Motivational Mondays: Lady Luck

Serendipity is when stuff happens in a beneficial way, by chance or happy accident. If it’s Lady Luck that makes all good things come to pass, wouldn’t it be a cunning plan to create more opportunities for her to do her thing?

Doodle by Lou Hamilton

Doodle by Lou Hamilton

In the creative process of life and business, serendipity is the currency of making good use of happen stance, of grabbing onto the shirttails of chances flowing passed, of hailing possibilities and wrestling potential to the touchline. It is taking advantage of the faintest whiff of something hot. Your creative radar must be on high alert at all times and you must grow antennae from your forehead so as not to miss the slightest opportunity.

Doodle by Lou Hamilton

Doodle by Lou Hamilton

We use our intuition and imagination to chase serendipity and that way we make our discoveries and prepare for creativity, for as John Cleese once put it “Creativity is not a talent, it is a way of operating.” Serendipity isn’t fairy dust and magic bestowed upon the worthy, it is the gatepost between awareness and action. It is a method of searching, scanning, questioning, uncovering, scavenging and being ready to recognize gold when it shines up through the dirt.

Although we cannot deliberately evoke that will-o’-the-wisp, chance, we can be on the alert for it, prepare ourselves to recognize it and profit by it when it comes. Merely realizing the importance of chance may be of some help to the beginner. We need to train our powers of observation, to cultivate that attitude of mind of being constantly on the look-out for the unexpected and make a habit of examining every clue that chance presents. Discoveries are made by giving attention to the slightest clue. That aspect of the scientist’s mind which demands convincing evidence should be reserved for the proof stage of the investigation. In research, an attitude of mind is required for discovery which is different from that required for proof, for discovery and proof are distinct processes.[…]A good maxim for the research man is ‘look out for the unexpected. The Art of Chance-Opportunism in creativity and scientific discovery. 1957 Guide. By Cambridge University animal pathology professor W.I.B Beveridge.

Think of the opportunities that have come your way, often primarily by some chain of tenuous, circumstantial connections, or a seemingly random sequences of events. But they arise as a result of you getting in the way of them. It’s unlikely they would have come knocking if you were glued to your sofa. Of course it is not a foolproof approach to the business of life, or life in business and there is a certain lack of control and need for faith involved, but the benefits, if you can hold your nerve are manifold.

Doodle by Lou Hamilton

Doodle by Lou Hamilton

Mingling with strangers, listening, talking about what lights your fire is the fertilizer for finding connections and chances. It’s about having the right attitude, attracting, approaching and interacting with people from all walks of life, so that you have more chance of meeting the ones that offer serendipitous opportunities. You then funnel what you discover into the hard work of applying what you have learned into something transformative. It’s an adventure that requires you to be fully engaged and energized. It requires you to have background knowledge, to be inquisitive, to think creatively, to ensure you have the right tools or resources to make the most of the opportunity and it needs good timing.

Doodle by Lou Hamilton

Doodle by Lou Hamilton

Interestingly, channeling physical space has an impact on serendipity. Forcing people together in smaller, narrower spaces  encourages a collision of conversation, creativity and collaboration. Designs for Google Inc. ‘s new headquarters, expected to be completed in 2015, set out to maximize casual employee conversations, which the firm says were responsible for innovations such as Gmail and Street View. “We want it to be easy [for] Googlers to collaborate and bump into each other,” says a Google spokeswoman. Attempts to engineer space for serendipitous reasons isn’t completely new; innovator Steve Jobs famously designed the Pixar headquarters with central toilets so that people from around the company would run into each other.

So we get in the way of each other and of our work, we keep showing up, we keep all our senses peeled, we keep energized and curious and every once in a while the serendipitous opportunity makes its grand entrance. And then we make sure we turn chance into action or the fleeting phenomenon will disappear in a puff of smoke.

America in the 1830s was in the grip of “rubber fever”; factories had sprung up to meet the demand for goods made from this waterproof gum. But the craze ended abruptly – rubber froze hard in the winter and melted to glue in the summer.

