Writers talk about (and agonize over) a condition they call writer’s block. When this occurs even experienced authors report feeling stuck. It’s not just limited to writers, of course. Any creative endeavor can get bogged down when the creator feels blocked.

Psychologists suggest that we can shorten our down time by doing something unrelated to the project that has us stymied. In other words, we can solve the problem by walking away from the problem…for a while.

With that in mind, I polled several of my creative friends and asked them, “What do you do when you need fresh inspiration?” Every one came back with a response.

Here, then, are some proven ways to give yourself a creative jolt.

° Keep an inspiration journal. Use it to collect anything that feeds your soul. Fill it with quotes, stories of people you admire, pictures of beautiful places.

Page through it when you have forgotten that the world is a wonderful place.

° Visit somewhere that’s busy. An airport of shopping center are excellent places for people-watching. Make up stories about the people you see.

Imagine what their lives are like, their occupations, where they live and so forth. Since you’re keeping it to yourself, make the stories as outrageous as possible.

° Dance or exercise. Moving your body can also get your imagination moving again.

° Organize a brainstorming session. Round up a few of your most creative friends and let them throw ideas at you. Pay attention to even the silliest ideas.

One of the reasons brainstorming works so well is that the other members of the group don’t have the same emotional attachment to your project that you do. There can be clarity in detachment.

° Put your hands to work. Do needlework or carpentry or something that involves using your hands. Dig in the garden.

These can be stress-lowering activities which also can reinvigorate. I’d pick up my crochet hook rather than Prozac.

° Be quiet. Meditate. Go for a walk. Stare out of the window. Browse in a bookstore or library. Schedule quiet time daily to rest and restore.

° Practice mindless motion. Take a drive in the country. Or do something truly mindless like vacuuming the rug.

The key here is to incorporate movement that doesn’t require you to think deeply.

° Call a trusted friend. Not just anyone will do, however. Ask questions of your wisest friend and see what insights they may have. Listen.

° Expose yourself to a new idea or two. Read a book on a subject you don’t normally investigate. Take a class and absorb the energy of being in a room with other explorers. Look for new ideas or  consider a different opinion or viewpoint about old ideas.

The key, as this poll would suggest, is to shift gears. When you return to the project that has you perplexed, you’ll bring a new energy and perspective.

Even if you’re not currently bogged down, after working on a project for an hour or so, take 15 minutes and do one of the activities names above. Pick one that you don’t ordinarily do. Notice how you feel when you resume your task.

Whether you need a quick lift or want to prevent creative blocks from taking up residence, having an inventory of alternative activities can be a surprisingly effective way to keep things moving forward.

They were having a discussion about political slogans this morning on NPR. Apparently, presidential candidates have been using them for decades. Not all of them were effective nor memorable.

Whether we realize it or not, most of us have a collection of slogans that are stored in our brains. Like its cousin the mantra, a slogan regularly resurfaces and repeats itself.

Many of these have been with us since childhood and were more of a warning than a guide to living a great life. Money doesn’t grow on trees. If you can’t do it perfectly, don’t bother doing it.

I’m guessing you have a list of your own family favorites.

Slogans, mottos, mantras are incredibly powerful when repeated. They can stop us dead in our tracks or propel us forward.

My office has favorites displayed all over the room. Above the door is a large sign reading, “There’s no such thing as small change.”

Another favorite reminder from John Ruskin says, “We are not sent into this world to do anything into which we cannot put our hearts.” On the bulletin board over my desk is this challenge: do something today that your future self will thank you for.

When I was going through some boxes in my office closet, I came across a list that I’d created for a seminar. It’s really a collection of some of my favorite quotes and I urged participants to borrow one or several and make it their personal motto.

I offer you the same challenge.

