Friday, 30 April 2010

Just be OK with it

There is a technique I keep reading about - in pop psychology, new-agey weirdness and serious books about CBT. So someone somewhere thinks it must work.

Sometimes I over think things. I worry. I pick up on every little detail, every little issue and I allow it to grow in my head. It can stop me from sleeping. It can change my mood from bright and sunny to dark and stormy. It is a curse.

And it is a curse which can, apparently be avoided.

"You must face your fear, my child"

That's what the ancient enlightened master would say. And he would be right. Sort of.

When I get these thoughts in my mind, I generally try one of two tactics

Tactic 1: Solve the problem. Which is OK if the problem can be solved straight away, right there, right then. Otherwise you've just moved the issue on from "I have a problem" to "I wonder if I've solved thew problem". More likely, I just spend my time thinking of ways to solve the problem - and if this is the sort of issue, I'm tossing around inside my head, then either the solution is impossible, or it involves me doing something I genuinely don't want to do.

Tactic 1 Sucks.

Tactic 2: Push the problem out of my head. Because frankly I can't do anything about it right now, and I'll be just as unable to deal with it tomorrow as I am now. So why worry? I could be doing more important things like sleeping. So I just close my eyes and... Wham, problem in my face... must avoid problem... pushing to the back of my mind. but its growing. Must shrink problem... but problem is skirting around the edges of my consciousness. Must get rid of it... ahhh. Problem hidden.

Oh wait. I've just thought about it again. Not good.

Tactic 2 sucks big devilled eggs.

But this is what the books say - and this is what worked for me last night:

You may or may not get rid of your problem. But that's the state anyway. Sometimes your problem will stay sometimes it'll go. So you don't want to spend time worrying that you can't make it go - that's just giving yourself another problem.

Its okay to have a problem. The problem might mot be okay, but the fact that you have it is absolutely fine.

Examine the problem... don't try to solve it, just look at it. Bring it to the forefront of your mind. Play with it. How does it feel physically? How does it sound. What colour is it. Is it warm or cold? hard or soft?

Keep examining it.

That is all.

Now lots of the books say that the problem will go away. But the problem going away isn't the point. If you want the problem to go away from your mind, then you mind having the problem. And the secret is not to mind. Because that is when you are at peace.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

How much like a broom are you?

You've heard the story. A roadsweeper retires, and in his retirement speech he tells the story of how, thoughout his career he has always used the same broom. A listener is sceptical about this and comes up to him after the dinner to ask him about it

"Its true" the roadsweeper says "the same broom. Though I had to change the head ten times and the handle twelve"

Now think back 10 years. Are you the same person. Would you act exactly the way you acted back then with the knowledge you have now? Do you really have the same values, the same responsibilities, the same skills and the same desires. My bet is you don't. While you might have a continuous memory of experience - just like the roadsweepers broom had a continuous pattern of use, you're only as much the same person as the broom is the same broom.

("But I have many things the same. I have the same parents or the same spouse." Yes you do, but my sister has the same parents as me, and she isn't the same person)

I said that you had a continuous memory of existing. But you don't. The likelyhood is that sometime in the last 24 hours, you have a mysterious gap in your memory... it probably happened sometime between when you lay your head down on the pillow last night and when the alarm clock rang this morning.

So are you the same person you were yesterday?

Not quite. Yesterday, before I fell asleep, I was tired. Today I'm awake and energetic. Different day, different person. Similar person, but not the same.

So why spend quite so much time worrying about what someone else did yesterday? Or last week. Or twenty years ago?

If you were a time traveller who had just jumpped into your body (and at this point I have to acknowledge that I get all my self help tips from Quantum Leap... except for when I'm getting them from Blake's 7) you wouldn't obsess about what you might have done differently. You would just get on with making the best of what you've got from where you are now.

Come to think of it, are you the same person you were when you started reading this?

Friday, 23 April 2010

Let the meditation flow

Meditation is the art of stoping the mind from analyzing, and just experiencing what is. Most people are used to meditating in quiet, perhaps in a darkened room, maybe with a nice new-agey pan-pipe classicsy CD playing.

