The Power of Imperfect Starts: How Good Do You Really Need to Be to Get Started?

start buttonWhen you have a goal — whether it’s starting a business or eating healthier or traveling the world — it’s easy to look at someone who is already doing it and then try to reverse engineer their strategy.

In some cases, this is really useful. Learning from the experiences of successful people is a great way to accelerate your own learning curve.

But it’s equally important to remember that the systems, habits, and strategies that successful people are using today are probably not the same ones they were using when they began their journey.

What is optimal for them right now isn’t necessarily needed for you to get started. There is a difference between the two.

Let me explain.

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Sleep Your Way to Creativity And 9 More Surefire Methods For More Ideas

creative brainWe’ve written about creativity a few times on the Buffer blog, but it’s hard to keep track of everything we learn about it. One day I’m adjusting the temperature in my workspace, and the next I’m trying to put off creative work until I’m tired.

If you’re in the same boat, and you find it’s difficult to remember what will improve your creativity and when you should do your most creative work, hopefully this list will help you get it all straight.

1. Your brain does better creative work when you’re tired

Unlike solving an analytic problem, creative insights come from letting our minds wander along tangents and into seemingly unrelated areas. Though many of us identify as morning larks or night owls, peaking in our problem-solving skills and focus at particular times of the day, creative thinking actually works better at non-optimal times. So, if you’re a morning lark, your brain will be better at finding creative insights at night, when you’re tired.

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Remember More of What You Read and Hear: 6 Research-Tested Ways to Improve Your Memory

rememberWe’ve looked at a few different strategies to help remember the names of people you meet on the Buffer blog before, but there’s lots to say about memory.

It turns out that science is continually finding new connections between simple things we can do every day and an improvement in our general memory capacity.

Memory is a complicated process that’s made up of a few different brain activities. Here’s a simplified version to help us understand how the process takes place:

1. Creating a memory

Our brain sends signals in a particular pattern associated with the event we’re experiencing and creates connections between our neurons, called synapses.

2. Consolidating the memory

If we didn’t do anything further, that memory would fall right out of our heads again. Consolidation is the process of committing it to long-term memory so we can recall it later. A lot of this process happens while we’re sleeping, as our brains recreate that same pattern of brain activity to strengthen the synapses we created earlier.

3. Recalling the memory

This is what most of us think of when we talk about memory, or especially memory loss. Recalling the memory is easier if it’s been strengthened over time, and each time we do so, we run through that same pattern of brain activity again, making it a little stronger.

Memory loss is a normal part of aging, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take action to slow it down a little. Let’s take a look at some of the ways research has found to keep our memories around as long as possible.

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How to Measure Progress in Your Personal Goals: Daily, Weekly and Monthly

basketball netAlthough there are some people who advocate for dropping all your goals or focusing on systems instead of goals, I’ve never managed to fully give up on setting goals for myself.

In fact, I just finished my monthly review today, where I looked at how well I did on the goals I set for myself last month and set some new ones for the month ahead. As I was doing this, I started to wonder whether I was doing myself any favors by reviewing my progress monthly.

I had a look into the science of measuring progress towards your personal goals and how it affects your well-being, as well as some examples of ways to track your own progress.

The science of measuring progress towards personal goals

Firstly, I found a couple of studies that found that improvements in well-being, satisfaction and happiness can come from making progress towards your personal goals.

The caveat here is that your goals need to be in line with your inner needs and motives. If you’re committed to a goal for external reasons such as pleasing your boss or your parents, you won’t see the same emotional improvements when you make progress.

I think we can take this as general guidance when it comes to setting goals: even if we don’t set goals specifically to achieve those emotional improvements, we can still try to focus on the goals that we’re motivated to achieve intrinsically, rather than what we think others expect of us.

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Lifehack Your Lunch: 8 Scientifically Proven Ways to Maximize Your Mid-Day Break

5169342665_3da84e78f7I’ve noticed that the way I spend my lunch break affects how productive I am for the rest of the day: how quickly I get started once I get back to my desk, how effective I am in the first hour after lunch, and how I feel throughout the afternoon.

Luckily, we’ve been writing about ways to improve your day for a while now: from tips on making your environment more conducive to creativity to pushing through writer’s block.

Why shouldn’t the humble lunch break get the same treatment? I gathered the most interesting research on how we can improve our afternoon productivity by making careful use of that oh-so-important lunch hour. Here are 8 ways to maximize your lunch break, proven by science.