Happy are those who dream dreams and are willing to pay the price to make them come true. ~ Cardinal Suenens

We dream ourselves into being. ~ Ray Bradbury

Being in business is not about making money. It’s a way to become who you are. ~ Paul Hawken

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life I was a bride married to amazement. ~ Mary Oliver

All the arts we practice are apprenticeship. The big art is out life. ~ M.C. Richards

Life is too short for you to be the caretaker of the wrong details. ~ Alexandra Stoddard

Be with those who help your being. ~ Rumi

I make the most of all that comes and the least of all that goes. ~ Sara Teasdale

Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage. ~ Anais Nin

It is better to err on the side of daring than on the side of caution. ~ Alvin Toffler

Success means living the life of the heart. ~ Francis Ford Coppola

What we need is more people who specialize in the impossible. ~ Theodore Roethke

Fortune is not on the side of the faint-hearted. ~ Sophocles

In the quest for happiness, partial solutions don’t work. ~ Mihaly Czikzentmihalyi

Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far to go. ~ T.S. Eliot

We are all pilgrims on the same journey, but some pilgrims have better road maps. ~ Nelson DeMille

Somebody has to do something and it’s just incredibly pathetic that it has to be us. ~ Jerry Garcia

I don’t want to be saved. I want to be spent. ~ Fritz Perls

When it comes to inspiration, we must invite it in—and seek it out. The more aware you are of the things you find inspiring, the easier it is to tap into those sources.

Don’t wait until you’re feeling stuck or frustrated or cranky before you get a lift.

Inspiration is highly personal so know what feeds yours.

Here are some simple ways to help you live from an inspired place.

° Practice meditation. Practicing meditators tend to have better access to their inner fountain of wisdom and inspiration.

° Build a small collection of movies that you find inspiring and visit them from time to time. Favorites like Amelie or About a Boy can lift your spirits over and over again.

° Design regular learning projects that challenge you to stretch yourself. Learn a new language or acquire a skill that surprises you.

° Discover the happy, successful entrepreneurs in your midst and watch them at work in their natural habitats.

° Find the books that always speak to your highest self and keep them close at hand.

° Identify the three most inspiring people you know and see to it that you spend time in their presence as frequently as possible.

° Help someone else solve a problem and see how inspired you feel afterwards. Repeat often.

° Browse in a place you don’t normally go. Visit a hardware store or buy a magazine you’ve never read. See if you can figure out why someone else has an enthusiasm for a sport or hobby you’ve never considered.

° Remember that rigid routine is the enemy of inspiration. So are negative people. Both can creep up if we aren’t setting personal boundaries.

° Collect favorite quotes, make a vision board, fill your personal space with images of things that you love.

Recently I got an email with a familiar question. It said, “Your book is brilliant. Is there an update planned?”

I wrote back explaining, as I always do, that Making a Living Without a Job is about philosophy, not how-to, and updating isn’t necessary.

Upon further consideration, however, I realized that Winning Ways newsletter really is an on-going update to the ideas in the book.

Are you a candidate for this bi-monthly publication?

Here are some signs that it would be a perfect fit for you:

You’re interested in new resources and stories that inspire.

There’s room for one more on your cheering squad.

You sometimes catch yourself backsliding.

You’re overwhelmed by the avalanche of info on the internet.

You’re not sure how to recognize a snake oil salesman.

You suffer from Adventure Deficit Disorder.Y

You’ve discovered that inspiration isn’t vaccination.

You’re always on the lookout for ideas to add to your option bank.

You have no objection to being inspired.

Seeing WW in your mailbox reminds you that you mean business.

You love the notion of being a lifelong learner.

You know it’s important to invest in tools that will help build your dream.

You’ve learned that philosophy is more valuable than questionable success formulas.

You like having a permanent resource of ideas that won’t be forgotten on a computer file.

You’ve been repeatedly warned that self-employment is the place where there be dragons.

You know you’re a good investment.

Subscribe today and I’ll send you the July/August issue as a bonus. Your official subscription, however, will begin with September/October.  www.joyfullyjobless.com/winning-ways/

Not long ago, I sent myself a card that caught my eye at Trader Joe’s. “When was the last time you did something for the first time?” it challenged.

While there are many ways to measure success, one of the best is adding up the number of Firsts in your life. When we’re children, everything is a first. As time goes on, many people simply cease doing anything that is not a repeat of a past performance.

It’s the path to early senility.

How can you experience a life filled with Firsts? How can you find yourself exclaiming, “I’ve never done that before” ?  It may be easier than you think.

Every day living offers an abundance of opportunities to do something you’ve never done before. Drive a new route. Eat a new food. Get to know a stranger. Pick up a book from a section of the library you don’t usually visit. Try a new marketing approach. Write a poem. Wear a color that’s  been absent from your wardrobe. Take a public speaking class.  Plan a business project with a new partner.

