Take a daily dip in the ocean of talent. Light a little fire. Mix your metaphors. 🙂 Photo: unprofound.com.
Mixed metaphors time kiddos. Keep treading water. Keep the fire burning.
With three more weeks left of school, the demands on my time have ratcheted up to hyper levels. Last minute student essays and administrative demands all put an extreme demand on my time. I want to help. I want to do a good job. Does that mean I give up writing, learning Japanese, and practicing guitar? No. It means that the little chunks of five minutes are more important than ever.
One of the key tips that I learned from Daniel Coyle’s Little Book of Talent is that five minutes a day is better than two hours on the weekend. In building a skill, the daily repetition and re-igniting process of five minutes keeps a skill “myelinated.” Hey, maybe it’s pseudoscience but it works for me! If I do five minutes of practice, there’s more of a chance that my fingers and my memory will remember what I did the previous day. If I wait until the weekend, it can almost be like I am starting from zero.
Five minutes is a bookmark, a life-line. If all you think you have is five minutes use it. Keep treading water until you can head into deeper water or see your talent ship a comin’. Keep a little tiny daily fire burning until you have the time and wood to get a decent campfire. When you are done mixing your metaphors, stop swimming and celebrate with a bonfire on the beach!
You can’t really stop the flow of ideas, money, life but what are your systems to help you “go with the flow?”
The other day, I had the rare pleasure of going to a little bar/restaurant called Lil’ Frankies with friends from work. As a teacher and dad of two young children, I don’t get out much. I was a amazed that I could enjoy a place with purty looking drinks and food. At 4:30 p.m. I announced I had to go and return a library book. “Nerd Alert,” my friend chided. As I walked towards the library and home, the nerd alert approached def-con as I fantasized about–hold on tight–getting a new filing cabinet.
Anyone who has seen my apartment or even my man-bag would know I am not going to be your de-cluttering guru anytime soon. But what I am getting from my ongoing experience learning Japanese, writing, and guitar is that it’s really important to have tools and systems that catch your flow.
I want a decent and beautiful filing cabinet where I can easily organize my samurai notebooks and other projects, so that creating and remembering becomes even more systematic. I already have a plastic box where I have folders organized according to topics and by months and days. (This is an idea I got from Getting Things Done.) But I am ready to upgrade so the folders sit up right and the whole process of getting a folder out is smoother. I’m trying to minimize physical or mental resistance because the more organized my flow and capture systems are, the more I can create.
It’s important to “capture” ideas, money, and projects in ways that enhance the flow even more. It’s important to create systems but not be enslaved by those systems. Here are some examples of tools and processes I consider to be my “flow capture” systems
Setting a timer for 15 minutes and writing even if I don’t have “anything to write” about every morning. It can change my whole day to create an idea where there wasn’t one just through this little move.
Keeping a samurai mind notebook. Keeping a notebook with positive ideas. information, skill bits and reviewing regularly means that my circuitry is kicking around the ideas and questions that I want there.
I have several automatic savings accounts for different purposes. Capture your financial flow and keep your finances in different “buckets.”
I use surusu, an online spaced repetition flashcard system, to remember where I am in guitar. When I study something on jamplay.com, I create a card with a link to the lesson. When I don’t know “what to do” on guitar, I go to this deck and it takes me to the lessons either targeting or that I’ve forgotten about and could use a refresher.
Creating these systems may seem restrictive, but it actually frees you to play more. Suddenly, there you are with a guitar strapped around your neck because deciding what to practice isn’t this mental storm of self-hatred. The flashcard reminds you what to practice. You practice. Then you play. Just in case you are too serious to remember to play, you can make that part of your system. Part of why I enjoyed doing Silverspoon, a Japanese immersion service is that I would get reminders to just play–in Japanese. Play is the ultimate “capture system.” (Sounds severe, no? 🙂 )
You have a flow. Catch the flow. Catch the rainbow!
