• lynneeveratt

What will you do with your clean slate?

As news of Bill and Melinda Gates’ impending divorce spread last week, so did a story about Bill’s whiteboard. Apparently, Bill Gates decided to marry Melinda after listing the pros and cons on a whiteboard and concluding that marriage offered more benefits than drawbacks. We don’t know if Bill did a similar whiteboard exercise to decide that a marital breakup was in order, but if he did, it might look something like this:

How often in life do we just “wing” important decisions and go with a “gut feel” rather than take a studied approach like Bill Gates? There’s plenty of research that backs up writing things down rather than allowing thoughts to pinball in your head. Students remember more when they take handwritten notes rather than tap a keyboard. Writing fires up more regions in your brain than typing. Writing forces you to think. But when it comes to figuring out the best way forward, whiteboards take this tactile tactic to the next level. I love my whiteboard. I love the fluid feel of a dry erase marker in my hand, and the ease with which bad ideas can be erased and good ideas elaborated upon. After I scope out an idea on a whiteboard, I’m primed to transfer my thoughts to paper where they feel more like a solid commitment. As we emerge from our pandemic cocoons, we're presented with a clean whiteboard upon which we can draft scenarios for the next chapter of our lives. It’s what behavioral scientists call the fresh-start effect, the clean slate that can be used as a springboard to personal transformation. In her new book How to Change: The science of getting from where you are to where you want to be that I read this week and highly recommend, Wharton professor and behavioral economist Katy Milkman explores science-backed approaches that can thwart or accelerate positive lifestyle changes. But only you know the personal strengths and weaknesses that will enable you to customize your approach to your fresh start. A few of the strategies Milkman suggests in her book include: adding a “spoonful of sugar” to a budding habit by tying something you enjoy to your new behavior; making a public pledge so that you will embarrass yourself if you fail follow through; and “copy-pasting” the approach of someone similar to you who has successfully done what you want to do. In a recent Time article, Milkman elaborates on a few of her favorite techniques. With the transformation you'd like to make and a couple of science-based approaches in mind, you're ready to harness the power of writing to make change happen. If a blank sheet of paper or a blank whiteboard is daunting, do what legendary comedy writer of The Simpsons John Swartzwelder does: write the fastest plan you can to achieve your goal, as crappy as it may be, then sleep on it. Tomorrow you’ll be left with the fun and easy job of revising. Ideally, the end result of your efforts will be a goal that is so vividly described in writing (and visuals if you want to add photos, diagrams or cartoons) that you could show it to a friend, and they would know exactly what you want to do and how. Research shows that you will significantly increase your chances of success if you commit your clean-slate goal to writing. Here's a whiteboard outline of a 4-part approach* to help you if you’re the kind of person who, like me, needs to structure their writing and thinking: *Part 4 uses the Solomon Paradox to write a plan as if you were someone else giving yourself advice. Research has shown that we often reserve the best advice to give others, so writing in the second person will trick you into tapping into this sage state of mind.

You can find my plan to become fluent in Greek here. Links to fill your clean (reading) slate:

  • How Adult Children Affect Their Mother’s Happiness The Atlantic

  • Do this one thing to instantly boost your confidence at work Fast Company

  • Would You Go to a Hotel Just to Sleep? Vogue

  • The Grim Secret of Nordic Happiness Slate

  • What I’ve Learned from Getting Fired Six Times (So You Don’t Have To) The Walrus

Enjoy filling your clean slate! Lynne

(Thanks to Mark Rabe of Unsplash for the clean slate cover image.)

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