Effective Listening: Listen Up: Remove the Barriers; Hear the Words…

The second in a four-part series on effective listening.
By Kellie Fowler

In the last issue of the Mind Tools newsletter, we discussed something that some might believe to be obvious: That listening well is one of life's great challenges.

We saw how important it is possess and project a true desire to hear the messages that other people are sending us, to listen carefully, and to take the time to clearly reiterate the message before walking away. And we saw the importance of active listening, rather than the combative or passive approaches to listening which lie behind much failed communication.

Sure, this may sound like hard work, but remember that listening, really listening with our whole being, is a skill and one of the most important compliments we can give another human being.

To do this, you should know that there are different levels of communication. Now, you should also know that the different types of interaction or the levels of communication might also contribute to the level of difficulty or misunderstanding, or impede the true hearing of any message.

Three different types or levels of communication are:

  1. Facts
  2. Thoughts/Beliefs
  3. Feelings/Emotions

As listeners, we tend to “tune-in” to the level we think is most important. However, we may have no idea what the speaker thinks is most important, and this can create misperceptions or crossed wires, which yield the most undesirable results.

Sure, the purpose of the conversation and even the relationship you have with the speaker will influence what levels are used for the interaction. Even so, these will still vary. To best understand this, consider the differences in these verbal communications:

  • You are lost and ask a gas station attendant for directions.
  • Your spouse or loved one is being affectionate and playful.
  • Your boss is reprimanding you for a costly mistake you made.
  • Your child falls down and is injured and comes running to you hurting and crying for your help.

Considering these, it is easier to see that if you do not hear and address the appropriate elements of the communication, the situation can quickly worsen: A factual response to your child’s pain would seem cold and uncaring. And a belief-oriented response to the gas station attendant would probably be seen as peculiar!

Thus, it is important to consider all that goes into the message you are hearing, as well as the words themselves.

While seemingly elementary, there are quick and easy steps you can take to ensure that you hear the words, factor in the situation and even consider the sender’s motivation and desirable outcome. These include:

  • First and foremost, stop talking! It is difficult to listen and speak at the same time.
  • Put the other person at ease. Give them space and time and "permission" to speak their piece. How we look at them, how we stand or sit, makes a huge difference: Relax, and let them relax as well.
  • Show the other person that you want to hear them. Look at them. Nod when you can agree, ask them to explain further if you don't understand. Listen to understand them and their words, rather than just for your turn.
  • Remove distractions. Good listening means being willing to turn off the TV, close a door, stop returning emails or reading your mail. Give the speaker your full attention, and let them know they are getting your full attention.
  • Empathize with the other person. Especially if they are telling you something personal or painful, or something you intensely disagree with, take a moment to stand in their shoes, to look at the situation from their point of view.
  • Be patient. Some people take longer to find the right word, to make a point or clarify an issue. Give the speaker time to get it all out before you jump in with your reply.
  • Watch your own emotions. If what they are saying creates an emotional response in you, be extra careful to listen carefully, with attention to the intent and full meaning of their words. When we are angry, frightened or upset, we often miss critical parts of what is being said to us.
  • Be very slow to disagree, criticize or argue. Even if you disagree, let them have their point of view. If you respond in a way that makes the other person defensive, even if you "win" the argument, you may lose something far more valuable!
  • Ask lots of questions. Ask the speaker to clarify, to say more, give an example, or explain further. It will help them speak more precisely and it will help you hear and understand them more accurately.
  • STOP TALKING! This is both the first and the last point, because all other tools depend on it. Nature gave us two ears and only one tongue, which is a gentle hint that we should listen twice as much as we talk.

Becoming an effective listener is not a lengthy or particularly challenging process. Even poor listening habits can be easily changed and in the final two articles in this four-part series on listening, we provide proven tips and techniques that you can use to become a more effective listener. More in our next issue!

Reproduced from the Mind Tools Newsletter.  ã  To subscribe to the newsletter, send a blank email to:


On Writing Well : The Classic Guide

A beloved classic, this definitive volume on the art of nonfiction writing celebrates its 30th anniversary. Revised seven times, it has stood the test of time and remains a valued resource for writers.

On writing well

On Writing Well has been praised for its sound advice, its clarity and the warmth of its style. It is a book for everybody who wants to learn how to write or who needs to do some writing to get through the day, as almost everybody does in the age of e-mail and the Internet.

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About the Author

William Zinsser is a writer, editor and teacher. He has been a mentor for countless people who want to write with clarity and confidence.

William began his career on the New York Herald Tribune and has since written regularly for leading magazines. During the 1970s he was master of Branford College at Yale. His 17 books, ranging from baseball to music to American travel, include the influential Writing to Learn and Writing About Your Life. He teaches at the New School in New York.

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Head Strong : The Bulletproof Plan to Activate Untapped Brain Energy to Work Smarter and Think Faster-in Just Two Weeks

From the creator of Bulletproof Coffee and author of the bestselling The Bulletproof Diet comes a revolutionary plan to upgrade your brainpower—in two weeks or less.

For the last decade, Silicon Valley entrepreneur Dave Asprey has worked with world-renowned doctors and scientists to uncover the latest, most innovative methods for making humans perform better—a process known as "biohacking." In his first book, The Bulletproof Diet, he shared his biohacking tips for taking control of your own biology. Now, in Head Strong, Asprey shows readers how to biohack their way to a sharper, smarter, faster, more resilient brain.

