Secrets of the Creative Brain

There are countless books and movies about individuals whose skills seemed to be naturally given. This has created a misconception that creativity is simply something you have, or do not have. A recent book Great Minds and How to Grow Them has shown that there is often no such thing as a born genius or born creative.[1] In fact, much like a muscle, creativity and inventiveness can be developed. It can even be taught.

All it takes is practice, and exercising those creative muscles that have often been unused and underutilized. But first everyone needs to learn how to clear some mental space for your creativity and ideas.

Clearing Mental Space

Think with Your Brain, Not Memorize

From an early age we are subconsciously taught to memorize and repeat facts. The focus on memorization and the repeating of facts is very misguided, and is based on a real misunderstanding of how the brain works.

Memories aren’t perfect reproductions of events or things, find out why we should stop remembering stuff to free up space for thinking here: Human Brains Aren’t Designed to Remember Things

Instead it’s far easier to preserve past memories, emotions, and ideas by simply jotting them down.

Here’s How Jotting Down Ideas in 30 Seconds Boosts Creativity, and How to Start Marking down Your Mood for a better brain.

As you no longer have to worry about remembering this important information, you can safely focus on other things.

Once you no longer rely so much on memorization, your mind becomes much more freed up.

Ditch Mental Clutter

The human brain is incredibly powerful. Everything that has ever come from humanity stemmed from someone’s plan or idea. Despite its power, the brain is bad at multitasking. Perhaps you were reading once, but you kept stopping to check your Facebook, or perhaps your WhatsApp notification distracted you. As soon as your brain had to focus on multiple things at once, you ability to do any of the tasks severely decreased.

The same thing happens when we have a lot on our mind, we can’t focus, and as such, your mind and brain becomes less able to work dynamically and creativity.

We are often unaware just how cluttered our minds are by physical distractions and thoughts. What’s worse, is if we try to ignore all these distractions, our minds become even more full in the process.

If you have no idea how bad clutter has been draining our brains, this is essential for you: How Clutter Drains Your Brain (and What You Can Do About It)

The only way to clear up all this mental clutter is to be ruthless. It is a good idea to prioritize what is most important to you. This can be generally or smaller scale (such as the resolution of an important task). It may seem difficult to ditch stuff that doesn’t serve a purpose, I’ve got you this Declutter Formula to eliminate everything that isn’t necessary.

Fostering Creativity

Keep Your Right Brain Sharp

Now that you have cleared some mental and physical space, it should be easier to focus on developing your brain’s creativity.

The two sides of the brain are focused on the development and control of different cognitive abilities. The left side of the brain processes things like language, and numbers, fixed concrete information. Whereas, the right side of the brain processes and controls creativity, critical thinking, and artistic ability.

By focusing on fact retention and memorization in school, most people have strengthened the left side of the brain, at the cost of the right brain. Discover the real reason why creativity has become more challenging than ever: Why It’s Difficult to Be Creative: An Underdeveloped Right Brain

To fix this imbalance and develop the creative muscles, try these:

  • Do this 10-minute exercise every day to workout the brain: The Journey of a Man and a Dog. This simple exercise makes you think out of the box, and is an effective way to stretch the creative muscles.
  • Take up a creative hobby. By involving yourself in a creative hobby such as painting and playing music, you keep your right brain active.

Look for a Problem

One of the most common excuses people give for not being creative is that they lack ideas. The inspiration isn’t coming. The ideas aren’t flowing.

Often times, people focus on something new and original. Doing this will always be fruitless as the mind needs stimulations in order to think. Luckily mental stimulations are everywhere. All you need is to observe for problems in your life.

Every problem we face is also a puzzle which needs a creative solution. When you are faced with a problem, you naturally try to think of solutions. By thinking of dynamic or creative solutions to problems, you are improving your ability to be creative.

It’s No Privilege to Be Creative

Once you develop your creative ability, you’ll discover the wonderful truth that everyone has the potential to be a powerful creative thinker. All that is needed is utilize your brain and a little bit of exercise.

Featured photo credit: IStock via istockphoto.com

Reference

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I’ve Regulated My Posture, Exercised, and Stretched, Here’s What Really Works for Lower Back Pain

Eight out of ten adults experience lower back pain once in their lifetime. I am one of those people and I’m definitely not looking forward to my participation award. I know how it feels like to step out of bed and barely being able to put on your socks. Having lower back pain sucks. But 9 out of 10 patients that suffer from lower back pain don’t even know the primary cause of it.

Back Pain? Blame Our Evolution

Once upon a time in our fairly recent past, our ancestors felt the urgency to stand up and leave our quadruped neighbors behind. Habitual bipedalism, fancy word for regularly walking on two legs, came with a lot of advantages. With two rear limbs instead of four, we were able to more efficiently use our hands and create tools with them.

Sadly, life on two legs also brought along its disadvantages. Our spine had four supporting pillars previously, but now it only got two. The back is therefore naturally one of the weak links of our human anatomy. Our spine needs constant support from its supporting muscles to minimize the load on the spine. With no muscle support (tested on dead bodies) the back can only bear loads up to 5 pounds without collapsing [reference Panjabi 1989]. With well-developed torso muscles, the spine can take loads up to 2000 pounds. That’s a 400-fold increase.

