Harness Your Inner Opposite Day!

The other day I had this thought, and it has turned out to be a really useful one.

To set the stage, it was late at night. I fell asleep reading in a cozy bed with a dog at my feet. I believe my mind was saying something like,

“God I don’t want to get out of bed to brush my teeth. I just want to keep sleeping.”

And then it went,

“I wish I wanted to brush my teeth. How would that feel?”

And I proceeded to pretend like an actress that all I wanted to do in the whole wide world was get out of the cozy bed, put my feet on the carpet and walk myself to the bathroom to brush my teeth. I even pretended to look forward to the feeling of cold water.

The result was rather amazing. It made it a lot easier to do it than when I was fighting off my loathing for leaving the coziest place in the universe.

I continued to try this with other things.

“I am going to be so nervous when my friend asks me to sing with her later.”

Pause.

“I cannot WAIT to sing with my friend later. It’s going to be so fun. I am just so excited to see what happens!”

and then, even:

“I wish I never had to sing in front of anyone, ever. I don’t want friends. I don’t want to sing. I hate the whole thing!”

Like Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Sometimes you have to play around with extremes to see where you actually want to be.

The thing is, there are always many ways to see things. But usually we just stick with the first one. “I don’t want to do the dishes.” “I wish it was sunny out.” “I am not the kind of person that would enjoy walking in the rain, playing an open mic, dancing with a stranger, eating a salad for dinner…” anything at all. We get stuck and save time by not bothering to see things in the less familiar way.

We get these fixed notions, but what about trying for fun to see the same thing in the opposite way? And then maybe, a third way? A made-up way? A way that just reminds our brain that really, the first notion we have about the way something “is”, especially when that something is as complex and lovely as our human being selves,  is not necessarily the ideal one.

Just some thoughts for a Tuesday. I’m hoping that by continuing to do this, I’ll get through some aspects of stage fright and other patterns. Even if that doesn’t happen, the process of doing this is fun and leads to some cool perceptions. This picture, if it was moving, would display me singing in front of a new friend. So clearly, something is working.

Do you ever think about things in an opposite way just for fun?

Are you going to try it?

Do you know some of your most solid beliefs or ideas that you wish could change but you are just positive that they won’t?

Do you remember being different than how you are now, and wondering if life would ever change?

I hope your week is going well!

 

 

Will it Ever Feel Like Christmas Again?

This is the extent of our decorations..and it's still 80 degrees..

This is the extent of our decorations..and it’s still 80 degrees..

The older I get, there are more sad associations build up around holidays. Especially this year because it’s 80 degrees, my nuclear family is a few thousand miles away, and hearts are broken all over my home state of Connecticut. The holidays just don’t feel as good and innocent as they did when I was little.

I remember being young and asking about Santa. I asked if he could get us anything, and my parents nodded, knowing that the huge box of markers I had in mind was already a done deal. I asked if he came to everyone’s house, they said he did. I asked why people who need money don’t just ask for it then, instead of presents. They didn’t have a good answer. Maybe they said the elves couldn’t make money in the North Pole, I’m not sure. I just remember that it seemed awfully unfair, but I didn’t stop believing just yet.

That’s the thing. The unfairness was harder to handle than disbelief, in some ways. It was awful, and yet there was nothing I could do. The elves can’t make money and toys don’t pay bills, so suffering would happen and my fleeting notion that I had solved the world’s poverty problem was thrown out the window.

The Difficulty of Grasping “It’s Just Unfair”

When it came to learning Santa was fake, it was far more simple. Okay, there is no Santa. Not a huge deal, I sorta saw it coming anyway. Being a big fan of magic, I was just happy that they taught my brain to believe in magic at all (Yes, that’s the kind of stuff I’d think about as a kid). It was harder to feel and hold the sadness and anger that I could get presents, but not get money to give to everyone that needed it.

Let’s go to the Connecticut tragedy for a second, because that feeds into this too. In the midst of conspiracy theories and extreme religious people saying that God planned it or something like that, I can’t help but feel like these mentalities are held by those trying to run from that feeling of how horrible it is that someone could do such a thing without being brainwashed or part of God’s master plan. Murder of innocent people is happening in so many places, so much of the time, and yet we can’t always picture it or feel sorrow. For me, it’s easy to picture a suburban Connecticut town in December right before Christmas; that was where I came from. Maybe if it happened in the high plains it would seem farther. But having the ability to visualize it and relate with the situation makes it feel more powerful to me, and I’m not going to feel guilty for that. I can use the high impact of the tragedy in my consciousness to lead to more empathy when I hear of the many deaths of children around the world, but the ones that are “close to home” are going to hit harder, I would imagine.  It’s just how it is.

