Saturday, October 30, 2010

World Series: Lesson in Emotional Contagion

That 8th inning with the four consecutive walks by the Ranger pitchers was painful to watch. I kept thinking someone would break the cycle. One of the commentators referred to wild pitching as being contagious. There are many examples of references to bad hits being contagious, good hits being contagious and the like.

And what do you know, happiness is contagious too. Neighbors, family members, people you come in contact and the people they come in contact with can increase your happiness. It’s just like knowing someone that quits smoking; it too is contagious and will help you quit. And yes, unhappiness is contagious too, but not as much as happiness.

The thinking is that we “catch” people’s emotions from their facial expressions and other nonverbals. Without being aware of it, we mimic and track the nonverbal behavior of others and respond to nuances of their vocalizations. Think about what happens when your best friend calls. You can assess your friend’s mental state from the first three words.

But, how do we keep bad things from being contagious? The following are suggestions for not getting caught up in the negativity, bad luck or difficulties of people around you. I’m not saying don’t be empathetic, but if you’re on the field getting ready for your wind up, or the equivalent to that in your life, it’s not the time.

1. Breathe and focus inward on your personal power. Relax your body. Notice your face and adopt a slight smile. Notice when your breathing gets more rapid and body tenses, and get back to this calm, alert state.

2. Be present in the moment. When asked if tonight is a must-win for the Rangers, Ron Washington said that type of thinking would take his players out of the moment causing them to miss things on the field, which was not what they needed. Exactly! Your outward focus is strictly on what’s important for your task.

3. Use your personal pump up routine (see Maintain your Focus Under Pressure) or focus on a happy memory or song to get you in a success mindset.

4. Evaluate later. You can deal with what you did right, wrong or indifferent later. For now, your sole focus is on what you’re doing.

Later, when you’re day is over, or your game is over, and you’ve packed up and gone home, you can figure out how to help the people generating the negativity and unhappiness around you. For now, just play ball!

Study on contagious happiness: Dynamic spread of happiness in a large social network.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Take me out to the Ballgame

There’s something about the playoff games and of course the World Series games that inspires. Even the damn yanks with their $200,000,000 payroll are fun to watch, winning or losing; either way they’re really kickin it. Stolen bases, errors, sacrifices, beards, sunflower seeds, flying objects (other than baseballs), grand slams, and amazing plays. The National anthem, the seventh inning stretch, God Bless America in the rain, the fans cheering, booing, interfering with play, rookies and old timers, it’s all there.

The best of the best are out there playing their hearts out. They train, they work all season, and now they have a chance to be the world champions. It’s a great example of high performance that we can learn from.

Routines. Pitchers and batters alike have their set routines that enhance focus. Consider the routines you have, or ought to have, to start your day, shift tasks or improve concentration.

Teamwork. Though these games seem to be all about pitching, the pitchers can’t do it alone. They need all the guys on the field to win. How’s your team? Is everyone working together to make things happen?

Playing through the pain. You know there are players with injuries who just keep going for the opportunity to play the big games. What’s your big game? What’s important enough for you to show up for, even though you have to push through the pain?

Staying positive. You hear the interviews with managers and players. They’re pumped and they’re positive. They tell you what they’re gonna do, not what they can’t do. Are you keeping it positive? Setting your sights on the big goals?

I think we can all take a few pointers from our favorite sports stars, film stars and other heroes.

And don’t forget the snacks to help keep your energy up…peanuts and crackerjacks anyone?

Mood music, of course: Take me out to the ballgame.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Loneliness: Too much Facebook and Not Enough Face Time?

John Cacioppo, who has studied loneliness, says: “People who need social connections should think about being alone in the same way a person with high blood pressure thinks about salt.”

Loneliness is an emotional state in which a person feels an intense sense of emptiness and isolation (so says Wiktionary and I’d have to agree). It’s not a disorder but it is associated with health problems like high blood pressure and diabetes. It’s not introversion, the process of being focused on one’s own interest, thoughts and feelings. It’s not shyness, the quality of being timid or shy in social interactions. It’s not the same as depression, a period of intense unhappiness which may be associated with suicidal thinking.

Getting back to Cacioppo’s quote, what this means is that if you’re introverted and like being self-focused, or shy and are afraid of being social, these are not the same as lonely. If you’re lonely, you don’t really enjoy all the self-focused time you have. You’re not afraid of talking to people, you just don’t seem to have the opportunities, and you’re not happy about it, but also not depressed because of it.

There are a number of ways to combat loneliness, depending on your need for social stimulation (introverts need less), shyness (you may need special techniques) and personal situation. You might consider:

Face time. Facebook, email and phone are great ways to stay in touch. But being with someone enables a different level of communication and intimacy. Even if you’re busy, try to make the time for an actual sit down, make it a coffee if you don’t have the time or inclination for an entire meal.

Confidants. A lot of people have friends or acquaintances with whom they do not share intimacies. Consider your group of peeps. Are there one or two people you might consider possible confidants? Try it without worrying about whether they have the time or interest. Just see what happens. And please, don’t worry about burdening people with your problems. Problems, conflicts and issues are exactly what people love to talk about.