Most people that come to me with a history of a herniated disc (that’s when the discs between the vertebral bodies are fully collapsed, really severe incident), tell me the ‘story of the pencil’. The injury with the following severe pain usually gets triggered by picking up a small, everyday object. Such as a pencil. Not as you may think by trying to lift 100 pounds – no, but by a simple thing – such as a pencil.

This tells us that damage in your back adds up over time, it’s a so called cumulative trauma disorder. Meaning back pain is a result of your daily habits.

Sitting Is the New Smoking

Whenever I sit for too long, my back hurts. In fact, 54% of Americans who experience lower back pain spend the majority of their workday sitting. But isn’t sitting something that should reduce the stress of your back? No, just the opposite.

The joints between the bones of the spine are not directly linked to the blood supply. These joints instead get nourished through a process called diffusion. Diffusion works because molecules (such as oxygen, important for cells) are constantly moving and try to get as much space for themselves as they can. A key element for diffusion therefore is a pressure difference. In the image below the left room contains more moving molecules than the right, that’s why the molecules from the left are moving to the right. This way nutrition gets transformed into the joints, whereas toxins are transported out of the joints.

Sitting puts a lot of pressure on your spinal chord. The diffusion process therefore can’t function as efficiently. Nutrition and toxins can’t be properly transported, the joints get damaged.

Sit Properly

If sitting can play such a huge part in the creation of your lower back pain, how do you sit properly then?

Is it better to sit with a straight back or should you rather lay back in your chair? Can I cross my legs when I’m sitting or should I have a symmetrical position with my feet? These are questions that I hear on a daily basis. The answer might shock you – according to recent science – all of them are right. The best sitting position is an ever-changing one. An ever-changing position minimizes the pressure on certain points of your spine and spreads it on the whole part.

Credit: StayWow

Stand Up More

Even better than a sitting position is a stand up position. Standing dramatically reduces the pressure on your spine. If you’re forced to work on a desk the whole day though, you have two options.

Take breaks every hour of about 2-3 minutes.

Set an alarm on your phone that goes off every hour! In that time you stand up and reach to the ceiling, on your toe tips with fully extended arms. You’re inhaling during the whole process. You do this activity for 20 seconds. Afterwards you’re walking through the office for the next 2 minutes. You might grab a healthy snack or some water in that time. The exercise relieves the pressure on your spine, while the walking makes sure that the joints on your spine are properly used.

Or get a standing desk.

One of the best companies on the market for Standing Desks, according to my research, is Autonomous. Autonomous offers a rather cheap Standing Desk, with the ability to change the height. Which means you can start the day standing and switch to sitting if you’re tired.

Exercise for Lower Back Pain

Sitting is an immobile position. Your joints are made for movement and therefore need movement to function properly. If humans are moving, all moving parts: e.g. the joints, bones and muscles get strengthened. If you’re in a rested position for too long, your tissues start to deteriorate. You have to get the right amount of activity in.

But not too much activity. There’s a chance that going to the gym may even increase your risk of lower back pain. I know plenty of friends with chiseled bodies that suffer from pain in the spine regularly. Huge muscles do not prevent you from back pain. In your training you should focus on building up the muscles that are stabilizing your back and relieve pressure. Squats with 400 pounds don’t do the trick.

The more weight you carry around, the more weight your spinal chord has to bear on a regular basis. That’s one of the reasons why huge, muscular guys can suffer from back pain too. One of the most important goals of your exercise regimen should therefore be weight loss.

Here are some important tips for you to consider when starting an exercise regimen:

Make sure you implement cardiovascular training in your workout routine.

This will not only help you lose weight, it will also make sure that your arteries, which flow to the tissue next to your spinal discs, are free of placque and can therefore transport nutrients properly.

Important: If you have rather strong back pain, maybe even an herniated disc, don’t start running on a threadmill. Running is an high-impact exercise. Which means there are continuous, reocurring high pressure points on your spine. Your endurance training should therefore either be fast-paced walking or a training on the elliptical trainer for the beginning, because both have little to no stressful impact on your backbone.

Focus on developing your whole core if you want to minimize your pain.

There are some people that do hundreds of sit ups a day. While sit ups are a good exercise for your abdomen, it also puts pressure on your spine due to the bending movement. A sixpack workout routine is one-sided. Your abs may become overdeveloped in comparison to your back muscles. You’ve created an imbalance. A great way to train your abdominal muscles and back muscles simultaneously, is holding the plank position.

Stretch only if you have tight muscles.

I remember stretching every morning after I woke up. I took 10 minutes out of my day to just work on my flexibility and prevent injuries. Little did I know that I was actually promoting an injury, by doing so.

Contrary to common belief, stretching is only partially beneficial to treating lower back pain. Stretching makes sense if tight muscles (such as the hamstrings) are forcing you to constantly bend your back. Stretching to treat pain doesn’t make sense if you’re already on a good level of flexibility. Hyper-mobility may even enforce back pain.

If you found out that you had tight muscles that you need to stretch, try to stretch them at least three times a week. Don’t stretch your muscles right after you wake up in the morning. This is because your spinal discs soak themselves up in fluid over the nighttime. Every bending and excessive loads on your spine is much worse in that soaked-up state. Postpone your stretching regime to two-to three hours after you’ve woken up.

