Monday, July 28, 2008

"The Path" by Laurie Beth Jones

An interview with Laurie Beth Jones, author of The Path

Why are you here? What is your reason for being? Are you waiting for invitations from others so you can begin really living your life? If you can’t immediately answer those questions, it may be time to formulate a personal mission statement. Did you think mission statements were only for corporations and businesses? Not anymore. Best-selling author Laurie Beth Jones suggests it’s important for each of us to clearly define our missions. Otherwise, it’s like sailing through life without a rudder. I spoke with Laurie Beth, who shared her insight and inspiration.

What’s the best way to form a sense of mission?

Carl Jung once said, “Nothing affects the environment of a child so much as the unlived life of a parent.” Many times people subconsciously live out their parents’ unfulfilled lives, even though it may not have anything to do with what they themselves want to do. It’s important that you look at your parents’ lives to make sure you’re not subconsciously living out their dreams rather than your own. Then, once you’ve performed that clearing exercise, form your mission statement. Following are the three elements of a good mission statement:

A mission statement should be no longer than a single sentence, so writers block shouldn't be an issue. People who accomplish a lot with their lives have laser-like focus. This focus enables them to zero in on what their mission is and state it succinctly. One of the most powerful mission statements in history was given to a 14-year-old French girl. She received a message that, essentially, was:

Dear Joan,

Save France!


That girl was, of course, Joan of Arc, and with no resources other than her faith, she rallied the French army and won battle after battle. And it was all because of that two-word mission statement: Save France.

A mission statement should be easily understood by a 12-year-old. Your mission statement should be so concise and simple that an average 12-year-old would hear it and then say, “Oh, I get it. This is what you do.”

You should be able to recite your mission statement from memory at gunpoint.
This means your mission needs to constantly be in your heart. You face decisions every day that are going to either take you closer to where you want to be or take you farther away. You have to know at any given moment what your mission is.

Webster’s Dictionary defines “mission” as a clearly defined territory of responsibility that is assigned by a higher headquarters as part of a larger plan. A mission is felt as a calling. I believe everyone is given a divine mission, and it’s our job to find out what it is -- and then do it. Then we will be in bliss because the only path to bliss is finding your mission and living it.

We often feel like we have to do it all; that we’re responsible for everything. Once you get clear about your mission you’ll sleep easier at night because you’ll know how to choose your battles.

What are some of the myths about mission?

One myth is “My job is my mission.” A mission is not a job description; it’s always larger than your job description. For example, let’s say you ask someone his mission in life, and he says, “To be a doctor.” What he has given you is a job description; his actual mission is probably healing. The truth is, if your mission is healing there are many ways to heal. Deepak Chopra and Andrew Weil are doctors who don’t practice in a traditional setting, yet they are living out their mission of healing. Your job is a temporary means of delivering your mission.

Women seem to have gotten trapped in another myth: “My role is my mission.” Many times if you ask a woman what her mission in life is, she’ll say, “To be a good wife and mother.” Who was she before she got married? Who is she going to be when the kids are grown? Women can get very tied up in their roles. They need to be aware that their roles can change. Your mission is larger than your role.

Some people think their mission is their “to-do” list. To-do lists should only be developed after you’ve written down your mission and your vision statement. A vision statement is a long, flowery description of what the landscape will look like as you accomplish your mission. The Founding Fathers got together and said, “We are here in order to form a more perfect union.” That was their mission statement. Then somebody said, “What would a more perfect union look like?” And that’s when they had to define it with the Bill of Rights. (In a more perfect union, we would have freedom of speech, we would have freedom of religion….) The Bill of Rights is the vision of this country.

People always buy into visions, either their own or someone else’s. We all absolutely have to have a vision. “Where there is no vision, people perish.” Don’t write your to-do list until you know your mission and your vision. Stephen Covey says that people get caught up in the good life or doing urgent things that aren't important. Once you are working from your vision, you are doing the important things that may not have seemed so urgent before you got it clear.

What in your opinion are the steps to success?

1. Get the information you need.
Get as much information as you can about your situation.

2. Get specific goals.
Joan of Arc’s mission was to save France. Her vision was to get the Dauphin crowned. Her first goal was to get off the farm; then get a horse; then ride to the Dauphin; then get permission to talk to the generals of the army. That’s getting specific about what it is you’re going to do.

3. Examine and enlist your resources.
All the men who signed the Declaration of Independence pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor. They knew they needed an army so they sold land to buy ammunition for the army. Look at what you have; then decide what you can do to get what you need.

4. Turn old business into new business.
Many times we’re looking for new customers and haven’t paid attention to old customers. I tell people to go back to people who have helped them in the past.

5. Give people something tangible to remember you by.
People need visual reminders.

6. Break ranks and be bold.
So many people are marching in place, waiting for someone to give them permission to do something. Leaders give themselves permission.

7. Get visible.
Don’t keep a low profile once you get clear about what you came to do. Joan of Arc got a white horse and a new coat of armor and a flag. She was quite a visible sight when she came riding up to the French troops. She knew the power of presentation.

8. Saturate everything you do with prayer.
Prayer opens us up to receive divine help.

If you could only give one piece of advice, what would it be?

Follow your heart. It’s never to late to start.

Monday, July 14, 2008

“The Creative Journal” by Lucia Capacchione, PhD

An interview with Lucia Capacchione, PhD, author of The Creative Journal

If you picture someone who writes in a scrapbook journal, you might envision a love-struck teenage girl. But self-therapy pioneer Dr. Lucia Capacchione wants you to know there is more to journal writing than “Dear Diary.” Regardless of your age or gender, keeping a journal is a powerful tool for discovering and releasing your inner potential.

What is creative journal-keeping?

