My empty bucket

A blog by Adam Morris

21 Days and the 9pm rule

Somewhere, I heard it takes 21 days to develop a habit. So, I started giving myself 21-day commitments to help create change in my life.

I believe true change comes naturally when your beliefs change, and the way to change your beliefs is through awareness. The experience of being committed and doing something non-negotiable for 21 days provides awareness of what commitment means. And, it is much easier for me to say, I must do this today, for the next 3 weeks, then I must do this today, for the rest of my life. had a piece yesterday on How to Create a Non-Optional Mindset which examined the problem of seeing items we want to accomplish in our life as optional:

Because we haven’t made the relevant body-changing habits non-negotiables in our life. On some level we still consider optimal eating and consistent exercise to be optional. Of course we do, otherwise we’d never have the start-stop problem.

Tool: 21 Day Commitment

I have just started my third 21-day commitment, the objectives of first two were:

  • Round 1: Minimum 15 minutes of meditation + 15 minutes of exercise per day.
  • Round 2: In addition to above, taking the time to recall my dreams in the morning, and posting to the creativity project each day.

Learnings: 21 Day Commitment

Round 1 Results: Success. Making sure I had time each day for meditation and exercise, even if it was only for 15 minutes, was not as hard as I thought. I find even these 30 minutes are giving me more energy and clarity during the day.

Round 2 Results: Failed. Trying to commit to 4 things in a day, was too much. I started doing the minimum exercise and meditation each day, and cutting out my sleep to get things done, which made my energy and clarity worse.

Round 3 Objective: 9 pm rule

I have just started round 3 with the 9 pm rule. The rule is no laptop after 9pm. No e-mail, no writing, no nothing, except if I choose to watch a movie. (Although, I never watch movies, so I don’t expect this to occur).

This was a suggestion by my friend Olivia Fox Cabane as a way to improve my lack-of-sleep and walking around in a daze. If I can eliminate the word “sleepyhead” from my girlfriend’s vocabulary, I will consider it a victory.

Open Space Technology

Seth Godin explores a new standard for meetings and conferences and how to justify the increasing cost and time commitment of travel. Face-to-face contact is much more effective than internet-related conferencing tools and Seth hits an important point that we need to address this effectively.

One powerful method Seth missed in his analysis is Open Space Technology.

This weekend, I attended a retreat in Open Space format. The format was developed by Harrison Owen after spending a year organizing a conference, and the feedback he received was, “Nice conference. The speakers were okay, but what we really liked were the coffee breaks.” His solution? To hold a conference comprised entirely of coffee breaks.

From this idea, he developed a powerful style of holding conferences where attendees were responsible for devising and convening sessions at the start of the conference. People then are required to go to sessions they feel drawn to with the understanding that they will leave as soon as they are no longer contributing or receiving any value. The results skyrocketed past anyone’s expectations – a magical environment was created where everyone was engaged.

In a day when effective collaboration is a necessity to justify the cost – Open Space is an alternative I suspect we will be seeing much more of in the future.

Experiencing happiness

My life changed when I experienced the truth of being happy as a natural state of being.

Prof. Srikumar Rao explains that most of us grow up believing that there is something we need do, get or be in order to be happy. The ineffective model most of us employ is:

IF we get this, THEN we can do this, and THEN we will be happy.

Instead, happiness is not something dependent on conditions in the outside world, but a natural state that arises within. This means that it is not something we need to strive for, or even better – something we will loose when what we get disappears. Unfortunately we have a propensity to spend our lives teaching ourselves the opposite.

This is a pleasant concept, sure… but it doesn’t mean much until you experience this truth. Actually, in my opinion, it is quite useless unless you experience it.

Each person’s experience of the world is different – for me, life changed when I experienced this internal, eternal feeling of joy and peace of simply being – a feeling of appreciation and love for the present moment as something not dependent on anything external. It has consequences that have altered the way I perceive the world around me and the way I choose to act.

This is not to say I always feel happy. It is not about clinging to happiness – as my experience is constantly changing and sensations in my body are continuously arising and passing away. Instead of clinging to an emotion, I feel an acceptance of this constant change, and awareness of the mental pain I create – and through this awareness I naturally stop creating this mental pain. It is not something I find easy describing in words – and it really means nothing until you experience it.

Still, I do forget a lot, and get stressed quite often. But some things, once experienced, there is no turning back.

Diversity feeds creativity

Diverse experiences and diverse collaboration stimulate creativity. When I did my MBA in London, I thought I was with a diverse group of colleagues. Everyone came from a different country, from a wide range of industries. However, it wasn’t until Prof. Lynda Gratton pointed out that actually, MBA’s are all a pretty homogenous group on an academic and intellectual level, and hence don’t produce very creative output.

Lynda Gratton research is about Hot Spots: Why Some Teams, Workplaces, and Organizations Buzz with Energy – And Others Don’t. She refers to the phenomenon of diversity stimulating creativity as boundary spanning: New ideas are often the product of two previously unassociated thoughts, so crossing boundaries within and beyond organizations can be very fruitful.

I hung out with a local german speaking group this evening, whose only common thread was speaking German (and perhaps being internet-savvy enough to find the group). Many were 10 years younger than me, and from all walks of life – and most of who had never met before.