Imagine feeling like your mind is operating at its clearest and sharpest, and being able—possibly for the first time in your life—to do more in less time? What it suddenly became easier to do the very hardest things you do? Or if you could feel 100% confident about your intellect, and never again fear being the person in the room who just isn’t smart enough, or can’t remember something important? How would you treat people if the mood swings, short temper, and food cravings that disrupt your day could simply disappear?

In Head Strong, Asprey shows us that all of this is possible—and more. Using his simple lifestyle modifications (or "hacks") to take advantage of how the structure of your brain works, readers will learn how to take their mental performance to the next level. Combining the latest findings in neuroscience and neurobiology with a hacker-inspired "get it done now" perspective, Asprey offers a program structured around key areas of brain performance that will help you:

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Asprey’s easy to follow, two-week program offers a detailed plan to supercharge brain performance, including: which foods to eat and which ones to avoid, how to incorporate the right kinds of physical activity into your day, a detox protocol for your home and body; meditation and breathing for performance, recommended brain-boosting supplements; and how to adjust the lighting in your home and work space to give your brain the quality light it thrives on.

A better brain—and a happier, easier, more productive life—is within reach. You just need to get Head Strong.

About the Author:

Dave Asprey is a Silicon Valley investor and entrepreneur, a professional biohacker, and the creator of Bulletproof Coffee made with butter. He is host of Bulletproof Radio, a nationally syndicated radio show and #1 ranked podcast with 10 million downloads. Dave serves as Chairman of the Silicon Valley Health Institute.

Dave spent 15 years and $300,000 to hack his own biology. He used techniques to upgrade his brain by more than 20 IQ points, lowered his biological age, and lost 100 lbs without using calories or exercise.

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Dave's work is born out of a fifteen-year single-minded crusade to upgrade the human being using every available technology. It distills the knowledge of more than 120 world-class MDs, biochemists, Olympic nutritionists, meditation experts, and hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on personal self-experiments.

From 40 Years of Zen private brain EEG facilities hidden in a Canadian forest to remote monasteries in Tibet, from Silicon Valley to the Andes, high tech entrepreneur Dave Asprey used hacking techniques and tried everything himself, obsessively focused on discovering:

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Knowing this leads to being bulletproof, the state of high performance where you take control of and improve your biochemistry, your body, and your mind so they work in unison, helping you execute at levels far beyond what you'd expect, without burning out, getting sick, or just acting like a stressed-out jerk. It used to take a lifetime to radically rewire the human body and mind this way. Technology has changed the rules.

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Practice Creativity


Imagine someone asking you "How many hours a week do you spend working?" or "What do you do?" you are likely to answer something like, "I am a full-time student and I work part-time at a department store," or "I am a full-time mom of three boys," or I am a professor," or "I am a computer analyst", etc. Your answer describes the daily routine of what you do for a living, which is a job that gives you income, a social identity, a certain professional status and, sometimes, public recognition. However rewarding, very often a job includes duties, tasks and requirements that we are obliged to perform, whether we like them or not. Our freedom to do only what we like in our job is almost always limited. This is a main reason why so many people suffer from job-related dissatisfaction and see their work as the necessary evil they must endure in exchange for a monthly paycheck.

Now, imagine someone asking you "How many hours a week do you spend creating something that gives you joy?" or "Do you have a creative habit that helps you handle stress?" Think of your answer: you may take a little longer to give a reply and, when you do, you may say something like: "Hmm, you know, I'd like to be creative but, truth is, I'm too tired", or "Well, I'd love to have some time for creativity, but I'm too busy with other things," or "It would be awesome to have a creative habit but that's a luxury for the rich and I have bills to pay" or "Me, creative? But I'm not an artist, I am an office manager!"

If your answer to the question about creativity resembles any of the answers above, it is high time you changed your attitude toward your ability to be creative. In this chapter, you will be introduced to a number of mythic characters and real people who consider creativity not as a luxury, but their birthright. The truth is that we are all born with the ability to be creative, just as we are born with the ability to think, dream and imagine. But, while some of us continue to honor creativity throughout our lives and enjoy the benefits of a creative habit, many others betray our creativity as we seek joy in habits that are not only non-creative but, oftentimes, self-destructive.

The prices we pay when we stifle our right to be creative are as high as those we pay when we stifle our dreams. In my practice as a psychotherapist and coach, the majority of clients complaining about feelings of depression, insomnia, panic attacks, low self-esteem, or sense of meaninglessness are the ones who ignore their dreams and their own creative impulses. Over the years, I have helped a number of people reconnect with their natural ability to create, watching them enjoy the benefits of their creativity: a recovered self-confidence, an improved ability to handle life's daily stress, freedom from depression, and a sense of fulfillment that no medical treatment alone can ever catalyze.
As you are working through the fourth phase of this method, it is essential that you experience the joy of developing and maintaining creative habits. Reconnecting with your creativity will allow you to be spontaneous and daring as you suspend judgment about the outcomes of your creative efforts. Your benefits from becoming creative will be a sense of sustained pleasure, inner freedom and independence from other people's approval. The more you allow yourself to be creative, the more self-confident you will be and the better you will like yourself.


