Risky Choices

It is not easy to take risks. Let’s face it, by definition “risks” provoke a little anxiety if not outright fear.

It seems to me that the older we get, the easier it is to maintain our own personal status quo. Even in early adulthood, the pressures of accomplishing our goals…finishing school…getting a job…making enough money to live on…forces us to stay an a fairly narrow path of priorities.

There are 24 hours in a day and we have to choose how to use each one of them. Do I take this precious hour and … do the laundry…complete that report…catch up on e-mail…or do I do something different, something that beckons but just doesn’t fit into my pre-established priorities?

Mostly, we have to do the laundry, complete the reports and catch-up on e-mail to prevent our lives from unravelling. But every time? Every hour, every week?  In fact, I would argue that we do far more damage to our lives by not making unconventional choices once in a while.

There is this great, amazing thing on the internet called National Novel Wrting Month (NaNoWriMo for short.) Have you heard of it? It’s crazy really. Every November, thousands of people from all over the world gather together on the Internet and pledge to write 50,000 or more words in 30 days. And they actually do it! I did it this past November.

You get a ton of support and encouragement from the incredibly enthusiastic staff of NaNoWriMo and the hundreds of volunteers who serve as writing cheerleaders. Yet,  in the end it comes down to you, the hour, and the choice. Do I take the less chosen path or do I fold the laundry?

During the month of November, NaNoWriMo provides the motivation to shift your priorities and choose the risky path. (They also offer Camp NaNoWriMo every April. Guess what MY priorities look like this month?)

Find your own personal NaNoWriMo and experiment with choosing the risky hour. Maybe you can pick the first Saturday each month from 8:00-10:00am to draw, or sign-up for that new Hip Hop dance class at the Y. Has your knitting been calling to you from that pile in the corner? When’s the last time you sang a song?

Try it. Make a risky choice for one hour this week and see what it feels like. It’s good for you.

How to Make a Successful New Year’s Resolution

2016 Resolutions

I don’t completely buy into New Year’s resolutions. I know that for some people, they work incredibly well. If that’s you, more power to you! Keep doing it and you do not need to keep reading this post.

For the rest of us, New Year’s resolutions often end up becoming another source for feelings of inadequacy and failure, ultimately reminding us of what we DIDN’T do in the past year.

It doesn’t have to be that way, though. If we shift our thinking about New Year’s resolutions from “goals to accomplish” to “directions to explore,” they can become a lot more helpful (and achievable!)

1. Don’t set your resolutions until you are ready. January 1 is just a date on a calendar, it doesn’t really mean anything. Give yourself time, after the craziness of the holidays, to let potential resolutions percolate through your thoughts organically. If you make yourself set resolutions because of the date, they may not reflect what you really want from your life.

2. Rather than thinking about what you want to “change,” “do,” or “fix” in your life, try out “expand,” “grow,” “stabilize,” “concentrate” or “explore.” Not only are these words more neutral in tone, they are also about a process of growth rather than a behavior correction (which even sounds bad!)

3. Rather than goals, think of your resolutions as experiments. For example, a typical resolution for lots of people this time of year is weight and exercise. Switching out “I will lose 25 pounds and work-out at the gym 5 days a week” for “I will look for ways to increase the amount I move my body. I will expand my repertoire of healthy recipes that I really love to cook and eat” could mean the difference between feeling like a failure and actually making a change  during the year.

For another example, if you believe that you are over committed , try “I will concentrate my time on the people and activities that really make me happy.”

5. If you are wanting to explore an area that feels really stuck, I highly recommend you get professional help. Professionals such as therapists (OK, my bias is showing), coaches, trainers, organizers, financial planners, nutritionists, etc, can make a real difference in our ability to make some shifts in stuck places.

If you want some help changing your goals to experiments, leave me a comment telling me your goal and I’ll comment back with a suggestion of how to make it an experiment.

Good luck and I wish for you all the small moments of goodness 2016 has to offer.

Go Ahead…Squee. It’s Good for You

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So. This pic. It’s a thing. A real thing. Finding something to love, purely, completely, unabashedly…a thing that just makes you smile for no reason at all other than it exists…and then giving yourself permission to love it….and then loving it…this changes us. It settles us. It counteracts the obsessive, frantic, guilt/shame/desperation inducing energy of modern life.

Let’s call this little stick “blue” and the frantic drive of modern life “red.” (Hat tipped to you, Mr.Hoskinson.)

What drives the red is a lot of stuff we can’t control, and some stuff we can.

How To Not Get Eaten

Several ways of thinking have evolved in humans over millions of years that are really good at keep us from being eaten by other animals. These thought strategies, in the face of life or death struggles for survival against the forces of nature, work pretty perfectly.

