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How to Find Your Creative Zen

Have you ever entered a Zen-like state of productivity? You know, where your thoughts and execution seem to operate in perfect harmony with one another? It’s a place where you are literally thinking less and accomplishing more, and I’m sure that given the choice, most of you would choose to live on that edge rather than simply experience it every once in a while.

In reality, these Zen-like states are not nearly as unpredictable or as unattainable as you might think. In most cases, they occur as natural fallout from a well-constructed creative process. If you want to live on that free-flowing edge, then you must learn how to force your brain through the sequence of triggers that will result in your own cognitive Zen.

Understanding Your Brain

Colorful balloons on a perfect blue sky in front of my house on the morning of September 29, 2006Ever read an instruction manual?

I’m sure you’ve noticed, then, that the process described therein was stepwise in nature. By design, we humans are quite comfortable with processes like this — we can easily move from step one, to step two, and so on.

It just makes sense.

Instructions, steps, order, and reason are all characteristics of the left brain. They are sensible, practical, and in many cases, obvious.

We’re so accustomed to going through life in a regimented, left-brain-dominated fashion that we seldom realize there’s an entire half of our brain being left out of the equation.

The Zen-like state feels so harmonious because that’s exactly what it is — it’s a method of operation that results from a balance between left and right brain function.

Your left brain is able to follow a process seamlessly, but the problem is that it cannot divine this process on its own. This, of course, is where the right brain comes into play.

The right brain provides the creative direction, while the left brain takes orders and executes them. If you want to operate in the Zen zone, then you’re going to have to balance right and left brain activity in order to find that harmonious flow.

What you need is a good, right brain workout, and I’m not about to leave you hanging!

Single balloon in front of my house on the morning of September 29, 2006

The Rhythm of the Cerebrum

You can fool your lazy right brain into action by exercising it. One activity that really seems to strike a chord with bloggers (and writers in general, for that matter) is stream-of-consciousness writing.

The premise here is simple: open up a secondary blog or blank word processing document, and commence typing!

As thoughts and ideas pop into your head, record them as fast as you possibly can. Hell, they don’t even have to make sense — in all likelihood, you’ll jump between topics so fast that you’ll look like Frogger trying to cross the road.

Remember, your right brain is the hub of creative thought, so if that side of your brain is controlling the writing, you’ll know because you won’t really be able to perseverate on one aspect of your central topic for too long. In fact, you probably won’t even have a central topic.

Your right brain tends to see the entire picture at once, and as a result, it cannot extrapolate minor details in an orderly fashion. If your writing comes out looking pretty refined and cogent, then that’s a good indicator that your left brain is trying to stick its nose where it doesn’t belong.

The bottom line is that your goal is simply to unleash the creative chaos in the right brain, temporarily freeing it from the suffocating bully that is your left brain.

Your left brain can’t handle the randomized signals coming from your right brain, but the fact is, Zen won’t happen without ‘em!

Chaos is beautiful - balloons in front of my house on the morning of September 29, 2006

Everybody likes results…

For the past few days, I’ve been experimenting with stream-of-consciousness writing, and I’ve gotta tell ya that I’m really feeling this. If you’ve been reading pearsonified for any length of time, then you probably know that I rarely recommend you take a specific course of action…But in this case, I think I’m going to have to make an exception.

It really works. It’s like stretching before a workout.

You think a sprinter would go into a race without limbering up first?

Try loosening up with 15 minutes of this stuff in the morning, and just watch as your mental signals clear up and untangle themselves.

I swear you’ll have to go to confessional because you’ll be doing so much Zenning!

Take the Next Step!

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64 comments… read them below or add one

Dave October 2, 2006

Chris,
I write the 401k newsletters for 3 major airlines and I can second your conclusion. I call it stream of consciousness writing.
Dave

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Mike October 2, 2006

Dammit Pearson !

Quit showing off all the time with these out-freakin’-standing designs;-)

Oh by the way – the post is good,too. I call it “The Selling Zone.”

