The Wall

 

It is 11:58 am, I am 2 minutes away from my lunch break, and then it hits me: it’s 11 February, 2016, 41 days of the new 2016 – a year that I had accomplished literally nothing, I stopped doing sports, I stopped drawing, basically I stopped doing things that I cared about.

At the beginning of this year I suffered a big blow, somebody who I took for granted, who was always there in the far corner of my mind, passed away. I didn’t even send him a Christmas card, although I hand-made it for him. I just forgot to post it, but hey, we always have the next Christmas, right?

I fell in this deep dark place where you feel extremely sad, but at the same time you feel safe. It’s easy to be sad, it’s easy to all the time expect the worst from your life, your surrounding and from other people. You do not have to invest any emotions or time: you just float slowly but safely somewhere on the edge of reality. Nothing will ever blow you out of balance.

Except something did. This particular date Feb, 11 11:58 am. And it beats me why, because this is not a date I would choose for my spiritual healing or anything. I think I just recently worked too much and allowed my thoughts to penetrate my wall of indifference that I have meticulously built up to fend off any emotions other than bland numbing sadness I got used to.

So ok. It is now 12:13 am, and I have opened my blog I haven’t touched in years, and am writing paragraph after paragraph. One might say I’m on fire. I kind of am, but I am still afraid of it, so I just write really quickly, not allowing myself to lean on my chair and have a real thought hitting my head. But I guess this is good enough for now. That’s this proverbial first step. Good for me! Jo beating Wall 1-0 in a fair fight! The audience in all stands go nuts!!

Exciting? Maybe for an hour, and then back to reality. How do I make sure there is a second and a third step? How do I keep going when the wall is up and running again?

I now realise that the real question is if I want the wall gone. And truth to be told, I don’t. I’m scared of the reality, I’d rather observe it than take part in it. I got used to it. The wall is one big constant in my life – it almost makes me feel invincible, it is a pillar that I have decided to hold on to and never let go. And I have to be honest with myself, I am not inclined to let it go for now.

This not very observant conclusion leads me to another one: an ultimate cliché. If I am so attached to the predictable, to the constant, why not use this against myself. Maybe I should hack myself: why not creating another constant: a set of well-defined routines that will allow me to process the reality with the same robot-like attitude. Mechanical, devoid of feelings.

I am not strong enough to destroy the wall. I need it.

But I can allow a bit of nature on it.

Let it grow with moss.

For now…

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Self-Awareness Workout Session

stockvault-healthclub-equipment137889Recently, I was asked to write a guest post for the blog called A Life Colored Amber. The blog, starting with its heart-warming title and finishing on its content is all devoted to spreading positive attitude towards life, so I had to think hard about a topic optimistic enough to meet the requirements. Finally, I decided to muse upon the notion of self-awareness, which influence on our lives is nothing but positive in every aspect.

Self-awareness puts us in total control over our own lives. Only when we start paying deeper attention to our own self realizing our roots like family history, biological inheritance, upbringing, and our surrounding like social groups, environmental forces, cultural influences, can we fully understand the importance of our own self in the current course of life we happen to be a part of.

It is often said that traveling broadens our minds. We learn a lot from people of other cultures, since we belong to a totally distinctive one. Learning cultural differences deepens our self-awareness by increasing our sense of belonging, and I can relate to this, since I never felt so utterly Polish only when I had a chance to live in Spain surrounded by Spanish people trying to impose their habits on me.

This experience strongly influenced my identity. For the first time I learned that I can change my habits, my rituals, even my every-day language, but deep down inside I am only a mere observer of what is happening with me. I had this overpowering feeling of split personality, I acted like a Spaniard but my Polish self was in constant amaze of my actions. It was as if I had an inner observer who manipulated me to see my reaction to a particular stimulus. On every step of my experience I knew that I can safely go back to the core of my own self which was defined by all the factors that I mentioned in the previous paragraph.

Sounds like a mental breakdown? Maybe, but I am not the only one out there.