While ritual and tradition may be comforting, making a conscious decision to pile up Firsts can be addictive. Doing so can also lead to larger adventures since it’s a guaranteed confidence builder.

In order to bring more Firsts into your life, your imagination needs to be fully engaged. While we all have  random first-time experiences, they can be far between if we don’t instigate them ourselves. Learning to think in new ways, in turn, is vital to growth.

“It is one of the paradoxes of success,” Charles Handy discovered, “that the things and the ways which got you where you are, are seldom the things to keep you there.”

You’ve got to keep creating Firsts if you want to see progress.

The enemy of living this way is the undeservedly popular comfort zone.  While that zone is different for each of us, it’s the place where there are no surprises, nothing unexpected.  It doesn’t build brain cells, it doesn’t stir the imagination. It’s the place where we keep the remote control and emotional control.

Parents often encourage their adult children to live in a comfort zone, thinking it’s a place that prevents worry. There are very few Firsts for those determined to preserve  comfort—which is truly worrisome. The comfort zone is a holding tank; it doesn’t lead anywhere.

No matter where you are nor how old you are nor how long it’s been since you’ve had a First, come up with one right now and do it. Then find another and do it again. Expect that you’ll experience discomfort and welcome it as an ally in creating a richer life, not a sign that you should turn back.

“Those who try to do something and fail are infinitely better than those who try to do nothing and succeed,” said Richard Bird. That’s an invitation to a life filled with Firsts.

Almost anytime I mention my siblings to someone who’s never met them, they smile and say, “You have the most interesting family.”

Although I think that my siblings are all fascinating people, I sometimes forget what a uniquely adventurous group we are. Until three years ago, getting together was a rare event that insured we were all on our best behavior when we congregate, but I think it goes much deeper than that.

Our siblings are, after all, the longest relationships most of us have. That shared history, no matter how good or how bad, lays a foundation that can’t quite be met by any other relationships that follow.

My sisters and brother aren’t just my longest relationships, however. They are each intriguing people in their own right.

What I like best—and admire most—is that each of them has designed a life that reflects their personal passions and talents.

Just imagine a family gathering with this cast of characters.

Nancy is two years younger than I am and the one who always had the most clarity about her path in life, it seemed. When she was in junior high school, she decided to become an archaeologist.

That’s precisely what she did, becoming a leading authority on Etruscan architecture.

She lived in Athens, Greece, for most her adult life, then spent a decade in Rome before moving back to Santa Barbara at about the same time I moved to California.

We tend to think of her as the scholarly one—she is Dr. Winter—but that’s not the side we see.

Continuously curious, she is always up for new adventures and just paid her first visit to Universal Studios accompanied by my grandchildren.

My next sister, Becky, had the difficult situation of being born the middle child. Maybe that’s why she has a natural ability to organize things. Much of her working life has been spent in libraries, but her organizing skills show up in everything she does from trip planning to running her house.

Like the rest of us, she’s an enthusiastic traveler. The only one of us who is married, she is also the only one of us to have appeared in the Today Show window.

Jim is the lone male in our tribe, but he’s learned to manage it well. Besides being a genuinely nice person who often reduces me to hysteria, he also has seemed the most paradoxical.

A longtime employee of Southern California Edison, Jim is also a talented painter and enthusiastic surfer, continuing to surf as often as the waves cooperate. His gorgeous painting of Italian rooftops hangs above my fireplace, a lovely reminder of one of our family trips to one of our favorite places.

Margaret is the youngest and has a well-earned reputation as the Scrabble player to beat. Besides sharing a love of books, Margaret and I were also single parents of a single daughter each.

Like our father, Margaret is a walking encyclopedia of useful information. If i want to know how to fix something or cure a malady, I check with Margaret after doing preliminary research on Google.

Her home is a testament to her skills as a gardener, woodworker and decorator. She also makes stunning hair fascinators.

Although Becky, Jim and Margaret have spent most of their lives in California, our relationship has evolved even more now that Nancy and I are in the same neighborhood.