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Damien October 3, 2006

Wonderful post, it really hit home for me. I wonder, how well would one be able to apply the stream-of-consciousness thing to programming? :lol:

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Lawton October 3, 2006

Chris, I now Officially Am Jealous Of Your Talent!

Darn you and your awesomeness!

Darn you! ARghh!

I should start a club :)

ARghh

Lawton “Black Bear” Chiles

Black Bear Marketing
Tallahassee Florida
“Claw your way to the top”

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olivier blanchard October 3, 2006

The “warmup” is a great point. I run into the same state (call it “zen” or “the zone” or whatever) when I hit a groove during a race, or a photoshoot, or an ad layout, or a blog post.

It’s like focused play.

It’s a creative groove.

It’s always pure genius.

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blumoon October 3, 2006

Great article. Those who grew up in the sixties, know stream of conciouness writing. Great description. And I love the balloons, especially how they multiplied in the second photo.

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Chris October 4, 2006

This design = hot

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Chris P. October 4, 2006

Thanks! I’m going to do a write up on the new look and its coolest features as soon as I get some free time.

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Chris K. October 5, 2006

I was at a party this weekend and one of my friends that I don’t get to see very often asked me why I wasn’t updating my blog much. At first I was stunned because I had no idea she even knew I had a blog, but also because I didn’t even realize I wasn’t doing it.

After some thinking, I figured out that I just had nothing I felt like writing about…like the creativity was gone.

And then this post. Great timing, thanks. I’ve been trying this for a couple days now, and not only am I writing more, but I just feel better and more with it.

Thanks. :)

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Satori386 October 9, 2006

Your zen is a beautiful thang here..It’s all zen..Good witful mind..sharp like a surgical pen but ,only zanier until you realize you cut your eyes while trying to write..Can’t top ya,But I tried.

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crate8 October 9, 2006

Zenkyoo!

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Tony D. Clark October 19, 2006

Terrific post, Chris. I can attest to the fact that it does really work.

I also do stream of consciousness doodling. Blank paper, lots of doodles, and it really gets the old gears a turning. I use to do mind mapping in a similar way, but found that just by doing random doodles, I was able to enter in to the creative zone faster. I can even go back and look at past pages and guess what kind of day I was having based on the types of doodles on the page.

Anyway, great stuff. Thanks.

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Jakob Persson October 24, 2006

Sorry to piss on the parade but this left and right hemisphere talk is very unscientific, the idea of localization is heavily exaggerated, and you can’t talk so broadly and sweepingly about how the brain operates or generalize about how consciousness works or our ability to create. This is just pseudo-science and popular neuropsych. Meditation is nice, and I think there’s something akin to “flow” as described to some but your explanation is on the verge of the simplistic. I think “flow” is what you’re looking for and they’ve done some good research on that, with fMRI and PET scans for empirical support.

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Chris P. October 24, 2006

Well, Jakob, whaddya think? Should I scrap the whole thing? Trash my blog?

Gimme a break, buddy.

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Jakob Persson October 24, 2006

I like your blog! Keep working on it! I’m just allergic to clichés! Hemispherical localization has become such a modern myth it’s as useful as phrenology. I tried reading a book about meditation once but had to put it down when the author started lying about brainwaves and hemispherical localization.

Anyway, I didn’t mean to come on so hard, keep up the good work and look into the idea of flow, it’s extremely interesting and can be applied to design methods as well as UX design!

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Chris P. October 24, 2006

Ha, thanks. I know so little about the subject that I wasn’t even aware it was cliché to claim that there was hemispherical localization.

It looks to me like your knowledge in this area places you so far to one side of the spectrum that I’m sure it’s hard to see any value in mundane insights like mine.

Oh, and the “as useful as phrenology” crack is hilarious :)

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Jakob Persson October 24, 2006

It’s not mundane, and hemispherical localization isn’t all nonsense, but it’s not as clear cut as some people want us to believe. It seems the left side of the brain controls language, it’s where you find Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas, and the right music. But language is sound and music consists of sounds too so it’s far from obvious what does what. They’re also totally separate when it comes to vision, motor control and sensor/stumuli.

