Tag Archives: 5 minutes

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.

Samurai Attraction: Get a Little “Shelvish”

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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 ajatt.com.   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!

Small is the New Big: Samurai Chain Reaction

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Actions may seem small but actions accumulate. Like water creating waterfalls, carving canyons and sustaining life.

Taking five minutes to do something you love or practice is more than a small act.  Taking five minutes does more than place a bookmark in your life for important projects.  “Five Minutes” is  a revolutionary act because  but because it can create a chain reaction that can last a lifetime.

There is something sublime about the power of small acts.  Recently I’ve been taking a class called Building a Personal Foundation through Coachu.com.   We have been focusing on taking steps to fix things big and small that we have been tolerating.

Last week, I reported that I what I had done for the week was small.  I organized my man bag and cleaned out the spider’s web of old bags, spare change, and random papers that I had been lugging around the city.   That small act actually started a whole process of going through my closets.   In small chunks of time, I have been lowly and methodically throwing out unneeded materials and finding long forgotten resources.

When I reported this little victory our coach, Susan Abrams,  asked me to examine the fact that I said that cleaning my bag had been a small act.  She explained that  even sewing on a button can be important as making a job change because it starts the chain of looking for changes.  In times of great stress and overwhelm sometimes the best thing to do might be to set a timer for fifteen minutes and clean your desk or perform some equally small act.

Small has the potential to start a chain reaction.  Khatzumoto over at AJATT.com started a language immersion service called Neutrino.   Part of Khatzumoto’s philosophy is that you can learn a language through continuous small, neutrino sized bits of study, immersion, and fun.

Neutrinos are all part of the chain reaction.  To think and act big, think and act small.  Start your samurai mind chain reaction.


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 alljapaneseallthetime.com 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!

Samurai Grammar: Pullin’ Ain’t Pushin’.

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This is a screenshot of one Japanesepod101 lesson. I like “moving” the bar of progress and I like that the grammar explanations are brief. But the rest of the day, I have Japanese music in my ears or I am doing something in Japanese that isn’t pushing. The grammar seems more useful because through immersion, I already have some of the language. Be careful. If it isn’t fun. Don’t do it.

Grammar is a big block for people who are learning a foreign language, but grammar can be one of your many friends as you learn a language.  Here is one way how!

With my mind on my grammar and my grammar on my mind.  Not.  Lately I have been on a Japanesepod101.com rush.   I listen to a listen on my 35 minute walk to the Writers Room and then using timeboxing, I try to finish up a lesson and then move on to other fun stuff in Japanese.  I have changed my method a little bit.  I used to follow ten or more different kinds of lessons but I have limited it to three (onomatopeia, lower intermediate, and beginner lessons).  Limiting the lesson types to three satisfies my game-playing mind by allowing me to see the progress bars move a little faster from day to day.  Because I am using time limits, it feels more like a mission impossible spy game than mind-numbing study.

I am enjoying the grammar explanation in the Japanesepod lessons.  You would think that this goes against the immersion techniques that AJATT writes about, but I think the fact that I also “immerse” makes the grammar study more fun.  My grammar study is more like a confirmation.  I’ve heard so much Japanese dialogue, movies, Youtube, songs, podcasts et cetera that the grammar is “in there” somewhere.  My quick in and out grammar reviews are less “I have to memorize this!”  and more “Oh, right, that’s what I’ve been hearing.”

Grammar pullin’ ain’t grammar pushin’.  I give a quick listen to grammar lessons and read over grammar explanations but I keep it quick and dirty and don’t really stop to review.  By doing this way, I am probably learning a whole lot more grammar than if I put on my hair shirt and tortured my way through grammar.

Big ups to Khatz at AJATT.com.  I’ve been reading his blog for a long time and while he has recommended grammar resources like Tae Kim and a few books, he keeps riffin’ on the don’t kill and drill message.  Here are a just a few choice tweets were Khatz points the way to Stephen Krashen and his view on grammar:

“The students who did reading did better on grammar tests than those who had grammar classes!” youtube.com/watch?v=DSW7gm… #FVR #krashen

“We don’t need to focus on grammar because if you give people enough…input, the grammar is there” youtube.com/watch?v=shgRN3…

Stephen Krashen says: put conscious grammar study in its (very small, very peripheral) place. youtube.com/watch?v=shgRN3…

I’m not suggesting that there is one way to approach grammar in a language.  Find the approaches that are the most fun and useful to you.   If you enjoy studying 20 pages of rules and exceptions go for it!  Grammar off, grammar on samurai!