It’s a method that is based in art therapy principles. Art therapy is an approach to psychology in which the client draws pictures from the unconscious – it’s like having a dream on paper. The client draws images, shapes or abstract designs that represent their emotions, and their thoughts and feelings. With the creative journal I teach people to draw out on paper what is going on inside, and then they write about it. There are some written exercises in my book but most of them start with some sort of visual expression.

The creative journal not only helps people express what’s going on in their lives, it also encourages them to use their imagination to create what they do want. And that’s the difference in a creative journal because most journals and diaries are simply a record of what’s going on. Another significant difference is that I include art, which most diarists don’t do. (By the way, including art doesn’t require any talent.) I also encourage people to create a vision of their future, as well as one of the present and the past.

What might we discover about ourselves through keeping a journal as you suggest?

People do discover their emotions that they’ve been afraid to feel. Drawing accesses the part of the brain that has our emotional expression centers in it. The right brain has areas that govern our emotional expressiveness. So people who have a hard time feeling their emotions or expressing themselves have little access to that part of the brain. The right side of the brain -- being the visual, spatial side -- is also the side of the brain that governs our ability to express through art, through visual images, through photography. And when we use the drawing technique, that gets us into that area of the brain and it allows us to express emotions much more directly. The other thing this method can do is help people get through creative blocks. There’s an exercise in the book that I created when I was trying to write that book. It’s where I answer back to my inner critic. Answering back is one technique, and writing with your non-dominant hand is a very powerful technique. It opens up the inner child in you, as well as the emotional self and the creative self.

What is needed to keep a journal?

Anyone who can write or draw or make any marks on paper can keep a creative journal, even children and teens. For materials, all you really need is blank book, preferably 8-1/2 x 11, that is unlined. I recommend either a hardback diary or a spiral-bound sketchpad, and a set of felt pens in an assortment of colors. You can also use crayons for some of the exercises, but I recommend using colored felt pens so you can write and draw with the same pen.

What is the most important thing to remember about creative scrapbook journaling?

I’m a therapist but I know of no better tool for mental health than keeping a journal because you have complete control over it. You have it at all times, and you can write or draw in it whenever you want -- when you’re struggling with a challenge, when you’re setting goals, when you’re planning your life and career. It’s a fantastic way to set goals and assess who you are in life, and go after it. It’s a great tool for self-responsibility and for people to get to know themselves. You learn to become your own best friend and you have a dialog with yourself. If you keep a journal you then start to set goals and take yourself seriously. You become accountably for your own dreams. The creative journal enables you to do that. Lots of people think life happens to them, but it really doesn’t; they happen to life.

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Monday, June 30, 2008

"Seeking Peace" by Johann Christoph Arnold

An interview with Johann Christoph Arnold, author of Seeking Peace

It is a simple truth: We all seek peace, even if we don’t realize we are actively looking for it. To seek peace, suggests Johann Christoph Arnold, means nothing more than finding purpose in your life. It’s a universal quest that transcends religious faith. A prolific author who has met with many of the world’s religious leaders, Johann Christoph Arnold wrote Seeking Peace to offer direction for finding a purpose that will make our lives meaningful.

How can we find harmony within ourselves?

My message to people is: “Get busy. You are only young once. Find purpose in your life, and use your life to do something constructive.” Too many people are wasting their lives. Society could be so much more constructive. Every act of love and service has a ripple effect. Like the ripples caused by a small pebble thrown into a lake, one act of love spreads to many people. It takes only one stone to start an avalanche -- one human being’s life can make a difference. You might not see the difference in your lifetime, but through service to other people you leave a legacy behind when you leave this world.

How do paradoxes relate to peace?

Jesus said, “I come not to bring peace but a sword.” That might sound contradictory because Jesus’ main message was love. But love always brings confrontation because it demands change, and people are afraid to change. That’s a paradox.

Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador was a crusader for peace. He informed the world about the killings in his country, and like other great leaders who have fought for peace, Romero was assassinated. But Oscar Romero was the voice and conscience of El Salvador, and he left a legacy for the people of his country and the world. His assassination sparked a movement for equality and peace that still continues today. That’s a paradox.

Similarly, Mahatma Gandhi devoted his life to nonviolence and was assassinated. Yet the result was the liberation of his people. His influence and his principles of peace are still followed by people today.

How does forgiveness relate to peace?

Forgiveness is powerful. For example, I know people whose family members were murdered. Instead of wanting revenge, they forgave the murderer and decided to work with the families of other murder victims, and even with the murderers on death row, to bring about reconciliation. Jesus told us to love our enemies because love overcomes tension and violence.

I frequently visit “hot spots,” such as Palestine’s West Bank where I have witnessed the conflict between the Jews and the Arabs. And I know that peace will only come out of one-to-one-relationships. It won’t be because of peace agreements or other political actions. Peace will come where there is a Jew and a Muslim who forgive each other.

What do you mean by “abundant life”?

An abundant life means you have found peace, you have found forgiveness, and you are not afraid to die. It’s important to remember that every human being is important. We all lead busy lives. We rush from one appointment to the next, and we don’t take time for each other. Maybe your child will come up to you when you are involved in something, and you’ll say, “Don’t bother me now. I’m too busy.” Instead, why not take a few minutes and ask what you can do to help your child? It brings a satisfaction that money can’t buy. And it reduces fear and brings happiness and security.

As a people we are so materialistic. We have so much junk, so many possessions, but we always want more. And we become busier and busier. Families often don’t have mealtimes together anymore. There is no time for our children, unless it's their birthday party or some other special occasion. We are missing out on the most important things in life.

Albert Einstein once said that if you want your child to be brilliant, read him a fairy tale, and if you want your child to be still more brilliant, read still more fairy tales. In our society we want to put children on the fast academic track. We want to make children into miniature adults and we don’t allow them to be children. That spells disaster.

What is your most important piece of advice?

