Ask your brain for help

Gert Mellak
I never cared about my brain.
Don't get me wrong, I did well at school and obviously knew my brain had something to do with that ... but I never leveraged my brain for creative thinking until my late 30s, which was when I really started digging a little bit deeper into how the brain works.
I guess I'd like to credit Mel Robbins as the trigger to what I'm going to explain further down, and to what I'm calling AYB with my coaching clients: Ask Your Brain.
It's a simple method, easy to explain - but before, I'd like you to make sure you realize something that for me, some time ago, was a break-through thought:

Most of the time, your brain is on auto-pilot.
What does this mean?

It means that from the moment you wake up in the morning, your brain already knows what to think and what to make you do. For many people this means:
  • checking their phone
  • e-mails
  • social media
  • bathroom
  • get dressed
  • walk the dog (in my case at least)
  • get the kids ready for school
  • go to your (home) office
  • sit down at the computer
  • check e-mails again
  • be busy the entire day to feel good
  • end work
  • pick up your kids
  • make them dinner
  • spend some time with them
  • get them ready for bed
  • watch TV
  • more social media
  • go to bed
  • check emails again
  • fall asleep
Do a few of these daily tasks resonate with you?

To get through a normal day, your brain doesn't need you - it already knows how this works, and just by switching to auto-pilot it makes sure you get through your day.

I believe that routines set you free, and your brain's auto-pilot helps you to maintain those routines, which is wonderful - most of the time.

Here's the catch though:
A brain on auto-pilot is not creative.
And a brain on auto-pilot is a very crappy problem solver.

2 things are necessary to bring your brain from auto-pilot into "genius" mode: space + good questions.
1) Space:
Apart from Think Way Bigger, I'm running an SEO agency with close to 30 team members, and at any given time 30-40 clients minimum. You can imagine that my schedule is pretty packed with meetings, things I need to revise, and more. There was no time for creativity, my auto-pilot brain just made sure I got through the day as scheduled and that was it.

I consciously had to create space to think in my schedule, which I did in 2 ways:
The first 30 minutes of every day in my calendar are labeled as "Focus time" - creative work time where I'm working on whatever I feel most inspired to do. (This article, by the way, is being written between 8:00 am and 08:30 am).
Another thing I've done is I've blocked Fridays out for me: in busy weeks, on Friday I'll make sure I recover on some work that got piled up over the week. In less busy weeks, I might be creating content, writing, see a friend, and usually on Friday stop work early after only a few hours to get to do some woodworking ;-)
2) A good question:
If you just have space, and sit there on your couch - or in my case, often at the kitchen table with my iPad ... ideas don't appear magically. Your brain needs to know what to be creative about.

So, the way this works is that you ask yourself a good question and let your brain wonder around that area for a bit.

A good question, for me, has the format of:
  • How can I improve X?
  • How can I be a better X?
  • What can I do for my team that will X?
I'll give you an example:
For SEO, content creation is a big topic - we've got 5 writers in our team, writing articles all day long. In fact, while I'm writing the articles for, most articles on my agency SEOLeverage are being written by my amazing writing team.

Many clients get 2-3 articles a month from us - some clients, though, would need 20 or even 50 articles to be written, and we didn't have the capacity.

One day, during my focus time, I asked my brain: "How can we scale content creation for our clients?".

And it only took a few minutes and some brainstorming to come up with a break through, namely to train our writers to become editors, and outsource content creation to selected external writers.

We had another break-through when we made it easy for clients to purchase added services directly from within our app.
And another one where we've come up with an entire new product line.

All these ideas wouldn't have come from my brain in auto-pilot mode. It took some space and a good question to make them happen.

By the way, this is also why often good ideas come to you in the shower.
And this is also why you shouldn't take your phone with you when going to the bathroom.

Your phone keeps you on auto-pilot. Heck, it's designed to keep your attention on those apps.
Also your notifications will make sure you stay on auto-pilot, which is why I've switched off all notifications except for my calendar to not miss any meetings.

This was ground-breaking for me, and I know it can be a break-through for you:
How you think impacts your life.

Now, implement:
  • Reserve some space for "focus time in your calendar" every single day.
  • Ask your brain a good question, to get a good answer!
  • Give yourself a few days or a couple of weeks to get into this, trust the process!
Author: Gert Mellak
Gert Mellak is an entrepreneur, agency owner and investor.
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