So, use your brain already…

June 25, 2015

“Humans are distinguished from other species by a massive brain that enables us to imagine a future and influence it by what we do in the present.”  – David Suzuki

brain mapHumans may not have the most massive brain in terms of pure mass; although I’m not sure what other species I could point out that might have bigger brains. Certainly some dolphins have sizeable brains and one would think that some apes have brains that are nearly as large. It’s hard to imagine what the size of an elephant’s brain may be. Both apes and dolphins show a developed intelligence and ability to learn that is quite impressive; however, it’s that part about imagining a different future and then making that future happen through or plans and actions that really sets us apart.

In a recent post I talked about visualization as a technique to achieve success. Visualization involves not only imagining the future but also imagining how to get there – the plan and the execution of that plan. Visualization lets us imagine the perfect execution and the perfect result; it lets us practice in our minds.

Planning and problem solving are also parts of influencing the future to achieve the future that we have imagined.man daydreaming Unlike visualization, which focuses on the execution; planning focuses on the preparation. Planning is the process whereby we fill in the details and beak the journey to that imagined future state into small, executable steps. Problem solving involves adjusting those plans when we encounter the unexpected or when the expected doesn’t go as expected. While problem solving is part of the execution step it involves little side trips back to the drawing board to react and re-plan in order to overcome setbacks. A massive brain helps with those things, too.

Of course, also lurking in that massive brain for many are such things as fear, uncertainty and doubt. There probably are parallels to those things in other animals. We have likely all seen animals cower in fear or stop in their track, uncertain as to whether to proceed. Other things that impact our ability to get to the future that we’ve imagined may involve our emotions, which also reside in that massive brain. Sometimes emotions blind us to obvious cautionary signs or perhaps egg us on when caution would be the better course of action. woman thinkingSome emotions help and some hurt our efforts to get to the imagined future, but all probably have some impact on the speed at which we advance.

An interesting evolutionary quirk is that our massive brains seem to produce a cumulative positive effect on further brain development .As we invent things to get to that better imagined future we continually make out present better and easier. Our massive brains allowed us to evolve from hunter-gathers focused almost solely upon survival into what has become an information-driven society. We created things to do the hard work involved in surviving and that allowed us more time to spend thinking about that different future and the other things that we needed to make. What has a dolphin or an ape ever invented? They may be smart enough to adapt tools from things that they find in their environment, but they never go to the next level. Sure they have “social structures” within groups of their own species, but those are mostly rudimentary hierarchies based upon survival or mating habits.

So, here we are with our massive brains; what do we do with them? Our calling is to use them to imagine a better futureaha moment and then make it happen. Do you spend time every now and then just thinking about the future that you would like to have? What do you do then? Do you just write that off as wishful thinking and go back to your “normal” life? Why? Why not take the next steps and turn your imagination loose on the “how” and not just the “what” of your imagined future. Don’t just imagine something that floats out in front of you like a mirage; image also the road to get to that dream future. See the steps and lay out a plan. Then you can begin using visualization to practice executing those steps. It’s all in there somewhere, in your massive brain, if you will just take the time to use it.

Have a great day and take a little time to imagine what you want and where you want to be in 2 years or 5 years or 10 years. That’s the future that you want to imagine. Then imagine a way to get there. Imagine that.

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Reclaim your ability to play…

June 15, 2015

Wow! Some things just hit closer to home than others and this post on tickld.com hit very close for me –

http://www.tickld.com/x/this-guy-just-changed-the-way-we-seecalvin-and-hobbes

This post changes how you see the old favorite comic strip Calvin and Hobbes.  I loved that strip and was bummed, like so many others, when it was discontinued. More importantly, I could relate to the scenario that was the premise for the strip. I suspect that we all had some imaginary friend like Hobbs when we were little. As an adult I find myself “voicing” responses in conversations with my dogs Sadie and Skippy. They are my current Hobbs’es.

I’ve written here before about losing the ability that we had as children to play and to imagine things and friends to play with. I love the saying, “We don’t lose our ability to play because we get old; we get old because we lose our ability to play.” The story above about Calvin on his deathbed reestablishing the ability to see Hobbs as a real live lion again and then passing Hobbs on to his grandson is poignant and touching.  I literally can’t read this story without tearing up.

pillow fightThere is much more than just the loss of innocence that occurs when we “grow up”. We are taught how to suppress the things that allowed us to have the type of fun that is a part of childhood, to be silly and to summon our imaginary friends when we needed them. We are forced to “fit in”, to “act like an adult” and “be serious.” Soon we lose the ability to giggle and laugh out loud at funny things that happen in life, because that wouldn’t be proper. We learn to “keep a stiff upper lip”, to “deal with it” and to “shake it off”. What we lose in that process of growing up is our sense of wonderment in the world around us and our ability to play without keeping score.

