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.
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.
I found the kanban idea so useful that I created one to use in the Writers Room. I used the format used in the app “Kanbanfor1” that includes “Things to Do” “Next” “Doing” “Waiting” “Done” and a trashcan icon. In the app if you try to put too many stickies in the “Doing” box it turns red because you can’t be doing too many things at once. It’s made a big difference in organizing my time. It really helps me to have physical reminders of what I am doing right now and what I have accomplished in a day.
Last week we trooped the family to Bushwick to visit another family. The husband was really excited by a new time management system that he was using called “kanban.” He uses it not only to organize his own life but also to manage workflow in his job in software development. He even gave me a copy of the book that lays out the principles of why this time management system works called Personal Kanban: Mapping Work | Navigating Life.
Kanban is a Japanese word for sign, board, etc. The set up for this board can begin very simply. You can have three columns: backlog, work in progress, and “done.”
The Backlog. The backlog includes items that are traditionally included in things like “to do lists.” However, most kanban systems rely on sticky notes (physical or virtual) because visualization and movement of tasks is really important. You need to see what your options are and then “pull” from your options to move into.
Work in Progress. This is where you move items from the backlog that you are currently doing. The trick to this is that you should limit how many tasks you are doing at once because multitasking can become a dangerous juggling act where nothing actually gets accomplished.
Done. This is self-explanatory but so far I’ve discovered that it is really liberating to have this. First of all, it’s fun to move things into the “done” column. The second part is that it is also feedback. I have a bigger picture of what I am accomplishing or the nature of my work and effort.
I’m still exploring how to use this tool but I was so excited about it that I had to include this in the blog. It really helped to calm me down at the beginning of the school year. As a teacher, I deal with so many things at once that the beginning of the year can seem like a chaotic swirl even before the students arrive. Though I hadn’t finished reading Personal Kanban: Mapping Work | Navigating Life, I realized that it was a tool that could help me tame the beast.
I started to put items that I needed to take care of on my “backlog.” After looking at all the items, I realized that the two best things that I could be doing were cleaning and organizing my classroom by circling around the classroom and also organizing my personal kanban. Those two items were actually pretty synergistic. As I came across and organized physical items, I came up with ideas to put on my kanban. At times, I became overwhelmed but then I could look at “Doing” or “Work in Progress” section to calm myself down and focus. At the end of the day, I had moved several items to the “Done” section. This “Done” section not only gave me a view of what I had accomplished in the day but also gave me a deeper picture of my work. I also realized that if I file these “done” slips I can document what I am actually accomplishing with my time.
I am also co-teaching with someone for the first time. I get so overwhelmed concentrating on my own work that I often don’t know how to ask for help. She looked at my kanban and since she doesn’t have her own room, decided to help by organizing my bookshelves. (Physical organization is something I am working on.)
Kanban is a tool that originally came from Toyota, so it actually a “samurai” tool. Even though I haven’t fully sussed it out, I know that a lot of people are making new starts this fall, so give it a try or read more about it at personalkanban.com. Pull don’t push. Bend time like a samurai.
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.
There are strict recycling regulations in Japan. That has a positive side and then a weird side. Sometimes people just throw their junk away on the streets and in the parks. I found this clock during my morning walk. Break through your use of time by simply tracking it!
Confession time. I broke off from a weekend event with my family to catch up 0n work, curriculum writing, Japanese study et cetera. I knew that I was going to lose a day because we are going to spend the day in Sanrio-land (“Hello Kitty Land”–please pray for me!)
I checked into a mangakissa (a Japanese internet cafe with unlimited “free” non-alcoholic drinks, comics and private booths with internet access) for a six hour stint. I proceeded to “waste” most of the six hours checking Facebook, creating a non-Samurai mind twitter account, and looking at a lot of grade B movies available on the Cinema Channel.
I probably needed a day of “doing nothing.” However, if you find time slipping away from you and you don’t even know where it’s going, I suggest that you start recording it. Write down what you are doing and if you can, how long you are doing it for. It’s interesting that even though you may never sit down and total the information, it makes you aware and helps you structure your time better.
For me, it works like a money journal, a simple little notebook I kept when I decided to become financially balanced. The books I read suggested I keep a money journal, and every month figure out how much I spent in different categories. After a while, instead of totalling up the information, I just kept the money journal and noticed that I was being more careful with my resources just because I had to write it down. Why buy the third pint of Ben and Jerry’s in a week when I would have to write it down? Now, I occassionally keep a money journal when I feel my spending gets out of control.
