Clearing the Space. How to Do Your Best Thinking.

One of the first tenets from the Neuro-leadership Group in my training as a Results Based Coach is to clear the space before starting any coaching session. It is clearing your prefrontal cortex so that you can prepare to do your best thinking. When I was working with a client this week she said, “Oh so it’s like Lakshmi-ing your brain.” So you might be asking who or what is Lakshmi? Well, apparently it is the Hindu goddess of wealth, love, prosperity and fortune. It is believed that you need to clear out the space and sweep before you can begin to bring wealth and prosperity in. Hmmm. Nice metaphor. Sweep out your brain before you start bringing in the innovative ideas.Clearing the Space

The prefrontal cortex is the part of your brain that is in charge of executive function. This means that it’s the problem solving area. It brings all the current perceptions and past memories together to make decisions. The problem is that, especially in our technological environment of constant interruptions and distractions, we really don’t “make space” in our prefrontal cortex to do our best thinking; and often don’t even review anything before making a decision We are all on one giant squirrel hunt or chasing shiny objects and never focusing on our true path.

So here we go, my thoughts on how to clear the space:

1. Turn off. First of all, you need to turn everything off. This probably means you need to turn off or place your phone in another room in silent mode. The first squirrel that will interrupt your best thinking is a buzz, bell or other notification from your phone. You can live without your latest social media update for an hour. If you are on your computer, make sure all of your email and social media are shut down. I have a little piece of a post-it note to cover up the little envelope that shows up in Outlook indicating I have a new email.

2. Close the door. Make a space that is free from interruptions from the outside (or inside) world. I close my door so that my dog, or my husband or the noise from the stereo in the other room are out of my space. When I work with clients in person, we sit in a room at a table and the door is closed. The only thing in the room besides paper and pen is a clock so that I know what time it is. Physically create the space to think, that is private.

3. Breathe. I recently learned something called 4-7-8 breathing by Dr. Weil. Basically, you breathe in for 4 counts, hold your breath for 7 counts and exhale for 8 counts. You do this cycle for 4 times. It might take 3 minutes and more likely less time. But doing so really is relaxing and centering. Focus on the breathing, and for me, this comes naturally because I am counting in my head and noticing what is going on in my body. I’m sure there are other breathing exercises out there or you may already have a practice that you use in meditation or yoga. Use what you have or give one of them a shot or try this one. The point is to relax, be present and be centered.

4. One word. When I coach clients, we each disclose one word that encapsulates what is in the “background” for them. This could be the “boss”, “reviews”, “wedding”, “bills” or “graduation”. We then metaphorically place that word on the table or floor or chair or garbage can, so that, if we want to, we can pick up that item at the end of the coaching session. This removes whatever concern, issue or event that might be rattling around in your prefrontal cortex. It physically removes it, so that we can start doing our best work.

5. Basics. I always make sure that I have a glass of water, paper and pen when I am coaching or being coached. When I do a lot of talking, I want to make sure I can replenish. I want to be able to take notes as well. It’s the same if you are trying to work out the logistics of a problem or writing an essay. Make sure you have the essentials so that once you have cleared the space, you are ready to go. When I write, I only have my word processing program open. Make sure you have the basics before you start your best thinking, and make sure you’ve set yourself up for success

Now you are ready to do your best thinking. Your prefrontal cortex is ready to go. It’s like a clean, well swept stage ready for Hamlet’s soliloquy to stand in the center and deliver each beautifully spoken line to the balcony. How do you clear the space?

Git ‘er done!

Have you ever –

  • Hemmed and hawed over a project?
  • Drug your feet on even starting?
  • Come up with 50 shoulda’s and kicked the can down the road?
  •  And down the road a little more?

Your lizard brain has taken over your prefrontal cortex with fear of failure and all you can do is hang out on facebook for hours or watch one more show on the Food Network.  Procrastination is gripping you and you can’t even see the first step, let alone the whole staircase.

I spent my Christmas vacation watching my son delay his college application process.  He spent hours on “Call of Duty” instead writing college essays.  This was a project he promised to start in August.  And suddenly it was December 28th and most of the deadlines were January 1st.  Now he was behind the eight ball and his sister and I (his editors) were not very empathetic.  Now with the pressure of the looming deadline, he had to git ‘er done!  He did get it done although it was painful for all of us.  Care for some ideas on getting over procrastination and moving projects to completion?

Here are some tips:

1. VacationZig Ziglar makes the case in his audio tapes called “How to Stay Motivated”, that we all seem to find time to get it all done on the day before vacation.  This really hit home with me.  Suddenly, you have your day scheduled out, know all your priorities, don’t waste a minute and are completely focused.  So, if you really want to take action, imagine that you are going on vacation and plan accordingly.

2. Three.  When the alarm goes off in the morning, plan three things you want to accomplish today.  Just three.  Not five.  Not ten.  Just three. (1) Go to the Y and work out. (2) Finish the financial aid submission.  (3) Finish 3 annual reviews.  There.  You have your day planned out.  As Stephen Covey would recommend, you have to schedule your “Big Rocks” (important non-urgent projects).  In doing so, the “gravel” (unimportant distractions i.e. facebook, twitter) will fall by the wayside.

3. Timer.  I do this for every blog post I write.  I give myself 30 minutes to write.  Anything.  Just write.  I don’t have to finish.  I just need to write.  After thirty minutes.  I’m done.  If I’m still inspired and on a roll, I keep going.  If not?  Go onto the next project.  I find this to be the best cure for procrastination.  It helps you side step perfection.  It doesn’t matter if it’s perfect.  You invested 30 minutes.  And you can invest another 30 minutes tomorrow.  At least you started.  Set a timer.

4. Appointment.  Many times we are collaborating with coworkers, team mates and bosses who are even better procrastinators than ourselves.  They create squishy deadlines or vague goals.  This can be like herding wet kittens.  Make a firm follow up date.  Make an appointment.  It might get moved.  But at least you are taking steps to keep the team or department on task.  Make an appointment to follow up and stay on task. eat an elephant one bit at a time 2

5. Chunks.  Big projects are really just a gathering of chunks.  How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.  Break the project into chunks.  I can remember my daughter getting a book to study for the SAT’s.  It was a very thick book.  An overwhelming book.  I suggested that she take twenty pages a day.  We wrote on the calendar page numbers on each day.  We chopped up the elephant.  Chunks are much easier to digest.

6. Worst is first.  In “Eat that Frog” by Brian Tracy, he recommends starting with the worst task first (ergo eat that frog).  So if that happens to be exercise or reading an SAT prep book or writing annual reviews.  Go for it.  Forgo answering emails, chatting over coffee with your coworkers, or surfing pinterest.  Get out your fork and knife, and eat that frog.  The rest of the day will glide by with the worst of it behind you.  Tackle the worst first.

Procrastination can be debilitating.  Try just one or two of these suggestions.  You’d be surprised how starting a habit or two can change what you can accomplish.  Let’s reduce the frog and elephant population (no animals were harmed in this post) and git ‘er done!