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Most people carry that pain around inside them their whole lives, until they kill the pain by other means, or until it kills them. But you, my friends, you found another way: a way to use the pain. To burn it as fuel, for light and warmth. You have learned to break the world that has tried to break you.

–  author lev grossman (via nikyatu)

related: stress: the roots of resilience | turning stress into an asset

 

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breaking the world that tries to break you

11/11/14 3 Comments

a creative take on the common calendar

07/23/14

by artist susanna hertrich (1st spotted at artruby):

Chrono-Shredder celebrates remorse for the lost moment. It is a poetic machine with functions similar to those of a calendar and a clock: The device continuously shreds every single day, minute after minute, hour after hour. A pulse is given every 3 minutes, after 24 hours a complete day has been destroyed. Continuously, the tattered remains of the past pile up under the device as time passes by.

hertrich’s chrono-shredder emphasizes how precious time really is.  once it’s gone, you can’t recover or recreate it.  also, even though every second has a short shelf life, it doesn’t mean that you should easily forget them once they’re gone.  otherwise, you might have a big emotional/physical/mental/spiritual mess that’s begging your attention.  best to process your experiences as much as you can, and as often as necessary, to not only avoid that buildup, but to also give you a better sense of direction moving forward.

related: here’s a fresh way to look at a glass of water (and yourself)

Facebook can be depressing because everyone else’s lives are better than yours… But are they really?

one seedy aspect of social media is when people use it to make their lives seem better (to others or themselves) than they really are.  the short film what’s on your mind? does a great job highlighting this behavior and some of its consequences by showing what’s really behind one man’s facebook posts.

how does this video compare to your experience on facebook, twitter, instagram, wordpress, etc.?  via co.create.

related: real-life photoshop

what’s really behind your social media posts?

07/09/14

Be careful what you water your dreams with. Water them with worry and fear and you will produce weeds that choke the life from your dream. Water them with optimism and solutions and you will cultivate success. Always be on the lookout for ways to turn a problem into an opportunity for success. Always be on the lookout for ways to nurture your dream.

lao tzu

related: here’s a fresh way to look at a glass of water (and yourself) | “feed your faith…” | facing the waves of life

“be careful what you water your dreams with…”

06/18/14

the relationship between anxiety and performance

03/25/14

written by scott stossel; adapted from his book my age of anxiety for hbr:

I choked.

It was just a middle-school tennis match against a manifestly worse player, but I became overwhelmed with anxiety. Before we’d started, the most important thing was to win. But during the match, I just wanted to get off the court fast. Burping uncontrollably, afraid of throwing up, I hit balls out. I hit them into the net. I double-faulted. And I lost 6-1, 6-0. After shaking hands and running off the court, I felt immediate relief. My distended stomach settled. My anxiety relented. And then self-loathing took over. This was a challenge match for a lower-ladder JV position. The stakes were low, but to me they felt existentially high. I’d lost to the overweight and oleaginous Paul (not his real name), and the result was there on the score sheet, and on the ladder hanging on the locker room wall, for all to see.

This sort of thing—purposely losing matches to escape intolerable anxiety—happened dozens of times throughout my school sports career. My coaches were baffled. How could I look so skillful in practice, they wondered, and yet so rarely win a significant match?

Choking when you’re expected to perform—whether you’re squaring off in tennis or vying for resources or key accounts or a desirable role at work—is actually surprisingly common. It happens with some regularity to probably around one-fifth of the population. Since this response is at least partly hardwired (more on that later), it’s not something you tend to outgrow as you mature and gain perspective. Thirty years after that match with Paul, I still struggle with it. A lot.

Who chokes, and why?

People who choke can be peak performers in some settings, trembling mice in others. The list of elite athletes who have choked spectacularly is extensive. Greg Norman, the Australian golfer, became completely unglued at the 1996 Masters, nervously frittering away a seemingly insurmountable lead over the final few holes. Jana Novotná, the Czech tennis star, was five points away from winning Wimbledon in 1993 when she disintegrated under pressure and blew a huge lead over Steffi Graf. And then there’s Roberto Duran, who famously lost his world welterweight championship to Sugar Ray Leonard. With sixteen seconds left in the eighth round—and millions of dollars on the line—Duran turned to the referee, raised his hands in surrender, and pleaded, “No más, no más [No more, no more].” Until that moment, Duran appeared to be invincible. Since then, he’s been widely considered one of the greatest quitters and cowards in sports history.