"To create" means "to cause to exist"; "to bring into being something that has never existed before". Everything created is first imagined. Therefore, creativity is the human activity in which we use constructively our imagination by giving material form to our creative ideas. I In this context, a creative person is not only prolific in ideas but also active in materializing creative ideas in the real world. This creative input enriches not only the individual life of the creator, but also the world at large.

Creative people are not necessarily professional artists. They come from all walks of life and their creativity applies to all aspects of our civilization: they may be scientists discovering the hidden laws of the universe or new cures for terminal diseases; business people creating breakthrough opportunities in national economies; lawyers excelling in their field thanks to their creative problem-solving ideas; visionary politicians leading nations to freedom and prosperity; teachers creating innovative methods for the classroom; farmers creating breakthrough methods of farming or breeding; cooks creating culinary masterpieces or revolutionary cooking methods; administrators guiding organizations into success through creative leadership; police detectives solving mysteries and incarcerating criminals thanks to creative thinking. Age, level of education and socio-economic status do not matter: a creative person can be a child, an adolescent, an adult, or a senior. He or she can be single or married, divorced or widowed, childless or with children. Individual differences may be unlimited. But there are three characteristics, listed below, that all creative people share in common, which you must also develop as you work with this method:

a. Creative People Honor their Creative Impulses

Creative people know the relationship between creativity and productivity, and they are careful to keep them in balance. They nurture their creative needs by taking the necessary time and space to access imagination and stimulate creative thinking. And they bring their creative ideas into fruition by being productive. They also honor their creativity by protecting and nurturing their ideas and by following a discipline that involves hard work, concentration, isolation, unusual decisions, sacrifices, dedication to the creative purpose, and trust in their inner voice. Nevertheless, in spite of the demands of the creative process, staying loyal to their creative pursuit is never a burden for creative people. The joy from seeing their completed creation is so pure, that it redeems all the strenuous efforts exerted during the process.

Examples of movie characters portraying creative individuals abound. Some of them are introduced in this chapter. I encourage you to see the respective films and notice how different those characters are, yet how similar in the way they honor their creative impulses. These characters represent simple people yearning for the joy of creating, much as we all do. As you watch the films, let them inspire you to reconnect with your own creativity and feel the joy that you see them experience in the films.
Working Girl, is the story of a young woman's determination to bring her creative ideas into fruition, having to protect them from being appropriated by her boss. Tess McGill, the main character, is a thirty-year old administrative assistant who lives in Staten Island and commutes every day to her work in the Manhattan financial district. On the ferry, she reads and, in the evenings, she takes classes. Tess wants to become something more than a secretary. She is bright, talented, informed, and, most importantly, she has creative ideas about mergers and acquisitions that she presents to her new boss, Katharine Parker, hoping to be appreciated and offered a better position in the company. But Katharine has different intentions: when Tess offers her a brilliant idea that will save a large company from a foreign takeover, Katharine steals it and presents it to her clients as her own, advising Tess to not mention it anywhere else.

It is not too long before Tess finds out that her creativity is being exploited. She vows to protect her idea and use all means available to make it happen, even if this means that she will pretend to be Katharine. While Katharine is away recovering from a skiing accident, Tess assumes Katharine's identity and follows through with her plan, fighting to see her idea become reality until the very end, even after her true identity is discovered and she is exposed as an imposter. But, thanks to her persistence and willingness to take risks for her own creative idea, Tess does not give up. Exposing Katharine minutes before she signs the deal with the clients, she proves that the idea was originally hers, and wins. When Oven Trask, the client, asks Tess why she had to do this and risk her reputation, her answer is:

"You can bend the rules plenty once you get to the top, but not while you're trying to get there. And if you're someone like me, you can't get there without bending the rules."

Oven, admiring her courage to fight for her idea, responds:

"You've got a real fire in your belly, Ms. McGill.

Tess's answer to this complement only means that fighting to protect one's creativity is never easy:

" I'm not quite sure what you mean, sir. I've got something in my belly, but I think it's nervous knots."

Tess McGill is not an artist. Her creativity is not expressed through poetry, writing, or painting, but through brilliant ideas creating multi-million dollar breakthroughs in the financial world. But, just as an artist who fights to protect her work from being appropriated, she fights to have her idea recognized as being her own. She is diligent, thorough, brave, and she loves what she does. She does not rest until she sees it take form in reality. And, considering her limited means, she thinks and acts creatively throughout her ordeal against all odds, until the truth surfaces and she fulfills her dream.

Another tribute to creative people is the epic Titanic, which is filled with characters honoring their creativity till their last moments, even as they are drowning with the "unsinkable ship" into the abysmal depths of the North Atlantic. The story is told eighty four years later through flash backs by Rose de Witt, a survivor, as she is sitting in her pottery studio. Rose is a hundred and one years old and she is still creating pottery. Surrounded by her works, she recalls her fateful travel and introduces Jack Dawson, a young artist and the love of her life, who died during the tragic voyage. She spent only hours with him, but their love became immortal.

As she recalls their moments together, Rose brings us eighty-four years back to "the most erotic moment of her life", that she lets us witness it: hours before his death, Jack is drawing a nude of her wearing only a necklace with a big, blue diamond. The beauty of a seventeen-year old Rose in love is immortalized in the drawing, seen through the eyes of the artist. "I couldn't stop shaking" old Rose confesses, alluding to the erotic intensity of the experience that stayed with her forever. Jack's art captured a lifetime of love that survived his death. For Rose, his art did not only create her drawing; it created Jack's immortality.

