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    July 2010

    Can you solve the candle problem?

    July 29, 2010 3137 Views

    Karl Duncker, a German psychologist, investigated new ways to solve problems. His idea was that we often get stuck in our typical ways of thinking...making it hard for us to see a real solution. This concept, which he called functional fixedness and defined as being a "mental block against using an object in a new way that is required to solve a problem", led him to create The Candle Problem. The picture below prompts his test:


    In this problem, his subjects had to attach the candle to the wall, light it, and not allow any wax to get on the table. I'm not going to reveal the answer, because (if you're like me) you'd like some time to think it through. I'll post the answer in a couple days so you can mull over it.

    It's easy to get stuck in the same way of thinking and miss potential new ideas and different ways of looking at life. Dan Pink uses this experiment and concept to draw a picture of motivation. Warning: he does reveal the answer to the candle problem. Please enjoy Dan's talk:

    Self-Discipline: Source of Achievement or Self-Delusion?

    July 13, 2010 4035 Views

    Today we have a special guest post from blog reader Bruce Hall:

    Bruce HallSelf-Discipline: Source of Achievement or Self-Delusion?

    "No horse gets anywhere until he is harnessed. No stream or gas drives anything until it is confined. No Niagara is ever turned into light and power until it is tunneled. No life ever grows great until it is focused, dedicated, disciplined."

    -Harry Emerson Fosdick

    It's 5 a.m. and cold as a meat locker. Outside, the gloom of winter darkness presses against my sliding glass door. A few feet away, here in the house, the dining room table is filled with stacks of reference books. A freshly prepared steaming hot cup of coffee waits on the table, which I must drink quickly, or risking losing the advantage. To my left, a small black desk lamp casts a strong beam of light, which cuts diagonally across the keyboard of an elderly, painfully slow laptop. This is the destination of my writing pilgrimage every morning.

    I quickly turn up the thermostat and slide into my chair, muttering something about resolve. I take a sip of coffee, unload a sigh, and begin to plunk keys. If a few coherent sentences take root each day, I might have a blog by the end of the week. Inevitably, however, questions arise. What if I can't? What if my goal is clearly untenable, and all I end up with is a bowl of alphabet soup? What if the whole thing is mere hubris? Whew! Well, those questions are traveling in dangerous territory, aren't they? Besides, I'll know more after editing, rewriting, and egocentricity kick in.

    Writing is not a rare experience for me; however, my decision to blog once a week has bent some edges of confidence. That level of commitment raised the issue of strong belief. Would I be up to the task? Am I self-disciplined enough? Sure, why not, I reasoned. Self-discipline is in my nature, along with an ability to mobilize resources for achieving an ultimate purpose, regardless of time. However, since I also value goal setting, I impose a schedule each day. I consider topics, mood, and language. I dream about similes for emphasis and creating powerful metaphors. I began to drink more coffee. How can I not succeed?

    On the other hand, even the best of intentions are easily submerged under comfy layers of heavy blankets, safe and secure in my bed from worldly responsibility. In the beginning, I found I did not want to get up. I was not interested in self-discipline, self-awareness, self-discovery, or any other possibilities. I began to imagine a wide variety of procrastination techniques. I even confess entertaining notions of mental telepathy or automatic writing; not resources I really want to draw upon!

    Successful people share one thing in common: an ability to mobilize themselves and their talent to achieve goals. Accomplishment is not a passive entity. One must work at it. History reveals self-disciplined individuals with an impulse to connect their imagination actively in fields like science, philosophy, psychology, religion, art, and technology have led to extraordinary accomplishments.

    So now I practice what I coach others. Every day, very early, I arise from bed, shuffle down the hall, feed my hungry, barking dogs, make coffee and worry about grammatical troublemakers.

    Do you have an image of achievement to call your own? That's a powerful vision to carry around. Do you possess the strength, persistence, and perseverance to develop the skills and experience to make it real? That's equally potent.