It’s an interesting topic, but all I’m saying is that one shouldn’t draw too far reaching conclusions based on theories that lack substantial empirical evidence.

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Yuri December 13, 2006

I find that just writing about any topic for your blog post, instead of trying to come up with something specific, helps. Mostly, such posts come up pretty complete, interesting and useful for the readers.

I have to try Zenning, I guess. Just entering the zone without doing much is kinda hard without practice, too.

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Chris P. December 13, 2006

Yuri,

Definitely. Hitting your Zen-like state is something that is far more likely to happen if you actually focus on getting there in the first place :)

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Adam K. January 21, 2007

Regardless of how it works, if it works, it works.

Mystics and sages have known how to tap into extrasensory realities for ages, long before brain research and quantum physics began to be able to explain why it works.

So hey, keep it up, Chris.

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CR February 25, 2007

The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron, a tried-and-true method/system to unblock creatives, is founded on this principle. She calls it ‘morning pages’ – every morning you get up and write three pages of stream-of-consciousness, just move your hand across the page, write ‘this is stupid’, write ‘i have nothing to write,’ anything. After a while you will start to see results: ideas come to you, problems get solved by the left brain while the right brain is doing something else, you’ll get a hunch to try something and it’ll give you exactly what you’re looking for. You can tell me it’s bullshit all you want; when I do it religiously, I see the results. THat doesn’t mean I can’t write or won’t write (or photograph, or design) if I’m not doing pages, I’m just better for it.

It still doesn’t help you actually do the work, but it’s an integral part of my life now.

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Noone February 25, 2007

I think someone stole my Creative Zen. It’s a bummer, since I gave some of the CDs away after I’d uploaded them to the player.

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MySelfDevelopment.net February 25, 2007

I call it getting in the zone. Nice article!

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Andrew February 25, 2007

Do you think this would work as well if you did the same thing except you talked outloud (to yourself, I guess) instead of writing? I’m strangely comfortable with that notion, however weird it might initially sound, and it would certainly be a lot faster than writing.

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Chris P. February 25, 2007

Andrew — I’d be interested to see you try out that technique with an experimental podcast.

Although now that I think about it, a lot of visitors might suspect you’re on LSD or something :)

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Mark February 25, 2007

Please be careful with stream-of-consciousness-writing.

As Robert Boice noted in “Professors as Writers” (pp.53), practising automatic writing excessively can cause mental instability:

“Practised in moderation, it works nicely to establish momentum and novelty in writing. Practised to excess, without some supervision or clear constraints, it can produce upsetting revelations. ”

Mark

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Ben Collins February 25, 2007

Wow, this makes alot of sense. To a lesser extent (i usually try to keep it to some sort of topic) I use my myspace blog for this. just “chattin crap” as some might call it. It really helps get me in the mood to write, and also is a really great way to get things off my chest.

great post, I found it on another blog, but im definatly subscribing now!

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Peter Cooper February 25, 2007

Haha, I clicked on this because I thought it was about a clever way of finding a lost MP3 player and I was intrigued :)

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Ryan February 25, 2007

Anyone who benefitted from this post should check out Flow by Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi… he outlines this entire “Creative Zen” state from a scientific standpoint and gives easy-to-follow guidelines for experiencing it at will.

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MeTheGeek February 25, 2007

Hi Chris,

I have been reading and enjoying your blog for over a month now. I was pleased to see that this article was featured at lifehacker (another site I enjoy).

Keep up the good work!

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Elisabeth Winkler February 25, 2007

Chris

Great ideas!
Two typos – you wanna know? Characteristic and rhythm (which I often check myself because it is tricky).
Liked the idea of left brain as bully.
Is the left brain really in the left part of our brain? I can never remember this as the word left seems to go with the word intuition in my mind.
And the idea of ordering goes with the word right.
Any advice on remembering welcome.

