following:

  • She would limit prototyping to a week, and sometimes even to one day.
  • She would limit the size of teams working on a prototype to three people.

Mayer indicates that by taking ideas and working on them with a small team for a short period of time, they could quickly determine whether it was a good idea or not. If it looked like it was a good idea, then they would run with it.

However, if the quick prototype showed that the idea probably wasn’t going to work, they would discard the idea. Discarding the idea wasn’t too painful since they’d only made a small investment in it.

This strategy–creating people and time constraints–helped them move rapidly through ideas and pick the winners.

2.  Word Limit. Green Eggs and Ham is a much loved classic by the world-renown Dr. Seuss. Lots of kids have learned to read with the help of Sam-I-am. What you may not know is that when Dr. Seuss started writing the book he had a constraint of using only 50 unique words.

The constraint was created as a result of a bet that he made in 1960 with Bennett Cerf, the co-founder of Random House.  And the bet paid off: Green Eggs and Ham went on to become Dr. Seuss’s bestselling book.

3. Budgetary Constraints. Here’s a quote from my eBook, “How to Be More Creative: A Handbook for Alchemists“, which shows how budgetary constraints can be a good thing:

In “The Houdini Solution: Why Thinking Inside the Box is the Key to Creativity”, Ernie Schenck explains that almost everything in our lives is a box. That is, life is full of limits, lines, and boundaries.  This applies to our relationships, our jobs, where we live, our bank accounts, and so 0n.  The question then becomes: how can we be more creative within the confines of our lives?  Ernie argues that limitations are not inhibitors, but liberators.

He gives the example of “The Blair Witch Project” which is a horror film made for about $50,000.00; it ended up grossing over $240 million worldwide.  The budget constraints were actually what made the movie so successful: the whole movie is told through the “recovered footage” of three young filmmakers who went into the woods to film a documentary about a local legend known as the Blair Witch, and who subsequently go missing and are never found again.

This film making process–telling the story through a faux black-and-white documentary filmed by inexperienced students–is precisely what adds the element of eeriness and horror to the film which makes it so effective in freaking out audiences.

One of the actors of “The Blair Witch Project” remarked that “The constraints of this film became the essence of this film, which became the power of this film.” The makers of “The Blair Witch Project” didn’t allow the box, that is, their limitations, to defeat them. Instead, they allowed their limitations to shape and mold their vision into something it would never have become if they had had the budget to use the best equipment available and hire A-list actors.

4. Time Limits. It’s almost time for NaNoWriMo — a challenge which encourages people to write a novel during the month of November. Some might think that trying to write a novel in 30 days is nuts. However, it’s worked for hundreds of thousands of writers.

The time constraint created by NaNoWriMo does all of the following for a would-be writer who keeps dilly-dallying instead of writing:

  • It forces them to get started.
  • It gets them to find ways to make time for writing.
  • It teaches discipline and helps to develop the habit of writing.
  • It helps them to get out of their own head and just write.

Taking the NaNoWriMo challenge is a great way to stop thinking about writing a novel, and just getting it done.

5. Constraints as Building Blocks. Creative genius Frank Gehry is known for his eclectic postmodern designs, including the Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. Gehry has said that constraints are the cornerstones of his creativity.

In fact, he once remarked that one of his greatest architectural challenges was the time he was asked to design a house with zero constraints. Gehry says the following:

“I had a horrible time with it. I had to look in the mirror a lot. ‘Who am I? Why am I doing this? What is this all about?’ It’s better to have some problem to work on. I think we turn those constraints into action.”

Having to follow strict standards–such as the acoustics at Disney Hall–are precisely what inspires Gehry’s award-winning designs. Instead of seeing constraints as obstacles, Gehry sees them as building blocks.

6. Limit the Scope. In my ebook, The One-Hour-A-Day Formula–I write about David Gaffney. Gaffney wanted to become a writer. However, he felt that he didn’t have the time to write. Then, he decided to stop making excuses and use his time constraint to his advantage.

Although he couldn’t write a novel in the time he had, he could make time to write one 150-word story a day. He wrote a bunch of these tiny stories and he published them. His collections of short stories sell well, and Gaffney achieved his dream of becoming a writer. He did this by using the limitations he was facing and twisting them in his favor.

7. Think Inside the Box. Roger von Oech, author and creativity consultant, argues that he does some of his best thinking not when his thinking outside the box, but when he’s in the box. That is, when he has a tight set of guidelines that he has to follow. Von Oech uses his Creative Whack Pack as an example of this.

Von Oech indicates that he had always wanted to take his sixty-four creative thinking strategies and boil them down so that each one could fit on a card. That way, he could create a card deck that businesses could use to become more innovative. This was difficult to do since cards are small and there’s very little space to work with.

However, von Oech explains that this space limitation is precisely what allowed him to create a tool which can be quickly pulled out during meetings and be put to use in solving problems and generating ideas. After all, the limited space forced him to get to the essence of each creative strategy and write it down like a catchy motto.  Presented in this way, his strategies are easy to grasp and to apply.

8. Force Yourself. Jack White, who’s most famous for being the lead singer of The White Stripes, is known for intentionally putting limitations on himself and forcing himself to work within certain boundaries. Here’s Jack White on inspiration v. constraints:

  • “Force yourself . . . book only four or five days in a studio and force yourself to record an album in that time. Deadlines make you creative . . . telling yourself, ‘Oh, you have all the time in the world, you have all the money in the world, all the palettes in the color you want, anything you want’, that just kills creativity.”

In addition to the constraints White mentions in the quote above, he also uses low-quality instruments that he has to fight with to get the sound and attitude he wants. To him, constraints and creativity go hand-in-hand.

9. Think Like a Poet. Most poetry still depends on literary forms with exacting requirements. For example, a haiku consists of 3 lines. In addition, the first and last lines of a haiku have 5 syllables and the middle line has 7 syllables.

It sounds like having to work within these boundaries limits creativity, doesn’t it? Actually, no, it doesn’t. It’s precisely those limits which help to both stimulate the artist’s imagination and focus their thinking, both of which are necessary for creativity.

10. The 10/20/30 Rule. Silicon Valley marketing executive and venture capitalist Guy Kawasaki is an evangelist for something he calls the 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint. He argues that in order to create effective PowerPoint presentations you need to adhere to the following limits:

  • A PowerPoint presentation should have ten slides.
  • It should last no more than twenty minutes.
  • It should contain no font smaller than thirty points.

In order to adhere to the limits set by Kawasaki you really have to know what you’re talking about. After all, you can’t hide behind a wall of meaningless words and phrases.