Back to the holidays, though.

Sure Doesn’t Feel Like Christmas Time

It doesn’t feel like Christmas and I don’t know if it ever will. Even if I was with my family on the East Coast, there is less of that feeling. Perhaps the holiday joy gets deeper and less sparkly as we age. Maybe it gets grainy and raw, a holiday feeling that has Sam Elliot’s voice and the grumble of a diesel engine. Maybe it isn’t light and fluffy like movie snow, but resistant and firm like a wrought iron crowbar from hundreds of years ago, being dug up from the dust.

Who knows.

But it’s okay. It’s fine. It doesn’t need to be any certain way, it just has never quite dawned on me that perhaps it isn’t just “this year” that feels off. Maybe the holiday spirit has taken on a permanent new form for me. The amount of friends I have who have lost parents or people close to them is growing, my heart goes to them as the holidays roll around, and there is sadness. It’s not just about trying to wish hard enough for new markers or crochet a dozen last-minute scarves. It’s about realizing that the holidays are as much a trigger for pain for some  people I love as a reason to celebrate for others.

The Roots of the Magic Becoming Transparent

Part of it is the decorations and consumer-based nature of this beast.

Cute plush stockings are our only decoration this year, but I know that the places where they were made would probably make me a bit sick. There are so many illusions, all trying to support the idea of love, but distracting from it, too. Cut down trees, buy gifts, buy insane amounts of decorations. I imagine being in some faraway factory, bracing for the time when Americans go nuts for cheap treasures.

What am I saying here? I’m not quite sure. I am having a hard time thinking normal thoughts since the Connecticut shooting, and anything else seems rather trite. I wonder if other people are feeling the difference in holidays as they get older, and if this holiday season will feel like other holiday seasons to anyone who felt a connection to Connecticut and the other recent tragedies.

Are you having a good holiday season, whatever holidays it is that you celebrate?

Are you finding the joy in these times, even with the pain happening?

Do you feel like the holiday spirit changes as we get older, or does it change as a product of the times, with technology and blow-up decorations taking the place of hand-made presents and simple ornaments?

Any thoughts you have related to the above are completely welcome.

I hope you are all well!

Checking Stats: The Deception & Addictiveness of Simplicity

I noticed an interesting event a few mornings ago when I looked at the clock the second I returned from a dog walk. “Aw, 10:15 already?” I said, but a nanosecond before looking at the numbers, my mind said “you’re going to think it’s late.” I realized that no matter what the numbers on the clock were, I was going to think it was late, because I was feeling rushed. It had nothing to do with the numbers.

Numbers affect me. I’m competitive in some ways. If we start playing a card game, I’ll want to win really, really bad. Not for any good reason. If there’s a game of me versus myself, I’ll still want to win. And that is where the stats come in.

Noticing the Impact of Stats & Numbers

Many of us use WordPress Stats, and any other social sites you are on may also have them. The musically oriented Soundcloud, for example, recently added one big box that just says “Views today” and “Views Yesterday” side by side. You can see in one nanosecond whether or not you had more views today or yesterday. That shift really caused me to see how much my brain is attracted to and affected by rather meaningless numbers.

It happened instantly. I wanted the number to be bigger today than yesterday.

The same happens with the Facebook page for my blog. There are even red and green arrows showing how many more or fewer people saw my posts each week, and they affect how I judge myself, the blog, and the value of it all. It’s not always conscious, but I want to be told “Good Job!” by the numbers just like I tried to always get A’s in school. I don’t like red arrows pointing downwards and telling me that I did worse today than yesterday.

The Difference Between Stats & Meaning of Stats

Maybe yesterday I got 800 blog hits and today I have 12. Maybe today though, someone sends me an email and tells me that because of reading my blog, they realized they wanted to stop harming themselves. Or maybe that happens and they don’t tell me.

According to the stats and my stat-focused-mind, the 800-hit day was better. According to my meaning-focused mind, the 12-hit day was better, unless I don’t know about that person and their decision. According to the dog, the best day was whichever one included bacon.

The world is bigger than those stats but it shrinks to their size pretty darn fast. They can seem to eclipse all else, at least for me, especially if I’m already in “a mood.”

