How to warm up your brain before you work, and why.

How to warm up your brain before you work, and why.

Your brain is the most powerful muscle in your body. Ok, your brain isn’t really a muscle. But it is so powerful it KNOWS that it’s not a muscle! Your most powerful muscles are actually your glutes or your quadriceps, depending on who you ask. And depending on whether or not you are keeping up with Kim Kardashian. You can strengthen these leg muscles doing squats, leg presses, lunges, deadlifts and by delivering refrigerators.

leg-muscles
This is what your legs looks like when they are more naked than regular naked.

Warming up.

However, you should never perform these leg exercises without warming up first. For two reasons.

  1. You could shred your muscles like pulled pork.
  2. You will not perform at your best.

You should warm up your muscles to recruit as many fibers and synapses as possible for the mission. It also loosens the muscles, gets blood flowing through the area and prepares them for action.

Your Brain

Your brain works the same way. When your alarm clock detonates in the morning your brain is cold.  That’s why so many people try to stoke some brainial heat with coffee or tea. But it takes actual mental activity to get your brain primed and ready for work.

I have a trick I use to get my brain ready to perform in the morning. It’s not a drink, a dish or a pill. It doesn’t make you sweaty, stinky or even raise your heart rate.

A great way to warm up you brain.

I am a professional creative thinker. I own an advertising and idea agency, called The Weaponry, where we try to stretch our thinking as far as possible every day. To prepare for creative thinking, I use several different techniques to get my brain warmed up. One of my favorite techniques is to spend a few minutes working on brain games.

I like a challenge that forces me to think through questions from multiple angles, spot interesting connections, or evaluate at a level that goes beyond the obvious. I do this in a variety of ways. Here are 5 options that you can try tomorrow morning before work.

5 Warm up techniques that recruit your brain cells.

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This is a picture of two books on a table. Sorry this caption wasted your time.

Brain Challenges: My go-to morning stimuli are my Mensa Mind Challenge books. (I’m not a member of Mensa. I just play one at the bookstore.) They contain a range of
puzzles, math problems and brain teasers. Discovering the answers opens my mind and helps me view the problem, and thus the world, through a different lens.

Soduko  Puzzles:  These number sequencing puzzles are moronically simple, yet complex at the same time (like me). I really like the fact that I can keep switching my focus to get to the ultimate solve. I’ll hone in on a single number for a while. Then I might focus on a small box. Then a line. I like the fact that I never guess at Soduko. I focus on one small point until I know the answer with certainty before a I declare an answer. This works differently than the Mensa challenges because there is one simple, clear answer for each box, hiding in plain sight. I simply have to force it into focus.

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Great question.  Probably the same person who let the dogs out.

Mazes: These were my childhood favorites. I love the fact that you can think you know where you are going and suddenly you come to a dead-end and have to look in another direction. Many of our life challenges are like this. We think we are on the right path until we know we are not. Then we have no choice but to reevaluate our choices and perspectives. Someone should write a book about this phenomenon. Oh wait they did. (Who moved my cheese?)

 

 

Crosswords: These classics are great because they force you to dig into your broad knowledge base. But they also enable you to employ strategy and technique to help you fill in your knowledge gaps, using what you know to offer clues about the things you don’t know.  Here you can guess the answers without inducing catastrophic failure (see Soduko). I appreciate that they let you develop increasing levels of certainty on your hypothesis as you progress. They also reward you for knowing Tom Jones songs. So there’s that.

Memory Games: I have become increasingly interested in memory challenges. I come from long-lived people (I currently have 198 years worth of grandmothers). So maintaining my memory is going to be an important life skill. The power of the mind to develop visual codes to remember number sequences is fascinating to me. Over the coming years I expect memory games to become a larger part of my routine as I work to fight off dementia (I was born with as much dementia as I will ever need).

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There are many types of great brain games to warm up your thinking. Even ones with pixelated puppies.

The benefit of a warm brain.

Puzzles in the morning get your brain firing. You will feel like you have recruited more brain cells. You will feel alert and ready to think better, faster, stronger, and probably for longer. It’s like Viagra for the brain. Kinda.

Even though I am a naturally creative thinker, these puzzles, games and challenges help me stimulate my brain in a way that reduces creative blind spots. It is easy to fall into a mental rut and use the same type of creative processes, tools and paths over and over again. The morning puzzles can be like opening a mental tool box of problem solving devices. When you see the tools you could use, the tools themselves reveal the paths to various solutions.

Conclusion

I like the way the puzzles stretch your thinking. They help you see different angles and perspectives.  This pays off as you try to solve other business (or life) challenges the rest of the day. The puzzles and mind challenges ensure that your mind is alert, stretched, primed and fully powered to find new possibilities.

These puzzles are also fun. Starting your morning with a bit of fun and play makes your morning more enjoyable. That mood state alone contributes to more creative thinking.

If you are more math oriented consider this: if you could expand the power of your problem solving or creative thinking by just 10% by readying your mind, you will significantly expand the circle of solutions you can uncover.

Try warming up with some puzzles this week. Let me know how you feel afterwards. If you have a type of puzzle, quiz or test you use to keep yourself sharp please share it here. I could use all the help I can get. Especially in the morning, when I am delivering refrigerators.

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The most important and overlooked role of mothers.

The most important and overlooked role of mothers.

To celebrate Mother’s Day my family and I went out to brunch.  Actually, it was late enough that it could have been brupper. Or maybe brinner. As we sat down at our table the waitress brought each of my three kids a card to fill out that had 10 open-ended questions about My Mom.  My Mom is ______ years old.  What I like best about My Mom is __________. My Mom shows me she loves me by _______________. The best thing My Mom cooks is _____________.

