Posted by: Edward | May 24, 2015

C-C-C-C-Combo Breaker!

If you notice you’re in a depressed mood, don’t give in to the urge to figure out why. Obsessive thinking about the reasons for a bad mood is known to psychologists as rumination, and is one of the main drivers of serious depression. Looking for the reasons for a bad mood keeps you focused on the negatives and it keeps you passive. Not only will looking for reasons for your bad mood keep you focused on negatives but your mind is creative, it will come up with entirely new reasons to feel bad.

Instead, ask yourself what can I do now to make things better. This question shifts your focus away from the things which are upsetting you towards the possibility of improving your situation. Just the shift from reasons to actions will start improving your mood, the link between depressed moods and passive inaction is well known at this point. Additionally, now you’ve unleashed the creativity of your brain in a more useful direction.

So let’s say you have noticed you are in a depressed mood and asked yourself what can I do, here’s some suggestions to get you started:

Check your posture. Chances are your shoulders are rolled forward and your head stooped down. Break this pattern. Raise your head, roll your shoulders back, open your chest and take a deep breath.

Check your surroundings. Are you in a dark stuffy room by yourself? If any of that is true, change it. Turn the lights up and open a door or window to air it out. Consider finding someone else to spend some time with.

Check your motion. Have you been lying or sitting still for an extended period of time? Get up and do something physical. Even just going for a twenty minute walk will make a world of difference.

Posted by: Edward | May 17, 2015

Move the Pen

Move the pen. Move the brush. Push the keys. Strum the strings. If there is some creative endeavour you wish you could do, all you have to do is do it. At the base of every one there is a core set of activities and some basic equipment. Get your hands on the simplest version of the basic equipment. Don’t go out and buy the best. You earn better gear by using up, wearing out, or out growing the basic gear.

Get the basic gear and start. Now. “I don’t have time!” the cry goes up. No one has time until they take it. In between two activities, strum a chord. Add two brush strokes during a commercial. I have a notebook in the bathroom. One on my bedside table for when I can’t sleep. One hidden in my desk drawer at work. Shh. Don’t tell anyone. I go to work an hour early to sit in the coffee shop across the street writing. I write on my lunch break. If it matters to you, you have to act like it does. If it matters to you enough, you will steal the time to do it.

You are going to suck, at first. If you are lucky like me, you might not realize how much you suck until you don’t suck as bad. Most of us aren’t that lucky. We all start out no good. It’s what you do next that counts. You can quit and be like everyone else who doesn’t do what they want to or you can keep going anyways. That’s called courage. Be courageous and keep going even though you suck because eventually something magical happens… you get better.

So if practice, just doing it, is the most important part, what’s the second bit? Feed yourself good examples. If you write, read the sorts of things you want to write and read the greats. If you want to play guitar, listen to players you love. Or better still, watch them. Then? Copy them. Try to replicate what they did. And again, it’s perfectly ok to suck, even they did at some point. Hunter S. Thompson typed out The Great Gatsby just to feel what it was like to type something brilliant. I’ve spent the last few months memorizing and singing my favourite songs, and this week I wrote two of my own. Are they as good as my favourites? Hell no. Am I stoked that they exist? Hell yes.

So you’ve started doing what you wanted to do. You steal time for it. You accept that you aren’t as good as you want to be. You’ve fed yourself good examples, and copied them. Maybe you’ve even gotten better. Now what? Find a community. Find people who want to hear, look at, or read what you’ve made. Find other people who are working on what you work on. Find other people who care about what you care about. They exist. Community sustains us in our goals. When you get discouraged, and we all get discouraged from time to time, your community can help you remember why you are doing what you have chosen to do.

I’ll tell you a secret now. This stuff I’ve just told you about getting started on a creative pursuit, can be applied to just about anything you want to learn or improve at. Decide what matters to you, figure out the core activities, and make time to do it now. Move the pen.

Posted by: Edward | April 26, 2015

Fail Better

People fail. They fall short of their goals. They betray people they love. In every possible way, they screw up, disappoint themselves, and others. To err is truly human.

So what happens next? Some people, when they fail, let it destroy them. They feel like broken people, horrible, unworthy of love. In short, they feel shame. Unfortunately, shame can be a trap. If you feel shame, you can’t really move on from your mistake, you essentially live in the moment of your failure.

What is another choice? Instead of letting your failure mean you are bad, not good enough, or unworthy; you can let it be your action that was not good enough. If it is not you but your action that was bad, all you have to do is change your actions. You move on, you learn that’s not a way you want to act.

With this change of perspective, your mistakes don’t make you bad, they make you better. Each error can be an opportunity, if you accept it and commit to changing your actions and yourself. This is a process that is very rewarding but often difficult and uncomfortable.

First, you must face that you did in fact screw up. This alone can be fantastically difficult as many of us have left over ideas from childhood that we have to be perfect. We can’t be. Remind yourself that all human beings make mistakes. It doesn’t mean you are bad, it simply means you are human.

