Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Strive for Excellence, Not Perfection

The Perfect is the Enemy of the Good

 

My father was a storekeeper and the son of working-class immigrants. He wanted his children to do better than he had, and he believed the gateway to a successful life was education. Consequently, he held me, his firstborn, to high academic standards. This meant I had to get A’s, and to earn my father’s approval I abandoned many other activities so I could focus on schoolwork. By the time I completed high school, I had achieved a perfect average and was class valedictorian, but I’d learned very little about many other important aspects of life.

The roots of the drive for perfection are spread wide and go deep. The ancient Greeks saw perfection as necessary for beauty and high art. Buddhists are encouraged to practice the Six Perfections as part of the path to enlightenment. St. Matthew exhorted, “Be ye therefore perfect even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”

Our culture’s idealization of perfection extends beyond religion, philosophy, and art. Our leaders should be perfect (George Washington never told a lie, Abe Lincoln walked miles to return a penny). The media projects images of perfect skin, perfect hair, perfect teeth, perfect bodies, and perfect lives, and offers us products to attain them.

Many of us see perfectionism as a motivator. Certainly, striving for excellence has characterized people who have made important contributions in the arts, sciences, philosophy, law, spirituality, athletics, and many other fields. But striving for excellence and perfectionism are not synonymous. Those who strive for excellence do their best and see setbacks as challenges, defeats as learning opportunities. Perfectionists, on the other hand, get their self-esteem from “perfect” behavior, appearance, and accomplishments. When they fail to achieve a goal or to conform to often unrealistic standards, they feel defective and ashamed.

Perfectionists are more often paralyzed, not motivated, by perfectionism. They can be plagued by envy when they see someone doing “better” than they’re doing, or they can languish in a state of potential, hating themselves for failing to achieve anything “important” but unable to choose a path because they might be unsuccessful.

A less extreme symptom of perfectionism afflicts people who avoid being seen in public unless their appearance is “perfect.” When they do find a spot on their clothing, a mark on their face, or some other “defect,” they may spend hours, even days, reviewing every contact they had that day, worrying that someone might have noticed this “imperfection.”

If you see a tendency toward perfectionism – you work too hard at something that may be impossible, worry excessively about how others might perceive you, beat yourself up for minor missteps, avoid challenges because you’re afraid you won’t handle them perfectly – try the following:

1. Record the thought. Write a sentence that captures your basic perfectionistic belief. For example, “If I’m not perfect, I am nothing,” or “If I make a mistake, I’ll lose everything.”

2. Question the belief. Is this belief always true, not only for you but also for other people? Where did this belief come from? Does it contribute to your well-being?

3. Create an affirmation. Create a counter-statement that more accurately describes your reality. Effective affirmations ring true, but they come from a gentler, more sympathetic place. For example, if you catch yourself thinking “If I’m not perfect, I’m nothing,” you can substitute an affirmation such as “I don’t have to be perfect to be loved and happy.” If your initial try at an affirmation doesn’t feel credible, change it to something that does. For instance, “I’m not perfect, but I’m still okay, and I’m working on getting better” carries a hint of perfectionism, but it also has an optimistic spin. A little different is enough to disrupt the perfectionist pattern and make an opening for change.

The ultimate antidote to perfectionism is self-acceptance. Self-acceptance is taking stock of things as they are and allowing them to just be. It is letting go of strivings, regrets, and self-recrimination. It is saying, “Whatever is, is. Whatever has been, has been. This is who and where I am now.” With self-acceptance, we can comfortably follow Ralph Waldo Emerson’s advice: “Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could.”

Those of us who tend toward perfectionism may not want to give it up entirely. Choosing to do a few things “perfectly” can be satisfying in ways that trying to wholly conform to perfectionistic standards is not. For example, I freely indulge my desire to keep my computer functioning “perfectly” and to tinker with a photograph until it’s “perfect.” I know that perfecting these things takes more of the limited time I have on the planet than is really necessary, but I’m okay with that. We don’t have to avoid perfectionism… perfectly.

From Paths to Wholeness: Fifty-Two Flower Mandalas
PrintAmazon  –  BookBaby  –  B&N  – Books-a-Million
eBook: Kindle  – Nook  – iTunes  – Kobo

NOTE: Paths to Wholeness is now available at the following Boston-area bookstores and libraries:

Cabot Street Books & Cards, 272 Cabot Street, Beverly, MA 01915
The Bookshop, 40 West Street, Beverly Farms, MA 01915
Boston Public Library (main branch)
Brookline Public Library (main branch)
NOBLE Public Libraries (Beverly Farms and Salem)
MVLC Public Libraries (Hamilton-Wenham)

Please let me know if you find it in other locations!