Elisabeth

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Chris P. February 25, 2007

Elisabeth — Thanks for the heads-up; I just fixed ‘em both.

I have to assume that the left brain is, in fact, on the left side of your brain :)

As for the left vs. right, the right is supposedly the more creative, less restrained side. As a mnemonic device, perhaps you could go with something simple like this: left and logic both begin with “L.”

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CleanupMyspace February 25, 2007

Great post.

I sit around making Myspace layouts all day – I have found to get into this state of flowing ideas I actually have to start designing something specific, then other ideas open up.

Its not like writing, with anything that pops into mind, I have to have to sit down with a planned design in mind – then stacks of new ideas seem to spin off from there…

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Dave Mosher February 25, 2007

Hey Chris,

Great post, I spent about 10 minutes just writing out what I like to call the “STDOUT” from my brain. For those uninitiated with c programming I’m referring to the standard output (ie: typically the monitor).

I think one of the neatest feelings is when you decide to just output the stuff in your head like you’ve said and when you’re done (at least for me) I just feel like I’m 10x larger than I was. I can’t explain it but it makes me feel like a giant sitting in front of everything else looking down.

I modified your method a little, I just opened up a wordpad document, closed my eyes and started typing. I tried typing with my eyes open the first time but I found I got too distracted forcing thoughts about the things cluttering up my desk. When I closed my eyes the synaptic path’s really seemed to clear to what I was really thinking.

Dunno if any of this makes sense, just wanted to say I appreciate your post and I think I’ll continue to use this technique.

Cheers.

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Shafiq Jetha February 25, 2007

Hi Chris,
Brilliant post and I totally agree with what you’ve said.
I agree with Dave Mosher in the fact that I find it easier to close my eyes and start typing. It’s easier if you’re a touch-typist, obviously, although I can see it working if you keep your eyes closed while closing the wordpad document!

My own personal stream-of-conciousness is on my DeviantART blog. It’s mostly about feelings which allows me at least to start with a central theme. And since emotions themselves are so erratic, I think it’s a good basis to start on.

Thank you.

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Daithi February 25, 2007

Cool tip, I’ll be trying it this afternoon, I’ll let you know how I get on but, frankly, I’m really excited. Thanks. This is really cool and helpful.

Daithi

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Brian February 26, 2007

This might be of interest wrt the left brain/right brain issue:

“Brain Facts is a 64-page primer on the brain and nervous system, published by the Society for Neuroscience. In addition to serving as a starting point for a lay audience interested in neuroscience, the book is used at the annual Brain Bee, which is held in conjunction with Brain Awareness Week. The 2006 revised edition of Brain Facts is available now in PDF format and in print.”
http://www.sfn.org/index.cfm?pagename=brainfacts

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Spencer February 26, 2007

Jacob Persson,
Who -F*%KING- cares if true functional/cognitive localization isn’t 100% Left/Right 100% of the time —If the f*%king metaphor WORKS (for the other 99% of the population besides you)!!!
Christ! -Go back to COBOL, command line, and telling little kids there’s no Santa fer chrissakes, you tweakish knob! Yeesh!

I am positive that in 50 years, scientists will be calling YOUR functional maps positively Franz Josef Gallian in stupidity.

(besides, go tell my post-stroke grandfather with a paralyzed right side that there’s no localization!)

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BooTCaT February 26, 2007

Hey pears ,
actually , i was thinking the same thing pal .

Order or discipline is what makes a job easy to do , but its away from creativity .

Randomity is what brings , creativeness and what we want is a balence between them .

its like , “Free ur Mind NEO” , but holding onto it .

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Find Your ZEN March 12, 2007

Just another way to Find Your ZEN…

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Greg Whitham April 30, 2007

Great article. Having read your post I have been experimenting with this technique in conjunction with mind mapping. I find it to be a happy marriage with the technique described here providing the creative input i.e. right brain activity. And the mind map giving the left brain plenty to do so it doesn’t feel left out.

