Lost your creative zeal? Try this.



Zeal




Last Monday I had a super-long experiment and I left my lab at 10 pm. Which is my typical bedtime. Swamped and in pain, I dragged myself home. The next day I didn’t feel like doing my creative work.


Then I was going out a few times, couldn’t get enough sleep, and the creative practice just felt too demanding. So I skipped.


Recently I was in emotional pain and decided to skip my morning writing session. (Now I don’t even remember what caused me the pain. But I’m sure it felt bad at the moment.)


When I get overwhelmed, the easiest thing for me is to skip creating. I am my own boss, which means I can often can get away with excuses. “I was tired. Had too much on my plate this week anyways. I’m not inspired. Who cares?”


My creative work is something that brings me tons of joy and excitement, exploration and playfulness that I need so badly. However, when life gets messy, my passion vanishes. Creative work becomes just another item on already packed to-do list. Often skipped since it’s not urgent.


I imagine that you’ve experienced something similar. For most of us, creative gig is something that we do on the side. Something that we love, but something that gets postponed easily, when the life happens. Something we’re passionate about, but, as it usually happens, the passion fades after a while.
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10 creative ways to make your inner gremlin shut up



inner-critic





She is an old, grumpy lady. She is cynical. She never creates but only criticizes. Her hobby is gossiping. She always sees what someone did wrong and doesn’t hesitate to point it out. She is worried about the wide range of subjects: the political situation in the world, the climate changes, the Chinese stock market and the way in which our neighbors are raising their kids. Her ultimate concerns, though, are: my future, money and what will people think. She watches closely and criticizes relentlessly my each and every action. It’s not that I haven’t tried, but she is extremely hard to please. She is always unhappy. That’s her job because she is… my inner gremlin. My inner critic. My Resistance, as Steven Pressfield names it.


When we spoke about good effects of silence in daily life, an idea of making your inner gremlin shut up provoked many questions. “It sounds awesome, but how can I actually do that?” people asked. And that is a very good question. The one that has many potential answers that may or may not work for you at the certain day. Everyone is different and every gremlin is different. Thus, there is no a one-size-fits-all solution.


However, there are two big truths that apply for each one of us. Listen carefully:


1. YOU ARE NOT YOUR GREMLIN.


…or your gremlin isn’t you. We are not our thoughts, but we tend to identify with them. Similarly, you and the gremlin are two separate entities. Don’t identify with gremlin and his words. Don’t trust him.


Instead, make his or her portrait, like I did at the beginning of this post. Personify gremlin: define gender, age, character, maybe even the name. It will help you differentiate.


After the separation comes another important thing to remember.


2. YOU ARE CREATIVE. YOUR GREMLIN ISN’T.


That’s the key difference between you two. Gremlin is created out of your repetitive thoughts, beliefs and patterns. He has only limited material to work with. You, on the other hand, possess a boundless creative potential. That is your main asset. That is how you can beat the gremlin.


Every morning I write a lists of 10 ideas to exercise my creative muscles. That’s how I came up with 10 creative strategies to make gremlin shut up. Observe it as an arsenal of weapons that you can throw at him or her. Not everything will work for everyone and certainly not every time. But it’s worth trying. Enjoy.


1. ACKNOWLEDGE


The strategy I mentioned in the post about silence does miracles for me. Like any other vain creature, gremlin likes to be acknowledged for his insight. He will talk and complain and explain. He will find proofs, reasons and real life examples. “You won’t succeed. It is too hard. Have you seen that more than 50% of small businesses fail within first year? Even bigger players struggle. Look at Blackberry… no, I told you. You won’t be able to do it. You just weren’t born in the right time and at the right place…”


Then you need to make one step backwards. Gremlin did an awesome job. He did some market research. He knows a few things about the economy. He deserves an acknowledgment: “Good insight, man. Thanks for sharing.” It will keep him satisfied, and you’ll be able to do brave and meaningful things undisturbed.


