Quieting the Complaining Mind

Between the hours of two and four in the morning, my mind enters the Fret Zone. I worry, complain, argue and fight about the weirdest things. It is as if all the frustration from the day comes tumbling into one pile of yuckiness. And if I am awake, those thoughts try to convince me that they are right.

Do you ever have one of those worst-case-scenario daydreams? It creeps up from behind when you least expect it. Then bam! You are rattled by a catastrophic thought.

Watching the evening news only reinforces the anxiety that the world is going down the tubes. I recently had to walk away from the television because every single story had a negative ending.

Clifford Nass, a professor of communication at Stanford University and co-author of the book The Man Who Lied to His Laptop: What Machines Teach Us About Human Relationships (Penguin 2010) suggests that negative and positive emotions are handled in different hemispheres of the brain. Negative emotions, he suggests, generally involve more thinking so the negative information is processed more thoroughly than positive ones. As a result, we tend to dwell on unpleasant experiences and use stronger words to depict what they felt like than happy ones.

An experiment conducted by Roy F. Baumeister, a professor of social psychology at Florida State University and co-author of a Review of General Psychology journal article “Bad Is Stronger Than Good” (2001) reveals how the same experience in reverse offers different intensities of emotion. The loss of $50, for instance, resulted in a stronger negative reaction than the happiness stemming from gaining the same amount. 

Of course it comes down to survival. Those who anticipate bad events tend to be better prepared for them. Back in the Cro-Magnon days, it was important to be a little pessimistic about the future. Your cognitive functions were necessarily on high alert so as not to slide into a false state of security. Any Mammoth hunter knows you need to get it before it gets you.

But today? Do we really need to be plagued by all those negative thoughts? In our relatively safe environment (and I speak only for myself – I am aware that someone in Syria certainly may not feel this way at present), we have a lot to be thankful for.

Therein lies the solution. I have found there is no room in my brain for the complaining mind to voice its opinion when I am feeling grateful. A state of gratitude is easily come by. All you need is to look at what you have, say a prayer of thanks and recognize the abundance around you.

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, recently said in an interview that she has long practiced daily gratitude by writing down the best thing that happened to her that day and dropping it in her so-called “Joy Jar”. Whenever she’s feeling blue, she picks out one of the pieces of paper and reminds herself that good things do come her way (I mean, Julia Roberts played her in the movie version of her book. I’d ride on that one for a couple of months, wouldn’t you?).

So the next time you’re up at 3 a.m. wondering why the world can be so mean, remember the good things. Think about them hard. Revisit your jar of joy – in whatever form it takes — and remind yourself that Universal Goodness does indeed exist.

How can you get your daily dose of joy? Well, my friend, as with all things – large and small — it starts with you.

Love in the Land of the Lost


The book pulled me in and kept me there, until last night when I turned the final page. Eleven Minutes by Paulo Coelho is a haunting story about a young girl from the backwaters of Brazil who seeks love in all the wrong places. She lands in Geneva, Switzerland, a place I know well. My heart broke there — several times; and so did hers. Despite the floral clock and the water and the banks, Geneva was a lonely place for us both.

The protagonist’s search for love is akin to most anyone’s experience. Sustainable love can only come when we reach inside ourselves and realize we are the generators of our own joy. When we love without clamoring, we are set free. She was willing to let her deepest love go because she knew that her attraction to his beauty stemmed in great part from the freedom she felt to leave.

Coelho’s own story fascinates me too. At the tender age of seventeen, his parents put him in a mental institution — twice — claiming he was mad. But his spirit and his creativity were not broken. He followed his path, discovering much later in life that he could indeed find expression for all those thoughts inside.

Coelho reminds me of Sebastião Salgado, another Brazilian artist whose breath-taking photography will leave you hungry for more. Much like Coelho, Salgado found the way to his art form later in life. After moving from Brazil to Europe, he decided to leave his well-paying corporate job in Paris at the age of 30 to do photography instead.

Wim Wenders’ documentary film The Salt of the Earth, which I recently saw with my love at the theater, is an epic narrative about Salgado’s journey as a photographer. He travelled to the farthest reaches of the Earth to document the human condition. When he finally landed in Rwanda during the mid-1990s, he lost all faith in humankind and stepped back from the subject of man. Later he discovered Nature and rekindled his belief in the universal goodness of life.

What struck me most about his life’s work was the support his wife gave him throughout all those years of travel. Raising two children in his absence must have been hard, but she understood his need to do what he did. She, like Coelho’s protagonist, was willing to let him go time and again.

The result is a collection of amazing imagery for which our world would be poorer if Salgado hadn’t followed his calling.

Love is what makes art possible. See for yourself.

 

Facebook Fatigue: The Search for Less Input

Bing. Buzz. Ping. Riiiiinnnnng! The invention of the smartphone has altered our lives forever. But has it improved them?

On any given day, I will receive, delete and answer over one hundred emails. Newsletters I never subscribed to pop into my inbox, multiplying no matter how often I unsubscribe. Text messages come from all corners of the Earth through Facebook, WhatsApp or the conventional iPhone delivery service. And I know I am not alone.