Love people. Give yourself an open invitation to treasure everyone you meet. Every person is unique -- you will find no other exactly like that one person. You can always learn something from other people that will enrich your life. It doesn’t matter who that person is. Whether homeless or a millionaire, each person is a human being. There’s something valuable in each and every one of us.

Seeking Peace by Johann Christoph Arnold is available from

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

"101 Ways to Enrich Your Life" by Karen Diedrich and Robert Lemke

A discussion with Karen Diedrich, co-author of 101 Ways to Enrich Your Life

When Karen Diedrich's mother was dying of cancer, a simple phone from a concerned employer helped Karen find a source of peace amid the turmoil that was her mother's illness. That phone call from Robert Lemke, the man who was to later become Karen's co-author, provided insight on keeping perspective and handling fears. This invaluable advice, along with many other concepts developed by the pair over the next several months, evolved into their inspiring book, 101 Ways to Enrich Your Life. Karen Diedrich explains how these basic ideas can help us confidently handle life's issues:

How can we strike a balance between the major things and minor things in life?

The first thing you need to do is sort out your mountains from your molehills. Some people describe this by saying, "The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing." Start by deciding what your "main thing" is. Then it's a matter of keeping that in front of you; of keeping perspective.

For example, my co-author, Bob Lemke, and I talk about a "worry basket." Everybody has a worry basket, and most of us tend to keep that basket full. You may fill it with worries such as when you're going to get your laundry done or when you're going to get Easter crafts done in time for your church bazaar . Then something major can fall into your basket; something that gives you a big-time worry. Maybe you hit a period of struggle in your life, and what happens then is that the big worry pushes all the little worries aside. You realize that all those little things you had in your worry basket aren't really worth worrying about, and you focus on the one big thing. Eventually, you survive that big worry, one way or another, and then, because your basket is empty, you wonder what you're going to do. Will you allow yourself to fill up that worry basket again with trivial stuff? Or are you going to choose to "keep the main thing the main thing"? Why not decide to take a moment every day to be grateful for all you have, all you've accomplished and all that's going well in your life?

Don’t feel obligated to fill up that worry basket with trivial stuff. You may think you can't be happy until you work out certain things in your life, but most often, life is happening to you in the meantime. You're missing out on all the precious things that happen to you day to day because you're focused on that time in the future when everything is going to be OK. It's important to accept that life is never going to be perfect. You'll never have everything in your life exactly the way you want it, so focus on what do you have in your life that's great right now, and celebrate that.

What is "personal culture" and why is it important?

Personal culture refers to your beliefs and your behaviors. It's basically what you think and do. Many of us go through life without ever realizing that we have control over our personal culture, so it's important to focus on the idea that you have complete control over everything you think and everything you do. You can control how you display your personal culture to the rest of the world.

101 Ways to Enrich Your Life is not about money; rather, it's about every other way you can live in prosperity. Everything it takes to live a rich life costs nothing. The best way to live rich is to take the beliefs and behaviors that form your personal culture and make them positive. Then take those positive beliefs and align them with positive behaviors. The manner in which you behave should fit with the way you think. For example, sometimes you may feel compelled to do something even though it goes against your beliefs, but if you have that incongruity you'll have a lot of internal conflict. If you can align positive behaviors and positive beliefs, however, you'll have a very strong personal culture and be living rich.

The place to start is with your beliefs about yourself. Once you can truly believe positive things about yourself and behave in ways that make you feel good about yourself, everything else is easy.

How can we use our personal culture to enrich our lives?

There are four tools on which we rely in everyday life. I remember them with the acronym CALM:

The things we say, the messages we send, the things we think and feel

Our behaviors; the things we do

Lessons learned
Your real wisdom comes from here. Wisdom is knowledge applied. If you learn the lesson and acquire a different perspective or behavior, you can change things in your life for the better.

Most often, the people who control money have influence. Many of us go through life thinking money is our primary tool, but the other three tools -- communication, action and lessons learned -- can be far more powerful than money. Once you realize that, you can really make a difference in how you live your life.

What is "interpersonal culture"?

Interpersonal culture refers to the way you share your personal culture with other people; with their own personal cultures. When you have shared beliefs and behaviors with other people, you can develop a strong, positive interpersonal culture. And from there you can develop customs and traditions that perpetuate those combined cultures. Conversely, culture clash is when you rub up against people who have a different personal culture than your own. Have you ever been with a group of people who were all laughing about something but you didn’t see any humor in it at all? That's an example of a culture clash.

We naturally gravitate toward people who are like we are. That doesn’t mean you shouldn't value diversity; it simply points to the fact that when you're in a situation where you're uncomfortable or you feel like a misfit, the odds are good that you're in the middle of a culture clash. Understand and accept that's what happening. It doesn’t mean there's something wrong with you; it just means you have different beliefs and behaviors than the other folks in the group.

To really enrich your life you need to develop bonds with people who have cultures that align with yours. Those people make the best marriage partners and the best long-term friends. The popular idea is to get married to someone you think will make you "complete," but it's more important that you get yourself complete. You first have to know who you are before you can look for an alignment with someone else. If you look for someone to fill in the places where you're missing, you'll be stuck in the status quo and neither of you will grow. You'll need that person to stay the way he is, and he'll need you to stay the way you are, and you'll both end up stifling each other. Your goal should be for each of you to grow independently. Think of it as enriching someone else's life; not what they can do for you or how they can make you complete.

What advice do you think is most important?

I think the most powerful advice is that you shouldn't let fear keep you from daring to live the life you dream. Fear is something that sucks the peace and confidence out of your life. It's insidious, and you probably don’t understand how many of your beliefs and behaviors are driven by fear. Inspirational writer Marianne Williamson says that everything in life is either fear or love. If there's anything that gets in your way -- anything that prevents you from building a strong personal culture -- it's fear.