2. IGNORE


“Ignore” was one of the best buttons on Facebook. (Now it’s tweaked with some other options. “Delete friend request” or so, which is a shame.) In good old days, you essentially had two options on Facebook: do something (like, share, comment, accept) or IGNORE. Do you want to see an important update that we made for chat that you never use anyway? Ignore. Person X says he went to elementary school with you. Do you want to add the elementary school to your profile? Ignore. Megan Fox wans to be your friend. Ignore. (Scam profile.) The prince of Nigeria wants to give you million dollars. Ignore.


Ignoring is pure gold. Does it make you bad person? Ignorant? Hell no! Whatsoever, good portion of your success will be related to your ability to ignore nonsense and focus on what matters. Gremlin is in the first category. So next time when he starts his dirge or gossip, press “Ignore”. Do you know that Amy bought another pair of shoes and she still claims that she doesn’t have enough to make ends meet? Ignore. Do you know that world is in big crisis? Ignore. Are you even aware that your ideas are impossible? Ignore. “Shut up man, I have a work to do!”


3. WRITE EVERY GREMLIN’S WORD


You can use my beloved free writing. (Set the time on your stopwatch and write whatever comes across your mind, without any care of grammar, spelling or the quality of written.) Morning pages, as Julia Cameron defines them, are ideal kickstarter for your day. When you put the BS from your head onto a page, your mind becomes free to focus on what truly matters. Ideal way to make gremlin silent.


So the next time he starts, open a blank document and capture his words. It will surprise him. He might stop and continue after a while. Have a document handy so that you can keep on writing. There are a few benefits of this strategy. You will become aware of the exact BS gremlin is telling you. Having it written will open a new space in your mind. Finally, the gremlin will be scared and ashamed. And silent!


4. REBEL


This strategy won’t work for everyone, but it’s interesting. Check out this Gretchen Rubin’s video. She speaks about 4 different categories of people, based on the way they respond internal and external rules. (And here is the post about it.)


If you are a rebel, you might want to operate with your gremlin in a rebellious way. For example: the gremlin says: “Man, you are never going to self-publish that book. That’s just too much work.” And you say: “Oh yeah? Too much work? Let me show you!” Challenge accepted! Make gremlin shut up by proving him wrong. Don’t argue, don’t discuss. Show him who is the boss.


5. WAIT AND LET IT PASS


Let’s try to implement a meditative process. During the meditation you sit in silence, focus on your breathing, observe the thoughts coming in and letting them go without attaching. Deepak Chopra compares your thoughts with the clouds in the blue sky. You just have to watch them passing. This idea can work for gremlin’s chatter as well.


Once you distance your self from gremlin, observe what she is telling you and let the words flow. Don’t think about them, don’t analyze them, don’t attach, wait for the storm to pass. You can do this many times a day. Whenever you notice gremlin starting, make a short break and let his words flow and leave your mind. Our inner chatter usually is not the problem. The problem occurs But when we attach to it emotionally and let it distract us, the problem occurs.


6. LAUGH


“What did you say? That I should lose some weight? That I’ll never find the right person for me? Ahahaha, hilarious man, you sound like a desperate housewife from a TV soap. You’re making me laugh. Stop for a while, will you? I have something important to work on.” This will totally embarrass gremlin and he will stop. You find his valuable input funny? Fine, you won’t get any more advice then! (Which is a good news.)


Of course, gremlin will forget and continue after a while, but the break will be longer. Another catch is that this idea is easier said than done. Maybe you cannot laugh as easily at everything he says. Maybe it hurts. Maybe it’s something you haven’t even examined yourself. Maybe it’s something you actually believe in. Something that scares you. It is an important clue: why can’t you laugh at his words? Process to the next step.


7. ASK: “IS IT TRUE?”


Write one sentence from the gremlin’s drama down. If possible, the one that really makes you feel angry, lost, powerless, bad in any way. Ask yourself: “Is this true?” Can you absolutely be sure? How do you know?


This is the wisdom from Byron Katie’s cuisine. She says that an unquestoned mind is the world of suffering. Powerful idea. We create scary Universes and live in fear. We believe in something just because it popped up into our mind. Question everything. Twice. Don’t get upset before you examine it. Steven Pressfield formulated it powerfully: “It’s one thing to lie to ourselves. However, it is completely another thing to believe in our own lies.”


