A friend recommended a great book for getting your creative juices flowing – A Whack on the Side of the Head: How You Can Be More Creative, by Roger von Oech. It was originally published back in 1983, but I got my hands on a copy from the Ottawa library that was updated in 1998.

The first thing von Oech does is describe what creative thinking is and how it can be helpful. The keys are changing your perspective and playing with the knowledge that you already possess. He provides several exercises that give the reader an interactive experience and a chance to think creatively about different situations. His key focus is the following quote from Nobel prize winning physician Albert Szent-Gyorgyi:

Discovery consists of looking at the same thing as everyone else and thinking something different.

The book then goes on to identify ten mental locks (attitudes that lock our thinking into the status quo and prevent us from being more creative) and talks about how it can sometimes take a “whack on the side of the head” to shake us up and force us to re-think our situation. These “whacks” can take the form of a problem or failure, a surprise or unexpected situation, or even just a joke or paradox you encounter. These ideas or situations can force you to abandon your usual thought patterns and explore alternative solutions. And they could be the best thing that ever happened to you!

Even if you don’t have your own “whack on the side of the head”, simply being aware of the mental locks von Oech describes can help you to overcome them in your efforts to think more creatively. I’ve summarized them here:

  1. The Right Answer: Our formal education tends to bind us into thinking that there can only be one right answer. The key here is to not stop after one right answer but to continue to brainstorm and look for other possible solutions (one might be even better than the first!). As French philosopher Emilé Chartier opined, “Nothing is more dangerous than an idea when it is the only one we have.”
  2. That’s Not Logical: Here, von Oech separates thinking into two types, “Soft” and “Hard”. Soft thinking involves imagination and hard thinking involves logic and practicality. He emphasizes the need to explore both types of thinking when dealing with a problem and to use metaphors to help you generate new ways of looking at a thing or situation.
  3. Follow the Rules: This chapter explores the human desire to recognize patterns and form rules, some of which can become obsolete over time as the situation that created them changes. It is important to recognize when certain rules can be challenged and a restrictive pattern can be broken. Von Oech uses the excellent example of the QWERTY typing system. The keyboard layout that we use today was originally designed because typewriter keys tended to stick together if users typed too quickly. A typewriter manufacturer back in the 1870’s designed the QWERTY layout because it is one of the most inefficient layouts possible, placing frequently used letters like “O” and “I” (the third and sixth most used letters in the English language, respectively) where weaker fingers have to press them, effectively slowing down our typing speed. Now that we type using computers that can process much faster than any human would be capable of typing, that doesn’t really seem like a rule we need to be following any more, does it?
  4. Be Practical: We must all encourage our inner artist to come up with ideas and explore our imaginations without being hampered by our inner judge. To do this, you can cultivate your imagination by playing “what if” games where you can generate unique and impractical ideas without fear of judgement. Sometimes, these ideas can be stepping stones to building real solutions, and that’s where the judge comes into play.
  5. Play is Frivolous: Von Oech identifies that while some people get good ideas out of necessity, many people find that their best ideas come to them while they are in a free-thinking, positive state – that is, while playing. Take time to let a problem or question sit (or incubate) in your unconscious and generate ideas. “Learn to pause,” says poet Doug King, “or nothing worthwhile will catch up to you.”
  6. That’s Not My Area: The importance of “cross-fertilization” between specialty areas is clearly outlined in this chapter, which highlights the dangers of becoming too focused on boundaries. Von Oech encourages his readers to actively explore other areas to search for new knowledge and new ways of thinking.
  7. Don’t be Foolish: Here, we are reminded of the human need to conform and go along with the crowd. Unfortunately, this survival skill can lead to groupthink, where “group members are more interested in getting the approval of the others rather than trying to come up with creative solutions to the problems at hand.” The solution here is to not be afraid to be foolish, to laugh at a problem in order to loosen up and encourage creativity, and to reexamine your most basic assumptions.
  8. Avoid Ambiguity: Although ambiguity is frowned upon in society as the cause of a lot of miscommunication, it can actually stimulate creative thinking. As American General George S. Patton said, “If you tell people where to go, but not how to get there, you’ll be amazed at the results.” Von Oech encourages his readers to consult Oracles (or ambiguous random pieces of information, such as a word chosen randomly from a dictionary, or a dream you might have had). This interpretation of an ambiguous “sign” allows you to delve deeper into your own intuition to help you solve a problem.
  9. To Err is Wrong: Again, Von Oech is critical of our formal education for instilling in us the idea that to be wrong is bad. “Most people consider success and failure as opposites,” he says, “but they are actually both products of the same process.” This fear of failure can lead many people live a restricted life where they refuse to try new things. Innovation requires trial and error and it is important to recognize that success and failure both have their positives and negatives. Use failures as stepping stones to new and better ideas. As author James Joyce wrote, “A man’s errors are his portals of discovery.”
  10. I’m Not Creative: In the last chapter, the author describes a dangerous self-fulfilling prophesy – thinking you’re not creative means that you won’t be creative. Successful people, Von Oech says, take responsibility for their own performances and visualize themselves being successful. They don’t spend time generating excuses or reasons for losing. Thoughts play a big role in the actions you will take in your life.