As I get older, things like this little story take on greater meaning. I try not to get hung up on the inevitability of death, but rather to recapture some of the freedom of being a child and being able to play or imagine things without regard to what others may think. I go to the gym most days and, even though I’ve discovered that I can no longer do many of the things that I once could do, I keep trying.  I may get a few people saying, “Look at that old fool; what does he think heboy imagining is, a kid again?” Don’t I wish.

Now, you’ll have to excuse me; I’ve got to go have another grand adventure with Sadie and Skippy. We have such great talks on our walks.


Are you a dreamer?

October 21, 2014

“Every great dream begins with a dreamer.”  (Harriet Tubman) – as seen on the Jack’s Winning Words blog.

You could easily extend today’s thought by also stating that “every great idea began as someone’s dream.”

Dreams allow us the freedom to explore the unknown, imagine things that don’t exist, solve intractable problems, achieve impossible goals, and accomplish the impossible. Dreams remove the barriers of logic. Sometimes that allow emotions to run wild, but most times they just feed off the imagination and then go beyond what can even be imagined.

women dreamingSome believe that dreams are a waste of time; but sometimes dreams are the only way to completely let go of the artificial barriers that conventional thinking or common knowledge have erected. Sometimes it takes a long time for dreams to be realized. Leonardo Da Vinci dreamed of men flying in machines that would allow them to be like birds centuries before the Wright brothers finally realized his dream. Sometimes a dream is more like a wish made when you are not awake. Whatever you dream is something that exists somewhere in the back of your mind and perhaps something that you will turn from a dream into a mission and finally into a reality. Don’t dismiss your dreams, embrace them. They are allowing you to escape from whatever limitations you have placed upon yourself.

What do you dream about? Places? Things? People? How do your dreams affect your life when you man daydreamingawaken? Are they quickly forgotten or do you pursue them? Do you feel a sense of loss or a sense of having not completed something or accomplished something in your life because you did not follow your dreams? It’s never too late. If you have a dream, follow it; do something about it. Maybe you’ve just dreamed up “the next big thing.” Maybe you’ve just dreamed about your next great vacation or meeting Mr/Ms. Right. See how easy that was; now go make it happen.

Are you a dreamer? Why not turn those dreams into a reality?


 So you want to write…let your brain loose!

August 29, 2014

I get emails or comments to my blogs quite often asking for advice on how to write a blog post. These requests are usually from people who say that they’d like to write, but can’t think of anything to say. While
the specifics might vary from reply to reply the underlying theme of my answers is always the same – let your brain loose.

Our brains are amazing things that house unbelievable amounts of data, information, stories and man with key to mindexperiences. Writers apparently have just found a way to tap into that storehouse and let it work. At least that’s what I think I do. Quite often, in this blog in particular, I will play off the thoughts of the day from my favorite source Jack Freed and his Jacks Winning Words blog. Jack is the retired pastor of my church and he writes a short post each day (Monday thru Friday, only) that is always a quote of some sort and his take in 2-3 sentences on that quote. Jack usually ends by challenging his readers to think about their reaction or answer to the quote. I take that same quote and riff on it for 4-5-8 paragraphs, sometimes in directions that are completely different from where Jack went with it.

digital thinkingSo, how do I do that? The answer is that I tend to turn my brain loose and see where it takes me. I write in a stream of consciousness mode by asking myself questions like “what do I think about that?” or “maybe what experiences or stories do I have about that?” Sometimes I’ll just see a completely different meaning in the quote that Jack saw. Sometimes I’ll take off in one direction and end up going to a completely different place. I often have to edit and abandon earlier sentences or paragraphs altogether. Many times I may stop to look up something, maybe another quote that might fit and express what I’m trying to say. During those searches I will often find other quotes that I like and save or future posts. I have a whole list of topics for future posts sitting on my Desktop on my computer.

Many times I will find that I’ve somehow gone down a rat-hole with my thought process and have to back up and start off in a new direction – more paragraphs go into the bit-bucket when that happens. I try to stay positive in what I write, but occasionally will explore the dark (or cynical) side of a topic. I find more facing new daypleasure out of writing upbeat posts than I do from venting on a topic or taking the negative approach.