Where to Start

The key to improving your habits is awareness. Try to get aware of your back while you’re sitting down, laying down or lifting an object next time. This awareness of your body is called proprioception. For example, you have to be aware whether your back is bended or straight in this very second. Trust me, it is harder than you might think. You may need to ask a friend for the first few tries. But the change that this awareness can make in your back pain is absolutely fascinating. This consciousness of your body is one of the most important things in your recovery or prevention.

Here are a few behavioural tactics that you need to be considering:

If you’re leaning forward more than 30 degrees with your upper body, support your spine with your arms.

Ever tried to show a colleague of yours a complex issue and found yourself awkwardly leaning forward on their desk, pointing with your fingers to his paper? If that ever happens again, make sure you’re using the not-pointing arm to support yourself on the desk.

Keep a straight back.

Be it while exercising, stretching or standing. If you’re bending your back you’re putting stress on small areas of your spinal chord. A straight back redistributes the force to a bigger area. You’re minimizing the pressure. Remember this whenever you’re at the gym and reracking your weights, focus on having a neutral spine.

Put symmetrical loads on your spine.

I used to play the trumpet when I was a child. The instrument is pretty heavy. The trumpet gets transported in a big, metallic suitcase – with no wheels. Being the nature of suitcases, you only carry it with one arm, on one side of your body. This forced me to constantly lean on the other side with my upper body, while transporting the instrument from A to B. Not really the healthiest activity for your spine as you can imagine.

If you have to carry heavy objects, carry them with both arms. Put the object in the middle of your body and keep it as close to your mass of gravity as you can. If this is not possible, try to carry the same amount on the left side than you do on the right side. This puts the stress vertically on a fully extended spine. The load is much better bearable for your spine.

Stay Away From the Back Pain League

Our world is getting more sedentary. We will continue to develop faster transportation, more comfortable houses and easier lives. While our technological progress definitely has its amazing benefits, it sadly has its downsides too. The danger for back pain will continue to rise on our ever-increasing motionless planet. It’s time to raise awareness.

Featured photo credit: Stocksnap via stocksnap.io

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Turn off These 6 Dangerous Inner Dialogues That Kills Your Brain Power

Have you ever had an internal dialogue playing on loop in your brain? Your mind seems to be always working even when things are quiet. We don’t only use this dialogue to solve problems, we also spend part of our time having an internal conversation with ourselves.

We have a world happening inside our heads replete with catch phrases and mantras. Most of us don’t even realize that we’re having this conversation. Michael Singer, author of The Untethered Soul, likens this mental chatter to our “inner roommate.”

Your inner roommate is the voice in the back of your head narrating your life for you. This voice might be offering you positive affirmations such as, “I am strong and capable,” or “I can handle change.” This voice could also have catch phrases like, “I’m not good enough,” or “I don’t belong,” or “I can’t.” We have these conversations with ourselves so often that we hardly realize they’re happening.

These thoughts have more power than we recognize. The words that we tell ourselves can manifest incredible possibilities, or they can fill us with negativity. As harmless as it can seem, what we tell ourselves can lead to self-actualization or self-sabotage.

These silent conversations can affect how your brain works

The silent conversations you’ve been having with yourself can have a profound impact on how you view the world. What we say to ourselves can temper our experience.

We process speech that we hear in the temporal and parietal lobes of the brain. The process is complex, but our brains not only determine what sounds are being made but also what those combinations of sounds mean together.[1] When our inner voice starts talking to us, many of the same areas in the brain used for hearing speech are activated.[2]

Our words are more than just idle chatter. The power of ideas transmitted by language is further reinforced by physiological responses that we have to words, whether we speak them aloud or hear them from our inner roommate. Negative words increase cortisol, a stress hormone which can wreak havoc on your body and have an impact on how you handle tough situations.[3]

The more you hear something, the more you’ll believe it

Even though our inner voice is telling us things in our minds, our brain still treats inner speech just like words spoken aloud. Broca’s area, the region in the frontal lobe responsible for processing speech is active in both cases.[4]

Hearing yourself say something in your mind carries the same weight as hearing yourself say something aloud. The more you repeat it, that thought will carry more weight because you’ve accepted it as the truth.

This is why repeatedly telling yourself that you are fine can make you feel better when you are nervous. Your brain hears you saying it, and then you have a physiological and hormonal response to that mantra. Unfortunately, the things we tell ourselves can also elicit stress responses.

Are any of these internal catch phrases sabotaging you?

There are loads of great things that you might be telling yourself, but many of us also face negative internal dialogue loops. If you can catch them, then you can correct them.

1. Okay.

It is fine to say “That’s okay.” when you truly agree with something. The problem is that we tell ourselves that things are okay even when they aren’t. Telling yourself that something is okay when it isn’t can perpetuate a state of discomfort.

When someone asks you what you think about something, how often have you said that it was okay just to appease the other person. You may not feel right about the situation, but you choose not to say anything.

Imagine that your coworker has just asked you to cover a shift for them this weekend on short notice because their friend is in town. Even though you already have tickets to see a show with your partner, you agree to do this because you don’t want to make waves at work.

When you tell yourself that this is okay in your mind, your brain stops looking for alternatives. Instead of asserting yourself, you commit to sacrificing a date with your partner. In your mind, you come up with many reasons why it is fine to take on this extra work instead of taking the time to communicate what you need.