This exploration of the ten mental locks preventing creative thinking takes up about three-quarters of Roger von Oech’s book. The last quarter emphasizes the importance of implementing your creative ideas by shoring up courage and support, dealing with excuses, slaying your “dragons” or fears, continuously trying new things and taking risks, having something at stake and being dissatisfied with the current situation, anticipating negative reactions and how you will deal with them, selling your ideas to others, setting a deadline for yourself and being persistent. Von Oech then goes on to explore his interpretation of thirty enigmatic epigrams from Heraclitus of Ephesus, an ancient Greek philosopher who inspires the author in his search for creative ideas.

Overall, I think A Whack on the Side of the Head is an excellent book to read if you’re interested in learning more about creative thinking and how you can open your mind to new and exciting ideas. Although this edition was published twelve years ago (and the original twenty-seven years ago), the ideas and solutions presented are timeless. My only critique would be about the ink drawings found throughout the book. Some of them are quite disturbing and distracting (such as a disembodied head on a rocking chair meant to symbolize pausing to let an idea percolate), although maybe that was the point. Either way, a great read!

I’ve been AWOL for a while from the blogosphere, but I’ve been cooking up some fun new things to tell you all about. Recently, I took a big step and became a Pampered Chef consultant!

For those of you unfamiliar with The Pampered Chef, they are the leading direct seller of premium kitchen tools in North America. More information is available on their website (www.pamperedchef.ca) and you call also browse all the wonderful products there. With my interest in making quick, healthy meals for my family and my love of Pampered Chef products, the move from customer to consultant just made sense for me!

Now that I have taken this big and exciting step, I’m turning to all of you for a little helping hand during the first few months of my new business. How can you help me? Easy: host a cooking show!

At a Pampered Chef cooking show at your home, I will demonstrate a quick, easy and delicious recipe for you and your guests. You’ll learn tips and tricks to make your time in the kitchen fun and more rewarding and then I clean up all the dirty dishes! You’ll receive personal service (something you just can’t get at retail stores these days) and as a host, you’ll earn rewards too. My hosts NEVER pay full price. As a host, you get:

  • Free and discounted products
  • Half-price products
  • Your choice of our monthly host specials (up to 60% off)
  • FREE shipping on your order
  • 10% off Pampered Chef products for an entire year

With my help, you can select a recipe or party theme that your friends and family are sure to love. If you’re interested in learning more about Pampered Chef or about how you can host a fun, interactive party, please leave a comment below (or email me) and I’ll get in touch right away!

For all those Pampered Chef fans outside of Ottawa, I can process your individual order (or you can host a “catalogue show” where you collect orders on paper and still receive some host benefits) via email and have it shipped directly to your home.

Thank you for all your support and happy cooking!

Imagine my surprise when I turned on the radio on Monday for a little musical distraction while painting our house and I heard a quick between-the-songs promo for a local radio station.

Err…did I hear that right?

Sure enough, a trip outside to run some errands confirmed what I thought I’d heard. There it was, clear as day on a bus stop advertisement: Ho 89.9.

Seriously, Hot 89.9? Seriously?

I knew right away it must have been part of some ridiculous stunt/shock advertising campaign. They’ve done it before: in the spring of 2009 they partnered with Strathmere for a “Married in 24 Hours” contest where the winner received a quickie wedding complete with wedding bands, a dress, a bouquet and boutonnière, and a ceremony and reception at Strathmere. Sanctity of the institution of marriage be damned! (On a personal note, when Joe and I chose Strathmere for our wedding in 2008 we thought it was a lovely and charming location and had no idea that they would just a year later stoop to this level of offensive marketing…believe me, I would not have gotten married there had I known that was coming!)

