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freewriting_problem_solving

Automatic writing for problem solving

Freewriting, also called automatic writing, is a fantastic tool for problem solving. Even more than that, it is a wonderful tool for generating creative ideas, organizing chaos in your head and getting unstuck. I’ve got really hooked to this practice when I read “Accidental genius” by Mark Levy.

I consider this book a must-read, especially for visual learners, who want to become effective in their problem solving. The book is full of valuable exercises and methods for generating ideas painlessly and having them well organized. Although it reads as a workbook, it can certainly be appreciated without making the exercises step by step. You can  jump into freewriting directly. Even though the book is geared towards a business world, the concepts are directly applicable to these who want to use their brains creatively. Be prepared, though, that it is a dry or cynical read, at times.

The idea of automatic writing is to define your problem first, set a timer to say 15min ans start writing continuously and as fast as possible until the timer beep. The fast paces forces your mind to reach for its internal resources and partial solutions, hidden from the plain view.

According to the author, there are six secrets for a solution-focused freewriting.

1. Try Easy.

“A relaxed 90% is more efficient than a vein-bulging 100% effort.”

Just relax and start scribbling. When you do automatic writing, your goal is not to produce a breath-taking piece of prose, but to jot your ideas down on the paper, instead. That’s it. You are to collect your ideas, as if you are collecting leaves, flowers or conkers with your kid for some home-make projects.

Before you start freewriting, it’s good to have a small ritual where you remember to be easy with yourself and stay centered during writing. When you allow yourself to relax, your mind will set itself free. It will maneuver through the maze of thoughts the way it likes.

2. Write fast and continuously.

When you write fast you actually ask your mind to operate closer to the speed of your thoughts than to the internal critic or perfectionist inside you. By uncensored writing you put the editor on hold so
that the creative part of you can have a better possibility to emerge through the process. If you don’t know what to write just keep repeating the last word.

With experience, your mind will know that you will not stop writing so it will relax on opening the gate to half-baked or inappropriate ideas. These are your golden eggs as such ideas are usually brutally honest and in-depth insights, observations, or knowings.

The goal of the continuous writing is to have a brain-storming session with yourself with the exception that you don’t hold the judgement. The judgemnt will only come later when your writing time is off and when you can inspect your thoughts, and refine them when needed.

Your best ideas, similarly as the most beautiful diamonds, will show up in rough, unpolished stones.

3. Work against a time limit.

“The timer enforces a self-imposed behavioral contract”.

In brief, the time limit makes you more resourceful. The analogy is to sprinting. If you are to sprint over a short distance, you can certainly commit to it. However, if you only know that you are supposed to sprint for some distance between 1 and 20 miles (km), you will have a hard time to keep your focus on. The goal is too vague and too demanding. In contrary, the limitation, the deadline or the barrier will challenge you to think outside the box and explore unknown paths.

4. Write the way you think.

This is a good one, because your imperative is to get the raw thoughts.  These will later become your material for creating the solution. When you write the way you speak, thoughts have already been polished or digested. The novelty is hidden behind the horizon.

Thoughts are super fast and your goal is to use writing to record yourself thinking. Use your own slung or strong language, words abbreviation or whatever words come to your mind. Your ideas are flowing in your head and they need to flow easily on the paper too.

 5. Go with the thought.

Write your thought down and extend it. Don’t edit, don’t contradict yourself to disagree with the idea. Even when your thought is provocative or crazy, go with it. When a thought is written down, accept is as it is and continue to explore it further down. Your task is to explore the path where the thought leads to, to exhaust all the possibilities that show up in your mind. If A is true then B comes next. If B is there then C must happen etc.

If you can happen to explore on line of thinking in depth in the given time, just set the timer for an additional 5 min and ask yourself where another path lead. “What is a different direction I can take for an effective solution?”

6. Redirect your attention.

In automatic writing, your objective is to explore the problem  and the solution at depth and at width. The later means that you want to travel as many thoughts as possible (within the time limits). When When you feel that you may become bewildered on not knowing what to write next, redirect your attention.

A good focus-changer is an open question related to what you have just written. It may challenge you to explain this particular point of view differently, or to look for holes in your thinking. This redirection oftentimes comes in the forms of an open question such as “How else can I say that?”, “What am I missing here?”, “How can I describe this situation to X?” (where X becomes kids, a friend, the boss, a bookshop seller, a sportsmen, a Disney character etc), “What is the best case scenario?“, “How can I implement it fast?”, and so on.

When you feel you have explored a direction, just ask an open question to start a new conversation with yourself.

Thinking without anchor is poorly utilized

As explained in the previous post, thinking needs a physical anchor to make it a laser-concentrated focus towards a solution. Paper or a computer screen provide a powerful focusing force. Without the physical outlet, prolonged thinking often gets circular, or degenerates into daydreaming.

The process of freezing your thoughts onto paper is invaluable because:

  1. it helps you to create order from chaos
  2. it centers and grounds you
  3. it provides perspective and context
  4. it enables you to understand (over time and practice) of whom you are becoming
  5. it pushes you beyond your comfortable thoughts
  6. you access knowledge you have forgotten and consult inner knowing you were not aware you had
  7. it allows you to track the associative line of thinking back to its origins
  8. and  give you a solid, raw material to explore, expand and create from

Make freewriting a daily habit. Your genius is waiting to be consulted 😉

***

Photo copyright by Ian Sane, available on Flickr under the Creative Commons.

 

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phoenix_rising

Art by Jim Valentine from Creative Commons on Flickr.

True power

Your true power doesn’t show up when things are going smoothly.
Your true power doesn’t manifest when there are great difficulties.
Your true power awakens when you believe you have no more power left.