1. Eat! (The right foods for better brain function)

OK, this one might seem obvious. But even if you’re trying to lose weight or run errands on your lunch break, don’t skip on eating a midday meal – or at least a snack. Your nutrition – particularly your glucose intake – will decide your productivity for the rest of the day.

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The Psychology of Limitations: How and Why Constraints Can Make You More Creative

boxConstraints can seem like the last thing you’d want for a creative project, but they’re actually beneficial when it comes to doing good work. If you’ve ever faced the common writer’s hurdle of the blank page, you’ll know what it’s like to be paralyzed by innumerable opportunities. What restrictions do is take away some of the choices available to us, and with them, the paralysis of choice that stops us from getting started.

We love trying things that seem counterintuitive at Buffer, but we especially love examples of how counterintuitive approaches can produce great results.

Check out a few examples of the amazing work that can come from creative constraints, and then find out how you can begin to use constraints to aid your own creativity and productivity.

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Inactivity and the Brain: Why Exercise is More Important than Ever

runningI know exercise is good for me. I know it’s important for my health and happiness and that it’s necessary for general fitness. That part’s easy — we hear about how we should exercise more all the time.

What I didn’t realize was how being inactive is really detrimental to the brain and body. I didn’t understand all of the specific ways regular activity can be beneficial, either.

With a little digging around, I found some research that made me realize there’s much more to exercising than just getting fit.

Inactivity changes our brain structure – literally

Firstly, the bad news. If you’re living a sedentary lifestyle, which more of us are prone to doing as technology takes away physical barriers for our work, you could be increasing your risk of heart disease. You may have even heard this before, since it’s fairly common knowledge that regular physical activity can reduce the risk of heart disease — what’s new in recent research are clues to exactly how this links might work.

Researchers at Wayne State University School of Medicine recently found that rats who were mostly sedentary for almost three months actually had physical changes in their brains, as a result. Some of the rats’ neurons had extra branches — the parts that help them connect into the sympathetic nervous system, where a lot of our involuntary physical functions are regulated, like breathing. Having too many branches, as the brains of these rats did, could lead to overstimulation of the nervous system.

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How to Optimize Your Environment for Creativity with The Perfect Temperature, Lighting and Noise Levels

officeI’ve written about how creativity works in the brain before, and I found it really useful to understand this process. Or, I should say, multiple processes.

There’s so much going on in the brain during creativity that science is still trying to pin down exactly how it all works.

What we do know is which three parts of the brain work together to help us create and come up with new ideas:

The Attentional Control Network helps us with laser focus on a particular task. It’s the one that we activate when we need to concentrate on complicated problems or pay attention to a task like reading or listening to a talk.

The Imagination Network as you might have guessed, is used for things like imagining future scenarios and remembering things that happened in the past. This network helps us to construct mental images when we’re engaged in these activities.

The Attentional Flexibility Network has the important role of monitoring what’s going on around us, as well as inside our brains, and switching between the Imagination Network and Attentional Control for us.

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What Would Happen If You improved Everything by 1%: The Science of Marginal Gains

moreIn 2010, Dave Brailsford faced a tough job.

No British cyclist had ever won the Tour de France, but as the new General Manager and Performance Director for Team Sky (Great Britain’s professional cycling team), that’s what Brailsford was asked to do.

His approach was simple.

Brailsford believed in a concept that he referred to as the “aggregation of marginal gains.” He explained it as the “1 percent margin for improvement in everything you do.” His belief was that if you improved every area related to cycling by just 1 percent, then those small gains would add up to remarkable improvement.

They started by optimizing the things you might expect: the nutrition of riders, their weekly training program, the ergonomics of the bike seat, and the weight of the tires.

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The Two Brain Systems that Control Our Attention: The Science of Gaining Focus

diceI’ve noticed lately that my mind has been wandering a lot so I wanted to see how attention works and how to manage it better.

It turns out a lot of us have wandering minds and struggle to stay focused. In fact, when we’re reading, our minds typically wander anywhere from 20 to 40 percent of the time. Voluntarily keeping our attention on one thing continuously can take a lot of effort, so it’s not surprising that I struggle with this sometimes.

Luckily, there are ways to keep our attention spans from burning out, once we understand how they work.

The two brain systems that control your attention

Our brain is split into two systems, according to Daniel Kahneman. In Thinking, Fast and Slow, he calls these System 1 and System 2 (to get a full understanding of how these work, I’d highly recommend reading his book. I can only explain them briefly here, and there’s a lot more that goes into how our brains do the things they do!).

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