Get out. Have coffee out and talk to the person at the next table. Join clubs, churches or hiking/biking/running groups. Joining a group gets you out, doing something and meeting people with at least one interest in common. Talk to people you meet in groups or even at the supermarket.

Volunteer. Staying connected with your community through volunteer work gives meaning as well as opportunity to interact socially. It’s a good way to meet people, with the added benefit of feeling good by helping others.

Keep in touch. If you work from home, or retirement isolates you, pay special attention to increasing your level of social contact . Since you don’t naturally interact with people daily at a job, find ways of keeping in touch when you retire and building this into your early retirement days. Similarly, working at home means you have to make a real effort to maintain enough contact with people.

Don’t be an Eleanor Rigby...connect with people.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Got Art?

Life beats down and crushes the soul and art reminds you that you have one. Stella Adler, actress, acting teacher
Music gave me the door, or the key to open the door of expression, to express myself and to free myself… Christoph Eschenbach, pianist, conductor

I think fiction is unbelievably important - one of the most important things in my life and I think in the lives of a lot of [people]. Brock Clarke, author

Everything you can imagine is real. Pablo Picasso, artist

Just think about these quotes. Art sustains the soul, facilitates expression and is a means of personal expression, it is among the most important things to people, and inspires imagination in a way few things do.

You don’t have to be a creator of art to benefit. Think about the feeling you have reading a really interesting, moving or creative work of fiction. How about the experience of seeing a painting in a museum that you’ve perhaps only admired before in books? Do you sometimes reread a novel or revisit a painting you’ve already seen?

Then there’s music and film about which I could go on for decades. Is there anything like seeing one of your favorite films for the first time? Or even the second, third or fourth? I can’t even begin to talk about how important music is to so many of us. It brings us up, resonates with us when we’re down and is inspiring to see performed.

What’s my point? Like spending time outdoors, art is often a solitary pursuit that we put on the back burner. I’d rank it high among happiness increasing activities. When I ask clients about hobbies and interests, I often hear about the painting, writing or reading that they haven’t had time to pursue lately. Resuming the activity can be a real positive.

So if you don’t have enough art in your life, get some. It’s not that hard. Read, write, paint, draw, go to a museum, see a play or a film. You know what you enjoy. Make a little time for it and notice the benefits.

A fun cross-pollination literature anad music: Wuthering Heights, Pat Benatar

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Dear Diary. On the Uses of Journaling

I saw David Sedaris the other night and was inspired to journal more. He read several of his incisive diary entries. There’s a lot of research to support the benefits of journaling for physical and mental health, learning and creativity.

Uses of journaling include:

*Gratitude journaling

*Figuring out problems

*Working through stressful situations/writing to heal

* Documenting positive events to refer to later when needed, i.e., when you’re feeling down

*Tracking progress in various endeavors, e.g., dieting, forgiveness

*Visual journaling for wellness/stress-reduction

*Pursuing goals

*Consolidating learning and enhancing creative thought

*Practicing writing

Journaling is free, you can do it almost any time and it doesn’t require any physical exertion or special equipment. People have all sorts of admonitions as to how it must be done: daily, 20 minutes, keep it private, buy a pretty journal, a new pen, etc.

There are just two things I think might actually be important. First, to try not to self-sensor. Your journal is your opportunity to say what you think. Next, if you want to really give it a try, you’re going to have to commit to doing it for a few weeks.

Dear, dear diary, I want to tell my secrets.  ‘Cause you’re the only one I know who’ll keep them.
 Dear DiaryPink.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road: On Narcissism & Codependency

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

Would you believe that several researchers wrote an article called “Why are narcissists so charming at first sight?”? They point out that what we notice upon first meeting narcissists is their colorful or fashionable attire, stylish hair and pleasantly amusing manner. We’re taken in by this first impression.  And, as I've been hearing a lot this week, it's hard to extricate ourselves . 

Oh my…are we so shallow? Be honest. Everyone likes them (well mostly everyone) initially, including you. They’re engaging and attractive and it’s easy to get sucked in, like a moth to a flame. There’s a neat book about relationships with narcissists, The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists.

You get involved. You’re in deep. And then, when you want to do something for yourself or no longer want to do the Wizard’s bidding, they get pissed and ugly. You start to think there’s something wrong with you since everyone else still thinks they’re the greatest thing since the ruby slippers. You wonder if you’re too sensitive or too self-absorbed. Or perhaps you’re just a wicked witch, AKA a bitch, as you’ve probably been told.

Maybe you feel you need to give more, or you’ve lost interest in your own goals and dreams, you feel responsible or you can’t give up the love. If so you’ve moved into the codependent camp and must consider immediate corrective action. This would include accepting that it’s not selfish to want to pursue your own goals. Indeed, it’s essential to your happiness. Do not be a doormat. Do your own thing. If you’re stuck, check out Codependent No More, coaching or therapy. And please, no more Wizards.