In addition, you have to pick out the most salient points of your presentation and find a way to communicate them to your audience effectively. Lastly, limiting your presentation to 20 minutes helps you make sure that you keep your audience’s attention.

Instead of being a hindrance, the limits sets by the 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint give you a formula to follow which will greatly increase your chances of having the audience respond favorably to your call of action.


Instead of telling yourself that the constraints you face are stopping you from achieving your dreams, use those constraints to set you free. Live your best life by using constraints to your advantage.

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frightful quotes

“There are such beings as vampires . . . “ Bram Stoker’s Dracula

In the spirit of Halloween, which is almost upon us, here are 10 frightful quotes from great works of literature:

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow – Washington Irving

1. “Local tales and superstitions thrive best in these sheltered, long settled retreats; but are trampled under foot, by the shifting throng that forms the population of most of our country places. Besides, there is no encouragement for ghosts in most of our villages, for they have scarce had time to finish their first nap, and turn themselves in their graves, before their surviving friends have traveled away from the neighborhood, so that when they turn out of a night to walk the rounds, they have no acquaintance left to call upon. This is perhaps the reason why we so seldom hear of ghosts except in our long established Dutch communities.”


2. “The chief part of the stories, however, turned upon the favorite spectre of Sleepy Hollow, the Headless Horseman, who had been heard several times of late, patrolling the country; and, it was said, tethered his horse nightly among the graves in the churchyard.”


3. “On mounting a rising ground, which brought the figure of his fellow-traveller in relief against the sky, gigantic in height, and muffled in a cloak, Ichabod was horror-struck on perceiving that he was headless!–but his horror was still more increased on observing that the head, which should have rested on his shoulders, was carried before him on the pommel of his saddle!”

Dracula – Bram Stoker

4. “The castle is on the very edge of a terrible precipice. A stone falling from the window would fall a thousand feet without touching anything! As far as the eye can reach is a sea of green tree tops, with occasionally a deep rift where there is a chasm. Here and there are silver threads where the rivers wind in deep gorges through the forests.

“But I am not in heart to describe beauty, for when I had seen the view I explored further; doors, doors, doors everywhere, and all locked and bolted. In no place save from the windows in the castle walls is there an available exit.

“The castle is a veritable prison, and I am a prisoner!”


5. “I was afraid to raise my eyelids, but looked out and saw perfectly under the lashes. The girl went on her knees, and bent over me, simply gloating. There was a deliberate voluptuousness which was both thrilling and repulsive, and as she arched her neck, she actually licked her lips like an animal. . . . Lower and lower went her head as the lips went below the range of my mouth and chin and seemed about to fasten on my throat. . . . I closed my eyes in a languorous ecstasy and waited—waited with beating heart.”


6. “There are such beings as vampires, some of us have evidence that they exist. Even had we not the proof of our own unhappy experience, the teachings and the records of the past give proof enough for sane peoples.”

Frankenstein – Mary Shelley

7. “I beheld the wretch — the miserable monster whom I had created. He held up the curtain of the bed; and his eyes, if eyes they may be called, were fixed on me. His jaws opened, and he muttered some inarticulate sounds, while a grin wrinkled his cheeks. He might have spoken, but I did not hear; one hand was stretched out, seemingly to detain me, but I escaped and rushed downstairs. I took refuge in the courtyard belonging to the house which I inhabited, where I remained during the rest of the night, walking up and down in the greatest agitation, listening attentively, catching and fearing each sound as if it were to announce the approach of the demoniacal corpse to which I had so miserably given life.”


8. “I am alone and miserable; man will not associate with me; but one as deformed and horrible as myself would not deny herself to me. My companion must be of the same species and have the same defects. This being you must create.”

The Raven – Edgar Allan Poe

9. “Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
‘Tis some visitor,’ I muttered, ‘tapping at my chamber door —
Only this, and nothing more.'”

Macbeth – William Shakespeare

10. First Witch: “Round about the cauldron go;
In the poison’d entrails throw.
Toad, that under cold stone
Days and nights has thirty-one
Swelter’d venom sleeping got,
Boil thou first i’ the charmed pot.”

ALL: “Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.”

Second Witch:  “Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg and owlet’s wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.”

ALL: “Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.”

Third Witch: “Scale of dragon, tooth of wolf,
Witches’ mummy, maw and gulf
Of the ravin’d salt-sea shark,
Root of hemlock digg’d i’ the dark,
Liver of blaspheming Jew,
Gall of goat, and slips of yew
Silver’d in the moon’s eclipse,
Nose of Turk and Tartar’s lips,
Finger of birth-strangled babe
Ditch-deliver’d by a drab,
Make the gruel thick and slab:
Add thereto a tiger’s chaudron,
For the ingredients of our cauldron.”

ALL: “Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.”

Second Witch: “Cool it with a baboon’s blood,
Then the charm is firm and good.”

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reading benefits youReading is an easy way to enlarge your world.

As I’ve already mentioned a few times on this blog, I’ve started a “be well-read project”. Since the last time I mentioned it, I’ve read a few more books, including the following:

  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
  • The Time of The Hero by Mario Vargas Llosa
  • Pedro Páramo by Juan Rulfo
  • Hopscotch by Julio Cortázar

All four books are fantastic and, if you haven’t read them, I highly recommend that you do so. Since I’m currently in reading-mode, I decided to write a post on the benefits of reading–of which there are many. Below you’ll discover 13 ways in which reading will improve your life.

1. Enter the Flow State. The flow state is the experience of being fully immersed in the activity that you’re carrying out. Time seems to stand still, and you feel as if you’ve become one with whatever it is that you’re doing. This state has been linked by positive psychologists to happiness. That is, the more often you’re able to reach the state of flow, the happier you are.

Reading is one of the activities that produces the state of flow. When you’re fully engrossed in a book, all of your attention is placed on its pages. This means that there’s no attention left over to listen to the little voice in your head, which is absolutely blissful.

When was the last time a loud noise interrupted your reading, and you were startled to suddenly find yourself in your living room, instead of sitting on a bamboo mat in a Japanese tea house, or walking along the English moors? That’s the state of flow.

2. Reduce Stress. Research shows that reading for just six minutes can reduce stress by as much as 68%. In fact, relaxing by reading reduces stress better and faster than other common stress-busting methods, such as listening to music, going for a walk, or having a cup of tea.

Psychologists believe this is because the distraction of being taken into a book’s world eases the tension in muscles and the heart. Cognitive neuropsychologist Dr. David Lewis, who conducted the research, said: “Losing yourself in a book is the ultimate relaxation.”