Also available:
52 (more) Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
52 Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
Paths to Wholeness: Selections (free eBook)

Follow me on:
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StumbleUpon
Medium

Copyright 2017, David J. Bookbinder
http://ift.tt/2oskRQ1
http://ift.tt/2ospoC2
http://ift.tt/2osp7Pj

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

How to Boost Connections and Support

How to Boost Connections and Support

For most of us, UnBalancer flourishes when we’re isolated. We are social animals, and separation from others weakens our ability not only to thrive, but sometimes even to survive.

Ostracism – being ignored and excluded – threatens our basic need for belonging. In other mammals, being ostracized removes the individual from the protection of the pack and usually results in death from predators or starvation. Human beings are hard-wired to fear ostracism, so much so that in experiments where researchers create games in which the participants’ avatars are rejected by the other players’ avatars, participants feel anxiety and depression even when they know that the other avatars are actually computer simulations.

Establishing and maintaining close relationships, on the other hand, makes us more resilient. A network of connections – friendships, family, support groups, spiritual groups, and group activities that validate our interests and identities – not only enrich our day-to-day lives, but they also keep us steady when things get rough. It’s as if each connection is a guy wire, bracing us when UnBalancer huffs and puffs and tries to blow our houses down.

However, connections are not just a numbers game. It’s important that our relationships are actually supportive. For many of us, that’s a no-brainer. But for others, a crucial component of building a more resilient environment is discerning who, in our circles of friends, family, and associates, is an ally of our true selves, and who may actually be an ally of the UnBalancer.

Those of us who grew up with strong social supports and positive mirroring of who we are tend to recreate these positive-reinforcing relationships throughout our teenage and adult years. We almost automatically choose friends and romantic partners who are reciprocal in their relationships with us, and we feel buoyed up by our affinity groups.

But those of us who grew up with dysfunction in our relationships with family or friends may subtly replicate this dysfunction in later relationships. It’s as if, instead of being surrounded by mirrors that accurately inform us of who we are as individuals and in relationship to others, our views of ourselves were shaped by circus mirrors. This distorted mirroring then, unconsciously, shapes our future connections.

For example, people who grow up with a narcissistic parent who offers only conditional love may choose narcissistic friends, employers, or romantic partners who treat them the same way, leaving them always feeling “never good enough” no matter how hard they try. Or they may become “people pleasers,” always doing for others but seldom letting others know what they, themselves, need. Those who grow up isolated from their peers due to prejudice, economic disadvantage, temperament, or other differences often come to see themselves as “outsiders.” Later in life, they often continue to find it hard to integrate themselves into groups.

As we grow aware that we may be repeating old, dysfunctional patterns in our newer relationships, we need to redefine them, if possible – or end them, if they can’t change. We may need to assert our needs more directly, set our boundaries more explicitly, and reconsider the relative benefits and costs of maintaining some of our friendships and family connections. We may also need to build new relationships with people who support our true selves and to learn to discern whether we’re repeating an old relationship pattern or experiencing something new and life-affirming.

What to do:

  • Get rid of the crazy makers in your life. Notice whether some of the people you have surrounded yourself with are more of a drain than they are a support. See if you can shift the balance, and if you can’t, consider distancing yourself from these relationships.
  • Water the seeds of connection. We all get busy, but a quick text, email, or phone call keeps the lines of connection open and increases the pull of nurturing, face-to-face reunions with friends and family.
  • Reevaluate people who are on the sidelines, but who possess a generous, helpful nature. See if you can deepen these relationships. Arrange to spend more time together and explore the potential of these connections.
  • Participate in activities you enjoy doing. Current friends not interested in the things you love, such as hiking, photography, travel? Head out on your own, and open yourself to meeting new people who share your interests. Meetup.com groups, spiritual communities such as churches and temples, and recreational groups all provide opportunities for expanding connection. Look into physical fitness classes or day trips sponsored by town recreation departments or community centers. Take a cooking class at the local Adult Education organization. Check out lectures and presentations at public libraries or community colleges in your own or surrounding towns. Join a camera club. Choose activities that you’ll enjoy on your own but also may attract like-minded, like-spirited potential friends.
  • Create affinity groups. Can’t find a group that is interested in something you’d rather not do alone? Create one! Reach out to your friends and social media contacts and see who else shares your interest, or start a Meetup.com group of your own. Anything goes! One friend mentioned her interest in cribbage on her Facebook page and several people outside her inner circle responded with enthusiasm, whether or not they had played the game before. Another started a monthly “gaming night.” I began an artist group that’s still running strong. The next step is easy – schedule a time, a place, and the snack! You only need a few participants to form a core group.

COMING NEXT: How to Be More Emotionally Adaptable

Related Posts:
The Under Toad and the UnBalancer
The Balancer/ReBalancer Tag Team
A Mini-Lesson on Mini Self-Care
Gyroscopes and Personal Flywheels
Hanging in the Balance
Balancing the Books
The Experiment
How to Design an Experiment
Build Your Resilience in 6 Steps
How to Rebalance Your Brain in 3 Easy Steps
How to Boost Connections and Support

Books:
From Paths to Wholeness: Fifty-Two Flower Mandalas
COURAGE: “The most profound form of courage is the willingness to face deeply entrenched fears and self-limiting beliefs and to move beyond them: to see obstacles not as roadblocks but as opportunities for growth. This is how we transition from surviving to thriving, victim to victor.”