Keeping obligation out of your samurai notebook is about keeping your spirit free. There are other tools for “shoulds” but fly, fight, and love in here.
But there is Boddhidharma, fierce eyes, teeth showing, intent and determined, a free spirit who [will not accept] the propaganda of mediocrity. He challenges you to be free enough of society to transform it for the better. —L. Boldt Zen and the Art of Making a Living
Nurture your minds with great thoughts. To believe in the heroic makes heroes. –“All About The ” Benjamin(z) Disraeli
Sometimes in life you need to battle the “dark forces.” You need a weapon. You need a battle strategy. You need to reexamine your tactics in a world that isn’t necessarily out there to bring out the best in us. You need a de-programming device that helps you center your mind. You need to become a beacon to others by becoming a beacon to yourself. You need your trusty, dusty samurai mind notebook.
As I’ve been playing around with keeping notebooks, I’ve come to rely on them more. A samurai mind notebook is a place where I keep the thoughts and knowledge that I want to have kicking around in my mind. It’s the place where I put snippets of knowledge or forward moving quotes that will be there to lift me up and change my climate of thoughts. They have a longer-lasting impact as I playfully review them on a regular basis. (You can have notebooks to work out problems, complain, etc and that is awesome but the samurai mind notebook works better when it is positive, silly, useful, and fun. Get a “working it out notebook” if you need a space for that.)
I don’t necessarily believe you should become a positive thinking machine. You will have your feelings and you will feel suffering, but what will be out there/in there for you through that and after that? The television news? Keeping a notebook allows you to create your own channel of information of skills, thought, jokes (?), whatever you want to move forward in your life. Read through my different posts about keeping a notebook, but here are some powerful uses for my notebook that I’ve recently discovered:
My notebook is a place where I can re-enjoy the marrow I’ve sucked out of good books and resources. If I buy a $20 book I can multiply the value I get from the book by putting the ideas that make me stop and think into my notebook. As you review, if the knowledge still makes you “tingle” rewrite it in your latest notebook. That forward moving thought or inspiration gets reinforced.
My notebook is a place where I put little mechanical skills that I used to feel would never become a part of me. Sometimes there are little blocks of knowledge or skill that can help you create and play. If you put it in your samurai notebook, in small digestible bits, those bits can become more of you. For example, I am going through a music theory book for guitarists and wrote down some information on compound meter. Do I have that concept nailed? No. But as I come across it more and more, it becomes part of the conversation.
Random Collection of Notebooks. Samurai notebooks help keep me inspired, searching, while at the same time keeping me anchored.
Keep in mind that your notebook is not a place for obligation. Don’t write anything in there that you feel you “have to.” As you review, you can skip over parts that don’t rock your boat. Your samurai mind notebook is your weapon, your tool, your de-programming device. Though it can be physically messy, keep your notebook gleaming and shiny with your love.
Be patient toward all that is unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves. –Rainier Maria Rilke
Be still and cool in thy own mind and spirit. –George Fox
Don’t panic. Be like the tiny waterfall joining the big river. Deep, man, deep.
Don’t panic and if you do, don’t panic about panic. If you are trying to move forward in your business or your learning, a little edge is good, but panic is not. Certain kinds of panic comes from trying to have it all at once. I felt it one day when I listened to five different podcasts about WordPress and just started to worry that I didn’t know x, x, and x. OMG! If you try to have all your breath at once, you are hyperventilating. If you try to have all your water at once, you will drown.
All of this has come up as I’ve been reading Zen and the Art of Making a Living: A Practical Guide to Creative Career Design by Laurence G. Boldt. First of all, the book sent me into a little bit of a panic because it is so big. Second, Boldt’s rambling style can be a little overwhelming. But I’ve been hanging in there, skimming and looking for gems because I’m at a point where I need to hear a lot of what he is saying. Taking Zen a few pages at a time, I’ve been putting the thoughts I need to hear into my samurai notebook where there will rub constantly against my little ole at-times nervous samurai consciousness. A lot of my recent quotes come from this book.