8. THANK HIM/HER


Up to this point we mostly assumed that the gremlin is an evil force that has the purpose to prevent you from doing your best work. Nothing is black or white and the same goes here. Gremlin is not all that horrible. He has done some good things for you. He has prevented you from making fool of yourself quite a few times. He forced you to re-think and edit once again before hitting ‘Publish’. He reminded you to think before you leap. Gremlin is the part of the lizard brain, instinctive, fight-or-flight mind that provided us survival for ages. He needed to make sure that you don’t expose yourself too much and that you remain good, average member of your tribe. That’s what he knows, that’s what he does. Thank him for that.


“Dear gremlin, thank you for all the daily reminders. Thank you for making sure that I am not over-sharing publicly. Thank you for making me question the value of my work, editing it many times and improving it. Thank you for collecting all the relevant (and irrelevant) information for me. Thank you for being persistent. I appreciate your efforts.” Make a peace with your gremlin. War is depleting your energy. Gratitude is much better place to be.


9. ASK: “WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO PROTECT ME FROM?”


The next step. Ask gremlin what is he trying to protect you from. Some of the scary things are already mentioned: making fool of yourself and opposing to the tribe’s standards. (Gremlins are people pleasers.) When you start questioning your gremlin, you’ll see that he will also try to protect you from work, discomfort, disapproval, uncertainty, pain, difficult conversations, loneliness, silence. He will dissuade you from being different, from trying new things, from being criticized. It is your responsibility to dare greatly, knowing that valuable things are on the other side of discomfort, work, uncertainty and criticism. But gremlin does his job of protecting you.


I somehow see gremlin as a grandma. She wants you to eat well, finish the school, get married, come back to your home town, buy a house in the neighborhood, find a job in a post office, have 3 to 5 kids and come to lunch every Sunday. That’s what she knows and how she imagines an ideal life. She doesn’t see any point in being different and putting your creations out there. She wants you to be comfortable and do what everyone else does. And you? Come to lunch on Sunday, thank her, acknowledge, find out what she is trying to protect you from. Evaluate the risk. Over protected children grow up weak and confused. Don’t let this happen to you. When you start questioning, you’ll find out that these things are not as scary and even necessary for your growth.


10. DEBUNK


Finally, debunk the gremlin. He is created from your beliefs, thoughts and experiences. Recognize them. Name them.
“I know you. You are my Resistance.”
“You are my low self-confidence from high school.”
“You are my father’s lack of approval.”
“You are my mom’s constant worry about what will people think.”
“You are my fear of unknown.”
“You are my pessimism.”
“You are not real. You are just my monkey mind.”


And poof! Gremlin is gone. This method requires some self knowledge and courage. Nightmare stops being a nightmare if you look it straight in the eyes. Try it.


These were my 10 creative ways to make your inner gremlin shut up. I hope at least a few of them resonated with you. Keep them in your arsenal and use when necessary. Warrior should never have a favorite weapon, so feel free to try different things. Make your priority to change your mind’s automatism and open up more space for creating. No one will do that for you.


Your turn. Who is your gremlin? Age, gender, name, personal traits? What is he/she telling you? Try one of the methods to make the gremlin silent out and let me know how it went in the comment section below.


If you know someone who struggles with gremlin of his own, please share this post with him or her.

XXX


Miss Strangelove


P. S. Cookie of Wisdom: “If you hear a voice within you say: ‘You can not paint,’ then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.” Van Gogh ((Tweet this!))

5 productivity tips that work


At the end of these WORK WEEKS, it is finally time to roll up the sleeves. Work is necessary, unavoidable and indispensable, we are already certain about that. With our workload, ambitions, big dreams, we find ourselves under much pressure…….time is running out. The time is most democratically distributed resource on Earth. We all have same 24 hours. The big question is how do you spend yours.


Self imposed question is then: how can I accomplish more in less time? How can I be more efficient?



