Thought Leashes

4 mind training tips for thinkers, dreamers, innovators, and intellectuals, to stay focused and use their thoughts well. 

The Border Collie Connection

Border collies are a Scottish, English breed of herding dogs, renowned for their intelligence, energy, curiosity, and stamina. Their love of challenge makes them some of the world’s best sheepdogs, and most loyal sporting companions. They do not, however, make for easy, docile household pets. Without a direction or task, border collies grow dangerously restless, and take out their energy by digging holes, barking at neighbors, or chasing cars.  While perhaps not obvious at first site, the personality of a border collie has a striking similarity to that of an active-minded human. In her book “Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear,” Elizabeth Gilbert illuminates the connection. As she sees it,

“possessing a creative mind is like having a border collie for a pet; if you don’t give it a job to do, it will find a job to do—and you may not like the job it invents.”

Indeed, for many deep thinkers and innovators, simply existing with one’s own company can be an experience, both as fun, and as challenging, as living with a border collie in a small house. Despite the inevitable difficulties, never resort to locking your imagination in a kennel for a lifetime of mental repression. Instead, use the tips below to train your mind like a border collie, and play to your strengths!

Tip #1 Feed the Beast
Why? Your mind is hungry

Border collies have big appetites, and sharp teeth eager to devour the food onsite. Without proper nourishment, they either wither into a state of depressed starvation or chew up the couch. As such, if you have a ravenous intellectual appetite, and a mind constantly hunting for something to tear apart, then you must feed the beast. Otherwise, you might start chasing your own tail, chewing on your own problems, or gobbling up trashy TV.

Be intentional about feasting your mind on good things. Devour books, discuss podcasts, study languages, learn skills, listen to clever song lyrics, observe art, or simply follow a curiosity trail as far as it will take you. Also, keep a bone in the back of your mind to gnaw on, for times of extended boredom. I find interesting quotes and new words a great way to prevent myself from getting “mentally hangry.”

Tip #2 Give it Something to Chase
Why? Your mind is active

For hundreds of years, border collies have been bred to chase. When focused, they will charge non-stop in a valiant effort to herd sheep and catch far-flung frisbees. Much to the dismay of many modern owners, however, the chase instinct cannot be trained out of their DNA. Lacking an outlet, they may attempt to herd cyclists, squirrels, cars, or even small children.

When it comes to chasing, most innovative, project driven people, have a similar instinct. That is, when we want something, we really want something, and we will work like a dog to get it. The catch, however, is that not all pursuits are positive. Sure, it’s possible you spend all your energy pursuing dental degrees, personal weightlifting records, and solutions to global health problems. But given your nature, it’s also quite possible, that you expend your energy chasing uber-EATS ice-cream trucks and troublesome members of the opposite sex. Or maybe you even chase the former with the latter.

Regardless, you will end up chasing something. To channel your instinct to charge, find a captivating project that stretches your limits, and then get after it. Build a treehouse, write a book, compose a song, train for a 10k, or launch a website. Whatever it is, once you set your mind to it, the options are endless.

Tip # 3 Get a Leash
Why? Your mind wanders 

Some dogs are tame enough to roam anywhere off leash and return whenever their owner calls. But border collies, even the friendliest ones, are curious creatures and notorious escape artists. Off leash, their curiosity can lead them to explore poison oak patches or water from impure sources. While they do need space to run free, at times they just need a short leash. And so do our own thoughts.

See, if left unchecked, the same imagination that allows you to create companies from scratch can also become self-destructive. Watch for the gradual slippery slope space out. Maybe your mind wanders back to the embarrassing work meeting, last week. Or maybe you start wondering why Tyler Tinder failed to show up for your second date. Then, before you realize, you sit captive as an audience member to a self-made mental movie with the tagline, “Unemployed and Unloveable”—the vivid motion picture autobiography coming to theaters in 2020.  These are dangerous rabbit holes to travel down, but thankfully, you don’t have to give up daydreaming and curiosity altogether in order to stay sane. Instead, identify your trigger territories and keep a thought leash at the ready. That way, you can let your imagination explore, and simply reign it back to the focus path whenever necessary.

Tip #4 Breed Responsibly
Why? Your mind is fertile

Responsible breeding is an important aspect of both dog ownership and creative mind ownership—especially for those prone to absorbing surrounding stimuli like a sponge.
The words and suggestions you internalize now will most likely give birth later, whether in the form of art, or a manifested reality. That said, if you have a particularly fertile mind, then be intentional about who you think with. Now, this does not mean we should all live in microcosms among those who share the exact same viewpoints. Actually, the ability to respectfully disagree and juggle opposing ideas can widen our perspective and sharpen our character. However, considering the law of averages, you will become the company you keep. The ideas, advice, criticisms, or comments, that others speak into your life, act like tiny seeds which bear fruit for good or for bad.