    The drive for accomplishment often requires overcoming deficiencies in knowledge, physical or emotional complications, dogma, criticism, and persecution. More than idle curiosity, more than love for wisdom, more than truth for its own sake, self-discipline is the force behind the power of purpose.

    As described in The Neuropsychology of Self-Discipline, "It is your ability to systemically and progressively work toward the goal until you have reached it. It includes acquiring knowledge and skills. It is your ability to become positively obsessed, single-minded and efficient; to strive without giving up, to work consistently, day after day, until your purpose is fulfilled."

    Admittedly, self-discipline is not easy. It takes time to master. It requires retraining the way you think and organize your life. Sometimes, when thoughts are distanced and convenient alternatives like fear, anxiety, and procrastination emerge, it's far easier to wander, call it quits, and walk away.

    On the other hand, self-discipline can help you ask questions, seek answers, set goals, and achieve them. Most important in doing so, you will also discover how quite wonderful it is to know what you want in life, how to plan achieving it, and actively move forward in that direction.

    Bruce Hall is a Personal and Small Business Coach in Port Angeles, WA. You can visit his website at

    How long can you hold a cup of water? (Part 2)

    July 10, 2010 3407 Views

    Here's part 2 of the story. Again, if you know the lecturer, share his or her name with us in the comment section! Enjoy these tips on how to deal with stress:

    And then he shared some ways of dealing with the burdens of life:

    1. Accept that some days you're the pigeon, and some days you're the statue.

    2. Always keep your words soft and sweet, just in case you have to eat them.

    3. Always read stuff that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it.

    4. Drive carefully. It's not only cars that can be recalled by their maker.

    5. If you can't be kind, at least have the decency to be vague.

    6. If you lend someone $20 and never see that person again, it was probably worth it.

    7. It may be that your sole purpose in life is simply to serve as a warning to others.

    8. Never buy a car you can't push.

    9. Never put both feet in your mouth at the same time, because then you won't have a leg to stand on.

    10. Nobody cares if you can't dance well. Just get up and dance.

    11. Since it's the early worm that gets eaten by the bird, sleep late.

    12. The second mouse gets the cheese.

    13. When everything's coming your way, you're in the wrong lane.

    14. Birthdays are good for you. The more you have, the longer you live.

    15. You may be only one person in the world, but you may also be the world to one person.

    16. Some mistakes are too much fun to only make once.

    17. We could learn a lot from crayons. Some are sharp, some are pretty and some are dull. Some have weird names, and all are different colors, but they all have to live in the same box.

    18. A truly happy person is one who can enjoy the scenery on a detour.

    How long can you hold a cup of water? (Part 1)

    July 8, 2010 7427 Views

    I got an email from my Uncle Ron last week. It contained a story that really made me think (I don't know the author, so if you do, comment and let me know). Here's the story:

    A lecturer, when explaining stress management to an audience, raised a glass of water and asked, "How heavy is this glass of water?"Answers called out ranged from 8 ounces to 20 ounces.The lecturer replied, "The absolute weight doesn't matter. It depends on how long you try to hold it. If I hold it for a minute, that's not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, I'll have an ache in my right arm. If I hold it for a day, you'll have to call an ambulance."In each case, it's the same weight, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes." He continued, "And that's the way it is with stress management. If we carry our burdens all the time, sooner or later, as the burden becomes increasingly heavy, we won't be able to carry on."As with the glass of water, you have to put it down for a while and rest before holding it again. When we're refreshed, we can carry on with the burden."So, before you return home tonight, put the burden of work down. Don't carry it home. You can pick it up tomorrow. Whatever burdens you're carrying now, let them down for a moment if you can."Relax; pick them up later after you've rested. Life is short. Enjoy it!"

    What kind of stress are you carrying? What do you do to take a rest? If you haven't, subscribe to our blog, because Part 2 of this story has some tips for relieving stress.

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