PrintAmazon  –  BookBaby  –  B&N  – Books-a-Million
eBook: Kindle  – Nook  – iTunes  – Kobo

NOTE: Paths to Wholeness is now available at the following Boston-area bookstores and libraries:

Cabot Street Books & Cards, 272 Cabot Street, Beverly, MA 01915
The Bookshop, 40 West Street, Beverly Farms, MA 01915
Boston Public Library (main branch)
Brookline Public Library (main branch)
NOBLE Public Libraries (Beverly Farms and Salem)
MVLC Public Libraries (Hamilton-Wenham)

Please let me know if you find it in other locations!

Also available:
52 (more) Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
52 Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
Paths to Wholeness: Selections (free eBook)

Follow me on:
Bloglovin’
StumbleUpon
Medium

Copyright 2017, David J. Bookbinder
http://ift.tt/2oskRQ1
http://ift.tt/2ospoC2
http://ift.tt/2osp7Pj

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

How to Rebalance Your Brain in 3 Easy Steps

How to Rebalance Your Brain in 3 Easy Steps


One of the most powerful resilience-building, Balancer-enhancing strategies is to consciously look for growth opportunities in experiences – to seek the silver lining in the cloud.

Looking for the growth opportunity in the struggle makes it possible for us to find it. Difficulties become, as a friend of mine puts it, “just an AFGOAnother F***ing Growth Opportunity.” Thinking of struggles as AFGOs allows us to accept, in a tongue-in-cheek but still meaningful way, that positive change can emerge from negative experiences.

When we go through difficult times asking questions like “What can I learn from this?” and “How can going through this make me a better person?” we gain leverage on our problems, and it becomes much harder for UnBalancer to unseat us. Instead of being knocked off course, we see obstacles as challenges and grow more resilient by overcoming them.

A close cousin of the AFGO is learning to condition our minds to pay equal attention to the positive.

Neuroscientists have determined that our brains contain twice as many cells that respond to threats as they do cells that process positive experiences, and that these threat-detecting cells respond about 10 times as quickly. Consequently, a stimulus we perceive as threatening has a disproportionately strong impact. Powerful experiences form much stronger memories, and the repetition of stronger responses and more vivid memories of perceived threats creates a cycle that reinforces a negative bias.

Our negative bias was once essential for survival. All protohumans could safely eat something that tasted good and could ignore the movements of familiar creatures. But if something tasted rotten, only those who immediately spit it out were likely to escape food poisoning, and only those who responded swiftly to a rustling in the brush avoided being eaten by predators. Our negatively biased early ancestors survived to produce offspring, while those who failed to react quickly enough to possible threats didn’t make it.

Our modern brains respond similarly to those of our ancestors. We, too, immediately sense when something tastes off, but we can eat an entire meal without even realizing we’ve consumed it. And we, too, quickly react to our modern-day predators – other drivers – but can miss our turnpike exit when we are lost in thought or absorbed in music or conversation.

Were it limited only to quick responses to actual threats, this negative bias would still serve us reasonably well as an aid to survival. The problem, however, is that our negative bias also makes it difficult to fully take in the positive aspects of our much safer world, and it can prevent us from fully enjoying it. If a toe hurts, we may not notice that we are otherwise healthy. If we suffer a loss, we can lose track not only of all we still have, but also of what we are continuing to receive. Our hard-wired, “better safe than sorry” bias often contributes to low-level pessimism. Even when things are going well, we may think, “Things are okay now, but wait until the other shoe drops.”

To recalibrate our brains, we need to update our programming to take into account the relative safety of our present surroundings. By training ourselves to pay as much attention to the positives as we do to the negatives, we can rewire the brain to have a more positive, and more satisfying, bias.

The difference between a negative and a more balanced bias came to me most clearly during a brief conversation with one of the monks who led a Buddhist retreat I went to many years ago.

We sat together on a hillside overlooking the dining hall and ate our lunches while I talked with him about feelings of hurt, betrayal, and despair that followed the difficult ending of a long relationship. My UnBalancer was having a field day with the attention I’d been giving these events and the injuries that resulted from them.

“I understand your feelings,” the young monk said, “but this way of looking at love is too limited. You think it comes only from these people, and now it is gone. But love comes from many places.” He held out his sandwich. “The baker who made this bread shows us love. Yes, it is his business, but the bread is very good and there is love in it. And there are the trees and the grass. They give us oxygen – without them we could not live.” He looked up at the sky. “And the sun gives us warmth.”