Choose your close pack wisely.

Alas, now that you have these training tips on hand, it’s time for your border collie get some exercise. Your mind is powerful, so use it well!

Boss Creativity

6 ways to tap into your creative potential by thinking of “creativity” as a boss in multiple senses of the word.

Introductory Definitions
Boss (noun)-  a person in charge of a worker or organization
Boss (adjective)- excellent; outstanding.

Part I: The Common Approach
When it comes to buzzwords “creativity” tops the charts on regular basis. Whether it’s writing rap songs, selling crocheted headbands on Etsy, or launching an app for millions to use, it seems as though everyone wants more creativity. A single google search on the word summons thousands of “how to” articles claiming to hold the special secrets to unlocking your potential. Unfortunately, much of the advice revolves around the fleeting and unnecessary prerequisite of “feeling inspired.”

Supposedly, if you wait long enough and set the scene just right then inspiration just come: One day at sunrise, on the water, while drinking puréed kale, a dolphin will simply nudge a glass bottle onto your paddle board with a million dollar idea inside. The idea will arrive fully developed of course, and minutes away from manifesting into reality.
It’s no wonder so many of us report coming up dry from well of inspiration so often. Practicing this mentality is like pursing a job at Apple by watching TV and hoping Steve Jobs interrupts you with a personalized phone call.

We commonly treat creativity with nonchalance and apathy, but the reality is, creativity is a boss. A very good one, don’t get me wrong, but a boss that demands to be treated like a one none-the-less. Everyone has the choice and potential to take part in the “creative company” where the benefits of joy, and even health, are unparalleled. A place of skyscraper dreams, where the boss Mr. Creativity himself delivers boxes of light bulbs and stacks of ideas daily, even minutely, to your office doorstep. While I cannot claim to be a certified expert in creative sciences, I have learned a few insights in my journey thus far. In efforts to make your journey as smooth and enjoyable as possible, I put together a company handbook chock full of crucial tips and inside information. Enjoy the read. 🙂

Part II: The Handbook

1. Ace the Interview 

The moment you decide to try your hand at something new, and the empty canvas or a blank page stares back at you, the interview has officially begun. Upon entrance into the boardroom, you will find a box labeled “scripted answers, and risk-free guarantees.” Outside of the box, sprawl hundreds of jigsaw puzzle pieces with parts of peculiar questions and of unique solutions. While you may not know it, this is your first test. If you reach for the box of guarantees, the company lets you keep it, and a receptionist in a khaki pantsuit escorts you out of the facility. However, if you stay and gravitate towards the puzzle, Mr. Creativity sits back and watches your reaction. Are you thankful and curious as you seek to connect the pieces? Or do you complain about how the puzzle seems confusing and unrealistic?

2. Know the Company Culture

If you wish to cultivate a positive personal relationship with the boss, don’t use self-limiting vocabulary, and never utter the phrase “I’m just in this for the money.” See Mr creativity emphasizes a unique company culture where people subject themselves to squeamish levels vulnerability by sharing raw content of their heart. He recruits for the dream team based on the joy voltage meter and degree to which people come alive on the job. Also, be mindful of pet peeves. Mr creativity does not have time for the conditional signature. If you agree to sign the contract only under the condition that “Ms inspirational feelings” sits around on site full time, this communicates neither dedication nor sincerity.

3. Arrive Early and with Coffee

Congratulations on the hire! After you’ve signed on with the company and start scheduling regular meetings with the boss, be warned. Mr Creativity is notorious for arriving at his appointments fifteen or more minutes late. It’s not that Mr Creativity doesn’t care about you, he’s just busy collecting information and schmoozing with big shot ideas. Now, no matter how stupid, alone, or unmotivated you feel, it would behoove you to stick around. He will get there—as soon as he untangles himself from the perceived paparazzi and critical voices—but it’s imperative that you show up first. Also, do bring coffee. A spiced up and caffeinated environment is Mr. Creativity’s natural habitat. Coffee motivates him to arrive promptly, and the meetings turn out much more fun.