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NLP Master July 31, 2007

Very well thought article! I began implementing it along side EFT (emotional freedom technique) and amygdala clicking.

I’m seeing gold!

So please… keep feeding us more of your pearls.

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Jan August 2, 2007

Hello,

Great post, I totally love it, and you site as well. As a matter of fact I loved it so well I wanted to share it with my readers, so I hope you don’t mind me making you a guest blogger on my site.

Thanks,
Jan

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Hank September 13, 2007

Wish I would have found this post a long time ago. I’ve been doing a morning “warmup” and, by golly…

Wow!

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Joshua Ross October 4, 2007

Hi Chris,

I work for a communications consultancy and we have created an international campaign targeted at Ad. executives. As part of this, we are producing a ‘mock newspaper’ to distribute to them. I found many of the ideas expressed in your article inspiring and was wondering if you would be happy for the piece to be included in the aforementioned newspaper.

Please let me know asap.

Many thanks

Joshua Ross

I was inspired by many of the points raised in your article on Zen and was wondering if you would be happy for me to include it in a ‘mock

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Chris P. October 4, 2007

Joshua — Please feel free to include this article in your newspaper… I’m always happy to see my work “get legs.”

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SEO Specialists October 20, 2007

Beautiful. I haven’t been this inspired about creativity since I read Ed Bono’s “Six Thinking Hats”

You’re now on my Snarfer

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DavidKearney January 29, 2008

Dear sir/madam,
Having recently misplaced my newly acquired Creative Zen MP3 player, I came to this site in the eager hope of getting a soltion to my dilemma. To my horror, instead I discovered this had nothing to do with music or various ways of playing the above, but instead was buddhist. I hate buddhists. They have a shit taste in music and they have been no help in finding my Nirvana CD. I hope that you will quickly rectify this situation.

Yours angrily,

David Kearney

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YuzeroK March 14, 2008

Хороший заработок в интернете. Нужно покоментировать страницы, которые вам откроют после регистрации, и за это платят денги и не малые. Я лично зарабатываю около 500$ в месяц.

Регистрируемся тут awsurveys.com

1.Нажимите Create A Free Account

UserName – имя пользователя
Password – пароль 7-15 знаков
First Name – имя
Last Name – Фамилия
Email Address – почтовый ящик
Далее вводим цифорки-буковки, нажимаем кнопку Create A Free Account
Вы зарегистрировались!

2.Далее видим таблицу, имеющую такой вид:

The Following Surveys are Available:
Welcome Survey — A $6.00 Website Evaluation is Available.
A $4.00 Website Evaluation is Available.
A $4.00 Website Evaluation is Available.
A $4.00 Website Evaluation is Available.
A $4.00 Website Evaluation is Available.
A $4.00 Website Evaluation is Available.

3.Щелкаем по одной из ссылок на этой странице, попадаем на следущюю страницу и там щелкаем по надписи “Start Survey Now”

4.Здесь 2 ссылки и 2 поля, в них нужно написать отзыв о сайте на англ языке.

(пример: It is an excellent site, I shall advise its all, this is good job, it’s very usefull web-resource и т.п)

5.Щелкае по кнопке внизу “Click to submit …” Щелкаем по ссылке “Click Here to go Home and…”

6.И так далее по ссылкам и так каждый день.

7.Для вывода денег воспользуйтесь кнопкой “Redeem Money”
выводятся деньги в системе PayPal (легко переводятся в вебмани)
могу помочь тем кто не знаком с электронными платежными системами

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Jason Marsh April 1, 2008

He he Very funny article love it, nothing quit like tricking the mind into doing exactly what it needs to be doing. It’s not like we came with a manual on how to operate the human body!

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Matt Paxton April 29, 2008

I am not sure if you really said anything new. For instance, brainstorming, is when you let your right brain go freely and jot it all down. There is nothing new about that. Then you compare your brainstorm to the list of goals your left brain made and execute.