The way to develop confidence is to conquer your fears, but first you have to identify your fears, quantify them, and then deal with them. And it takes courage to do that. Courage is not the absence of fear; courage is doing what you know is right even if you're scared silly. Work on overcoming your fears and look for the lessons learned. If you can face your fears and recognize how that helps you to grow, you'll have a much richer, more fulfilling life.

Buy this book from 101 Ways to Enrich Your Life

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

"Tapping Your Inner Strength" by Edith Henderson Grotberg, PhD

Recognizing Your Own Resilience
A discussion with Tapping Your Inner Strength author, Edith Henderson Grotberg, PhD

Although we often seem universally bonded by experiences with adversity, some of us are better able to tap into an inner strength that carries us through the hard times. Edith Henderson Grotberg has made it her mission to learn how people deal with adversities. We spoke recently with Dr. Grotberg on her unique perspective into acquiring resilience.

What's the best way to examine and strengthen "resilience building blocks"?

Resilience is acquired as a result of normal growth and development. The basic "building blocks" for resilience are connected to various ages. From the following five basic building blocks, all other resilience factors are developed. The first building block is trust. If, for example, you learned as an infant that you couldn't trust your environment, you would not be able to function in life -- not as a child nor as an adult. Trust is developed in the first year of life and if it is not established, you may grow into a person who doesn't trust others and who feels very vulnerable. One of the exercises I ask people to do is to look at their lives as far back as they can remember to determine why they don't trust people today. Where did trust break down? If it is broken down, you can rebuild it now.

The second building block involves developing autonomy. Somewhere during your second or third year of life you become aware that you are separate from other people. This realization allows you to understand that what you do can get responses from those around you, and, in turn, they can get responses back from you. It is in this phase that you begin to recognize that you have rights and you need to be respected. A good exercise regarding autonomy is to look back as far as possible and remember experiences you had with a parent. Think back to an experience in which that person was contributing to the promotion of your autonomy and independence while also setting rules and limits. What was the experience like? Were the rules too strict, robbing you of your independence?

The third building block takes place when you learn to take initiative. This step begins when you are between 3 and 4 years old. You become willing to take risks, to try new things, to get involved. But somewhere in your development, you may have lost the ability to take initiative. Think about when this may have happened. Was your creativity crushed? Were you humiliated or teased? Were you told that something you did was "dumb"?

The fourth building block is industry, and it develops during the school-age years. This is where you acquire skills of problem-solving and interpersonal relationships. Determine where that skill might have broken down. What do you need to do to build it up?

The fifth building block develops during the teenage years -- identity. You start to question who you are and how you measure up to other people. You define your goals for yourself and look toward how you'll make money in your future.

The book outlines clear steps to strengthen each area, so that you don’t have to live with the wreckage of the past.

How can we tap our inner strength in everyday life?

The first thing you have to do when faced with adversity is reach into your inner strength. Ask yourself what you need to deal with your adversity. Then you must have trust and confidence in yourself that you can deal with it. You do need to have faith that you can handle it because you are risking failure.

The next step is to determine the resources you have around you. Who do you know who can help you? Who can be trusted? Who are your role models? Recognize your own skills and the best way for you to manage your fear or anger in the face of adversity.

How do cultural beliefs factor into inner strength?

We are all very dependent on what our specific culture emphasizes. One cultural difference, for example, is whether an individual or collective emphasis is used to approach problems. If there is a collective emphasis, people of that culture are not willing to resolve adversity on their own. They tend to work with other people, especially members of the family. Other cultures, however, may emphasize the individual, and a person is held accountable for himself and expected to be strong.

In one country I studied, children are supported very strongly by the family until they are 5 or 6 years old; then they are turned loose and expected to solve their own problems. The kids who know how to reach out and already have a strong sense of autonomy can manage on their own. Kids who are very dependent on others are overwhelmed. They become ill; they run away; they get depressed. They can't handle that kind of change.

Age is a factor in cultural differences, too. Some cultures keep their children dependent for a good part of their lives, particularly in a patriarchal system. Other cultures encourage independence earlier. This all plays a part in how you deal with adversity.

How do we live through and learn from adversity?

Adversity often has a life of its own. You can try to prepare for it by asking yourself what's going to happen or who will be affected. You can draw on your inner strengths and determine which resilience factors will be useful. But although some adversities are events we known are coming (such as a divorce, or a job cutback), it sometimes takes us by surprise. Then we have to plan our actions and determine how we can become strengthened or transformed by adversity. Actor Christopher Reeve is a perfect example of this. A horse-riding accident left him paralyzed, but his resilience and optimism have been an inspiration to other people who have been faced with the same adversity.

It is important to be intellectually and emotionally involved. But you also have to appreciate that most things are based on emotional rather than intellectual responses. If you don’t feel confident or secure, it's hard to get going intellectually. You may ignore your emotions and think you can deal with adversities cognitively, but that's not true. You always have to deal with your feelings.

Tapping Your Inner Strength is available from

Friday, May 23, 2008

"How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci" by Michael J. Gelb, Part 3 of 3

Seven Steps to Genius
Part three of a three-part series on the book How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci by Michael J. Gelb

In this final installment of our four-part series on the book How to Think Like
Leonardo da Vinci, we investigate two more of the seven Da Vincian principles identified by Michael Gelb as "the seven steps to genius." These steps are curiosita, dimostrazione, sensazione, sfumato, arte/scienza, corporalita and connessione. In this post we will address corporalita and connessione. We asked Michael Gelb to discuss these two principles and explain how important they are to our overall development.