Time is an important non-renewable resource, so it is worth occassionlly keeping track of where it goes, especiallly when you feel that you are wasting it. I began the summer experimenting with an app called, “Eternity” ($9.99!) that allows you to create different time categories and then keep track time of how much you are doing in each as part of my project to not let my summer time slip away. I find that I am more productive during my creative, study time if I am more like a hummingbird, flitting from flower to flower (project to project) rather than working with huge blocks of time (thanks to AJATT and timeboxing for this). It was simply taking too much time to use the time tracking app.
I recently just experimented with a simpler method for keeping track of time. Using my notebook (yes, my samurai mind notebook), I simply wrote down what I was doing on the margins. A simple few words sufficed: wordpress, iKnow, kanjikoohii.com, Facebook…. What I found was that doing this kept me focused on getting things done. If I had to write it down it had to be at least fun or productive. It became more of a game to see how productively I could use my time.
Another big advantage of this is that it helps me fight the distraction of social media. I like social media but I get lost when I use it. I enter into it and then I forget what I was going to do. Keeping my notebook out with some goals and a list of what I’ve done keeps me on track.
It’s a simple tool but writing down what you are doing helps you answer the eternal question: “Where does the samurai time go?”
Take time every morning to create, take a little dip into the “impossible” skill, brainstorm, dream, and create. I promise it will be good for you, the people around you, and even the earth.
I knew I was getting closer to my Kentucky home when I started to notice the limestone shouldering the edges of the relatively lonely highway. I was there to visit friends and family and be social but one of the first things I did every morning was to go to the Common Grounds quiet cafe and spend a little samurai hour, writing, studying, and spending a little time re-creating myself.
One of the best things you can do for yourself, your loved ones, and the earth in general is to find time for your samurai self to create. Spending some time brainstorming, writing, playing, studying, or even walking or running in the morning works on several levels. In one way it is like hitting the reset button. It’s a fresh start to create and imagine. Or it’s a chance to put another brick in whatever fun project you are up to in your mad labs.
What I’ve also discovered that this time is also good for the other people around me. They may never be exposed to anything that I’ve written or studied, but they are exposed to the real me. (In a non-creepy way. 🙂 ) If I’ve taken even just a few minutes to create, I am more present. I am more pleasant. It may seem selfish to spend some time away by yourself but the best thing that you can do for your friends and family is spend a little time re-creating yourself.
Back when I was doing an Japanese immersion service called Silverspoon, I did suggested morning “sprints” that included an affirmation (in a non-new-agey non-creepy way) and a pretty intense burst of Japanese study/play. There’s something great about waking and baking in the freshness of a new skill or just heading in a new direction with brainstorming or writing.
Whatever you do, don’t get caught up in how this morning time is supposed to look. Don’t wait for the perfect office space to get started. Head to the cafe. Head to the quiet hallway. If you don’t have an hour take fifteen minutes. If you don’t have fifteen minutes, take five.
Do it for yourself. Do it for the children. Spend a little morning time in your mad labs and power your day.
Look back, look forward, look around. Sometimes an all directions approach helps you move forward. Think cross-train.
I loved it when Daniel Coyle, author of The Little Book of Talent and The Talent Code, mentioned the skateboarders highlighted in the documentary Dogtown and Zboys. These outsiders and misfits changed skateboarding forever. Part of how Coyle explains how they developed their talent was that these skaters “trained” in ever changing environments. The Zboys were influenced by surfing but also learned how to skate streets, irrigation ditches, and in a year of drought a plethora of dried out pools. Each change of environment added to their repertoire and talent.
The takeaway for me is to make sure to get it from all directions. For example, I came to Kentucky from Puerto Rico at the age of eight and did not know very much English. (I had the advantage of having a mom that already spoke English). I went to school and was assigned a speech therapist in addition to regular instruction. I also fell in love with comic books, specially Richie Rich, Casper, and Archie comic books. I also grooved on “Sesame Street” and” Electric Company.” I listened to AM radio. I watched “Name that Tune.” I was getting language from all directions. A cat named Khatz did the same thing with Japanese at an older age and built a website called All Japanese All the Time.
Change your environments and approaches but not so much that you actually don’t move forward. For example, I’ve taken a very dogged approach to music theory. I spend five minutes every day moving forward on a little piece of music theory from Theory for the Contemporary Guitarist. Is it the best book on theory for guitarists? I don’t know. Probably not. At the end of each page, I hunt for youtube videos on the topic and see what other people have said about the various music theory topics. I’m learning a foreign language here and I know that to learn it, I will need to approach it from many directions. Every now and then something makes sense. Victory! 🙂
I also make sure that there is time where I am playing and watching others play. The point of practice is getting to the point of no mind, a concept I learned through continuous viewing of The Last Samurai. 🙂 Have fun strategizing and playing so when the self-doubt and “I am not worthy” assassins come to kill you in the dark, you can have your Tom Cruise moment and come at them from all directions. Peace!