As Rose remembers, we live with her the tragic scenes that unfold as the ship is about to sink. We are shown five musicians of the ship's orchestra completing their last piece of music. We watch the unknown musicians bid their last farewell and walk away; except for the violinist, who stays in the same place and starts playing solo. As the other orchestra members hear him play, they stop, return and join him in the piece. Amidst a crowd of screaming passengers running in vain to save their lives, these musicians peacefully accept their imminent death and choose to celebrate life with their music, until the dark ocean swallows them playing their last note. Defying death by remaining creative till one's last breath is one of the most powerful messages in this epic, which is also a tribute to inner freedom, immortal love, and the inexorable right to honor one's truth.

b. Creative People Regard Creating as Healing

Creative people are healers. They create to bring wholeness to the inevitable wounds inflicted by life. Their creative output is their answer to aggression, deprivation, unfairness and injustice that, unfortunately, abound in reality. Through creating, they contribute toward increasing beauty, harmony and love, without which life cannot exist. Creativity is their only weapon against the afflictions of depression, boredom or loneliness and the source of strength, courage and hope. Creative people do not allow the burdens of life to discourage them. They create in spite of the daily pressures and dramas to conquer pain, fear, poverty, illness and, even death.

"When I dance, something happens and I sort of disappear" says Billy Elliot during his interview with the Committee of the Royal Ballet Academy. "It's hard at the beginning, but then something happens and I start flying. I feel free. I disappear into the air like a bird, like electricity. Yeah, like electricity..."

Billy calls "electricity" the divine light that sparks in him when he is immersed in the creative process, enlightening his existence and the world around him. Through dancing, his essence becomes one with The Creator as he, little Billy, disappears. The joy of dancing heals his grief for his diseased mom, his worry for his ill Grandma, his sadness for being mistreated by his brother, and his sorrow for being rejected by his father. Billy's wholeness is in his dance. That is when his daily life becomes secondary and he feels truly alive.

There is no process livelier than the creative process. Its essence is the very stuff of Life, which is Nature's will to push beyond limitations in order to accomplish Creation. And, once the creation is accomplished, there is no joy deeper for the creator than the joy of sharing it with the world. A modern myth describing how the creative process brings wholeness not only the creative agent but also to those who commune with the creative outcome is Babette's Feast.

Based on a short story by Isan Dinesen, Babette's Feast is set in remote Frederikshavn, a small Lutheran community on the Jutland peninsula in Denmark, in the second half of the nineteenth century. The villagers are fundamentalists adhering to a rigid puritanical dogma. Their life is dedicated to religious observance, reciting of the scripture, material poverty, and avoidance of all temptations of spirit and body. Their Spartan homes and churches are devoid of embellishments or furniture that might provide the slightest comfort. Their manners are restrained; wordy interactions are restricted as silence is enforced to maintain the spiritual tone of relationships; indulging in simple pleasures such as food or other, more complex, physical desires is simply unfathomable. For this community, joy is a sin.

One day, a French woman arrives at the village, offering her services as a maid to Martina and Philippa, the two unmarried daughters of Pouel Kern, the diseased spiritual leader and founder of this community. During his life, father Kern managed to forbid his daughters to have any relationship with the outside world, forcing them to abandon all prospects of marriage or career. Due to his intervention, Martina's ended her love for a young officer wanting to marry her, while Philippa ended on her own accord her friendship with a Parisian opera singer, afraid of the joy she experienced during their singing lessons. Years later, the same opera singer sends Babette to their home, who agrees to be their servant and work without wages. For fourteen years she does so, following diligently the community's rules, cooking simple meals, observing the silence, and helping the two sisters with their community service.

No one knows that Babette has been a gourmet chef in "Café Anglais," a famous French restaurant, until, one day, she asks the two sisters if she can prepare a lavish French dinner for the entire village, to celebrate their father's 100th birthday. Babette offers to pay for the entire feast, with the money she won in the Paris lottery. The sisters hesitate but finally agree, on the condition that the guests observe the vow of silence throughout the meal, so as not to indulge in pleasure. Babette orders the food from France and sets out to prepare the feast. Soon the ingredients arrive: live turtles for soup, game and meats for the main courses, a wheelbarrow full of offal, bottles of champagne and fine wine, and trunks with fine china, silver, crystal glasses, lace linen, and fancy candles. For days Babette works at the kitchen, creating a feast of love, a true art masterpiece that will forever change the life of the community.

As the evening of the feast arrives, the villagers congregate around a table where they taste caviar with mussels in vodka sauce, turtle soup, quail filled with foie gras and truffles, fine meats, expensive cheeses and exquisite deserts. As they raise their glasses to drink Veuve Clicquot, superb champagne, they cannot help it: moved by the spirit of the food and enveloped in the delight of its taste, they break the vow of silence and begin interacting. For the first time they realize that spiritual prosperity can be enjoyed through material abundance. As the joy of tasting Babette's food is lifting everyone off the ground into higher spheres, the retired General, Marina's discouraged suitor from the past, suddenly raises a glass to declare that nothing is impossible. Babette's abundance has brought to everyone joy beyond words, empowering their spirit with the hope that no opportunity in life is truly missed, as long as one wants to achieve a dream wholeheartedly. Her feast, creating such spiritual and emotional abundance for that deprived community also proved that the one who creates is never poor.

