Negative Nelly

Don’t be that person.

You know the one I’m talking about.  It doesn’t matter what you say to them, their response is going to be negative.  It doesn’t matter what you do, they aren’t going to like you.  It doesn’t matter who you are, they are always going to think you should be different.  You could have the best idea ever in the history of ever, and they’re going to poo-poo all over it.  They won’t even generate new problem-solving ideas of their own because they don’t believe problems can be solved.  According to them, everything is bad – always has been, always will be.

While you don’t want to be that person (because unhappiness), and you don’t want to hang out with that person on a consistent basis (because depression), periodically exposing your untested ideas to that person does provide you with a fantastic opportunity for growth.  By giving you every possible reason why your ideas are bad and will surely fail, Negative Nelly forces you to look at aspects of yourself and your thought process that you might not have looked at before and might not look at otherwise.

The next time you talk to a Negative Nelly, do take it with a grain of salt, but don’t automatically dismiss it.  Use their input to examine your ideas in a new light.

Can your idea withstand this kind of heavy critique and still show positive attributes?  If it can, take those attributes and run with them.  Those are the strong parts.  If it can’t, it probably wasn’t a great idea to begin with.

And what about your self-image?  Can you take criticism of your ideas as just that – criticism of an abstract that is not you?  Or do you take criticism of your ideas as criticism of yourself as a person?  Can you take heavy criticism and still love yourself and maintain a positive, productive outlook?  If you can, you probably have a fairly stable self-image.  If you can’t, you probably need to work on becoming more self-aware and more accepting of and secure in yourself.

Advertisements

Survival

The act of surviving is such a powerful thing.

Sometimes we get hung up on the bad things that happen to us.  We love to sing our “somebody done somebody wrong” song.

But is that really useful?  Yes, in the beginning it absolutely is.  When something terrible happens, when life takes a tragic turn, when everything falls apart, you don’t need to ignore it.  Pretending it hasn’t happened isn’t going to do anyone any good.  You need to take plenty of time to think about what happened, to grieve in whatever way you grieve, to figure out what went wrong.

And then you need to turn your thoughts elsewhere.  Instead of thinking about what went wrong, think about the fact that you survived.  Yes, something awful happened to you.  Yes, mistakes were made.  No, there’s no excusing it.  But you survived.  Think about that for a while.

Why?  Because if you survived this bad thing, you can survive the next bad thing.  And next time you’ll know how.  Next time you’ll know what went wrong and what needs to happen differently.  Next time you’ll know how to take your time with recovery.  Next time you’ll know how to process your thoughts and feelings.

Bad things aren’t going to stop happening, but having survived a lot of bad things, I can vouch for the empowering effect of survival.  Nothing says “I’m strong” like survival.  Nothing says “I can do what needs to be done” like survival.  Nothing says “I’m going to keep moving forward” like survival.

Replaying your hurt over and over traps you in victimhood.  It traps you in those feelings of fear and helplessness.  Replaying your survival moves you forward, emboldens you, empowers you.  Take control.  Stop being a victim, and become a survivor.

How to Write When You Have Nothing to Write About

When I was learning how to write essays and such, my teachers usually recommended brainstorming to come up with topics.  If I understood correctly, I was supposed to just vomit random words onto a page stream-of-consciousness style until one of them jumped out and said, “Hey, write about me!” But that doesn’t usually work for me.

For me, brainstorming usually works best after I already have a topic and am trying to figure out how to approach it or which points to include.  I can spew all kinds of ideas within the framework of a topic.  So I worked out a different trick for myself.  When I find myself staring at the screen or the piece of paper for too long with no coherent thoughts forming, I give myself a framework.  I make this outline:

Introduction
Point 1
Point 2
Point 3
Conclusion

Then I think about what each thing means:

Introduction (Tell them what you’re going to tell them)
Point 1 (Tell them this)
Point 2 (Tell them that)
Point 3 (Tell them something else)
Conclusion (Tell them what you told them)

Then ideas start trickling in, and I start filling in the blanks.

I don’t always stick to the structure.  Sometimes I make more than three points, sometimes less.  Sometimes my conclusion doesn’t really “tell them what I told them.”  Occasionally, I just leave off a conclusion altogether.  The point isn’t to adhere to the outline.  The point is just to trick my order-thirsty brain into getting into a creative groove.

What about you?  What’s your favorite way to generate ideas?

