Go Ahead…Squee. It’s Good for You

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?


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?

Spring Cleaning the Peter Pan Way


Peter Pan and Spring Cleaning

One of the great heartstring-tuggers of my childhood happened at the end of Peter Pan. Wendy has decided to leave Peter and return home. Peter is heart-broken, but pretends it doesn’t matter to him (as he is wont to do). Wendy and Peter agree that he will return every year for Spring Cleaning and take Wendy back to Neverland so she can clean out his hideaway and make all things new for him. She, of course, agrees (as she is wont to do).

The next year, Wendy waits (how she knows the day to wait remains a delightful mystery to me). And Peter does’t come for her (as he is wont to do).

Every year, Wendy waits. Peter does not show. Finally, many years later, Peter decides to come for Wendy. He enters the the nursery, and calls for her. She answers, but she is older now. It is too late for Wendy, she is too old to fly to Neverland. But, do not despair dear reader, because Wendy has a young daughter. And so, Peter takes Wendy’s daughter Jane to Neverland, leaving Wendy behind.

And that is where my heart broke. Wendy was too old and got left behind.

As a result of this story, the words Spring Cleaning inspire in me this strange combination of clarity (to make things new) and melancholy.

And Your Point Is…?

Spring cleaning also brings to mind such great images, doesn’t it? Sunlight pouring through open windows, white sheets gently waving in fragrant breezes, the whole house smelling lemony and fresh.

Spring cleaning doesn’t just have to benefit your house, however. It is also about leaving behind that which we no longer need or has become too old to bring forward with us into the new year. When we accept change without making it a bad, negative thing, (but rather an inevitable thing that arises from growth and change), we renew ourselves.

Let Go and Get Organized

By organizing our surroundings, and letting go of old stuff, we boost to our minds and our mental health. The problems created by too many old things and disorganization of necessary things, (such as lost keys, unpaid bills, embarrassment before company, etc.), create stress and worry. Stress and worry use up our energy and make us unhappy.

The ability to be in your own space, and know where everything is, and everything having a purpose, can give us a sense of satisfaction and happiness. Not only do we reduce the amount of stress and worry we have to deal with in our lives, we also free up that energy for other activities…activities that make us happy.

OK Doc, How Do I Do It?

An important psychological part of spring cleaning is to break it down into small steps. If you try to do too much at once (the whole house in one or two days, for example), you will actually be less productive. When overwhelmed by a task, most people freeze and don’t get any work done.

The Fly Lady is my favorite cleaning resource (well, besides Peter Pan.) You can find her at www.FlyLady.com. She suggests that you set your timer for 15 minute cleaning intervals with 15 minute breaks between cleaning. She reminds us that “we can do anything for 15 minutes!” Whether you break your cleaning up into “chunks” of 15 mins, 30 mins or by one section of a room at a time, take breaks between and give yourself lots of time.

Finally, after each “chunk” is completed, take a moment to experience how awesome it feels to have gotten something done. Our brains are hardwired to notice the negative moments in life as a way avoid the stuff that will kill us. While this is great for the survival of the species, it’s not so great for quality of life. We end up focusing on the bad stuff, and plow right through the good stuff-missing all the fun.

Another great Fly Lady trick (that also fits in really nicely with this Peter Pan theme I’m riffing on) is to sort the stuff that is lying around your house causing clutter and heart break. She suggests three piles: “Put Away,” “Throw Away,” “Give Away.” If an item it cluttering up your home, it is because it doesn’t have a home. Has it outlived it’s usefulness to you? Do you still need as a part of your life? Would it be helpful to someone else? Your answers to these questions determine upon which pile you place it.

Landing the Plane Now

So, be good to yourself. Organize your outside to give your insides a break. Let go of what you don’t need anymore. But when you do, take it slow and enjoy your success along the way. Here’s to open windows, spring breezes, and Flying to Neverland!

Let me know how it goes. 

Photo credit: storebukkebruse / Foter / CC BY