Now, look at the specific action that you feel was a mistake. Decide what of your goals and values it fell short of, select an action you would rather you had done, and commit to acting differently if you get another chance. Additionally, if someone was harmed by your error, I’d also suggest committing to an action to make amends.

It is uncomfortable to make mistakes but if we were unable to, we would never learn, never grow. Our ability to screw up is a vital part of us. So next time you use this capability, face it, accept it, and use it to become a better you.

Posted by: Edward | February 1, 2015

It’s ok to not feel ok

Let’s imagine that you have found yourself feeling bad. Maybe you are angry, maybe you are sad, maybe you are afraid. The very worst thing you could do is tell yourself, “I shouldn’t feel like this,” and make yourself feel ashamed on top of those other feelings. That just makes it twice as hard to feel better because now you have two layers of bad feelings to go through.

If you find yourself sending shame messages to yourself, here are some things you could tell yourself instead. “It’s ok to not feel ok.” “Everyone feels bad sometimes.” “This feeling will pass.”

Why does this help? Because the feeling isn’t actually caused by the event which triggered it but by the stories we tell ourselves about it, our beliefs about ourselves and the world. Often the process of moving from event to feeling seems causally connected because it happens so fast and because we don’t need to tell ourselves a story in the moment. The event bounces off a story we’ve already told ourselves, beliefs we already have, and our mind emits a feeling in response, based on what this seems to mean for us or about us.

These unpleasant feelings then aren’t actually a bad thing but rather an opportunity for us to change. They help us uncover our ideas about the world and ourselves that need changing, that hurt us, or get in our way. So the next thing to do is use these feelings to uncover the stories that drive them.

First, name the feeling. Say to yourself, “I feel ______.” It can help to develop a working vocabulary of feeling words but you can start with just the basics like happy, sad, angry, afraid, guilty, ashamed, embarrassed, and so on.

Now, follow it up with “because I think ______” and try to fill it in with the story you must be telling yourself in order to feel how you feel. This might not be easy for you, especially at first, but this is a skill like any other and it can be built over time.

Once you have your I feel because statement, ask yourself if this belief is true and helpful. Then ask yourself what would be more true or more helpful. Once you have this new and improved belief, repeat it to yourself and imagine how you would feel if you believed it. Imagine other times when it might be useful to remember this better belief.

Over time your beliefs will change, and your feelings will change with them. And it starts not with fighting your feelings but by accepting them. And remember… it’s ok to not feel ok.

Posted by: Edward | November 4, 2014

Curiousity and Compassion

Everyone you see has their own story. Each person has a unique tapestry of experience, belief, choice, and coincidence that’s lead to them being who and how they are. So from one angle we are all utterly unique. No two people could possibly come out the same. Even identical twins who spent every day together, saw the world through slightly different angles and came to slightly different conclusions about it.

On the other hand the basic frame that all of those unique narratives are hung on is essentially the same. We are all built out of the same four chemicals of DNA’s code. We all live for a time and then that time ends. We are all uncertain of when that time will end. We all want things. We all suffer. We are all thrown into this confusion and have to make sense of it for ourselves.

So hold this in your mind, we are all the same and we are all unique. There is no contradiction. These can give rise to two of the most important human attributes, compassion and curiousity. Compassion in our awareness of what we share, especially the commonality of our suffering. And curiousity to learn of and from one another’s stories. For when we learn from each other’s experiences and viewpoints it does not diminish us but rather enriches us.

When we enshrine these two attitudes as our approach to others in our day to day life, it gives us a powerful frame to cope with difficulties, help other, and enjoy our own existences. There is something very comforting in remember we are not alone in our suffering. Reaching out to others in that vein is comforting to them and deeply satisfying for us. The same can be said for listening to others’ stories, it is engaging and enriching for us and deeply validating for them.

Posted by: Edward | September 4, 2014

What I can do

I am tired and in a shitty mood. I don’t want to think of anything to write. I don’t want to go to work or see friends. I just want to stay in bed and sulk. But I don’t. I get myself together and go to the coffeeshop to write. And when it’s time I’ll go to work and I’ll smile and do my job.

Some days are going to suck. Sometimes you aren’t going to feel good. The truth is, you don’t have to let that stop you. You can look the shitty right in the face and say, “yup that sucks,” and then go do what you choose to do.

I wasn’t always able to do this. Or maybe I just didn’t know that I could. I’ve spent a few years making myself into a different sort of person. I’ve collected tools that help me. Some are ideas from Stoic philosophy and another is simple mindfulness meditation.

The two ideas from Stoicism I use the most are: that somethings are under our control, while most things aren’t and what disturbs us are not our experiences but rather our thinking about those experiences.

That last one is not always true. I was physically assaulted last night. There was pain and a heightened response from adrenalin. I would argue this disturbance came straight from the experience.

