NEED AN IDEA FOR A NOVEL OR SCREENPLAY (OR NEW BUSINESS)?

ASK YOURSELF ONE TWO-WORD QUESTION

When I began writing novels, I reached out to a writing coach named Gary Provost. Gary, who has since passed away, had a remarkable talent for simplifying the process of creating storylines. It was partly because of his excellent guidance that I began my Frank Clevenger series of mysteries.

Gary shared with me a simple tool to come up with the theme of a short story, novel or screenplay. It was this two-word question: What if?

I think Gary’s two-word question is a great way to jump-start creative work of many kinds. Certainly, it works for works of fiction:

What if an unknown fighter from Philadelphia suddenly got a shot at the Heavyweight Championship? (Rocky)

What if an alien got left behind on earth and was discovered and housed by the kids who found him? (ET)

What if robots began to have human feelings, with potentially disastrous consequences for humankind? (I, Robot)

If you are feeling a bit blocked when trying to think up a story worthy of a work of fiction, try using the “What if?” question yourself. Let your mind wander. What if you opened the door to your home and everyone in it seemed to be a stranger? What if a couple who were down on their luck stumbled upon what seemed like the perfect plan to rob a bank, tucked away in their attic by the wife’s great grandfather? What if Abraham Lincoln reappeared on the earth and sought the Presidency?

Okay, I happened to just come up with those and fire them off, but you get the idea. With a few hours of blue skying, you can probably come up with several of your own. You certainly don’t need to commit to anything at first. The whole idea is to make “What if?” a recurring theme in your creative imagination.

Of course, the “What if?” question doesn’t need to apply only to fictional projects or entertainment projects. It’s a great question to use to get your mind in the space to think up potential inventions, new business ideas or ways to reengineer your current business.

“What if?” is the opposite of “What’s the sense?” It’s an inherently optimistic platform from which to envision new horizon. It’s a question that invites your imagination to come out to play. There are no wrong or dumb or outlandish answers to the “What if?” question. Because the question is so open-ended and so inviting of bold ideas that all thoughts are welcome. The more the better. It might take dozens of ideas you don’t ultimately embrace to come up with the one that you do. But that’s still lightning fast.

Need a little more prompting? Try these:

What if I woke up tomorrow and . . . ?

What if I opened the window of my office and . . .?

What if I was looking at my arm and . . .?

What if the phone rang, I picked it up and . . . ?

What if I was just walking through the mall and . . .?

I could go on and on and on. So can you. Trust me. And that’s the point. Your creative imagination is infinite. Sometimes it just needs a jump start.

Keith Ablow, MD

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How to Keep Your Self-Esteem High

PLAY YOUR GAME!

(Or How to Keep Your Self-Esteem High, when the Rewards Only Come Later)

One of my favorite scenes in a movie is the scene in Miracle, when Kurt Russell, playing U.S. Olympic hockey team coach Herb Brooks, yells at his players, “Play your game!” The last minutes of the now famous U.S. versus Soviet Union hockey game are ticking by, and Brooks wants his players to remain undeterred by Soviet attempts to make them lose focus.

Mind you, almost no one gave the American team any chance of defeating the Soviets, who were a hockey dynasty, considered unbeatable by all the experts.

Just take a look at the last minute of the game, in case you haven’t seen it. Because it is testimony to what can happen when focus and determination trump everything.

Well, I think, “Play your game!” is some of the best advice those with creative goals could ever hear. Why? Because, for anyone pursuing a career as a writer or artist or entrepreneur or musician or poet, the world is full of potential distractions and discouragements. And it’s very tough to remain committed to one’s path—especially a creative one—when the risks may be high and the pay may be low (if only termporarily).

Human beings have a tendency to compare themselves to one another, ceaselessly. The entire market for luxury goods and homes and cars depends on it. So, you’ll be constantly tempted to not “play your game” by friends and colleagues who take less uncertain paths to more certain financial rewards or greater status.

Here’s a little advice from the first psychiatrist I ever went to as a patient—Dr. James Mann. Yes, even psychiatrists go to psychiatrists. Actually, I was Chief Resident in psychiatry at Boston’s Tufts/New England Medical Center, at that time. And I told Dr. Mann that I wanted to complete work on a literary novel during my “free” time, but that a friend of mine had suggested I pivot to a different genre that would be more likely to sell lots of copies and make me more money. “The last place you want to end up,” Mann said, “is in a first class seat on a flight going somewhere you don’t want to go.”

