Cranking Up Your Problem-Solving Creativity

Do you consider yourself to be creative? Perhaps you say no because you can’t paint or make music or sculpt. Creativity is MUCH broader than that. It’s about finding new ways to solve problems and finding ways to approach the situations we face. All of us are creative. It’s a survival skill. And we can become MORE creative in all areas of our lives. Cranking up your problem-solving creativity can make a huge difference.

Here we are in mid-2022, another year in the COVID-19 pandemic. The list of national issues that affect our lives directly and indirectly is long. The future is uncertain in many ways. And we are trying to live our lives in the midst of it all. People are responding to all of this in various ways – some with anger, depression, withdrawal and others with determination and positive energy. Probably most of us alternate among these reactions or are somewhere in between.

Given the unique nature of the convergence of these elements, cranking up our problem-solving creativity is important to our thriving. But it’s hard to be creative when we are under pressure or overwhelmed. It’s often said that necessity is the mother of invention, and there certainly is truth in that. On the other hand, you may have experienced – as I have – that my mind can be paralyzed in that kind of situation. What’s the difference? It could very well be our mindset.

Make Sure You Start With a Positive Mindset

It’s easy to have a negative mindset in challenging situations. This definitely hampers our ability to do our best problem solving. So before tackling a situation, make sure that you are coming from a positive view. If all you see is doom and gloom, if it seems hopeless, if you are just tired of struggling, this is the first step to effectively addressing what’s going on. Shift how you look at things to alter your thought process and open your mind to more options.

How do you do this? Begin with saying positive affirmations like:  I am creative, I easily come up with new solutions, my mind is open to unique solutions, I have navigated hard times before, etc. Say them multiple times throughout your day and see the difference. You can also seek out positive quotes to inspire you. Google can help you find them. Just search for quotes about creativity, or quotes about surviving tough times, or any topic that fits your situation. Print them and post them where you will see them regularly and/or make them a picture on your phone.

You can also do this exercise: practice looking at things from a different perspective. How would someone else view it? It could be a friend, someone with different life experience, a parent or grandparent, etc. You may be surprised at what this shift can do to go beyond your current thoughts.

Another suggestion is to take a situation and practice detaching from the emotion of it. Instead of being immersed in the feelings you have surrounding that, step back and jot down the facts of the situation. What are the elements? Who is involved? How did this start? Is it temporary and will pass with time? Pretend you are an outside consultant who brings objectivity.

Practice allowing yourself to look at the situation without boundaries. Don’t immediately search for a ‘sensible’ solution. Look for something out of the ordinary. This allows your creative juices to flow. Let your mind wander. Look at the problem from all angles. Remind yourself that you have navigated many challenges before and you can do it again.

Collect Resources That Can Help You

One of the by-products of the extended impact of the pandemic is that our usual practices of communication and support with others were drastically changed. Even as things have opened up, it is still different. I wrote about nurturing creativity about six months into the pandemic here: http://carolbrusegar.com/nurturing-creative-thinking/

Several approaches to increasing our creativity were highlighted there, including initiating sharing conversations and brainstorming sessions with others on specific topics. Other people can be our greatest resources. You can do this virtually, as suggested in the above post, or now in person. One of the advantages of virtual is that you can include people who don’t live near you. Each of us have unique perspectives and resource ideas and connections. We don’t have to struggle alone!

Keeping a running list of ideas on various topics can aid in cranking up our problem-solving creativity. Perhaps you think you don’t have many ideas. Or perhaps you know you do but think that they are impractical or don’t apply now. In either case, I challenge you to try using an Idea Journal. Capture ideas you have about anything. This reinforces your recognition that you are creative – and seeds the expectation that you can solve things creatively. You will be amazed after doing this regularly how many ideas you have. Some you will use, many you won’t use. The largest benefit is illustrating to yourself that you are indeed creative.

Cranking up your problem-solving creativity is essential, enjoyable and can make a huge difference every day. If you want to learn more, check out these books:

Big Magic, Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert. If you are feeling fear about the future and your ability to creatively live in the coming months and years, this can be inspiring and helpful.

The Creative Habit, Learn It and Use It For Life by Twyla Tharp.  Included are simple exercises that can expand your creative thinking as you go about your daily life.

I’m Carol Brusegar, author, photographer and curator of information. My focus is on gathering and writing on topics that enhance all our lives – regardless of our age. Topics include health and wellness, personal development, innovation and creativity, and a variety of helpful, practical tools and practices. I have a special interest in helping people over 50 years of age to create their 3rd Age – the next stage of their lives – to be the best it can be.

 

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Coloring for Adults: Benefits for Mental Health and Mindfulness

benefits for mental health of coloringWe can all add to our repertoire of approaches to maintaining and improving our mental health. I wrote earlier about using creative activities for relaxation and stress relief. One of the art activities included is coloring. I wanted to learn more about the values of coloring for adults and found research and medical coverage that has given me greater appreciation for its benefits for mental health.

First, a little background. Adult coloring books have been around for a long time. In the 1970s there was a surge in interest. But in the past 7 years or so they have been more popular than before. The largest spike in sales of coloring books was from 2014 when one million copies were sold to 2015 when sales were 12 million. After a few years of much lower but consistent sales, the recent years of COVID-19 saw dramatic increases. More publishers and self-publishers created an expanded variety of products and the total sales numbers are hard to gather – but lots of people began coloring.