4. Choose Present over Perfect

If you repeatedly skip appointments with the boss because you fear a project isn’t good enough, don’t expect premium employee benefits. Actually, you could get fired. Doubt, frustration, and internal resistance all exist as a normal part of the creative process. Some people go so far as to call the middle experience, it the dark night of the soul. I know, it feels terrible, but do not abandon ship. This is when it’s most important to keep going. If you wait for perfection and everything to make sense, you will never break through to the beauty on the other side. Instead, chose to show up again and again like a faithful apprentice, and Mr. Creativity will work overtime, to help you develop your ideas and master your craft. “Show up, show up, show up, and after a while, the muse will show up too.”– Isabelle Allende.

5. Be an Excellent Assistant

Anyone who has ever worked in an “assistant” type role understands that one of the most important parts of their job is to make the bosses job easier. Whether it’s schedule organization or dry clean suit pick up, the assistant removes the hiccups, to allow the boss to do their thing uninterrupted. Mr. Creativity works in the exact same way and nothing annoys him more than employees bringing petty logistical details—such as parking tickets or budget queries—to the meetings. Most the time he is a delight to work with, but when bogged down by disordered mundane tasks, Mr creativity grows so upset that he storms out of the premise, leaving you all alone with your fight or flight lizard brain to finish the rest of the project. Please, do Mr. Creativity a favor and take care of the basics so his brilliance can go to work.

6. Agree to be on Call

Today, “Work-life- balance” has become another popular catch phrase. I do agree with the important principles of self-care, and time management but Mr. Creativity just isn’t that kind of Boss. He seldom holds meetings in designated board rooms, and he certainly doesn’t operate within the limits of typical bank hours. Instead, he invites the dream team to stay on call and find meaning and interest in even the most ordinary things.

Dare to say yes, and watch what happens. Package bundles of ideas will land on your rooftop like Santa’s sleigh in the middle of the night. New recipe infusions will float into your mind while sitting in traffic. You might even find metaphors at the dentist. Although the interruptions will seem annoying or distracting at first, in due time you will never want to leave the company. Regardless of whether you strike it rich or never make a dime, a life of creativity is simply too much fun to pass up.

14 Commonalities of Creative People

“30 Days of Genius” in review

A few months ago, I stumbled upon the Youtube series “30 Days of Genius.” Immediately I became hooked, and it required true grit and willpower not to binge watch all 30 episodes at once. Throughout the series, Chase Jarvis, founder of Creative Live, interviews 30 different well-renowned entrepreneurs, creatives, and thought leaders to provide actionable insights to assist others in unlocking their own creative potential with career, hobby and life. While every person of the “genius crew” is unique in their accomplishments, there were a number of common patterns that emerged across the board. Read on for the top 14. 

  1. They are resilient

    What we see as success is often only the tip of the iceberg. If not for resilience–the ability to persist and rise again after falling–not one of the genius crew members would be there in the studio with Chase . Seth Godin,  now a best-selling author and business owner, once received 800, yes eight-hundred, rejection letters between publications. He kept going; this group seems to view failure through a different lens. According to Sir Richard Branson, of Virgin airlines, “You learn by doing, and by falling over.” Traditional failures are merely learning experiences. The only true failure is the one of inaction, of not taking the risk, or not going after what you want. 

2. They  never stop learning

 There is a popular myth about successful creatives: that they produce work from a bubble of isolated inspiration, and nothing could be further from the truth. They are ever learning open systems. They gather a wealth of information and mix their own originality with a global network of other great thinkers of the past and present. Connecting dots and gleaning wisdom, they make references to books, commencement speeches, essays, fairy tales, blogs, and each other.

3. They take care of themselves

 The physical, emotional, and intellectual aspects of a person are inextricably connected–and the genius crew gets this. Whether intermittent fasting, mood boosting freezing cold showers, buttery coffee, meditation, or sleeping on a “chilly mat” for a deeper slumber, each person experimented their way to a personalized peak performance protocol in order to live and think at their best.

4. They show up and hustle

They understand the value, beyond a financial result, in the mastery of a craft earned with hard work and the honest hustle.  While they are passionate and inspired, they do not “wait for inspiration” to find them. They make things happen by showing up again and again.

5. They keep their day job

The idea of stereotypical “poor starving artist” paints an overly romanticized picture that distorts the sad reality of poverty and destitution. Playfulness and experimentation rarely thrive in an environment of scarcity, or fear of survival. Thus the common consensus is to find the means to support oneself, but consistently make time to do that important thing. One day the side project might grow big enough to become the primary means of support, but until then–they advise–don’t quit.