If the topic is one that I’m trying to give advice about, I will try to draw on my own experiences or stories. Such experiences and stories are all in there, in your brain, you just have to let them loose. I try to avoid rendering my own opinion of topics, especially controversial topics, although I’m sure that it comes through in the tone or content bias of the piece.

So, how do you get started? You could scan the daily news for stories that interest you. Why do they interest you? Do you have an opinion about that topic? Is there a story about a cause that you also support? Why? Do you know someone afflicted with whatever the cause is trying to prevent or help with? Have you helped in the past? Let your brain loose and write about it. Maybe you see a quote on the wall in a poster or in the paper or on the Internet somewhere; what does that quote mean to you? How do you relate to it? Do you have a story or experience that relates to it? Let your brain loose and write about it. Maybe a cartoon or a quote that you see triggers some thoughts in you. Run with it. Get those thoughts out and then look for more. Let your brain loose.

snow globeGary Larson is the creator of Far Side, one of the more offbeat and funny cartoons that appears in daily newspapers. Being able to create single panel cartoons that express such humorous thoughts is a real talent and one that he gets by letting his brain loose, or as he puts it –  “You know those little snow globes that you shake up? I always thought my brain was sort of like that. You know, where you just give it a shake and watch what comes out and shake it again. It’s like that.

So, for those who write to me asking how I come up with things to write about, maybe the answer is that I just shake up my brain, too, and watch what comes out. You might amaze yourself. Startuncage typing and see what your brain creates. If you go off in the wrong direction back up, hit delete and start again. The real secret in that is to let your brain loose.


Never lose the ability to pretend…

December 27, 2013

From the Jack’s Winning Words blog comes this thought for today – “When there’s snow on the ground I like to pretend that I’m walking on clouds.”  (Ikkaku, Hosaka & Kawabata).

We use the word pretend when we are children and it is a fun thing to do. Sometimes children will use the phrase “play like”; but they are really pretending. It is the ability to pretend that allows a child to take a crude approximation of a human figure and create a super hero out of it, imagining all sorts of scenarios and outcomes to pretend battles.

boy imaginingPretending can be a great pastime and is probably actually good for us; no matter what age we happen to be. As adults we oft choose to use other words, liker daydreaming or imagining. Every time the Mega-Millions jackpot gets really huge people daydream about what they might do with the money if they won. Do you? I certainly have spent my share of time in thought about that topic. It’s fun and it’s a release from everyday life.

Retaining the ability to pretend is important for good mental health in adults. Now, that is not to say that people who have moved beyond pretending and who may be living in deep delusion are mentally healthy – quite the opposite.  But, the ability to drift off into a daydream or to sit quietly and explore an imaginary scenario or world in our minds can be a healthy release of day-to-day tensions.

I’ve written before about the need occasionally regress to one’s childhood pleasures, such as making a funny face in the mirror in the morning while shaving or perhaps engaging in a pillow fight with a loved one. As we get older, most of us get very good at controlling ourselves and bottling up our feelings and emotions. We do that because we are told that this is what adults must do; and, when we are children, we do so want to be accepted as adults.

As adults when we look around in social settings there is no one sticking out their tongue at someone else or making funny faces (at least no one who is sober), so we adopt the behavior of the crowd of other adults around us, because we want to fit in. In general and in public, that’s a good thing. It’s also a stifling thing, because to means we must constantly repress the child in all of us who just wants to come out and play once in a while.

We all need to find that inner child and let him/her out once in a while; whether it be making that funny face in girl imaginingthe mirror or finding other ways to get back in touch with that innocent level of joy and fun. I’ve known a few artists in my life and have noted that many of them still let that childish side come out in how they dress or act. They can pull that off, because everyone allows a bit more eccentricity in artists. I think that what we call eccentricity is really a little of their childish side expressing itself through their dress and that’s a wonderful thing. To be an artist is really to learn to capture and use your imagination through your art. If you listen to great sculptors they will often say that they could “see” the sculpture that they created even as they stood in front of a large, blank slab of granite. Painters, too, have the ability to see (imagine) what they are about to paint, even as they stare at a blank canvas.