I would like to describe an extreme and rather morbid example but it’s the only one I know that was documented and described in the literature devoted to self-development. During WWII a Jew psychologist Viktor Frankl was taken to a death camp, which made him realize huge potential of self-awareness. This is how Stephen Covey describes his aha-moment:

“One day, naked and alone in a small room, he began to become aware of what he later called “the last of the human freedoms” – the freedom his Nazi captors could not take away. They could control his entire environment, they could do what they wanted to his body, but Victor Frankl himself was a self-aware being who could look as an observer at his very own involvement. His basic identity was intact. (…) Between what happened to him, or the stimulus, and his response to it, was his freedom or power to choose that response.”

Dr Frankl exercised his self-awareness into the extreme level of meta self-awareness where he could picture himself away from his present situation – by using imagination and paramount potential of his memory he could place his self in a completely different situation, like for example his lectures at the university. Covey summarises his experience in one sentence: “Frankl used the human endowment of self-awareness to discover a fundamental principle about the nature of man: Between stimulus and response, man has the freedom to choose.

Now, I used this extreme example not to make you a zombie who shuts himself from the outside world in his own imaginary one, but to make you realise how much of a power of choice do we really have, what a wide variety of reaction patterns we possess.  It is not a situation that has power over us, it is our own self that can allow or not to be influenced by it; our own concession is the real boss here.

Is it possible to exercise self-awareness to the level of usability in every-day situations? Of course, but it requires patience, deep involvement and regular practice. There are many sites devoted to self-awareness, but the only draw-back is that meditation practitioners focus mainly on our body and thought-free state of mind, psychologists draw your attention to self-exploration whereas neurologists suggest brain stimulation practices.

Below, I have chosen exercises that are a mixture of all those approaches, and so you will find: physical exercises that raise our body control awareness, self-reflection practice set together with brain exercises which appeal to our left and right hemisphere (analytical and emotional one).

 

Physical

Gaining control over our body is a very important step in gaining control over our responses to certain triggers stimulating our reactions. Very often tense muscles increase the level of anger, stress or fear. It is vital to know how to control our body in order to control our negative emotions.

The very basic exercise raising the awareness of your body is to sit, lean back and close your eyes trying to recognize what parts of your body are tense. Now try to picture a certain situation and do the same. For me, stressful situations tense my neck muscles whereas anger releasing ones my stomach muscles.

The next step is to lie on the bed tightening and relaxing different parts of your body. With time, you will notice that you gain access to more and more muscles, even the ones that probably you did not know that existed. The more muscles you can consciously tighten, the more probable it is that you can also relax them on demand, which is the overall aim of this practice.

 

Self-Reflection

It is very important to be able to name your feelings, and to know yourself thoroughly including all your Achilles’ heels. Here, I would like to present three exercises that increase your level of self-esteem and influence your objectivity towards yourself.

 

Ex.1. The Victory Log (on the basis of Mike Brescia’s e-book Today Is Your Day To Win)

The overall aim of this exercise is to raise your level of confidence in stressful situations. Your task is to think about every little or big success that you have ever achieved throughout your life, and make a list of them on the piece of paper which you can carry around with you at all times. There is no time limit: from your early childhood up till now, nor is there any level of achievement: everything counts! Have you ever dated a hottie? Put it on your list. Did you climb a really tall tree when you were 10? It also makes a list. Did your boss compliment your work? Yes, that’s very much listable.

Now, in every situation that makes you feel uneasy, stressed or lost, you will take out the list and read it. The further you walk down the memory lane of your achievements, the lower is the level of your stress and higher is the level of confidence you gain.

 

Ex. 2. Self-Pros and Self-Cons

Listing your strengths and limitations enables you to work on the latter. Personally, my list of cons is considerably longer than pros, but it gives me motivation to work on them in order to cross them out from the list or change their position from con side to pro one.

Being aware of your qualities also helps you recognize certain triggers that influence your negative emotions. For instance, if you have recently discovered that you are a lost case of a perfectionist, it is more probable that in the future you will not get irritated by your son’s recklessness in colouring within the lines, since you know that those feelings stem from your personal weakness, and your negative emotions are in this case misdirected.

