Uncertainty…it’s what’s for breakfast.

More wisdom from Zen Habits
This is a guest post from Jonathan Fields, author of “Uncertainty:Turning Fear and Doubt into fuel for brilliance –

Uncertainty. It’s a terrifying word.

Living with it, dangling over your head like the sword of Damacles, day in day out, is enough to send anyone spiraling into a state of anxiety, fear and paralysis.

Like it or not, though, uncertainty is the new normal. We live in a time where the world is in a state of constant, long-term flux. And, that’s not all. If you want to spend your time on the planet not just getting-by, but consistently creating art, experiences, businesses and lives that truly matter, you’ll need to proactively seek out, invite and even deliberately amplify uncertainty. Because the other side of uncertainty is opportunity.

Nothing great was ever created by waiting around for someone to tell you it’s all going to be okay or for perfect information to drop from the sky. Doesn’t happen that way. Great work requires you to act in the face of uncertainty, to live in the question long enough for your true potential to emerge. There is no alternative.

When you find the strength to act in the face of uncertainty, you till the soil of genius.

Problem is, that kills most people. It leads to unease, anxiety, fear and doubt on a level that snuffs out most genuinely meaningful and potentially revolutionary endeavors before they even see the light of day. Not because they wouldn’t have succeeded, but because you never equipped yourself to handle and even harness the emotional energy of the journey.

But, what if it didn’t have to be that way?

What if there was a way to turn the fear, anxiety and self-doubt that rides along with acting in the face of uncertainty–the head-to-toe butterflies–into fuel for brilliance?

Turns out, there is. Your ability to lean into the unknown isn’t so much about luck or genetics, rather it’s something entirely trainable. I’ve spent the past few years interviewing world-class creators across a wide range of fields and pouring over research that spans neuroscience, decision-theory, psychology, creativity and business.

Through this work, a collection of patterns, practices and strategies have emerged that not only turbocharge insight, creativity, innovation and problem-solving, but also help ameliorate so much of the suffering so often associated with the pursuit of any creative quest.

Here are 5 starter-strategies to help get you going:

1. Reframe.

We tell ourselves stories all day long. I’m skinny. I’m fat. I’m talented. I’m stupid. This is genius. This is awful. I will succeed. I will fail. I’m terrified and anxious. I’m confident and proactive. It turns out, the storylines we create around a particular circumstance are far more determinative of success than the circumstance itself. They affect not only our willingness to act, but the quality of our ideas and solutions.

If you create a story that empowers action and innovation, that’s great news. Unfortunately, our brains have a strong bias toward negativity, leading most of us to create stories around circumstances that require action in the face of uncertainty that are more likely to paralyze and stunt creativity than fuel action.

Reframing is a process that asks you to suspend negative storylines, explore if the story you’re telling is the only one and, if not (which is inevitably the case), construct or frame a new storyline that empowers you to experience an uncertain circumstance not as a prime for failure and inaction, but as a signpost for meaning and opportunity.

For example, if you’re disabling storyline is around the risk of failure, instead of just asking “what if I fail?” and creating a doomsday scenario, you also ask “how will I recover, what if I do nothing and what if I succeed?” Then build new stories around those questions.

2. Practice Mindfulness.

Reframing is an immensely powerful tool in the quest to lean into the unknown. But it also requires a certain equanimity; the ability to pull back and see what’s really going on, re-center, then breath into that uncomfortable place long enough for amazing things to bubble up. Over time, a daily mindfulness practice goes a long way toward equipping you to do just that.

Plus, it cultivates the sense of persistent grounding that makes living and acting in a world where there is no new normal far more enjoyable. And it trains you in the practice of dropping thoughts, among those, destructive, limiting-beliefs.

3. Exercise Your Brain.

We’ve all seen the research on exercise and health, weight loss and disease prevention. But, did you know that certain approaches to exercise also have a profound effect on your brain?

Daily cardiovascular exercise, for example, especially with high-intensity bursts mixed in can improve mood, executive function, decision-making and creativity and decrease anxiety and fear. The latest research even reveals the possibility that exercise can grow new brains cells, something that until only a few years ago, was thought to be impossible. It’s also strongly correlated with decreases in anxiety and increases in mood, which are directly connected to improved creativity and problem-solving.

4. Singletask.

Multitasking is out. Turns out this badge of honor from the ’90s is more fiction than fact. Our brains don’t multitask, they just rapidly switch between tasks, sometimes fast enough for us to believe we’re doing many things at once. Problem is, every time we switch, there is a “ramping cost” in your brain, it takes anywhere from a few second to 15 minutes for your brain to fully re-engage. This makes you feel insanely busy, but simultaneously craters productivity, creativity and increases feelings of anxiety and stress.

Multitasking also requires you to hold a lot of information in your working memory, which is controlled by a part of the brain known as the prefrontal cortex (PFC). But the PFC is also responsible for will-power, and for keeping fear and anxiety in check. Multitasking increases the “cognitive load” on the PFC, overwhelming it and effectively killing it’s ability to keep fear, anxiety and the taunt of distraction at bay.

Simple solution–just say no. Do one thing at a time in intense, short bursts.

5. Get Lean.

Instead of creating in a vacuum, explore the possibility of bringing a “lean” or “agile” approach to your creative process. Focus on maximum learning, create the simplest version of your idea possible, then bring a select group of those who’d potentially enjoy it into the process earlier in name of soliciting and integrating input into the next iteration. This not only minimizes waste, it changes the psychology of creation by adding more certainty earlier in the game and encouraging consistent, incremental action.