Back to the current situation. I have to say that I am unimpressed with this new campaign and underwhelmed by their “creativity”. And I’m not the only one as a recent editorial in The Ottawa Citizen so clearly expresses.

It’s not like the brilliant minds at Hot 89.9 didn’t think it through – this was a well-organized campaign. All the radio spots, the bus ads, and a new domain name for their website, which I imagine they had to purchase from a porn purveyor.

They say that there is no such thing as “bad press”, and this stunt has certainly got people talking. But I can’t imagine that it’s the smartest business move to identify yourself as Ottawa’s trashiest radio station. And what about your listeners, Hot 89.9? You used to call them “Hotties”, which was lame and condescending enough. But now, will you be referring to them as your “Hos”?

At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised.

And so 2010 begins!

First of all, apologies for the lack of December posts. The weeks pre-Christmas are always a little hectic and Joe and I were busy preparing for our vacation in Florida and North Carolina (more on that later this month along with pics!).

But on to “bigger” and better things – the newest season of the Biggest Loser. Honestly, I can’t get enough of this show. I love the premise (people learning about healthy eating and exercise as a way to – shock – lose weight), the trainers (I heart Jillian!), the host (Ali is super sweet and gets so emotionally invested in all the participants…and she’s looking totally fly this year post-baby), and the feel good inspiration/motivation that comes with watching people grow emotionally and mentally while they shrink physically! I even love reading the recaps over on Television Without Pity.

The only problem is, Joe worked at the Sens game last night and we didn’t get home (I picked him up) until after 10:00 p.m. Then we decided to “just watch a little bit” of the season premiere. Before you know it, it’s midnight and we’ve laughed and cried (okay, that was just me) through the whole show. And now we are exhausted! But I think it was just the motivation I needed to put in a good workout tonight!

I read an article today called 15 Ways to Stop Worrying and Sleep Better. Before we get to that, though, isn’t it funny that self-help articles always claim that there are a “pretty” number of steps/tasks to do in order to accomplish something? I always wonder how many items on these lists are padding to bring it up to an even number. Or, God forbid, what crucially important thing was cut out to get it down to a good count?

Anyway, the most useful and interesting thing I pulled from this article was #4 – Put worry on a schedule. The idea is not to try to stop worrying, but to set aside some time regularly to deal with your anxieties so that they don’t interfere with your sleepy time.

“In today’s busy world, we don’t have time to do normal worrying until the lights go out,” says Dr. Mary Susan Esther, director of the Sleep Center at South Park in Charlotte, North Carolina, and president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. “Yet everyone needs a worry time,” she adds. The trick is to schedule it on a regular basis, early in the evening—any time before 8:00 p.m. 

The article goes on to suggest quickly jotting down each worry you have on a separate index card brainstorm-style. Then, go back through the cards and think about each problem. Is there anything you can do about this situation? If the answer is no, rip up the card and throw it away. If it’s yes, write down some possible actions you can take, put the card in a “worry box” and then give it some more thought the next day and decide what you’re going to do.

I like this approach. As someone who does what I feel is probably more than my fair share of worrying/obsessing/panicking, and often about things I have no business worrying about, I think it would be unnatural NOT to worry. Instead, this exercise would focus on getting things down on paper (already reducing their scariness by making them tangible) and then clearly thinking about them. If I can’t possibly do anything to change the situation or issue, I should just rip up the card and maybe hope for some of that serenity thing people talk about.

I would go a step further on the action side, though. Goal-setting experts always stress the importance of forward motion, or inertia, when accomplishing tasks. So if there’s something that can be done about a worry, I would say that your best bet isn’t to write those things down and then set it aside. Take a few minutes to estimate how long such a solution would take and write down the various tasks involved. Then, schedule something you can do the next day or at the very least this week. That way, you don’t have to start a whole new “worry box” for all the worrying you’ll do about the stuff you’re not doing about your original worries. Or maybe that would just be me…

Coming soon to simplysonya, “10 Things You Can Do at the First Sign of a Zombie Apocalypse”.

Sorry for the delay since my last post. I’ve been focused on other things for the past few weeks…some of which involved a major positive change I was hoping to make. I found out yesterday that I came a close second for something that I really, really wanted. I got excellent feedback but I was still quite disappointed.