Though Boldt writes about setting out on a “warrior’s quest” for the career you want, he emphasizes doing it in a calm and persistent manner:
Being too concerned with what is “out there” [instead of what is] “in here” puts you in a position of powerlessness. We encourage you to begin by identifying the results you want, then to move confidently and deliberately in that direction no matter how small those steps may seem.
Here we go with the power of the small again. I began to move forward in with writing and now guitar after I started to take advantage of small consistent steps as a by-product of studying Japanese. The man who helped me ‘grok‘ this concept was Khatzumoto over at ajatt.com. In a recent post, he talked about avoiding overwhelm of big goals, just as you might avoid looking directly at the sun:
Get into your mad lab creation space at least once a day. It could be a work space or a rambling walk.
If you do anything for yourself give your self one hour a day of “mad lab” time. Mad lab time is a time that you give yourself to create, tinker, putter without thinking of results, profits, “followers”, et cetera. This time can be structured yet loose at the same time. You can try to write for fifteen minutes, study a foreign language for twenty, brainstorm for five, whatever but it’s all done in the spirit of play. (In fact, a tight time schedule can be good.)
it creates an after-burn that can infuse your other activities throughout the day
it allows you to discover yourself and reinvent yourself at the same time
when you get to play the universe is happy
you start to get into the habit of creating
set a time and place where you can create. It could be a separate office or a quiet room in your house before everyone wakes up. Don’t get hung up on the perfect spot. (BTW…The Little Book of Talent says that a lot of talent hotbeds practice and create in rather spartan or grungy spaces.)
Have your “tools” easily accessible. A blank pad of paper, your laptop, your guitar and your tuner. Leave the “windows” to the necessary sites open. After a while you will build the physical habit of getting out your tools, which is more than half the step of creating
you don’t have to broadcast what you are doing to everyone . . . this is your time to cook stuff up. Don’t let the haters and doubters in by revealing too much. (Check out this short article from AJATT “Whose Team Are You On”)
Repeat. You will have good days. You will have so-so days. But the so-so days send a little life-line, a breath that can feed the “good” days.
Your mad lab can be work time that feeds play or play time that feeds work. No adults except in the company of a child!
This isn’t just coming from me. Steve Chandler explains you should “give yourself one hour every day.” Julia Cameron, author of the The Artists Way, writes of the vitality that comes from writing morning pages every morning. Yukio Furichi also writes about the power of the morning in his book 「１日３０分」を続けなさい！人生勝利の勉強法５５ (30 Minutes Every Day: 55 Study Methods to Win in Life). For me, it seems really important to do the heavy lifting/creating early in the day because it gets the juices going and starts the day with a “win.”
There is a Sufi saying that “You have three hours to live. Two of them are gone.” Get into your mad labs and create.
This kiddies is a floppy drive with an actual floppy disk. I need a tech guru to help me manage my flow. Yes, I’m getting medieval.
You may read this blog and see the picture of real wasabi being washed in clear water and think—ooh this is so Zen. Or you may actually read my posts and think–err, maybe not. :). It’s spring break and I have a little more time for personal projects with a heap of potential work (planning, grading, thinking) for school to do as well. I am proud to say I have wasted a lot of that time on iDistraction. Here’s how:
I actually did do school work, reading essays and letters students wrote and shared with me on google docs. I noticed my pulse rate increasing after the third time I noticed an un-capitalized “I” pronoun.
I started listening to podcasts about how to improve WordPress blogs and integrate all kinds of plugins, etc. I started to think about all I didn’t know. Great podcasts. Too much information.
Somewhere along the line I got the idea that I could convert a lot of my previous writing to Kindle and try to publish it. I’ve some interesting interviews and I thought it would be great service to people to put it out there. I’m embarrassed to say that a good portion of my writing is on a 2002 Gateway computer that I have held on to. I’ve not only had to figure out how to transfer that material but also figure out how to properly format it for Kindle.