3. Gain Knowledge. When you read you’re filling your head with all sorts of knowledge, and knowledge has a way of coming in handy when you least expect it . . . at cocktails parties, during job interviews, when meeting your future in-laws, and so on.

However, having lots of knowledge doesn’t just make you a brilliant conversationalist and help your job prospects. The amount, and the type, of knowledge that you have largely determines your ability to make your way in the world. As Dr. Seuss once wrote:

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

4. Expand Your Vocabulary. There’s no better way to gain a fuller, richer vocabulary than by reading. Do you know what bedraggle, omphalos, and ineluctable mean? No? I don’t either. But if we had read “Ulysses” by James Joyce, according to this blogger, we would know (it’s on my reading list; I just haven’t gotten around to it yet).

5. Understand Literary References. The other day I was reading an article about J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” which said that the Ents–a race which closely resembles trees–were inspired by the coming of ‘Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill’. I understood what that meant, but only because I recently read Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

By reading the literary canon–those books which an educated person is presumed to have read–you’ll make sure that literary references won’t go over your head.

6. Become a Better Writer. Whether you’re an aspiring novelist, you want to start a blog, or you have to write reports for your job, you’ll want to become a better writer. And the best way to become a better writer is to read.

7. As An Act of Self-Discovery. In his essay “Why Read”, Mark Edmundsun refers to a passage in Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time which reflects Proust’s hope that by reading his books, people will encounter aspects of themselves which had previously remained unexplored. Here’s the passage:

“It seemed to me that they would not be ‘my’ readers but readers of their own selves, my book being merely a sort of magnifying glass like those which the optician at Combray used to offer his customers—it would be my book but with it I would furnish them the means of reading what lay inside themselves. So that I would not ask them to praise me or to censure me, but simply to tell me whether ‘it really is like that’, whether the words that they read within themselves are the same as those which I have written.”

8. Feel Understood. John Green once said that “Great books help you understand, and they help you feel understood.”

When I read this it reminded me of a great quote I found a long time ago–which, unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find again. It basically said that when an author writes about how they feel, and you feel the same way, but you thought that no one else did, it’s as if a hand reaches out from the book and holds yours.

One way in which reading can help you to feel understood is through memoirs. A memoir written by someone who’s similar to you, or who has gone through a situation that resembles what you’re currently dealing with, can help you to think:

  • “Thank goodness, it’s not just me.”
  • “Others have gotten through this, and so will I.”

And this can have a profound effect on your psyche.

9. Learn About Different Cultures. The latest book I’ve read is “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe, one of the most widely read and studied African novels ever written.

Set in the 1890’s, it paints a vivid picture of pre-colonial Africa, and what happened in the Igbo society of Nigeria at the time of its colonization by the British. In addition, it’s written from an African perspective, instead of the usual white man’s account.

10. Mental Stimulation. When you’re reading a book you have to keep up with all of the different characters, their backgrounds, and their ambitions. In addition, you have to remember who did what to whom, make inferences and predictions from subtle clues, and even reach your own conclusions. To say the least, reading keeps your brain on its toes.

As I wrote above, I recently read The Time of the Hero. It has several narrators–including one whose identity you don’t discover until the end of the book. In addition, Vargas Llosa uses internal monologues as a literary device. It’s a brilliant book, but it asks the reader to do a lot of work in order to understand what’s going on.

I honestly think I’m smarter for having read that book.

11. Have More Life. Literary critic Harold Bloom argues that you should read to have more life:

  • To come to know more people than you could ever meet;
  • To have more intense visions of love and fate;
  • To experience more bliss and woe than you’re likely to experience otherwise.

To quote William Styron:

“A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading.”

After all, the brain can’t make a real distinction between reading about an experience and actually living it. Whether reading or experiencing it, the same neurological regions are stimulated. If you want a hundred different lifetimes, read a hundred different books.

Whoever said that you only live once clearly wasn’t a book lover.

12. Learn to Focus Your Attention. As I explain in my post, Nine Things That Are Making You Dumber, most of us spend a large part of our day searching and surfing the internet. This keeps our brains in constant motion, which scatters our thinking.

Reading, on the other hand, focuses our attention. At the same time, focused attention is necessary for richness of thought.

In “The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains,” technology writer Nicholas Carr states that he can feel his thinking getting more shallow because of the Internet. He says the following:

“Over the last few years, I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. . .  Once I was a scuba diver in a sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.”

If you care about your own ability to think deeply, read.

13. Become More Socially Adept. The journal Science published an extraordinary study a couple of years back showing that reading literary fiction can improve people’s ability to understand others’ mental states. In turn, being able to detect and understand other people’s emotions is a crucial skill in navigating complex social relationships.

Why would reading literary fiction improve your social skills? “The researchers say the reason is that literary fiction often leaves more to the imagination, encouraging readers to make inferences about characters and be sensitive to emotional nuance and complexity.”

So, if you want to sharpen your ability to understand others’ emotions, pick up a copy of Anna Karenina or Great Expectations.


As an adult, it can be hard to find time to read. However, I hope that the 13 benefits of reading which I explain above have persuaded you to move reading higher up on your list of priorities. Live your best life by reading more.

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skill acquisition

Learning is a skill; it’s a skill that can be improved.

There are many reasons why you may want to learn a new skill. Here are just a few of them:

  • To get a promotion at work.
  • To move into a different field.
  • To keep your mind sharp.
  • Because it’s exciting and empowering to learn new skills.

In addition, the sky’s the limit when it comes to choosing a new skill to learn. Here are just some possibilities:

  • Do you want to learn another language?
  • Do you want to learn to play tennis?
  • Do you want to learn to draw?
  • Do you want to learn to play the piano, the guitar, the drums, or some other musical instrument?
  • Do you want to learn to code?

Whatever skill it is that you want to learn, you’ll find 30 tips for learning it faster below.

1. Pick the Right Skill. There are probably lots of skills that you want to learn. However, this doesn’t mean that you should try to learn all of them. It’s much more likely that you’ll persevere in your attempts to learn some skills more than others.

When are you most likely to persevere in your attempt to learn a new skill? You’re most likely to persevere when the skill meets the following criteria:

  • It’s something that you’re passionate about; and
  • Learning the skill will help you to solve a problem that you’re having, or it applies directly to your life.

If learning a new skill is just an academic exercise for you, or a “it would be nice to know how to do this”, it’s very likely that you won’t be able to find the motivation to persevere until you learn the skill. Therefore, it’s imperative that you start by picking the right skill to learn.