Whether we’re gathering for our monthly Second Sunday dinners or planning a museum outing, I always come away thinking, “I really like these people.” Then I notice that my creative spirit feels well-fed.

As Jane Howard reminds us, “Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.”



My involvement with the Summer Olympics was confined to watching the Opening and Closing Ceremonies. I thought they both were dazzling, but there was something else that impressed me even more.

While the athletic achievement was getting all the attention (and rightly so), I began wondering about how many people were involved in making this event happen. The athletes weren’t the only ones turning in a stunning performance.

In the midst of watching the closing event, I shared this thought on Facebook: “From the Opening Ceremonies to the Closing, I keep thinking how this event has had thousands of people rising to the challenge and playing their best game.

“How many musicians, designers, engineers, lighting designers, dancers, coaches, organizers, architects, builders, etc., etc., etc., were involved in bringing this amazement to life?”

After I went to bed, I was still thinking about the impact this colossal event had on so many people who had risen to the challenge. I began imagining the tiny sparks of ideas had led to some of these triumphs.

Here are a few of the conversations I pictured.

What if we got all the construction people to form a cheering corridor to welcome the Olympic torch into the stadium?

What if we sent someone around to schools to audition their choirs to sing at the ceremonies?

What if we found a company that could produce millions of pieces of confetti?

What if we got the Spice Girls to reunite?

What if we had them zooming around the stadium standing on the roof of decorated London cabs while they were singing?

What if we did something amazing with lighting on all the seats?

What if we celebrated imagination and had John Lennon remind us?

Then I remembered  Ralph Waldo Emerson’s observation, “Our chief want is to have somebody inspire us to be what we know we can be.”

Obviously, a legion of people had inspired the thousands of others it required to bring this spectacular vision to life. So why do so many of us ignore or dismiss the power of inspiration?

Which leads me to another question: What if we challenged ourselves to amaze ourselves on a regular basis?


Thanks to an ominous noise coming from my front left wheel of my trusty Saturn, I spent my holiday weekend close to home. Although I had no idea what was causing the noise, I kept thinking of a recent caller to Car Talk who had a problem with a front axle. I believe she was warned not to push her luck.

My daughter had recommended Big John’s, a family-owned local shop, so I called them ten minutes after they opened at 7:30 AM. They suggested I come in as soon as possible for a diagnosis, which was exactly what I hoped they’d say.

The men behind the counter at Big John’s were all enormous and enormously tattooed. Most of them sported scraggly beards and jolly smiles.

In the customer seating area there was a sixty-inch tv sporting a duck hunting reality show. I was sorry I’d left in such a hurry that I forgot to grab a book, but noticed a stack of magazines on the coffee table in front of the leather sofa. I was not optimistic that I’d be able to amuse myself.

About ninety percent of the magazines were back issues of Men’s Health or Sports Illustrated. Then I spied Departures, an American Express publication featuring luxury travel.

I decided it was more promising than the other choices, so I began halfheartedly browsing through it. In amongst the ads for expensive watches and hotels, I came across a fascinating story by a writer who had paid a visit to Rumi’s adopted hometown in the south of Turkey.

Yes, that Rumi. The beloved poet, I learned, had been born in what is now Afghanistan, but for most of his adult life lived and wrote in Konya. By the time I finished the piece, I wanted to join the 5,000 pilgrims who visit his tomb every day.

By this time, my car problem was diagnosed and it was, indeed, an axle and bearing causing the racket. I was told it would take about 2 1/2 hours to repair. The jolly man at the counter said, “We’ll let you have the remote for the tv.”

I was feeling pretty jolly myself when he told me my repair was going to come in under $500, about $1000 less than I’d anticipated. I laughed and said I’d call my daughter to come and rescue me.

While I waited for my ride, I decided to browse through another magazine, a thick marketing piece for an MLM company disguised as an issue of Success magazine. It was mostly filled with stories extolling tales of financial freedom distributors of the company had found through their businesses.

I kept turning pages and there at the end was a non-marketing article about the late speaker Jim Rohn. Much of the story was familiar, but at the end of the piece was a glorious tip sheet called something like Jim Rohn’s Seven Steps for Living a Great Life.

One of the tips that got my attention was a call to action.