Productivity




Good news is that you don’t have to work harder, but smarter. Let me show you some proven ways to get the most out of your precious time.


1. EXAMINE PRIORITIES


Tim Ferris, author of The 4 Hour Workweek and a master of productivity, purposed a powerful question: “Am I doing this in order to avoid something more important?”. In other words, are you inventing random tasks, such as endless cleaning and sweeping around the house, responding to unimportant emails, hanging on social networks and reading news, in order to avoid/delay the most important task you should be working on? Are you keeping yourself ostensibly busy? Are you wasting your energy? Do you feel exhausted at the end of the day, while you are not closer to your goals in any way? You are not alone….and you could use some prioritization.


Tim Ferris points to two essential principles:


1. If you do an unimportant task with a lot of care, it won’t make the task important. ((Tweet this!))


2. If a task requires a lot of time, it still doesn’t mean that it is important.


24 hours are not an endless amount and you cannot finish absolutely everything. But please, do something important! No your wardrobe doesn’t need to be sorted by colors. Spend your energy on important stuff.


2. MAKE SPRINTS


Identify an important task that you are procrastinating on. Duty you have hard times even thinking about. Say, cleaning the house. Then set 15 minutes on your stopwatch. Kill all the distractions, get ready, get set and GO! Start quickly and without thinking. Don’t let your emotions develop and your inner voice grumble. Work like crazy and when the time runs out, throw everything away. That’s it.


The catch is just to make yourself start. To beat the resistance. Brief time period doesn’t seem like disaster. When I just make myself start, I often continue until I complete the task. But it is not necessary. Oftentimes you can accomplish more working focused for 15 minutes, than whining for a whole afternoon.


3. FIRST THINGS FIRST


Do the most important task as early as possible. I have avoided this trick for centuries, but it is actually awesome. As day goes by, your willpower depletes, which makes it easier for you to delay an uncomfortable task for tomorrow/day after tomorrow/next Thursday. Reserve morning for important, uncomfortable and creative tasks. Checking those big, scary items off of your to-do list will boost your energy, and a whole day will be way more productive.


I do my journaling, meditation and Idea lists first thing in the morning. (Coffee and breakfast sneak in, too.) Why? These are my Makes or Breaks. Priorities. I have noticed that if I don’t schedule them for the time I just get up, chances are that no free time will open for them during the day. This mail, that report, high workload, lunch, meetings, plans, coffee with friends, going out. “OMG, I’m so tired. Did I meditate today? Crap I didn’t. Well, I guess I can do it tomorrow.” Got it? Big mistake! First things first.


4. STOP MULTITASKING


“Winners focus, losers spray,”  ((Tweet this!)) claimed Michael LeBoeuf, author of The Millionaire in You. Forget about the Napoleon myth and do one thing after another. It may seems slower, but in fact it is not. Devote your focus and energy to each task, without thinking of anything else. You will be very likely to complete it quickly and efficiently, rarely needing to return, rethink and correct. That is efficient usage of time.


Let’s be honest: if you write an important email while shopping on Amazon, answering messages on What’s Up, while drinking coffee and watching the video of sneezing panda, chances are that you will write sloppy mail, buy an item you don’t really need, make an agreement that doesn’t work for you and miss the funniest part of the video. And, yes, you will have to return, repeat, correct, cancel, watch again and so on. Result: more stress, wasted time, with worse results. Kill your distractions. Write the list. Do one thing after another. End of story.


5. FINISH AND WRAP


Oh yes. One more hack. When you choose task, start and do the work, don’t forget to finish it as well. A pile of half-finished tasks cannot give you relief, but pressure and a feeling of uselessness. We tend to think that we’ll deplete the energy more easily if we force ourselves to finish tasks. The opposite is truth: completion of any task makes you feel energized, proud and satisfied.


Meditate on why it would be important to finish the task. Forget about perfectionism.It is just a fancy term for good, old, procrastination. Most of the uncompleted tasks are worthless. Who needs the beginning of your story? Or a blog post opening? Or a dough for the pie without the filling? Only finished items count. If task is too big, cut it in chunks. Work step by step, but, for God’s sake, finish what you start. Wrap it with ribbon and celebrate.


