“Human presence is a creative and turbulent sacrament, a visible sign of invisible grace”. John O'Donohue

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Angry Face

How Does this symbol make you feel? 

I hate it. 

Chances are, as well as mentally being aware that you are looking at the representation of any angry face, you are having some physical (embodied) reactions to it. Take a few moments to notice what those reactions are...

You may have noticed some fairly typical Fight or Flight responses, even if they were quite subtle. Perhaps a tension in the belly or jaw, a slight quickening of the pulse, shortening of breath, sweaty palms, an alertness to action, or maybe just a feeling that all is not quite well.

Now you (we) are having that reaction to a cartoon face. An emoji. But we had the same reaction to this symbolic face than if a real live human face was in front of us. It also turns out that we are hard wired to react to it. It is our evolutionary protection against danger. An angry face is not a safe face. Even human babies know the difference. There is even some evidence that this reaction is pre-attentive, meaning, we have the reaction, even before we have consciously registered that emotion on the face.

If you're a driver, you may have encountered Vehicle Activated Signs (VACs) that show a happy or frowning face depending which side of the speed limit you're on. These devices, including those that also display the driver's speed, have been shown to be more effective than speed cameras at controlling traffic speed. Nobody likes a frowing face.

However, although we are hard-wired to react negatively to the frowning face, evidence shows that greater speed reduction seems to happen in pursuit of a smiling face than in avoidance of a frowning one.

Interesting... as if we didn't already know that we prefer carrots to sticks...

The other day, I got my first angry face response on Facebook. (No, I don't know how I got away with it for so long either!) and I was surprised at my reaction. I shouldn't have been, I know this stuff from my study of psychology and embodiment. What interested me, when I felt into it, was that I wasn't so much bothered that the person had clicked on that emoji - I don't know them and we don't have a relationship that I need to worry about - than by the feelings that the face itself made me feel.

“Far from being a passing fad, Emoji reflects, and thereby reveals, fundamental elements of communication; and in turn, this all shines a light on what it means to be human”.
Vyvyan Evans- The Emoji Code -in The New Scientist

Those of you who regularly use social media (and if you're reading this, you almost certainly do!) will know that it has become increasingly difficult to have any kind of meaningful interaction without someone becoming outraged at some point. I don't think it's because we are angrier or more outraged I believe that the technologies have been deliberately designed to manipulate our emotions, our habits and our behaviour. At The Center for Humane Technology , several top level Silicon Valley insiders are saying similar  - and infinitely better informed - things about how we are all being hijacked by technology (without throwing out the baby with the bathwater!)

Facebook's Like button began our weirdly addictive relationship with the little thumbs-up hit of validation. When the other emojis came along, a whole new set of dynamics came into play. The angry face essentially legitimised its own use. And made us angry.

And if you are inclined to disagree, the guy who invented Facebook's like button agrees with me!

Ash Wednesday & St. Valentine's Day

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Creative Procrastination – Make putting things off work for you

cartoon from invisiblebread.com
I don’t like to boast, but I am a championship level procrastinator. I challenge anyone to put off doing stuff as well as I do. My tax return is due, and I also have several assignment deadlines for my Masters course. And what am I doing? Writing this blog!

Several friends are up there with me in the championship stakes, they are all cleaning behind the fridge, browsing vintage standard lamps on Ebay, researching the mating cycle of common toads and pretty much anything except the very thing that they are supposed to be doing. And the more people I ask, the more I am sure that, despite what we’re telling Facebook, most of us are out there doing exactly not the thing we are meant to be doing!

Although chronic, many of my procrastination activities do seem to have a purpose, in that they do mostly result in some sort of useful or creative output. I have come to call this Creative Procrastination. As I write I have several deadlines looming - among them the University assignments and tax return mentioned above. But I am doing anything and everything other than those things. In another act of Creative Procrastination, I have turned my championship level procrastination skills into a bit of a joke with my friends and family, all of us vying for leadership of the championship stakes. So I asked them “what are your favourite Creative Procrastination activities”

Here is my distilled list of our top five ways to Procrastinate Creatively.

1. Cleaning

Cleaning is top of the list of favourite procrastination activities. I found myself vacuuming the yesterday as one of my several delay tactics, and although I was definitely procrastinating, the floor still needed to be vacuumed, so it wasn’t a waste of my time. But there is more to cleaning the house than simple task avoidance. We simply work and think better in a clean, tidy and ordered space. Cleaning may feel like procrastination but actually our instinct to create order is essential in facilitating our creativity.