However, when I got up this morning, I was still upset. Here it was not the experience but my thinking upsetting me, because if I was paying attention, I would notice I was no longer being assaulted and that all the extra adrenalin had already left my system.

Here I make use of that other idea from Stoicism. Some things are up to us and some things aren’t. I can’t go back in time and make that person not attack me but I can choose what I do now. And what I chose to do was to meditate.

I practice a deceptively simple form of meditation. I sit with my spine straight, my eyes open, and everything else relaxed. Then I pay attention to how it feels to be breathing now. I don’t try to stop or fight my thoughts. But if I notice some thought carrying my attention away so that I forget the feeling of my breathing then I give it a little mental tap, label it thinking, and return my attention to the experience of breathing.

It’s very important that you understand letting a thought carry your attention away isn’t failing at mediation, rather noticing that this has happened is success. As you let go of each of those sticky thoughts you are letting go of what disturbs you. The more you pay attention to what you are presently experiencing, the less you will find that disturbs.

And maybe I can’t shake the bad mood entirely but I can focus on what I can do. Maybe I can’t feel like writing but I can put my shoes on. I can’t change the past but I can go to the coffeeshop. I can’t make a violent person into a nice guy but I can move my pen.

Posted by: Edward | September 1, 2014

What are you waiting for?

Your ship isn’t going to come in. The life you want won’t be handed to you like a gift. The gift has already been given. It is the brief candle flame in the dark that is our life. Our wax may last a hundred years but a wind could come at any moment and blow us out. Don’t waste it.

No, the life you want won’t find you. You have to build it, brick by brick. Make sure your foundations are good because if you don’t, the house will collapse and you’ll have to start over again. But don’t cry if it does. Every time you start again you can make it better. You get better at building, your plans get clearer, you learn to select better materials.

The foundations are your habits. Habits of action and habits of thought. Those little barely noticed things you do every day, those are what the rest of the life you build rests on. Measure those little thoughts and actions against your building plan, your vision of the life you want. Do the things you think and do every day move you towards or away from those goals?

If they move you towards them, then enshrine that. Build around it. Make it habit. Make it ritual.

If they move you away, discard it. Pull it out like you would a weed from your garden. You will need to be severe. It doesn’t matter if it is a belief handed down to you over the generations. It doesn’t matter if the habit has given you great comfort. If it moves you away from your best self and life, pull it up by the roots.

You can mourn its passing. Have a little memorial for the you, you used to be. Then move on and put a better stone in its place. Build the life you want, brick by brick, stone by stone. Stop waiting. Start now.

Posted by: Edward | August 14, 2014

You are not as alone as you sometimes feel

We are all more similar than we are different. Whatever you are feeling someone else has felt it. Someone else is probably feeling it right now. I want you to imagine that all those other people right now, in the past, and in the future, are with you right now. All of those people who feel what you feel are with you right now to help you lift your burden. Lean on them, the brothers and sisters of your suffering, and feel your burden ease because you are not alone.

Out of imagination and into the world now, I want you to reach out to others. Out there are people who will understand and want to help you. Out there are people you can help with your understanding and care. Their burdens may not be exactly the same as yours but reach out and let them know, you are not as alone as you sometimes feel.

Posted by: Edward | July 27, 2014

How To

1. Know what behaviour you want to change.

2. Know why you haven’t changed it yet.

3. Know why you want to change it now.

4. Commit to making the necessary changes now and over the long term.

5. Set things up to make it easier to do what you want and harder to do what you don’t want.

6. When you notice yourself wanting to do what you’ve chosen not to do, or not wanting to do what you’ve chosen to do, push through and make the better choice.

7. Regularly recognize and reward yourself for following through on your goals.

8. If you fall short of your goals, don’t berate yourself, instead figure out why it happened, make changes to your plan of action, and recommit to your goals.

Posted by: Edward | July 13, 2014

Faith in Imperfection

The only faith you need is faith in yourself. I know that this is a hard thing to ask as there are entire industries devoted to convincing us that we are not good enough. But they are trying to trick us by pretending we have to be perfect when we only have to be ourselves.

You can’t be perfect, and wouldn’t want to be anyways. Perfect things can’t grow, they can’t change. Perfection is a kind of death, while imperfection is life. Without error we could not learn. Perfect DNA would not evolve. Cherish your ability to err, to fail, for from it comes everything you’ve ever learned and everything you’ve achieved.

Cherish your stumbles and you are free to act. You can meet whatever comes and have faith that you will do the best you can. Act and whatever comes enriches you. It is information you can learn from. It is an opportunity to grow and a challenge that you can use to strengthen yourself.

We are the fool stepping off the cliff into the unknown. Fear, our loyal companion, tries to pull us back from the edge. We will face that unknown no matter what we choose, it comes even if we cower and hesitate. How much better then, to listen to the tune that calls us, and simply leap?

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