mindfulness

The blessing of a diagnosis clarity. It’s validation, it’s a community of others dealing with similar circumstances.

A diagnosis says, ‘You experience this particular thing, it’s real, and other people also experience it.’

And the more you discuss your diagnosis, the more you seek the experiences of others who share your experience and begin to understand your diagnosis more deeply, a character starts to form from its description.

The great thing about this is that it can help you strategise around the disorder.

The problem is that it gives you someone else to blame when things go wrong.

I slip into this thinking with ADHD all the time.

‘My ADHD doesn’t let me focus when I want to.’

‘I’m sorry I didn’t do that thing I was supposed to, my ADHD means I get distracted sometimes.’

‘I forgot what time we were meant to meet – ADHD.’

These are comfortable thoughts, but they’re bullshit.

I can force myself to focus whenever I need to. I just need to isolate potential distractions more-so than most.

If I forgot to do something, or what time I was meant to be somewhere, it’s because I didn’t write it down like I should have, or I didn’t prioritise it high enough. ADHD certainly doesn’t make these things easier to do, but it’s me who lets people down.

I am in no way seperate from my ADHD.

Personifying it, giving it character, and imagining what its motivations are can all be helpful ways to frame the diagnosis and help explain it to other people.

Its usefulness ends at the point where I start believing that its character exists outside of my own.

I’m no doctor or psychologist, but I’d be willing to bet that the same goes for a whole lot more than ADHD.

In his worthwhile book, The Hapiness Hypothesis, Jonathan Haidt argues that the advantage optomists have over pessimists naturally compounds.

It’s true that the world is structured such that the rich tend to get richer as the poor get poorer, but it’s also true that the happy are likely to grow further happier than the sad.

When it comes to dealing with circumstances which are making them unhappy, “optimists expect their efforts to pay off, [so] they go right to work fixing the problem.”

Even when things fail, they have an inherent understanding that things tend to work out for the best.

When things go wrong, optimists naturally seek out the potential benefits buried within misfortune.

The narrative optimists write for themselves then, is one of constantly overcoming adversity.

Pessimists, on the other hand, live in a world with more apparent risk and less confidence to deal with it.

From the pessimist perspective it’s natural to feel trapped within a narrative wrought with hopelessness; one where bearing the consequences of injust circumstances seems more natural than attempting to change them.

Optimists and pessimists can be dealt the exact same adversity and each write opposing translations.

What’s frightening is that the way each retells the events in their own internal narrative has ripple effects on the remainder of their narrative.

Optimists are more likely to grow from adversity because they can antipate rewards for their efforts.

Pessimists are more likely to be enslaved by adversity because they spend more time managing their pain than resolving their adversity.

This doesn’t mean pessimists can’t grow from adversity. It just means they find it more difficult to do so on average.

“The key to growth is not optimism per se, it is the sense making which optimists find easy.”

Optimist, pessimist or anything inbetween, find a way to make sense of adversity. Come to terms with it. Relish it. Grow.

The first time a toddler attempts to lie is a huge psychological landmark.

While it might seem counter intuitive to be proud of a kid covered in crumbs while they’re promising they didn’t raid the cookie jar, it’s actually one of the first indicators that they have developed theory of mind.

This is the point at which a child realises that their thoughts, emotions, beliefs, intentions and perspectives are seperate from those of other people.

Almost unimaginably, this is not our default mode.

It doesn’t occur to a young child to lie, because their natural state is to assume that you already know what they know.

When a young child gets worked up over something seemingly trivial, it’s often because they don’t yet understand that the wants and needs of others can conflict with their own.

When there is a dissonance between what they are experiencing and what others are doing, they can’t process it. The result, as all parents will know, is an intense experience of pain and grief.

We begin our lives assuming that humankind shares a singular, unified consciousness and every experience we have from then on slowly proves us otherwise.

So slowly in fact, that even some adults default back to this mode when the views of others don’t align with their own.

When their cognitive expectations aren’t met, when the perspectives of others stray too far from their own beliefs and desires, it becomes too much to process. The resistance they feel gives way to tantrum in the same way a toddler spits out its dummy when nobody’s paying it enough attention.

“Become the best in the world at what you do. Keep redefining what you do until this is true.”

Naval Ravikant

In both art and business, we are usually defined by those we can be likened to.

