Coming up with your own solutions before checking up on Google or with experts can vastly improve your results, dispel worries, and increase your confidence in your own creative powers.
By relying on your own knowledge reservoir, your own subconscious mind, you might dig out nuggets no one else has found.
If you are lucky, you get to explore areas of the solution space (the set of all possible solutions) no one has looked at. Everyone else might have sniffed around in just one corner.1
Whether you are looking for a solution to a problem or want to write an article or blog post, I suggest you look inside yourself before you check up on solutions on the Internet.
I would go so far as to say, it is often (not always) best to not read anything before you have not described the challenge in writing and written about it yourself.
If you want to get your head around something, just start writing. That way, your writing comes from you and isn’t yet clouded by the most prominent public opinion or scientific expertise. Empty everything out.
The Road most Traveled
Many people, when trying to solve a problem, go right to Google and ask “How can I do such and such…” Continue reading →
Do you feel very sleepy at 9 pm but want to stay up until 11?
Are you in bed at 11, yet can’t fall asleep for another hour?
Perhaps you have traveled across several times zones and now, even several days later, you feel sluggish and jet lagged.
All of the above are signs that your habits and desires and your biological clock are out of sync. And for most people the clock can’t be forced into sleep mode like an on-off switch.
Carefully timed light therapy, that is, exposure to blue, blue-green, or blue-enriched white light either in the evening or in the morning can be a fast and elegant way to set your clock to align with your lifestyle, sleep better, and even overcome serious insomnia.
My motivation for exploring light therapy for sleep
I often alternate between living in a small town for a few weeks and staying in a large bustling city. In the country side, folks are usually in bed by 9 pm; there is little else to do in the evening.
Quite quickly, I settle into a routing of having dinner, then watching TV for an hour or so – basically until I feel sleepy, which is usually pretty soon. So by 9 or 10 I am in bed and dozing off. I believe I have always been more of a lark, a morning person who tends to go to bed early and rises early. In fact, as I get older I become even more of an early riser.
This doesn’t suit me well when I am in the city though.
If I were to go to bed too early, noise would likely prevent me from falling asleep, and from hanging out with friends and drinking a few beers at night. Naturally my beer consumption also goes up when I am around town.
While in town, I would much rather go to bed at around 11:30 pm and maybe wake up at 7 or even 8. Being among other people and exposed to lots of light, I usually manage to stay up until 12 am and then go home and fall asleep quickly.
Unfortunately, I wake up at 4:30 or 5 am.
This would be fine when going to bed and 9 or 10, but with my later bed time I only get about 5 hours of sleep: a perfect recipe for feeling low on energy and sleep deprived.
It takes me quite a few days or even weeks to nudge myself into waking up later.
For many years, researchers at the sleep lab of Flinders University in Adelaide, South Australia have been researching the use of bright light therapy and blue-green light to help people optimize their sleep and overcome insomnia.
They were initially focusing on people with delayed sleep phase disorder (DSPD), also known as delayed sleep phase syndrome and advanced sleep phase disorder (ASPD), aka advanced sleep phase syndrome.
Now they are also applying their research to help frequent travelers overcome jet lag and shift workers adjust to a markedly different sleep-wake schedule.
In a way, you could even consider party people as shift workers.
Special blue-blocking glasses, lamps that emit no blue and little green light, and apps that shift the color temperature of our smartphones and iPads have been designed to remove potentially sleep-disrupting light.
But how do these blue blocking glasses and lamps help with sleep?
And how do they need to be designed and used to actually work?
A couple of years ago, I was often riding the subway home late in the evening, coming either from work or a night on the town. For the first couple of minutes, I usually felt very sleepy and was ready to go to bed. At the end of my ride though, I was completely alert. At some point, I started wondering whether the bright light in the subway car might be responsible for my alertness at the end of the ride.
I had previously heard of morning bright light therapy to wake people up and treat bad winter moods, and the subway car seemed to be doing just that.
The problem: we were in the middle of the night!
Looking further into the alerting effects, I came across a whole line of research that had identified the blue light portion of white light as the most potent wake-up signal.
In 2001, researchers identified novel photosensitive cells at the back of our eyes, and these cells were most responsive to blue light. What’s more, they are directly connected to our biological clock. It has been found that light exposure to these cells resets our internal clock, suppresses melatonin, and keeps the clock in sync with our 24-hour day.
Likely unaware of these findings, from 2005 on governments were starting to pressure manufacturers and households to get rid of incandescent light bulbs and replace them with more energy-efficient compact fluorescent lamps and later white LEDs.
