Category Archives: Mind

Success and Motivation at Your Fingertips:   Put Your Library on Speed-dial

Use e-bookss to power your life

It’s been a great summer.   I finished graduate school in Library Science in May.  Though this summer “vacation” I’ve been busy training for my new job as a high school librarian,  I’ve also had more time to listen to informative and fun podcasts, read for pleasure and establish the mini-habits I want in my life.   There’s a little more guitar, writing, exercise and joy in my life.

Part of what has made my summer more interesting is putting the library at my fingertips by putting books on hold and through various e-reader apps that allow me to tap into the library.

i have a regular card and an educator card through a program called MyLibraryNYC. My “keys” to success.

It’s not that I am just checking out more materials.   Getting more books and materials is part of being more excited about constant learning. I’m at the edge of jumping into a new career,  I’m listening to great podcasts that lead me to great books and resources.  Through the library I can have that extra information and inspiration within days or seconds.

The best learning happens when you can have a resource “just in time.” I have a growing but temporary collection of distraction free physical books and also a small collection of powerful books that I can read from my phone or tablet.

The library is an often untapped resource that can help you transform your business or skills.  September is Library Card Sign Up Month but it’s always a great and convenient time to get a library card.  If you are not a big library user here’s a couple of pointers: Continue reading

Streak Your Way to Success

You don’t have to be a super hero.  Just try a little bit every day.

Touch it everyday

Touch it.  I want to touch it every day.   This is my new winning strategy to skill acquisition.  In previous posts I’ve been examining how I’ve been using the “Mini Habits Mastery” course in combination with the app to keep track of the new habits I want to make.

However, what I want to focus here is a little digital tool that can make a big difference–the streak.  If you are going to win, you’ve got to make daily contact with your skill.  Maintain a streak of “touching” your skill every day and make a big difference.

Feed the slow steady fire

If you can’t study a lot, at least maintain your streak of making contact with the skill.   Duolingo, the language learning app boldly reminds you, “Learning a language requires practice every day.”  Michael Palmisano, my guitar teacher at Udemy says in his video courses that it is better to do a little bit every day than to try to tackle it all and not build the muscle memory that daily practice takes.

If you can’t do five minutes a day go for a streak Continue reading

Mini-Habits: (Don’t) Break the Chain

I’ve been enjoying the Udemy app so much I have become an affiliate.

It’s been an app-y summer.   I’ve finished graduate school and though I am preparing to start a new career as a school librarian, there aren’t as many looming deadlines and forced readings as last year.   I’ve installed a few apps and I’m rolling with them:

  • Simply-e–which allows you to use your New York public library card to borrow books to read on my tablet
  • Epic–to get online picture books for my daughter
  •  Sworkit—provides a variety of workouts without a gym
  • Udemy–an app for learning new skills online from various content providers
  • Chains–an app that lets you track and maintain new habits

Using the Udemy website and app I’ve been  watching the “Mini Habits Mastery” course on Udemy.   In short,  this course explains that in order to create new positive habits you need to go teeny tiny and small.  (Thanks to Rob Schwarz, a friend and an NLP trainer who suggested the course.  You can reach out to him at for more cool ideas).

Great course on how-to of building mini habits

The course has been worth it to me even though I’ve been mostly listening to it on my walks in Japan as opposed to watching the video content.   It’s been worth the price because it has allowed me to jump start some habits and think about how to maintain them.   The course itself really digs in deep in an informative and entertaining way so check it out.
However, the main point I’ve gotten from the course is that you have to go infinitely small to develop habits that you want to sustain you.   For example, if you want to get in shape, set the goal of doing one push up every day.  If you want to write, set a goal of writing fifty words a day.

The Mini Habits course does a much better job of explaining why you would want to do this.  However, here is my understanding of the power of mini-habits:

  • setting super-small goals and actually being able to do it every day ingrains life-long habits that can transform your life
  • tiny, do-able habits get you on the page, to the gym and lead to increased forward momentum
  • mini-habits encourage “bonus reps”and often lead to exceeding mini-habits
  • Mini habits help you to insure you have your “tools” out for further creation…my mini-habit may be to out the guitar in my hands for two minutes but it puts me in the position of playing more if I want to


Easy to use checklist with great quotes about the power of building habits

I have game-ified the Mini Habit process with, an app that lets you track your habits and try to create chains.   Every day that you practice your habit you swipe to the left on your the app and create a new link in the ongoing chain


When you turn your phone sideways you can see the chain of habits you are creating with cute images.