2. Set a Specific Goal. When you choose a skill that you want to learn, you have to write down your objective as a goal statement. However, you have to make sure that the goal is specific, and not vague.

As an example, in his article “How to Learn Anything: A Real-World Guide to Mastering Any New Skill”, Jeremy Duvall explains that he wanted to learn to code. However, “I want to learn to code” is a vague goal. Therefore, he made his goal much more specific. Here’s the goal that he set for himself: “I want to learn CSS positioning so I can redesign some elements of my website”.

Duvall recommends that in order to make your goal more specific, you ask yourself the following questions:

  • What specific problem am I trying to solve by learning this skill?
  • Are there certain aspects of the skill that are more applicable to my situation than others?

3. Give Yourself a Deadline. We’re all familiar with Parkinson’s Law. If you apply it to learning a new skill, the law says that the longer you give yourself to learn the skill, the more work you’ll end up doing to acquire the skill. At the same time, the opposite is also true. The less time you give yourself to learn a skill, the less work you’ll have to do in order to learn it.

Use Parkinson’s Law to your advantage by giving yourself a deadline to learn the new skill.

4. Stop Believing In the Talent Myth. For centuries, people have believed that talent is innate—the ability to play a musical instrument, to draw, and so on. That is, you either have it, or you don’t. However, in recent years scientists have adopted a different view. Studies show that talent is determined far less by our genes and far more by our actions.

5. Believe You Can Learn the Skill. Henry Ford once said, “If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.” Once again, there’s research that will help you to develop the belief that you can learn new skills even if you lack so-called innate talent, or you’re no spring chicken. Specifically, the research is the following:

  • Dr. Carol Dweck’s research on mindset.
  • Research on the brain’s plasticity.

Dr. Carol Dweck, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology at Stanford University. She explains that, when it comes to learning new things, people have either a fixed or a growth mindset. People with a fixed mindset think that success in learning a new skill depends on being naturally gifted. On the other hand, those with a growth mindset think that success in learning new things depends on their own efforts.

Obviously, those in the second group are much more likely to persevere when learning new skills. Therefore, in order to believe that you can learn the skill that you’re trying to develop, adopt a growth mindset.

The second belief that you need to adopt in order to learn new skills is that the brain is plastic. For a long time, it was believed that as people age, the con­nec­tions in the brain became fixed. However, neuroscientists have discovered that the brain is a lot more malleable than was previously thought. The term used to describe that malleability is plasticity.

Research has shown that the brain never stops chang­ing through learn­ing. That is, when you’re learning a new skill the areas in your brain that deal with that skill will grow, regardless of your age.

6. Aim for Good Enough. You may have heard that it takes 10,000 hours to learn a new skill. However, this is completely false. The 10,000 hour rule is most closely associated with Malcolm Gladwell and his book, “Outliers: The Story of Success”. What the rule states is not that it takes 10,000 hours to learn a new skill, but that it takes that long to become world-class at any given skill.

When learning a new skill, there’s no need to aim for being world-class. Instead, settle for being “good enough”. That is, your objective in learning the skill should be to achieve the goal that you identified in Tip #2 above. Being “good enough” certainly won’t take you anywhere near 10,000 hours.

7. Do Preliminary Research. Find a few books, YouTube videos, tutorials, courses, and so on about the skill that you want to learn. Make sure that you choose high quality resources. Go through your resources quickly in order to help you to begin to identify what you need to do in order to learn the skill.

Don’t get bogged down with details at this point. You’re just trying to develop a general mental framework of the process that you’ll follow to learn the skill.

8. Deconstruct the Skill. Most skills aren’t one skill at all. Instead, they’re a bundle of skills. For example, blogging is comprised of the following sub-skills:

  • Writing (more specifically, writing for the internet)
  • Researching Skills
  • Networking and Building Relationships
  • Using Social Media
  • Search Engine Optimization Skills
  • Using WordPress
  • Skills Related to the Subject-Matter of Your Blog
  • Photo Editing Skills
  • Making Videos
  • Self-Development Skills, such as Discipline and Perseverance

Therefore, you can break down–or deconstruct–“blogging” into the sub-skills above. Deconstructing a skill will help you to avoid overwhelm. In addition, it will help you to make your practice time more efficient.

In his book, The 4-Hour Chef, Tim Ferriss explains that when learning a new skill, you should ask yourself the following: “What are the minimal learnable units, the Lego blocks, I should start with?”

Ferriss recommends four tools for deconstructing skills:

  • Reducing: Break down the skill into its formative pieces.
  • Interviewing: Talk to someone who has started from zero and gone on to become good at the skill that you want to learn. Ask them what they did, what obstacles they had to overcome, and any other advice that they might have to help you learn the skill efficiently.
  • Reversal: Ask yourself: “What would happen if I did the opposite of conventional wisdom?”
  • Translating: Think of a skill that you’ve already learned. Then, ask yourself how you learned it, and see if you can use that same process to learn the new skill.

9. Apply the Pareto Principle. The Pareto Principle is also known as the 80/20 rule: 80% of your results come from 20% of your efforts. How does this principle apply to learning a new skill? When learning a new skill, identify those sub-skills which will give you 80% or more of the outcome that you want.

One example of the 80/20 rule is learning those few guitar chords which will allow you to play many different songs. As an illustration, there’s a TV show called “Nashville” which chronicles the lives of various fictitious country music singers living in Nashville, Tennessee. At one point, Deacon—one of the show’s main characters–says the following:

All you need to write a country song is three chords and the truth.”

In addition, there’s a YouTube video of the Australian comedy group ‘Axis Of Awesome’ which went viral a few years back. In the video, the group performs a sketch from the 2009 Melbourne International Comedy Festival where they play parts of popular songs to demonstrate their claim that popular music contains only four cords that are rearranged.

Although there are many different guitar chords, if you hone in on the three or four most important chords you’ll be able to play the guitar in no time. Therefore, start by learning those chords.

As another illustration, when learning a new language keep in mind that there’s a small number of words which make up the bulk of what you’ll need to say in everyday situations. By learning the most commonly used words you’ll be able to communicate in that language, albeit with a limited vocabulary.

10. Don’t Reinvent the Wheel. It’s very likely that someone out there has already deconstructed the skill that you want to learn, they’ve identified the most important sub-skills that make up that skill, and they’ve created an easy-to-follow process to learn the skill.

If this is the case for the skill that you want to learn, follow the learning process that’s already working for others. Don’t waste time by trying to reinvent the wheel.