Avoid simply agreeing to things if they don’t feel right to you. If you can interrupt the loop of, “That’s okay,” you might be able to come up with a better solution. At the very least you will make it possible to be honest with yourself.

2. It’s easy.

Viewing a task as extremely difficult can make it intimidating, but you can underestimate something by proclaiming that it’s easy. When you think that something is easy, you have the requisite skills and sufficient knowledge to tackle the problem. If you don’t possess those things, then labeling something as “easy” could cause you to take an over-simplified view of it.

When we think something is easy, we might stop looking for better solutions, and we may fail to notice small details that could determine success or failure. At the least, we make things more difficult for ourselves because we aren’t willing to look for other ways of tackling the problem.

Internalize that something is too easy make it tough for the people around us. If someone asks you for help, you could make them feel foolish by offering a response like, “That’s super easy.” Even if you think it’s simple, you may not be able to explain it in a way that makes it easy for others to grasp.

I took a yoga class in which the teacher cued us into complex posture. She not only made it look easy, but she also told us that the posture was simple to achieve. She had been practicing yoga for many years, and as a result, she had forgotten how hard she had to work to learn the posture. The catch phrase that she told herself had made its way into her class, and we all felt foolish when we couldn’t do what she asked right away.

3. It has always been like this.

Tradition is great, but inefficiency isn’t. When you rely on a historical precedent for your actions, you may be unable to look at issues from new perspectives. You will never progress or learn new things if you stay stuck in the past.

If people refused to try mobile phones because phones had always had cords and tied to a land line, we wouldn’t have smart phones today. We certainly couldn’t have imagined a phone that could serve as a camera and a mini-computer if someone hadn’t decided that we needed to try new things.

4. I don’t know.

This is probably the worst of the mental catch phrases. When we tell ourselves that we don’t know, we’ve tossed our hands up in defeat. We set ourselves up so that we can’t come up with a solution. This is the mental equivalent of being a person who complains all the time but never does anything about it.

Teachers have to battle the “I-don’t-know” monster in the classroom all the time. Kids who exclaim that they don’t know how to do something have given up on trying. Think of times when you have said to someone, “I don’t know.” Chances are, it froze all activity as you waited for someone to give you a hint or put you on course.

Knowing that you don’t know something can empower you to seek answers, but if your internal dialogue stays stuck on, “I don’t know,” you are going to spend more time seeking help from others instead of figuring things out for yourself. You can’t grow this way because you are always waiting for other people.

5. I just don’t feel right about it.

This catch phrase works similarly to saying, “It’s easy,” because it makes us stop looking for solutions. The main difference is that when you say this one, you feel miserable.

If something doesn’t feel okay to you, then there is probably a reason, but by saying. “It just doesn’t feel right,” you stop yourself from figuring out what you don’t like.

Imagine you’ve been in the middle of a grueling job search, and you just got an offer. You decline the offer because it “just doesn’t feel right.” In this situation, you need to figure out what was wrong. Did you simply dislike the company’s values? Did the interviewer make you uncomfortable? Was the salary offer too low? Knowing this can help you refine your search and save you the stress of doing more interviews for jobs that don’t meet your standards.

6. That’s impossible.

If you can imagine it, then it is possible. Regardless of whether you need luck or you have to put in lots of effort, the realm of possibility is vast. When you say that something is impossible, you allow that negative thought pattern to dominate your perspective.

Your brain, only looking to make things easier for you, hears, “That’s impossible,” and works to corroborate that statement. You have a confirmation bias, which causes you to find evidence to support what you already believe .

If you try to do something new and think that it’s impossible, then you’ll keep yourself from finding ways to make it possible. Instead of telling yourself that you are doing something impossible, try to set us a list of “maybes.” Identify challenges that could prevent you from reaching your goals. You can get around obstacles, but you’ll never get around a generalized belief of impossibility.

Perhaps your struggle seems too great to overcome. For example, many people struggle with student loan debt. If a person has done everything in their power to get out of debt, he or she might seek help from a financial counselor. Calling on outside help is a great idea in this case because it can be hard to think of things from an objective perspective when you already think the obstacle is insurmountable.

It’s time to pause change your internal dialogue

For many of us, our internal dialogue plays without us thinking. Our catch phrases are handy because they enable us to operate on autopilot. It is critical to disrupt these negative and self-defeating thought patterns.

Every time you catch yourself repeating a negative mantra, hit the internal pause button, and try to come up with a better solution. If you’re guilty of saying, “I don’t know,” then try saying something like, “I don’t know, but I’m going to find out.” By flipping your negative statements into positive ones, you can allow your brain to live up to its full problem-solving potential.

Reference

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What Recruiters Wish You Knew About Writing Resume

The most common stat on “amount of time recruiters look at a resume” is six seconds,[1] although it’s probably somewhere between those six seconds and 15 seconds on the high end.[2] Regardless: it’s not a lot of time. Your ability to advance in your dream job search starts with a process that takes less than the time it takes to scramble eggs (and significantly less, too).