As he continued to point out human and non-human sources of love, I felt a shift inside. Until that moment, the idea that “the universe loves us” had seemed so abstract it was meaningless. But now, listening to this young man as he took in the love of the cosmos, I vicariously experienced his gratitude, and I carry these feelings with me to this day.

Because it goes against the grain of our innate wiring, watering the seeds of a more balanced bias takes work – but it’s worth the effort. Simple everyday practices can help. We can start to focus only on eating our food instead of looking at social media or the newspaper while we dine. We can turn off the radio on a long trip and experience the world we’re passing through. We can pause long enough, when we receive a compliment, to let the positive feedback settle into our being. Small changes such as these help us to move beyond the programming that our ancestors evolved in their more hazardous world so we can thrive in the one we live in now.

What to do:

  • Smell the roses. Eat the raisin. Literally. Negative stimuli hit us 10 times as fast and twice as hard as positive ones. To even things out, take the time to fully absorb the things that taste or smell good, feel nice, sound pleasing. Literally take in the smells of flowers, fragrances, foods. Pay attention to the sound of a friend’s laugh. Feel the textures of the objects you touch throughout the day – a partner’s skin, the glassy screen of your smartphone, your own hair. An exercise: Eat a single raisin as slowly as you can. Feel its texture, notice its color, smell its scent, and chew it slowly until it liquefies, savoring the flavor and the mouth feel. Then try this again, but with something in your refrigerator.
  • Look for the growth opportunities in everything. See difficulties as teachers. Whether we like it or not, all difficult experiences can become AFGOs. Develop the habit of evaluating the growth opportunities in everything that comes your way. The path from victim to victor is through seeking out and embracing opportunities for growth. Crazy traffic on the commute to work? A learning opportunity for patience. An illness that could be serious? An opportunity to learn to deal with uncertainty. An annoying co-worker who can’t stop talking? Another opportunity for learning patience – or for honing your assertiveness skills. And so on, with experiences from the most trivial to the most challenging.
  • Create gratitude lists. Frequently. Grateful people are generally more satisfied with their lives and relationships, cope better with difficulties, and are more generous, empathetic, and self-accepting. A simple but effective tool for promoting a grateful perspective is the gratitude list. It’s a way to reinforce the reality that whatever we may lack, we also have many things for which to be grateful. We may not have all the wealth we want, the health we want, the relationships we want, the things we want, but when we list what we do have, we have a lot. When you make a gratitude list, be open to including anything at all that you feel grateful for. A 50-item gratitude list I created for a chapter in my book Paths to Wholeness starts with “Being alive” and ends with “Popsicles!”

COMING NEXT: How to Boost Connections and Support

P.S. Paths to Wholeness is now available at the following Boston-area bookstores and libraries:

Cabot Street Books & Cards, 272 Cabot Street, Beverly, MA 01915
The Bookshop, 40 West Street, Beverly Farms, MA 01915
Boston Public Library (main branch)
Brookline Public Library (main branch)
NOBLE Public Libraries (Beverly Farms and Salem)
MVLC Public Libraries (Hamilton-Wenham)

Please let me know if you find it in other libraries!

Related Posts:
The Under Toad and the UnBalancer
The Balancer/ReBalancer Tag Team
A Mini-Lesson on Mini Self-Care
Gyroscopes and Personal Flywheels
Hanging in the Balance
Balancing the Books
The Experiment
How to Design an Experiment
Build Your Resilience in 6 Steps
How to Rebalance Your Brain in 3 Easy Steps

Books:
From Paths to Wholeness: Fifty-Two Flower Mandalas
“At times I still hover at the threshold of positive change, uncertain which way to go. Yet I also continue to deeply sense parts of myself that have been waiting for a lifetime to be listened to and acted on. When these parts awaken from their slumber, the effect is as breathtaking as the sun rising on a new day.”
– “Change”
PrintAmazon  –  BookBaby  –  B&N  – Books-a-Million
eBook: Kindle  – Nook  – iTunes  – Kobo

Also available:
52 (more) Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
52 Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
Paths to Wholeness: Selections (free eBook)

Follow me on:
Bloglovin’
StumbleUpon
Medium

Copyright 2017, David J. Bookbinder
http://ift.tt/2oskRQ1
http://ift.tt/2ospoC2
http://ift.tt/2osp7Pj

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Self Love: Evolution

Self Love: Evolution

In my more troubled youth, I was often told that to truly love anyone, I needed first to love myself. This advice, though well-intentioned, set up an unhelpful dynamic. Loving myself seemed as much like actual love as masturbation was to sexual intercourse – a solitary substitute for the real thing. Why would I want that?

In my mid 20s, while riding the subway from Manhattan to Brooklyn, I had an insight: To love ourselves, we need first to experience being loved – not loved with strings attached, not intermittently loved, and not loved blindly, either, but loved for who we actually are, like Dr. Seuss loves: “You are you. Now, isn’t that pleasant?” Or Mr. Rogers: “You’ve made this day a special day by just your being you. There’s no person in the whole world like you. And I like you just the way you are.” Without this loved-at-the-core experience, loving ourselves is difficult to manage.