As it turns out, most of these lamps contain a lot more blue light than the old bulbs, and they have also been found to be a lot more effective at suppressing melatonin, the primary hormone that signals darkness to the cells in our body. The same goes for modern LED-powered devices including smartphones, tablets, and PCs.
Let’s look at how light impacts our biological clock
In this post, we will look at the most suitable white noise machine for sleeping, and how to use it for maximum effect and fewest side effects. I have also summarized research findings regarding white noise and sleep.
Many years ago, I stumbled across my first sleep-aid sound conditioner by chance. At that time, my bedroom window was facing a small, but pretty noisy street. During winter, I used a small ceramic heater that had a fan to distribute the warm air. As it got warmer in spring, I was ready to put the heater back in storage.
I noticed, however, that it was a lot easier to fall asleep with the little heater running, so I even put up with a slightly overheated room just to get my fan noise.
Later I used a normal room fan. It wasn’t loud enough for me though.
A friend had the solution: I punched a few holes in a plastic bag and covered the fan with the bag. Voila – I had a loud white noise machine.
I am aware that this isn’t a safe way of doing things: So don’t try this at home. Don’t cover your fan with a plastic bag.
At that time I didn’t know, but there are a lot better solutions readily available… Continue reading →
In this post, I want to provide an overview and detailed review of noise blocking earmuffs.
Regular readers of my Blog know that I am into blocking noise to reduce stress and improve cognitive performance and sleep. Many studies show a large positive impact of noise reduction on all kinds of mental tasks, including studying, reading comprehension, writing, serial memory, proof reading, mental math, and so on.
As a student and as a professional, you can improve your performance on almost any task by controlling the noise you are exposed to while working. In addition, by removing disturbing noise from your environment, you can reduce stress levels, improve general well-being, and prevent permanent hearing impairment.
Earmuffs are also becoming increasingly popular with people who are hypersensitive to noise, and sufferers from hyperacusis, misophonia, autism and ADHD.
I have found noise cancelling earmuffs to be among the most effective tools for studying. And it’s not only me: Search Google Images for memory championships and you will see participants wearing industrial earmuffs.
This review looks at general noise blocking effectiveness of different earmuffs and comfort and suitability for different types of noises, including low frequency noise and human speech. I focus on enhancing cognitive performance and general well-being rather than hearing protection in industrial settings and on the shooting range. That being said, you will find an in-depth comparison of manufacturers’ attenuation data.
In my quest to find the most effective, most comfortable and most fashionable earmuffs, I have purchased and used quite a number of different models. In this review I am going to look at the following:
Overall noise blocking effectiveness
Low-frequency and human speech blocking effectiveness
Manufacturing quality and durability
Earmuffs for sleeping
The models in this review include:
3M Peltor X5A
3M Peltor X4A
3M Peltor Optime 105
3M Peltor Optime 98
3M Peltor Optime 95
Howard Leight Leightning L3 (with some references to the Leighting L2 and Leightning L1)
My personal earmuffs ranking
Before I delve into the details about which earmuffs are best for which application, here is my overall ranking. Please note that this ranking is personal and does not only account for noise reduction, but also general usability, comfort, weight, build quality, and price. Continue reading →
Recently, during an extended stay in Taiwan, I started with floating sessions.
Every other week, I float for about 70 minutes in a tub filled with magnesium-sulfate-saturated water, a so-called flotation tank, also known as an isolation tank.
The water is kept at skin temperature, and the tank is supposed to be sound and light proof. Upon closing the door or lid, it is pitch dark, and you hear almost nothing. Float therapy was originally devised to answer the question “what happens to the brain in the absence of sensory stimulation?”
In the meantime, it has become a popular tool to reduce stress, solve creative problems, help with insomnia, and improve performance, among others.
So far, I have done two sessions, with more coming up.
I have found that floating can be very relaxing and uplifting. With this post, I would like to inspire you to try it yourself.
In this post, I want to share with you how I read, annotate, organize, and summarize the web.
Here are the benefits I have gained:
I read with pleasure.
I remember more and can re-find the important info I come across on the web.
I save a ton of time.
Most of us who read online waste enormous amounts of time: We hook our brains up to massive news streams to keep up with things. Unfortunately, even most of the information that matters to us and could help us in our life gets drowned out and is forgotten the next day, or at best a few days later.
It doesn’t have to be that way!
Yes, a lot of what we consume doesn’t really have an impact on our life; it is purely for entertainment and distraction, so it makes perfect sense to forget it.
But what about the really important information bits you come across while reading? Do you forget these too?