Bankrupt, self-taught chemist Charles Goodyear spent years trying to make rubber more durable. In 1839 he was showcasing his latest experiment and dropped the rubber mixture on a hot stove. When it dried, it was a charred leather-like substance with an elastic rim. It was still rubber but had transformed: it was vulcanised, or weatherproof. Goodyear insisted it wasn’t an accident, and that the hot-stove incident held meaning only for the man “whose mind was prepared to draw an inference”.

Sadly, Goodyear didn’t reap the benefits of his discovery and died $200,000 in debt. Vulcanised rubber is still in use today, notably in car tyres. Samira Shackle writes in the New Humanist.

Science, art and innovation has long tapped into the chance happening but something else is occurring on the back of contemporary digital life. In “Chance” on Radio 4 series in Digital Human series Aleks Krotoski explored serendipity and whether it can be systemized. She describes chance as a confluence of connections, seeing something that allows you to make a leap, as Newton did of Gravity when he watched fruit falling from a tree. But how to capture, wrangle, tame and control it for our own ends. Can it be bottled, sold and exploited? Online, can we force search into guaranteed discovery by turning it into a system? Google are trying to engineer it, make a programmable version of it, but surely serendipity is like trying to grab a bubble. It’s the Holy Grail, it “reels you in with its magic”, it’s ephemeral and shifting. Can you define it, can it be predictable?

Doodle by Lou Hamilton

Doodle by Lou Hamilton

It is life or information throwing up a surprise, that we must latch onto. Punch in the wrong word linked with a thought or a question, in a Search Engine and see where it takes you. Follow it all the way through. When you think you have your answer, keep probing. This avoids the smoothing out of information retrieval, keeps it spiking, which allows you to snatch at something unexpected in a fresh and delightful way. On Facebook we are friends with people who share similar interests and passions; so in order to encourage happy accidents, we need to step out of that circle and hear other voices rather those just reflecting our own. We need to seek out new voices. Put in an imagined past or interests and fish for the unexpected. A search engine will provide you what you want to know but we need to be exposed to surprises. Don’t be captivated by what Google and Amazon channels for us. Be a search engine anarchist.

Doodle by Lou Hamilton

Doodle by Lou Hamilton

The computer is perfectly placed to connect one thing to the next but it is the insight and value added to the connection that is what captures and exploits Chance. And that is ultimately an exclusively human capability; our creativity and tenacity to follow through on the serendipitous promise. It is the brain synapse that sparks and says, here is something that I can use. It is only when Artificial Intelligence nails that ability that it has the possibility to harness serendipity.

Doodle by Lou Hamilton

Doodle by Lou Hamilton

In the meantime, be human. Follow a hunch, change places, take timeout, wallow in daydreams, scribble & doodle, go for a walk, have a long shower, let go of control. Make space in the hustle and bustle of daily life and slowdown. Stop and smell the roses. Drop everything that is routine in your life, find new encounters and discover new things. Notice the small stuff. Look up from your smart phone, take your head phones off, smile, do a random act of kindness. Surf life for serendipity, paddle out and in the right moment catch the wave and there the magic happens.

“Chance favours the prepared mind” Louis Pasteur

Need help slowing down, letting go and opening yourself up to new experiences? Finding our more about working with me as your Creative Coach. Lou@createlab.co.uk

Follow my daily inspirational Picture Posts on Twitter @createlab Instagram create_lab and Facebook Lou Hamilton

Motivational Mondays: Creative Healing

There are no cookie-cutter cure-alls for us as we bounce around our planet bombarded by one ‘challenge’ after another but we are each given a skill to combat those bad boys as they fling Trouble at us from every direction. We all have the ability to think creatively, either out of a situation or into making the best of it. 

Doodle by Lou Hamilton

Doodle by Lou Hamilton

Healing through creative thinking is a powerful way to find new methods of dealing with everyday life. Creativity is self-expression, discovery, imagination, innovation, lateral thinking and problem solving. When faced with extreme challenges, both emotional and physical, creative thinking can be a compass to guide you through the coping process. All you have to do is be open to it and practice using it.