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.
Stop trying to read in massive chunks of time Most of life is waiting. Most of life is disjoint snippets of time: two, three, five minutes here or there. That’s when you read. Stop trying or waiting for some golden multi-hour block . . .
I think that my problem with reading is that I tend to see reading as a marriage til death do us part kind of process. Probably what might be most helpful is to adopt a philandering, slightly-abusive role model towards books:
Read more than one book at a time. I have light books for taking on the train, heavy books like Zen and the Art of Making a Living that I work through pages at a time, and books that are pleasing but sufficiently unexciting for right before bed.
Graffiti and abuse certain books. Yeah, get all juvenile delinquent on some of your books. Some books have been untouched on my shelves for years, and now I am getting use value from them by writing on them, dog-earring the pages, and just making sure that I’m not reading passively. My music theory book has gotten and will get the most abuse.
Read for free until you don’t. I just recently got a kindle. It’s so easy to sample books and eventually I end up buying something and supporting authors. Just skimming and sampling seems to be good for my brain. I’m out there searching for good ideas. As of two days ago, I just discovered reading “on the cloud.” It is so nice to be able to jump into a book from the computer, to the iPad, to the iPhone.
Quick and dirty. Slow and savor the flavor. It’s all good. There are so many ways to enjoy reading. Skip pages. Read the end first. (I used to read history books that way.) Read the first sentence of each paragraph until you hit something good. I recently read Guitar Zero that way. Enjoy all the positions.
Most importantly, have fun. Ironically, this is one of the key messages of the Japanese book that I am reading, 情報量が１０倍になるNLP速読術 (Increase Your Information Rate 10 Times Through the NLP Speed-Reading Method). There’s a lot of NLP talk about “anchoring” and “filtering” in this book. Basically, when we have negative thinking towards reading we become less efficient
in retaining information and even continuing to read.
One of my lockers where I cage my books and laptop. Reading closely and savoring each word still has its place, but adding a little velocity to your learning game through speed reading or pre-reading is a way to shake things up. Do you have any books on your shelf that you think you should read but haven’t. A quick read might give you the lay of the land to read it or get the best part out. Feel free to eat the best part of the tuna!
The book includes exercises on getting in the right frame of mind to enjoy reading, but it’s also important to change the way we read in order to continue to read. There’s no one way. You are not contracted to any book. Speed date. Skip lines. Pick them up off the street. Have fun. 🙂
This is the last hint in a Japanese book called, “100 hints to Becoming Better at Guitar.” Have fun with your “pushes” and “produce” the life you want. (I would love a great translation of the caption in this book.) You can do this in any area of your life.
My little music theory experiment continues. Music theory has scared me in the past but I have books that I have accumulated over the years that have laid dormant and untouched. I have decided to take one book, Theory for the Contemporary Guitarist, pulverize it into little digestible bits and put it into my samurai notebook. Each bit doesn’t take me more than two or three minutes. Today, I will draw the F major scale in my notebook and call it a day.
Because I review my notebook, I will be seeing my new friend a few more times. In the two months since I started this, I have progressed nineteen pages. Because the bits are so small the process has actually become fun. I have become a push ‘n play samurai.
There is no grand guardian blocking your path to any field of knowledge. You don’t have to own it overnight. There should be no, “I am not worthy.” There is nothing you have to do to be worthy. You are already “blessed” with the ability to breathe and think on this beautiful and complicated world. It’s a lot easier to start from, “what would happen if I just push a little bit and try to have a fun.” Here are a few little tips:
you don’t have to put your creative/learning pushes out there for the world to doubt, hate, question etc. I’m putting my little music theory push out there as a public service announcement but there are other pushes that are under the cloak of silence
you don’t have to know where you are going . . . I don’t really know if understanding music theory will really help my playing. But it has seemed impossible, and that’s part of why I’m attracted to it.
keep thinking small is powerful. Khatz, the dude over at alljapaneseallthetime.com, calls his immersion service Neutrino. Teeny tiny particles. According to wikipedia, my vast samurai mind powers, “a typical neutrino passes through normal matter unimpeded.” When you pulverize your new skill into do-able bits, it’s you will pass through skills you’ve seen as obstacles before.
Don’t break the neural chain, man. (You have to say this in a hippie voice!) Even if you pick up your guitar (code, language, piano [ouch!], business plan, etc) for five minutes, you are making the next day of practice a little easier.
You won’t always feel great, but I think you might just get a lot farther than if you just beat yourself up about how you don’t know fill in the blank. Skip the drama. Become a push ‘n play samurai.