We’re lumped into genres or styles, niches and roles.

When competing for success, we are often assigned a category.

Maybe you were proactive enough to assign yourself the category which best defines you.

This is great news, on one condition;

That you’re the best in class.

If you’re going to allow yourself to be defined by a category, ensure that you’re the best fish in the pond.

When in doubt, dig your own pond.

Don’t be a slightly-above-average animal photographer when you can be the world’s best Quokka photographer.

(Photo: Natalie Su)

Never call yourself a ‘pretty good’ sales assistant when you could be the best speckled beanie salesperson in the state.

Why would you be a writer with a blog when you could be the only young West Australian writer with a BJJ blue belt who publishes original work daily?

(If there’s another one, someone let me know, I’d love to meet them.)

You do you.

I only ask that you do us all a favour and do it brilliantly.

“How dare you settle for less when the world has made it so easy for you to be remarkable.”

Seth Godin

When we ruminate too intently on the pains our future might hold, we experience a portion of that pain in advance.

People with empathy internalise the pain of others when they witness suffering. It helps us to connect, to understand one another, and to care for eachother.

When making a decision, we usually consider the effect it might have on others. In doing so, we are essentially imagining future versions of the people our decisions may effect, allowing us to empathetically consider the potential outcomes of our actions.

We are so good at this that we usually do it intuitively.

I don’t take an online yodeling class at 1:30am because I can imagine that my neighbours (and their baby) might find it difficult to sleep in the presence of such glorious sound.

Unfortunately, there is a little glitch in this otherwise wonderfully human system; we can’t help but also imagine ourselves as a future person. We possess an inescapable and often rather concerning future self.

Anxiety is the pain we absorb while empathising with our future selves.

Harbouring a bit of this pain is sensible, but too much acts like poison.

We consider people ‘anxious’ when the pain they are experiencing in advance is disproportionate to the actual risks their furute presents.

“There are more things … likely to frighten us than there are to crush us; we suffer more often in imagination than in reality.”

Seneca

Your anxiety is as useful as it is actionable.

If you can’t do anything to address a concern, there is zero gain in accepting preliminary pain on your future self’s behalf.

You’ll have to deal with it when your future self arrives at the worrying destination, so what sense is there in experiencing the pain twice?

Getting stuck empathising with future you is dangerous because this process feeds upons itself.

Once painful worrying becomes a habit, you might find yourself worrying about the worrying.

All of a sudden, your introspective empathy has turned toxic, and you’re so caught up inside yourself that you can barely muster the energy to look out.

Illustration by Catherine Lepange from Thin Slices of Anxiety: Observations and Advice to Ease a Worried Mind

There is no simple fix to this cycle.

It’s a grueling, often shameful, thing to break.

But it can be done.

I suggest starting with one of these:

Being ‘in control’ is a mindset.

“Make the best use of what is in your power, and take the rest as it happens. Some things are up to us and some things are not up to us.”

– Epictetus

Being in control of things outside yourself is relative to your influence over them, but being in control of yourself requires nothing more than feeling in control. This is a skill, and we can practice it.

Feeling in control requires you to acutely focus solely on the things which you can change.

We can change much more than we usually give ourselves credit. Even in times of hopelessness;

While we may have no control over a a thief who wishes to break into our home, we do have control over how we prepared we are for that possibility; installing security screens, cameras and investing in insurance are all measures we can take to minimise the possibility of disruption.

We also have power over how we react to being stolen from; we can grow fearful, bitter and angry, or we can deal with the problem as best we can, prepare ourselves better in case the circumstance arises again, and move on.

The problem with reacting angrily is that there’s nothing to be gained by allowing those emotions flourish. The thief has been and gone. There is no perpetrator to receive the justice of your anger, so what are you to do with it?

It feels good to embrace negative emotions in times like these. To imagine what you might do if you found the thief. How good you’ll feel if the police find them. You may find yourself playing these scenarios over and over in your mind, your emotion building as the visions become clearer.

But with no way to act on or utilise these feelings, thinking this way is nothing more than self-pollution.

This thinking does nothing to change what happened, nor does it aid in actually realising your imagined capture of the thief.

It’s useless.

We can’t control the actions of others, their reactions to our actions, nor the hand we’ve been dealt in the game of life.