Doodle by Lou Hamilton

Doodle by Lou Hamilton

One aspect of creativity is the ability to appreciate and be comforted by art. Over the past decade, health psychologists have cautiously begun looking at how the arts might be used in a variety of ways to heal emotional injuries, increase understanding of oneself and others, develop a capacity for self-reflection, reduce symptoms, and alter behaviors and thinking patterns. It can actually have a positive impact on the body and mind. In 2010, the American Journal of Public Health published a review titled, The Connection Between Art, Healing, and Public Health. It found that:

  • “Art filled occupational voids, distracted thoughts of illness”
  • “Improved well–being by decreasing negative emotions and increasing positive ones”
  • “Improved medical outcomes, trends toward reduced depression”
  • “Reductions in stress and anxiety; increases in positive emotions”
  • “Reductions in distress and negative emotions”
  • “Improvements in flow and spontaneity, expression of grief, positive identity, and social networks”.
Doodle by Lou Hamilton

Doodle by Lou Hamilton

In one study, music was introduced into the private hospital rooms of 45 patients with myocardial infarction. A Holter monitor was attached to each participant, baseline physiological values were obtained, and participants were asked to complete the State Trait Anxiety Inventory. After listening to relaxing music for 20 minutes, participants exhibited significant reductions in heart rate, respiratory rate, myocardial oxygen demand, and, in particular, anxiety, both immediately after and 1 hour after the intervention.

Doodle by Lou Hamilton

Doodle by Lou Hamilton

But passive engagement in an artistic experience is not the only way to benefit from creativity. Actively making marks or interventions can give a person power over their situation. In US there are 2.9 million breast cancer survivors, many of whom have had mastectomies. Some choose to have reconstructive surgery afterwards, some don’t. A growing number are reclaiming their bodies and scars, by having beautiful, ornate designs tattooed onto their chests. Leaves, flowers, dragons in rainbow colours twist and trail across the changed landscape of skin to create a sculptural metamorphosis. A body shield adorned with determination and triumph; a survival experience transformed into art. “Getting my tattoo was the culmination of a three year dance with Breast Cancer. The tattoo changed my mastectomy scar into my shield.” – Pam Huntley. It’s not just the finished artwork that helps the healing process, it is the creative process itself, of a woman taking back her body from the clutches of cancer and deciding to do something beautiful with the aftermath, that gives her the power over her experience.

Doodle by Lou Hamilton

Doodle by Lou Hamilton

A Disabled Veterans National Foundation in America fact sheet mentioned something that is largely unknown to many people; 18.9 percent of women veterans have a service-connected disability—nearly 3 percent more than male veterans. In a report by DAV (Disabled American Veterans) “Women Veterans: The Long Journey Home” they say: “Women have patrolled the streets of Fallujah and Kandahar, they have driven in convoys on desert roads and mountain passes, they have deployed with Special Forces in Afghanistan on cultural support teams, they have climbed into the cockpits of fighter jets and out of the bloody rubble after IED explosions. Many have begun their long journey home.” Almost 280,000 women have served Post-9/11 in Afghanistan and Iraq. Nevertheless their contribution is little understood and rarely recognised. When they return physically and mentally scarred, having lost limbs and suffering post-traumatic stress disorder in the same way that their male counterparts have, the lack of support, respect and recognition is even more damaging and their transition back into civilian life even more traumatising.

To raise awareness to the plight of these women and to celebrate their service in the military the multi-disciplined art exhibition “Celebrating Women in Service, Honoring Their Sacrifice” took place in San Francisco in June 2015, with contributions from women veterans. It was inspired by the notion that art encourages expression and healing. The exhibit featured art by 28 artists whose work gives voice to women veterans, service members and families, friends and loved ones of women who served in the military, some of whom served in Iraq or Afghanistan, presenting photography, poetry, painting, and sculpture.

Doodle by Lou Hamilton

Doodle by Lou Hamilton

We don’t have to be artists to express ourselves. The simple act of keeping a daily journal allows a vent for our feelings. Writing is a force for wrestling with demons. When Julie Burchill took the courageous decision to write about the suicide of her adult son who had suffered years of mental health problems, she gave us an internal view of the workings of her traumatic experience. She showed us the primal pain of a mother losing her son. But we were also able to witness how the creative act of writing helped her find a path through her grief. She laid bare her questions, her guilt, her helplessness and we were bystanders to the meanderings of her pain. But through the piece she did seem to find some kind of healing if only to know she loved him, he’d loved her and that now he was out of the agony of his mental torture. She gave release to her despair by allowing free rein to her creative mind as it attempted to paint some kind of meaning or sense to her family’s suffering.