While the villagers delight in the majesty of the senses, Babette, alone in the kitchen, delights in the fulfillment of her dream: her culinary art has healed an entire village, banishing everyone's fear of joy. Looking at us, she reaches out with a plea that speaks for the desire of all creative people to create wholeness:

"From across the world there goes one long cry from the heart of the artist: Give me leave to do my utmost."

c. Creative People Pursue their Projects to Completion

Out of the creative projects you have begun over the years, how many have you actually finished? Remember, "to create" means "to bring something into full existence". If your creative projects are begun ideas that have never found completion, they do not count as creative endeavors. Sorry, but these are only abandoned efforts patiently awaiting your honest attention.
We all have "abandoned efforts" hiding somewhere at home, in our drawers, in our computer's hard drive, even in our mind: a screenplay that is twenty-five pages before completion; an incomplete needlecraft, quilt or knitting project; a bookcase we built in the garage but never varnished or placed in our son's bedroom; an antique car that we have been rebuilding for the last ten years; a foreign language that we never learned to speak fluently; a dance that we never learned to dance without stepping on our partner or causing public embarrassment; a recipe for the special cookware we purchased but never unpackaged; an idea to expand our business that we never pursued beyond writing it in our notepad; and so on.

What causes us to abandon our creative projects and betray the joy of creating? A usual explanation is that we stop the creative process because we give into "fear of criticism" or "fear of failure". This is only partially true considering that, in reality, we engage in many self-destructive endeavors, ignoring criticism and inviting failure in our health, finances, as well as personal and professional life: we indulge in junk food knowing that our cholesterol count will go up; we watch countless hours of television, neglecting to communicate with friends, family, and loved ones; we spend money compulsively, knowing that we are damaging our credit; we cut corners at work, knowing that we will eventually be discovered and called accountable; and so on. The truth is that the reason for abandoning creative projects is not our fear of criticism but our fear of commitment to a challenging process, period. It is in our nature to abandon a creative habit when arising difficulties cause discomfort and to indulge in destructive habits just because they are easy and immediately gratifying.

One of the most deceptive beliefs about the creative process is that it is a constant source of joy, freedom and success. Nothing could be farther from the truth: the creative process is as challenging as any other endeavor and it requires heartfelt commitment from the beginning to the end. Every creative project presents challenges, obstacles, difficulties and problems that suspend pleasure until we resolve them. This is why the joy of creativity is ten percent in starting a project, zero percent in persevering through its challenges, and ninety percent in accomplishing it. But, once the creation is completed, the experience of the creator from sharing it with the world is filled with pure delight. In western religious teachings, the Creator's profound, restful enjoyment from having completed the universe is described as the Seventh Day of Creation. Creative people seek this joy and, therefore, do not abandon their efforts as unwanted children; instead, they treat their creative projects as children needing to be parented until they become self-sufficient through consistent love and dedication despite challenges and rough spots.

An example of creative person who accomplished her project with amazing determination, overcoming criticism and personal attacks of national proportions, is Maya Lin. Her story is the theme of the documentary A Strong, Clear Vision, a tribute to her creative work with a special focus on her remarkable achievement, the Vietnam Memorial Wall. In 1981, as a 21-year-old senior architecture major at Yale, Maya Lin won first prize in the contest to design the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in the northwest corner of the Mall in Washington D.C. She had proposed a simple, graceful, and abstract design of two 247-foot-long walls of polished black granite, set below grade and connected at a 125-degree angle, on which the names of all the more than 58,000 American dead and missing from the war would be carved in letters a little over half an inch high and arranged chronologically, according to the year of death or disappearance.

Lin's winning design did not enjoy the public acceptance one would have expected. As soon as it was publicized, it triggered the bitter criticism of a small but powerful group of Vietnam veterans about its color, proposed placement below ground level, and lack of heroic quality. The design was characterized a "black ditch" or "black gash of shame." A few conservative politicians supported the opposition until a compromise was reached. Following a number of highly publicized meetings, in which Maya Lin was personally attacked and repeatedly forced to defend her project, it was finally agreed to add to the monument an American flag on a 60-foot pole and a group of three realistically-modeled, seven-foot bronze figures of Vietnam-era American soldiers by another artist. Fortunately, these additions were placed far enough away from the wall so that its artistic integrity was not seriously affected.

Maya Lin withstood unfair, chauvinistic and, occasionally, racist attacks with admirable strength and inner composure. She never compromised the integrity of her vision or negotiated the principles of her conception: the Memorial Wall was a healing monument, offering visitors an intimate and contemplative experience as it allowed them to experience the deep sense of loss it conveyed. Lin's perseverance resulted in the phenomenal success of her project, once it was completed. The monument was dedicated and officially opened to the public on November 11, 1982, Veteran's Day. Since that day, more than ten thousand people per day visit the Wall; amongst them are Vietnam veterans, families of the fallen, and the public at large who experience profound healing as the names of the dead or missing, which seem to float on a transparent black plane, exert their power evoking strong emotion. Additionally, as the visitors can see their own face dimly reflected on the polished black granite, they are invited to enter a dimension in which life and death are two facets of one continuous experience. The monument, in silence, speaks to each visitor in a very personal yet universal way about life and death, grief and loss, and embracing what one cannot change.