That may sound harsh, but just about the worst epithet one can sling at an athlete—worse, in some ways, than ”cheater”—is “choker.” To choke is to wilt under pressure, to fail to perform at the moment of greatest importance. A technical definition, as laid out by Sian Beilock, a University of Chicago cognitive psychologist who specializes in the topic, is “worse performance than expected given what a performer is capable of doing and what this performer has done in the past.”

In any performance arena, from sports to the military to the workplace, choking is produced by anxiety and, ipso facto, viewed as an absence of fortitude, a sign of weakness.

Of course, it’s not that simple.

Research shows a strong correlation between your genetically conferred physiology and how likely you are to crack under stress. For instance, a person’s allotment of neuropeptide Y (NPY), a neurotransmitter in the brain that regulates stress responses, among other things, is relatively fixed from birth, more a function of heredity than of learning. People high in NPY tend to be unusually psychologically resilient and resistant to breaking down in high-pressure situations.

But that said, there’s also an element of “nurture” at work here. Psychological resilience is a trait that can be taught; the Pentagon is spending millions trying to figure out how to do that better. It’s possible that those who thrive under pressure have learned to be resilient—that their high levels of NPY are the product of their training or their upbringing.

According to the explicit monitoring theory of choking, derived from recent findings in cognitive psychology and neuroscience, performance falters when you concentrate too much attention on it. This runs counter to all the standard bromides about how the quality of your performance is tied to the intensity of your focus. But what seems to matter is the type of focus you have. As Beilock puts it, actively worrying about screwing up makes you more likely to screw up.

To achieve optimal performance—what some psychologists call flow—parts of your brain should be on automatic pilot, not actively thinking about (or “explicitly monitoring”) what you are doing. Beilock has found that she can dramatically improve athletes’ performance, at least in experiments, by getting them to focus on something other than the mechanics of their stroke or swing. Having them recite a poem or sing a song in their heads, distracting their conscious attention from the physical task, can rapidly improve performance. Chronic chokers—especially those who are clinically anxious—are too distracted from the task at hand by a relentless interior monologue of self-doubt: Am I doing this right? Do I look stupid? What if I make a fool of myself? Can people see me trembling? Can they hear my voice quavering? Am I going to lose my job?

When you look at brain scans of athletes pre- or midchoke, says sports psychologist Bradley Hatfield, you see a neural “traffic jam” of worry and self-monitoring. Brain scans of nonchokers, however—the Tom Bradys and Peyton Mannings of the world, who exude grace under pressure—reveal neural activity that is “efficient and streamlined,” using only those parts of the brain relevant to strong performance.

Does that mean those of us whose bodies are set to quiver in response to the mildest perturbances are doomed to choke any time the pressure is on? Not necessarily. Because when you begin to untangle the relationship between anxiety and performance, it turns out to be very complex. It’s possible to be simultaneously anxious and effective.

Take, for example, Bill Russell, a Hall of Fame basketball player who won eleven championships with the Boston Celtics (the most by anyone in any major American sport, ever). He was selected to the NBA All-Star team twelve times and was voted the league’s most valuable player five times. He is generally acknowledged to be the greatest defender and all-around winner of his era, if not of all time. No one would question Russell’s toughness or his championship qualities or his courage. And yet, according to one tabulation, he vomited from anxiety before 1,128 of his games between 1956 and 1969. His teammate John Havlicek told the writer George Plimpton in 1968, “It’s a welcome sound, too, because it means he’s keyed up for the game and around the locker room we grin and say, ‘Man, we’re going to be all right tonight.’”

Like someone with an anxiety disorder, Russell had to contend with nerves that wreaked havoc with his stomach. But a crucial difference between Russell and the typical anxiety patient (aside, of course, from Russell’s preternatural athleticism) was the positive correlation between his anxiety and his performance. When Russell stopped throwing up for a stretch at the end of the 1963 season, he suffered through one of the worst slumps of his career. For him, a nervous stomach correlated with effective, even enhanced, performance.