Translation: Play your game, not anyone else’s.

This advice is particularly important for young people who need to navigate, absorb and make sense of all the feedback they get from friends, parents, teachers and coaches as they move from one grade to another and one school to another. Because the educational system as it is currently constructed—almost everywhere—is a soul-crushing, mind-numbing machine that rewards abandoning oneself, in favor of rote memorization of inert facts and useless skills. So it’s worth reminding our sons and daughters, again and again, to play your game, meaning to measure themselves according to whether they are developing strong character, whether they are expressing themselves creatively and intellectually in ways they value, whether they are learning leadership skills and autonomy, and whether they are avoiding any undue self-criticism.

You deserve no less. Make no mistake: When you journey boldly forward to pursue your true creative dreams, you are playing your game. It is not easy. But the rewards cannot be reproduced by playing according to anyone else’s rules or trying to achieve anyone else’s goals.

It shouldn’t be surprising that you might want a coach to help make that happen. If that’s the case, I would be honored to be the creative partner you deserve. Just email me at [email protected] or call 978-462-1125.

Keith Ablow, MD
Founder, Keith Ablow Creative

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A NEW BOOK ON HOW TO—LITERALLY—STAND UP TO DEPRESSION (Achieve Good Posture and Trigger Better Mood)

So much has been written about the mind-body connection—and rightfully so.  It now seems obvious that our psychological state affects the function not only of the central nervous system, but the heart and every organ in the body.  Diseases from cancer to multiple sclerosis to hypertension, and everything in between, demonstrate undeniable links to depression, emotional trauma and unresolved, underlying anger.

We are lucky to have recognized the ways that yoga can stave off dementia and the ways that meditation can increase longevity.

Too little, however, has been written about the mirror image of the mind-body connection—the body-mind connection.  Yet we do know that correcting bodily abnormalities can correct emotional ones.  Certainly, exercise can improve mood, but that isn’t half the story.  We are learning incredible ways in which one’s psychological equilibrium can be optimized by optimizing one’s physical equilibrium.

Simply put, developing physical balance is linked to developing emotional balance. This is not theory, anymore; it is fact.  One example:  Botox, which prevents the brow from furrowing when we worry, also seems to short-circuit worry itself. When we relax the muscles that contract too powerfully when we are over-wrought, the mind seems to relax, too.

Another example:  Probiotics that alter bacterial colonization of the gut can insulate the mind from profound highs and lows of mood.

These examples are just the beginning.  Our bodily state influences our mental state in myriad ways.

Now, physical therapist Kathi Fairbend, MS, RPT is adding a crucial contribution.  Her new book,  Stand Up to Depression makes the simple, elegant and powerful point that correcting one’s posture can literally pave the way to elevating one’s mood.

As Fairbend makes plain, if you teach yourself to stand up like a person who isn’t depressed, you will be in a better position (quite literally) to become a person who isn’t depressed.

Think about it:  If using Botox to block the contractions of a few muscles in one’s forehead can treat depression, imagine what can happen when (with the help of Ms. Fairbend’s book) you learn to stand up to depression, stop slouching, walk confidently and plant your feet firmly on the ground.  Dozens of your muscles will resonate with your intention to stand up straight in life, shoulder your troubles and refuse the negative feedback that comes from inadvertently bending an ankle or buckling a knee, with every step you take.

Depression is insidious.  It hobbles its victims mentally, but also physically.  Reverse the physical decline, and it helps to reverse the mental decline.

I was lucky enough to consult to Ms. Fairbend as she wrote her groundbreaking book through my company Keith Ablow Creative. I have had a front row seat to the birth of a new specialty of physical therapy—physical therapy for the mind.   And I can envision a time when, with Ms. Fairbend’s help, thousands of physical therapists will treat hundreds of thousands of patients who come to them not only for help with joints and muscles and bones, but for help with depression and anxiety.

For now, that help can come directly from Ms. Fairbend’s book.  Stand Up to Depression stands alone as the way that people can tap into the brilliance of (as I see it) America’s leading physical therapist, a woman whose entire life’s work makes her uniquely qualified to take her readers on a bold new path of healing.

 

Keith Ablow, MD

Founder, The Ablow Center and Keith Ablow Creative

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