Adulting, Anxiety, Brain Hacks, Mindfulness, Minimalism

Disengage From The Game

By the game I mean the social media game. Or more specifically the comparison game.

While we all know that social media often presents us with a fictionalised version of the lives of our friends, family and random Instagram models we’ve never even met, we tend to forget about what it does to our attention spans and faculties for critical thinking.

It’s a minefield of distraction and overstimulation. Anyone who has ever found themselves down the rabbit hole of random YouTube Compilation videos can attest to this. So much is thrown at us that we become utterly overwhelmed and no longer able to dissect the merits of what we are observing.

After being given so many choices our brains are too busy trying to figure out which option is best that it totally bypasses the question of whether the choice itself is actually necessary to our lives.

When overwhelmed say no. Give yourself zero options or stimuli and instead try to assess the situation. From this assessment you will figure out what need you are trying to fulfil and what is the best way to meet it.

It’s like typing the word “robots” into google. Your results will probably be all over the place until you assess what it is you’re really after and put some limitations on your search, like “toy robots”. Then get critical with the smaller number of results you have arrived at. Keep adding more and more limitations, such as “toy robots 1995” to access the information that you actually need.

Instead of letting social media lead you by the nose, take control and decide what it is specifically that you are doing there. Are you on Twitter for information or out of boredom? Then specify your search or usage to cater to that need. Does Instagram inspire you or depress you? If it’s the later it’s probably time to assess who you’re following. And if you come to find you don’t need it, you can always disengage from it.

Here’s a useful exercise: firstly define what valuable information is to you, next monitor or make a physical note of all the valuable information you see on social media. Do this for a week or even a day and see how many truly important things you have seen. My guess is that you could count all the valuable information on one hand.

Yes keeping in touch with family and friends far away is important, but ask yourself are you actually keeping in touch or are you simply a passive observer of the fictionalised life they’ve presented on social media?

Anxiety, Books, Motivation

Grateful For Coffee

I’ve been reading up on the power of gratefulness and have become quite aware of its positive effects through my own personal use. I practice gratefulness by filling out a page in my gratitude journal each morning while I drink my coffee. I prefer to use a guided journal such as “100 Days Of Gratefulness: A Gratitude Journal” by Amy J. Blake, as each page has a pre written prompt to help me get started. Often it’s worded as a question, like “Who do i appreciate and why?”

Being grateful for the people and things you have, is in a sense a surrender of your percieved control of the world around you. I’m grateful for the sun shining, for my loved ones, for the coffee I drink each morning. But that is because I ultimately do not have control over these things. Not really, even my morning cup of coffee is subject to the possibility of a discontinuation of that product.

So I must be grateful, for “…what a privilege it is to be alive, to think, to enjoy, to love …”

Anxiety, Books

Hygge Emergency!

Hygge and emergency are two words which probably seem at odds with one another.

One brings to mind thoughts of warm fluffy blankets, decadent hot chocolate and reading by a cosy fireplace.

The other… let’s just say that it’s somewhat less relaxing. The combination seems strange, unless you consider the former to be the solution to the latter.

Such is the case in Miek Wikings’ “The Little Book of Hygge”, in the chapter titled: Hygge Emergency Kit. Here Wikings outlines a thoughtful list of hygge essentials that one may keep on hand for emergency situations (although I think it’s fair to say that the term emergency is used somewhat loosely in this scenario).

Some highlights include: candles, warm socks, tea, books and high quality chocolate. It’s basically everything you need for a cosy night in. It’s also basically everything you already have at home. And in my case, it’s basically my usual Friday night plans.

Which leads me to ask why does this chapter exist? The rest of the book is an interesting exploration of this Danish ideology. It’s informative and fascinating in regards to its sociological roots, but this chapter seems unnecessary. The very idea of a hygge emergency is ridiculous. Any issue that can be resolved with high quality chocolate, does not constitute an emergency.

Overall it’s a great read, I’m just getting a little tired of self help books stating the obvious.

Adulting, Anxiety, Books, Mindfulness, Motivation

Fail Safe

Challenges are supposed to make you happy. The novelty alone should stimulate your mind in a positive way. However failure is often an inevitable part of this process. To at last succeed after various unsuccessful attempts can bring about deep feelings of satisfaction. I think that’s why people often highlight the importance of failure. I’ve often heard the phrase “anything worth doing is worth doing badly” thrown around in relation to this.
That all may be well and good for those seemingly self motivated, glass half full kindof people. But for some of us, even after we finally overcome the hurdle, satisfaction is not the feeling which we experience. Instead we look to the ground in shame wondering why it took us so long, when everyone else seems to fly through life with ease and control.
I’ve been reading “The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success” by author Megan McArdle. It’s good. It’s very good. I suggest you read it.

According to McArdle, failure will occur because the universe is uncertain. It’s not necessarily due to a lack of preparation or perfunctory attempts. Success isn’t something you are, it’s something you develop and failure is necessary for this process. In learning to make mistakes, we also learn to understand them and thus how to correct them.
The truth about failure is that it’s hard. It’s extremely difficult in fact, to pick yourself up and start all over again. To stare down whatever it was that knocked you on your ass, take a deep breath and charge in to battle it once more. The book argues that much of this struggle is due to an ingrained fear of failure. It’s something that our parents and school (or really any early validation system) is responsible for. It occurs because we are taught to focus on the final product and ignore the earlier drafts. In fact quite often we never even get to see the earlier drafts.