11. Stare. In The Little Book of Talent, Daniel Coyle–author of the New York Times bestselling “The Talent Code”–offers 52 tips for improving your skills. The first tip he offers is to stare at who you want to become. That is, if you want to learn to play the piano, do things such as the following:

  • Watch YouTube videos of good piano players.
  • Go to piano recitals.

In addition, Coyle says the following: “Find somebody you want to be in two years, three years, five years, and stare at that person. See what they’re doing. See exactly what they’re doing, and steal that. Steal from them.”

12. Move From Learning to Doing Fast. So far you’ve conducted preliminary research on your skill, perhaps you’ve asked someone who’s good at the skill for some input, and you’ve watched a few people performing the skill. In addition, based on your research, you’ve deconstructed the skill and you’ve indentified the key components of that skill.

What haven’t you done yet? You haven’t acted. While preparation is important, you don’t want to get stuck at the preparation stage. Move into the “doing” stage as fast as you can.

Josh Kaufman, author of The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything . . . Fast!, says the following about shifting to real practice quickly:

“When I was learning to code, I bought over 20 books on the subject. I thought the best way to learn was to read the books, and THEN try to write my own program. The reality was the opposite: I only started to develop real skills when I used three introductory books to identify a few critical ideas, then spent my time actually writing programs.

Do your homework, then shift to real practice as quickly as possible. Practicing the skill in context is the only thing that generates lasting results.”

13. Practice. Practicing is the only way to learn anything. Unfortunately, practicing can get repetitive and monotonous. That’s why in order to learn a new skill, you need to have discipline and patience.

14. Spread Out Your Training. When you’re first learning a new skill you’ll probably be tempted to try to binge-learn and spend a few days obsessively working on your new skill. However, research shows that this is the wrong way to go about learning a new skill.

When you’re learning a new skill, you’re changing your brain. And the brain needs time to make those changes.

Think of going to the gym to grow your muscles. They won’t grow in one day, or in two or three weeks, even if you practically move into the gym. Instead, you need to work out a little each day and allow your muscles to get progressively stronger. Your brain works the same way.

15. Set Aside One-Hour-A-Day. You won’t magically find yourself practicing your new skill unless you make time for it. When are you going to practice the skill that you’re trying to acquire? You need to schedule your practice sessions and set aside one-hour-a-day to learn the skill.

16. Set Aside Space. Just as you need to identify when you’re going to practice, you also need to decide where you’re going to practice. Choose a comfortable space where you won’t be interrupted. If you don’t have an extra room to set aside, claim a corner of a room just for your practice.

17. Have Everything Set Out. In the article,“How to Learn Any New Skill”, the author points out that when learning a new skill, you should assume the worst about yourself. That is, assume that future you is stupid, lazy, and makes bad decisions. Then, set up your environment in such a way that it will help prevent even that version of yourself from failing.

18. Deliberate Practice. I’ve already mentioned the importance of practicing in order to learn a new skill. However, I’m not talking about blind practice: simply doing the same thing over and over again. Instead, what you need to do is something that’s called deliberate practice.

Deliberate practice means focusing on specific elements of the skill that you want to learn or improve, and working on those elements–by doing drills and exercises–until you get better at them. Here’s a quote from Joshua Foer, author of Moonwalking with Einstein, on deliberate practice:

“Amateur musicians . . . tend to spend their practice time playing music, whereas pros tend to work through tedious exercises or focus on difficult parts of pieces.”

Deliberate practice, by its very nature, is hard.

19. Look for the Discomfort Zone. In The Practice of Practice: How to Boost Your Music Skills, Jonathan Harnum explains that you have to practice in your discomfort zone. Your discomfot zone is that level at which you’re pushing yourself to get better at a skill, but without drifting into the zone in which the challenge is more difficult than your skills can handle.

That is, you don’t want to spend your practice sessions simply repeating things you already know how to do. You constantly want to be pushing yourself to step slightly out of your comfort zone. You can also refer to the discomfort zone as the arousal state. Here’s a quote from Harnum:

“The arousal state happens when the challenge you face pushes your abilities to the edge of failure. You’re concentrating fiercely, but you’re still getting it done . . . When you stray into the ‘anxiety zone’, you’re probably pushing it a little too hard.”

When training, you want to be successful about 60 to 80% of the time. If you’re failing less than that your practice sessions are probably too easy, and if you’re failing more than that they’re too hard.

20. Have a Goal for Each Practice Session. The further away your goal is, the more difficult it is to persevere until you achieve it. The way to address this issue is to break up your goal into milestones, then short-term goals, and them tiny or nano-goals.

Ideally, you should have a goal for each of your practice sessions. That way, for each of your practice sessions you can achieve one of your nano-goals. This will help keep you motivated to achieve your short-term goals; then your milestones; and, finally, your long-term goal.

21. Realize There Are Four Stages of the Learning Process. The four stages of the learning process are the following:

  • Stage 1: Unconscious Incompetence – At this stage it’s very difficult to self-correct as you practice since you don’t know enough to identify what you’re doing wrong. Here’s how to characterize this stage: “I don’t know that I don’t know how to do this.”
  • Stage 2: Conscious Incompetence – This is the hardest stage, but it’s also the stage at which real learning begins. Here’s how to characterize this stage: “I know that I don’t know how to do this, yet.” At this stage you’re aware of what you’re doing wrong.
  • Stage 3: Conscious Competence – At this stage you know what you’re doing, and you’re doing it well, but you still have to pay attention and do things mindfully in order to avoid making mistakes.
  • Stage 4: Unconscious Competence – At this stage you’re so good at the skill, that you can do it without thinking. Most experiences of the state of flow occur at this stage.

In order to move from unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence as soon as possible–that is, to start learning as soon as possible–try doing the following:

  • Learn enough about each of the sub-skills you’re going to be working on in order to be able to practice intelligently and self-correct as you practice.
  • Try videotaping or recording yourself so that you can replay your practice sessions and observe carefully what you’re doing.
  • Watch the pros and ask yourself what you’re doing differently. You can do this by watching YouTube videos or going to live events.
  • Find someone who knows how to do the skill and who can spare a few moments to critique you.
  • Do additional research to help you identify what you should be watching out for.

22. Get a Teacher or Mentor. Let’s face it, the easiest way to learn a new skill is to have someone teach it to you face-to-face. If you can find someone who’s already good at the skill that you want to learn who can give you one-on-one attention, you’ll be able to use your practice time much more efficiently than if you try to learn on your own using books or tutorials.

Keep in mind that not everyone is a good teacher or mentor. The best teachers are those who remember what it was like to learn the skill, and who can clearly identify what steps they took to learn the skill and how they overcame the obstacles that they faced during the learning process.