For some people, coloring is a simple distraction or way to recapture something we may have enjoyed doing as children. Clinical psychologist Scott M. Bea, PsyD, says, “Adult coloring requires modest attention focused outside of self-awareness. It’s a simple activity that takes us outside ourselves” like activities such as knitting or mowing lawn.

Multiple Benefits of Coloring

WebMD.com, the popular online health information source, published a medically reviewed  article in August of 2021 entitled, “Adult Coloring Books: 7 Benefits of Coloring.”   The first benefit is one we all need:

1. (Coloring) Relaxes Your Brain and Improves Brain Function

Coloring books are a great way to relax your brain and quiet your mind. When you’re coloring, you’re focused on the simple activity in front of you. This begins to relax your mind and keep your thoughts from intruding.

Coloring can also improve your brain’s ability to function. When you’re coloring, different parts of your brain’s cerebral hemispheres are activated. When you choose what colors to use, your creativity is activated. As you color forms and shapes, your logic is also activated.

The other six benefits in the article illustrate why coloring has become a tool recommended by therapists and counselors to decrease mental stress, relieve depression and reduce anxiety levels. It is even thought to help prevent dementia conditions by stimulating synapses in your brain. Your creativity is stimulated beyond the coloring itself as you stimulate the creative part of your brain.

Focus on Mandalas and Fractals

Coloring books come in multitudinous styles, themes and subject matter which appeal to people’s interests. There are a couple of types that seem to have particular benefits for mental health: mandala and fractal coloring books.

A study conducted by Nancy A. Curry and Tim Kasser, Galesburg, IL examined the effectiveness of various art activities in reducing anxiety using coloring of mandalas, coloring plaid and free coloring on blank paper.

The group who colored mandalas significantly decreased their anxiety levels below baseline (which) suggests that coloring such designs may be useful for helping individuals who chronically experience anxiety. At the least, coloring mandalas or other complex designs may be useful in lessening other stress-related problems if conducted before or immediately after the stressful activity. For example, people with test anxiety could color mandalas prior to taking the test, or people who fear flying on airplanes might color before, or even during, their flight.

Mindful Coloring

The effectiveness of coloring is enhanced by practicing mindfulness as you color. It’s all about being in the moment, engaged and involved in what you are doing. It’s not multi-tasking. It’s focusing on the image and clearing your mind of everything else as you choose colors and create your beautiful piece of art.

As you proceed, you engage in something that doesn’t bring stress or anxiety but relaxes you. Because of this, many people pull out their coloring when they feel angry or upset to calm down and focus.

In mindful coloring you learn to clear your mind and focus on the task at hand – and this skill can be applied in many areas of your life. It’s easy to be distracted and we so often are trying to do more than one thing at a time.

Time To Try It!

As noted above, mandala and fractal coloring have some proven benefits for mental health. If you are not familiar with fractals, check this out: Nature and Fractals Reduce Overwhelm and Stress

Mandala books are prolific online and elsewhere. Here are some of the many options for fractal coloring books. Happy coloring!!!

 

I’m Carol Brusegar, author, photographer and curator of information. My focus is on gathering and writing on topics that enhance all our lives – regardless of our age. Topics include health and wellness, personal development, innovation and creativity, and a variety of helpful, practical tools and practices. I have a special interest in helping people over 50 years of age to create their 3rd Age – the next stage of their lives – to be the best it can be.

 

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Managing Your Perfectionist Tendencies

Managing your Perfectionist Tendencies is an important life skill,.Are you a perfectionist? There’s nothing wrong with wanting things in your life just so, wanting things beautiful, wanting everything done right, and wanting to work hard to achieve great goals. Each of us has our own view of what is perfect, but there is no overall standard for it. Holding ourselves to perfectionism as we see it can be detrimental to our own health and insisting on our own standard can be detrimental to our relationships with others. Managing your perfectionist tendencies can be an important life skill.

High Standards and Reality

Yes, high standards for yourself in every area of your life are good. You don’t want low standards to live by, but you cannot set high standards and expect perfectionism from each of them. There isn’t a perfect life – or even a perfect job or a perfect mate. Looking perfect or behaving perfectly are unrealistic. Things don’t happen perfectly.

Set high standards but don’t make their achievement be the ultimate measure of your sense of accomplishment and wellbeing. Learn how to re-evaluate those standards as needed to allow for small imperfections and flexibility. Consider that striving for perfection can mean you don’t realize many of the goals or plans you desire because you spend so much time and energy that it decreases what you can do.

Pressure and Perfectionism

If you believe that things must be just so, done this way, or appear that way, you are putting too much pressure on yourself. For example, if you cannot leave your home without everything being put away and all things looking perfectly clean, you might put a lot of pressure on yourself if you’re already running late.

If you take the time to clean up, you could be late for work, the kids could be late for school, and you could be so stressed as you are driving that you ruin your morning and theirs. Are those possible outcomes worth the clean house? Making choices with a larger perspective is important.

Mental Health and Perfectionism

You’ll drive yourself crazy if you want things perfect and don’t allow any room for mistakes. In fact, your own mental and emotional health can be affected with depression, anxiety and other impacts of stress. And you’ll damage relationships with people around you too.

4 Tricks to Keep Perfectionism in Check on a Daily Basis

Here are some tips to help in managing your perfectionist tendencies on a daily basis: 

  1. Prioritize

Perfectionists often spend far too much time trying to perform even mundane tasks perfectly. Take some time to consider what in your life you feel most strongly about being the highest quality. Then try to let go of other things as being subject to the ‘perfect’ requirement.