These five strategies and practices can change the way you experience the creative process in a profound way. They’ll not only allow you to tap a reservoir of previously hidden creativity, they’ll also allow you to experience any creative endeavor with a far deeper sense of equanimity and joy.

Are you a relative expert? You just might be!

I subscribe to Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits blog (along with 230,000 other people) and here is part of a guest post (by Corbett Barr) that I found interesting.  The title is, 5 Simple Principles for Becoming an Expert.  I read it, not because I had any intentions of trying to become an expert, but because just about every thing I’ve ever read from this site offers something of value.  And this post was no exception.

I’m not including the entire post but check out the site using the link I’ve included above…

For the past month, I’ve been studying people who have become skilled and knowledgeable enough to be called “experts” in preparation for the launch of a new blog.

There are certainly ways to become an expert faster than traditional teaching might dictate, but there’s no getting around putting your time in.

The good news is, becoming an expert is much like changing a habit. The fact that secrets don’t exist is a good thing in my book, because we can stop wasting time searching for secrets and start making direct progress towards our goals.

Instead of looking for secrets, rely simply on these best practices for becoming an expert:

1. Realize ‘expert’ is a relative term.

I’m a big believer in relative expertise. For most purposes, you don’t need to be the world’s foremost expert on something to benefit from what you know. Being expert enough means knowing enough or being good enough to accomplish your goals, however modest or grand they may be.

Someone once told me to think about expertise as a scale from one to ten, not as an absolute. If you’re a two or three on the scale, you’re expert enough to help people who are ones and twos. In fact, you might be better suited to helping beginners than a ten on the expert scale, because you’re closer to their level and better understand where they’re coming from.

2. Learn from books and experience.

There’s a time for learning and a time for practicing. A true expert needs to have both expertise (book learning) and experience (real-world practice).

For example, if you want to become a bodybuilder, all the reading you can possibly do won’t help you actually build muscle (unless they’re really heavy books). On the other hand, would-be bodybuilders who just jump into lifting weights without learning about best practices won’t know time-saving techniques and principles for optimum rep counts, resting time between sets, nutrition, supplements and more.

There’s a balance between learning and doing. Most people spend far too much time doing one or the other. If you’ve been mostly learning, it’s probably time to start doing. If you’ve long been practicing without the results you’re looking for, it’s time to learn more and time to focus, which brings us to point #3.

3. Focus.

Just as Leo advocates for changing habits, focus is a powerful ally for gaining expertise (especially in the beginning).

When you start learning something new, it’s easy to become daunted by everything you have to master to reach your final goal. Instead of just focusing on the very next step you need to take, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the bigger picture.

Focus is critical for two reasons. First, it helps you pay attention to the task at hand so you don’t become paralyzed by the thought of everything to follow. Second, you have to focus so you can ignore all the possible distractions that are always waiting to pull you off your path.

4. Get outside help.

When I asked productivity coach Charlie Gilkey about whether shortcuts exist to becoming an expert, he pointed out another critical aspect of gaining expertise:

When you look at peak-performing experts, you’ll often see that they have either coaches, involved mentors, or a pack of growth-oriented friends that help them excel. You simply can’t gauge your performance as well as someone external can, and, past the “competent” stage of skill acquisition, it gets increasingly harder to both observe what you’re doing and find quick and easy answers as to how to improve.

At some point, learning and practicing will only get you so far. You need feedback from outsiders to uncover more opportunities for improvement.

5. Make mistakes.

Fear of failure might be the biggest opponent you’ll face on your road to learning new things.

You have to be willing to make mistakes in order to learn and grow. That’s what practice is. The sooner you get comfortable with making mistakes, the quicker you’ll learn your new skill.

What’s on your wish list to learn and do?

Maybe there’s a skill you’re actively trying to get better at, or maybe you’ve been afraid to get started. In either case, try these five simple principles and see if you can make a breakthrough.

Try becoming a (relative) expert in something you’ve always wanted to learn or do. There are few things as rewarding and fun as acquiring new skills and knowledge that enrich your life.

Life is Poetry

Life is Poetry

(another great post from Leo Babauta of Zen Habits)

‘My life is my message.’ – Gandhi

Each of us lives a life that expresses who we are, reacts to the world around us, shows our passions, reflects our deep river of feeling and being.

We might sing out in joy, through our words and actions and expressions, we might hide in fear and pain, we might lash out in anger. Every thing we do, everything we are, expresses.

Gandhi’s message was his life, and yours is your life. What message are you giving the world, through your actions, how you live, how you treat others, what you accomplish, how you choose to be, every moment of every day?

Are you an angry rant? A ballad? An epic poem?

Perhaps a sonnet, a limerick, a haiku?

If your life is a poem, what do you want it to say? What would you rather leave out? What will the essence be?

Enjoy each moment as the perfect syllable, recognize the lyrical in the everyday, and sink your teeth softly into that cold delicious fruit.

Beside loving all of the posts on Zen Habits…I find this note from his site (below) speaks the loudest (and is most appreciated)…

Permission to reprint: If you’d like permission to reprint any article on Zen Habits, you don’t need it. This entire blog and all my work is uncopyrighted.

Thanks Leo!