How much anxiety is too much?

At some level, it’s normal—adaptive even—to be anxious in our postindustrial era of pervasive uncertainty, where social and economic structures are undergoing continuous disruption and professional roles are constantly changing. According to Charles Darwin (who himself suffered from crippling agoraphobia), species that “fear rightly” increase their chances of survival. We anxious people are less likely to remove ourselves from the gene pool by, say, becoming fighter pilots.

An influential study conducted a hundred years ago by two Harvard psychologists, Robert M. Yerkes and John Dillingham Dodson, demonstrated that moderate levels of anxiety improve performance in humans and animals: too much anxiety, obviously, impairs performance, but so does too little. Their findings have been experimentally demonstrated in both animals and humans many times since then.

“Without anxiety, little would be accomplished,” David Barlow, founder of the Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders at Boston University, has written. “The performance of athletes, entertainers, executives, artisans, and students would suffer; creativity would diminish; crops might not be planted. And we would all achieve that idyllic state long sought after in our fast-paced society of whiling away our lives under a shade tree. This would be as deadly for the species as nuclear war.”

So how do you find the right balance? How do you get yourself into the performance zone where anxiety is beneficial? That’s a really tough question. For me, years of medication and intensive therapy have (sometimes, somewhat) taken the physical edge off my nerves so I could focus on trying to do well, not on removing myself from the center of attention as quickly as possible. For those who choke during presentations to board members or pitches to clients, for example, but probably aren’t what you’d call clinically anxious, the best approach may be one akin to what Beilock has athletes do in her experiments: redirecting your mind, in the moment, to something other than how you’re comporting yourself, so you can allow the skills and knowhow you’ve worked so hard to acquire to automatically kick into gear and carry you through. Your focus should not be on worrying about outcomes or consequences or on how you’re being perceived but simply on the task at hand. Prepare thoroughly (but not too obsessively) in advance; then stay in the moment. If you’re feeling anxious, breathe from your diaphragm in order to keep your sympathetic nervous system from revving up too much. And remember that it can be good to be keyed up: the right amount of nervousness will enhance your performance.

related: stress: the roots of resilience | turning stress into an asset

A psychologist walked around a room while teaching stress management to an audience. As she raised a glass of water, everyone expected they’d be asked the “half empty or half full” question. Instead, with a smile on her face she inquired, “How heavy is this glass of water?” The answers called out ranged from 8oz to 20 oz. She replied, “The absolute weight doesn’t matter. It depends on how long I hold it. If I hold it for a minute, it’s not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, I’ll have an ache in my arm. If I hold it for a day, my arm will feel numb and paralyzed. In each case, the weight of the glass doesn’t change, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes.” She continued, “The stress and worries in life are like that glass of water. Think about them for a while and nothing happens. Think about them for a big longer and they begin to hurt. And if you think about them all day long, you will feel paralyzed – incapable of doing anything.” Always remember to put the glass down.

nikyatu posted this today on her tumblr.  the story has some nice perspective on why we shouldn’t let problems (big or small) weigh us down so i had to share it with you.

related: in order to survive, gotta learn to live with regrets | “feed you faith…” | facing the waves of life | 8 ways to let go

here’s a fresh way to look at a glass of water (and yourself)

11/11/13 4 Comments

The very meaninglessness of life forces a man to create his own meaning. Children, of course, begin life with an untarnished sense of wonder, a capacity to experience total joy at something as simple as the greenness of a leaf; but as they grow older, the awareness of death and decay begins to impinge on their consciousness and subtly erode their joie de vivre, their idealism – and their assumption of immortality. As a child matures, he sees death and pain everywhere about him, and begins to lose faith in the ultimate goodness of man. But if he’s reasonably strong – and lucky – he can emerge from this twilight of the soul into a rebirth of life’s élan. Both because of and in spite of his awareness of the meaninglessness of life, he can forge a fresh sense of purpose and affirmation. He may not recapture the same pure sense of wonder he was born with, but he can shape something far more enduring and sustaining. The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent; but if we can come to terms with this indifference and accept the challenges of life within the boundaries of death – however mutable man may be able to make them – our existence as a species can have genuine meaning and fulfillment. However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.

director stanley kubrick in a 1968 interview with playboy.

stanley kubrick on the “most terrible fact about the universe”

10/21/13

how to train your brain to see what others don’t

09/09/13 3 Comments

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written by  for huffpost:

Charles Darwin had one of the greatest “aha!” moments in all of history when writing his magnum opus On The Origin of Species. After reading a book written 40 years earlier on population growth and resource competition, Darwin immediately saw the connection to the variation among species that he had observed in the Galapagos — and voila, the theory of natural selection was born.