Corporalita means to balance the body and the mind. Although most people know about Leonardo's artistic genius and some know about his scientific acumen, very few realize that he was physically gifted as well. He was known as the strongest man in Florence. He was renowned for his poise, grace, balance and skill as an athlete. He was a juggler, in addition to being an equestrian and a fencer. The book outlines a fitness program based on Leonardo's wisdom. Much of this information can be found today in books on holistic health. This was just another way he was ahead of his time. He advocated that people learn to preserve their own health and take responsibility for their own well being. His notebooks also quote him as saying, "Avoid grievous moods and keep your mind cheerful," indicating an awareness of the connection between mind and body.

There is a fun exercise from the book to cultivate corporalita. Step by step juggling instructions are given that help develop ambidexterity, balance and mind-body coordination. Da Vinci biographer Antonia Valentin confirms that Leonardo was a juggler. The art was part of the pageants and parties he designed for his patrons and went hand in hand with his love of conjuring.

There are also a lot of examples in the book of how to exercise. Perhaps the most important one is a self-observation exercise is relative to a discipline called the Alexander technique. This is a simple but powerful method for developing the poise for which Leonardo was renowned. The technique was developed by F. Matthias Alexander. Alexander was a Shakespearean actor in the late 1800s who specialized in one-man shows. His career was hampered by his tendency to lose his voice in the middle of a show. Resolving to overcome this problem, he felt he must find a way to get objective feedback about what was causing this problem. He obtained this feedback by observing himself in specially constructed mirrors. After months of observation, he noticed a pattern that appeared whenever he attempted to recite. With this information, we was then able to "unlearn" the pattern, reeducating his mind and body as a whole system to create change. To use the same principle of observation, you can follow the exercise detailed in the book, or you can seek the assistance of a qualified Alexander technique teacher.


Connessione refers to the interconnectedness of all things. Leonardo was a systems thinker. He found that the way water flows mirrors the way the wind blows. He studied how hair grew and how muscles were formed and their affect on movement. The relationship between the movement of humans and animals was compelling to him. He also looked at how sound and aroma flew through the air and how that paralleled the way birds flew -- and how that might relate to building a flying machine. Leonardo saw connections everywhere and that everything is connected to everything else. This is a simple but powerful idea. The essence of creativity is to see connections that other people don't see.

One of the exercises to develop connessione is also the most important one in the book -- the creation of a mind map. It addresses your own personal sense of purpose vision, values and goals and how they all fit together. This exercise is the culmination of all the other exercises in the book. It ties things everything together for people on a personal basis. It is too easy to go through life without comprehensively considering what we want. We all think about career, relationships and finance from time to time. But rarely do we contemplate our personal goals and how they fit together.

My objective in writing this book was not to get people to paint the Mona Lisa or create great inventions -- although I think it's wonderful when people do creative things because of the principles in the book. I think it's more significant, however, that they take away something from the book that will help them make their own lives works of art.

How to Think like Leonardo da Vinci and the How to Think Like Leonardo Workbook by Michael J. Gelb are available from

Monday, May 19, 2008

"How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci" by Michael J. Gelb, Part 2 of 3

Seven Steps to Genius
Part two of a three-part series on the book How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci by Michael J. Gelb

In this second installment of our three-part series on the book How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci, we investigate two more of the seven Da Vincian principles identified by Michael Gelb as "the seven steps to genius." The two principles we will address below -- sfumato and arte/scienza -- help us to find the balance between the creative and the practical. We asked Michael Gelb to discuss these two principles and give examples of exercises anyone can use to develop these qualities.


Sfumato is a term that art critics coined to refer to the hazy, mysterious quality in Leonardo's paintings. This effect was achieved through the gossamer-thin application of hundreds of layers of paint that made light seem to suffuse from behind the canvas. The term sfumato represents perhaps the most distinguishing characteristic of highly creative people -- their openness to the unknown.

One simple and fun exercise from the book to cultivate sfumato is to imitate the famous smile of Mona Lisa. Ask yourself how you feel when you smile this way -- close your eyes for a moment and conjure up the image -- explore how it feels. A lot of people who have done this exercise say they feel as if they have a secret -- that they know something that other people don't. If you can summon up this smile in the face of stress, you'll expand your perspective. When a group of gifted children were asked how it felt to emulate the Mona Lisa's smile, one child responded that it was as if Mona Lisa knew everything had an opposite. Other children expanded on that by naming opposites -- black and white, night and day, light and dark, boys and girls and finally, life and death. When the same question was asked of a group of corporate executives, one spoke of something he that he had read in the Wall Street Journal about Mona Lisa having a dental problem that affected her smile. The children gave answers that were much more powerful because they weren't afraid to access their spontaneous creativity to answer the question. This is what we need to nurture in ourselves.

Another exercise is to contemplate paradoxes. A number of central life paradoxes are listed in the book, for example--independence/intimacy in relationships. The principle of sfumato guides you to integrate the two seeming opposites that form this paradox. Both aspects are necessary. You find the balance by embracing the creative tension and contemplating the interdependence of the opposites.


Arte/scienza is the balance between art and science. One reason Leonardo is considered such a genius is that his remarkable abilities were not restricted to the field of art. He was also a genius as a scientist and inventor. He anticipated discoveries by Copernicus and Galileo and invented, among other things, the parachute, the bicycle and scissors. In modern terms, we'd say that the left and right hemisphere of his cerebral cortex had an extraordinary degree of synergy. The challenge for us is to find that same balance. The tendency for most people is to be stronger in one area than another. To be a Da Vincian thinker, however, you need to develop both. To find this balance, you must first assess your own tendencies. The checklist below is abbreviated from the book. It gives you an idea of the type of questions you can ask yourself to determine if you are a right-hemisphere/arte or left-hemisphere/scienza thinker. Although people are more complex than the tendencies the chart indicates and you may have inclinations toward both sides of the brain, it gives you a basis for thinking about balance.

Scienza tendencies
* I like details.
* I am usually on time.
* I rely on logic.