 

Ex. 3. Post Argument Objective Concluding

This exercise will practice your objectivity towards yourself, and hopefully in the future will prevent you from reacting improperly to a certain situation.

Think of a recent argument that you had, and look at it as objectively as you can. Write down all the possible reactions that you could have had, everything that comes to your head, do not judge it just write with the flow of your mind.

Now, look at the list, and divide the reactions into emotional and cold-blooded – was your reaction emotional or cold-blooded? If emotional, try to figure out what factor triggered this emotion remembering that our feelings are personal and we should not be subjected to them.

When you are done pondering on the triggers, look at the list again, and find the most appropriate reaction, universal to every human being, not only you.

 

Brain Stimulation Practice

This exercise will put you in touch of both sides of your brain, the one that is responsible for solving mathematical equations, analytical and comparative thinking and the overall use of logic, and the one that steers our emotions, imagination, creativity and artistic skills.

Your task is to write down a word that comes to your mind and describe it both ways:

  • using an intellectual and factual approach to it like grammatical definition, historical facts, linguistic diagnose, semantic description, etc.
  • using your emotional response like personal experience connected to this word,  feelings that you attribute to it, desires that are awaken by the word, or stories that comes to your mind when thinking of it

Learning the difference between subjective and objective response to a word is a milestone in raising the level of your self-awareness. It is a simple word for now, but in the future it may be a whole sequence of situations.

The examples of exercises shown above require a deep sense of self-involvement and determination. You have to fully open yourself to yourself, and understand your ulterior motives, the unique reasoning of your mind and how your body reacts to external factors. It is difficult to admit that we are fallible, but I think that this is the first big step in the difficult process of self-improvement.  So just to finalize my thoughts, I would like to leave you with a quote of Doctor Covey who said that:

“To change ourselves effectively, we first had to change our perceptions.”

Anatomy of Charity

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‘The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others’

                               /Mahatma Ghandi/

Every January one of the biggest charity organisations in Poland unites thousands of volunteers to help gather money to buy hospital equipment. This charity event lasts only one day but it joins together an extremely big amount of people driven by one aim: to help people in need. Organizers themselves admit that it is a curious social phenomenon: there has never been a case of stealing money by any of the volunteers; moreover, year after year there are more and more people willing to sacrifice their time for a greater cause.

What makes us this way? Why are we so driven to make somebody else’s life better? Are we purely altruistic or is there any hidden profit lurking behind every good deed?

Well, the answer as usual is ambiguous. There are many profits one can gain from helping others, but those beneficial properties of charity are cloistered in our brain, influencing us without our immediate knowledge.

Many of us asked about reasons for helping people answer that it just feels right or that it feels good. I would like to lobotomise this feeling and get to psychological core of it.

There is no denying that charity brings emotional benefits to people involved in it. People feel useful and that satisfies their feeling of self-fulfillment. Researchers from the University of Australia took further the analysis of this particular feeling and its impact upon our self-development. They all agree that self-fulfillment significantly increases the ability to seek creative solutions to problems, making a person more self-assured and more competent in stress management.

There have been many studies concerning impact of charity and volunteering on people. It has been discovered that apart from such obvious profits like reinforced pro-social behavior, it also allows people to take different perspective to their own lives. Experiencing problems of others helps us appreciate our own life with all its ups and downs. Therapeutic properties of helping yourself by helping others were used in group therapy sessions (starting from 1960s) by social psychologist Frank Riessman who activated addicts, alcoholics and law abusers to help people in need or another member of a group to overcome obstacles that life brought them. This approach called ‘helper theory’ was successfully implemented by many support groups, and it is still used as one of the most successful therapy tools.

As much as I liked all those theories, it still did not fully answer why people experience so many benefits from helping others. I had to dig deeper into the topic, so I decided that it was time to reach for medical explanation.

After hours of googling I stumbled upon a book written by a medical doctor Stephen G. Post entitled Why Good Things Happen to Good People: How to Live a Longer, Healthier, Happier Life by Simple Act of Giving. Part of the book treated about underlying neurological causes for charitable acts.