Rohn said, “Don’t miss the game. Don’t miss the performance, don’t miss the movie, don’t miss the show, don’t miss the dance. Go to everything you possibly can. Buy a ticket to everything you possibly can.”

After my solitary weekend, that was music to my ears (or, literally, eyes). I smiled thinking how inspiration really is every where when you’re open to it, but Rohn wasn’t done with me yet.

“Live a vital life,” Rohn advised. “If you live well, it will show in your face. There will be something unique and magical about you if you live well.”

So I’m happy to report that my car is once again running quietly. And I promised Big John’s I would write a rave review about them on the Car Talk Website so I need to see if I can do so without gushing.

After all, public gratitude for great service is another aspect of living a vital life.

Of course, Rumi knew that, too. “The rule that covers everything is: How you are with others, expect that back.”

I’m guessing the guys at Big John’s demonstrate that everyday. What could be more inspiring than that?

This month we’ve been exploring habitats and the importance of putting yourself in your natural habitat as often as possible. Not all habitats are physical, however.

In fact, my personal definition of inspiration is “a place to come from.” When we decide to live our lives from an inspired place, we tend to get busy looking for ways to do just that.

For me, of course, self-employment is my starting point, my place of origin.

Last week, Steve Nobel from Alternatives St. James’s London and I had a lively chat about Self-employment as Your Next Career. Hope you’ll spend a few minutes listening to what we talked about.

Here’s the link on the joys of self-employment: http://shar.es/gfX5h

When I first moved to Minnesota, I joked  that there was a church on every corner. That’s a bit of an exaggeration, of course, but it seems that most major thoroughfares are dotted with them.

For several years, there was a church that I passed almost every day. Like most churches, it had a message board out in front; unlike most churches, this message board actually contained messages. Even more unusual, the messages were changed a couple of times every week so there was always a new one to check out.

Some of the messages were attention-getters like the one that said, “Satan loves a dusty Bible.”

Others were funny. My favorite one said, “Trouble sleeping? Try a sermon.”

Mostly they were lovely philosophical reminders to be kind and to make a contribution to making the world a better place.

One day I called the church and said, “In case no one has told you this, I want you to know how much your message board is appreciated by those of us driving by.”

The secretary said they’d gotten many positive comments on it, then added that the senior pastor went out at 5:30 in the morning to change the board. “Please thank him for me,” I said.

Several months later, I passed by the church again and saw a gathering in the yard. A fancy new message board had just been installed.

It had a burgundy and charcoal frame and was lighted from within. It was pretty spiffy, but I noticed that the message simply listed the times of their services.

What’s the point of posting the times of their services, I wondered. Those hours never change and surely their members already know when services are held.

If the point of posting them was for the convenience of non-members who might want to join them, I’m not sure there’s any obvious reason to pick this church over any other.

That’s the way it’s stayed. I hardly even noticed it after that.

I’ve tried to imagine what happened here. Maybe the senior pastor retired and nobody else wanted to do it. Maybe not enough people let them know that they liked the effort.

Or perhaps, and I hope I’m wrong here, the church forgot that it’s really in the inspiration business. Most likely, somebody decided it was too much bother to keep the messages up and in making that decision lost an enormous opportunity to contribute some random good.

This church isn’t the only example of losing sight of an opportunity to inspire. I once read an article entitled, “That Angry Flier Just Might Be Your Flight Attendant.”

The article pointed out that all the difficulties experienced by the airline industry are taking a toll on their employees. The sentence that really grabbed me  said, “Even before all the industry’s woes, attendants complained that their pay was too low for ‘friendly’ service.”

I was so astonished by that I must have read it over three times.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos once told an interviewer, “It’s not our customer’s job to lie awake nights figuring out how we can serve them better. We have to take responsibility for improving.” Maybe he should talk to the airlines.

If you want to make this coming year the best one you’ve ever had, take the challenge now to find ways to use your business as a tool to inspire.

Whether you’re repairing small engines, teaching yoga or designing websites, you’ll find there’s no shortage of opportunities to encourage other people—if you are so inclined. Inspire them by your joy, inspire them by your commitment, inspire them by caring about their success.

As Alfred A. Montapert said, “There is something better than putting money into your pocket and that is putting beauty and love and service into your life.”

Those are options that inspire.