As you look at your daily activities, make decisions about when to do them and how much time to spend on them based on that assessment. Prioritize the most important things. This can decrease pressure and increase your satisfaction.

  1. Take Mistakes in Stride

If you’re a perfectionist, making a mistake can feel crippling and derail your productivity for the rest of the day. Practice taking your mistakes in stride and seeing them as opportunities to learn something for the future. Rather than dwelling on and feeling badly about it, focus on the future and how to avoid the mistake or improve the next time.

  1. Take a Perspective Break

Next time you find yourself panicking over a small detail that isn’t perfect or stressed about all you have to do perfectly that day, take a step back and give yourself a ‘perspective break.’ Simply ask yourself how important a task really is. By forcing yourself to assess its importance, you’ll be able to recognize when you’re obsessing over less important tasks and save time for working on the things that actually matter.

  1. Get a Friend’s Take

Another way to keep your tasks and problems in perspective is to ask a friend for their take on things. If you’re convinced that your room just doesn’t look right no matter how you arrange it, for example, ask a friend what they think. Their comments can show you if it’s your inner perfectionist speaking or what could be changed for a better result. This can make it easier to realize when the detail you’re stuck on simply isn’t a big deal or give you helpful input.

  1. Hold Yourself Accountable with Kindness

There’s nothing wrong with striving for excellence, but if that comes at a cost to sanity or self-esteem, it is not worth it. Staying kind and understanding about your own flaws and inconsistencies is key to sharing that generosity of spirit with others.

Replace your harsh and demeaning thoughts and self-talk when things aren’t ‘perfect’ with positive reinforcements. Give yourself a break by looking back at your track record of successes instead of the shortcomings. This can encourage you as you continue managing your perfectionist tendencies to make your life and relationships more enjoyable and fulfilling.

If you want to do more work in this area, I recommend this journal. The Perfectionism Journal is new in spring of 2022 and provides prompts, exercises and room for reflections. Check it out to see if it will be a tool for you. https://amzn.to/3Fm0PfK

 

I’m Carol Brusegar, author, photographer and curator of information. My focus is on gathering and writing on topics that enhance all our lives – regardless of our age. Topics include health and wellness, personal development, innovation and creativity, and a variety of helpful, practical tools and practices. I have a special interest in helping people over 50 years of age to create their 3rd Age – the next stage of their lives – to be the best it can be.

 

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Are You Forgetting Things More?

If you find yourself forgetting things more than you used to, it may be yet another result of our unprecedented experiences and great uncertainty during the past couple of years. You may also find it hard to distinguish between details of memories you do have. Having experienced both of those things, I found a recent article on the topic to bring some clarity. The title caught my attention: “Why We’re All Forgetting Things Right Now.” So it’s not just me!

In fact, the article cited several examples of very young people spacing out on things they knew – names of people, perhaps how to do routine things. That was comforting. “Our brains are like computers with so many tabs open right now,” says Sara C. Madnick, a neuroscientist and professor of cognitive science at the University of California, Irvine. “This slows down our processing power, and memory is one of the areas that falters.”

That explanation makes a lot of sense to me. Think of all the changes and stress of the past couple of years. Think of the deluge of information we allow to come at us on a regular basis. And now we have a new set of stressors – costs are rising due to multiple global realities including a war. Lots of uncertainty continues along with more “normality” and hope than we’ve had for so long.

The author of the article, Elizabeth Bernstein, shares some recommendations from experts that can boost our memories.

Don’t force itForcing yourself to try to remember something is counterproductive. You’ll become frustrated, and that frustration allows the emotional part of your brain to override the parts of your brain that retrieve memories, says Jennifer Kilkus, a clinical health psychologist and assistant professor of psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine. Let it go for a bit; take some deep breaths to calm your brain and try again later.

 

Stop multitasking. It’s tough to recall something, or to commit something to memory in the first place, when you’re doing two things at once, Dr. Kilkus says. So put your phone away. (This will help cut back on information overload, too.) Try doing one thing at a time. Pay attention to small tasks you typically do on autopilot, such as brushing your teeth.

 

Help your brain calmThis will strengthen your frontal lobe, which is involved in both memory encoding and retrieval, as well as stress regulation, says Dr. Mednick, author of the coming “The Power of the Downstate.” Dr. Mednick recommends daily meditation, yoga, or simply slow deep breathing for at least 10 minutes a day. Take a walk, preferably in nature. Connect with a loved one….And get some sleep. This clears out toxins in your brain that can clog your mental processing, she says.

 

Be socially presentGive your full attention to people when you talk with them. Doing so will help you better recall what you want to say in the conversation—because your brain won’t be distracted or overtaxed—and remember what was said, says Jeanine Turner, professor of communication at Georgetown University.”

All of these are simple, quite obvious strategies when you are forgetting things more. Here’s another – using sound to reduce stress. https://carolbrusegar.com/the-power-of-sound-to-calm-and-heal/

If you are forgetting things more or things are melding together into a fog, consider making one or more of these recommendations part of your daily life. Which one resonates with you most as a way to address what you are experiencing?

As a way to help you implement your choice(s) over time, take time to journal the situations you face, what strategies you tried and how effective they were. If you don’t use a journal regularly, you can download and print these FREE pages to get started. There are 4 unique pages, each with a mandala to color as well as space to journal.

Mandala Journal Pages

I’m Carol Brusegar, author, photographer and curator of information. My focus is on gathering and writing on topics that enhance all our lives – regardless of our age. Topics include health and wellness, personal development, innovation and creativity, and a variety of helpful, practical tools and practices. I have a special interest in helping people over 50 years of age to create their 3rd Age – the next stage of their lives – to be the best it can be.