The organization to which I applied for a grant to travel to Japan decided to tweet winning proposals every hour, in addition to mailing out snail mail notifications. I received a grant three years ago, so it’s a long-shot, but that did nothing to settle my iDistraction.
I fired this thirteen year old computer to get at an interview that I think would still help people. Check out the floppy disk on the right.
I finally realized that I had to do something when I realized that I had children in my home. There’s a moment when you realize that they aren’t watching television any more and have moved on to exploring flammable chemicals. Not really but that’s what it felt like. 🙂
It’s a new day and I am not feeling so much iDistraction. The organization is not issuing any tweets and it looks like their website has crashed. I am not making any promises but I am aiming to do a few things that might help this iDistraction:
set time limits on my different efforts. Part of what I learned to do while I was on Silverspoon was do things in little bites throughout the day. Learning Japanese is such a huge project that the idea of it all can swamp me. But I learned to use different “time-boxes” and “chillax” periods to keep persisting without the overwhelm.
re-read or skim Steve Chandler’s Time Warrior and Wealth Warrior. He really writes cogently about the importance of silence, reflection, and non-overwhelm.
Re-investigate a spiritual path, meditation, or at least go back to recording things that I am grateful for at the end of the day. Ironically, the project I was working on was an interview on the interplay between a spiritual practice and money with Jerrold Mundis, author of How to Get Out of Debt, Stay out of Debt, and Live Prosperously. Mundis really emphasizes the importance of operating from a calm center in relationship to money:
And indeed, when we are obsessed with material and wealth, acquisitiveness, craving it’s very hard to lead a spiritual life. One can lead a spiritual life and still have material things, and still have money, but the spiritual life comes first. And, out of that center and calmness one can use money quite healthfully and well.
I’m going to get on all of that. After I check one more tweet.
“Keep the fire burnin’…never let us lose our yearnin'” . . . REO Speedwagon (ugh!)
Do you try to have all of your breath all at once? No. A small steady supply feeds all your body systems and your mind. Small keeps the fire burnin’.
Whatever you are trying to move in your life doesn’t necessarily have to move at once. In some ways, it may even work better to go small. I used to wait until my summer vacation and make big promises to myself to write and I did write. These days, I have around fifteen minutes every morning to write. I use a timer and then study Japanese. I’m getting a lot more done than when I had “all the time in the world.”
Small works when it is consistent. Daniel Coyle writes in The Little Book of Talent five minutes a day is better than infrequent and longer practice period. It is easier to link thoughts in writing when it is day to day. With musical instruments, it is easier to keep “muscle memory” going. Try to stop breathing for an extended time and see how much fun it is to get breathing again. On second thought, don’t. It will be a lot more pleasant for everyone if you keep breathing.
Fun illustration from １分スピード勉強法。 Short term memory expires quickly. However, through repetitions the memory can cover the distance to light the candle of long term memory.
Small leverages the short term to long term memory connection. Masami Utsude describes transforming short term memory into long
Real language exposure is the best and I get that too. However, I do a few minutes of iKnow every day. Short periods keeps it from getting boring and takes advantage of short term to long term memory connection.
term memory. He describes it as a relay race. Imagine a team of matches. One match (short term memory) runs until almost exhausted and lights the next match, continuing until it reaches a candle (long term memory).
Khatz, over at AJATT, talks about learning languages and suggests that critical frequency, moments of constant contact with the language will help it thrive and stay alive:
A language is like a cross between food, air and a pet. You can’t just binge on it once and call it a day. You need it there constantly, no, not constantly — very frequently — and when it does go, it needs to come back soon. Otherwise the skill dies.
Don’t let the skill die. Don’t prevent it from being born. Keep the fire burnin’.