Unless a feeling informs action, you don’t need it. That doesn’t mean that like a stray cat it won’t try to stick around, it just means you should probably avoid feeding it incase it decides to live with you permanently.

Take care not to obsess over things which fall outside the bounds of your control. When we do, especially if the thing scares us, we often wind up ruminating; thinking in abstract circles about how concerned or bereaved we are about a problem, without committing any energy to actually resolving it.

Ruminating about problems is useless, because problems require solving.

Solving is active where rumination is passive. It implies that action is being taken in the direction of a solution.

Nobody cares how worried you are about climate change, but plenty of people care about how you’re planning to vote at the next election.

People value action because it drives progress.

We can take control of our lives by choosing to focus our attention not on rumination, but on actively seeking out problems we have the capability to solve through our own individual action.

Accept everything which you cannot change, focus solely on those things you can, and pursue them with rigour.

There is no more powerful endeavour.

How often do you have moments when you look at someone and think,

“They’re just not aware, are they?”

Like when someone’s staring at you but they don’t realise. Or domineering a conversation, totally unaware that they’re denying you the chance to speak because they’re so focussed on what they need to say.

We all have these blind spots.

I especially struggle with identifying when I’m getting close to overwhelm.

The people around me can usually tell when I’m trending towards overcommitting myself.

Even when they warn me, I rarely act on their advice before it’s too late.

Our minds are tricky that way. We reinforce our own defaults.

Even when told outright that I’m doing something stupid which is bothering those I care about, my mind finds a way to trick itself.

I’m okay. I can manage. They don’t understand. It’s not that bad.

But of course they understand. And if they’ve mustered the courage to initiate that awkward conversation, it is that bad.

We’re hardwired to trust our own thoughts almost blindly, while scrutinising the observations of others at every step. Even those we trust.

This process functions as a form of self defence, protecting us from the deceptions of others.

Unfortunately, it also insulates our own self deceptions; the things we tell ourselves are true not because they are, but because they’re less painful than what’s actually true.

Self deception is a viscous, malignant thing.

We must become aware of what we choose not to see.

Maybe your boss wasn’t being totally unreasonable when she called you out on your performance.

Maybe you’re not too tired to get the exercise you need.

Maybe you haven’t earned that break yet.

And maybe I ought to listen to the people closest to me more often.

If multiple people are shining a light on something which you can’t see, and it also makes you uncomfortable, you’re probably the one with the blind spot.

Ask yourself: Do these people have reason to deceive me?

If, like with my overwhelm, the people shining lights are those who love and care, how does tricking you benefit them?

It doesn’t.

Statistically speaking, they probably aren’t conspiring against you. If it feels like they are, perhaps you’re conspiring against yourself.

When the people who love you rally together to shine a light and you’re the only one who can’t see it, chances are you’re looking in the wrong direction.

Fail to turn around for long enough, and the lights might stop shining.

Try not to risk it.

Ever had a beesting?

Image result for beesting

It’s the kind of minor, inconsequential pain which wields the potential to cause more angst than it’s worth.

It feels like when you get cut off in traffic. Or when someone doesn’t knock before entering a room. It feels like when someone doesn’t change the toilet roll.

Beestings feel this way unless you’re allergic, which some people are to inconsequential problems. We all know someone with a beesting allergy; a usually well-meaning hothead who can be set off by the tiniest negative input. To those less affected, this can be infuriating.

But beesting allergies aren’t unnatural. Our minds are naturally geared towards these negative inputs, it’s called negativity bias.

The good news is that there is a key difference between a real beesting and the beesting of mental angst: you can train yourself to minimise the effects of the latter.

Meditation and cognitive therapy are both great for this. The former is natural and free, whereas the latter requires finding a good practitioner (which usually isn’t free).

As we bumble about our daily lives, it is equally important that we take all reasonable precautions to avoid stinging anyone as it is to take responsibility for enhancing our own beesting immunity.

Some people are perpetual stingers who also have allergies. This isn’t a good mix. Especially when those they sting start stinging back.

Take care not to get so caught up in your own head that you wind up perpetually darting around, ungraciouslly stinging those you cross.

If you regularly feel on edge, like any little thing might cause you to snap, you might instead have an allergy.

Be honest with yourself. If you’ve got an allergy, or a tendency to sting, slow down. Breathe. Play with some meditation.

You owe it to yourself, and everyone else.