Using a Variety of Creative Activities for Relaxation

http://carolbrusegar.com/ecourse-on-journaling-a-prism-to-clarify-and-enhance-all-aspects-of-life/Just relax… take some deep breaths, chill out… These are often our advice to those around us who are stressed and overwhelmed – and what others say to us. There are more options to explore, including many creative activities for relaxation.

Some of us are driven to keep busy and productive all the time and don’t realize the importance of taking real breaks, of unwinding, really relaxing. Physically, it lowers the heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate. It also reduces muscle tension and chronic pain. Mentally, it reduces stress and other symptoms of mental health issues, including depression and anxiety. And our concentration and mood are improved!

We can access the benefits of relaxation in a variety of ways. Many of us have one or more fallback activities – vegging out in front of the TV, walking or exercising, working in the garden, coloring or drawing. Some rely on meditation or yoga. Adding options to your repertoire can be enjoyable and helpful.

As we look at 10 types of creative activities for relaxation, you will see some that you already use. Think about ways to adapt or expand them. Consider suggesting them to others.

Artwork (drawing, painting, sculpting, etc.) Don’t worry about your skill level. Try something you’ve not done before, dust off skills you haven’t used in a while, and pour yourself into it. Use it to express your thoughts and feelings, or just to escape from all of that.

Crafts (pottery, knitting, embroidery, decoupage, etc.) Decide to try something new or come back to a craft you enjoyed in the past. The creative process is both relaxing and affirming.

Coloring – If artwork and crafts seem like too much preparation and too complicated, just get some great coloring pencils, pens or markers and one of the wide variety of adult coloring books available. Use your creativity with color combinations and see a completed project before you know it. Check out these coloring books and the coloring implements offered there too.

Gifts for others (homemade cards, bookmarks, etc.) Focus on someone special you’d like to share a personalized handmade item with for an upcoming event or ‘just because.’ You can create a card with your own artwork or photography along with your own words that will be a treasure for the recipient. Bookmarks are a way to creatively express something and they can be used for a long time.

Music (learn to play an instrument, dance, etc.) Music is so powerful in reducing stress and also boosting the immune system. Perhaps you already have a playlist or favorite music in other forms to help you relax. I have CDs and my favorite classical music station on which I rely. Take that one step farther and choose an instrument that speaks to your soul and learn to play it. The point is not to become a musician but to learn something new and find enjoyment in it. And then there’s dancing! The movement distracts you from the thoughts that are holding you captive and releases chemicals that reduce stress and increase your calmness and optimism. Find a free dance class on YouTube or just turn on your favorite upbeat music.

 Gardening – For many people, gardening is the ultimate stress-reducer. Your hands in the dirt, the joy of seeing things grow and flourish – it’s the miracle of nature. Whether you are growing vegetables or flowers or both, the effect can be great. Both the actual work and being able to observe the results in stressful moments are stress reducers. Container gardening can give the same benefits if you don’t have other garden space.

D.I.Y. Projects (interior design/redecorating, outdoor projects that enhance your patio or yard, organizing your closet, decluttering your living/workspace) Although these involve work, they also engage your creative mind. How can you make any of these spaces more enjoyable, comfortable, or functional? The process takes you away from your sources of stress and overwhelm into a space of creativity.

Culinary Arts (cooking, baking, cake decorating, creating new recipes, etc.) Trying new things, creating something different, developing a new food-related skill can all be relaxing and give you additional options when you are stressed.

Personal Care Art (nail art, makeup, hair styling, etc.) Learning and practicing any of these can both be relaxing and save you money if you are paying to have them done. It’s time alone, self-care and creativity combined.

Creative Writing (blogging, journaling, poetry, articles and books, songwriting) Writing is magical. Choose a type of writing that is comfortable or experiment with another form. Journaling in particular can be a way to release and uncover what is going on internally and process both the internal and external. It’s a way to sort out the unpleasant and positive things that are happening and to deal with the one and celebrate the other. You can gain perspective that reduces your stress on a daily basis. I’ve written about different techniques of journaling here:  https://carolbrusegar.com/journaling-as-a-tool/ and here: http://carolbrusegar.com/journaling-techniques-to-boost-your-creativity/

 

Try some of these creative activities for relaxation that release your creativity, allowing you to refocus your energy and open up space for new ways to approach the stresses of life. Find things that you love doing; that makes you relax and be in touch with your inner self. You will be amazed at the results!

If you would like to explore multiple ways to journal and how they enhance your life, you can sign up for my FREE e-course on journaling:

http://carolbrusegar.com/ecourse-on-journaling-a-prism-to-clarify-and-enhance-all-aspects-of-life/

I’m Carol Brusegar, author, photographer and curator of information. My focus is on gathering and writing on topics that enhance all our lives – regardless of our age. Topics include health and wellness, personal development, innovation and creativity, and a variety of helpful, practical tools and practices. I have a special interest in helping people over 50 years of age to create their 3rd Age – the next stage of their lives – to be the best it can be.