The Law of Language and Skill Attraction

Keep tinkering with shifts in your environment to attract your skill.  I recently discovered using iTune radio to listen to Japanese radio stations.  Shake it. Shape it.  Your environment that is.  :)

Keep tinkering with shifts in your environment to attract your skill. I recently discovered using iTune radio to listen to Japanese radio stations. Shake it. Shape it. Your environment that is. 🙂

First of all apologies for the title but it just spoke to me.  I’m not some guru who has mastered all skills/languages and can dispense laws from a mountain top.   I am on the path like everyone else, though now I’m enjoying it a whole lot more than I used to.   The other reason that I felt compelled to use the title is because I am reading Thomas Leonard’s The 28 Laws of Attraction:   Stop Chasing Success and Let it Chase You.   This book doesn’t come from the mountaintop either but it’s getting under my skin and helping me ask different questions.

When I read Leonard’s chapter, “Create a Vacuum That Pulls You Forward”  I couldn’t help thinking that Leonard’s ideas were key to developing skills such as learning a language or learning a musical instrument.  Leonard explains that “being pulled forward is attractive; pushing yourself forward isn’t.”   Leonard recommends some steps to make that possible:

  • Realize it’s better to be pulled forward than it is to push yourself forward.
  • Put yourself into creativity-stirring situations.
  • put yourself among friends and colleagues who bring out your best.
  • unhook yourself from who you were; this will let you be pulled forward

When I read this, I felt like I was rediscovering alljapaneseallthetime.com.   (With two children and a busy work life, you have to forgive me that I keep mentioning Khatz’s website.  It’s helped me change a lot of things.  Plus, I don’t get out much.  🙂 )  He was able to learn Japanese fluently not only by studying but by also transforming his environment so it was fun and er, “all Japanese all the time.”  You have to arrange the environment so it pulls you in.  It’s not just about Japanese.   Khatz explains that if you want to run more, have your shoes ready by the door.  By changing my environment ever so slightly–having the guitar out of the case and other small changes–I’ve been writing and playing more.

Here are some quick ways I’ve been incorporating this “Law of Attraction” into my life, especially in the language arena:

  • Create  the environment that pulls you in.
    Surround yourself with the fun and interesting books, music, and people that will pull you into the language or skill.  At first, this meant that I kind of rejected manga and looked at self-help books.  Now it means finding/fumbling around in the manga that I do enjoy.
  • Find the fun part in the hard part.
    Don’t be devastated that you don’t know something in a foreign language or any skill you want to acquire.  If you are looking at a manga page or a flashcard, look at what you do understand or what seems intriguing or just fun.  Keep yourself wanting more.
  • Delete what is dragging you down.
    I fought AJATT’s advice to delete flashcards that just drained me, now I am more like a black widow spider.  I study a card and if it bores me.  I delete.  Create a vacuum by deleting clutter, time and mental drains.
  • Use little gimmicks that pull you in. I am not learning Japanese/guitar, I am just moving that little progress bar a little further today.  Learning all of Japanese may seem like a lot of work but its more fun to just see the “progress bar” move a little on Japanesepod101.com for example.

    Mastering something can seem intimidating.  But hey, I can play the game of "moving the bar" just a little bit.  Satisfy the game-playing part of your brain with little celebratory games.  Who knows?  You just might get further than you thought possible.

    Mastering something can seem intimidating. But hey, I can play the game of “moving the bar” just a little bit. Satisfy the game-playing part of your brain with little celebratory games. Who knows? You just might get further than you thought possible.  This is a screenshot of my progress bars from japanesepod101.com.

There is a time for pushing, there is a time for pulling.  But if you are starting to grind your wheels and not really enjoy or flow in the process, think about how you can create a vacuum that pulls you in.  Enjoy the “suckage.”

Overresponding Samurai: Stop the Drama and Do Something

Overresponding doesn't have to be hectic.  Use your snail power.

Overresponding doesn’t have to be hectic. Use your snail power.

In four  more days, my family and I will leave Japan and we will be back in our semi-hectic work/school mode.  I am spending more and more of my days preparing to teach rather than studying/immersing Japanese and doing all my other side projects.  I needed a little self-help fun, though, and since I am taking classes at CoachU I decided to read a book byThomas Leonard, one of the founders of personal and career coaching.