Because of the 6-15 second screenings, your resume needs a different approach. For years, the conventional narrative was facts: job titles, tenures, education, etc. Now a resume needs to be more. It needs to be a narrative, because a narrative will convey who you are. Facts can’t do that. Employers want to know who you are — and whether that person is someone they’d want.

In those 15 seconds, then, you need to make that employer remember you and want to advance you in the process. But how exactly are you going to do that?

Start with How You Want to Be Remembered

Sit down and write this sentence down: I want to be remembered in 15 seconds as ________.

Then get to work on filling in the blank, which is going to be your narrative. After someone who’s never met you considers your resume for 15 seconds, what do they need to be thinking about you?

As you begin to think about this question, here are a few tips:

  • Think about what you consider to be your most impressive experiences to date (name of college, brand-name company, etc.)
  • Think of a few lines about your biggest projects, research work, or anything else. Companies increasingly want to see what you’ve done instead of where you’ve done it, so put these together: ever led a study? Managed a marketing campaign globally? Donated/volunteered/raised money/etc.?

Make Every Word Count

Some estimate that up to 50% of words used in a resume are irrelevant to the position being applied for, and there are certain “trigger” words that HR and hiring man agers always cringe about.[3]

Brief and Powerful

Think about your accomplishments and succinctly define them. Remove irrelevant information or anything that seems too buzzword-y (“data ninja”). Remember: this should only be about 1 page.

While you can’t lie about accomplishments, word choice matters immensely here.

For example, “summer intern” means nothing to most hiring managers. But “summer marketing strategist – intern role” might mean a lot. Similarly, “created presentations” doesn’t mean much —  but “designed a curriculum and presented to an audience of X-amount” might.

Visualize Your Words

The other key concept is to add qualifiers to help the resume reader visualize the situation. When you gave a presentation, how many were there? If you managed e-mail marketing for a company, how many countries are the emails sent to? How many on the mailing list?

Have you ever coordinated a team’s “first” of anything? (i.e. first team-building retreat, first audit.) Include that. If you’ve managed others, note how many: “Managed a team of 12 to results including 163,000 new subscribers to the service.”

Specific, quantifiable, and brief. That’s the sweet spot.

Show Some Personality

Include some extracurricular activities, passions, and interests. Also tailor your resume to each application and drop something in that might show why you want to be at that specific company.

Here’s an example that takes some work but is worth it. Let’s say you really want to work at Company A. You do some research about a position and go on LinkedIn to find the hiring manager. On his profile, it’s clear he’s into horses. You also like horses and ride a lot! You could work this into the cover letter, but there’s no guarantee he’ll read that. The resume he’ll likely scan. In your “About Me” or “Extracurriculars” section, lead with “Horses” or “Horse-riding” or however you want to define it. You just showed your real self, defined your personality, and forged a connection with the hiring manager. Triple win!

What Not to Miss in Your Resume

  • A resume should be about 1 page —  with an absolute max of 2 pages.
  • Basic fonts (Arial, Times New Roman) and sizes (10-14). Basic margins (1 inch) too.
  • Do not include a photo. This can work for acting/modeling jobs, but for almost every other type of job, don’t do it. It can turn recruiters off (there are diversity issues within the idea of including a photo) and a bad photo could get you rejected even if everything else is a perfect fit.
  • Use a PDF format because Word can change across different platforms.
  • Spell-check repeatedly or have 2-3 friends read it for errors or any misspellings.

Remember: a Fact Sheet Will Never Be Impressive

Stay between the lines on all the formatting rules and expected professionalism. That’s your baseline.

Make sure your resume tells a story — specifically, of course, that would be your story. It cannot just be facts, dates, and universities. Everything needs to be woven together into a story.

Show your personality and qualify (and quantify!) your accomplishments.

You have somewhere between 6 and 15 seconds, but if you follow this script, you should be able to drive a lot of attention and interest in your resume.

Reference

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How to Read 10X Faster and Retain More

Reading is a profound human ability, and its one that doesn’t receive enough attention these days. We expect everything to come to us quickly, and information is no exception. At this point, most people are scrolling and surfing instead of actually reading. According to a study by the Pew Research Center,[1] around 26% of adults in America didn’t pick up a book at all in 2016.

When we mindlessly scroll, we aren’t learning in the same way that we do when we read. Avid readers experience decreased anxiety when they get lost in a book, and reading builds empathy.[2] There are plenty of reasons to crack open a book on a frequent basis, if you want to know more you can readReading With Purpose Can Change Your Life.

Reading doesn’t have to be a slow process. If you think that reading is too time consuming, you might want to give speed reading a try.

You can read 6 times more books if you know how to speed read

When you speed read, you can take in significantly more information than the average person. A recent study suggests that the average adult can read about 300 words per minute. Proficient speed readers can read around 1,500 words per minute.[3] For those of you keeping score at home, the speed reader is able to consume five times as many words as the average adult. There are a few anomalous individuals who can read even more.

To put that into perspective, let’s say that the average book is around 100,000 words long. The average adult reader will spend approximately 5.5 hours reading a book of that length. A speed reader can complete the same task in about 50 minutes. This opens up significant possibilities for the speed readers to take in a book every day with a commitment of less than an hour, or 7 books per week. The average reader will only be able to enjoy 1.27 books per week if they read for an hour per day. At the end of the year, the speed reader could read over 365 books, while the average adult will complete 66.18.