The results? Totally different ways of seeing life, work and objectives in life. No inhibitions to possibility. And lots of good beer over a barbecue.

Dream recall meets morning mind-chatter

Last Friday’s post explored a dream recall technique for improving your dream memory. I have been testing this technique for the last two weeks trying to build this habit, but I am finding it difficult.

What are some of the difficulties I’ve encountered?

  • Proper rest – when I am over-tired, remembering dreams (even after a nights sleep) is more difficult for me.
  • My bed is falling apart.
  • Busy morning mind-chatter.

I notice one of the biggest inhibitors to remembering my dream is the third point: busy morning mind-chatter. Waking up in the morning, I haven’t been giving myself the space to just sit and reflect on only my dreams. Instead other thoughts start filtering in, and then I find myself sucked out of the mindfulness reviewing my dreams into the drama of the day.

Freewrite exercise

Just as simple as it sounds, the freewrite exercise is about writing without inhibitions.

Freewrite Exercise

  1. Write for a pre-determined limit, such as 15 minutes or 2 pages.
  2. You may use a computer, as it will allow you to write quicker and will cause less strain, but I have found more profound results writing by hand.
  3. Try to write concretely, sensorial, in images. Do not worry about “making sense”, do not think, pay no attention to grammar, forget spelling, and don’t use any punctuation. Write freely.
  4. Write as quick as you can.

When the predetermined point on the page is reached or the allotted time is up, stop writing. Put your free-write away. Do not read it. This is important so that you’re not distracted with the expectation of creating contact while you are writing.

Remember: once you begin writing do not stop – no pausing to reflect. The point is to write without thinking about what you will write.

Why to do it

The purpose of the exercise is to tap into unconscious material, calm your mind from swirling thoughts and help you to tap into the creative potential within. It is a great way to reach a calm, creative state before journaling or starting a project.

In addition, you can gather together multiple free-writes, and review them for inspirational material at a later date.

Art of listening

Passive listening is letting the other person speak. Active listening is helping the other person communicate their message to you.

Active listening and yesterday’s post to slow down share a common thread: when you take the time to give your full attention to what is occurring in the present moment, you open yourself up to experiencing something new and expand your awareness of possibility.

When you truly listen to someone, they will open up in ways you might not expect.

Perhaps we also need active internet reading… considering that typical high-literacy readers read at most 28% of the words during a visit to a webpage. I would tell you more, but I only skimmed the article.

Slow down

A bit of good advice came to me today from the Creative Generalist (via Leslie’s super premium blog) – especially needed after working non-stop: the best way to boost creativity is to slow down, because:

  1. efficiency kills creativity
  2. speed denies you any change to think
  3. systems, by definition, throttle innovation
  4. a firm, disciplined focus stops people going off on tangents (which is where most creative ideas will be found)
  5. cutting costs often cuts out innovation too

Personally, I still want to know the where do you draw the line between getting things done, and making space to be creative? Or is it more a question of what is required for the task at hand?

Seems like I’m not the only one trying to figure out how to get things done…

How strong is your workplace?

Gallup, as described in the book, First, Break All the Rules, determined through rigorous analysis the 12 questions which are the most useful in describing the strength of a workplace, and created a story describing the strength of your job in terms of climbing a mountain. And because a company who has figured out the world’s organizational problems using hard-core statistics can’t be wrong – here are the 12 questions:

Base Camp: “What do I get?”

1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?

2. Do I have the right materials and equipment I need to do my work right?

Camp 1: “What do I give?”

3. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?

4. In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for good work?

5. Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?

6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?

Camp 2: “Do I belong here?”

7. At work, do my opinions seem to count?

8. Does the mission / purpose of my company make me feel like my work is important?

9. Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?

10. Do I have a best friend at work?

Camp 3: “How can we all grow?”

11. In the last six months, have I talked with someone about my progress?

12. At work, have I had opportunities to learn and grow?

So how high on the mountain are you in your job?

Dream recall technique

Friday is about dreams… because I have a hidden passion for dream work, and tomorrow morning is the perfect day to sleep in.

Dreams are an excellent source of creativity. They can also be used to uncover a vast source of insight. Lucky for you, everyone dreams every night. Except possibly when there is a lot of alcohol, or when you don’t go to bed. Although, then you might start hallucinating, which is also fun.

Dreams aren’t that useful (in my opinion) if you can’t remember them, so the first step is learn how to recall your dreams in detail.


Dream Recall Technique:

Purpose: To increase your ability to remember you dreams.


  1. Keep a private dream journal next to your bed.
  2. Before falling asleep, repeat to yourself (at least 10 times) a positive intention to remember your dreams. For example: “I remember my dreams with ease, and write them down as I awake.”
  3. First thing in the morning, as you awake, lie still. (This can be difficult with an alarm clock.)
  4. There is a period between when you end dreaming and when you awake, where you are conscious but still have access to your dream memory. Think up 3 key words to describe your dream with.
  5. When you awake, write down the key words before anything else.
  6. Next, write down your dream in a much detail as possible including anything you remember – most importantly how you felt and anything out of the ordinary.

When you start, you might not remember anything. Just focus for five minutes and jot down anything you come up with. The longer you do this, the better you get.