But meditation can be more than this.

Most people say, that you probably shouldn't meditate when driving.

But when you're driving, what are you doing: well, you're probably worrying about the day ahead, fuming about the driver who cut you up at the lights and listening to the music on the radio. The one thing you're not doing is actually experiencing the driving.

So today I tried an experiment. I decided just to drive. I decided to only pay attention to what was currently going on while I was driving. And it was an interesting experience.

Because it was much like meditation.

As I drove, I paid attention to the road. To the feeling of bumps, to what the other cars were doing around me. To everything I could experience about the present. I didn't worry about whether there might be a traffic jam in 10 minutes time, nor did I pay any attention to any driver who was no longer near me. There was just the driving. And the not driving (which is what happened at traffic lights).

And, while I was doing this, non-driving thoughts came into my head, and I let them go away (without much judgement), just like I do when I meditate. And then thoughts about the process of "there just being the driving" came into my head. And it took me a little more time to notice them, and a little more effort to let go of them - just like it does when I meditate.

The processes were the same. The behaviours were the same. It wasn't dangerous, because I was all about the driving - I was more aware and more able to react than usual.

And it was more fun than driving usually is, because I was all there. It was similar to how I feel when I get into the zone writing, or computer programming, or talking with friends. I was wholely there, in the present, doing one thing and one thing only with my mind.

This is what psychologists call flow.

But it was more than flow. It was meditation.

What parts of your life can you meditate on? Can you turn something boring into something all-absorbing because you put your complete attention onto it - after all, in meditation you put your attention onto breathing and repetative mantras, why shouldn't filling in a payroll or hoovering the carpet be just as valuable and flow just as well?

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

I Don't Believe It!

There are ideas out there that sound crazy. Maybe you've heard that one about people evolving from fish, or that markets are guided by an invisible hand. Possibly you've heard the world was created in seven days. Maybe someone once told you that Microsoft make good software. So you ignore the ideas that don't fit into your mental model, right, and move on?


Or it can be.

Have you ever tried imagining six impossible things before breakfast?

You see, all these beliefs you hear about - people hold them. Some people find them terribly important. Some people base their lives on their beliefs. In some way, their beliefs, however mad and crazy sounding, work for them.

Wouldn't it be interesting to try to hold their belief for a short while, and see how it works for you?

An interesting characteristic of holding some of these beliefs is that the belief may well be wrong, weird and frankly about as likely as me winning Miss World, but the side effects of the belief can be interesting. Believing in an all loving god not only gets you a get into heaven free pass (allegedly), but also gets you a community who will support you, a free (and well organised) psychological support service, and a shot of confidence when you know that there is a supernatural big brother looking out for you. It almost makes holding one crazy belief worthwhile, doesn't it?

Friday, 16 April 2010

My Most Recent Magic Wand

For the past few years I've been feeling ill. Or at least sometimes I've been feeling ill (I was rushed to hospital at one point) and at other times I've just been feeling run down. Tired and foggy minded was my usual state. I had forgotten it could be any different - sure I remembered not feeling that way, but I thought "Well, I'm thirty. This must be what being old feels like. I wonder if they do special offers at the crematorium..."

Every so often I've asked my doctor about this. And I've seen specialists. And alternative health professionals. But none of them seem to have come up with a particularly convincing answer.

Until a month or two ago I went back to my doctor

"Look" I said, "I still have lots of symptoms, and while none of them are destroying my life, adding up they are causing me quite a bit of irritation"

My doctor thought about it. And he happened upon an idea he had missed previously. That experts in the field had missed - or been distracted from

"Has it occured to you that you might be gluten intollerant?"

It hadn't. I know one gluten intolerant persona while back, and half thought she was faking it to get attention. It was another thing for a doctor to tell me to try to get me out of his office for a month, wasn't it.

Well... apparently not. I tried my best to stop eating gluten and bam! out of nowhere I began to feel less foggy headed, and the other symptoms of my illnesses began to vanish.