These are the techniques that fast track your reading

Speed reading does take some practice, but you can start reaping the benefits of this reading method almost immediately.

1. The table of contents should be the first thing you read

We skip over the table of contents far too often when starting to read a book–especially if we intend to read the book in its entirety. The table of contents is a reader’s roadmap through the book. Since speed readers aren’t fixated on absorbing every word, knowing the big ideas of each chapter primes their brains to take in the information.

You wouldn’t head on a road trip without consulting a map. Reading aimlessly makes as much sense as driving without reading road signs. Sure, you can get through a book without looking at the table of contents, but you’re more likely to lose focus or waste time wondering about structural questions that could be answered with a quick look at the front matter.

If you need to know specific information from the book, the table of contents can tell you which chapters are relevant. This lets you skip over parts that aren’t pertinent to your research.

In some cases, the table of contents doesn’t offer much detail, or the author might use it to entice you to read more. Taking a quick look at the first chapter or two can offer you insight into how the author structures their work if the table of contents fails to give you clues.

2. Always read with an intention

After you identify the subject of the chapter, you’ll need to keep a question in the back of your mind. Asking, “What is the author trying to tell me?” is a great way to frame your thoughts. Your brain will work to figure out the answer to this question as you read.

When you read with a purpose in mind, you’ll be able to process relevant information and filter out extraneous material.

3. Identify the author’s point of view and read just enough references to understand

Books generally contain references to other academic works to support their standpoint. By taking a look at what the author chooses to cite, you can learn a bit more about how he or she will formulate their key points. This information can guide your thinking as you speed read.

Glancing at the references doesn’t mean that you need to stop to read through every note or source. References that merely reaffirm what the author says will quickly become monotonous to read. You just want to get the general idea. After you have enough information to make sense of the material you won’t gain anything extra by continuing to consume the same information.

Think about reading the way you think about eating. Just because the buffet is full of all sorts of delicious options doesn’t mean that you have to eat all of it. Just like you stop eating when you are full, you can move on from the references after you have enough information to understand the concept.

4. Never read aloud (or in your head)

Reading aloud is great for developing fluency in emerging readers, but it is a surefire way to slow you down. When kids read passages out loud in school, it’s for a specific purpose, but it’s unnecessary in the context of speed reading.

When we read passages out loud, our brain has to work a bit harder than when we read silently. The act of reading uses the same parts of your brain whether you read the information aloud or reading it silently.[4] The major difference between silent reading and reading aloud is that the act of speaking requires your brain to take an extra step.

Brocas’ Area is the part of the brain associated with turning the thoughts in your head into meaningful expression through speech. Wernicke’s Area is responsible for comprehension.[5] If you can minimize sub-vocalization and reading aloud, then you can eliminate the extra step of having to read and comprehend speech in Wernicke’s Area and then vocalize it in Broca’s Area.

When we read aloud, our brain not only sees the words on the page, but it also goes through the trouble of hearing the words and producing speech. We really don’t need to vocalize what we are reading to understand it. The extra steps can slow us down significantly.

You might have noticed that sometimes when you read aloud, you might have trouble comprehending what you just read. It may even be necessary to re-read the same sentence so that you can confirm that what you saw and spoke are in true alignment.

When you apply the third technique in this list, it becomes even more impractical to read out loud. That method requires you to consider chunks of information larger than sentences. When you are working through books paragraph by paragraph to identify the author’s perspective, having to go line by line to produce speech is a waste of time.

Speed reading is like enjoying the garden view instead on focusing on every single petal

When we read at a leisurely pace, it gives us a chance to appreciate words in a different way. Think of reading line by line like stopping to appreciate a beautiful flower garden with a magnifying glass or spending thirty minutes examining a piece of artwork three inches in front of your face. You might think that you need to look that closely, and you may see some incredible things, but you’re missing the totality of the scene.

Speed reading gives you the opportunity to look at the big picture so that you can see how many kinds of flowers there are or how different brush strokes combine to make a cohesive image. When look at the big picture, you can extract more meaning from what you see.

Instead of wasting time focusing on the petals of a single type of flower, you can enjoy the whole garden. Applying speed reading comprehension techniques makes it possible for you to extract more of the big ideas from the things that you read. You not only get more information from every book that you read, but you get to enjoy more books along the way, too.

Reference

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How Not to Let Smartphones Make Us Dumber but Smarter

The more we use smartphones, the dumber we become.

Research [1] has found that having a smartphone physically nearby actually causes us to perform worse on tasks than those who’s smartphones were in another room. In other words, the mere presence of your smartphone reduces your cognitive capacity even if you’re not conscious of the affect.

Smartphones are the largest source of attention pollution

While smartphones provide us with convenience such as the ability to connect with people within seconds, they also facilitate the development of bad habits like having too much entertainment and procrastinating. Entertainment is great for the short term, but it’s a massive drain on our time and has a massive impact on our long term growth.

Whether we want to admit it or not, smartphones are the largest source of attention pollution. No matter you check it or not, push notifications are there to remind us of who’s messaged, emailed, liked our status or latest Instagram photo. We get these at all hours of the day and night as a flashing beacon to check our phone, meaning it’s difficult to complete a task without interruption and distraction compared to years ago when this wouldn’t have been a problem.