Most of the widely acknowledged motivational speakers on the topics of self-improvement or success in life use the term “visualize”, which is just another way of saying pretend. They say you must visualize what you want to achieve – you must imagine it. They never use the term daydream, because that is too passive; but funny facemany use phrases like, “if you can visualize it; you can accomplish it.” Great athletes also often talk about visualizing what they want to accomplish. Sometimes they go over and over something in their minds, imagining what will happen and what they will do. Perhaps these are examples of what happens when the adult creeps back into a process that starts with the child in us all pretending; or, perhaps it is a case of the child finding a way to break out and have a little fun pretending in the adult. Let’s hope it is the latter. Now, please excuse me; I feel the need to run to the bathroom and make a funny face in the mirror.


Dream the possible dream…

February 18, 2013

Long before Tony Robbins began his career as a motivational speaker/coach with his methods of achieving your goals and well before Rhonda Byrne wrote The Secret, George Bernard Shaw said, “Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will.”

Whether you use the term imagination or visualization the idea is the same – you first have to be able to “see” what it is that you want – imagine it, visualize it or just hallucinate about it, but see it. That may be the biggest stumbling block to success for many people – the lack of imagination or ability to visualize reach for the starswhat it is that they want to achieve. Call it dreaming or call it thinking big, one has to be able to get outside of the box that we put ourselves in and “see” a different tomorrow, a different outcome or even a different person than we are now.

One cannot “will” something to be, if one can’t see it. And one certainly can’t go on to creating it if there is no vision to guide the process. It is oh so much easier to slip into the habit of lamenting the present and wallowing in self-pity at one’s current fate than it is to conjure up the dreams and visions of a better future – to imagine a better outcome and then pursue that alternative.

What Robbins and Byrne and other self-help gurus have done is capitalize on the fact that few of us really understand how to go about the visualization thing. We place artificial limitations on our imaginations and box ourselves in with self-doubt and fears (mainly the fear of failing). The real “secret” behind almost all of the self-improvement advice that we see and hear about is unlocking our imagination and helping us understand how to use its power to break out of our boxes.

 

A mind unleashed from fears and doubts and allowed to create new paths for us to take is indeed the beginning of creation. If one then combines the will to act on those newly imagined option, one is well on the way to creating a new future. Shaw put it in a slightly different way in another saying that I like – The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want and if they can’t find them, make them. Imagine that.

 

So; what will you imagine for yourself today, this week, this year? Taking liberties with an old Vulcan saying, “Dream big and prosper.”


Occasionally let the fairies and elves return…

October 6, 2012

There is an age of innocence when fairies and elves, trolls and witches are real to us all. Usually that is a very young age and we all “outgrow” that age and that innocence all too fast. We don’t actually outgrow it, we are forced to give it up; dragged into the world of “big boys and girls” who don’t believe in that stuff by adults and older children. It’s sad really, because the world of imagination that is abandoned in that passage into the “big” world is one of wonder and delight.

I remember one summer when my eldest grandson was little I would occasionally take him on walks with our dog, Odie. There is a small area of dense woods close by, behind the Muir Middle School, of not more than an acre. Those became the magical “woods” that he and grandpa walked through that summer. It was magical because someone (or something) had built a series of little shelters amongst the fallen trees and limbs in those woods.

These crude little shelters that we found in the woods were not much more than a few sticks stacked carefully against a fallen tree trunk, or sometimes free standing, with a few boughs on top to form a roof. They each clearly had an entrance. I’m sure that someone had great fun making them, perhaps as little shelters for rabbits or other small animals. Each little “house” was only a foot or so tall and not much more than that around. So, I told my grandson that these were the houses that the fairies and elves of the forest live in and he had the best time imagining that this was true and telling his mom about seeing their homes.

Of course the innocence that allowed him to believe that there were fairies and elves in the woods and that we had seen their homes didn’t last. By the next year he was already questioning who had built those little shelters and why. He had already become a big boy. The fairies and eves were gone for him.

It was, on one level, that age of innocence and the ability to believe in fairies and elves and dragons that was the subject of the famous Peter, Paul and Mary song, Puff the Magic Dragon. Of course the big boys of the world saw a different level and meaning to that song; but the songs story played out much the same as my story with the little houses. For a while the magic of innocent imagination allowed Puff the Magic Dragon to exist and then he disappeared under the sobering weight imposed by growing up.

There is still within us all a capacity to recapture a moment or two of that wonderful childhood innocence. Most of us are too much “in control” to allow those moments to happen; but some can relax, sitting by a campfire on a cool Autumn night, perhaps with a small creek babbling away nearby, and allow our minds to wander and our eyes to defocus. In those moments, if you let them back into your lives, you might see the fairies dancing in the flames of the fire or hear the elves scurrying around the edges of the campfire light. No one else need see the smile that will come to your face when the fairies and elves return.