“Don’t wait for your mojo to get to the dojo.”………… me 🙂
Daniel Coyle talks about “windshield time” or time spent watching people doing the kinds of things that you want to do or didn’t even think of doing before. You can do it with people, books, tapes, and languages. Cultivate your windshield. photo source: unprofound.com.
A funny thing happened on the way back from the dojo. My oldest daughter takes karate lessons. My wife takes our two year old daughter, who just watches. Lately when we watch our oldest practice at home, the littlest also tries to execute the form. I’m not a real samurai but the toddler’s form looks pretty good.
It’s the power of “staring at who you want to become.” This little mantra comes from The Little Book of Talent by Daniel Coyle. He studied “talent hotbeds” across the world. One of the patterns he noticed across a lot of these training centers is that there is often a period of training where students observe the skill with intensity before actually practicing. In one Russian tennis center, students watch advanced players before they even pick up a racket.
I would also add that it’s important to have fun with “staring” at who you want to become. You could watch Jimi Hendrix play guitar and shout, “Jimi is God! I am not worthy!” (I still say that! 🙂 ) However, even Hendrix sucked at one point. You don’t have to avoid those feelings. But, you can also choose to put them to the side and just–watch. He plays on this part of the guitar, then moves his finger there, etc.
There are many ways to ride the stare-way to betterment:
keep the quotes from people who are doing what you want to do and think the way you want to think and review it in your samurai notebook….also copy out the phrases of writers whose style you admire
get into the sounds of the foreign language you want to acquire . . . no self-loathing because you don’t understand it yet just let yourself bathe in it . . . find the fun, funny and inspirational and move on … see AJATT.com on this one
don’t get threatened or angry at people that are “better” than you in whatever skill you want to acquire . . . watch them closely . . . watch for how they work and also how they bring joy and fun to their work . . . be grateful for people who are better than you. If you still feel threatened or angry that’s fine . Hating yourself for your feelings isn’t productive. Recognize it and find something to stare at (in a nice way!).
listen to the people that inspire you on headphones . . . the only English I allow on my headphones is audiobooks by Steve Chandler . . . I don’t agree with everything he says but I like the positive direction and humor of his work.
Don’t short-circuit yourself by rehearsing how bad you feel about your lack of skill. If it’s true that you become what you focus on, have some fun. Stare into the present.
“Let’s get physical, physical..let me hear your body talk.”….Olivia Newton-John, metaphysicist and 80’s pop star.
One of my lockers where I cage my books and laptop. Physical activity can be a form of review, which is really key to moving forward in your life. The physical act of going through spaces wakens up ideas and possibilities. Pick one space to “review.” Throw out the irrelevant bring forth the joy.
A couple of posts ago I quoted Snoop Dog, and now I am quoting Olivia Newton-John. Yeah. That’s how I roll. Just the other day I was reviewing my samurai notebooks, where I put ideas and borrowed inspirations and information. As I often do, I use a timer to keep me moving through different tasks. (Timeboxing, read about it later.) I wondered whether I should time the physical act of getting an old notebook out of a storage space. I decided to include it.
When you are making moves towards your goals, you are also making physical moves. Yes, Shakespeare wrote Hamlet and sonnets and all that, but does anyone talk about how many times he had to sharpen his quill? There are all of these unsung moves that needed to happen. Do you want to play guitar? Hey, you know the guitar is not going to get out of the bag by itself.
Ay, here’s the rub. Sometimes making the physical move gets you a little further along your “goal.” You’ve gone through the small act of getting the guitar out of the bag, you’ve tuned it, and strapped it around your neck. Are you just going to put it back down? Probably not. This little physical motion is already giving you momentum.
Khatz over at AJATT taught himself Japanese in fifteen months. A lot of how he explains he did that is physical. Not only was he listening and watching Japanese all the time, his walls and bookshelves were covered in Japanese. The key part is fun. Yes, I get frustrated that I fumble over “stretch” activities I am learning on the guitar. But once I have that guitar strapped around my shoulders, I make time to actually “play” with the guitar.