People are so addicted to smartphones because of the fear of missing out

Even without any notifications to nudge us, we never forget to check our phones, thanks to FOMO or the fear of missing out. This is when we feel that sense of anxiety that we aren’t up to date on the latest news or posts especially on social media, and it causes us to robotically check our smartphones mindlessly.

The problem with FOMO is that we fear we’re missing out on the things that actually don’t matter. Our lives won’t change if we don’t see the latest updates on Facebook yet we act like we need to check them often.

However, this is causing us to miss the things in life that actually do matter. We waste a vast amount of time that could be spent working on our strengths and weaknesses, widening our knowledge and personal growth or improving our health.

This is like feeding the brain junk food while letting it be starved of the essential nutrients it needs to sustain its optimum health and thrive.

How not to make your smartphone turn into a “dumbphone”

We can’t completely avoid using our smartphones. This is unrealistic. But there are ways we can avoid our smartphones turning into “dumbphones”.

It starts with identifying a particular type of apps that immediately turn a smartphone into a dumbphone. These are the apps that:

  • Have no clear purpose. They don’t provide a concrete function and you can’t tell what you’ll get out if it at the end.
  • Are bottomless. There’s no definite end to these like you’d find with a book or a movie. Rather they’re designed to keep you using them for as long as possible usually in the form of a game.
  • Are addictive. When you don’t use them regularly you feel uncomfortable and FOMO comes to the surface.

Don’t delete them, just make them less accessible

While deleting these apps and going cold turkey may seem like the answer, it’s actually better to make them less accessible.

The more we suppress ourselves by deleting the apps, the more difficult it’ll be to stop thinking about using them.

Instead, a better way is to gather these apps together into a folder and move this to the last page of your phone’s screen. The magic of this is that you’re creating a choice and when you’re brain is mindful of this choice it feels less tempted to open the apps. The ‘out of sight, out of mind’ concept is also pretty powerful here.

Create a folder and name it as “Time wasters”

Put the folder on the last page

How to further make your smartphone really SMART

So you’ve managed to reduce access to these time-wasting apps and it’s freed up your time to focus on better things. Now it’s time to use your smartphone to facilitate your growth.

Go from the passive to the active approach by using RSS feed

Using RSS reader apps can dramatically increase the quality of information you receive through your smartphone. On other platforms, if you have a particular interest and want to get latest updates you can get inundated with 100 news stories on that subject yet 2 of them are actually applicable to you. With RSS feeds (or Really Simple Syndication feeds), on the contrary, the right information will be filtered for you based on your needs, dramatically cutting down on precious time.

The good news is most websites have these but Feedly is a great example of an app that allows you to gather vast amounts of content in one place making it convenient for you to find. It links to many different media channels across different platforms allowing you to keep up to date.

Learn new things through a wide variety of apps

There are a plethora of apps that help you learn and grow in almost any subject.

Khan Academy provides so may options for subjects to learn about, from history to science, finance to humanities.

Wokabulary and Duolingo are two great apps for learning new languages. But whatever you want to learn whether it’s guitar, drawing or coding, there are relevant apps to help you achieve your goals.

Duolingo (left), Guitar Lessons by Guitar Tricks (Middle), How to Draw – Free Drawing Lessons (right)

Make use of your phone to track your lifestyle and improve it

Our smartphones are with us everywhere we go so it’s a great way to track what we do. Once we have a better overall understanding of how we’re choosing to live we can tune and improve it.

Tracking what you eat can be one of the best ways to get more healthy. Most of us can’t remember what we ate for dinner last Tuesday but apps like MyFitnessPal will do this for you.

Other areas of your life can also be covered using your smartphone’s current apps such as writing down your daily moods which can improve your well-being.

Make good use of practical apps

There are many amazing apps that can fire up our imaginations or simply help us to live a better life. Either way, they can be used to replace any current apps that waste your time.

Decibel 10 turns your smartphone into an accurate noise meter. It’s fun and interesting to see how much noise you’re being exposed to.

PackPoint is a useful one for travellers. It helps calculate what you need to take on a trip according to the length of time, where you’re going and what you’ll be doing there.

Waterlogged will help you drink more water by accurately allowing you to measure your containers. It also includes other drinks such as tea, coffee and soda.

Forest can show you exactly how much time you waste on social media and procrastinating in general. With this app you grow your own tree but the catch is it’ll wither and die the more you move away from the app to check other unnecessary ones.

While our smartphones are getting a bad rep, it really is down to us to use them to our full advantage. Replace those apps that bring no added growth to your life and make use of the access to apps that can enhance your knowledge and well-being.

Reference

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I Survived Burnout More Than a Few Times, and Here’s What I Learned

Burnout used to be like an old wild and disruptive friend who would show up in my life at the most unlikely times. One summer in particular when I was on a vacation with my family, I was a wreck. I couldn’t enjoy my time with my husband and daughter who were soaking up the sun, swimming, and enjoying their free time. I, however, could only see life through a very negative lens and spent more time brooding than playing. In the weeks and months leading up to that vacation, I had worked myself to the bone, was feeling under pressure on some personal family matters, and hit the proverbial wall. I had nothing left in my engine for myself or anyone else.