Not so much when the greatest danger one faces in a day is a snarky comment by a co-worker, or getting slammed on Twitter. Or, to be less snarky, when we can’t pay the bills or we think our spouse is having an affair. These last two are pretty bad, but they still aren’t the same as being bitten by a snake or chased by a jaguar.

These ways of thinking impact how we see ourselves, other people, and the world around us. While they are awesome at keeping snakes from biting us, not so much for our reactions to everyday life.
One strategy is called the “drive for completion.” For example, what do you see below?

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Filling In The Blanks

If you said four packmen, good for you! Most of us see a square. But there isn’t really one there, is there? Your brain filled in what it thought should be there, and you saw that, and not what was really there. Yep, we make stuff up.

As a therapist, one of the first things you learn in Psychotherapy 101 is to never ask a client, “Why?” You are guaranteed to get a made-up answer that may or may not have anything to do with what is really going on. That’s because we always fill in the gaps when there are missing bits in a story.

Even better, we fill-in those gaps in with the most threatening information we can think of. This s called the “threat bias.”

Snakes Everywhere

Imagine we are ancient jungle dwellers walking along a jungle path. Five yards ahead of us we see something long and thin lying across our path. It could be a stick or it could be a snake; we don’t know because we are missing important bits of information. So, our brains have to fill in those bits and decide how to avoid danger.

If we decide it is a snake and it’s really a stick, we’ve burned a few extra calories by taking the long way around, but we’ve also lived to walk another day. However, if we decide it’s a stick, and it’s really a snake? No more days, no more walks in the jungle, and no babies to pass down our DNA.

We have all evolved from those early humans who always assumed it was a snake.

Hang On! Landing This Plane Now

These two thought strategies (along with some others) trick our brains into seeing red when it isn’t really there. Given shady, incomplete intel, we usually decide something bad is happening. (Unless we train ourselves to question our assumptions. That’s another post.)

In the age of 140 characters, there are significant amounts of detail and nuance missing from today’s chatter. (Not to mention the 24-hour, violence saturated news cycle, and our obsession with cop shows, gangsters, street violence, war, and serial killers that basically just provoke us.) Our brains manage all this by seeing snakes…everywhere.

Our bodies react to snakes, if you hadn’t noticed. The podcast Invisibilia posted an episode which beautifully demonstrated our innate terror of snakes. So, snakes are a metaphor for threat and we perceive ourselves to be surrounded by them all the time….even when we are, in actuality, not. Result? We see red. All the time. Red equals sympathetic nervous system activation. (That’s the adrenaline/fight/flight thing we do.)

Red is supposed to be “on” for short sprints of time (like, literally running away from a snake). But, if we are seeing snakes all the time (when they aren’t even there), we are in red way moreover than we’re made to be. This is not good for a body.

Feeling the Blue

Where we are actually supposed to spend most of our biological time is in the “blue” (otherwise known a our parasympathetic nervous system). Blue is calm and enjoyable. Blue is mellow and safe. Blue is a return to baseline through energy dispersal. Blue is not best when facing a snake, but it’s awesome when you are settling in to watch your favorite TV show.

In a world addicted to red, blue is the brake. This is where squeeing and stick loving come in.

When you love something and give yourself permission to fully enjoy it…to Squee…to go down the rabbit hole…you engage your blue system. When your blue system comes online, good things happen. Satisfaction, joy, happiness, pleasure, all show up on you desktop.

Most importantly, blue turns off the red* and gives your body a break from the relatively harsh chemicals that make it possible for you to run away from that snake.

This is why unabashed fandom FOR ANYTHING is such a great (dare I say it) healing endeavor. By letting yourself love whatever you love (Doctor Who, The Blue Devils, Chopped, comics, Grey’s Anatomy, The Padres…) you offer an avenue to shut-down unnecessary red process and enter into the stuff that makes life good.

So, free the Squee. If you haven’t discovered what you love, set out to find it. If you know what you love, but are embarrassed, get over it. If you’ve found it and accept it, but don’t make time for it, figure it out and make some changes.

So, free the Squee. If you haven’t discovered what you love, set out to find it. If you know what you love, but are embarrassed, get over it. If you’ve found it and accept it, but don’t make time for it, figure it out and make some changes. Make friends with others who share your squee. Here a couple of examples of fabulous squeeing:

Pop Culture Happy Hour

Verity! Podcast

After all, we’re never going to really, scientifically, with proof and charts and spreadsheets and statistics KNOW what the point of it all is, are we?

So, might as well grab our stick and enjoy our walk in the jungle (when the snake is sleeping, of course).

*For you science nerds out there, I’d just like to acknowledge that, yes, I am oversimplifying this rather complicated and complex process. Just trying to make a point and spread the blue…

Tell me…what’s your stick?