The Value of Daily Writing

Yesterday evening I read an article about Stoic journaling.  Apparently, the entire book Meditations by Marcus Aurelius was never intended to be published.  It was just a daily journal, Aurelius’ own reflections about his day, his thoughts about things he did right, things he could have done better, etc.  This practice helped him work through his behavior, his emotions, and his beliefs about himself and life in general.

I definitely wouldn’t call this blog a Stoic journal, but I do believe I am benefiting from my recent practice of daily writing.

I am getting better at jotting down my thoughts quickly and coherently.  I am learning how to hit the publish button without analyzing the piece to death first.  I feel more fulfilled through this engagement in a creative endeavor.  I have worked through several ideas by writing about them and thus arrived at a greater understanding of what those ideas mean as well as clarity regarding my own opinions about those ideas.

If you want to improve your communication skills, learn how to let go of perfectionism, increase your satisfaction with yourself and your life, and enhance your perception of the world around you, I encourage you to try daily writing.  It doesn’t have to be anything complicated.  Just choose a word or a topic, jot down some thoughts about it, and send it out into the world.  It doesn’t even have to be a blog.  Formulate a coherent sentence or paragraph about whatever is on your mind and publish it on your social media outlet of choice.  Do it daily.  It will change your life.

The Bad News

Yesterday I mentioned that my doctor’s visit Friday was a mixed bag of good news and bad.  I went over the portion of the good news and described how these nutrient levels were all things I had learned how to improve while following a ketogenic diet this year.

Now for the not so good news:  All of my iron levels and all of my folate levels were low.  This was truly shocking to me.  I eat a lot of meat.  I eat a lot of dark, leafy greens.  How could I possibly be low in iron and folates?

My doctor pointed to other test results: My duodenum (absorbs iron) is inflamed, there are cysts on my liver (stores iron), and I have a mutation of the MTHFR gene (processes folates).

I spent the rest of the weekend reeling from this news.  I have been approaching my health issues as if they were problems that could be fixed, damage that could be healed. And probably my duodenum can be healed and probably the cysts on my liver aren’t a big deal.  That mutation, though. That can’t be fixed.  I’m screwed up all the way down to my DNA.  All I can do is find a work around.

And I will.  I am already in the process of figuring out how to tweak the ketogenic diet to compensate for my faulty MTHFR gene.  It’s just going to take some time.  There will be an adjustment period.

In the meantime, I’m a little upset that, out of all the mutations I could have, I didn’t get the one that allows me to fly.

Nine Months of Keto

I started a whole foods, ketogenic diet on January 1, so this marks my ninth month of eating a lot of fat and hardly any carbs.  Friday morning I visited with my doctor about the results of some very thorough testing she had ordered the week before.  It was a mixed bag of good news and bad, and all of the good news was directly related to things I’ve learned how to do while on the ketogenic diet.

  1.  My vitamin D levels are excellent.  I took a vitamin D supplement during the winter, and then started weaning myself off of it during the spring in favor of exposing large swaths of skin to direct sunlight for about five minutes every day. (I’m very fair, so I can generate lots of vitamin D in a short amount of time.) By summer I was completely off of the vitamin D, and I have remained so.  Still, my vitamin D levels are excellent.
  2. My A1c and my fasting glucose are perfect.  Several years ago, my team of doctors at the time told me that my chronic hypoglycemia was an indication that my pancreas was on the fritz and that I would, within the next few years become diabetic.  I am not.  In fact, I no longer have any indication of any blood sugar problems at all.  I can even fast for 48 hours at a stretch without crashing, and on the occasions that I do increase my carbs a bit, I no longer experience a sudden high and then faint a few minutes later.
  3. All of my electrolyte levels are fabulous.  Before, I was experiencing chronic dehydration, even though I drank a lot of water.  Now I actually drink less water (I monitor the color of my urine and increase/decrease accordingly), but I use pink Himalayan salt (which naturally contains a variety of electrolytes), and I do shots of pickle juice once or twice a week.  Good stuff.

I think I’ll continue with the keto thing!

Creation

The act of creating is empowering.  You take pieces, and you make a whole.  You bring something to being that didn’t exist in that form before.  Creating is not only an expression of our existence in the world but it also fundamentally changes the way we see the world.

Take this blog post for example.  I’m not making up any new letters or words.  I’m not even expressing an idea that’s never been expressed before.  I’m just taking all of these common pieces (letters, words, an idea) and combining them in a way I’ve never combined them before.  In fact, it is highly likely that no one in history has ever combined these words and this idea in exactly this way before.  Ever.  If you find a paper or a post that is exactly like this one, please let me know.  I’d love to ponder how unlikely it is that two strangers would independently write identical articles.