I am still undecided about what I think about The 28 Laws of Attraction:  Stop Chasing Success and Let it Chase You but I am happy to be doing some trashy self-help reading.  However, one of Thomas Leonard’s ideas keeps getting stuck in my head:  “By overresponding of overreacting, you evolve.”  I”ve already gotten my money’s worth from getting that phrase in my head.

By overresponding, Leonard was talking about being fluid, active, and creative in confronting the issues and problems we come across.   Leonard was unhappy with his chosen career as Certified Financial Planner.  In the process of “overresponding” he became a personal coach and went on to start several coaching schools including Coachville before he passed away.

Another overresponder I constanly refer to is Khatzumoto over at All Japanese All the Time.  He wanted to learn Japanese and “overresponded” to it by “by spending 18-24 hours a day doing something, anything in Japanese (“all Japanese, all the time”).”  He emphasizes using fun materials as a way to actually learn Japanese.

Nowhere in Leonard’s book or Ajatt.com do I see anything encouraging you to flagellate or hate yourself as part of overresponding.   That is overreacting.   Overreacting stops action, even fun actions that can help you develop your skill, learn a language, or move a business or life forward.  Even when overreacting leads to action, the negative crud attached to it can lead to resistance or worse.

I don’t write this as someone who has mastered the practice of overresponding vs. overreacting.  I’m just a motivational blogger who lives down by the Hudson River.   The truth is that some days I am just a hot mess.  I’m writing this to motivate myself because any time I stop listening to the drama and pick up my pen, my guitar, or a fun Japanese book, the universe smiles and a puppy is rescued from a grizzly death.

Become an overresponder.  The life that you save may be your own. Or a puppy.



Shave it Samurai!

Thinking about shaving time made me think of shaved ice.  In Puerto Rico, we call it "piragua."  My favorite is shaved ice with tamarind juice.   If you are busy getting organized and shaving time, make sure to stop, put a little flavor on it and enjoy.

Thinking about shaving time made me think of shaved ice. In Puerto Rico, we call it “piragua.” My favorite is shaved ice with tamarind juice. If you are busy getting organized and shaving time, make sure to stop, put a little flavor on it and enjoy.

I used to think that getting organized was for the anal retentive crowd, but more and more I realize that getting organized is about honoring time and honoring life.   Even though I can be organizationally challenged, I’ve realized that the more organized I can be, the more time I can save for what is important/fun.  Shave time to save time to honor time.

Let it start with color.   I used to go to the Writer’s Room and fumble with my keys for minutes until I could find the right key to open my locker and take out my laptop.   Finally, I decided to color code my keys.  Over a year, I now have a couple of extra hours to write and check my Facebook work on my talents.  I’ve also color coded all the folders for my students.  I’ve saved hours of searching around through this simple move.

Little time savers like this have freed me up to do more meaningless bureaucratic paperwork inspire students.   Shave minutes to save minds.  (Or, is it save minutes to shave minds?)

Of course when you shave minutes, you also have to believe that something can happen within little windows of time.  I learned about timeboxing from a cat named Khatz.   I’ve learned to use my little wrist stop watch to push forward with my writing, guitar playing, and Japanese studies.   Basically, little boxes of time turn “pushing” into a little game.  How much can I get done before the time runs out?

Shaving time means thinking strategically about the things that drive you nuts and take precious minutes away.  But it also means being prepared to “roll” with your skills and dreams.   For example:

  • the guitar is always on its stand with tuner close by.  No going to the closet or opening up bags.
  • as much as I can, leave tabs to different study sites open (sururu, anki, iknow, jamplay.com, etc).
  • notebook is always at the ready to catch ideas and inspirations.   Even if the notebook is messy, my constant reviews means that those inspirations become a part of the mix.  Reviewing actually “shaves time” by not having to waste time trying to dig up lost ideas

Shave time.  Shave ice.   Don’t forget to have fun with it.  Put a little syrup on top and cool down.  Shaving time is about shaving your life.  Enjoy.




“Weaponize” It

In real life, swords and spears are a little too pointy and scary.  As metaphors they great.  Nice quote from Boldt:"The Warrior is totally alive. He accepts his life and his death.  Most people accept neither.  They live in terror of death and muddle through life half asleep, scarcely aware of the dangers and opportunities that lie all around them."