So far I haven’t broken a chain because it would be so sad to break the visual picture.  What’s more important is that I’ve gained some momentum on goals that have seemed formidable.   I signed up for some Udemy guitar courses and asked have practiced at least two minutes a day.  It’s just two minutes so why not keep the chain going?

So far I’ve noticed some powerful advantages to this chains and mini-habit fusion:

Picture your on going chains of success. Part of my success with this so far is not wanting to “break” the picture by skipping a mini-habit day.

  • It’s fun.   Because the daily goals are very low stake it’s easier to have s feeling of success at the end of the day.
  • Momentum leads to “bonus reps” as the authors of Mini Habits call it.  If I have the guitar out to do my two minutes it’s easier to do more.   The mini habits author explains not to secretly raise the bar because it’s the mini aspect of this system that makes it work.
  • The chain effect makes it harder to forget where I was, whether it is the latest blog idea or the names of te guitar strings.

So far it’s only been a week but it’s been a quiet but powerful way to change up my summer.   Hope you will join me.   Become part of the chain gang.

Time Pressure Samurai

I’m sitting by a large window in a cafe in Manhattan, facing the East and hoping to get some rays of sun before I head into to the cave of work.  I have five more minutes before I have to go.   I am a imagetime pressure samurai.  You can become one too.

Time is at a premium these days which is why you haven’t heard much from me these days.   I’m a public school teacher with two children.   I’m getting a graduate degree in library science and spending as much of my “free” time as possible at school libraries and library trainings.

There seems to be very little time.   But here is this cafe window and a cup of coffee that gets cold within thirty minutes.   I use this little “window” of time every morning to create or study and connect.

It seems many personal and fun projects have gotten away from me.   So instead of despairing I go through little “me paces,”  short little bursts of activities that I want to do:

  • read inspirational or professional articles one page at a time
  • review of a current notebook
  • Review an old notebook
  • study Japanese for five minutes using I know
  • study Tagalog
A little bit at a time

A little bit at a time

I usually get into the cafe around 7 a.m. and have to leave by 7:40 to get to work on time.   This is also the amount of time it takes for my cup of coffee to get cold.   I pile up my reading and notebooks and set my iPhone to the side.  I read a page, review a notebook page, review an older notebook page.

Then I open my cellphone and study iKnow (a program with pre-packaged sentences in Japanese), write three sample sentences, and quiz myself on the rest of the work.  Since I have my iPhone at hand, I use Mango to study Tagalog.  I’m studying this language because I have a few Philippine friends and I thought it would be fun.   (The app and access to Mango is free through many public libraries.)  Tagalog is not a major goal so I only study five “cards” at a time and this study session takes two or three minutes.  Lately, since I realize having the iPhone in hand means access to many goals, I have also started writing and editing an article on how to keep a Samurai Mind Notebook.

Though I spend very little time on each activity there are several benefits:

  • A little bit every day keeps the neural chain going–skills are never completely abandoned
  • small attempts clear the ground for when there are moments of time–raking the leaves a little bit each day instead of waiting for a big wet leafy mess
  • its fun–it keeps little candle of hope and fun burning

Take it all a little bit at a time. Become a time pressure samurai.

Back in the Kanban Flow!

This is an interesting way to organize the flow of your work life.

KanbanFlow is an interesting way to organize the flow of your work and home life.

I’m back like the Phoenix from the ashes–or the busy teacher in graduate school.    Summer is here and I’m in Japan for the summer.   I am taking two online graduate classes through Syracuse University as I slog along the path to becoming Juan the Samurai School Librarian.

My Samurai Mind notebook is still a lifeline.   I pour everything in there now, including my graduate classes.  Normally, I would suggest keeping separate notebooks but this school year I have been in time survival mode.   The boring-est of graduate class notes are mixed in with inspirational quotes.   Sometimes the graduate stuff overwhelms the inspiration, but the inspirations are like little nuggets that keep the process fun.   Once the unit or class is finished, if the information from the classes are not inspirational, I put a huge X across the page once the class is finished.