Every day we are inundated with information. I daresay 98% of it is useless or simply annoying. It sucks our time and our energy.

And yet we continue to pursue the data flow as if our lives depended on it.

Many of my friends have expressed Facebook fatigue. They post stuff, some quite successfully. They get a quick high from yet another like, but that fades fast. I have found myself begging my kids to allow me to post photos of them (which they despise) in hopes I will draw attention. But for what purpose?

WhatsApp, the multi-featured messaging system that was acquired by Facebook in February 2014, has found an astounding breadth of users in a relatively short time. According to a recent Huffington Post article by Peter Diamandis, this highly disruptive service is growing fast. He reports:

Quick Stats on WhatsApp:

  • 64 billion messages processed per day – 20B sent and 44B received
  • 465 million users on platform
  • 1 million join platform every day
  • 70 percent of users come back every day

If the average text message takes even ten seconds to write and send, you can image how much time we spend with our devices.

Or try on this for size. According to the blog Digital Marketing Ramblings, 72% of online adults visit Facebook at least once a day. In Europe there are 206 million active daily Facebook users; in the US and Canada it is 152 million. And the average time spent on Facebook — per day per person — is 21 minutes.

Don’t get me wrong. I love knowing what other people are doing and keeping up with friends and family. I also adore receiving photos, audio notes and messages from loved ones scattered across the globe. But the pull to pay more attention to my iPhone than my real life has me disturbed.

So for the next week, I am trying a little experiment. I am not going to check Facebook. Not once. Thankfully my social media clients are on a hiatus so I won’t have to.

Time saved thus far: over an hour.

Number of nerves saved: countless.

I’ll keep you posted. Pun totally intended.

Done, Not Perfect

“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”   — Maya Angelou

Beloved creativity. It can be an angel or a monster. It can haunt dreams – and fulfill them too.

Many of my friends are what I term “Creatives”. They see life — no — feel life in a remarkable way. They see beneath the surface of things, sense the pulse of the Universe that pushes blood through veins and capture the very essence of being. It is humbling to be friends with such people. In honor of their talent, I strive to do my own creative impulses justice.

Nothing gets my creative engine revving more than a walk through the woods. It is my oxygen tank, my life support system, my place of solace when the words just won’t come. Actually, I know they are there. They are always there. But sometimes the layers of life’s distress cover the thoughts needed to express that inner world just crying out to be unleashed.

A stressed Creative is uncreative. And there is nothing more frustrating than creative constipation.

Perhaps that is the real reason why I advocate The Power of Slow. Without allowing for our customized pace, life’s creativity would wither on the vine. Existence would be flat, accompanied only by the squeak of the hamster wheel we’re on.

Sound dramatic? Consider how many great ideas go unrealized because we say “I don’t have time”. In essence, we do. We just divert our attention to certain things while ignoring others. We prioritize to fit in that which we think we should be doing, all the while forgetting what we are meant to do.

If you want to unleash your inner Creative, the first step is to silence the inner Critic. We all know that voice inside that tells us lovely things such as “You don’t deserve it. You’re not good enough. Who do you think you are?” Prepare some canned answers when that voice shows up. “I so deserve it. I am more than enough. Who am I? Watch, and you will see.” In reality, that inner Critic is our fear, like a well-intentioned parent trying to protect us from harm. The trouble is most of what we imagine is harmful is imagined harm.

If you don’t try, you’ll never know. And who would want to be in the dark about their own potential?

One of the best lines I ever learned came from my sister who helped me see perfection wasn’t worth striving for. “Done, not perfect.” Call things complete. Move on. Enjoy the ride. Do what you can in the time that you have. Trust me. It’s not worth stressing about.

So go out there and create. The world will be richer for it. Truly.

Bad Choices, Good People

Sometimes it takes a series of really bad choices to finally make the right ones. But we can’t even know we’ve made bad decisions until we take a moment to step back and look at what we are actually doing — and why.

Even when we find the ‘why’ of things, it may take another good, long while before we actually take action.

That’s why I plead for time outs – for everyone. We need it. If you think you don’t need time off, think again. Even just a few minutes of solace makes you more efficient.

Change is hard. Really hard. We fear we will lose ourselves because we have ‘always done things that way.’ We identify so much with our own personal process — even if it harms us — that we forget to alter the course of our direction.

Change takes courage and insight and time and patience. But as my mama says, the one thing you can count on in life is change. Life is a bit like building a Lego house, brick for brick. You’re not sure what the end result will be, but you figure if you keep building, something will come of it.

The great thing about Legos — and life — is you can take things apart again if you need to. But as you know, that too takes courage and insight and time and patience.

I find travel makes accepting change a whole lot easier. Going new places opens my eyes to extraordinary experiences, even in the ordinary. It shifts energies, adjusts attitudes, moves the heart. It takes us away from the everyday to a new place, which makes us more receptive to new ideas and ways of thinking. And with every interaction we have with new cultures, a new piece of ourselves emerges.

Maybe you have made bad choices in your life. But they have shaped you into your unique form. Good people make mistakes. Everyone does.

The questions is: What one thing will you do differently today?