About 10 years ago, I received a variation of the “love yourself” advice, but this time I was better equipped for it. I had just completed five days at a Buddhist retreat. While there, I had been liberally sprinkled with what the retreat leader, Thich Nhat Hanh, called “dharma rain,” and some of it had soaked in. As we were leaving, a newfound friend said to me, “David, next time you think you need something from someone, try giving it to yourself first.” My initial response was still to see “giving it to myself” as emotional masturbation, but I knew her to be a wise woman; what she was telling me, I realized, had to mean something else.

My receptivity to her advice was enhanced by finding a different kind of love in the temporary community Thich Nhat Hanh and his monks and nuns had helped us create. There, I’d felt warmth and affection from nearly everyone I had met, shared meals and meditations, spoken heart-to-heart with one of the monks on a hillside overlooking the dining hall. Feeling loved had become broader and more available than it had ever seemed before.

I understood, finally, that receiving unconditional love from one person was not the only way to water the seeds of self love. I felt, viscerally, that I was not alone; on the contrary, I was fully embedded in the universe. The sun, the clouds, the trees, many human beings, as well as most of the creatures of the earth, in some way expressed their love, and I was among their recipients.

As the weeks passed, I tried to heed my newfound friend’s advice. Although at first nothing much happened, after a while I noticed a tiny droplet of warmth each time I tried to give myself something I thought I needed from someone else. Then one day, in the midst of grieving the suicide of a close friend, the love from the “lover” part of me toward the part that was hurting changed from a trickle to a flood. I was overcome by a love unlike any I’d previously experienced, an instant transfusion of compassion and caring pouring from a deep, wise-seeming part of me into a part that had always felt bereft.

Later that year, my lover and beloved parts united. Driving home after a 14-hour day of internship work and counseling psychology classes, I reflected on a particularly moving session I’d had that afternoon with a young artist whose mother had just died. And it struck me that I, who was so long separated from self love, was becoming someone who could love unconditionally and help my clients learn to love themselves.

In the years since then, it has become increasingly easier to love myself. A key to self love has been consciously encouraging awareness and openness toward both the parts that can offer love and the parts that need loving. I can feel loneliness and then truly comfort the lonely boy who still lives inside me, as if I am developing, within me, an ever-present father figure who can help “Davey” feel understood, cared for, and accompanied. As I learn to love myself more fully, I also become further empowered to love, care for, and accompany others.

Although the first rush of self love can be dramatic in its intensity, the preparation is often gradual. At first, it may appear that nothing is happening. But just as water can hover at its boiling point for a long time while energy is still being applied, eventually a quantum change occurs. As the water is transformed into steam, the unloved places inside us can transform into something whole and beloved.

From Paths to Wholeness: Fifty-Two Flower Mandalas
PrintAmazon  –  BookBaby  –  B&N  – Books-a-Million
eBook: Kindle  – Nook  – iTunes  – Kobo

Also available:
52 (more) Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
52 Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
Paths to Wholeness: Selections (free eBook)

Follow me on:
Bloglovin’
StumbleUpon
Medium

Copyright 2017, David J. Bookbinder
http://ift.tt/2oskRQ1
http://ift.tt/2ospoC2
http://ift.tt/2osp7Pj

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Balancer: Build Your Resilience in 6 Steps

Build Your Resilience in 6 Steps

 

In recent posts, I’ve talked mostly about ReBalancer, the force that kicks in when our default stabilizer, Balancer, gets thrown out of whack by the UnBalancer. ReBalancer handles out-of-the ordinary stresses, but ReBalancer alone can’t keep us on an even keel. For that, we need Balancer to be healthy and strong.

Balancer doesn’t ask us for much. Much like our immune systems, it chugs along on autopilot, making minor course corrections when needed. Only when it encounters something it can’t handle does it call on ReBalancer to provide assistance.

This Balancer/ReBalancer tag team works very well most of the time. But if Balancer is weakened through too much stress for too long, or was never very robust to begin with, we become much more vulnerable to UnBalancer. Then if Balancer gets overwhelmed by a sudden stressor (an accident, a death, a financial crisis, etc.), it may crash before ReBalancer can take over. Recovery from such crashes can take a long time, and if the crash is sufficiently severe, the damage can be permanent.

It’s always helpful to teach ReBalancer new tricks, such as Mini Self-Care, The Experiment, and other techniques described in earlier posts. But it’s equally important to deliberately strengthen Balancer itself. Just as we can help our immune systems to better handle assaults to our bodies, we can better equip Balancer for handling whatever UnBalancer throws our way.

To do that, we need to build Resilience.