Another remarkable woman who left a legacy of overcoming difficulties in order to bring a creative project to completion is Roberta Guaspari, the heroine of Music of the Heart. Based on the Roberta's real life, the film tells the story of a schoolteacher's struggle to teach violin to underprivileged children in East Harlem. After her devastating divorce, Roberta finds herself with two children and in need of work. A music teacher facing few opportunities for work, she becomes aware of an opening at an East Harlem public school. After convincing the school principal about the value of teaching music in her school, she is hired. Roberta begins her work in a problem-ridden environment, filled with burned-out, underpaid teachers, accustomed to expect very little of themselves and the school system. In addition the children, most from troubled families, have little support at home for academic achievement let alone learning the violin.

Roberta begins working with the zeal and stubbornness of a neophyte, as the children challenge her authority and question the value of her work. But she does not get intimidated. Showing determination, amazing inner strength and genuine interest in the children, she eventually wins their trust and connects them to the violin. As her students learn to play, their improving self-confidence has a positive influence on other aspects of their lives. Their parents, formerly skeptical about Roberta's function in their school, notice their children blossom and begin to respect and admire Roberta. She has earned everyone's trust.
For ten years Roberta's program flourishes, earning great reputation in the City until, in 1991, the school board seizes the funding. Roberta will not allow this to happen. Determined to give the biggest fight of her life, she summons the help of the parents, a journalist, and a number of the world's best violinists, and organizes an amazing concert at Carnegie Hall to raise funds and save her program. The concert, in which she and her students share the stage with artists such as Isaac Stern, Arnold Steinhardt, Itzhac Perlman, and Sandra Park, is a phenomenal success and raises funds that ensure the survival of her program for several more years.

Roberta Guaspari is a living legend. An Italian-American woman who made Harlem her home, she had been playing the violin since nine years of age. Music gave her peace, sanity, and inner strength when her divorce shattered her life. She brought her gift to inner-city schools and shared it generously with the children, empowering them to honor their creativity and always pursue their dreams.


In the next section you will be encouraged to develop a creative habit following recommended activities and exercises. As you discover and nurture your own creative habit, keep in mind its main characteristics. A creative habit:

1. Gives you energy.

2. Holds your interest.

3. Gives you the freedom to make mistakes and see them as learning experiences.

4. Challenges your thoughts, stretches your imagination, and generates new discoveries and problem-solving ideas.

5. Increases your self-confidence and self- acceptance.



The following films portray different characters with one thing in common: their lives are determined by their willingness to be creative. Choose a film and watch it alone or with your groups. Answer the questions at the end of the list in writing and discuss your answers with your group. Repeat the same with more films of the list, as your time permits:

A Chef in Love (1997); directed by Nana Dzhordzhadze

Amadeus (1984); directed by Milos Forman

Artemisia (1997); directed by Agnes Merlet

Babette's Feast (1987); directed by Gabriel Axel

Big Night (1996); directed by Campbell Scott and Stanley Tucci

Billy Elliot (2000); directed by Stephen Daldry

Camille Claudel (1988); directed by Bruno Nuytten

Chocolat (2000); directed by Lasse Hallström

Finding Neverland (2004); directed by Marc Forster

Frida (1988); directed by Paul Leduc

Frida (2002); directed by Julie Taymor

Immortal Beloved (1994); directed by Bernard Rose

Like Water for Chocolate (1992); directed by Alfonso Arau

Maya Lin: A Strong, Clear Vision (1994); directed by Freida Lee Mock

Music of the Heart (1999); directed by Wes Craven

Pleasantville (1998); directed by Garry Ross

Pollock (2000); directed by Ed Harris

Shall We Dansu? (1996); directed by Masayuki Suo

Shall We Dance? (2004); directed by Peter Chelsom

Surviving Picasso (1996); directed by James Ivory

The Agony and The Ecstasy (1954); directed by Carol Reed

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947); directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Titanic (1997); directed by James Cameron

Working Girl (1988); directed by Mike Nichols

Questions to Answer:

1. What role does creativity play in the life of the main character of the story?

2. How does the environment respond to the main character's creativity?

3. What other forces in the life of the character do oppose his/her creativity?

4. Notice that these forces may be not only external, but also internal.

5. How does the character stand up for his/her need to stay creative? How does he/she defend his/her creativity? List his/her actions and evaluate them.

6. How does the story reach you and what lessons did you learn about your own creativity?

7. What are you prepared to do to be more creative?


1. Developing a Creative Habit

1. Think of something you have long wanted to do or something you used to like doing as a child but later abandoned because you got on with life obligations. It must be something that used to give you pleasure.

2. Set time aside and begin the process of developing a creative habit. At the beginning you may feel awkward, as though you were out on a first date. Do not give up; in time, awkwardness will dissipate and will be replaced by delight.

3. From time to time, check your progress of becoming creative by running through the five characteristics of the creative habit described above. Remember: you will know that you are becoming creative because you will feel inner joy and trust in your ability to resolve problems in unusual, new, surprisingly intelligent ways!

2. How Much Do You Avoid Being Creative? A Check-in

1. Use a daily schedule to count the number of hours you spend watching television in a week.

2. Also, count the hours you spend every day surfing the web, chatting on the internet, or reading and writing e-mails.

3. Promise yourself to spend half of this time on television and the internet and the other half doing something creative. Challenge yourself.