23. Be In Control of the Learning Process. Even if you find a great book or tutorial for learning the skill that you want to acquire, or if you find a fantastic teacher or mentor, you should make sure that you’re in control of your own learning. Think about what your aims are in learning the skill, and direct your work towards those aims.

In addition, if there’s a sub-skill that you’re having trouble learning, look for other resources you can use until you find one that explains the process to be followed in a way that’s easy for you to understand.

24. Get Feedback. When learning a new skill it’s vital that you seek rapid and unequivocal feedback. In “Outliers”–which has already been mentioned above–Malcolm Gladwell explains that in the 1960s, when the Beatles were still and unknown high school band, they went to Hamburg, Germany, to play at local clubs.

Out of this experience the Beatles got nonstop playing time, as well as immediate feedback from the audiences they were playing to. This forced them to get better, which is how they became stars.

Getting fast feedback when learning a new skill will allow you to get accurate information about how well you’re doing as quickly as possible. If feedback arrives quickly, it’s much easier to connect that information to your actions and make the appropriate adjustments.

25. Don’t Be Afraid of Making Mistakes. One of the biggest obstacles to learning a new skill is emotional: we’re afraid of making mistakes. By the time you’re a grown-up you’re good at a lot of things, and it’s difficult to find yourself at the starting point of learning a new skill. After all, you’ll be making a lot of mistakes at the beginning, and you’ll probably feel stupid.

Therefore, an important part of learning a new skill is being comfortable with not knowing, and trying to avoid feeling self-conscious. In addition, accept that making mistakes–lots of them–is simply part of the learning process.

26. Beware of the Need for Instant Gratification. Contemporary culture is very dependent on immediate gratification. This need for immediate gratification can be a serious impediment to learning new skills.

After all, you won’t be playing “Moonligh Sonata” after a few piano practice sessions, and you won’t be producing software after a few hours of learning code (shocking, I know).

The antidote to the need for instant gratification when learning a new skill is to find the joy in the process of achieving, instead of having the goal. You have to learn to enjoy the process of acquiring a new skill and enjoy the journey, instead of impatiently pushing to arrive.

27. Go Long. When you’re learning something new, you’ll usually follow a path similar to what Seth Godin refers to as “the dip”. Things are fun at first, but then you become aware that learning the new skill is difficult, and that there’s a lot that you don’t know. At this point you’re likely to get frustrated by the gap between where you are and where you want to go.

To combat these feelings of frustration you need to recognize that “the dip” is part of the learning the process. Keep reminding yourself that if you keep going, eventually you’ll come up on the other side of the dip.

28. Practice Everywhere. Karen Cheng taught herself to dance in one year. She indicates that one of the things she did was to practice everywhere. Here’s a quote from Cheng:

“Here’s my secret: I practiced everywhere. At bus stops. In line at the grocery store. At work — Using the mouse with my right hand and practicing drills with my left hand. You don’t have to train hardcore for years to become a dancer. But you must be willing to practice and you better be hungry.”

29. Be Held Accountable. In order to make sure that you’ll stick to your practice sessions until you achieve your learning goal, there has to be something at stake. Here are some examples:

  • If you’re trying to learn to play the piano, sign up for your community’s talent show. On the day in question you’re going to have to step out on stage and do your thing, so you better be ready.
  • If you’re trying to learn a new language, sign up for a proficiency test within a few months’ time. You can even give your buddy a $100 bill and tell them not to return it unless you pass the test.

The higher the stakes, the more likely it is that you’ll persevere until you learn the skill.

30. Give a New Skill a Minimum of Eight Weeks. I’ve already mentioned Coyle’s “The Little Book of Talent” in this post. One of the last tips that Coyle offers in his book is to give the skill that you’re trying to learn a minimum of eight weeks.

Coyle explains that eight weeks is the length of many top training programs around the world, including the Navy SEAL’s physical conditioning program.

By comitting yourself to practicing a skill for at least eight weeks before giving up you’ll be recognizing that learning a new skill takes time. In addition, although you won’t be proficient at the skill in eight weeks, you’ll probably be good enough to feel motivated to keep going.


Live your best life by learning how to learn any skill fast. You can get started with the 30 tips above.

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halloween bucket list

Halloween is almost here! Time to get spooky!

Blood curling screams, bats, cobwebs, black cats, crows, witches, goblins, and things that go bump in the night . . . it’s almost Halloween! Halloween is such a fun holiday. I loved it as a kid, and I love it even more as an adult.

Below you’ll find 20 wicked Halloween ideas for your Halloween bucket list.

1. Participate in the New York’s Village Halloween Party. The New York’s Village Halloween Parade takes place every year in New York’s Greenwich Village, New York, US. It stretches for more than a mile and includes floats as well as over 50,000 participants. It’s open participation: anyone in a costume can march in the parade. The parade gets rolling at 7pm and heads north up Sixth Avenue to 16th Street.

2. Host a Halloween Costume Party. Halloween parties aren’t just for kids. A possible theme for an adults’ Halloween party is dead celebrities–think Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, and Charlie Chaplin. If you have a creepy attic or cellar, that would be the perfect place to host your party.

3. Host a Formal Masquerade Ball. In formal masquerade parties men generally wear tuxedos and women wear masquerade dresses. In addition, both men and women wear masks–it can be a small mask that just covers the eyes, or a large mask complete with feathers and a beak.

4. Win a “Best Costume Award”. Go all out this year and win a Halloween Best Costume Award at your favorite bar or club, or simply hold a contest with your circle of friends. Think creativity, originality, and commitment to your character.

5. Wear Couple Costumes. Dress up in a costume that complements the costume your partner is wearing. Some ideas include like Sonny and Cher, Adam and Eve, Fred and Wilma Flintstone, a bull and a bullfighter, and so on.

You can also try funny costumes like bacon and eggs, or peanut butter and jam.

bull and bullfighter

6. Dress Up As a Group With Your Friends. Get a group of friends together and dress up as the Peanuts Gang: Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy, Sally, Snoopy, and Woodstock. Here are some other ideas:

  • The Scooby Doo Gang
  • The Simpsons
  • Crayons
  • The Cast of Your Favorite TV Show

7. Dress Up as a Family. Have your entire family dress up in outfits that complement each other. Here are some examples:

  • Dress up as The Incredibles—a family of superheroes created by Pixar.
  • Dress up in Star Wars costumes.
  • Dress up as S’mores. Mom and dad can be graham crackers, one child can be chocolate, and another child can be a marshmallow.

the incredibles

8. Stock Up on Halloween Candy. This year, be the house with the best Halloween candy. Here are some ideas:

9. Make a Halloween Gingerbread House. Gingerbread houses aren’t just for Christmas anymore. Here are some ideas for your Halloween Gingerbread House:

  • Use graham crackers.
  • Make a Halloween walkway with Kit Kat® bars.
  • Get some purple frosting and black sprinkles.