“Darwin reads this book and says, ‘Wow, that’s it!’ That exemplifies the ‘aha!’ of getting the new piece of information, and seeing the implication and seeing how it fits,” cognitive psychologist Gary Klein, author of Seeing What Others Don’t: The Remarkable Ways We Gain Insights, tells The Huffington Post. “That was an unexpected shift in his understanding.”

These epiphanies and flashes of sudden clarity tend to come at the most unexpected moments. So do we have any control over these insights, and is there a way to train the brain to become more attuned to them? Insights may be unexpected, but we can actually teach ourselves to see connections that others may never notice.

“An insight is an unexpected shift in the way we understand things,” says Klein. “It comes without warning. It’s not something that we think is going to happen and that’s why it’s unexpected. It feels like a gift and in fact it is.”

Here are five things you should know about insight — and ways to bring more “aha!” moments into your life.

Be curious.

Being curious is the best way to become more insightful, says Klein, and a lack of insight often comes from being in a passive and disinterested state of mind.

“Curiosity is another engine of insight,” says Klein. “People who get insights see something that’s a little bit off, and instead of ignoring it, they’re curious about it. Curiosity keeps our mind engaged to work out the implications.”

Let your mind wander.

2012 psychological study found that daydreaming — passive though it may seem — actually involves a very active brain state, which is why the wandering mind can sometimes stumble upon brilliant insights and sudden connections. The researchers credit this phenomenon to the fact that daydreaming correlates with our ability to recall information in the face of distractions. Recent neuroscience research has also found that daydreaming involves the same brain processes involved in imagination and creativity.

“I worry about people who spend all their empty time when they’re not in conversations listening to music or podcasts or things like that, and not leaving any space to just daydream,” says Klein.

Pay attention to coincidences.

“Be more alert to anomalies,” Klein says, “rather than quickly explaining them away and staying in your comfort zone.”

We tend to ignore coincidences or not think much of them, because they’re often meaningless, says Klein. But looking for coincidences is a powerful way to make surprising connections.

“There’s a belief that correlation doesn’t imply causality, which is true. People see all sorts of correlations in coincides that turn out to be spurious, so they get a bad reputation,” Klein says. “But in my work I find that a lot of insights are fed by people spotting coincidences and making assumptions, and instead of just saying ‘It must be true,’ doing to follow-up work to find out if it’s true.”

Look closely at contradictions.

Insights can occur when we encounter ideas that don’t make sense to us.

Questioning contradictions is another path to epiphanies. Whereas curiosity makes us wonder, contradiction causes us to doubt — and it can be another powerful way to gain insights.

“Our tendency when we hit a contradiction that involves things we believe we understand well is to say, ‘Well, that must an anomaly.’ We have a marvelous set of techniques for explaining away inconvenient facts,” says Klein. “The contradiction only leads to an insight when people take it seriously enough to explore it a bit.”

Act on your insights.

Daydreaming isn’t the only state of mind that can lead to insights.

“I’ve found a number of examples where people were under tremendous pressure and came up with marvelous insights,” says Klein. “We should embrace urgency.”

This urgency forces people to look at things they’d otherwise ignore (what Klein refers to as “creative desperation”), and when they gain an insight, encourages them to act on it right away. This is frequently how chess grand masters try an unusual move that ends up being successful and winning the game for them.

