From The Observer News
Jul 12, 2007, 11:23
There are those who believe that the brain is much like a muscle; if it does not get used, it starts to atrophy and loses the ability to react when called on to do a task. There is little doubt that many of us run our life on auto-pilot and continue to do things in old and comfortable ways that require little new thinking. In other words, we are creatures of habit. If those habits include doing things to keep the mind active, then the habit is a good one. But if you are simply living yesterday over and over, then here are some ways to expand your thinking process and keep your mind active.
1. Sit down and listen to a child. Yes, I said listen. Most of us talk to children but few of us listen to their replies. Ask the child a question such as, “How high is up?” or “Where does the sun go at night?” Then listen carefully to their reply. Now try and see the answer from the child’s perspective. You might be surprised at the creative answers you will get. To the question about the sun, one child told me, “God has an energy conservation program. At night while people are sleeping, they don’t need all the light so God turns the sun down and leaves on a night light called the moon.” Not bad thinking for a five-year-old. Wonder who it was that first thought of night lights?
2. Try some different routes for your travels. Many of us get set in our travel patterns and do not try to find different routes until something forces us to deviate from our normal paths. That fact was reinforced for me several years ago while I was in Indianapolis conducting some presentation and briefing skill seminars. I found that I had fallen victim to the, “I’ve always gone that way,” syndrome. For 15 years, I had been traveling from my hotel to the customer’s facility by the same route. This time, because of construction, the road was blocked and I had to find a new way to go. To my surprise, I found that the new route took 10 minutes off my travel time. I found the new way by asking the desk clerk—something I could have done a lot earlier if I had been open to new ideas.
3. Make a list of the things you do everyday. After a week of keeping records, review the list. How could you make changes that would either allow you to be more efficient, have more fun, or eliminate unnecessary tasks from your life? It is amazing how many things we continue to do long after the reason for doing them is gone. As an example, when we had a dog, I would wrap chicken bones in foil and take them immediately outside to the garbage rather than putting them in the kitchen waste basket. I didn’t want the dog to get them and do him harm. We had the dog for 17 years and for many years after his death, I still wrapped the bones and took them outside. What are you doing that does not need to be done?
4. Take every opportunity to exercise your mind. Two very good ways to help keep your mind active are to put together jigsaw puzzles and to work crossword puzzles. I have several friends who always have a puzzle in some state of completion in a convenient place to work. The nice thing about a puzzle is that it can become a family project and can be worked on at odd hours. As to crossword puzzles, they are great when you want to exercise your mind and also fill some time.
Physical exercise is important to our well-being, but you must also exercise the brain to get the job done.
I heard a great story from a friend recently that I think makes a wonderful point. He swears that it is true but he is a person prone to tell tales, so you make up your own mind as to its truth. True or not, it contains some wisdom. It seems he was watching a man use a mule to pull some very heavy loads out of a field. The driver would shout encouragement occasionally, “Pull, John. Pull, Caesar.” My friend finally went up to the man and asked, since there was only one mule, why he kept calling two names. The man replied that the mule’s name was John and he tended to be a bit lazy. To get him to work, he had to have blinders on so he could not see around him. My friend replied that he still didn’t understand why he called the mule by two names. The man then explained, “With the blinders on, John thinks there is another mule with him and he does things he would not even attempt if he thought he was alone.”
How many of us are like John? I know I am. Since I am a people person, I much prefer to work with others rather than tackle things by myself. But on the other hand, I have noticed that I get more done when I am with others even if they do little or nothing to drive the project forward. I think it is just that having someone else around gives me a feeling of security and encourages me to try harder than if I am alone. Another reason I may be more productive when others are around is that if I am alone and decide to goof off, I am wasting only my time. If I am with others, I know I’m impacting their time.
With more and more of us working alone, i.e., in home offices and telecommuting, this feeling of being alone is creating more problems. We are not mules and we don’t wear blinders, so how do we fool ourselves into thinking we have help? We don’t; we actually find the company. Here are some ways to feel as though there is a second mule in harness.
• Make an agreement with a friend to talk each day on the phone about your challenges for the day. Don’t just chit chat, but really stay with your professional problems and opportunities of the day. Each friend will have the responsibility during the next call to ask how the day went against the plan of how the day was supposed to go. This will do several things. First, it will force you to make a plan; second, it will hold you accountable to someone for the plan; and third, it will give you a chance to express out loud what you intend to do, which will help clarify your thinking.
• Join the professional association that represents your craft or discipline. It is amazing how the networking that comes from belonging to such a group can give you a sense of someone being in harness with you. I know some of my best friendships have been established because of these professional memberships. I also know that if I face a professional problem, one of my colleagues will more than likely have an answer for me.
• If all else fails and you just feel alone and overwhelmed, pick up and read some of the great motivational books available from the library. There have been days that I have, through their writings, had the pleasure of working in harness with such greats as Napoleon Hill, Clement Stone, Dale Carnegie and Stephen Covey.
Working alone for most of us is not fun, but when you do and have to get something done, look neither right nor left and yell, “Pull, Caesar.”
How many times have you summed someone up by saying, “I like his attitude”? It is amazing just how many people have been promoted or given special treatment of some kind because those words have been spoken about them. But who is responsible for creating our attitude? Attitude truly is a matter of personal choice, and we are either the master or victim of the choice we make.