I suppose I’ll treat it as a “sign from the universe” that I need to stop and reassess where I’m at and where I’m going. It’s better to be running towards something than running away from something, after all. I’m better to set my sights on a goal and focus on developing myself to get there, as opposed to whining about the place I’m at now.

I do know that lots of positive vibes can be had simply by accomplishing small things on the way to a goal (the act of forward motion is quite powerful to your state of mind). But as I warned Joe, I am allowed to mope for a few days until the dust settles. Then, after enough self-pity has been had, I can pick myself up, dust myself off and start again.

I came across the most disturbing photographs today, courtesy of the website Life Without Plastic. Chris Jordan is a photographer who recently spent some time on Midway Atoll, “a tiny stretch of sand and coral near the middle of the North Pacific” as he describes it on his website. There, he found a few of the tens of thousands of albatross chicks who have perished with bellies full of human plastic waste fed to them by their parents.

If there exists a more powerful visual cue of the horrific impact that we ignorant humans are having on this planet, I don’t want to see it. I warn you, it’s pretty heart-wrenching. Please see Mr. Jordan’s website here and click on the “Midway: Message from the Gyre” link to see the collection.

Please – stop using disposable plastics! And for the love of the planet, RECYCLE!

Sesame Street begins its 40th season today, can you believe it? The Ottawa Citizen explores all the famous guest stars on the ‘Street, including Michelle Obama, in an article today.

And OH MY GOODNESS if you ever want to re-live your childhood, check out the wealth of clips on YouTube. Have you seen the latest clip? A Mad Men parody featuring Guy Smiley as Don Draper…a perfect muppet match if there ever was one!

Here are a few of my favourites from childhood: Fishing with Ernie and Bert, The Count counting sheep, and those Yip Yip Martians! There’s also Kermit’s News Flash (there they are again!) and a skit about cooperation that my husband and I were just talking about the other day, the Geefle and the Gonk. And one to scare my brother…Cookie Monster’s nightmare!

Was there anything that Sesame Street didn’t teach us?

I’ve had some great ideas for blog posts the past few weeks but very little time to write them down. Hopefully that will change soon; in the meantime, I’ve added a new page called “Quotes and other tidbits” where I can drop all those little things that strike me as I find them. The kind of things that can be so powerful when you discover them but can get lost along the way if you don’t collect them in one place.

Please feel free to add your own favourite quotes or thoughts in the comments!

A study out of Western Washington University is the latest in a long list of experiments that demonstrate just how distracted the human mind can be when focusing on a mental task like talking on a cellphone. In psychology, this phenomenon is called “inattentional blindness” and it’s the reason that cellphone usage should be banned for drivers altogether – both hand-held and hands-free. It’s not only the physical dialing or texting on a phone that distracts drivers and causes accidents but the conversations themselves. When the mind is busy focusing on something, even the most obvious things can escape our attention.

Not convinced? See if you can count the number of basketball passes the team in white makes when there is another team in black shirts running around them distracting you in this awareness test (video) from the UK.

Although Ontario’s new law banning hand-held devices is a good start, it’s simply not enough if we want to prevent distraction-caused accidents. Besides concerns about the actual impact of bans and their enforcement, I think what truly needs to happen is a movement that makes people aware of the consequences of driving while distracted and makes it socially unacceptable, much like the anti-drunk driving movement has accomplished in the past two decades. Maybe a TV spot showing a mom driving her children to an activity, the kids buckled snuggly in the backseat while mom is having an animated conversation on her cellphone. The camera angle switches to an upcoming street light, which turns quickly from yellow to red. Mom doesn’t notice and continues into the intersection, where the SUV is broadsided by a fast-moving transport truck. Squealing tires, crunching metal, shattering glass, and then the commercial fades to black while a car horn blows continuously. “Driving while distracted kills” in big bold letters. That kind of thing.

Why I’m here

My name is Sonya. I live with my husband and our cat in the suburbs of Ottawa. I started this journal to document my thoughts and experiences and share them with friends, family and anyone else who happens to pass this way. My hope is that it will help to keep me focused on the simple things I value most in life and, above all, keep me writing.

Freelance Writer

I'm available for freelance writing gigs of all kinds. Please check out my Portfolio and feel free to contact me.

Pampered Chef

Please visit my Pampered Chef page for more information about how you can host a cooking show and earn free and discounted products.