Resilience is the ability to bounce back. In a physical object, it is elasticity, the tendency of an object to return to its original shape after it’s been deformed. In an ecosystem, it is the environment’s capacity to rebuild itself. In a person, it’s the ability to recover from shocks to our systems. Without sufficient resilience, we are overcome by obstacles in our path. With it, nothing can keep us down.

Resilience in materials is intrinsic, but in people it’s a dynamic quality. Like a muscle, resilience can be damaged by too much stress or can atrophy if neglected. But it also gets stronger with exercise.

Human resilience has two aspects: physical and psychological. Both are partly determined by nature, partly by nurture. Just as some people are born with greater resistance to disease, some of us show signs of greater psychological resilience even at very early ages. But the larger share of resilience is the product of our own efforts to build and maintain it.

In the Balancer/ReBalancer/UnBalancer framework, resilience is the property of Balancer that allows it to spontaneously recover from the negative effects of UnBalancer. Rather than calling in the troops for reinforcement, a resilient Balancer takes a momentary hit, adjusts to the impact, and bounces back, carrying us along with it.

When I was young, I was fascinated by the properties of natural and man-made materials. I still remember experimenting with the bounciness – the resilience – of round objects. I studied tennis balls, rubber balls, badminton balls, golf balls, glass marbles, ball bearings, always looking for something that could bounce higher than the last thing I tried. I ended this quest when I found, in the toy section of our local pharmacy, the Super Ball.

Super Balls, invented in 1964 by chemist Norman Stingly, are made from an amazingly elastic synthetic rubber called Zectron. When dropped, a Super Ball bounces nearly to the height from which it fell. When thrown down hard, it can easily bounce over a house.

In my therapy practice, I see many people whose resilience has been beaten down or in whom it was never sufficiently developed. They’re like worn-out tennis balls.

After we deal with the problems that brought them into therapy, much of our work together involves creating a more resilient approach to life, so they can transition from worn-out tennis ball to Super Ball.

These are the six main factors I’ve found that can build psychological resilience and keep Balancer on track:

  1. Creating a resilience-friendly environment
  2. Adopting a growth-oriented viewpoint
  3. Bolstering support from individuals and systems
  4. Increasing emotional adaptability
  5. Practicing balance-enhancing activities
  6. Monitoring for signs of imbalance

1. Create a Resilience-Friendly Environment.

Stress is one of the most insidious challenges to building resilience. It can be a constant strain on Balancer, gradually wearing down its efficacy and slowing its response time.

Basic ways to reduce stress often recommended by therapists include changing your emotional relationship to the stressor and practicing stress reduction techniques such as meditation or coloring. But the most effective method is often to remove or change the stressor itself.

Begin resilience-building by evaluating your environment – your home, your car, your job, your relationships. Focus specifically on ways to reduce unnecessary stress. Jobs, schedules, or aspects of your home, neighborhood, relationships, or weekly routines that interfere with living a peaceful life are all candidates for stress-reducing changes.

Removable stressors can range from simple things, such as sharpening dull kitchen knives, creating a system so you don’t misplace your keys, or replacing a cell phone that keeps losing its charge, to more challenging ones like ending a toxic relationship or transitioning from the wrong job. Regardless of the source, though, the first question to ask yourself is, “Can this change?” and if the answer is “yes,” change it!

I encountered a striking example of the efficiency and effectiveness of removing the stressor several years ago. I was working with a bright, affable 12-year-old boy who, despite an obvious interest in learning, was always getting suspended from school. When I asked him about the events that led to his suspensions, I noticed that he always smiled when he talked about getting his teachers angry. I visited his home and discovered that he had an angry and imposing stepfather. Provoking his teachers was my young client’s way of dealing with his resentment toward his stepfather – he could provoke his teachers and they wouldn’t hit him, but his stepfather might.

A typical intervention in cases like this is family therapy, so with the family’s permission I returned a week later. My client lived in a house adjacent to his mother’s business, and there was a constant interchange between the two locations, affecting all members of the family in some way. During the session, I asked each family member to imagine what their lives would be like if they woke up the next day and all their problems were solved. The first thing each one said – even the five-year-old – was that they’d be living somewhere else. A month later, they moved, and very soon afterward, my 12-year-old client stopped acting out in school.

A related aspect of creating a safe, resilience-friendly environment involves “cat hairs.” When you find yourself overreacting to a comment, a tone of voice, or a situation, or you inexplicably feel sad, angry, jealous, or some other difficult emotion, you might have a problem with cat hairs.

Of course I don’t mean literal cat hairs.

The term “cat hair,” in this context, comes from an experiment with lab rats. Researchers wanted to see if rats are genetically programmed to fear cats. They placed several rat pups who had been exposed only to people and other rats – never to a cat – in a cage and monitored their playfulness for several days. The rats played together freely until the researchers took the smallest cat stimulus they could think of, a single cat hair, and dropped it into the center of the cage. Soon, the pups stopped playing and ran to the edges of the cage, trembling with fear.