Arte tendencies
* I am highly imaginative.
* I often lose track of time.
* I rely on intuition.

Whether the choices you make from the above chart or the expanded version in the book reveal you have predominantly either arte or scienza tendencies, the key to fulfilling your potential is the continuing discovery of balance between the two types of thinking.

See the next post for part three.

How to Think like Leonardo da Vinci and the How to Think Like Leonardo Workbook by Michael J. Gelb are available from

Thursday, May 15, 2008

"How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci" by Michael J. Gelb, Part 1 of 3

Seven Steps to Genius
Part one of a three-part series on the book How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci by Michael J. Gelb

Leonardo da Vinci and Superman were author Michael J. Gelb's two greatest childhood heroes. Around the same time Gelb realized that Superman didn't in fact exist, he also started to become aware that Leonardo da Vinci had actually been a real person. He began to study his life. The more he studied, the greater his fascination became. His study increasingly revealed da Vinci as what Gelb considered a global archetype of human potential. After years of study it became just a natural extension to focus on his lifelong interest and write the book, How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci. We spoke to Gelb and asked him to share some of the insights about da Vincian thinking that his book reveals.

What is your definition of the modern Renaissance man or woman?

The classic ideal of the Renaissance person is someone who is well-rounded in art, history, language and science. The curriculums of liberal arts universities around the world are actually based on that Renaissance ideal of a broad knowledge in a variety of areas. That has always been very much part of being a Renaissance person, having that liberal arts education. In today's world, however, there are a few other qualifications. One is to be computer-literate and Internet savvy. Another is to be able to let go of racism, sexism and nationalism, which link us to a more restrictive way of thinking. Being globally aware -- to understand that world economies, the environment and other parts of life on our planet are all linked together -- is also important. The final qualification is to be aware of and understand in a practical way your own potential. I call this mental literacy.

Do you think that everyone can be more like Leonardo da Vinci?

Yes I do. All of us can learn from and be inspired by this great genius. If you approach it that way, instead of comparing yourself -- and the completely different and unique set of talents you possess -- to da Vinci, you can use the inspiration to spur your own growth.

Why do you feel that people can benefit from being more like Leonardo da Vinci?

Many people have written to let me know how the book has changed their lives. There have been many accounts by people who are now writing books, painting, playing music and making great strides in other creative areas that they hadn't tried before. The book gave them not only the inspiration but also the practical tools to accelerate their own learning ability.

Your book outlines seven da Vincian principles, which you refer to as "the seven steps to genius." They are curiosita, dimostrazione, sensazione, sfumato, arte/scienza, corporalita and connessione. In this issue, we will discuss the first principle: curiosita. Please explain it.

Curiosita is the never-ending quest for learning. You can call it the "Fountain of Youth" because it hails from childlike curiosity and keeps us young as we continue to openly question everything. Leonardo was probably the most curious person who ever lived. He was so curious that he wouldn't take "yes" for an answer. Truth and beauty fascinated him and he wanted nothing less than to know the mind of God. This curiosity and unwillingness to settle for the obvious drove his creativity.

Will you please give us some exercises from the book that will help our readers develop curiosita?

One of the most powerful methods you can use to develop curiosita is to keep a journal, in the manner of Leonardo. Although scholars have criticized his notebooks as being disorganized because the subjects appear in random order and there are no tables of contents or indexes, they demonstrate his genius. As an example, on one page you'll see notes about birds in flight and water flowing, a shopping list and some jokes he liked. This was because his mind was completely free. He simply recorded the free association of his thoughts and observations. This process is quite liberating to our creative thinking. It stimulates further questioning -- or curiosita.

Most of us have to write at least occasionally for work, school or other reasons. When we do, in most cases the writing must have a beginning, middle and end. While this kind of structure is important for effective communication, it doesn't promote "out of the box" thinking. A journal is a simple and practical tool for allowing freer expression and waking up your curiosita.

Another great tool is to follow Leonardo's example and strengthen your vocabulary. He ultimately had over 9,000 vocabulary words written in his notebooks. Every time he heard a new word he would write it down and use it in a sentence -- just like we were always told to do in school! Having a large vocabulary is a great way to underscore your love of knowledge and learning.

See the next post for part 2.

How to Think like Leonardo da Vinci and the How to Think Like Leonardo Workbook by Michael J. Gelb are available from

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

"Creating Your Own Destiny" by Patrick Snow

Getting What You Want Out of Life
An interview with Patrick Snow, author of Creating Your Own Destiny

Do you know what you want out of life but aren’t sure how to get it? If you’ve thought you have no control over your destiny, author Patrick Snow has a message for you: Put aside your fears. In this week’s interview, Mr. Snow shares his message on the importance of recognizing our inner passions and how to use them to build our own destiny.

In your book you advise people to create a “game plan.” What would that entail?

Life is like high stakes poker strategy -- there are certain things you want to accomplish and as such, you have to create a game plan to win the game (that is, to win at life). You can have a part in creating everything in your future, whatever that is. I firmly believe we all have the ability to create our own destiny if we will set up a game plan. Part of that game plan entails setting goals and then taking daily action. And as we execute that game plan on a daily basis, we’re able to mold our future.

It seems you don’t look at wealth in a typical way. How do you define “wealth”?

To me, wealth is “financial and emotional peace of mind.” Those two things are tied together, hand in hand. For instance, multimillionaires may be miserable because their personal lives are falling apart. And conversely, people may have a tremendously successful family life but not have enough money to provide for the basic needs of their children. There needs to be a healthy balance between the financial and emotional side of things. And at the same time you need to have a lifestyle that’s also balanced in family and faith. So having great wealth in life entails being balanced in four areas: family, faith, monetary wealth and health.

What are some of your suggestions for building that kind of wealth?