What does this mean? I don’t know. Just that it’s something to pay attention to.

Why Do Some Of Us Love Numbers?

My guess is that it’s because they are concrete at first glance. It’s easy to look at Soundcloud now and say “Yesterday I did better than today” because of those huge in-your-face numbers that you can’t get rid of.

I can go to my blog’s Facebook page and look at the red arrow pointing downwards telling me that I have 357 fewer views this week than last week and feel like I did “worse” this week. This week was “bad”.

Good/bad, right/wrong, dark/light, sick/well, these things are addictive because they are deceptively clear and simple. They let us ignore the feeling of being uncomfortable, of stepping into new territories, and of facing the moment in an authentic way that does not rely on duality for judgement. stats 2

And I think the developers know that. Numbers cause an instant reaction. I get a slight rush when the numbers go up, almost regardless of what they actually indicate. A minute ego-boost happens when they go up. When they go down, I want to fix it. Like a rat in a cage trying to get pellets.

Using This In A Useful Way

On that morning I realized that the clock was going to be “too late” no matter what time it said, I made a decision inside. That decision is to pay attention to how numbers affect my mind. To remember that the picture is always bigger than the numbers, even if that’s less comfortable to perceive or acknowledge.

Since I know that my particular brain is prone to latching onto the numbers in their alluring simplicity, I can keep a special eye on that. My world doesn’t need to be reduced in that way, regardless of what imaginary safety that provides in the moment. This is not restricted to statistics.

This goes for feelings of success/failure, good/bad, awesome/sucky. Any time I attempt to judge myself in this black or white way can probably be looked at more closely because in reality, things are never quite that simple. I’m going to see if this shift helps me to react less to these numbers and to let go of some of the habitual overly-dualistic thinking and self-judgement patterns that don’t quite serve me.

Your Turn:

How about you, do you have a huge tendency to check stats and numbers? Do you have a Facebook page with those red and green arrows, and do you use them or try to ignore them?

Have you found ways of making real use of the numbers and stats for your overall purpose on this planet, whether it’s to help people or make money or make art or anything else?

Are the numbers useless?

Are the numbers just here nor there for you and they are easy to ignore or look at without getting too attached?

 

Related posts for inspiration:

A Lateral Plunge: The Natural Laws of Blogging

The Therapy Booth and their Facebook page with the Don’t Worry Clock!

Morning Intentions For Happiness…Right?

There are a lot of things we are supposed to do in the morning.

We should write down our dreams, eat good breakfasts, and stretch. We should get hydrated, go for a jog, and meditate. Depending on who you ask, you’re a fool if you leave out one or more of these.

But what about morning intentions? Are they useful? Are we all supposed to do them so that we can be happy, shiny people bubbling with cheer and healthy bank accounts and perfect relationships in no time at all?

Here I’m going to re-explore the question of happiness and how to find it through morning intentions. There are no solid answers to be found here, only some things that have been helping me to feel less crazy lately.
Happiness: Hmmmm….

I’ve been reading a great book about happiness recently called “The Happiness Trap.” Undoubtedly, it will show up in more than a few posts from here on in. The main thing I’m gaining from it is the acknowledgement that there are various definitions of “happy.”

A lot of times, we take the word to mean “a pleasurable feeling,” and we seek it out to no end, beating ourselves up if we can’t achieve it.

The other definition has to do with living a meaningful life. Living a life that is in line with your values, and that is fulfilling. Such a life will not always meet the expectation of a “pleasurable feeling”.

Even the healthiest long-term relationship is bound to have some ups and downs, and a healthy life is not going to be bliss and cheer every step of the way. Acknowledging this is important. My morning intentions are not for bliss; they are for living a life that feels real and friendly to the person living it.

Which Things Always Create A Desirable Feeling?

There are certain things that I do sometimes that never fail to lead to me feeling good. Some of these include:

  • Running with the dog.
  • Reading a fictional book for at least a half an hour.
  • Looking at the sky or a natural surrounding for a few minutes without thinking too much about it.
  • Drawing, doodling, creating art with colors on paper.
  • Making up ditties on the guitar for characters in my short stories to understand them better.
  • Cooking a nice meal.

These things generally never make me feel worse, or more stressed, or more anxious, or like I wasted time.  They are things I love, things that nourish me and help me to improve a skill that I value. The problem is, on most days I don’t have time for each and every one of them.