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Becoming More Adaptable in Challenging Times

Tips to Being More AdaptableWe are living in uncertain times. It’s not the first time, of course. There has never been a time when people could be certain exactly how their lives would play out. That’s life. We can’t possibly plan for every outcome, so we must adapt when we are faced with new realities. Becoming more adaptable has become extremely important as we have  experienced uncertainty in so many parts of our lives since the beginning of the pandemic. Flexibility has become more and more important; I previously wrote about that here: Developing a Flexible Mindset When Uncertainty Reigns

What have you learned about your adaptability during the past couple of years? Have you strengthened your adaptability muscles? Or perhaps you are experiencing fatigue from all the adapting you have done and would just like things to stop changing so much. As we move forward, the challenges continue and we are being called upon to continue to adapt.

Here are 8 tips for becoming more adaptable. Some may be your usual ways of adapting, some may be new or forgotten concepts.

Have a Guiding Light

Life throws all kinds of surprising situations and obstacles in your path. If you have a guiding light or a purpose, you will find it easier to adapt and get back on track. Even if your short-term goals and plans are derailed, you will know your general direction and adjust accordingly. Perhaps your guiding light/purpose has shifted in these past couple of years. Find ways to keep your purpose before you in the midst of changes.

Have a Flexible Comfort Zone

We all crave some stability and things we can count on. It is the foundation from which we live our lives. However, it’s possible for that to become a rut, a place that we refuse to leave. When we are forced to leave our comfort zone as we have in many ways recently, we create new ones. Moving forward, be intentional about keeping your comfort zone flexible. Do some different things regularly so you will be more comfortable when outside factors mandate changes.

Practice With Low-Stake Activities

Adaptability is like any skill. You can hone and strengthen it through repeated use. If you aren’t good at rolling with the punches, try starting small. Becoming more adaptable can be making as simple as changing your route to work. And those changes provide new experiences that can be enjoyable.

Commit to Learning

Life always includes learning. A hallmark of adaptability is having a wide spectrum of knowledge. By making lifelong learning a priority you are building adaptability into your life. You will find it much easier to adjust your approach if you have the skills and knowledge you need.

 Stay On Top of Current Events

While watching the news every night can be hard, you should strive to stay on top of current events and trends. Spotting an emerging trend that might affect you will help you prepare for any adjustments you have to make. It also raises your awareness of opportunities that are important for your health and wellbeing.

Accept That Things Will Not Always Go As Intended

Life is going to be full of disappointments and mistakes. This is especially true if you are regularly forced to adapt to changing circumstances. Even the best-laid plans can be affected by forces out of our control. The key is to redefine these things from personal failures to opportunities to learn new things and try something else.

Say “Yes” More Often

People are often told they should “no” more often. Setting healthy boundaries is important. However, there are things we may need to say “yes” to more often also. By accepting new and different challenges, you will be training your adaptability.  Becoming more adaptable includes being intentional about what you say “yes” to as well as what you decline.

Let Go of Attachment

The idea of attachment is a key tenet of Buddhism. Our inability to detach from our ideas of how things should be can hold us back from a fulfilled life. This is good advice for those who struggle with adaptability. When you let go of your idea of how things need to be, you make it easier to adjust when things change.

 Becoming more adaptable is an ongoing effort. We always want stability and things we can count on. Balancing that with a desire for self-initiated change and ability to adapt to changes put upon us is a goal of life.

If you would like to explore more aspects of this, check out:

How to Survive Change . . . You Didn’t Ask for: Bounce Back, Find Calm in Chaos, and Reinvent Yourself by M.J. Ryan

I’m Carol Brusegar, author, photographer and curator of information. My focus is on gathering and writing on topics that enhance all our lives – regardless of our age. Topics include health and wellness, personal development, innovation and creativity, and a variety of helpful, practical tools and practices. I have a special interest in helping people over 50 years of age to create their 3rd Age – the next stage of their lives – to be the best it can be.

Visit my Amazon Author Page to see the books I have available.  

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Being in a State of Flow – High Energy and Focused Productivity

Being in a State of Flow – High Energy and Focused ProductivityFLOW is used in two ways in our psychological lexicon. As go with the flow – relax, allow life/the universe to flow through you and as in the zone, a state of flow – a mental state of high energy and focused productivity and enjoyment in the process.

As I think of flow, I think of rivers, which illustrate both usages. My experience is of these rivers – the Yahara that flows lazily through my hometown in Wisconsin, the majestic Mississippi as it flows through Minneapolis, my home for 40 years, and the Cumberland that flows through Nashville where I lived for ten years. Each of these rivers flow freely in some parts of their length and are controlled by dams at points. Where there are dams, the water that is harnessed for a purpose before returning to a more placid flow again. The state of flow is rather like that.

How often do you feel “in the zone” or in a state of flow? For many of us, it is less frequent than we would like. The exciting thing is that we can in fact create it on demand by following some guidelines and practicing them!

This concept of flow was recognized and named in 1975 by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyl. This is how he described it in an interview with Wired Magazine: “The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”

When you are in a state of flow, work becomes effortless. And it doesn’t just happen at work. You may get into the “flow” while you’re working on projects around the house or working on a writing or artistic project. No matter what you’re working on, “flow” can make you feel amazing… almost like you have a super power.

Attributes of Flow

Flow is a State Of Mind

“Being in the flow” is a state of mind. That means you control getting into it. Pay attention to what happens to your thinking, your feelings, and your surroundings when you get into the flow naturally. This will help you when it’s time to get in the flow on demand.

Your Energy Levels Are High

The next thing you’ll notice when you get into the flow state is that your energy is really high. You’ll be able to focus and make progress on whatever project you’re working on for a long time – until you’re either disrupted or exhausted.

