Clear thinking

Spring Cleaning for Your Mind

cleaning equipment in a bucketKnowledge has to be improved, challenged and increased constantly, or it vanishes.

Peter Drucker

Spring cleaning is an optimistic time, a time to refresh and revitalize your surroundings. Closets get cluttered, stuff gets lost, and things break down, wear out, or go out of style. The same thing can happen to our minds.

One of the side effects of the research I’ve been doing recently for my book on personal credibility is that I get to revisit books and articles that I may have read several years ago, and rediscover useful information that I had either forgotten or overlooked when I first read them. It’s always funny to see what I’ve highlighted or starred, then promptly ignored. Or maybe something I read then makes different sense now in light of different life experiences I’ve had or new things I’ve learned.

For example, I re-read some sections in Bruce Gabrielle’s Speaking PowerPoint: The New Language of Business about making your logic visible in presentations, what he calls the “above-water argument”. It has helped me better understand and express what I’m trying to say in my own book.

Whenever you read a book or take a course, you only retain and use a small part of what it contains. Besides the natural limitations of your memory, you will gravitate to one or two ideas or techniques, and as you use them more often they will become more firmly implanted into your routine while everything else will wither away.

For example, you might learn several different approaches to handling a price objection. In the days and weeks after the training, you try two or three approaches; maybe one works well, one bombs, and one is somewhere in the middle. You’ll focus on the successful experiences and drop the ones that didn’t work. But there’s a case to be made for revisiting the ones that didn’t work. Maybe they would actually work better in a different situation, or maybe times have changed. But you may never know because you’ve forgotten them—unless you do the occasional spring cleaning.

Here’s a few things you can do:

Toss out broken old ideas. Have you unlearned anything recently? Example: I “learned” once that we can hold 7 items at one time in working memory. I’ve since found out that this is wrong; the actual number is 3-4, which is very important to know if you want to communicate effectively.

Rediscover stuff you’ve forgotten. Re-reading a favorite book that taught you some valuable lessons is like getting back in touch with an old friend; you’ll wish you hadn’t waited so long. While I personally try to keep up with the latest books in fields that interest me, I still find that old books are the best. One of my favorites is Moving Mountains by Henry Boettinger.

Freshen up stale stuff. I apply this one to my training. Some of the examples and anecdotes need to be changed once in a while even though my new students are hearing them for the first time, because it keeps me excited about telling them.

Recharge. Sure, motivational books tell you stuff you already know, but it doesn’t hurt to give yourself a boost once in a while. If you want to try something new, I recommend EDGY Conversations: How Ordinary People Can Achieve Outrageous Successby Dan Waldschmidt.

Learn something new. When you’ve cleared out all the clutter, you’ll have room in your mind for something new. Maybe it’s a practical skill that might take you to the next level in your career, or something less immediately practical but maybe more fulfilling, such as learning a language or taking an online course.

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1 Comment
  • Jack – Thanks for mentioning my book, Speaking PowerPoint. I look forward to your book on building credibility. I think there’s a lack of coverage here and I always appreciate your research-based approach to your writing.

    Bruce Gabrielle
    Author, Speaking PowerPoint

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