Author Charles Swindoll had this to say about the importance of attitude, “The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude to me is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failure, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company, a church or a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we embrace for that day. We cannot change our past. We cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10 percent what happens to me and 90 percent how I react to it. And as it is with you. We are in charge of our attitude.” If he is right, and I believe that he is, that certainly puts a pretty heavy burden on us for our own fate.
Attitudes are nothing more than habits of thought that we have acquired over the years. Many of them are learned from those around us, so it is even more important that we are careful who we choose to imitate. Other attitudes are foisted upon us by society. Several years ago, I watched as two young men were tried for sexually molesting a neighbor girl. The defense argued that the crime was justified because the defendants were victims of sexual abuse themselves. On the stand, the young men testified that they just could not help doing what they did. You know, I truly believe they believed what they were saying. Why not? Society had provided them with learned counsel and doctoral psychologists, all of whom told them it was not their fault but rather the fault of society.
If one ever hopes to achieve anything in life, we must first take responsibility for our own actions and the habits we’ve developed. Some would argue that a strong understanding must precede a healthy attitude and acceptance of oneself, and from that acceptance will spring a positive attitude. But for most us who are still working on achieving a good state of self-esteem, the attitude may have to come first and it may have to be manufactured rather than real.
Keep in mind that human beings are the only animals on earth that can choose how they will feel and can reshape their attitudes to meet the circumstances. When we react to a situation, we are allowing previous habits to take control of our actions and it is at that point where we must make sure that our programming is appropriate. The attitudes you manufacture every day will be the ones that jump to the forefront in times of stress or emergency.
Changing our attitudes is not an easy task. Several research projects have shown the difficulty of making such a change. Although the numbers differ slightly on the various studies, the following applies. A skill change is three times harder to achieve than a knowledge change, and an attitude change is seven times harder to make than a skill change. But then you knew having a great attitude was hard, didn’t you? If it weren’t, everyone would have one.
A friend recently sent me a story that I will share with you. It seems that a group of explorers were lost in the Amazon jungle. To their relief, they ran into a family of bush dwellers who not only were friendly and could speak some English, but also offered to guide the party to safety. In return, the explorers decided that they would sponsor members of the family to their first trip out of the bush and into our modern world.
While touring a mall, the father and his son were amazed by almost everything they saw, but especially by two shiny, silver walls that could move apart and back together again. The boy asked his father, “What is this, father?” The father, never having seen an elevator, responded, “Son, I have never seen anything like this in my life; I don’t know what it is.” While the boy and his father were watching wide-eyed, an old lady in a wheel chair rolled up to the moving walls and pressed a button. The walls opened and the lady rolled between them into a small room. The walls closed and the boy and his father watched small circles of lights with numbers above the walls light up. They continued to watch the circles light up in the reverse direction. The walls opened again and a beautiful 24-year-old woman stepped out. The boy said to his father, “Father, what happened?” To which the father replied, “I don’t know, but go get your mother.”
Things are not always as they seem, are they? We see things with the knowledge, experiences and, yes, prejudices we have accumulated over the years. That is why it is so important for us to continue learning, to have new experiences, and most importantly, to review our prejudices for flaws.
You see, just being intelligent and educated is not enough. Experience in time of change can be a detractor from our success if the experience is not current. That is the position that many of our university professors find themselves in, especially those who spend all of their time behind the proverbial ivy-covered walls. An example of one who could not see beyond his experience is the one from Yale University who gave Fred Smith, the founder of Federal Express, a “C” on a paper in which he detailed his plan for formation of the company. The professor remarked, “The concept is interesting and well-formed, but in order to receive better than a ‘C’, the idea must be feasible.” Bet that professor now wishes he had graded the paper higher and bought stock early.
Most importantly, our prejudices hold us back like iron chains and stop us from recognizing opportunity when we see it. What are your prejudices? Are there people of certain colors who cause you concern? Are there religions that you feel should be banned from our society? Do you believe that one sex is superior over the other? How do you feel about age? Not too many years ago, a whole generation said they would not trust anyone over 30. That generation is well over 30 now. Does that mean they cannot be trusted, or have they refocused their prejudice at another age level? Take the time to see your prejudices in the cold hard light of rational thought, and I think you will find most of them will fade away.
Just keep in mind that, as with the man and his son from the Amazon bush, things are not always as they seem; in fact, they are seldom as they seem.
Hodges Hosts Television Program
Bill Hodges also hosts an interview-format television program, East Shore Today, which airs Mondays at 8 p.m., Bright House cable channel 20 and Verizon cable channel 30. His guest for July 9 and 23 is Rich Glorioso, Representative, Florida House, District 62. Glorioso, who appeared on this broadcast in June, is returning with a recap of the tax relief actions taken in June by the state legislature. This is a must watch program for all those interested in controlling property taxes. Appearing on July 16 and 30 will be Robin Watt, a member of a new coalition being formed to investigate and educate our population on fall prevention. She will be discussing actions we can all take to eliminate or at least minimize our chances of falling. Older adults are hospitalized for fall-related injuries five times more often than they are for injuries from other causes. Learn how you can prevent your being part of this statistic.
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