You’re Highly Focused

The next big sign of being in the flow is that you are very focused. Tasks that usually take you hours, get done in half an hour. Email, social media, the phone, Netflix, or the pile of dishes in the sink suddenly aren’t the big distractions they usually present. You’re hunkered down, focusing on the task at hand with your blinders on.

You’re Having Fun

Last but not least you’re having a lot of fun when you’re in flow. It’s exhilarating and time is flying. Being focused and getting a ton done in a short amount of time makes you feel incredibly accomplished and proud. Endorphins start to kick in and you do feel a bit like a super hero.

How to Intentionally Get Into Flow

Flow does happen to us occasionally without our intention. It’s a wonderful gift. Even better, we actually can generate it on demand. Getting into a state of flow is a bit of a personal thing. It works a little differently for each of us because we are all motivated by different things and various factors help us get into the flow.

Mindset

As noted at the beginning, your state of mind or MINDSET is key to this whole process. Getting into a state of  flow is mostly about getting out of your own way and allowing it to happen.

It’s important to not let yourself get distracted and to build your confidence that you can indeed become adept at getting yourself into the flow on demand. It will take practice – like any new skill.

Being motivated, inspired and excited about a project is perhaps the largest factor in getting into a state of flow. Spend a couple of minutes thinking about why you are doing this particular project. It may be a passion project of your own, an assigned work project, or even something you don’t necessarily want to do (filing taxes, perhaps?). Whatever it is, there is a reason why you are doing it. For things in the must-do category, find a stronger, more emotional reason to help you get motivated, stay focused and on task. What deeper benefits will you have from completing any of these items? As you proceed, keep reminding yourself of this inspiration.

Use Deadlines

Having a deadline can help you get into the flow because it forces you to cut out all distractions and gives your mind no choice but to focus on the task at hand. It may not be the most pleasant way to get into the flow, but it is frankly one of the most effective ways.

Give it a try. Pick a task. It can be something small and easy for practice. Then set yourself a deadline. If you can make it a real deadline all the better. For example, tell your friend that you can’t meet her for lunch until all the filing is done, or promise your kids to take them to the park in 30 minutes, but tell yourself that you have to finish writing the blog post you’ve been working on first.

In a future post I will address more about using this tool to enrich our life experiences. In the meantime, you may be interested in the most recent edition of the book that elevated this concept into popular culture:

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi  

I’m Carol Brusegar, author, photographer and curator of information. My focus is on gathering and writing on topics that enhance all our lives – regardless of our age. Topics include health and wellness, personal development, innovation and creativity, and a variety of helpful, practical tools and practices. I have a special interest in helping people over 50 years of age to create their 3rd Age – the next stage of their lives – to be the best it can be. 

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TRY SPRING CLEANING YOUR LIFE!

I remember the extensive spring cleaning that my mother always did. It included washing all the windows inside and out, washing curtains and drapes, special attention to the floors, airing out blankets, coats and other heavy winter things before storing them for the summer. Walls and baseboards were washed and any spiderwebs in corners of the ceiling that hadn’t been removed met their demise. And about the curtains – there was a time when there were lace curtains in the living room and dining room that had to be washed, starched and stretched dry on wooden frames with tiny sharp nails. Does anyone else have those memories?

Another part of the process was cleaning the front porch which had been closed to use for the winter and dust and grime had accumulated. When that was finished, we could again use it –  a real mark of spring and the anticipation of summer.

I have not carried on the tradition of seasonal cleaning in this way. Truth be told, I’m not that kind of housekeeper at all. The concept of spring cleaning, however, can be applied to our lives in productive ways.

Here are nine examples of spring cleaning tasks of this type for you to consider:

Take Stock

Before you start, take careful stock of how you are currently doing. Do you have goals? How are they going? Are there any areas of your life you’d like to change up? Taking stock of where you are will help you direct your energy where it’s needed.

 Clean Up Your Relationships

Do you have any toxic relationships? Maybe it is time to part ways with these people or modify the types and amount of time you spend with them. We all need people in our lives that cheer us up, lift us up or build us up.

Tidy Up Your Habits

Look at your habits and assess whether they are positive and helpful or not – or if you have fallen into some ruts that you want to get out of. Bad habits add up over time and cost you in the long run. Spring is a perfect time to build some new positive habits.

Clear Your Mind

In our busy lives, it’s so easy to end up with a lot of clutter in our heads. People, projects, work, and the events in our world all contribute. Three strategies that can be very effective in clearing your mind and helping you gain clarity and direction are brain dumps, journaling, and meditation. Learn how to most effectively do brain dumps here:  https://carolbrusegar.com/feeling-overwhelmed-try-a-brain-dump/

If you’d like to explore more about journaling and all the ways to use it effectively, here’s what I wrote about it: http://carolbrusegar.com/journaling-as-a-tool/

Unplug

Technology is great, but sometimes we need to unplug and live in the moment. You can take a social media sabbatical or break. You can choose a smaller number of platforms to be actively engaged. You can set time parameters for time spent on your devices. Any of these can free up time for person-to-person engagement, being more observant and connected to what’s around you, and reading more.

Refresh Your Fitness Routine

Do you have a fitness routine? Has it become boring or stale? Use spring cleaning time to consider a new exercise, sport, or activity that gets you excited – or at least is enjoyable – and fit it into your daily routine.

Springify Your Diet

Many of us fall into eating habits over the winter months that aren’t the best for us. We can’t continue to hide under big sweaters and coats, and we may be feeling sluggish and bloated. Clothes may not be fitting comfortably. This is a great time to look at what we’re eating and what additions and subtractions to make as we move into a new season. Experiment with a healthier diet that you can sustain and even enjoy. A total change is often not necessary. Try cutting out a few things and adding new ones.