According to Doctor Post, good deeds like helping others, giving money for a good cause or volunteering activate mesolimbic pathways in our brains.  This particular part of brain is responsible for feeling joy and pleasure. Upon having an appropriate stimulus like eating, sex or precisely an act of charity, it releases dopamine which is more widely known as a happy hormone. That is the reason why some people who have problems with balancing emotions can even get addicted to giving, as Doctor Post explains.

Moreover, thanks to charity not only are we more content, but also we can enjoy longer and healthier life. A body of a charitable person produces large amount of oxytocine which is considered a compassion hormone and which lowers our susceptibility to long-term stress exposure. Less amount of stress makes miracles to our immune system, which inevitable leads to healthier life with higher longevity.

Both scientists and psychologists unanimously agree that charity as much as it helps other people also has an incredibly positive impact on our own lives. It is emotionally rewarding, it connects us with others and allows us to make use of any talent that we are willing to offer.

Consequently, this whole anatomical approach to charity can be summarized as follows:  be good to yourself by being good to those in need.

Here’s to New Beginnings!

Another Nestockvault-splashing-drink116328w Year has approached, and another thousand of New Year’s resolutions were uttered by millions of lips all over the world. I was one of them: I promised myself to start a blog, write regularly with the intention of motivating me and my future readers to follow the rocky path of self-development.

Will I be successful with my resolution? Time will tell, as time is the main factor to consider upon taking up a resolution. No change happens immediately. Given time and an adequate approach change is nothing more but a logical next step.

New beginnings are tempting, because they offer people a blank slate that is not yet ruined by reality. It is our tabula rasa that is waiting to be filled with our dreams. It gives us motivation and this is why Google Resolution map is so full of wishes, most of them concerned with self-improvement.

So now, at this point, my resolution is pure and unspoiled by further thoughts. My blog will be ideal: educational, thus helpful. I am excited by this idea, and it makes me feel good about myself. I am highly motivated.

But then, there comes the infamous Next Day Syndrome – doubts and many what-ifs. I start to question the sanity of the resolution: it is a huge endeavour after all. What if people will not like it, what if my writing style is unacceptable, what if I will be too cliche instead of being educational, what if I will fail in every possible way? Yes it is natural, and yes that brings us to the next step: acceptance of possible failure, and forthcoming relapses.

Failure is a natural step in development. We fail, we draw conclusions, we avoid past mistakes, we progress. But deeply rooted fear of committing errors exists in most of us, and it very often prevents us from trying out a new idea. People very often and very wrongly associate making mistake with embarrassing themselves. However,  if you look at mistake as another way of acquiring knowledge and experience, it will no longer resemble a nightmare, and you will be able to shake off this devolving fear and get down to work on your resolution.

No matter how big is your target change, you should not be scared of the overall size of it, but rather divide it into many small tasks, and step by step make it happen. However, your resolution cannot be too vague because you will have problems with preparing a schedule for it.

The base of every good resolution is to proceed with it by preparing a good plan. A plan makes your resolution more tangible, hence more manageable. It should contain your aims, deadlines, actions that together will contribute to the fulfillment of the plan. We also ought to include possible problems that we can encounter in order to be aware of them.

Only when our resolution is properly quantified and limited with deadlines, we can advance with its implementation. It is very important that we also invent a system of reward for every step that we manage to complete. Upon completion of this post I already know that I will reward myself with a relaxing cup of coffee over a book that I am currently reading. Since I am a lost cause of a bookworm, I cannot wait to finish and start reading. This thought elevates my motivation, and prevents me from taking any other unnecessary break.

Motivation, being a crucial factor in fulfilling any resolution, is something that we also should monitor regularly. We have to know what keeps us motivated and what decreases our devotion to a task. Keeping track of our progress is extremely healthy for maintaining a high level of commitment to the resolution. Once you start to see progress, you want to progress more and more, you feel excited almost as much as you were at the beginning of your endeavour.

So, without further ado: here’s to new beginnings!