Set goals and create visions in different areas of your life. When I give seminars I suggest to people that they set goals in all areas, not just monetary goals. What about keeping your health intact, for example? It’s also important to set family goals, such as the goal to have a 50-year wedding anniversary. Having that as a primary goal puts emphasis on your marriage. Losing weight and exercising are good goals for your health. Your life becomes balanced when you set goals and create visions in multiple areas.

What is the most important advice for creating our own destiny?

The bottom line is that it’s important to do what you love. When you do what you love, the money will follow. The challenge is to soul search for your innermost passions. Ask yourself, “If I won the lottery today what would I do?” And as you follow those passions, you gain more self-confidence and create an unstoppable persona. Follow your passions and do what you love, and you’ll get more out of life.

Buy this book from Creating Your Own Destiny

Saturday, May 10, 2008

"101 Ways to Make Every Second Count" by Robert Bly, part 2

Making the Most of Your Time
The conclusion of an interview with Robert W. Bly, author of 101 Ways to Make Every Second Count

It’s a common thread that runs through the fabric of most of our lives: Too much to do, too little time. In this second half of our interview with time management expert and author Robert Bly, you’ll learn tips and techniques that can lead you toward more success with less stress -- by making the most of your time.

How do you suggest we manage information overload?

That’s a key problem that leads directly to personal productivity and time management -- there’s too much to read and not enough time to read it. And there are a number of techniques you can adopt to deal with information overload. The major technique is to recognize you have to specialize. Select your area of specialization, narrow your field as much as possible, and then you’ll spend most of your time taking in information that only relates directly to that field of study. Does that make you a less well-rounded person? I think it does. But time is limited so you have o make some hard choices.

Another technique has to do with news and newspapers. Don’t watch the evening news unless you really like it and don’t read the newspaper unless you really like it. When I was a child every man read the paper after work; it was a ritual. But what was he reading? Someone was stabbed, a bank was robbed -- this information is not at all useful to you. It’s not important; it’s similar to TV in that it’s just entertainment. You need to filter that out. I do read the paper every day because I take about 20 minutes for lunch at my desk and I like to read the paper as I eat. But I’m doing two things simultaneously. I can’t eat without doing something else at the same time.

Another easy technique is to let your subscriptions lapse. When your subscription to a trade journal, a magazine or a newspaper runs out, don’t renew. And when it stops if you find you don’t miss it, you’ve just saved a lot of time. If you do miss it, you can always re-subscribe. The bottom line is our time is so limited. Once the time is gone you can never get it back.

How can we use technology to save time?

Technology is a double-edged sword. It’s important to remember that just because it’s the latest thing, doesn’t mean it will save time. Don’t acquire the latest technology simply because it’s standard practice and everyone else has it. Only get the technology if you feel it will enhance your lifestyle or your work style. For example, I got high-speed Internet access in my office. I don’t spend time chatting or surfing on the Internet; I just use it for research, but I knew that the high-speed connection would save me time when I did need to send e-mails and download files. So that was worthwhile.

Another example: I don’t own a cell phone, and that does not interfere with my productivity at all because I don’t travel. I work in a small office in a town about nine miles from my home, so the car ride is only 15 minutes -- no one is trying to reach me as I commute. So for me, it makes no sense to have a cell phone. It would decrease my productivity because it would be another bill to pay and another thing to learn how to use, so I don’t have one.

How does delegating and outsourcing help with time management?

That’s the most important thing you can do. As an example, I’m a freelance copywriter. The only time I get paid is when I’m writing copy for my clients, doing the research to write that copy or discussing that assignment with the client. Those are the only things they pay me for. I don’t get paid to keep my books -- that’s an expense that wastes my time -- so I hire a bookkeeper. I don’t get paid to prepare my tax returns, so I outsource the tax returns.

What are some tips for maximizing personal energy?

The ones I’m going to give are not original but they’re really simple:

Figure out how much sleep you need. Are you a five-hour-a-night person? A nine-hour-a-night person? Determine how much you need -- and get it. If you don’t get as much sleep as you personally need, you won’t be effective.

I don’t like exercising but I do it. I can’t motivate myself so I outsource it to a personal trainer. He doesn’t lift the weights for me, of course, but using a trainer means I don’t have to think about my workout. A large percentage of people don’t exercise at all and that hurts your energy.

For many people, it’s better to eat five small meals than two or three big meals. I’ve found that doing that does give me more energy during the day. It may not work for everyone but one thing that is universal is eating healthy foods; eat right. Don’t eat heavy things that weight you down. And when you’re full, stop eating. Don’t overeat because that just saps your energy.

Pace your work at the right pace for you. If you have too little to do, you’ll have very little energy because you’ll be bored. If you have too much you’ll lock into a panic and freeze, and then you won’t have the energy to move forward. You have the most energy when you have the right amount to do. So figure out how much you can do during a day -- as much as it’s within your control -- and try to schedule in that amount.

What’s the most important piece of advice you can offer?

If you really want to be productive you have to value your time. By that I mean it actually has to have a dollar figure. Those of us who render a professional service know our billing rate is X amount of dollars per hour, but anyone can estimate an hourly dollar figure for their time. Then, before you do anything, decide if it’s worth it. For example, I was shopping in the supermarket and was reaching for the butter when an older man stopped me and said, “Don’t buy the butter today. Come back tomorrow. It’ll be a dollar cheaper.” In his mind, it made sense to make a separate trip tomorrow to save a dollar on butter. But from personal productivity point of view, my going back the next day to save a dollar would be a waste of time.

So come up with a dollar figure for the value of your work, and then if you’re going to do something, ask yourself if doing it is worth the dollar equivalent of losing that amount of productive time.