10. Spend Halloween at Salem, Massachusetts. Salem is a city in the state of Massachusetts, in the US, which is best known for the Salem witch trials which took place in 1692. More than 200 people were accused of witchcraft and 20 of them were executed.

The town now caters to its reputation as a “witch town” and has several Halloween-themed establishments.

11. Have the Best Decorated House on the Block. Make sure to include monsters, witches, ghosts, skeletons, spider webs, and black cats. In addition, you can apply a scene setter to at least one room in the house: wall paper with a great Halloween scene.

Plus, don’t forget to create a spooky mantle. Decorate your fireplace mantle for Halloween with creepy signage, bats, rats, skulls, and white candles. You can even go all out and create a cemetery or graveyard on your front lawn for Halloween.

Get a fog machine to create just the right Halloween mood for when trick-or- treaters knock on your door asking for candy.

12. Collect Halloween Props. Every Halloween purchase one relatively expensive prop you can add to your Halloween décor, like a full-sized skeleton you can sit on a chair placed right outside your door; gelatin molds in the shape of a brain or a human hand; or realistic hairy rats.

13. BOO! Your Neighbors. Start a Halloween Boo game in your neighborhood. Neighbors leave one another anonymous goody bags in celebration of the holiday with a note like the following:

Just a friendly little Boo from bet you never guess who’. I have just one thing to say to you on Halloween…BOO!.

The receivers then secretly Boo other neighbors. When a house gets booed they hang a ghost from the front door.

14. Visit a Haunted House. Haunted houses pop up all over the place at this time of year. Some include haunted mazes, as well as scare zones filled with costumed actors.

15. Have Your Dog Join in the Halloween Fun. Organize a Spooky Pooch parade and dress your dog in a Halloween costume.

16. Add Pumpkins Everywhere. Carve Jack o’ lanterns, or just decorate pumpkins. You can get a pumpkin carving kit, make glitter pumpkins (apply glue and cover the pumpkin with glitter in autumn colors), get a jar of black buttons and use them to write “BOO” on the pumpkin, or glue rhinestones on a pumpkin to create a faux spider web.

17. Put Up a Halloween Tree. Put up a Halloween Tree and hang up ornaments shaped like Frankenstein, Dracula, skulls, and orange and black glass balls. You can also add some orange Halloween light stringers to a gothic black Halloween tree.

18. Create a Halloween Village. Create a Halloween Village filled with creepy, scary Halloween themed houses, figurines and accessories.

19. Load Up on Halloween Music. Listen to your favorite Halloween songs:

20. Watch “Hotel Transylvania”. “Hotel Transylvania” is a 2012 American 3D computer-animated fantasy comedy. In the film, Dracula owns the Hotel Transylvania, a five-star hotel where the world’s monsters can take a rest from human civilization.

Dracula has invited all of his monster friends to his daughter Mavis’ 118th birthday party. Everything goes awry when a human visits the hotel and Mavis falls for him.

Plus, “Hotel Transylvania 2” just hit theaters!


I, for one, have already started getting ready for Halloween. How about you? Use the Halloween bucket list ideas above to plan a great Halloween. For more Halloween bucket list ideas–as well as bucket list ideas for every life area–get my “Idea Book” series.

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inner peace and the right side of the brain

A brain scientist discovered Nirvana–or inner peace–in the right side of the brain.

Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor is a Harvard-trained brain scientist who suffered a stroke in 1996–at the age of 37–in the left hemisphere of her brain. She spoke of her experience at the 2008 TED Conference and wrote a memoir titled “My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey”. Dr. Taylor was named one of Time Magazine’s Most Influential People in 2008.

In both the TED.com talk and the book she describes what the four hours felt like during which she was having the stroke and she watched her brain completely deteriorate in its ability to process information, and what life was like afterward. In addition, Dr. Taylor explains her discovery that through the right hemisphere of the brain, the part of her brain that was untouched by the stroke, inner peace is just a thought away.

You can find out a lot more about this remarkable woman and her fascinating experience below.

Each Hemisphere of the Brain Has Its Own Personality

Dr. Taylor explains in her TED.com talk that if you’ve ever seen a human brain, it’s obvious that the two hemispheres–or the two cerebral cortices–are completely separate from each other.

If you’re familiar with computers, the right brain hemisphere functions like a parallel processor, while the left hemisphere functions like a serial processor. Because they process information differently, each of our brain hemispheres thinks about different things, they care about different things, and, Taylor argues, they even have very different personalities.

The two hemispheres do communicate with each other through the corpus callosum but, other than that, the two hemispheres are completely separate.

The Right Hemisphere

Our right hemisphere is all about this present moment; it’s all about right here, right now. It thinks in pictures and abstractions and it learns kinesthetically through the movement of our body.

Information in the form of energy streams in simultaneously through all of our sensory systems and then it explodes into a collage of what this present moment looks like, smells like, tastes like, sound like, and feels like.

Dr. Taylor explains that we are energy beings connected to the energy all around us through the consciousness of our right brain hemispheres.

The Left Hemisphere

Our left hemisphere is a very different place. It thinks linearly and methodically. It’s all about the past and about the future.

It’s designed to take that collage of the present moment and pick out detail after detail. It then categorizes and organizes all of that information, associates it with everything in the past we’ve ever learned, and projects into the future all of our possibilities.

The left side of our brain thinks in language. It’s the internal brain chatter that connects us to the external world. It’s the calculating intelligence that reminds us when we have to do the laundry and pick up bananas on the way home.

And most importantly, the left side of the brain is the voice that tells each of us: “I am”. And as soon it says that, each of us becomes separate from the energy all around us, and separate from everyone else.

That’s the portion of the brain that Taylor lost on the morning of her stroke.