Even if you create something that has been created before, that particular one didn’t exist until you caused it to exist.  For this example, let’s think about baking a cake.  The concept of cake is nothing new.  Untold millions of cakes have existed in the world before now.  There are thousands of cakes occupying space at this very moment.  Humans will probably continue baking cakes for as long as there are humans to bake cakes.  But if you bake one this afternoon, you have created something new.  That particular cake has never existed before, even if you’ve used that recipe before, and that particular cake will never exist again, even if you use that recipe again.  Yes, the atoms that make up that cake existed before, and yes, the atoms that make up that cake will continue to exist long after the cake has been eaten, but that particular formation at that particular time is unique and shall always be so.

Making stuff causes us to feel incredibly powerful, although we don’t always call it powerful.  Sometimes we call it satisfied or fulfilled or happy or peaceful or purposeful, but power over ourselves and our world is the essence of the positive emotions we feel when we create.  If we do not make anything at all, ever, we feel powerless, weak, vulnerable, helpless.  We might also call it depressed or anxious or any number of other negative words, but the essence is powerlessness.

I believe this is why the act of creating has such a profound impact on the human psyche.   It changes the way we perceive the world by not only reflecting our own existence but also explaining it.  I’ll break that down.

  1.  How creating reflects our own existence:  We didn’t exist in this form before, but now we do.  Creating other things that didn’t exist before is an expression of that, a reflection of that fact.
  2. How creating explains our own existence:  So now we are, but why are we? Creating other things gives us power over existence itself.  Creating impacts our own existence, it causes the existence of the things we have created, and it influences the existence of others and the things they create.  That power makes us feel like we have purpose.  Another way to say it:  When we create, we suddenly feel that we don’t exist randomly, we don’t just exist to exist. Our subconscious  mind says, “Hey, I have power, but I don’t feel that power unless I’m creating, so the purpose of my existence must be to create.”

Is our purpose actually to create?  I have no idea.  But I’ve noticed that the people who try to exist without creating are very unhappy people indeed.  I’m going to keep on creating.

Complaints

I have this theory that complaining about something once is venting but complaining about something multiple times is avoidance.  Here’s why:

Letting off steam has to be done from time to time.  Something terrible happens or you get frustrated about an obstacle or you just have a bad day where everything seems to go wrong, and you need to pour it all out to someone.  You’re probably not even looking for solutions to the problems.  You just need someone to listen to your complaint, maybe commiserate with you a bit.  The very act of verbally spilling frustration can be cathartic and revelatory.  I encourage it.

But staying upset about something takes energy.  It saps your mental energy because it consumes your thoughts.  It saps your emotional energy because it causes you to feel all manner of negativity and emotional lag.  It saps your physical energy because it causes physiological stress responses like higher blood pressure, shallower breathing, and a weaker immune system.  It saps your time because dealing with the situation feels like slogging through mud and you aren’t being as efficient nor as effective.

The energy required to continue to be upset and continue to complain could be better spent in resolving the issue altogether.  If it’s worth the negative energy you are dumping into it by complaining, then it’s worth the positive energy required to bring about a solution.  If you don’t know how to solve the problem, direct your energy into finding someone who does and asking them for help.

Repeatedly complaining about the same issue without taking steps to resolve it is a way of hiding from the hard work often required for resolution.  If this were a game, in your initial complaint, you’d get points for being aware of the problem, for being a savvy observer, an accurate assessor.  But you wouldn’t continue to amass points by complaining, because in your subsequent complaints, you’d lose points for not actively pursuing solutions.  If your game plan, your life strategy, says the solutions aren’t worth pursuing, then the problem isn’t worth complaining about more than once.

Repeatedly complaining about the same issue without taking steps to resolve it is also a way of hiding from the unknown.  What caused this problem?  Why is the problem manifesting itself in this way? What needs to be done to solve it?  Who can solve it?  Will they be willing to solve it?  If you ask for help solving the problem, will anyone respond?  What if seeking a solution only makes the problem worse?  What if there are repercussions in other areas?  What if trying to solve this problem opens up a can of worms?  What if the problem can’t be solved?  You don’t have to think about any of the unknowns if you choose to complain instead of taking action.

Instead of making repeated complaints, you could let go of the issue altogether.  You vented.  You feel better now.  Move on.  Or maybe you vented and you don’t feel much better, but you aren’t willing to go down the road of resolving the problem.  Maybe the problem really isn’t worth resolving.  Maybe you don’t have the time or resources to resolve it right now.  Maybe it’s not even your responsibility to resolve that problem.  Let it go.  Move forward.