Burnout is a regular visitor to my life as I always step in to help others

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the first time burnout showed up. A hard worker and high achiever dating back to elementary school, my primary focus was on achieving at all costs. I am also a caregiver by nature feeling the need to step in and help when others need help. Through law school and then working in the nonprofit sector, I would work and work and work ignoring my building stress until I flamed out.

On that particular vacation though, I finally grew tired of burning out. Because after I came home, I decided to do something different. I decided I was tired of hitting the burnout wall and instead wanted to figure out how to avoid it the next time around.

In time, I came to learn the early warning signs of burn out and how to face it off before it took over. And here is what I learned.

The fine line between “stressed” and “burned out”

Burnout happens when you are under excessive and prolonged stress. People are often able to respond to short bursts of pressure and demand without much trouble. But when that pressure continues day after day without a break, the stress can mound and potentially become burnout.

Importantly, you can be stressed but not burned out.

When you are stressed you are facing a lot of different pressures both physically and physically but even still you can imagine getting things under control. On the other hand, if you have burnout, you are feeling empty, a lack of motivation, and don’t see a hope of positive change. Burnout is when you begin to detach and feel cynical or ineffective.

You may not recognize burnout when it’s right in front of you

We often think “burnout” looks like someone who is so incapacitated they are unable to work. Burnout doesn’t have to look so extreme. You can continue to work when you have burnout but instead feel every day at work is a bad day. You could be feeling disinterested in your work or maybe even depressed by it. You could feel overwhelmed by responsibilities and turn to distracting activities like drinking or social media.

The most common sign of burnout is when your stress is so high you start to see diminishing returns at work and you are lacking interest in work or life.

Some of the other warning signs:

  • Lack of energy
  • Lack of sleep
  • Lack of appetite
  • Inability to focus
  • Physically and emotionally exhausted
  • Drained and depleted
  • Low or no motivation
  • Forgetful
  • Physical stress (e.g. chest pain)
  • Getting chronically sick
  • Anxiety
  • Anger

To be clear, there is not an official diagnosis of burnout – unlike depression which is a widely studied condition. And sometimes burnout may start to look more like depression which is why it can be important to seek professional attention. What is most insidious about burnout is that it creeps up on you over time. All of the indicators may be there but you may fail to recognize it when it is right in front of you.

Types of people who’re more prone to burnout

The best place to start is to identify what is causing excessive and prolonged stress in your life. This can come from the workplace, home, or both.

So while there isn’t any one type of person that is prone to burnout, there are some common themes of the types of people who are more likely to face burnout:

  • People who face heavy workloads or high stress positions.
  • High achievers
  • Caregivers including healthcare professionals at the front line of care
  • Working parents
  • Students

Burnout may not simply come because of excessive work

Keep in mind that burnout doesn’t just happen because of significant demands on people lives. It can happen if our mindset shifts.

In my coaching work, I have clients that exhibit signs of burnout but it may not come necessarily simply because of excessive work. Take, for example, Jennifer (name changed to protect confidentiality). She has an intensive job that has her working many evenings and most weekends. This is something she has been doing for years. But recently she has realized how exhausted she is from work. She is getting more upset with demands made on her than she has in the past. She is beginning to hate her job and can’t understand why all of a sudden she can’t “deal” with work. For Jennifer, the cause of the emerging burnout wasn’t the demands of the job itself. It began when she felt unappreciated and ignored. Therefore, burnout can manifest when we become disappointed by dashed expectations.

Create ‘margin’ in your reschedule

We tend to over schedule our lives. So our days can be jam packed with work, appointments, and other obligations. This has us running from place to place without a moment to breathe. Look at how you can start to schedule breathing room in your day. Avoid scheduling meetings back to back in your day. Schedule out time on your schedule to do some important catch up.

Adopt resilience tools at work

While work itself can be stressful, there are ways to build in strategies that allow us to de-stress during the day. This includes doing some deep breathing, meditation, or just taking a walk outdoors. Productivity hacks suggest dedicating specific chunks of uninterrupted time (read: no email or social media) and then taking solid breaks around 10 or 15 minutes to clear your mind.

Adopt the strategy of “no”

People feeling burnout are often feel they must “do it all.” Stepping back from burnout means finding ways to lessen the stress which means saying the powerful two letter word NO. It may be hard at first but look for opportunities to delegate demands to others, shift priorities off your plate, or delay obligations.

Find regular times to unplug yourself

Don’t be under the illusion you always need to be moving to make progress. Sometimes, doing nothing is exactly what your body and mind are looking for. Find time to recharge by unplugging from it all. Taking real breaks – to eat, sleep, decompress – can give us the energy we need to remain productive.

To be sure, taking a real break can be difficult in today’s world when we are all expected to remain in constant communication though messaging and email. Consider giving yourself an electronics-free time so you can remove yourself from the noise of work, social media, and email.

There was a time I was convinced that I was on a regular cycle of burnout and that my old familiar friend would re-enter my life maybe once a year or every couple of years. I thought I was just a person who faced burnout and that was just part of who I was. But that trip to the beach woke me up and forced me to finally face down how I was the cause of my own burnout.

I now have a personal program to manage my stress and avoid burnout. Sure, I can still get pretty stressed at times but I am much quicker to see the signs and take immediate action. You too can be empowered to tackle and stop burnout in its tracks.

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