While some mistakes deserve punishment, most are those we make as we learn. When we begin to do something we’ve never done before. When we write the first chapter, when we edit it, when we re-write it, and even when we edit the revision.

Maybe the reason it’s so hard is that failure is essentially forcing you to change. It’s basically telling you that whatever you are doing doesn’t work. Try again, but try something else. It forces you to grow and realize that there is more than one way to approach a situation, and that some methods are more effective than others. The worst thing you can do is get yourself into a position where you cannot fail. If you cannot fail, you cannot learn.

So instead of avoiding failure, we must train ourselves to be more resilient. Take small calculated risks, so it’s easier to stand up after you topple over. Don’t place blame, not on other people and not on yourself. There are a multitude of reasons something you were striving for failed. Don’t be conceded and assume it was all because of you.

Anxiety, Books, Brain Hacks, Mindfulness

Quiet Time

Meditation is the practice of quieting your mind. This is no easy task. So I’m reading “The Meditation Transformation” by Jennifer Brooks.

The book begins with a spiel on what meditation is and several pages explaining the benefits of a daily meditation practice. I’m not going to lie, I skipped this part. Having already read a plethora of articles and enduring various conversations with my therapist, doctor and naturopath about the benefits of meditation, I felt I had a thorough grip of the material.

Following this was a list of excuses commonly used by individuals who are beginning a meditation practice, to condone their defection. This part was actually useful in describing the ideal environment for meditation: Quiet, private and comfortable. It should be noted that thus far the book wasn’t particularly exciting…

That was until I arrived at chapter 5: Alternatives to Meditation. This chapter looked at visualization, guided imagery and relaxation, all of which can be classified as forms of meditation that seem to be more accommodating to the over active brain. For example when utilising visualisation, instead of simply focusing on your breathing you will instead dedicate your meditation time to painting an object in acute detail in your mind.

Chapter 6: Not All Meditation is Created Equal also explores alternatives to typical meditation practices. It covers exercises such as movement, body scan, mindfulness, walking, concept, gap, empty mind, mantra, vibrational and transcendental meditation. Each of these exercises is explained in detail and is easy to comprehend through its step by step layout. I should mention at this juncture that currently this e-book is free to download at the amazon/kindle store, so I would highly recommend picking it up.

Overall this was an extremely informative book, full of great techniques and exercises to bring to your meditation practice. Perfect for beginners like myself.

Adulting, Anxiety, Books, Mindfulness, Motivation

Journaling

I recently picked up a self help guide titled: “100 Days of Gratefulness: A Gratitude Journal” by Amy J. Blake. Although I’m not entirely sure if you could call it a guide per se, it’s more like a journal with prompts. Each page is titled with a question, such as “How am I fortunate?” and then it gives you space to provide an answer. Ideally you would tackle one question each day, spending approximately ten minutes on your response. There are one hundred questions in total, all of which ask you in one way or another what you are grateful for.

I’ve read books on the power of gratefulness before, and I am quite aware of the positive effects this practice can have in your life. However it can be difficult to get started. That’s why having a journal with pre-designed prompts can help. It makes the entire process a lot easier by incorporating more structure to the practice and through it’s one question a day set up it can assist in making gratefulness a habit.

You don’t necessarily need to buy a journal like this one either. Any notebook will do, just google gratitude prompts to obtain the questions. Then take some time each day to answer one, I personally like to write a response with my morning cup of coffee. There is just something substantial about writing your responses down, about taking the time to really collect your thoughts, which makes journaling a great medium for practicing gratefulness. In the past I’ve simply spouted lists of things I’m grateful for at random times throughout the day, but the intention behind writing makes it more meaningful.

Anxiety

Don’t Panic

Guess what? I found a self-help book about anxiety!

This one is titled: “Don’t Panic: You can overcome anxiety without drugs” and it’s written by Dr Sallee McLaren.

The central thesis is that anxiety is more often the result of ineffective coping strategies acquired through childhood, than from a serotonin imbalance in the brain. Therefore drugs are not a viable treatment and could indeed cause more harm than good. Instead therapy should be used to address and assess the faulty assumptions and negative coping strategies, which lie at the heart of our anxiety.

The book is divided into seven chapters, each one based on a faulty assumption. This list includes:

  1. The world looks dangerous.
  2. Other people are hostile.
  3. I can’t trust myself.
  4. I feel out of control.
  5. I need to stop the pain, now!
  6. I feel powerless.
  7. Deep down, I’m bad.

Most of these assumptions are the result of what Dr McLaren often refers to as difficult backgrounds. Basically it’s your parents fault, you learnt it from them. The cases she employs as examples confirm this pattern of bad parenting, in the evolution of each individuals anxiety and depression. They also explore the steps taken to challenge and conquer them.

I found many of the cases to be quite extreme and therefore unrelatable, the backgrounds sounded truly terrifying and when compared to my own childhood made me feel inadequate. This was in all likelihood not the authors intent, but rather my own biased reading of the text. Yet as she points out, anxiety often makes you biased and resistant to any opinion that requires you to open up and change.

One concept or remedy that did strike a chord with me however, was the link between confidence and skill. That you can increase your confidence by learning and preserving a new skill set. In other words, get out of your comfort zone and take a class. Borrow a library book and teach yourself something. Watch instructional YouTube videos or online tutorials. The more you learn and develop these skills, the more value you will feel you have. Self assurance and confidence occur as a bi-product of a diversified skill set.