This is my Writing board.   I've written a lot more since I started this board.

This is my Writing board. I’ve written a lot more since I started this board.

My newest summer toy is a website called KanbanFlow.    It is my latest time management tool.  I’ve just had it for a week.    Basically, I can add tasks to several columns:   to do, do today, in progress and  done.    I can move the tasks you create from one column to the other.   The “in progress” column just has room for three tasks, because in reality it’s hard to do more than three tasks at once.  For me, it serves as a reminder of what I am actually doing.  In the world of Facebook, notifications, text messages, etc I really need the reminder of what I am doing.   When I start to wander to Facebook, I look at the chart and remind myself of what I’m actually supposed to be doing.

A Pomodoro counts down from 25 minutes.  This is the stopwatch option that allows you to measure how much time you are working on a task.  It can be motivating.

A Pomodoro counts down from 25 minutes. This is the stopwatch option that allows you to measure how much time you are working on a task. It can be motivating.

If I really want to get fancy, the site lets me set a “Pomodoro” for the task that I am currently on.   Usually it sets a countdown timer for 25 minutes.   At the end of the time and the effervescent ring, I can claim the time or “pomodoro” if I’ve been on task or I can deny it if I have been off-task (i.e. looking at Facebook).   The nice aspect of this is that the time you claim adds up and gets added to your task card.  This way you can track the amount of time you’ve been on a certain task.   Kanban is  a nice way to ”gamify” productivity and creativity.

When I create cards, I can create subtasks within the task.   This is a great feature that allows me to guide myself through various projects.  For example,  I am currently studying three languages:  German, Tagalog, and Japanese.  When I click on the study Japanese card, I can check off little subtasks: study IKnow, surusu, Jpod101, read fun manga/book, watch fun Japanese stuff on Youtube, etc.   The checklists lets me know where to go and also where I have been.   When I get done with a task, I can move it to the “Done” column.  In the morning or when ever I look at my kanban board again, I can move the tasks that I do repeatedly back to the “To Do” column.

The kanban board encourages me to accomplish more while being more flexible.   There is something very pleasing about moving a task to the Done pile.  I’ve studied a whole lot more of the different languages this way.   On the other hand, having a board to look at gives you a lot of options to choose from depending on your energy level and interests.   If I get tired of writing my blog, I can move to do a teeny, tiny language lesson.   KanbanFlow allows you to create several boards.  I call one the Masterboard, where I can see the various kinds of task that I am interested.  Then I have other boards for the different contexts I find are important to me: School (everything from planning lessons to individual student concerns),  Library (graduate studies and planning to create a school library), Writing, Union/Advocacy, and Family/Home.

I have the Premium (5$/month) version but you can just play around with the free version to see if it helps you with your productivity.  I also didn’t shop around a lot, so this isn’t an endorsement.   I needed something to help me harness my time and options and I ran with it.    I also have an app called Kanban for One which works on a similar principle but I didn’t like that I couldn’t synch it across devices.  However, I still use it for times when I can’t access the internet–long plane rides, etc.  The whole kanban process was originally done on paper strips. Yay sticky notes! and white boards!

I have 5;47 remaining to finish a snappy conclusion.  Move it to the right and get it done with kanban!

How to Get Ahead Without Losing Your Head

Get ahead without losing your head.

Get ahead without losing your head.

I finally got around to picking up a copy of The Last Samurai:  The Life and Times of Saigo Takamori.  After watching the Hollywood Tom Cruise version of history, I realized it is time to get a real historian’s re-telling of this transitional period of history.   Saigo Takamori is the “real” last samurai, who rebelled against the central government.  Long story short, Takamori loses his head.   The central government tries to find it but can’t.  That becomes a problem.

For me reading this chapter was an opportunity to turn great history writing into a schlocky self-help mantra:  How to Get Ahead Without Losing Your Head.   In truth, this is what this whole blog is about: how to move your mind and life forward without self-abuse.

One of the key germs for this life approach was All Japanese All the Time.  I was beating myself up about how I wasn’t learning Japanese and stumbled upon this website.   Khatz, the founder, explained that you could learn Japanese by doing more fun things in Japanese and through consistent but micro moves such as SRS flashcard reviews, and a whole host of techniques.  What AJATT helped me to do was be gentler with myself and keep trying, probing, and most importantly looking for the fun opportunities.