So sometimes, in the morning or during the heat of my workday, I will commit to one of them; and do an intention that way. Instead of a complex list of things that are supposed to bring me some type of happiness, I’ll pick something that is likely to lead to inspiration and a feeling of working with a fulfilling life.

 

Respecting the Uniqueness of Each Day with Morning Intentions

Each day is a unique conglomeration of factors. Sometimes you feel like you are getting sick. Other times, you feel on fire with creativity. Your hand might hurt from yesterday’s writing episode, or your legs might hurt from yesterday’s workout. On certain days, you are booked with plans and on others, your schedule is blissfully open.  This is important too, I think.

No intention is going to work every single day of the week.

Listen to your body, to your mind, to the mood it is in. Listen to the weather and your schedule. Think of an intention based on those things; give yourself room to notice what the day is saying.

If you wake up and feel like you are coming down with a cold and you notice that it is rainy and chilly, perhaps the nature walk intention is not the ideal one to commit to. Perhaps today is a good day for the hot tea and bath intention.

Keeping It Simple

Sometimes it’s fun to make an elaborate plan. Today after work I shall finish 2,000 more words of my short story and I shall also run three miles whilst creating a slow-cooked turkey dinner with herbs from my garden! Yes, a perfect day in paradise! But all of that can lead to some rushing, some frantic energy, and a whole lot of lack in the slow enjoyment department.

Keep it simple. Maybe one intention a day is good. Maybe your intention is about your health.  “Today, I will smoke one less cigarette than normal.” or, “Today, I will get a vegetable that I have not tried in a long time.” Something small, easy, doable. Or, something vague. “Today I will notice how my body feels after each meal.”

Forgiveness, Acceptance, and Compassion

I am trying to learn more about compassion and how to use it in relation to my own destructive emotions. So far, I know that one thing that truly seems to work for me and troublesome or “negative” emotions is to welcome them. That’s easier said than done.

But I feel a bit closer to acceptance after asking myself:

  • Where does this emotion affect my body?
  • How would I explain this feeling in my body?
  • How long has this feeling been happening?
  • How long will it happen, can I time it?
  • What is happening outside of this feeling?

These things are not directly accepting or welcoming a feeling, but they do encourage curiosity which lets me see the feeling in a way that is more useful than just fusing with it and letting it dominate my awareness.

Do you have feelings that can get in the way of your creativity, your writing, your music, your joy?

The Best Morning Intentions For Happiness

Having wide intentions, broad strokes of awareness, and many things to pick from can be a great way to have each day bring you to a more healthy relationship with yourself & your community. Or at least, they do that for me.

Don’t try to be too “happy” and don’t assume that others are feeling that way, either. Don’t try to make a million intentions that you’ll never keep up with, or stay too focused on getting excess money and a perfect relationship. Stay real, stay here, look at what is happening now. Find those things that always leave you in a better place and do one of them every so often with abandon.

The Science of Morning Intentions

This will be an upcoming topic for a post. I am going to do some research on various things, including priming, memory, and adrenaline.

 

Do you use morning intentions? Do you use them to try and attract more money, or a partner, or to get healthier? Or something else?

Do you find that having some type of intention can help you with your writing, such as a set goal for the amount of words to do in a day? (Especially now that NaNoWriMo is coming up…)

Or is the whole business of “intentions” some type of hippie crap that is best left to the vultures?

Eye Contact, I Contact, iContact: The Clash Of Privacy Ideals

Last January when I first moved to Austin, my dog rudely ran up to some girl on the sidewalk and started sniffing her feet. I told her that he was getting used to living in a city. This was because I was embarrassed that he had gone up to her at all.  I was also probably indulging in one of my favorite pastimes of dog-projection.

Now, I can be standing at the traffic light next to someone for three and a half minutes and not say hi or even look them in the eye. Granted, my dog isn’t sniffing their feet, because we have been pretty much avoiding the common sidewalk; but still. I’ve got that “New York Stare” or whatever. This post has some cool citations that verify the experience that in cities, people are just less likely to look you in the eye and talk to you. It’s a commonly known and unexciting fact.

Learning About Eye Contact & What It Can Convey

Eye contact is important.

  • Sales people can use it to manipulate and influence your feelings.
  • Public speakers can use it to feel less embarrassed by anchoring to one person in the crowd at a time.
  • If you are on a date, you can use it wisely to help someone feel comfortable and at least not creep them out any further.
  • Dogs can use it to make you think they’re people.