One change - not eating gluten - seems to cure a whole number of ailments: some of which I wondered if I was imagining, and some of which I had never even thought to ask to be cured.

Now I'm not suggesting you stop eating gluten (your body can probably handle it better than mine), but I will suggest keeping looking for answers - and don't be afraid to give suggestions a go - even if you think they sound like poppycock.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

A Tale of Two Artists

There were two brothers (I'm making this up. Maybe they had a sister. Maybe they were cats. Its an allegory, not a special from the Biography Channel.). Both brothers wanted to be artists. The first was talented, and full of great ideas. he was dedicated and hard working. Each night he would go to hist study and look at his works. Adding to them, improving them, getting them to be perfect. His ideas never stopped flowing, and he never stopped working.

His brother was lazy and untalented. He only had one idea. And it wasn't a very good idea. But it was his. He dashed it off. Didn't take too much care. And when it was finished, he tried to sell it.

For years the second brother tried to tell his piece of poor artwork. Eventually, someone paid him a fiver... maybe for the artwork, maybe just to get the brother to stop bothering him.

Meanwhile the first brother continued perfecting his art in the study. Which no one could see.

Perhaps his art was fantastic. But it had never been seen by anyone except for the first brother.

And as such, despite its perfection, it wasn't art.

It was just busywork, which kept the first brother from ever achieving greatness.

As for the second brother? Well, he probably used the fiver to buy a big mac, and, while sitting in McDonald's eating it, he probably met a princess or some such and got married to her.

Yeah. That's probably what happened.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Waving your wand with your will

If something takes willpower, then you're not going to be able to keep it up for life. You only have so much willpower, and inevitably more important things crop up in your life - things that demand all of your willpower right now.

So either it becomes a habit (and stops requiring willpower), or you need to find another magic wand

By all means commit to try to use your willpower to try to make a change in your life for a set period. But, if during that time you fail to keep to your commitment - or if at the end of the period youi feel proud of yourself, but the idea of another period just as long fills you with dread - then give up using that approach.

For now.

If it still takes willpower, it isn't a habit.

But just because it doesn't work now, doesn't mean it won't work in the future. You change, your environment changes, your options expand and you learn new tricks, new ways of doing things, special sauces you can use to make your challenges super tasty. Now you have two magic wands to search for

A wand which will solve the original problem without requiring so much willpower
A wand which will make using the wand that didn't work last time work better this time

Thats twice as many possibilities - you've doubled your chances of solving the problem

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Feeling helpless?

In an experiment dogs were taken, and given electric shocks. Some could turn off the shocks if they pressed a button. But others had no way to control the shocks. The dogs that could turn off the shocks learned to do it, and were able to avoid being shocked, whereas the dogs with no control just lay down and whimpered.

Later all the dogs were placed into a pen and given electric shocks. The dogs could stop these shocks by jumping into another part of the pen. The dogs who had been able to turn off the shocks with the button, learned to jump to the shock-free part of the pen. The dogs who had been unable to control the shocks previously just lay down and whimpered.

The whimpering dogs had learned there was nothing they could do to stop the shocks, so they didn't even try.

The modern corporate environment is a similar situation: you may get promoted not because you are good, but because someone else resigns. You may get pay rises not because your work improves, but because the economy is doing better - and as a result your firm is doing better. You may be sacked, not because you are bad at your job, but because the company is moving in a different direction. The rewards and penalties don't relate you your performance, they are out of your control. When things get bad, the best you can do is lie on the floor and whimper.

Corporations create helplessness in their employees.

If you want to avoid helplessness, it is up to you to find out what it is that you do control.

Friday, 2 April 2010

Regifting your life

We all like to get gifts, and we all like to give them.

The thing that differentiates an artist from a freelancer is that an artist creates a gift and offers it to the world, whereas a freelancer performs work in order to be paid

What would happen if you turned all of your interactions with other people into gift giving possibilities?

What would happen if you stopped looking for what you would get out af a deal and just started trying to give the best gifts you can?