The physical act of writing, or scribbling or doodling is a release. You don’t have to be a professional, you just have to do it. The creativity of our minds is driven to find a way through pain and when we give expression to our questions, it gives us a way to heal. Where parts of our lives have become unravelled, using our creative thinking skills we can knit them back together again. We naturally create strategies which lead us through the ups and downs.

Doodle by Lou Hamilton

Doodle by Lou Hamilton

Learn to develop your creative thinking skills to help you through the challenges of life. Or if you know someone who is struggling and could do with a helping hand please do get in contact. Email me on Lou@createlab.co.uk

Follow my daily inspirational Picture Posts on Twitter @createlab Instagram create_lab and Facebook Lou Hamilton

Motivational Mondays: Compare & Despair

Life is a race of two selves. No-one else is in the running. Comparisons are not with others but in the balance between  who we were yesterday against who we want to be tomorrow.

Illustration by Lou Hamilton

Illustration by Lou Hamilton

The cult of comparison against others is a breeding ground for anguish, despair and self-loathing. It perishes creativity at its core and diminishes our ability to shine in the light of who we are in our own context.

Don’t waste your time on jealousy, sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind. The race is long and in the end, it’s only with yourself Baz Luhrmann – Everybody’s Free (to Wear Sunscreen) Lyrics | MetroLyrics

Illustration by Lou Hamilton

Illustration by Lou Hamilton

Academia and sports are honed at school on the sharp blade of competitive edge but where does that leave 99% of the population who don’t finish first? Look at the neurosis of Salieri when he compared himself to Mozart as shown in the film Amadeus. He was a brilliant musician but his vision was blinded; all he could see was that he wasn’t as good as Mozart. His passion for his music was destroyed by his greed to be the best. Instead of looking to himself and drawing on his innate creative force he let it wither in the shadows of jealousy.

Is that what we want to teach our children? Do we want to create little bundles crippled by fear of not being good enough; diminished by the comparison to others? I remember the competition between mums at Toddler group. Who is crawling, talking, eating solids, out of nappies, gracing the potty, ditching the dummy first? It’s crazy. Every child reaches their own milestones when they are ready. How many adults do you see sucking a dummy and still in nappies? Growth and development happens in its own sweet time.

And then there is the pressure we put our kids under as they get older, forcing them to define themselves by how they rate against their peers. How we praise our children inflicts an emphasis on social comparison that they carry into adulthood. Praise is most beneficial when it acknowledges effort towards intrinsic development, not when it raises a fanfare for being ‘better’ than other people.

Illustration by Lou Hamilton

Illustration by Lou Hamilton

“Social-comparison praise teaches kids that competitive standing, not mastery, is the goal. When kids decide that the goal is to outperform other kids, they lack intrinsic motivation for a task. Work is only interesting insofar as it permits them to show that they are the best. Even worse, these kids are so wrapped up in maintaining their competitive standing that they avoid challenges and opportunities to learn. Why tackle something new and risk failure? Social-comparison praise doesn’t prepare kids for coping with failure. Instead of trying to learn from their mistakes, these kids respond by feeling helpless” (Elliot and Dweck 1988).

Do we really want our young people to scan social media for their mates’ selfies in a bid to check out the competition and be beaten down if what they see is a mirage of perceived greater beauty, smoother skin, skinnier limbs, more protruding hip bones, more upstanding boobs, more chiseled muscles, a longer string of A****s, Double-Firsts, Gold medals & Distinctions? We are creating a new Neurotic Generation. Rainforests are being decimated but forests of Measuring Sticks are thriving. No wonder life coaching is one of the fastest growing professions in the US today.

Illustration by Lou Hamilton

Illustration by Lou Hamilton

It seems like it is natural to compare ourselves to others in order to create a context, a bench mark, a yard stick upon which to assess our progress but according to the paper “The Mindlessness of Social Comparisons and its effects on Creativity” by Ellen Langer, Ph.D. Harvard University, “While social comparing may be typical, engaging in evaluative comparisons may limit our performance and hinder a better use of our innate potentials.”