I haven’t made learning Japanese a big priority though I still make it a daily habit.  (I am treading water, but I still know a hell of a lot more than if I had kept on beating myself up.)  However, through my AJATT methods I’ve learned how to get ahead without losing my head.  Khatz explains in “Why are Third Rate Ideas Better than First Rate Ideas”:

Here’s the trick to making deep, long-term, self-directed language-learning work.

Don’t do ten good things.

Do one good thing. One day. At a time.

And not even a very good thing. Just a good enough thing. Just barely good enough.

I think this is a great idea for making “deep, long-term, self-directed” growth work in areas beyond language.  Be gentle but push forward.   The samurai mind notebook is a great way to do one good thing.  Put your daily inspirations/vital information and review–just a little bit if you can’t do more.
Get ahead without losing your head.

Take time each day to reclaim your samurai mind.

Make Every Day a New Year’s Day: Small Samurai

One little step.  Take one small action.  Make small the new "big."

One little step. Take one small action. Make small the new “big.”

Right now it is December 10th but it feels like the New Year has already begun.   I’ve joined a gym and I am actually going.   I’ve initiated the process of exploring a spiritual community.   I’m not waiting for the New Year to get moving on projects and ideas.

It all started by going through my book shelves.   I finally realized that I was getting tired of having so many books that I hadn’t read.  I made the decision to go through each shelf methodically, reading at least page in each book and stopping when I got bored with the whole process.   Part of what has sparked so much learning these past few years has been my experience with All Japanese All the Time, which emphasizes working with working with the “neutrino” of small actions accumulating to immersion in Japanese.   The “mediocre choice that leads to excellence” can be applied to other things that you want to shift in your life.

Once I started going through the simple act of one page of every book on my shelves, I experienced a quickening.  I gave myself permission to stop but as I went through my books, the old dreams and inspirations were rekindled and I continued.   When I got to the bottom of the shelf in my bedroom, I decided to make a pass around the whole apartment, slowly reviewing, cleaning, reorganizing, tossing, and reigniting ideas, projects and resources.

The new year is approaching and for some people it is a time to set big goals and make major transformations.  But why not start the New Year now with some small action.  Make small the new big and start by picking one “corner” to begin with.   Clean out your purse (or murse).   Be gentle with yourself.   Celebrate and move on.   Repeat.  Make every day a New Years Day.



Automatic Samurai: Sprinkler Systems On!

Screen shot 2013-12-02 at 7.12.51 AM

How can you water your dreams? Your mind? Your soul? Set up gentle “systems” for yourself to sustain growth and wonder.

I just finished my Building Your Personal Foundation course through CoachU, taught by Susan Abrams.   I was excited and challenged and by the idea of creating “automatic sprinkler systems” to fulfill various needs.   For example, I realized that one of my needs was energy.   Last week I joined the YMCA located near by job.  Oh yeah, and I actually went.  Y-M-C-A!

Needs may not be completely satisfied but it seems that you can at least create systems that challenge you in that area and increase the potential of moving forward.  For example, one of the needs that I isolated was the need for motivation and inspiration.  I may not be motivated or inspired all the time but I have started to play with  some systems and rituals that have the potential of kicking me back into motivation and energy.    Here are some of my “systems”:

  • What I read–I’ve always been kind of a self-help book junkie but I’ve added a few titles to my kindle:   Words Can Change Your Brain and Loving What Is.   Both of these books were suggested by Susan Abrams.   I keep the reading process fun.  When I am no longer inspired by what I am reading I move on to the next title and then switch back.
  • Who I hang out with:   people provide the frameworks and conversations that can motivate and inspire you.  Part of the benefits of starting the coach training program is that I get to talk to people who are focused on moving forward  I’ve also been experimenting with finding a positive spiritual community.
  • What I write and say:   I am not censoring myself but I am playing around with something I call “Happiness Journal.”   Inspired by a little page from Words Can Change Your Brain, I am taking time in the mornings and evening to write three things that made me happy.

Finally, I realized that my samurai mind notebook is actually one of my automatic sprinkler systems.  If I put ideas from projects and quotations that excite me, review them regularly, I have those thoughts as part of the conversation.   I may not listen to them but at least they may challenge the crappy mood and change the terms of what I think is possible.