3. Dare to Be Creative: Some Ideas

1. Do something you have wanted to do by have been postponing for a long time. E.g.: learn how to cook, work on your car, decorate a room in your house, develop a business idea, learn how to dance, begin a collection, learn how to make jewelry, learn a foreign language. Follow your desire and listen to your heart.

2. Make it your habit to do something constructive or creative when you are in the grips of an unhelpful emotion, such as anger or sadness. Keep a log of your activities and progress. You will be amazed with the results in your life, in a very short time. (Hint: Watch Billy Elliot dance his anger off in the film listed above.)

3. Join a group or a class and learn to do something with your hands (e.g.: pottery, gardening, baking, making jewelry, welding, making furniture, knitting, etc.) Engage your body in the creative process, especially if you spend hours in an office.

4. If you like music, join a choir or learn an instrument. Organize music nights at your home. (A client of mine organized 'opera nights' in her home; her guests dressed up as famous opera characters and each performed their favorite aria. Then, they had champagne and a lavish, home-cooked dinner.)

5. Finish a project that you began and abandoned some time ago. When you finish it, have a party to celebrate your completed creation.

6. There are hundreds of books and video-tapes on craft-making. Borrow a few from your public library and read through them. Find a craft or activity that interests you and emerge yourself in it. Allow yourself to have fun in the process.

7. For Christmas, a birthday, or for a special a holiday, make your gifts for your family, friends or loved ones, instead of buying them: they can be hand-made cards, home-made cakes, a craft, a knitted sweater, a carved toy, a framed sketch, a collage, anything that excites your fantasy and gives you pleasure to create. Invite your family to do the same. Hand-made gifts are special and very meaningful not only for those who receive them but also for those who make them. They are less likely to be thrown or put away, and gain value as time goes by.

8. Take a cooking class or create your "Party of Chefs", in which you invite friends to participate in a collaboratively cooked dinner. Rent a cooking video, open your recipe books, and have a lot of fun creating in the kitchen!

9. Interview three people that you consider creative in any domain. Ask them about their creative habits and their relationship to their creativity. Ask them about the gifts they received from their creative habits. Ask for advice of how to develop and maintain a creative habit.

10. Write the names of three people who drain your creative energy due to their actions, words, or attitudes. Resolve to limit your contact with them to the minimum, and use your time to develop a creative habit.

11. List three activities that drain your creative energy or consume your time from having a creative habit. Resolve to stop engaging in those activities immediately and save your creative energy.


● Creativity needs practice to grow into a habit.

● When are creative you feel free. When you feel free you have an open mind that allows others the freedom of being creative. This makes you attractive and, very often, irresistible.

● Creativity and Joy are twins.

Maria Grace, Ph.D., is an expert at teaching people how to learn lessons from popular movies to find the job, home, relationship, and healthy body and mind they want. She is a Fulbright scholar, licensed psychotherapist, sought-after public speaker and coach, and the author of “Reel Fulfillment: A 12-Step Plan for Transforming Your Life through Movies” (McGraw-Hill, 2005). “Reel Fulfillment” was praised by Publisher’s Weekly as one of the top “self help books out of the self-help box” for 2005-2006.

For more information visit and []

The Dream Movie



5 Steps to a Better Career

Figure out what you're good at

Each one of us has a unique combination of strengths, skills, and talents. But because it's hard to view ourselves objectively, we often have many more marketable qualities than we give ourselves credit for. Studies show that we most enjoy doing things we're good at, so when we take the time to figure out our skill set, we're well on our way to finding a job that excites and stimulates us.

Here are five steps to uncover your hidden strengths:

Step 1: Review Your Education and Experience

Your resume will give you an excellent snapshot of your education and previous experience. Since it probably doesn't include every job you've ever had -- for the purposes of this exercise only -- add them. Under each position, write down what you did each day, even if they were simple duties. Do the same for any volunteer work and/or hobbies. You can often find transferable skills in the most menial of tasks.

Step 2: Note the Skills Required for Each

Skills typically fall into four categories:

1. Communication and people skills - expressing yourself well, teaching others, relaying ideas, actively listening, and persuading.

2. Research & planning skills - identifying issues, brainstorming potential solutions, and setting goals.

3. Leadership & management skills - delegating and supervising others, motivating people, making decisions under pressure.

4. Knowledge-based skills - speaking another language or having substantial technical knowledge.

Write down the top three skills you needed for each job, hobby, and volunteer activity. Did your previous work as an office manager require strong organizational and planning skills? When you worked in sales, did your powers of persuasion help you rise to the top? Did your time volunteering at a pet adoption centre demand a lot of energy and compassion? Don't worry if you find yourself writing down the same skills for different roles -- you'll most likely see some overlap.

Step 3: Add Things You're Good At

Think about the activities you show a natural aptitude for. Are you the person everyone just assumes will plan the next get-together? Do other people complain about balancing their checkbooks, while you handle yours with ease? Really think about what comes easily and naturally to you. People often take their innate gifts and talents for granted and assume everyone else possesses them too, when in reality that's not always the case.

Do certain people compliment you over and over? Do they admire your hard-working attitude, your dependability or punctuality, or even how well you dress? Did past managers consistently praise you for having innovative ideas or achieving goals?

