November 18, 2017 3:19 pm Last modified: 12:21 pm

September 2010 Brainstorm and Focus E-Bulletin

It’s September, almost October, time to start giving some thought to what you want to be feeling when this year ends. Will you be pleased with what you’ve done?
If you started out the year determined to write a book or screenplay or do some other creative project but it hasn’t quite worked out that way, it’s not too late! Sign up now for my Breakthrough Strategy Program. It starts Sept. 26 and runs for 60 days, during which you’ll get lots of support: weekly lessons on how to set and achieve your goal, how to manage your time more effectively, how to overcome blocks, how to stay motivated and more. There’s also an exclusive Web site with a forum for you to share questions and concerns, weekly group phone calls, audios and videos, all designed to help you get started and keep going. Find out more and sign up at In the meantime here’s your usual dose of tips, techniques and inspiration:
1: Nothing can’t be made better
I read today about an experiment being tried in some schools that brought home again how simple innovation can be. In classrooms, when a teacher asks a question, usually the brightest or most eager kids raise their hands and the shy or uncertain ones try to pretend they’re invisible.
In the experiment, when the teacher asks a question, all students write their answer on a little whiteboard paddle and hold it up.
Not surprisingly, at first the kids hated it. The ones who wanted to show off or get the teacher’s approval lost their moments in the sun and the uncertain ones lost their ability to hide. However, it means every student is engaged, and the teacher can correct wrong answers without humiliating any individual students.
Preliminary results suggest that all the students are benefitting (and they don’t hate it any more). This is probably the first innovation in teacher-student interaction in 100 years, and it doesn’t even involve technology.
What are other things so basic that we never think about trying something new that could be transformed?
Action: Think about one thing you do that you assume can be done only one way. Take ten minutes to brainstorm how else it could be done that might make it faster, easier or more effective.
2: Why people give up at the wrong time
Have you heard that Chinese proverb, "All paths are uphill at first?" Probably not, I just made it up. Or maybe there is a saying like that, given that the Chinese have had a few thousand years to come up with it. Anyway, it’s true. Whatever you set out to do generally is difficult at first.
Actually, at the very start your enthusiasm may carry you along, but after the first shot of energy runs out, it turns into a slog. That’s true whether you’re setting up a business, getting fit, writing a novel or pretty much anything else. After a while, it seems like the hill is too big. That’s when people give up.
Ironically, that often happens when they are near the top of the hill but they don’t know it. If they just kept going a bit longer, the path would start to be downhill. The amount of effort required for payback would reverse in their favor. But they’re tired and they stop, and they never know how close they were to success.
Action: Is there something you’ve undertaken that’s been uphill and you’re beginning to wonder whether it will ever pay off or be completed? There are three things to do:
Take a step back so you can see the bigger picture. It may be that getting discouraged about some of the steps has skewed your perspective.
Brainstorm whether there are faster or better ways to handle the part of the process that’s giving you the most trouble.
If necessary, take a break. Don’t give up; just take a breather and then return to the goal with renewed energy.
3: Want to get rid of doubts? Head for the washroom!
I love finding weird little studies like this: the journal Science reveals that washing your hands can erase doubts you might have about a recent decision. The experiment focused on a choice between two attractive options. The half of the volunteers who washed their hands felt less compelled to justify their choice.
Previous studies (as well as religious references like Pontius Pilate and literary references like Lady Macbeth) have linked hand washing with absolution. However, the new study suggests it also works for choices that don’t involve any moral implications.
Action: The next time you find yourself agonizing over a choice you’ve already made, go wash those hands!
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Your last chance to make 010 the year things changed: The next Breakthrough Strategy Workshop starts on Sept. 26. This is your chance to end the year having achieved a writing (or other) goal rather than feeling another year has passed you by. The program lasts for 60 days and supports you with weekly lessons, teleconferences, audio and video resources, and more. Find out all about it and sign up at
Live workshop alert: In November, I will be in Las Vegas teaching workshops on screenwriting, writing sitcoms and dramedies; writing low-budget films; guerilla warfare for the writer; and an intensive week (with marketing guru Fred Gleeck) on writing and promoting your non-fiction book. For details and to sign up for any of these courses, go to and click on the tab at the top labeled Live Seminars.
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4: Need an energy boost?
It’s hard to be creative when you’re dragging. A nap is an ideal solution but not always practical. Here are three other things you can do:
A. Get some exercise. Research at Illinois University showed that a 5 percent increase in fitness level through running yielded an improvement of up to 15 percent in mental tests. The secret apparently is getting more oxygen to the brain. Recent studies suggest that interval training (short periods of maximum activity interspersed with short periods of rest) are most effective for improving fitness.
B. Take a social break. Chat with a colleague or friend for a few minutes. Professor Oscar Ybarra from the University of Michigan reports that "social interaction seems to sharpen your memory and other brain functions."
C. Have an energy drink. Actually, even a glass of water with a bit of fresh lemon juice in it helps wake you up, without the caffeine crash later. Another good option is cocoa — researchers at the University of Nottingham have found it increases blood flow to the brain. Or there’s green tea (I don’t like the taste, so I take capsules), espresso or Red Bull.
Bonus tip: Don’t skip breakfast, eat low-glycemic foods to keep your blood sugar levels stable, and keep a little bottle of peppermint oil handy and sniff it once in a while.
Action: When do you have your energy slump? Decide which one of the above tips you will try out the next time you hit one.
5: Is your input/output balance wrong?
Tim Ferris, author of the best-selling "The 4-Hour Work Week," (who, ironically, worked long hours to make the book a success) suggests that we all start practicing "attention management." Specifically, he suggests a low information diet so you can focus on output (work) rather than input (news, e-mails, texts, apps, etc.). The only way to do this is to set aside some time that is solely for output and avoid the temptation to try to do both at the same time. Big companies like Deloitte and Intel are beginning to recognize this and are having no e-mail days — even no computer days — and finding they’re helping productivity.
Action: Consider going on an information diet for at least a couple of hours a day. During that time, focus exclusively on producing rather than consuming. Notice the difference to your productivity by the end of the week.
6. And a quote to consider:
"Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go." T. S. Elliot

Until next time, Jurgen

PS: If you haven’t looked at my blog lately, you’ve missed posts on why dead people need cell phones, a five-minute-a-day cure for writer’s block, how "American Idol" and similar shows are written, three key ideas about your creativity, a video on why we must embrace risk, and much more. You can check it out now:
PPS: The other site you may want to visit before you forget:

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