2. Meditation

We know that regular meditation decreases our stress levels and this not only improves our overall sense of well-being, it boosts our immunity and makes us less prone to stress related illnesses. Among the other myriad benefits of a regular meditation practice, however, is enhanced creativity. Spending a short time each day meditation frees up mental space and helps us focus on what we really need to do.

3. Artistic Pursuits

As a writer, I usually find myself writing about this other than the things I am supposed to be writing about. This blog is one of them. But my output is never wasted. I have come up with some of my better ideas in the course of avoiding another writing task. You might spend time drawing, painting or crafting, making music or dancing. Often the creative ideas and solutions emerge when we let go of having to do them and do something equally creative instead.

4. Cooking

Some of us spend our procrastination time making healthy home-cooked dinners. One benefit of this is that we can maybe stock our fridge or freezer for when we do get our heads down to doing the important work. Taking time to commit to nourishing ourselves, is also about nourishing our creativity. Cooking is also, in itself, a wonderfully creative activity. And we get to eat the results!

5. Gardening

If you are lucky enough to have a garden or a space to grow things - then grow things! Gardening is known to have many positive effects on physical and mental wellbeing, with
the added sense of having achieved something, and produced an end result in the plants, flowers and vegetables that grow. You also get to light big fires!

Even if our procrastination activities themselves are not particularly creative, the very act of procrastination itself has been shown to boost productivity and creativity. So even if our procrastination takes the shape of staring out of the window, browsing Pinterest, or playing Minecraft, we are giving our brains the space they need to be more effective, more creative and more productive. Doing anything other than the thing, actually helps us find the creativity, energy and motivation to finally do the thing and do it better than if we hadn’t put it off.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Take My Advice...

.Image result for advice comics
I love this Dilbert cartoon.  When I had a 'proper' job (one in an office 😉) I used to keep the Dilbert calendar on my desk and every day's cartoon spoke the laugh out loud truth of work and relationships. Cartoonists are some of the most insightful people, and they - mostly -  get to say things that the rest of us don't because they are funny (Before you tell me about Charlie Hebdo, yes, I know!) 

But that's not what this blog is about. I want to talk about advice.

There is a saying that I love to use which is "Take my advice. I'm not using it!" ( attributed to several people if you Google it. I am not sure it's original)

As I get older (and wiser?) the amount of advice I offer has diminished. Not because I have particularly mastered the art of communication -  although that has equally improved over time - but because my tolerance for receiving advice has also diminished.  I now rarely ask for, or give advice, because it is rarely well received, rarely followed and actually, generally rarely appropriate. Opinions, if requested, maybe. Gentle questioning, yes. A listening ear, definitely. But advice, no. I began to realise that often when people were offering me advice, it was more about what they needed, than what I needed. And I was just as guilty. 

We have all heard the words "What you should do is..."  or "What you need to do it..." or "If I were you I would..." and we all know what our reaction is. Telling anybody that they should do anything rarely works. Because our automatic response as human beings is to resist being controlled. And shoulds are very likely to be received as words of  control rather than kindness, even if kindness was the intention. Even if you know you should do something, being told that you should will probably not work. What we all need as human beings, in order to really make changes that are worthwhile, is compassion and empathy. With ourselves and with others. 

Dilbert might go a little far in suggesting that it is ego an ignorance disguised as helpfulness, but in some ways, he has a point.  Unless advice is sought or asked for, then it is probably coming from a place of something not entirely based on helpfulness.  We might really believe we are being helpful. When we think  "Oh look - a person doing something wrong - let me offer them some advice."  Who are we trying to help? Them, or ourselves? Whose need is being met? Is it the other person's? Or is our need to help them, or control the situation?  It took me a long time to get honest about this, and I still slip up. 

From the outside, it might look like a person's situation or problem is really clear cut. The temptation to offer advice is really strong when it looks like an obvious or simple solution is at hand. But human beings are a complex mess of emotions. Tied up in a person's circumstances are their feelings. And as much as it would be much easier if they weren't feeling those feelings, that isn't how any of us function.  Being really helpful is to respond to both the feelings, and to address the unmet needs that are underlying them. When that happens, then solutions often just emerge. Changing the  "What you need is..." to "What do you need?"  is a simple and powerful shift. 

"When it comes to giving advice, never do so unless you've first received a request in writing, signed by a lawyer."   - Marshall B. Rosenberg - founder of Nonviolent Communication (NVC)