Buy this book from 101 Ways to Make Every Second Count

Thursday, May 8, 2008

"101 Ways to Make Every Second Count" by Robert Bly, Part 1

A friend of mine used to interview authors for an e-mail newsletter. He has a lot of these interviews and was kind enough to let me look through them to see if I wanted to feature any of them on this blog. I found some good ones, so I'll be posting them as time goes on. I'll also put links to buy the books from at the end of the articles. I won't get anything out of it, I just want to support the authors!

Maximizing Your Time
Part one of an interview with Robert W. Bly, author of 101 Ways to Make Every Second Count

Author Robert Bly admits he hates to waste time. As a freelance copywriter who gets paid only for the hours he works, time truly is money. But, he suggests, even if you don’t render an hourly service, your success, your earnings and your wealth all depend on how efficiently you can use your time. In this first part of our interview, Mr. Bly shares his insight on how to maximize your most limited resource -- time.

Why do you think most of us feel we are so pressed for time, now more than ever before?

Times are different. When I was a child, most moms didn’t work outside the home. Now, to make ends meet, it’s more common for both partners to work. In my day, my father had a full-time “service” (and my mother would hate that word) to do his bidding. His laundry was done, his meals were cooked, and so he could come home after work and relax. All my mother had to do during the day -- not that it wasn’t significant -- was prepare those meals, keep the house, do the shopping; she didn’t also have a job outside the home.

So when both the partners work, time is more than cut in half. That’s one reason we’re pressed for time: We have too much to do and not enough time to do it. Another factor is technology -- the Internet, fax machines, home computers, and pagers. All these things make people virtually “on call” for business, and that’s 24 hours a day in some cases. Statistics show we work longer hours today. So work hours are being extended by technology, but also by the economy. Companies are trying to do with 10 employees what they used to do with 20. Everyone has to work harder and longer.

What is the “10 percent solution” for increasing personal efficiency?

People ask, “How can I be radically more productive?” I tell them that to get a lot more done you actually don’t have to radically improve. There’s a term that management consultants use --“kaisan,” the Japanese term for continual improvement. That’s in opposition to our American idea of re-engineering. Re-engineering says you have to make radical improvements to make radical changes, but kaisan says if you make incremental improvements you’ll very shortly get a significant lift.

In seminars I tell people, “Stand up and reach as high as you can.” And everyone stands up on their tiptoes. And then I say, “Now reach 10 percent higher.” And they all look at me like I’m an idiot and insist they can’t. Eventually, though, someone gets smart and steps up on a table. That person is reaching much more than 10 percent higher; he’s reaching 30 or 40 percent higher.

People always say, “I'm so busy. I can’t do any more.” That’s really not true. If you really want to do 10 percent more or be 10 percent better in anything, then watch 10 percent less TV, exercise 10 percent more, or eat 10 percent less. It’s really a matter of willpower; it’s not beyond your physical or mental capabilities. If you look at your day as having 16 waking hours, 10 percent is 1.6 hours. Can you get another hour or two in a day? You absolutely can, and one of the easiest ways is to get up an hour earlier. That simple act can help you increase your productivity by 10 percent -- actually, more than 10 percent because research shows that the earlier hours are the most productive for a variety of reasons. It’s really easy to get 10 percent more if you get up just one hour earlier than you normally do.

In your book you refer to the “time management seesaw.” What are some suggestions for mastering that seesaw?

Basically, time management seminars don’t work because most want to force you to adopt one method, even if that method might not be comfortable for you. So you try to use that method and it’s almost like a seesaw diet -- it might work but it doesn’t stick. You get tired of it. It’s not realistic; it doesn’t work for you so you let it go -- and you’re rapidly back at the same weight.

The solution is to try a lot of little things. Don’t try to radically alter your life in totality. There are hundreds of ideas for being more organized. Try little techniques and methods that work within the way you normally live, and find the ones you like. Use those you like and adapt the ones you don’t like. And don’t worry about it. That will get you that incremental improvement but it’ll stick because you’re doing things you like to do.

You can’t force yourself to radically change your personality or your life. If you love bread, for example, the Atkins diet is not going to work in the long term because you can never eat bread again. So instead, eat bread and lose weight by adopting the diet principles that do work for you. You can do the same thing in time management -- like getting up an hour earlier; that one worked for me. There might be some people who are such late-night people that they can’t get up an hour earlier. But they can master the seesaw by finding other things that work, and doing those things.

What are some tips learning to speed ourselves up?

I’ll give you two major tips, although there are many others. First of all, don’t watch TV. That’s the simplest thing. Does that mean never watch TV? No, but the average American watches TV between five and eight hours a day. TV takes up an enormous amount of your time. So the easiest thing to do is cut way back on your TV viewing.

The second thing -- and this is the major thing that I do that works for me -- is to outsource everything. The only things I do are related to my work, and spending time with my family, trying to be a good parent. But those are the only things I do. Therefore, if the lawn needs mowing, I hire someone to do it. I’m a freelance writer but I haven’t been to post office, which is five blocks away, in 12 years. I pay someone to go to the post office because it’s a waste of my time.

I believe in outsourcing everything that is not your “core competency.” I only do the things that are important for me to do. And it makes me happier because I spend my time doing things I want to do, and not doing things I dislike.

Read the conclusion of the interview with Robert Bly in my next post.

Buy this book from 101 Ways to Make Every Second Count

Wednesday, May 7, 2008


Hi, world.

On this blog I'm going to talk about books I like. Also, a friend who used to be a newsletter editor offered to let me use some interviews he had done with some pretty neat authors. Since those interviews are nowhere to be found online, I thought I'd revive them here to give these wonderful authors even more exposure.

You'll find some interesting stuff from authors who know a thing or two how to live better lives. Some of them are pretty funny, too.

In the meantime, here are some of my favorite books:

* My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picault

* Gone with the Wind by Margaret Hamilton

* The Chamber by John Grisham

* Tempus Fugit by Lawrence Lee Rowe Jr.