Organize Your Workspace

This is almost real spring cleaning! Organizing your workspace is a great way to boost your productivity and get more excited about working in general. Make sure every item has its space and every space has a purpose. Put things that aren’t used regularly into drawers or closets to open your space – and remember where you put them (maybe even write it down)! Add some seasonal wall decor to brighten up the room. Add some candles with light, spring type scents here and in other parts of your home. There’s a great variety of seasonal scented candles here to choose from: Spring Scented Candles

Check Your Goals

We’re now into the second quarter of the year. Whether you meticulously set goals in January or have been sliding into the year with a less structured approach, this is a time to look at goals. A helpful tool is The 12 Week Year by Brian Moran and Michael Lennington. It’s a great approach to accomplishing what we wish in a much more manageable time frame.

Spring cleaning our homes is a worthy activity if it contributes to our overall wellbeing. Spring cleaning our life can be even more valuable and transformative. Look at the list of options, choose the ones that you want to start with and go from there. Happy Spring!

 

I’m Carol Brusegar, author, photographer and curator of information. My focus is on gathering and writing on topics that enhance all our lives – regardless of our age. Topics include health and wellness, personal development, innovation and creativity, and a variety of helpful, practical tools and practices. I have a special interest in helping people over 50 years of age to create their 3rd Age – the next stage of their lives – to be the best it can be.

         

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Managing Your Energy is a Game Changer!

Manage EnergyMight managing our energy be even more important than managing our time?

There’s a common belief that we can do as much as we want to as long as we can fit it into our days. Often this is without considering the energy we have to do all those things. And if we run out of steam and don’t accomplish all we had managed to fit into our plans, we think we are lazy or ineffective.

Here’s an example that you may be able to relate to. A person commits to a new physical training program. Often, they will start out by identifying they want to get into better shape (so far so good). Next, they decide they are going to follow a training program that consists of 5 workouts a week, each lasting about an hour (oh dear). What’s more, is that they do this while eating less.

The reason they were probably out of shape is that they didn’t have the energy to commit to being more active in the first place. Being stressed and tired likewise caused them to want to eat more things that weren’t conducive to weight loss.

So now, they intend to go from that, to adding four hours (7 if you add driving to the gym, showering, and more) of exertion, while having less energy in the form of food to help power them through it!

Geez, why do you think that doesn’t work?

Why is Your Energy Zapped?

Running out of steam and feeling blah – having low energy – can be an indicator of an illness, injury, excess stress or being overextended. It makes sense when you are sick, hurt, or doing too much that your energy levels will fall. In these cases, rest, recovery, and taking some things off your plate can help you revive your energy.

There are also some less obvious reasons people have low energy. Believe it or not, low energy can happen when you are otherwise healthy, injury free, and aren’t overwhelmed. Here are three of them.

Reason #1 – You aren’t living your best life. This is true of many of us during these years of the pandemic. So much has changed, so much is still uncertain. If we aren’t setting and achieving milestones, it can zap our energy. Underachievement can cause boredom, depression, anxiety, and a sense of hopelessness. We may not have new measures for milestones in a life changed in many ways.

Reason #2 – You aren’t spending time with the right people. With our social interaction restricted in the past two years, we may be spending more time with those who complain, gossip, are sad, etc. Or we are spending a great deal of time alone or with the same small circle. This really drains our energy and leaves us feeling down and unmotivated.

Reason #3 – Your growth is stunted. Many of the things that stretch us have not been part of our daily lives as much lately.  We may be out of atmospheres where we are constantly learning and stimulated by work and social interaction. Much of our focus has been making things work, adapting to difficult situations. True, this does require creativity; but it tends to be focused more on survival than transformation. Narrow rather than expansive.

Managing Your Energy

Generally speaking, humans need to eat, drink, sleep, and have a sense of purpose for optimal health. Outside of those guidelines, we are all unique. Our energy comes from the nuanced aspects of our preferences and what gives us joy. Your mind and body are connected and will indicate through reactions what things bring you more energy and get you excited about life. Pay attention to the cues and learn to read them so you can maximize your unique brand of energy.

Look at your activities in all aspects of your life.  They can rev up your energy or deplete it. Your unique personality lends itself to certain activities and finds very specific things exciting and energizing. Engaging in extracurricular activities that stimulate our minds and create a sense of wonder boost our energy. Your unique personality might need more or less activity to feel stimulated and emotionally satisfied.

Try out a variety of activities and pay attention to how you feel. See where your passions lie and how you react when you engage in meaningful activities. Allow yourself plenty of options for fun and don’t limit yourself from trying new things.

This is a great time to engage in some of this exploration of what energizes you. It’s an individual thing. What gives me energy may drain yours. As you explore, be sure to keep notes or journal so you capture what you are experiencing and learning.

Managing your energy can be a game-changer. As you learn and practice more, you are able to manage your life and aspirations better. It’s a worthwhile pursuit!

Here’s a great resource: Manage Your Energy Not Your Time

It includes ways to manage your mental, psychological and emotional energy. Check it out!

 

I’m Carol Brusegar, author, photographer and curator of information. My focus is on gathering and writing on topics that enhance all our lives – regardless of our age. Topics include health and wellness, personal development, innovation and creativity, and a variety of helpful, practical tools and practices. I have a special interest in helping people over 50 years of age to create their 3rd Age – the next stage of their lives – to be the best it can be.