Make it so that you literally trip on the material you want to become. Inside you will find two lightweight notebooks (one current and one for review), a Japanese book on guitar, and random junk. 🙂
Part of the game becomes finding ways to “physical-ize” your goals. Here are some of my recent moves:
leaving a music theory book underneath my laptop so I there is more of a chance that I will look at it
making sure I always have a Japanese book in my “man-bag”
leaving a travel-sized guitar in the closet at work….buying a $20 tuner . . . after all the work is done for the day I try to spend 15-20 minutes…reviewing and/or farting around
making sure that the battery on my computer at the Writer’s Room stays charged at 80-90%. This means I need to show up everyday and work
make Netflix work by constantly having Japanese DVD’s in my laptop
keep various “study” and “fun” windows open on the browser so they are just there
Make 2013 the year when you get physical with your goals. Let me hear your body talk. Body talk. 🙂
Take a little off the top and the side. Don’t be overwhelmed by the seemingly impossible.
Just yesterday some friends shared a little clip from an organization called code.org. I have to admit, just the thought of coding is something that overwhelms me. But according to Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and the creators of twitter, dropbox and many other mega-sites explain, it is an approachable skill. One of the coding stars explains that it is like any skill that might seem scary at first, whether it is playing an instrument, learning a sport, or hey learning a language. I don’t know if this clip is propaganda for some kind of coding cult but I like its message of how the seemingly impossible can be possible.
One phrase that helps me with this these days is “take a little off the top.” I am a teacher and a father of two young children. I am pulled in ten thousand directions, so the thought that I would also write, learn Japanese, and learn guitar seems ludicrous. But taking a “little off the top” is doable and that’s what I’ve learned to do day to day.
I think the ability to persist in small and steady games has been one of the benefits of doing Silverspoon, an online coaching service I used to immerse myself in Japanese more. In one of the emails I got from Khatzumoto, he summarizes the game/plan of action:
AJATT 7-Step Victory Formula: 0. Have no good intentions whatsoever. Just pick a good direction. No intentions. 1. Start off on the wrong foot. 2. Set your quitting time ahead of time (timeboxing) 3. Do a bad job. Quick. Dirty. Ugly. 4. Do only half the job (or less), using only what tools are immediately available. 5. Stop and switch games at quitting time, before quitting time or as soon as you get bored, whichever comes first. 6. Get more, better tools. 7. Return to step (1)
(BTW, AJATT has a really interesting new article on the importance of skimming.) I could complain that I don’t have all the time in the world to write the great samurai self-help book or I could play around with writing in 15 minute stretches every morning. I could whine that I don’t know that I don’t know how to play guitar or I could pull out a lesson from my SRS deck, Jamplay, or any other tools and then just let myself play. I may not be able to put in 10,000 hours but I can “take a little off the top.”
You can also take a “little off the side.” What I mean by this egregious hair metaphor is the importance of changing tactics,
Some Brazilian players play “futbol de salao.” Small, challenging environments can improve skills. Work it! BTW this isn’t futbol de salao. 🙂
environments, and tools in addition to the persistence of “taking a little off the top.” I just finished reading The Little Book of Talent by Daniel Coyle (in five minute daily increments). His tip #9 is “To Build Soft Skills Play Like a Skateboarder.” He encourages people to explore and expand their skills “inside challenging, ever changing environments.” He is alluding to the skateboarders that are featured in Dogtown and Zboys. One of the ever changing environments they discovered were empty pools. Confined, ever changing environment that took skateboarding in new directions. Coyle also discusses how some Brazilian soccer teams train in small rooms that force them to learn all kinds of new skills.
Games are fun because of their limits. Don’t be scared to develop the skills you want because of limits. Bend time and space like a ZBoy. Take a little off the top. Come at it from all sides. Enjoy.