The cards gave us something fun and engaging to do while waiting for our food. They stimulated conversation and made us all laugh. These cute questionnaires highlighted the typical way we think about our Moms: As maternal figures who support us, love us, cook for us and clean up after us.  My Mom certainly was that figure throughout my childhood. Today, my wife is that figure for our children. But there is another, far more important role that Moms play that goes mostly unnoticed by children.

As a creative professional, I recognize that our Moms don’t just raise us, care for us and love us.  They Design us. From the Moment we are born, until we leave home, our Moms are designing us as the humans they want us to be.  They implement rules and instill values which shape us. They expose us to people and places that stretch and expand us.

From the day you went home from the hospital your Mom chose your clothing to create an image. Your hairstyle was chosen by your Mom to reflect the person she wanted the world to see.  The birthday parties she threw, the gifts she gave, and the punishments she leveled were all part of the design.  The people she steered you towards and the ones she steered you away from were intential, always with the end result in mind.

Ever thought about why you lived where you lived as a child? Or why you went to the schools you went to?  That was your Mom, and Dad, designing you. Those classes your Mom signed you up for each had a purpose.  The musical instrument, community activities, volunteering, clubs and sports were all part of the design too.

The complicated choices she made to have pets, or not reflected her preferences for your life that may take a long time to understand.  How she taught you to address adults was part of the design.  Her lessons about driving, chores and how to answer the phone were part of the master plan. So were the talks about recycling and turning off the water while you brush your teeth. When she gave you money to put in the offering plate at church, that was shaping you. The decision she may have made not to attend church would have been a design decision too.

More thought went into the choices your Mom made in order to form who your are today than you will ever know.  Thank you Mom for all the decisions you made to help create me according to your vision. To my wife, Dawn, thank you for sweating all of the details that help shape Ava, Johann and Magnus. They are the greatest design concepts, responsibilities and successes we will ever know.

Why art school students fail to find jobs, and what to do about it.

Why art school students fail to find jobs, and what to do about it.

I love art schools. The creative vibe at these colleges makes me want to make something. I dig the students buzzing around campus, toting art projects with their backpacks crammed full of supplies. The experimental clothing that often adorns these boundary-explorers creates a feeling of Kindergarten 2.0. Or Kindergarten 20, since most of the students are in their 20s and still playing with glitter and glue.

Ahh, to be creating art again without clients or the budgetary limitations that kill your hopes and dreams…  I re-experience the excitement of art school every spring when I visit campuses for portfolio reviews and senior exhibits. Having spent 20 years in advertising, collaborating with art directors and designers, I know some of these students are going to experience amazing adventures, create rewarding work and make great money.

But in the next breath (and the next paragraph) I find these schools depressing. While all of these students are following their passion, many of them will never enjoy an art-fed income that will enable them to buy fancy peanut butter and gourmet ramen.

The 3 Types That Fail

The art school students that won’t make it professionally fall into 3 categories:

The Weirdo. This is the weird art kid that is so weird that even the art kids (who are tolerant and even inspired by the odd, unique and experimental) think is too weird. These students don’t have a natural place in business. So, unless they create their own jobs, they are out of luck. Sorry. (Consolation prize: If you would have followed any other educational adventure you were likely to have had the same result. So study what you love).

The Nartist.  This student is simply not an artist.  They don’t have applicable art skills.  Often they are horrible at art but love it so much they are willing to pay for schooling that will help them learn theory, but not be able to apply it in a meaningful way. Natural selection prevents them from getting, or at least maintaining, a meaningful creative job.  It’s sad that their dreams die. But that means it is simply time for a new, more realistic dream. Note: this person exists in every field. There are Nastronauts, Nengineers, Noptometrists, Neducators and Nactors.

The Quitter.  This person has the skills, a passable personality and hides their weirdness well. They just don’t hold out long enough, search hard enough, network, follow-up, stand out from the crowd or demand their chance.  This represents the vast majority of students who won’t find a job.

 

I don’t get bummed by The Weirdo or Nartist. Those people were born to not work in art. I am bummed by The Quitter. The one who could have done more to make her dream a reality. The one who just needed more grit. The Quitter has real skills, even if they are still developing. I hate to see these colorful and interesting berries wither on the vine.  But The Quiter is not unique to art school. Every school develops talented and capable students who fail to find jobs in their chosen profession because they give up too soon.

3 Keys:

Action

If you want to find a great job, doing what you love, initiative is everything. You have to stick to it. You have to spot your opportunities and capitalize on them. You have to learn what works in your book. Keeping adding to it. Go well beyond your college art projects and create work that will help you land a job. Ask for informational interviews. Offer to prove your abilities for free.  Stand up and stand out.

Sell

Art students are often so concerned with not selling out, that they fail to sell themselves at all. Selling yourself is key to opening doors and creating opportunities to making a living off your creative skills. Ultimately, to make money in a creative profession you need to make things that sell.  Whether it’s your work itself that sells, or your work helps sell other products or services, no one avoids selling. Understand it. Get good at it.

Network

When I meet students, I usually offer them my business card and invite them to contact me if I can be of assistance. About 1% of the students follow-up.  Many of those who contact me have landed internships or jobs.  Last week I handed out about 25 business cards to students. I’ll be surprised if I hear from more than two of them. This is why people fail (or maybe it’s a sign that I’m actually a Wierdo Nartist).

The Bottom Line

You have to take action and be creative in the way you pursue a creative job. Do it. It’s worth it. I can’t think of a better way to earn money than being paid for your creativity. So let’s make sure that more art students who deserve jobs get jobs in art. These are not jobs to be shipped overseas or automated by robots. If you have some good job-finding advice, please add it to the comment section below.  But the responsibility is still on the student. Get out there and network, hustle and sell yourself.  It’s your future. Paint it. Sculpt it. Or Photoshop yourself into it.