Have You Tried Backcasting?
You've heard of forecasting, but have you ever tried planning by using backcasting? This is a technique employed by futurists. As the name implies, you start with the outcome and work your way backward. Let's say I want my next book to be a best-seller. If I start from today's position (I'm sending it to agents), best-seller status seems very far away and the distance between here and there is daunting.
Now let's try the other way: pretending the book already is a best-seller. What step might have happened just before? Well, maybe Oprah mentioned it on her show; or maybe it became the selection of the Book of the Month Club; or maybe reading groups all over the country selected it.
Once I've generated as many "next-to-last" steps as I can, I would work backward from each of those. For example, how did Oprah hear about the book? Maybe I found one of those "six degrees of separation" links between me and her and had this person send her the book with a note. Or maybe I found a listing of 500 reading groups and sent each of them a letter or even a free copy of the book.
You keep working your way backward until you get to where you are today. Then you pick the steps that seem most promising and start working forward. Any time these steps don't work out, you already have alternatives.
Action: Is there a goal you have that seems too daunting from where you stand today? Try backcasting and see how big a difference it can make.
Do You Do Bad Thinking
A little book called "Bad Thoughts: A Guide to Thinking" offers some insights into the kind of sloppy thinking we all do from time to time. Among the examples cited by author Jamie Whyte is "transferred expertise," wherein an authority or role model in one arena is endowed with assumed expertise in another.
For example, we may all doubt that David Beckham really knows more than any other man about which blade shaves the smoothest. But is it any more rational to believe Albert Einstein when he said, reputedly, that we use only 10 percent of our intellect? After all, he was a physicist, not an expert on the workings of the brain.
Another example: people assumed to be experts because they have been touched by tragedy. For example, when journalists write about the possible legalization of certain drugs, the father of teen-ager Leah Betts is called for a quote opposing it. Sadly, his daughter died of an overdose of Ecstacy, but does that really make him an expert on whether fewer or more such incidents would happen if drugs were legal and controlled? (Not that I know, either.)
Action: The kinds of false reasoning described in the book are all around us. As an experiment just for a day, look out for one or two of them in the media to which you're exposed. Being on our guard helps us avoid being the victims and perpetrators of bad thinking.
Are You Listening?
We all know that one of the main keys to good communication is being able to listen, and most of us know that we don't listen well enough. But listening better has always been one of those general goals that are so global (like standing up straight) that it's hard to do them consistently.
In a recent article, speaker and attorney Marc Diener came up with a brilliantly simple suggestion: Pick somebody each day to practice on. It doesn't matter who you choose, or how short the exchange is. During that practice session don't interrupt, don't zone out while thinking of your response, keep good eye contact, and don't judge what the other person is saying.
Action: Try this today, if only for five minutes, and notice any difference in how the other person reacts. Try it in person and also on the telephone. Practiced often enough, it can become a habit. Hello? Are you listening?
Go a Little Crazy
Has life become a bit boring and predictable? Do you wonder where your sense of fun has gone? Are you playful only during your vacation? In 10 x 10 magazine, artist Jo del Pesco suggests some "crazy" things to do to add some fun to your life and shake other people's lives up a little, too. Here are my favorites:
– Music for telemarketers: Learn to play a song using the number keys on the phone. When phone solicitors call, play it for them.
– Junk mail echoes: Do a drawing on a postcard-sized piece of junk mail and send it back.
– Post-It Graffiti: Write messages on Post-It notes and stick them up around town. (This is the one I'm planning to do first…)
Action: Try one of these, or make up your own. (And please e-mail me your favorites, to Brainstorm.) We're all going to be dead a long time; we might as well be alive while we're here…
This Month's Time Doctor Tip
A study at Johns Hopkins University found that when patients undergoing uncomfortable medical procedures listened to recordings of soothing sounds (babbling brooks, birds singing, etc.), their perceived pain level was as much as 40 percent less than that of patients not listening to such sounds. A good question for further study is whether activities that are mentally uncomfortable (such as doing tax returns, writing invoices, etc.) might also be less painful if we do them while listening to soothings sounds.
Action: Get a CD of nature sounds, decide on what your most "painful" activity is going to be this week, and see whether your discomfort level is lower when listening to the sounds.
And a Quote to Think About…
"We hurry through the so-called boring things in order to attend to that which we deem more important, interesting. Perhaps the final freedom will be a recognition that everything in every moment is 'essential' and nothing at all is 'important.'" writer and therapist Helen M. Luke
Until next time,
P.S. — You might enjoy checking out our Brainstorm Web site and seeing my most recent book, "Do Something Different," available on Amazon.com.
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