Monday, January 9, 2012

Using Your Brain for Good, Not Evil!

Last week, I announced my 2012 mantra: 

Week Two is here and I’m more committed than ever to taking an active approach to changing/improving my life—and I’m going to drag you with me . . . kicking and screaming if I have to.

Instead of making Resolutions for the New Year (Read: sweeping generalizations that sound something like: 1) Lose 50 lbs, 2) Work out more, 3) Hit the NYT list, 4) Buy a condo), I’ve tossed out those huge, vague desires in favor of listing very specific steps I’m going to take to achieve control in three areas. I call this trifecta: Healthy, Wealthy & Wise. Because you have to think it to do it, I’m going to address this trio in reverse order, starting today with Wise.

When my oldest son, who is lucky enough to be blessed with my ADD/OCD, was in the Young Fives program at his elementary school, his first project was to color in the silhouette that had been traced around his body on a long sheet of paper so it could hang out in the hallway. After a day or two went by, his teacher pulled me aside, concerned because he wouldn’t work on his figure. That night, when I sat down with my son and asked him why he wasn’t doing his project, he got all teary and told me it was too big, that he’d never get it done. I thought about it for a minute then told him, “Don’t think about the whole thing. Start with one hand.”

While the entire shape was overwhelming, he agreed that one hand was doable. So with that goal in mind, the next day he colored in the right hand. Then the left. And the left hand is connected to the left arm . . . you get the picture, and so did he. By looking at the individual steps of the process instead of the finished product, he was able to compartmentalize his work into small, achievable sections that added up to what he’d viewed as an impossible accomplishment. BTW, he’s a darned good artist now!

As fate would have it, a wonderful blog on how the brain works was posted yesterday at Writers In the Storm. Check it out! It breaks down how our brain processes our reactions when presented with a specific stimuli or challenge. For example, when I look at my Resolution list above, those four goals are so general, my brain is immediately overwhelmed with sorting through so many ways to achieve them that it finally freezes up (just like your CPU/laptop processor when it’s trying to run a program that’s beyond its capabilities!). Instead of starting the New Year with positive strides toward my goals, I’ve set myself up for despair and failure (which in my case, leads to the kitchen). And the hoped for forward momentum is stalled, or sometimes even goes backward.

Start small and work up, piece by piece, until the whole is complete.

See, you’ve already learned something!

Since I want to start working smarter instead of harder, I’m applying that principal to my Healthy, Wealthy & Wise goals in 2012.

When we picked a speaker for our Mid-Michigan RWA chapter Retreat a few years ago, someone commented that she wasn’t going to attend because there was nothing that person could teach her. Oh pity that poor closed mind! Knowledge is found where you least expect it. Knowing how to look, and what to do with what you learn is half the battle.

Here are my smart goals for 2012:

  1. READ. I will set aside time every night to read material that’s outside my genre.
  2. LEARN. At least once a month I will take a class, watch a program or follow a blog topic on something I know nothing about that could improve or enlighten my world.
  3. GROW. I will step outside my professional comfort zone to embrace self-publishing as well as expansion through traditional venues.
  4. BUDGET. I will maintain my computer calendar and prioritize my schedule to fulfill my deadlines (And I won’t spend writing time on Social Media!).
  5. ORGANIZE. I will practice the 1 Minute Rule: If it takes less than a minute to deal with it, deal with it, don’t just put it aside.
  6. DECLUTTER. I will keep my work area free of “Oh shiny!” distractions i.e. bills, AAA cruise flyers, HGTV, hot guy DVDs, or clothes that need to be ironed.
  7. FOLLOW UP. I will respond immediately to personal and professional contacts/opportunities instead of losing them in e-mail or letting deadlines expire.
  8. EXERCISE. I will do something fun every day to give my mind a workout i.e. a round of Mahjong, a crossword or word search puzzle, or a Jeopardy challenge.
  9. CULTIVATE. I will find and maintain the support system that can help me achieve or expand my goals i.e. industry experts, PR contacts, inspirational or informational sites, and by engaging instead of observing in social settings.
  10. FOCUS. I will look ahead for opportunities instead back at disappointments. Learn, accept, adjust, move on.


The brain is a marvelous thing. But having one doesn’t automatically imply wisdom (nor, unfortunately, does wisdom miraculously arrive with age). It’s something you have to use or lose for it to continue to expand instead of stagnate. Give it specific, solvable tasks. Exercise it (which is why you don’t want to have a crossword puzzle book in your bathroom if I’m your guest!). Feed it with new experiences. And give it plenty of rest. I do some of my best plot problem solving after I go to bed and turn out the light.

That’s my Wise list of goals. What are some of yours? Remember, keep them small.

For more tips on how to manage and prioritize your time, check out my mini-read, Getting It Out There: Budgeting Time & Money through Wise Words Publishing. It’s filled with practical and proven ways to take control of that illusive clock.

Next week, for my All About Me Motivational Monday, I’m addressing Wealthy. Betcha a dollar you’ll be richer for it!


  1. Nice post Nancy...great ideas and wonderful suggestions to help goals not seem so overwhelming :)

  2. Borrowing your one-minute rule--that is one small change I'm making today. I also saw and was impressed with the Writers In the Storm article. Good article my friend. I'll be watching and picking your brain about the results.
    Patrish *who is even now hiding her crossword puzzles*

  3. Great post, Nancy. We are on the same wave-length. (I promise, I didn't read your blog before writing mine. LOL) I, too, like the one-minute rule. Makes sense. Thanks for the great advice.

  4. Nancy, I was so impressed by the Writers in the Storm article yesterday that I printed it out to read after I'd written my daily pages. Then today you mentioned it in your great blog. Wow! What a wealth of information to start the New Year. Thanks for giving such a clear explanation as to why I'm often overwhelmed with my work-in-progress. I look at the whole picture and think "impossible". You have shown me a wise way to win, word by word. (and how's that for a bunch of w's?)

  5. This is an amazing post! Thank you for sharing...I think I will start coloring the left hand this week!

  6. I am in awe. I have never seen a resolution list this long. And my head is spinning at the thought of two more lists to come! I love your list. But I'm not sure I could implement them all at once. Kudos to you!

  7. Very interesting ideas! I really like the one for breaking work down into smaller more manageable tasks. It's something I try to practice but it's easy to get overwhelmed. Looking forward to next week's blog.

  8. Plenty of good information there. Thank you. Think I'll implement the less than a minute rule.

    I'll also go one hand at a time.