It is a moment when the circumstances take you over. Whatever you do or say is not going to improve the situation.

Things are really bad.

You have been through a series of devastating events in your life. And … just at the moment you see a light at the end of the tunnel, another disaster smashes you badly.

But … oh, no, no, no … there is no end to it yet. Before you take another breath, unexpectedly, a new calamity is behind the corner.

You are knocked down. Totally overwhelmed. Sunk in the darkness.

There is no understanding.
There is no explanation.
It all doesn’t make sense.

You are down to the very basic survival as if taking a single breath is all that is expected of you.

You feel totally defeated. You are shocked by what have come on your path. There is no more hope and no more strength. There is no solution, either.

This is the moment in which your hidden power comes alive. Finding just a tiny, tiny bit of strength to go beyond this point comes down to a plain choice.

Just one more breath.
One more step.
An act of will.

When you are at the extreme of survival, when really nothing else matters, just get angry. Angry enough to become rebellious and act. Then … breath it out and take the next step.

If you repeat it sufficiently long, then you will slowly, very slowly, arise from destruction to power.
Re-born as a phoenix from ashes.

***

 

perseverance

Perseverance

Sometimes (or perhaps more often that I would like it to admit) I think

“I wish I was more gifted”,

“I wish I had more courage to act”

“I wish I had more luck”

“I wish I had more results”

“I wish I was pushing it through”.

Yes, “I wish I could be this or that”. Broadly understood, of course, as I wish I was quite a character ;).

But .. you know what?

Nothing changes.

There is no point in hopeful wishes for the sake of clouds of thoughts. The only way forward is to stop whining and just be talented, be pushy and make it through.

Nobody is going to give it to me a gift of awesomeness, courage or action. Nobody is going to give me more energy or more health. Nobody is going to offer me more time.

Nobody is going to make me great. Neither special.

Nobody is going to make me an authority to listen to. Nobody. 

Why?

Because it is not in their power to offer that.

So what?

The only way to make the next step is to take it.

First is the first step. Inertia is overcome. Movement is set in action. Then I’ll just take one step after another.

No matter the circumstances.

It is called perseverance.

***

Photo courtesy Fe Langdon, available under the Creative Commons license on Flickr.

***

strange_world

Photo credit Leandro’s World Tour, available undrer Creative Commons on Flickr.

I look around and I see people.
I look closely and I recognize the unbalanced self.
I look at the world and I perceive gossip, curses and unkindness.

They stand out.
They shout.
They paralyze.
They hurt.

Yet …

Love is stronger than hatred.

It shines continuously in spite of everything. The rays of love are there, as always. Beautiful and strong. Just become silent and notice them. On your face and in your heart.

When you listen to and understand others, love comes naturally as the recognition of yourself in the other person.
Her struggles are your struggles.
Her challenges are your challenges.
Her blessings are yours too.

Let us pay attention.
Let us respect each other.
Let us be kind.

And by changing ourselves we will change the world.

***

Music comes strongly to me at times and it is such a time now. The music of a great Polish composer and musician, Czeslaw (Cheslav) Niemen, has been with me for some weeks now, especially the song “Strange is this world”. Niemen was hardly known outside the Slavic countries, yet he was a very special guy. I’ve grown up with his songs.

 

Strange is this world

How strange is this world
where still it seems
there is so much evil.
How strange it is
that seems so long
man despises man.

How strange is this world
of human affairs,
sometimes I’m ashamed to admit
a man can kill a man
with a bad word
as if with a knife.

Most people are of good will,
and thanks to them
I believe strongly
that this world
should never, never, never die.
And now the time has come,
the final time
for hatred
hatred to destroy in oneself.

 

This is the original Polish version from 1967:

 

 

This is an English version from 1973, a very different interpretation

 

 

***

And finally, the latest interpretation of this song by his daughter Natalia. It sends shivers down my spine.

 

***

 

present_moment

 

The quality of our life depends on our being present in the moment.

Being here and now requires a conscious effort. Sometimes a thought is sufficient, while other times a real effort is needed. It is easy to loose focus from the now, because the train of worries, anxieties, guilt or anger is running with a full speed.

We look forward to worry in advance for the things that have not happened yet or look back at the past regretting what we did and what we didn’t. By doing so, we cannot fully enjoy of what we have achieved.

This worry is very cunning, because it usually presents itself in subtle ways. It often escapes our attention. It has a great skill of camouflage. It can easily hide behind seemingly good intentions, plans, care and responsibilities we need to handle every day. While you are thinking you are just making arrangements to solve the problems, the worry is the background tension.

We have but little influence on what happened in the past. It is history. Yet, we have arrived to this moment of now. Let us be grateful for whom we have become and what we have reached so far. Only then we can move freely on.

We can plan or work for the future, but it is only now when we have the power to choose. And act.
And the future? We cannot influence it much, yet we can shape our present moment: our thoughts, our actions and our attitude. Today is the yesterday’s tomorrow. Tomorrow is not yet a dawn, but it is only a moment of us not being present there yet.

Let’s focus on what we think and do today. The only real moment of life.

Are you working? Concentrate on it with all your might.
Are you talking to someone? Pay attention and listen proactively.
Are you walking? Sense how the world is around and how beautiful are the trees you pass. How wonderful are the colors, the nature and the background noise! And how fantastic is a new day emerging from the dark outlines of shapes and things.

Be present.

Look at your child and pay attention to him. Cuddle him, listen to him or play with him.
Look at your mother or father. Be grateful for all the efforts they have done for you.
Look at your husband, wife or partner and realize how you feel.
What good can you do with this feeling now?

***

Photo courtesy Fe 108Aums, available under the Creative Commons license on Flickr.

***

 

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