Some of the Things Taylor Experienced While Having Her Stroke

In her Ted.com talk, Dr. Taylor shares the following about her experience while she was having a stroke:

  • She looked down at her arm and she realized she could no longer define the boundaries of her body. She could not define where she began and where she ended. The atoms and the molecules in her arm blended with the molecules and atoms in the wall. And all she could detect was energy.
  • Her brain chatter went totally silent. It was as if someone had taken a remote control and pushed the mute button. She found herself inside a silent mind.
  • Then she was captivated by the magnificence of the energy around her.
  • Because she could no longer feel the boundaries of her body, she felt enormous and expansive. She felt as one with all the energy surrounding her. And it was beautiful. It was Nirvana. Any stress related to her job was gone. Any stressors from the outside world were gone, and she felt a sense of complete peacefulness. She lost 37 years of emotional baggage.
  • She was lost in an existence of love and expansiveness, of color and energy.
  • She adds the following: “In the wisdom of my dementia, I understood that this body was, by the magnificence of its design, a precious and fragile gift. It was clear to me that it functioned like a portal through which the energy of who I am can manifest here. I wondered how I could have spent so many years in this construct of life and never realize I was just visiting.”

Life in La-la Land

Taylor explains that when the cells in her left brain became nonfunctional because they were swimming in a pool of blood, they lost their ability to inhibit the cells in her right hemisphere.

In her right brain, she shifted into the consciousness of the present moment. She had no memories of her past and no perception of the future. Instead, she was in a “right here, right now, the present moment is all there is” awareness. She calls this experience being in La-la land.

Describing this state, she sounds like a mystic:

“All details of my life and language were gone. Language is a kind of code, and things were no longer reduced to coding. I was looking at the big picture and could see how everything is related. Everything is in motion, connected in a dance of grace. The brain is what imposes boundaries, and boundaries convey a perception of separation, but that’s a delusion. Everything is one . . . I got to sit in the space of silence gurus meditate toward for years.” (Source).

However, in many crucial ways, for a long time after having her stroke she was like an infant. She couldn’t talk, she had forgotten how to walk, and math and reading were gone. Someone gave her the pieces of a baby’s puzzle and she stared at them without comprehension, perplexed.

She found that in order to learn anything she had to take information from the last moment and apply it to the present moment. When her left hemisphere was completely nonfunctional early on, it was impossible for her to learn.

For example, she eventually became physically capable of putting on her socks and shoes, but she couldn’t understand why she had to put the socks on before the shoes. To her they were simply unrelated actions and she did not have the cognitive ability to figure out the appropriate sequencing of the events.

Over time she regained the ability to weave moments back together to create an expanse of time, and with this ability came the ability to learn methodically again. She adds that life in La-la land will always be just a thought away for her, but she’s grateful for the ability to think with linearity once again.

More of Jill Bolte Taylor’s Insights

Here are some more of Dr. Taylor’s insights:

  • She was shifted into the power and the beauty of what is, right here right now, that we’re often distracted from because the left hemisphere is so tuned in to so many details.
  • “I felt like a genie liberated from its bottle,” she wrote in her book. “The energy of my spirit seemed to flow like a great whale gliding through a sea of silent euphoria.”
  • “We are energy beings connected to one another through the consciousness of our right hemispheres as one human family. And right here, right now we are brothers and sisters, here to make the world a better place. And in this moment, we are whole, we are perfect, and we are beautiful.”
  • We have this tiny little group of cells in our left hemisphere that says “I am”, and as soon as it does that we become individuals, solid, separate from everyone else. (Source).
  • We’re not in a balanced brain society, we’re spending most of our time in our left hemisphere, which creates stress. (Source).
  • The knowledge that we are connected to everything else is always there, people are just not privy to it because the left brain is so dominant.
  • Dr. Taylor describes that she was floating from isolated moment to isolated moment because her left hemisphere-which is the one that makes connections between moments-was no longer working. Therefore, “A” no longer had any relationship with “B”. The result was that she was totally focused in the present moment.

The 90 Second Rule

This is the 90 second rule from the book “My Stroke of Insight”: When a person has a reaction to something in their environment, there’s a 90 second chemical process that happens in the body; after that, any remaining emotional response is just the person choosing to stay in that emotional loop.

That is, something happens in the external world and chemicals are flushed through your body which puts it on full alert. It takes less than 90 seconds for those chemicals to totally flush out of the body .

This means that for 90 seconds you can watch the process happening, you can feel it happening, and then you can watch it go away. After that, if you continue to feel fear, anger, and so on, you need to look at the thoughts that you’re thinking that are re-stimulating the circuitry that is resulting in you having this physiological response over and over again.

How Can We Exercise Our Right Hemispheric Circuitry?

Dr. Taylor concluded her TED.com Talk by saying the following:

“Right here, right now I can step into the consciousness of my right hemisphere where we are, I am, the life force power of the universe. At one with all that is. Or I can choose to step into the consciousness of my left hemisphere, where I become a single individual, a solid, separate from the flow, separate from you . . . The more time we spend choosing to run the deep inner peace circuitry of our right hemispheres, the more peace we will project into the world, and the more peaceful our planet will be.”

Dr. Taylor made the decision to maintain the dominance of the right brain in areas in which it performs better than the left brain.

She consciously avoids certain places in the mind where impatience, worry, criticism or unkindness live. Anytime her awareness drifts there, she consciously steps over to her now-familiar right side, where compassion and a subjective sense of time make things very different.

She explains that the blue sky is always there, and she sees the blue sky as the right hemisphere. The left hemisphere is the clouds, and the clouds represent brain chatter. The clouds come in and they block the view of the blue sky, even though the blue sky is always there.

The brain chatter comes online and then it’s organizing and categorizing and dramatizing all of our lives in the external world.

But when you quiet down those thoughts you get rid of the clouds; you unveil what’s always been there – which is the existence of the right hemisphere and that peacefulness and that awareness that everything is one and everything is connected. That is the experience of euphoria.

Dr. Taylor adds that she’s very clear that her brain chatter is a tiny group of cells that perform a specific function and that she has a say on whether or not that circuitry runs. All she has to do is make the decision that in this moment, she’s not going to have those thoughts; she’s not going to run that particular circuitry.

She focuses her mind on the bigger picture and thinks about other things and blocks the clouds from being there.

In addition, she sets aside a day every week for her authentic self–a silent day of right-brain consciousness. She nourishes her right brain hemisphere with music, guitar-playing, and water-skiing. She also combines her science-training with her art by creating anatomically correct stained glass brains which she sells as fine art.


When Dr. Taylor was having her experience of Nirvana, was she delusional as a result of having a stroke, as some have argued? Or, as she maintains, was she touching real perceptions of an unexplored facet of reality, one that is wired into all of our brains, should we only learn to reach it?

I, for one, choose to believe that we can all reach this state of peacefulness by balancing our brain and becoming more in touch with our right brain hemisphere. How about you? Live your best life by spending more time in your right brain hemisphere.

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