What I like about everything that I’ve been hearing and encountering is that none of it commits me to becoming a happiness robot.   All the work I’ve come across acknowledges that there will be periods of darkness and –err–shades of gray.   I think the trick will be to set up “systems” that challenge the darkness without becoming inflexible or ignoring the depth and color of life.   Join me.  What are your sprinkler systems?


Samurai Attraction: Get a Little “Shelvish”

Screen shot 2013-08-20 at 5.16.16 PM

This is one of the bookshelves I’ve started to go through. Reading is a powerful way to move your life forward. But sometimes we need to give ourselves to not be so precious or serious about our reading. Find ways to be “attracted” to books. Fun is serious stuff. 🙂

This will be the year of getting “shelvish.”  I have been feeling a little overwhelmed that I have all these great books on my shelf that have gone unread and are just “lying there.”   So I’ve begun a one page campaign.   I am going through my bookshelves methodically and just letting myself read one page each night.   Sometimes the information sings to me and I read more.  Many times I get excited and move on to the next book to see myself moving forward.  I bookmark the page and the next night I move on to the next book.

Keep in mind that I am a busy parent and teacher.    I turn to the bookshelf after I finish reading “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” or “Jamberry”  to my three year.  The other day I read two or three pages of David Fromkin’s A Peace to End All Peace:   The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and The Creation of the Modern Middle East.  Last night I read two pages of Stanley Karnow’s Vietnam:  A History.  In the next few nights I will hit Zen and the Art of Making A Living and some other self-helpy materials.  (My bookshelves aren’t necessarily arranged according to the Dewey Decimal system.)  I am also approaching a fun little patch of Japanese manga and self-help books.

We live in an age of information overload and days that may have 1000 demands.   It’s easy to fall into overwhelm.  But increasingly I’m finding it is important to do two things:  1)  think small and 2)  follow joy.    The information or the story or the song has to be attractive and attracted to you because that’s when you can really grow into your skill, into your self the way that you want to be.

Whenever I start to feel a little too precious or self-righteous about reading, I head over to   The blogmeister, Khatzumoto, taught himself Japanese in fifteen months through fun immersion.  A big part of that involved reading fun materials in Japanese.   One of his latest blog articles is “Multipass Reading:   Be Sloppy the First 10 Times Because You Can Always Come Back.” 

I love this invitation to “read sloppy” because the other option for little ole “perfectionist” me is not to read at all.   Why should I let these hundreds of dollars of books and thousands of hours of human knowledge pass me by because I’m frozen about how to read correctly?  It’s time to be shelvish and just have fun.

If not reading is holding you back, join me!  Let’s make this the Year of Being Shelvish!

Restart the Suckage: Turn Resistance into Flow

Sometimes you have to suck to get the creativity and productive "flow" going.

Sometimes you have to suck to get the creativity and productive “flow” going.

The other day I had a memory of a time when someone needed to transfer gas from a friend’s car to make it to the gas station.  He took a hose, held it at a certain angle, sucked some gasoline through the hose, and started the flow of gasoline to his container.  (Don’t try this at home, folks!)   He was able to get his car started, make it to the gas station, and go on with gasoline mouth self.

Sometimes you just have to suck to get the flow going.  I experienced that lately with my samurai mind notebook.  I haven’t really been filling up pages and have been really slow about doing my reviews.   There are so many pressing matters, blah, blah, blah.   But I decided that I could at least set my timer to five minutes and just write a little and review a little.  I felt a little resistance at first but after a while my notebook became fun again.   Ah, the benefits of suckage.

I was introduced to the concept of “suckage”  when I came across when I decided to learn Japanese.   Khatzumoto, the webmeister, explains that learning a language is best done when you can break it up into a series of “short winnable games.”   I learned to embrace “suckage” and use timers to turn study sessions into a game.   In his article, “Intermediate Angst:  Dealing with Feelings of Suckage” Khatzumoto explains:

If you want to win the long game, stop playing it.
Stop running the marathon and start sprinting instead.
Start running and playing and winning short games instead.

Start the suckage and run.  (Mixed metaphor alert.)  Turn resistance into a short, winnable game and turn resistance into flow.  Dame la gasolina!