Remind yourself about any major difficulties or hardships you've overcome in the past. Potential employers love to see transferable strengths, such as determination and perseverance, in candidates.

Step 4: Ask Other People
Your co-workers, friends, and family, and even your boss can recognize strengths and capabilities you don't see on your own. Ask them for the first three qualities that come to mind when they think of you.

Step 5: Look for Similarities
Now that you have a full list of strengths to work from, group your skills together under common headings. For example, coordinating meetings at work, putting together your family reunion, and planning a neighbourhood party all fall under the umbrella of strong event-planning and organizational skills.

After you complete these steps, you'll have a much better sense of your skill set, which you can then use to effectively market yourself to potential employers. A great way to showcase your talents is to highlight an issue or problem you faced in the past, show how you used your skills and strengths to solve it, and then explain the end result (i.e. an increase in numbers or any quantifiable, successful outcome).

Once you understand the full scope of your knowledge, talents, and expertise, finding a job that meshes your skill set with your interests becomes much easier. You'll not only be more fulfilled, you'll also be more productive and command a higher salary. So, take time to figure out all you have to offer.

Author: Brooke Betts

Motivational quote from Og Mandino

12 Acts Of Courage To Change Meetings For Good

Research shows that a great percentage of meetings are run poorly, resulting in huge losses of time and productivity. I believe that there are three main reasons that meetings continue to leave us wanting:

1) We underestimate the complexity of group thought.

2) Few of us are trained in meeting facilitation skills.

3) Boggled by group complexity and lacking requisite skills, we fall into dysfunctional patterns, failing to do anything to change meeting dynamics.

Given that there are eight times more participants than there are meeting leaders in your average group, targeting meeting leaders alone to improve meetings may be missing the mark.

What if we were to arm meeting participants with the basic knowledge, skills, and attitudes they could use to keep their groups on track and moving forward? The 12 Acts below were written to do just that, and to frame leadership as a quality anyone can exercise, no matter what their official position.

Act I: K-No-w It. Know what honors you and your time and to say “no” to everything else. Learn enough about the purpose of a meeting before it happens to make an educated decision around your potential contribution. This indirectly calls the meeting organizers to a higher level of clarity around their purpose—which is essential for the success of any meeting.

Act II: Ask for It. Get your agenda on the agenda. Get your personal and professional agenda added to the meeting agenda. Boldly asking for what you want provides the direction and energy that’s often lacking in meetings.

Act III: Prepare For It. Tap into your meeting genius by being thoroughly prepared. Knowing what and whom you need to know so that you are properly prepared for a meeting allows you to gracefully respond to challenges.

Act IV: Adjust Your Att-It-ude. Be curious, observant, and patient. The mindset from which you make interventions as a group member has a strong bearing on your success. Come from a place of curiosity when making suggestions and you will likely be heard. Be observant and patient to free yourself from judgments that limit your relationships, and to give others the chance to change.

Act V: Say It. Realize and express your truth in service to the group. For most of us, speaking out publicly is of our greatest fear. Getting clear about why you're afraid to speak, when it's time to speak, and how to do so makes expressing your truth much easier.

Act VI: Focus It. Focus your group on a common vision. Vigilantly challenge your groups to be clear on their objectives and to improve how they work together and you will set the stage for your group to actually get better over time.

Act VII: Park It. Keep your group on target by avoiding tangents. In a world ruled by distractions, it’s tough to avoid detours on the way to your objectives. A Parking Lot can help keep your group on course while respecting and capturing ideas outside the scope of the agenda.

Act VIII: Contain It. Contain group energy within operating norms. Effective groups need operating norms to establish healthy boundaries. Norms hedge against dysfunctional behavior that dilutes physical and emotional energy, while still offering participants the space to creatively pursue their objectives.

Act IX: Deliver It. Convert talk into action, decisions into deeds. One of the biggest complaints leveled against meetings is that, "Nothing ever happens!" Participants become disillusioned and tune out when this becomes the norm. Ask questions to encourage action in your groups.

Act X: In It, Not Of It. Avoid groupthink and access group mind—the way to enlightened decisions. The tendency to maintain harmony at all costs can harm your groups and the victims of your group’s decisions. Understand the symptoms and remedies of groupthink to stay connected to your group’s collective conscience.

Act XI: Facilitate It. Facilitate full participation. Fully participating group members support decisions made, offer access to the collective wisdom and experience of the group, and reduce the possibility of groupthink. As a participant, learn strategies to assure that full participation is achieved.

Act XII: It’s All Good. Transform conflict into a spirit of collaboration. Healthy conflict is an essential ingredient for group collaboration. Unhealthy conflict, that is conflict involving a winner and a loser, should be avoided. Adopt an attitude that any fight you engage in must be a fight to win--to a win that benefits all concerned.

These 12 Acts are thoroughly explained in my new book, This Meeting Sux…12 Acts of Courage to Change Meetings for Good. This book provides you with specific tools, strategies, language, and actions you can use as an empowered, facilitative participant to change your meetings and your life for good. Pick up the book, or the first three chapters for free at

Steve Davis, M.S., M.A. is the founder of, a virtual university offering training, tools, and resources to group facilitators, trainers, consultants, coaches, and leaders. Steve consults with organizations and individuals and offers workshops, training, and coaching to enhance leadership and collaboration skills.

Rock Solid Leadership