6. They see problems as opportunities

While everyone demonstrates independent thinking, all of them, have a problem solving mindset. Swiss designer, Tina Roth Eisenberg shares, “If I keep complaining about something, I either do something about it or let it go.” Marie Forleo, tackles life with the motto “everything is figure-out-able.”  Instead of seeing problems as barriers, the genius crew relishes in the potential for solutions. With the right mindset, problems can open a gateway to discovery.

7. They are brave, but not fearless

 According to Brene Brown, courage and comfort cannot coexist. However, creativity and fear, are inseparable. Thinking outside the box or pouring yourself into something that may or may not work, invites ridicule and criticism. There will always be an element of vulnerability, and most likely fear, that comes along with the uncertainty. But the secret is neither denying or killing off fear, but rather walking forward in spite of it.  As Arianna Huffington, (of Huffington post) puts it, “you have to do what you dream of doing even while you’re afraid.”

8. They take advantage of the internet

 “Geography is no longer our master.”Austin Kleon.  No longer is it necessary to live in Silicon Valley to create a great app, or reside in New York to publish a book. The internet fired the gatekeepers that once kept our ideas and expressions from meeting public eyes. Seth Godin reminds writers that they have the same pencil as Stephen King. The general advice from the crew? Just start. Share stories, post art, self-publish books, and keep engaging in work you love.

9. They don’t mess with distraction

 Caterina Fake, the founder of flickr, often creates between 2am and 5am, just to ensure a quiet, uninterrupted space. Gary Vaynerchuk, chooses not buy netflix. And it’s not because he can’t afford it.  The genius crew aims to create more than they consume and they have accepted the simple reality that good work gets done only after choosing to focus.

10. They spend their mental energy wisely

A great thinker cannot thrive in a frazzled  mental state. Consequently, they treat their attention reserves and mental energy as precious commodities and create strategic structures to leverage them. They employ boundaries, not to constrain, but to free their minds from having to make unnecessary, energy draining decisions. Examples include  automating finances (Ramit Sethi), checking email or social media only twice daily,  morning routines, or saving all google searches for the end of the day.

11. They prioritize family and close friends

Despite the intense dedication to their creative pursuits, they hold a very clear sense of their priorities–specifically who is important to them. Walking the kids to school may serve as just as an important part of his morning routine as the workout. For Gretchen Rubin, adventures with her daughter in NYC are scheduled into the summer calendar with no lesser value than the upcoming projects. And my personal favorite, comes from the  from the Physical Therapist, gym owner, and author, Kelly Starrett. He and his wife hold a “feelings meeting” every single Wednesday night, just to get all their feelings on the table.

12. If stuck, they turn to hobbies or side projects

Common advice states that when creatively blocked,“the only way out is through.” But ironically, much of this crew advised the opposite. Pursuing an activity outside of your specialty, with no strings of emotional or financial investment attached, decompress the brain while still challenging it at the same time. A photographer in a rut could try blogging; a writer in a stalemate with the English language could practice yoga with a french yoga instructor. A public speaker lost for words could take part in the silent solitude of carpentry. Later when they return to their craft, their minds are fertile, reset and ready to go. 

13. They stay curious 

Ursula Le Guin writes, “The creative adult is the child who survived.” Indeed, even for the most sophisticated entrepreneurs, there seems to be something childlike part about them, because they never outgrew their curiosity. Like a kid, they are willing to ask why? Like a teenager, they challenge the status quo. Their habit of asking questions leads to learning, inspiration, and eventually problem-solving. But they are not curious exclusively about their specialty areas; they allow themselves to dive into seemingly irrelevant fascinations. For example, one person in the series became a certified tea master, and another conducted extensive research on different quality paper in moleskin journals. Because, why not?

14. They are generous

Unfortunately, the sad, long list of suicidal poets, musicians, and authors, has left today’s artists with a stigma characterized by misery and self-absorption in the muse. But for most successful creatives, the self-absorption label is simply not true. Contrary to my previous assumption, throughout the series I observed an undeniable spirit of selflessness.  Against popular financial opinion, Tina Roth Eisenberg offers free breakfast conferences. Acting on his passion against sedentary student life, Kelly Starrett donated tall desks to the first ever “standing school.” Motivated by hospitality, and a desire to give back to the artistic community, Adrian Greiner opens his home as a place for other artists to stay and work while passing through New York.  

Bound together by a common thread of generosity, the genius crew creates–and persists through criticism–in part, in order to give away. They make the world a brighter place by sharing ideas, insights, and solutions. They are willing to take risks that others will not.

And speaking of generosity, this entire series is offered for free! I could probably watch it again, except I’m feeling too inspired, to go and create something.

Thanks, Chase Jarvis!