“The problem with too many organizations is that they don’t feel any pressure to act on the insights they’ve had,” says Klein. “They act like they have all the time in the world and then they end up going out of business.”

related: zadie smith on “creativity and refusal” | 9 easy ways to create ideas |  20 ways to spawn million dollar ideas

We grow, including the intellectual and the spiritual, without being deeply aware of it. In fact, some periods of our growth are so confusing that we don’t even recognize that growth is what is happening. We may feel hostile or angry or weepy and hysterical, or we may feel depressed. It would never occur to us, unless we stumbled on a book or person who explained it to us, that we were in fact in the process of change, of actually becoming larger, spiritually, than we were before. Whenever we grow, we tend to feel it, as a young seed must feel the weight and inertia of the earth as it seeks to break out of its shell on its way to becoming a plant. Often the feeling is anything but pleasant. But what is most unpleasant is the not knowing what is happening. I remember the waves of anxiety that used to engulf me at different periods in my life, always manifesting itself in physical disorders (sleeplessness, for instance) and how frightened I was because I did not understand how this was possible.

With age and experience, you will be happy to know, growth becomes a conscious, recognized process. Those long periods when something inside ourselves seems to be waiting, holding its breath, unsure about what the next step should be, eventually become the periods we wait for, for it is in those periods that we realize we are being prepared for the next phase of our life and, in all probability, a new level of the personality is about to be revealed.

– pulitzer prize-winning author alice walker from her collection of essays living by the word.

alice-in-her-garden

alice walker on the sometimes confusing process of growth

08/28/13

7 questions you are too scared to ask

08/20/13 1 Comment

7-questions-scared

introspection can be a scary thing sometimes.  people are afraid of what they’ll find in their subconscious.  other times, we know our problems (maybe even the answers) but it’s easier to not think about them.  whatever the reasoning, it’s always best to work out our difficulties in order to progress.

marc chernoff of marc and angel hack life poses some great questions to help us assess where we are right now and what we can do to move forward.  check them out below:

1.  Based on my daily routines and actions, where can I expect to be in five years?

This is your life story and you are the only author.  If you’re feeling like you’ve been stuck in the same setting for too long, it’s time to start writing a new chapter of your life.  The plot structure is simple:  Doing nothing gets you nothing.  Doing the wrong things gets you the wrong things.  Doing the same things gets you the same things.  Your story only changes when you make changes.

If you have an idea about what you want the next chapter of your life to look like, you have to DO things that support this idea.  An idea, after all, isn’t going to do anything for you until you do something productive with it.  In fact, as long as that great idea is just sitting around in your head it’s probably doing far more harm than good.

Your subconscious mind knows you’re procrastinating on something that’s important to you.  The necessary work that you keep postponing causes stress, anxiety, fear, and usually more procrastination – a vicious cycle that continues to worsen until you interrupt it with ACTION.

Progress in life is always measured by the fact that you’ve taken new action.  If there’s no new action, you haven’t truly made any progress.

2.  Are the people around me helping me or hurting me?

A big part of who you become in life has to do with who you choose to surround yourself with.  And as you know, it is better to be alone than in bad company.  You simply cannot expect to live a positive, fulfilling life if you surround yourself with negative people.

Distancing yourself from these people is never easy, but it’s a lot harder when they happen to be close friends or family members.  As hard as it may be, it’s something you need to address.  To a certain degree, luck controls who walks into your life, especially as it relates to your family and childhood friends, but you decide who you spend the majority of your time with.

If someone close to you is truly draining you, be honest about it.  Be kind, but communicate your point of view.  Tell them you love them, and that you want to be around them, but you need their help.  Remember, most problems, big and small, within a family and close friends, start with bad communication.  If this other person is draining you, and you haven’t talked about it, they may not even know.

At the end of the day, you should surround yourself with people who make you a better person and distance yourself those who don’t.  (Read The How of Happiness.)

3.  How have I been draining my own happiness?

In life, you become what you repeatedly think about.  If your thoughts and behaviors aren’t helping you, they’re hurting you.  Other people and outside events can influence you, but happiness is ultimately an inside job.  You have to disconnect external influences and achievements from happiness and give yourself permission to be happy, in each moment, without the need for anything more.

This isn’t to say that you should be complacent.  You can still set goals, work hard, interact with others, and grow, but you must learn to indulge joyously in the journey, not the destination.

What you need to realize is that all you ever truly have are your thoughts towards the present moment.  Every moment is very similar; the details are just details.  If you say something like, “If I had more than what I have now, I would be happier,” you are sadly mistaken.  Because if you are not at all happy with what you have now, you will not be any happier if it were doubled.  It’s just more of the same.