And if you remember these nuggets, can you quickly reconnect to the web pages where you found them? Can you remember the ideas you had when you read an article?
Simply bookmarking all “worthy” articles you come across, or worse, clipping them and putting them in a giant archive doesn’t solve the problem.
If you do that you will often have to re-read the whole page to remember why it was important.
Most of the information in your archive, you will never look at again, yet it will become a burden and demand time and effort to be maintained.
My two most common reading scenarios:
Reading to answer a specific research question, such as “does NAC help with sleep?”
Capturing information nuggets and the thoughts I had while reading the daily news or following a subject that interests me.
Let’s get started with scenario 1, answering a research question:
Meditators are often advised to focus on a meditation object, and when they realize that their mind has started wandering, to just bring it back to the object of their meditation. The standard advice is not to follow any thoughts and emotions that may arise.
This, however, is often easier said than done. As soon as I am trying to quiet my mind, thoughts and reminders start coming from all directions.
Like a monkey of whom I have limited or no control, “my” mind bounces around, jumping from the cup of coffee I had before the meditation to yesterday’s cookies, and from there to the chat I had with a friend last night.
Quite appropriately so, they call it the “monkey mind.”
But is this monkey mind good or bad news? I have been contemplating this for quite a while and over time have come to appreciate it. Why? This state of mind can be used to harvest plenty of good ideas. I let the mind loose and it turns into a treasure trove of creativity.
How do I use meditation for creativity? How do I harvest ideas and gain insight?
This morning, I felt an outright aversion to just going to my desk and starting my work. This is an indication that I am about to get stuck with a problem and need some change of scenery to get my creative juices flowing. So I packed my computer and went to a nearby outdoor café. The café is situated under trees along a small river, providing for a very different view, different sounds, and different smells. Sitting there with a cup of coffee and just looking around, I felt like in another world. And this is just 5 minutes from my desk.
Does this sound familiar to you? Maybe you prefer going for a stroll through town or a walk in the park or forest when you need to get some new ideas or fresh insight into a problem you have been pondering?
I know why I like sitting at the table with the blue table cloth. I get to gaze into the distance. I have an unimpeded view of the stream, the sky, and the iron bridge, yet at the same time I feel protected, I am in the shade, and I am shielded from prying eyes.
Well, after sitting there for an hour and a half, brainstorming, taking notes, and looking at the scenery, the noise coming from an angle grinder at a nearby construction site started to annoy me. I wanted to turn inward to play with my new ideas. I was longing for the peace and quiet of my room, so I packed my bag and returned to my desk. That’s where I am sitting now. Now It feels just right sitting there and doing my work.
What do I make of this? There is no single perfect environment to do creative work.
And there are good reasons, why you might want to vary your work environment to be more creative and productive. Continue reading →
In this post, I want to point you to some recent research into alternating group and individual brainstorming using brainwriting. Recent studies suggest that so-called hybrid brainwriting leads to more ideas than both group and individual brainwriting.
This is good news because several prior studies have indicated that individuals brainstorming by themselves tend to generate more ideas than groups containing these individuals. Hybrid brainwriting is straight-forward; you can use it right away to generate more and better ideas.
Traditional group brainstorming is somewhat of a double-edged sword.
We organize brainstorming groups with members from different fields to create synergy. That is, we hope that by building on other’s ideas, participants can come up with more unique and better ideas. Almost every one of us has shared a problem with a good friend and by bouncing ideas, come up with something they wouldn’t have been able to think up by themselves.
What’s more, group brainstorming leads to a better acceptance of ideas and helps to communicate them to fellow team members.
You can’t do it alone: great products and systems are usually the work of great teams.
On the other hand, controlled for time, face-to-face brainstorming groups often generate fewer ideas than so-called nominal groups (the pooled ideas coming from a comparable number of individual “brainstormers”).
And what is important here: studies have also indicated that the more ideas are generated, the more good ideas are generated!
Why do face-to-face brainstorming groups come up with fewer ideas than teams where everyone brainstorms individually?
Here are the three most common reasons for the drop in productivity.
1. In groups, only one person can speak their idea at a time. Others have to wait for their turn. What’s more, by attending to someone else’s idea and hoping to expand on it, you are interrupting your own train of thought.
2. Despite being assured by the brainstorming rules that criticism is not allowed and that wild and crazy ideas are encouraged, individuals might withhold ideas for fear of being negatively evaluated by their peers or their boss (who might also attend the session).
3. In a group activity, there is less individual accountability: some participants might not pull their weight.
However, there are approaches to brainstorming that do not have these short-comings: one of them is brainwriting.