After 24 hours, the researchers removed the cat hair. They continued monitoring the rat pups, but days later, the rats had not returned to their baseline playfulness. Where there had been a cat hair, the pups seemed to feel, there might still be a cat.

Fear and trauma can leave an indelible imprint on us, too. Our automatic fear-handling mechanism makes us prone to reacting to our “cat hairs” with fight/flight/freeze responses. Such triggered reactions can negatively affect our jobs, relationships, and many other aspects of our lives, cheating us out of a more full version of ourselves. Fortunately, we have more options than rats do for dealing with our “cat hairs.”

Reminders of traumatic experiences that trigger strong emotions can often be removed. Sometimes these are physical objects, but more often they are habitual actions. For example, if a certain phrase or tone spoken by a friend, relative, or romantic partner reminds you of a bad relationship or a difficult childhood, you can ask him or her to change it. Most people will comply with a request like this when it’s presented in context.

When cat hairs can’t be removed, we can learn to see them merely as hairs. If your emotional response seems stronger than the situation merits, ask yourself what triggered it. Did the triggering object, words, tone, or action really mean what you felt it did, or did it just stir something inside? Over time, triggers that we understand to be only triggers – not cats but merely cat hairs – they gradually become less threatening. Then we can use our fight/flight/freeze mechanism as designed, to protect ourselves from actual threats rather than reacting to cat hairs.

What to do:

  1. Notice what is causing increased stress or a triggered response. Simply paying attention to the feeling and looking at what caused it often provides some relief.
  2. Remove the stressor, when possible.
  3. Change your relationship to stressors that can’t be removed. For most of us, our attitudes toward stressors and the emotional responses they generate are more than half of the stress. Even triggered responses can be detoxified by changing our relationship to them.
  4. Accompany the stress or triggered response. Feelings that are pushed aside tend to stay stuck, frozen within us like an ant in amber. Feelings that are fully experienced soon become different feelings. Sadness can turn into acceptance. Anger can turn into understanding. Envy can become motivation.
  5. Develop self-soothing skills. When we are able to self-soothe, sometimes even the cat becomes just a kitten, purring on our laps. (More on self-soothing in Step 5.)

COMING NEXT: How to Adopt a Growth-Oriented Attitude
(and more!)

Related Posts:
The Under Toad and the UnBalancer
The Balancer/ReBalancer Tag Team
A Mini-Lesson on Mini Self-Care
Gyroscopes and Personal Flywheels
Hanging in the Balance
Balancing the Books
The Experiment
How to Design an Experiment
Build Your Resilience in 6 Steps

Books:
From Paths to Wholeness: Fifty-Two Flower Mandalas
“Maybe our attempt to ‘change the world’ didn’t die with the ’60s after all. Maybe it is alive, in its own form, in the generation that succeeded us. Maybe what we planted still grows and we shall all, one day, reap its harvest.”
– “Change”
PrintAmazon  –  BookBaby  –  B&N  – Books-a-Million
eBook: Kindle  – Nook  – iTunes  – Kobo

Also available:
52 (more) Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
52 Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
Paths to Wholeness: Selections (free eBook)

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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Balance: How to Design an Experiment

IMPORTANT: If you’re just tuning in now, click here for Part I, Balance: The Experiment and then come back here. This is Part II of a two-parter on using Experiments to keep your life on track. 

How to Design an Experiment

Like any experimenter, when our ReBalancers design Experiments, they follow a sequence of steps. The implementation may be spontaneous or deliberate, but the steps are basically the same either way.

  1. Observe the current situation to see what needs to change. Examples: a) My motorcycle’s valves need adjustment or the engine will be damaged. b) Current ulcer treatment doesn’t really work. c) My life is a mess.
  2. Develop a hypothesis about how to implement change. Examples: a) If I use a system like my brother did, maybe I can learn from failed attempts. b) Ulcers may be caused by a pathogen that can survive in stomach acid. c) If I ask for help, I may get it.
  3. Test the hypothesis with an Experiment. Identify a small, experimental action that can test the hypothesis, where the success or failure of the action is not of major consequence, but The Experiment is still significant enough to bring all the relevant factors to bear. Examples: a) Bend a feeler gauge. b) Try infecting myself with H. pylori. c) Ask a guy at McDonalds if I can share his table.
  4. Evaluate the outcome. If things move in a desired direction, do more of what worked. If not, see what you can learn to further clarify the problem, then design a new Experiment that incorporates the new data. Examples: a) Try the valve-adjustment approach on the other valves. b) See if antibiotics that are effective on H. pylori-caused gastritis can also cure ulcers. c) Ask for help again.
  5. Repeat steps 1 – 4 on an increasingly significant scale until the new behavior is part of who you are, folded into your personal Balancer.