In real life, swords and spears are a little too pointy and scary. As metaphors they great. Nice quote from Boldt:”The Warrior is totally alive. He accepts his life and his death. Most people accept neither. They live in terror of death and muddle through life half asleep, scarcely aware of the dangers and opportunities that lie all around them.”

I’m trying to re-envision for work, for myself,  my audience and students.   I bought Zen and the Art of Making a Living, by Laurence G. Boldt, many years ago but was put off by its size and its tendency to ramble.   But I’ve decided to put a few minutes each day into reading it and its starting to get its grip on me.   Zen contains a lot of questions and exercises to reflect on your life, vision, and how to translate that into a career.

The effect of Zen and the Art of Making a Living has the potential to be even more powerful because I have put key parts of it into my samurai mind notebook.  A samurai mind notebook is just an over the counter-notebook that I fill with inspiring ideas, skill work, and reflective exercises.  What “weaponizes” the notebook is that I review these notebooks on a rough “Spaced Repetition System” schedule.   I have an easy to use system where I am reviewing my notebooks 1 day, 2-3 days, 1 week, 1 month, 3 months, 6 months, and 1 year basis.   If I hit upon positive knowledge or inspiration or even reminders to follow up on different projects, I place that in the latest notebook.

Reviewing my notebook, helps me create my own inspiration and information ecosystem, that reminds me of what is important to me and through others’ word helps me expand in areas where I want to grow.   Looking at my notebook provides a little immunity from the information ecosystem that the media provides us: despair, statistics, stories of violent crime, etc.   So instead of picking up the daily rag and reading about who is divorcing who or who killed who, I get a little message that directs me to myself and to how to best serve the world.

For example, one of the fun ideas I’ve gotten from Laurence Boldt is the idea of playing the career game without getting to wrapped up in it.  I put one of his affirmations into my samurai mind notebook:

Because I choose my career with full awareness, I am able to play with intensity without getting serious.

I wrote that quote into my notebook on June 9th and then came across it again in relaxed reviews on June 10th, June 11th, and June 13th.  I would then come across that thought a week later, two weeks later, etc.  If upon review, my spine tingles and my heart quickens and I realize I really need that thought right now, I will copy it again into the latest notebook entry so the thought gets further looped into my daily routine.  A useful thought is now further “weaponized” into my  mind.

Keeping a samurai notebook is one way to fight for your life.  A notebook helps fight against mental decay, despair, and has the potential to multiply the benefits of any self-improvement work you are doing.  Pick up that pen.  Use it.  Weaponize.

Give Up Samurai: We are the Two to Five Percent!

Work can be play.

Work can be play.  Give at least two to five percent a day to play/work towards your dream/goal/skill.

So it is in any situation you find yourself, no matter how overwhelmed you feel, no matter how much you may feel you are at the mercy of things that are just beyond your control, some part of it is within your control:  2 percent, 5 percent, who knows?  There is always something you can work on.   And often changing that little bit results in a whole lot.  . . . Above all else, it gives you Hope.   I am not as powerless as I thought.   –Richard Bolles, What Color is Your Parachute?

I don’t know about “Hope” with a capital “H.”   I’m not a Presbyterian minister who writes career books like Richard Bolles.   But I’m really grooving on the idea of finding the space were you can move towards the two and five percent.  We can move daily into the 2% to 5% that you can claim for your skill,  dream,  job search, or vision of what the world could be.  By moving ever so little forward you also reclaim  a part of yourself, samurai.

Even if you never reach proficient in your skill or reach the goal, you may just experience collateral benefit.  For example, I’ve been studying Japanese off an on for ten years.   The first six years or so were whiny self-loathing years.    Then I started to pick up some new methods and inspiration from All Japanese All The Time.  I started infusing fun into studying Japanese.   I learned about timeboxing.  My Japanese is a lot better, but what I discovered is that there have been “collateral benefits” to taking on this seemingly-formidable goal.  I’m writing more.  I’m being more persistent in guitar.  “. . . changing that little bit results in a whole lot.”

You don’t have to give 100%.  It’s awesome if you can devote your days to your goal or skill, but the all or nothing mentality can often kill.  What’s going to add up faster–a couple of weekends a year of 100% or daily shots of two to five percent?  Don’t let today’s poem die.  Yes, you may be tired but what’s a measly two to five percent?  Drop the seeds and let the flowers bloom.