Feelings of superiority are short-lived because being pumped up on the back of someone else’s perceived failings has no basis for the building of rock-solid self-esteem and soon enough any ameliorated state starts to crumble. Recent findings suggests that frequent social comparing is associated with negative emotions and behavior such as guilt, blame, regret, envy, and lying (Langer, 2001, 2003; White et al., 2004)

Illustration by Lou Hamilton

Illustration by Lou Hamilton

The ‘Mindlessness of Social Comparison’ scientists ran basic level drawing tests with three groups: a Mindless group exposed to comparisons, a Mindful group (trained to concentrate only on their own performance) also exposed to comparisons, and finally a No Comparisons group. The results showed that the performance of the Mindless group who were exposed to both downward and upward comparisons, declined. The tests also showed that individuals who think mindfully about performance, concentrating on their own work, are less vulnerable to the negative effects of social comparing even when exposed to it.

This is good news. We live in a world that reverberates with invitations to compare ourselves to others. We are bombarded with images of ‘perfection’, but we can learn to tune out the sirens of social superiority and focus on development based on our own efforts and potential. In addition the study showed that when we do this we become significantly more positive in our perceptions of our performance, no matter how everyone else is doing.

Illustration by Lou Hamilton

Illustration by Lou Hamilton

So instead of comparing and competing, lets celebrate the lives and work of others and look to them for inspiration. Creativity, innovation, invention and productivity thrive on building on what has gone before; but let’s do our work whilst mindfully aware that our efforts and contribution are enough in their own right, free of evaluative and comparative judgment. This begs for a shift in how we raise and educate our kids, how we run our organizations and how we perceive ourselves, but if it allows us to think creatively in order to reach our full potential, that must surely be a good thing.

Illustration by Lou Hamilton

Illustration by Lou Hamilton

If you want to learn how to make the most of your abilities by digging for the diamonds underneath your feet, then work with a Creative Thinking coach. To find out more email Lou@createlab.co.uk

For daily inspirational picture posts follow on twitter @createlab Instagram create_lab Facebook Lou Hamilton

Motivational Mondays: Small Wins, Big Progress

Life can be one helluva ride. Cloud nine one minute, wallowing in the annals of knock-backs the next. It feels like the control desk has bust and we are fire-fighting from one crisis to the next. By the end of the day we flop into bed exhausted, stressed but unable to sleep, worrying about what disaster will befall us next.

illustration by Lou Hamilton

illustration by Lou Hamilton

How can we make this rollercoaster smoother and more controllable? We need to take a back seat and watch what is happening. With a little distance we can monitor how much is going wrong, and when things are actually going right. It’s all too easy to sweat the everyday bumps and bruises and bypass the mini-victories. But when we give head space to the face-plants and ignore the triumphs we are doing ourselves a great disservice.

illustration by Lou Hamilton

illustration by Lou Hamilton

Celebrating success isn’t about ‘bragging’ or showing off or being self-obsessed or narcissistic. It’s not about shouting from the rooftops about how marvellous we are or shoving our trophies in the faces of those around us. It’s not about being loud, or smart-alec or self-promoting. It’s about quietly acknowledging to ourselves every time we have ‘done good’. It’s about patting ourselves on the back and building up our self-esteem. Goodness knows we have many failures, disappointments and set-backs; it is imperative that we counteract them with a healthy approach to our small successes. It makes us self-reliant; free of needing approbation from others.

illustration by Lou Hamilton

illustration by Lou Hamilton

In the book The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins To Ignite Joy, Engagement And Creativity At Work, by the wife-and-husband team of psychologists Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer, they investigate the positive effects of acknowledging all the small wins we make in a day. By collecting diary entries from 238 people at seven companies, the authors generated 12,000 person-days of data on moods and activities at work. The striking conclusion is that a sense of incremental progress is vastly more important to happiness than either a grand mission or financial incentives – though 95% of the bosses didn’t realise it. Small wins “had a surprisingly strong positive effect, and small losses a surprisingly strong negative one.”