The best Experiments are typically ones we feel some anxiety about trying, or that we have been putting off, but which, when we do them, give us a sense of progress. They are large enough to matter, but not so daunting that they are too scary to attempt. And the very best are those that we feel good about just for doing them, regardless of the outcome.

Mistaken Beliefs and Experimental Attitudes

In the personal transformation realm, Experiments are most useful when they test Mistaken Beliefs we hold about who we are and how we are permitted to interact in the world. These beliefs are formed when we’re too young to know they may be inaccurate. They function like a hypnotic spell, often unconsciously limiting our actions as long as we remain under their influence.

Mistaken Beliefs are one of UnBalancer’s basic strategies for keeping us down. Unlike acute causes such as an accident or other misfortune, Mistaken Beliefs act continuously, artificially limiting our potential, keeping us smaller than we need to be. The young artist in the example above believed, mistakenly, that there was no point in asking for help. I believed, mistakenly, that if I couldn’t solve a motorcycle problem on the first try, it was beyond my abilities. Bill Murray’s character believed, mistakenly, that his arrogance and selfishness were appealing to women.

The Experiment is one of ReBalancer’s best tools for breaking such spells. And when repeated Experiments become part of Balancer’s everyday repertoire, the result is liberation. Life itself becomes an ongoing Experiment, and we live in the present. Instead of conforming to the limits of past patterns, we just do, see what happens, and adjust our view of reality accordingly, free from the manacles of Mistaken Beliefs. (More on Mistaken Beliefs in another post.)

The Experiment is one of the most potent tools in ReBalancer’s toolbox. Unlike techniques and strategies for handling specific difficulties UnBalancer might throw at us, The Experiment gives ReBalancer the power to craft new strategies on the fly whenever new challenges occur.

These new strategies, once created, cannot be uncreated. They are always there, ready whenever we need them. And consistently doing Experiments leads to an experimental attitude, enabling us to feel confident that we can handle whatever unknowns life (and UnBalancer) hands us with curiosity, resourcefulness, and equanimity.

Related Posts:
The Under Toad and the UnBalancer
The Balancer/ReBalancer Tag Team
A Mini-Lesson on Mini Self-Care
Gyroscopes and Personal Flywheels
Hanging in the Balance
Balancing the Books
The Experiment
How to Design an Experiment

Books:
From Paths to Wholeness: Fifty-Two Flower Mandalas
“If there is one main factor that divides those of us who do not change from those who do, I think it is acceptance: of who we are, how we got to where we are, and that we – and only we – have the power to free ourselves.”
– “Acceptance”
PrintAmazon  –  BookBaby  –  B&N  – Books-a-Million
eBook: Kindle  – Nook  – iTunes  – Kobo

Also available:
52 (more) Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
52 Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
Paths to Wholeness: Selections (free eBook)

Follow me on:
Bloglovin’
StumbleUpon
Medium

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Goodbye/Hello


UPDATE: I'm now blogging at http://davidbookbinder.com/photoblog/
I hope to see you there!

Best,
David

Consider this an invitation.

The Flower Mandalas blog has moved to Beliefnet.com, the leading spirituality portal, where it has taken on a new (and improved) form. My Flower Mandala work will still appear there, but now in the context of an ongoing exploration of art, healing, and transformation. New address: http://blog.beliefnet.com/flowermandalas

The blog serves as a platform for a much broader discussion of the transforming power of art, with "art" defined in the broadest possible way (visual, literary, performing, popular, classical, modern, ancient, professional, tentative, eternal, spontaneous, etc.).

I'm still looking for your input! I would very much like to hear from you not only for the Flower Mandala Project but also to invite you to share your art, thoughts, and experiences as part of this broader discussion.

I'm hoping to use this forum to generate a lively worldwide discussion among artists, healers, and consumers of art. I am seeking artwork, stories, thoughts, and ideas from both producers and consumers of art about how art has influenced their lives. The blog will consist of my work, work by (and interviews with) guest artists, and excerpts (with permission) from the accompanying discussion groups.

Please share your art and your stories, thoughts, and feelings as comments on the blog or posts in the discussion groups, or directly via e-mail to me at phototransformations@verizon.net. I'd also appreciate your passing this message on to anyone you think might be interested in the topic of the healing and transforming power of art.

Links:
Flower Mandalas blog: http://blog.beliefnet.com/flowermandalas
Art, Healing, and Transformation group: http://community.beliefnet.com/ArtandTransformation
Flower Mandalas Project group: http://community.beliefnet.com/flowermandalas

Thanks for listening and, I hope, sharing!

More anon,
- David
David J. Bookbinder, LMHC

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Saturday, May 06, 2006


Orange Pansy IV
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Yellow Rose I
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Pink Rose I
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Pink and Purple Pansy I-a
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Pink and Purple Pansy I
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Salmon Rose I
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Pale Pink Tulip II
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Pale Pink Tulip I
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Dandelion IV
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Magnolia Blossom III
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