You see, there are no shortcuts or magic pills. Start, focus, work, finish repeat. Swallow the frog. Get the shit done. Do the homework and then go play. (And don’t forget to spice it up with coffee and music.)


Now it’s your turn. What productivity tactics work for you? Which one of these will you apply today?


XXX


MILENA stRANGELOVe


P. S. Cookie of Wisdom: “Productivity is being able to do things that you were never able to do before.” Franz Kafka ((Tweet this!))

Confession: luggage, quest and worksheet for you


I moved to Pullman, Washington, for my graduate studies in January. Big dream, big change It seemed impossible until it happened. (More on doing the impossible in a few weeks.) I am settling for a new life and I am OK now. It is hard and painful sometimes. My husband won’t be here with me for a couple of months. My family is far, far away. But I will survive. Another crisis that will make me bloom eventually.


But I had a jinx at the very beginning. Let me share it with you. My luggage got lost when I was coming. It got lost in transit from Belgrade to Milan and from Milan to New York. As I later found out Italians never put it on a plane to NY. So, there I was, in New York, in the US for the first time, alone, waiting for two more flights and without my big suitcase. I had my laptop, money, documents, pajamas and a few more pieces of clothes in my cabin baggage, but that was it. EVERYTHING else was in a big one. I made a claim and started to cry. That was the moment I finally realized that my life has changed significantly.


The next day I traveled to Seattle and to Pullman. I arrived to my new place and needed to borrow the blanket for the first night. I washed my socks and underwear manually, I used my T shirt instead of towel. Next day I went to Wallmart and bought a few towels, pairs of socks, underwear and some other stuff. Do you know how I felt? Like a homeless. I felt poor. It is incredible how attached we are to things. To clothes. To glitter. And how scared we are of the uncertainty. (Will my suitcase ever arrive? Will I have to buy everything new?) Our stuff makes us comfortable in a new space. It makes our identity. We connect it with the idea of who we are. We let our stuff to own us. And without it, we feel naked, alone and vulnerable. Big lesson for me.


I knew something had to change. My happiness cannot be determined by one suitcase. (No matter how big.) Feelings of lack can only invoke lack. So I have decided to publish this blog I’ve been preparing for a while. It is in very imperfect phase right now, but the content is the most important. I wanted to give. I wanted to share. I wanted to be generous. I wanted to help. I wanted to be abundant in order to invoke the abundance. So I brought blog to a decent condition and started sharing. What the hell?! (This post was originally written back then, but waited in Evernote for a while.)


Another thing. I have started a quest. Since this accident with a suitcase was a pure bad luck, I’ve decided that I need to be more lucky. I have found the inspiration in Mr. James Altucher’s legendary article. So since the beginning of this year, every day I take care of 4 pillars of my well being:


1. BODY (yoga, walking, sleeping from 10 PM to 6 AM)


2. EMOTIONS (love, love, love + giving + number 4.)


3. MIND (writing the idea lists)


4. SPIRIT (morning and evening meditation, journaling and reading different spiritual literature, May Cause Miracles by Gabby Bernstein at the moment)


I was doing many of those things before, but now I have set an organized system.



Altucher daily practice



I have a daily check list that is MY GIFT FOR YOU. Download the interactive PDF that I have created and and set your own system today. I hope you will enjoy it.


Finally, when I relaxed, my suitcase arrived. 11 days later. Intact. All of my stuff was there. I felt rich again. I decided to interpret this event as a small jinx that will bring me more luck for big and important things. It must be that way.


Now it’s your turn.


Have you ever lost a luggage on a plain? How it felt? Do you think that we are too attached to material?


Do you like the worksheet? What do you do for your daily practice. Leave me the comment bellow.


XXX


MILENA stRANGELOVe


P. S. The Cookie of Wisdom: “Luck is created by the prepared.” James Altucher, Choose Yourself! ((Tweet this!))


P. P. S. Next week expect a new post on idea lists. You will love it.