There are endless ways of using eye contact and many benefits it can bring.

NLP, or Neuro Linguistic Programming, is something I was introduced to in a trailer in the Rockies long ago. There was a book in a free pile, and me and my friend pored over the pages by candle light trying to learn all the tricks; I never succeeded. The NLP website  has a detailed system of how to use eye contact and eye movements to learn about what someone is even thinking about.

The eyes are the doorways to the soul, someone once said. It’s not too far from true.

Sharing, Contacting, Connecting: The Current Ideal of Accessibility

In many ways, sharing and connecting with people is supposed to be cool and fun. It is encouraged. We make profiles on Facebook and WordPress, gathering friends and contacts like corn in a satchel to bring home for sustenance. We keep ourselves known, current, and available.

Today I was listening to an old Ani Difranco album and one of my favorite songs, “Cloud Blood,” came on. Here is a verse as I hear it (I lost the liner notes):

Stopped on the top of the ridge
Just to feel the wind on my Rand McNally.

I feel the air go cold
as I drift in to the first blue, blue valley
And you’re wondering how far down you are on my
call back list,
but you don’t realize
Every time I find I’m by a phone

the landscape shifts.

That verse used to be one of my favorites. I would think of the person I had a crush on and remember times of traveling through mountains and forests, unreachable until I came along a pay phone.

Now, we are all reachable. All of the time. Most of us, anyway. Anyone reading this probably is. Gone are the days of Rand McNally maps, pay phones, and actual phone numbers. Here are the days of online contacts, emails, GPS, Facebook messages and online diaries. Even when people are on some adventure far from society, we can see a new post every day on Facebook or Instagram detailing their spiritual and enlivening journey. Zillions of apps exist so that we can advertise where we work out, what we are eating, who we are with, even which games we are playing.

This is fine. I am not against this. In some ways, it helps people stay healthier and become motivated. What I do not appreciate is double standards and underlying conflicts and contradictions that make perfectly grounded and sensitive people feel as if they are going a bit nuts.

What’s the Problem?

On Facebook, we are encouraged to identify ourselves, where we’ve been, where we plan to go, who we are hanging out with, what brand we purchase, and which coupons we want to claim. (This clip of a Pete Holmes bit illustrates what I mean)

The information we share goes to thousands of people and many companies. We never have to see the people or make eye contact with them, but we advertise and share with them just the same. Even on Skype we can’t make eye contact.

This standard of share-everything doesn’t quite apply when we meet people in real life, though. In that case, the rules are generally: Don”t say hi, don’t start talking, don’t randomly ask how their day is. They’ve already told thousands of people on their mobile Facebook; they don’t need to tell you! (There’s a recent Onion article, “It’s not Okay to Just Start Talking To People You Don’t Know” that nicely displays this side of it)

The Future: A Society Of Control Freaks?

I think this is going to affect us later on more than we may realize. We are turning into control freaks. Online, I can connect without having to worry about the feeling of actual connection. My Screen/No Screen post covers this as well.

But what is happening to our real day to day experience of each other? What type of control are we becoming reliant upon in order to feel “comfortable” connecting with people?

I realize that Austin is a rather friendly city, and at certain coffee shops or parks, there are definitely more chances of starting a conversation or having eye contact. But I see other people pretty much every single time I leave my house, and usually, conversations do not happen and neither does comfortable eye contact.

Waking Up & Aiming Towards Resolving The Discrepancy

It doesn’t matter if you feel comfortable sharing every last detail about your day on Facebook or on your blog if you can’t sit next to someone on a park bench and engage in some type of connection without funneling all of your attention straight into a device; at least in my opinion.

To try and resolve this discrepancy in myself, I am going to be making more of an effort to allow those strange feelings of “connection” to arise when I am near strangers and to smile more often when I do happen to make eye contact with someone.

I realize that sometimes, this may lead to some type of creepy misunderstanding; but more often than not, it won’t. It will lead to connection; to two humans seeing each other and not turning away simply because of fear or awkwardness.

How do you feel about eye contact? Do you live in a place that has lots of friendly eye-contacty people, or do you live in a place where it doesn’t happen at all?

Does it depend on what part of town you are in, or what type of location you are in? Maybe the time of day, or the way you feel?

Do you think that our ability to talk to random people on park benches should be improved, or should it be left to whither in the dust while we all get really, really good at sharing details of our lives with faraway strangers?