         

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                                    Follow me on Facebook!         Visit my Etsy Shop!

HABITS, ROUTINES AND RITUALS – CLAIMING THEIR POWER IN TIMES OF CHANGE

Many of our habits, routines and rituals have changed over the past two years as we adapted to the reality of the pandemic. They may have changed repeatedly. As we move forward again, it is an ideal time to look at how we can adapt or create these practices for our current situations.

Habits, routines and rituals are related but distinct practices that can be formed and nurtured to simplify and enhance our lives. The more aware and intentional about them we are, the more effective they can be. Note: There is a flip side too! We can easily fall into habits, routines and rituals that are negative or more of a rut. Identifying the negatives and ruts and strategies for breaking out of them is a separate topic. The focus of this article is to look at these practices and how to use them effectively.

What Makes Them Helpful?

Why are positive habits and routines so helpful to us? It has to do with our brain capacity. Did you know that we all have a finite number of decisions that we can make in any given day? You may have noticed that it gets harder to make decisions toward the end of the day. Habits and routines help reduce the number of decisions we have to make and thus free brain space for more creative and productive thinking and also reduce daily stress.

Habits

It’s hard to argue that humans are indeed “creatures of habit.” Habits are necessary for us to navigate our lives successfully. Think of all the things you do by habit – things you do repeatedly and automatically, often almost involuntarily or unconsciously. Brushing your teeth morning and night, adjusting the thermostat as you head for bed, getting your morning coffee, turning on the morning news show on television, or whatever your particular automatic actions may be. Something triggers you – also likely subconsciously – and you take that action.

Routines

And then there are routines. Often the two are confused or used interchangeably. They are however distinct. Routines are a series of habits or activities that you combine for specific parts of the day or certain repeat situations. For example, the things you do between the time you awaken each morning and the time you are settled into your work, home or school activity for the day. Or your fitness or exercise routine. Or a writing routine if you are a writer/journaler. Or a study routine for students. You may have different routines for weekend days than weekdays.

Routines require more intention and effort to complete than simple habits. The series of things you do each morning may or may not actually be a routine. They may just be a series of actions that you take, not necessarily in the same order each day, maybe adjusting freely depending on circumstances. Or it actually may be a routine that has a sequence that you don’t change, in a firm timeline. Doing this gives you satisfaction and a launch for the rest of the day. If that is upset, your day doesn’t start well.

What are the routines that will be most helpful for you right now? Are there changes in what you are doing that will enhance your life?

Rituals

Sociologist Robert Wuthnow says, “rituals are any actions or events that have symbolic meaning beyond their instrumental value.” These meanings can be personal or collective and expressed alone or with others. They also have some unique characteristics. As Gustava Razzetti says in his Fearless Culture blog:   “A ritual is a sequence of activities  that are performed in a particular place and according to a set progression.  A ritual must have a clear beginning, middle, and end.”

Many of us have experienced religious rituals – the pattern of a regular service or gathering, a specific liturgy, sacraments such as baptism and holy communion. Both faith and other types of groups have rituals for particular times of the year. For example, I’ve been part of a burning bowl ritual on New Year’s Eve to burn the bits of paper on which each person has written what they want to leave behind from the previous year. Clubs and civic groups have rituals to begin and end meetings, how new members are added, and more. These are intended to solidify belonging and group identity.

We may have family rituals around family meals or holiday meals, how we put beloved pets to rest, how certain milestone birthdays are celebrated.

Individual rituals are used by many performers and athletes to prepare for an event or appearance. They are all intended to get the person into the right mindset/frame of mind to be able to perform their very best.

Creating rituals is a life-enhancing process that we can all participate in. The disconnection that we have all experienced during the years of the pandemic has made us more aware of ways we connected with others and how much we have missed them. This awareness is an impetus for many people and groups to recover, reinvent or create rituals as we move forward.

Elements of Ritual to Enhance Routines

You can also add an element of ritual to some routines to provide meaning and focus. Picking up a specific pen is a signal to you that you are beginning your writing routine. Putting it away is the end of that meaningful session. Putting on your best walking/running shoes or a particular baseball hat is a signal to begin your walking or running routine.

Such actions become triggers and motivators. Even if you aren’t feeling very much like doing the routine, taking that action can get you started without the mental conflict or feeling the need to engage great will power. Once established, it becomes a key to opening up that experience every time. And that helps you do the things you want to do with more ease.

Habits, routines and rituals are tools that we can use in many areas of life. They are especially helpful as we experience change, external and internal – as we all have in the past two years. As I researched and wrote this article, my interest in learning more grew. There are so many dimensions to be explored. If you also are intrigued with the possibilities, I recommend checking out these books:

Atomic Habits  by James Clear  Atomic/atom-sized/tiny habits to change many aspects of life are the focus of this book.

Daily Routine Planner  Use this planner including worksheets to create routines for all parts of the day and more.

The Power of Ritual  by Casper Ter Kuile.  Learn how to turn everyday activities into intentional rituals that will nurture your soul and transform life.

 

I’m Carol Brusegar, author, photographer and curator of information. My focus is on gathering and writing on topics that enhance all our lives – regardless of our age. Topics include health and wellness, personal development, innovation and creativity, and a variety of helpful, practical tools and practices. I have a special interest in helping people over 50 years of age to create their 3rd Age – the next stage of their lives – to be the best it can be.

 

Follow me on Twitter!     Follow me on Instagram!   Follow me on Pinterest!

Follow me on Facebook!         Visit my Etsy Shop!