The bottom line is that you have everything you need to be happy or unhappy right now.  It just depends on how you think about it.  Will you be grateful for what you have, and find joy in it?  Or will concentrate on what you don’t have, and never, ever feel like you have enough?  The choice is yours to make.

4.  What excuses am I making?

As George Washington once said, “It is better to offer no excuse than a bad one.”

Truth be told, if you are good at making excuses, you will never be good at anything else.  No matter what the obstacles are that you see in front of you, the only thing truly standing between you and what you want is the excuse you keep telling yourself as to why you can’t achieve it.

When something is a priority, it gets done.  Period.  And it’s not what we claim are our priorities, but how we spend our time each day that reveals the truth.  You can make excuses.  You can always try to wait for the perfect moment, the perfect this, the perfect that… but it won’t get you anywhere.

To get where you want to go you just have to start DOING.  It makes all the difference.  Making excuses takes the same amount of time as making progress.  (Read The Power of Habit.)

5.  What mistakes do I fear most?

As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes.”

When you find your path, and you know what needs to be done, you must not be scared.  You need to find the courage to make mistakes.  Mistakes lead to disappointments and defeat in the short term, but they also teach you what you need to know in the long-term.  Mistakes are the tools life uses to show you the way forward.

Someday when you look back over your life you’ll realize that nearly all of your worries and anxious fears never came to fruition – they were completely unfounded.  So why not wake up and realize this right now.  When you look back over the last few years, how many opportunities for joy did you destroy with needless fear about making a mistake?  Although there’s nothing you can do about these lost joys, there’s plenty you can do about the ones that are still to come.

6.  How have past rejections lowered my self-confidence?

NOT believing that you CAN is the biggest trap of them all.  If you don’t know your own greatness is possible, you won’t bother attempting anything great.  Period.

All too often we let the rejections of our past dictate every move we make thereafter.  We literally do not know ourselves to be any better than what some opinionated person or narrow circumstance once told us was true.  Of course, this old rejection doesn’t mean we aren’t good enough; it means the other person or circumstance failed to align with what we have to offer.  It means we have more time to improve our thing – to build upon our ideas, to perfect our craft, and indulge deeper in to the work that moves us

Don’t let old rejections take up permanent residence in your head.  Kick them out on the street.  Realize that you sometimes you have to try to do what you think you can’t do, so you realize that you actually CAN.  And sometimes it takes more than one attempt.  If ‘Plan A’ doesn’t work out, don’t fret; the alphabet has another 25 letters that would be happy to give you a chance to get it right.  The wrong choices usually bring us to the right places, eventually.  You just have to believe in your own potential to get there.  (Angel and I discuss this in more detail in the “Adversity” and “Relationships” chapters of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)

7.  When did my life fall so far out of balance?

Be diligent and committed to what you’re trying to achieve, but also make sure you leave time for pleasure and exploration in other areas of your life as well.  It is not enough to succeed at one specific goal or to conquer one particular area of expertise; you also have to take part in the different, beautiful dimensions of your life… while you can, while there’s still time.

Lift your head up from your work every now and then and take a long walk, hold hands with your beloved, go fishing, spend time with your friends, swim, bask in the sunlight, try something new, meditate, breathe deep, or sit quietly for a while and contemplate the goodness around you.

In other words, balance yourself – work diligently toward your goals and dreams, but don’t ignore every other aspect of your life.  Keep your mind fresh, your body active and alive, and your relationships nurtured.  Do so, and the things you want most in life will come more naturally.

Afterthoughts

Life is filled with unanswered questions, but it is the courage to ask enough of the right ones that ultimately leads you to an understanding of yourself and your purpose.

You can spend your life wallowing in fear by avoiding the obvious, or asking negative questions like, “Why me?”  Or you can be grateful that you’ve made it this far – that you’re strong enough to breathe, walk and think for yourself – and then ask, “Where do I want to go next?”

Your turn…

We would love to hear your perspective.  Please pick one or more of the seven questions above and leave a comment below with your answer.

related: 7 reasons why you’re not maxing out your potential

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