Or instead of making repeated complaints, you could pursue a solution.  Figure out the root of the problem and solve it.  Stop complaining about always being out of breath and go to the doctor to have your lungs examined.  Stop complaining about the view out your back door and find a way to move or change the view.  Stop complaining about a problem employee and coach them or fire them.  Stop complaining about being disrespected and behave in a more respectable manner or find associates who treat you more respectfully.

It might not be easy no matter which path you choose.  It might require a lot of work to let go of your complaints and move forward.  It might require a lot of work to find the root cause and do what’s necessary to solve the problem.  Either way, it might take a lot of energy.  But you’re already expending a lot of energy on being upset and complaining.  So why not direct that energy towards some kind of positive outcome whether that be peaceful acceptance of the situation or resolution of the problem?

The Value of the Media Queue

In the world of GTD (Getting Things Done), participants are encouraged to create a “media queue.”  This is a place where you store media items that you are going to read, watch, or listen to later.

I have a file in both my work email and my personal email accounts labeled “Media Queue,” and this is where I store email newsletters until I can read them.  I also have a file in my Evernote account labeled “Media Queue,” and I use Evernote’s web clipper to send articles and websites to this file for later perusal.

The biggest benefit of having and using a media queue is that you don’t get caught up in reading, watching, or listening to something that you don’t actually have time for.  Sometimes we feel like we have to read, watch, or listen to this thing right now, because we won’t have access to it later or we’ll forget about it.  The media queue solves this problem by giving you a place to store such things.  You don’t have to jump the tracks to consume this media immediately, because it’s there in your media queue waiting for you whenever you have time.

When I first started using a media queue, I ran into a problem.  I was sending a ton of stuff to it, but I was never actually consuming the media.  Stuff would pile up in there for months at a time.  Sometimes by the time I got around to examining the material, I had forgotten why I saved it to begin with.

For a time, I solved this problem by setting aside time each day to go through my media queues and consume or delete a bit of it.  For some people, this works really well.  For me…not so much.

Now I’m setting aside one whole day each week as “media queue” day, and it’s working much better for me.  I wrote about this a few weeks ago.  On Tuesdays, I spend my entire work day going through my various media queues and using the information in the materials there to brainstorm about projects I’m working on.  In many cases, I can even use the materials (such as links to archived webinars) to get CE credits for my job.

Although I started doing this as a way of keeping my media queues cleaned out (or at least weeded down), I have noticed other benefits:

  1. Because I’ve combined Media Queue Day with Brainstorming Day, I can apply the concepts in the material immediately.  When I was just randomly reading through my media queue, I might read, watch, or listen to something and think, “That’s a fabulous idea! I’ll have to remember that the next time I’m doing [fill in the blank]!”  Now that I’ve focused my time by connecting my media queues with brainstorming, I read, watch, or listen to something and immediately start making connections between the concepts I’ve just learned about and the projects I’m working on.
  2. Because I am applying the concepts immediately, I’m applying a lot more of the concepts.  How often did I actually remember the information when I needed it? I don’t have any hard figures, of course, but the likelihood that I was going to remember it when I needed it was pretty iffy.  Sometimes I did.  Sometimes I didn’t.  Sometimes I’d just remember that I had once seen something that might apply to what I was doing, so I’d go look it up again.  And have to consume it all over again.  Now that I’m using the information right away, I’m using much of what I’m learning through these various materials.  And this is real learning.  [Stepping up onto soapbox now. Real learning isn’t about consuming material or even regurgitating material onto a piece of paper or in a speech.  Real learning is about making connections and using material IRL.  Stepping down off of soapbox now.]
  3. Because I am actually learning from my Media Queue now, I have become much better at deciding what needs to be sent to the media queue and what needs to be deleted immediately or ignored.  Before, I was saving anything I had even a passing interest in.  Every “SQUIRREL!” went into the media queue.  I congratulated myself on not chasing the squirrels but sending them to wait in line instead.  And this was progress in the right direction.  I had become Master of Squirrels.  But they were still distracting little rodents.  Now that I’m spending an entire day focused on taking in information and brainstorming about how to use it, I’m sending far less information to the media queue.  If I’m not getting anything useful out of a newsletter, I unsubscribe from it.  It stops going to the media queue.  If I happen upon a really sleek website, but it has nothing to do with anything I’m working on personally or professionally, I move on.  It doesn’t go to the media queue.  My media consumption is far more efficient now.

Have you ever tried this?  Do you have a media queue, and if so, how do you use it?  I’d love to hear from you!