In Coaching we always break big goals down into smaller achievable chunks but what is important, is to celebrate each one of those small wins and to try and do that throughout the day. What Amabile and Kramer’s findings emphasise is how disproportionate the relationship is between the size of an achievement and the happiness it delivers. A breakthrough accomplishment that’s a thousand times bigger than a “small win” doesn’t make you feel a thousand times better, or happier for a thousand times longer – and won’t outweigh the effects of countless small setbacks you’ll encounter en route.

illustration by Lou Hamilton

illustration by Lou Hamilton

The more we focus on the small wins than the small setbacks, the greater our sense of self-esteem and ability to feel in control of our lives. The mini-triumphs give a regular happiness-hit. You wouldn’t give a dog a whole box of chocolate drops in one go but you make him a happy puppy with the odd one every so often. We humans aren’t so very different. Every drop of achievement gives you a spritz of dopamine, the feel-good chemical linked with motivation. Better still, a series of small wins …guarantees a constant supply of dopamine, which is released during goal orientated behaviour and upon achieving that goal,” says Psychology Today blogger Christopher Bergland.

illustration by Lou Hamilton

illustration by Lou Hamilton

So feeling like a champion isn’t just for Olympians and Oscar-winners, each of us can shift our focus to tune in to our daily trophies of accomplishment. David Allen, a coach specializing in productivity, recommends the ‘two minute’ rule in his book “Getting Things Done”. It entails ensuring you crack on with the tiny tasks first thing in the morning or in small windows of space in the day. By nailing these you build up a momentum which energises you to tackle the bigger jobs, and pumps you full of mini-hits of dopamine through the day.

The more we can approach our lives with attention to the tasks at hand, engagement in the bigger picture and an intention to commit to working hard at what we are doing, the more we feel we are progressing. The more positively we approach this, according to Psychologist Barbara Fredrickson, the more we broaden our thoughts and actions and the more liberated we are to see the wood for the trees. Our sense that we are moving forward in turn increases our creativity, our productivity, our commitment and our ability to work well with others. Conversely, negative emotions constrain our progress and hold us back, making us less creative and therefore less productive.

Illustration by Lou Hamilton

Illustration by Lou Hamilton

If we don’t prime ourselves with praise at our micro-progress then what happens is that each day, everyday the negative impact of our tiny failures starts to erode our sense of well-being and bonhomie. In fact, the effect of setbacks is two to three times stronger than any small win. “That’s a common finding in psychology—that negative events and negative things tend to get people’s attention more and tend to have a stronger impact on people’s feelings,” Amabile explains. So we have to make an extra effort to acknowledge the small successes. The best way to stamp those wins on our brains is to perform a physical function in response to the triumph; a high-five with a mate, a punch in the air, or writing it down in your success journal*.

Years of habitual negative acknowledgements have a deep-rooted effect on our happiness and effectiveness. It takes guidance, support and encouragement to change your mindset, to start allowing yourself the pleasure of noticing your daily achievements. It has been proven in Amalie’s study that reviewing and writing down your accomplishments of the day, however small, and reflecting how they made you feel, coupled with a mini-plan for what you would like to achieve the next day, works wonders on building your sense of purpose. There is comfort in knowing that with the right set of tools you can make meaningful progress by helping yourself and others to live more happily,

Illustration by Lou Hamilton

Illustration by Lou Hamilton

To help break the set-back trap invest in a Creative Thinking Coach and learn to feel happier and more fulfilled. You can also try journaling in a copy of my *“Creating Success in Daily Life” book. Email me to find our more on Lou@createlab.co.uk

Testimonial from a client on making progress: “I remember the first day I went to meet Lou. I think at that point I was feeling as bad as I thought I ever could. I booked a few sessions in the hope that it may relieve some of the pain of what I was going through. From the first session Lou inspired me with her amazing positivity and the journal that she gave me made me seek out positivity in everyday life which helped me from week one. I found it amazing how quickly she managed to change my mindset from constant dwelling on the past to thinking about a future and actually being excited about it. Lou taught me not to beat myself up about having a bad day, and not seeing it as a relapse into old thinking habits, but a dip in a graph that is constantly going up. I honestly don’t know if I would have made it through the year without her. She has been an incredible coach and a friend.Zoe C. Student

CREATING SUCCESS cover for pic post