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Gustavo August 8, 2008

I just opened a blog to do this!
Let´s see if it really works!
Thanks for the tip

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trisha September 20, 2008

Hi, wish my children wd all read this, I wasn’t able to sell the idea to them so am going to use you, but I came here to let you know that choosing your template for WP was the best thing I did a few days back(I havn’t thrown away my White as Milk bec somehow I can’t get over its sheer simplicity, I do my ZEN thing there :) your design makes it all look like zooming arrows and I am praying one of these days it wd find its mark and we wd have some more excitement in school.I love cutline and thank you for it.originally my friend Priyank send me to ur site bec I was looking for a way to stick a flickr badge to my blog wh led me to read abt cutline and suddenly I figured some blogs I like are actually using this design, it does make a diff when fonts and paras stay put where u want them…OAO.

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trisha September 20, 2008

er and I’ve only just begun,still figuring this place out and make a lot of mistakes, so pl dnt mind if am asking an inane quesn (mean tht ths mght be one am not sure), u c I went to settngs>gen>read>show only ONE page at a time. But 2 posts show up making it look like a hanuman ki puchh. can u tell me where am going wrong?

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3faycom December 23, 2008

Your zen is a beautiful thang here..It’s all zen..

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Lillea January 24, 2009

When I experience a balanced state it feels so whole and healthy. I tend to be more right brained, but I have just enough left braininess to keep me organized. :) If I stay in left brain-land too long, my head will actually hurt and I’ll feel ill & constrained.

Creativity is one of my favorite words. :) I enjoy exploring it with guided imagery and hypnosis – they encourage flow in me.

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Maury March 14, 2009

Bravo Chris,
Opening the power of ones creative flow weather it be for communication, healing or manifestation is a powerful and valuable gift. Thanks for sharing your wonderful insights. I will probably link to this some time when I do an article on this theme once I have my new blog up and running.

maury

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andrew July 1, 2009

i am a programmer. i don’t have a history of creativity. once i was confronted with a complex problem which i could not figure out like other tasks i have done. for some reason i felt i needed to lay in bed, lay still, and empty my mind. the code came into my vision all of a sudden. i let my brain run free without constraints. it decided to tackle the problem. i have never had more memory capacity before or after that day. 45 minutes of barely conscience calculations and i solved my problem. i remember it vividly and it is unlike anything i have ever experienced.

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Pete October 31, 2009

This article and comments made me think of a great Don Draper line:

“Peggy, just think about it deeply, then forget it, and an idea will jump up in your face”

It works

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Cate August 25, 2010

Ah, you made me laugh this morning. Thank you!

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Shizzlènitts November 14, 2010

I really enjoyed your article chris.

i have done meditation for years and it has been instrumental in my life.
I’m super interested in trying your technique. Thanks for the tip.

The world needs a superhero.

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Johnny August 9, 2011

“It’s a place where you are literally thinking less and accomplishing more”

God! what a great place to be in! This is where I’m trying to go for several months now. Every morning I feel like I have what it takes to achieve all my goals then I open my laptop and the exact opposite of what I quoted above happens “More thinking and less accomplishing”.

It looks like it’s not just me who having this problem but I guess who were able to solve it, are flying right now achieving their goals one after another.

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Positive Thinking September 29, 2011

I love this post it is right up my alley.

I set aside time twice a day to visualize, I start my day off with a 30 to 60 minute visualization session and if I get to work right afterwards my creative juices just flow. I could spend 3 hours staring at my screen and accomplish nothing because my mind is scattered with thoughts but if I just take a 15 minute visualization break it clears my mind and I can get back to work.

The bad part of my plan is that I get to darn stubborn midday to actually take the time and work the plan. I always feel as though I have to get so much done during the day so in the moment I am not rational, however I can always look back and say; “why the heck don’t you just take the 15 minutes?”

I frustrate myself :)
Great Post!

Howard

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Person September 29, 2011

Nice article, Chris. Very helpful info on creativity. Trick the mind. Something I do is use a mind machine to entrain the brain into a creative state. (ok, that is kind of cheating! LOL!)

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Hoot and/or Holler

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