Insomnia- searching for the sandman.
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Insomnia- searching for the sandman.

Things have been crap lately and I’ve spent hundreds of hours awake in the thin hours of morning. During that time, I stumbled across this article on insomnia which I found useful, enjoy.

In 1914, The Lancet reported on a clergyman who was found dead in a pool; he had left behind this suicide note: “Another sleepless night, no real sleep for weeks. Oh, my poor brain, I cannot bear the lengthy, dark hours of the night. Author Pagan Kennedy writes in The New York Times: “I came across that passage with a shock of recognition.

“Many people think that the worst part of insomnia is the daytime grogginess. But like that pastor, I suffered most in the dark hours after midnight, when my desire for sleep, my raging thirst for it, would drive me into temporary insanity. On the worst nights, my mind would turn into a mad dog that snapped and gnawed itself.

“Though one in 10 American adults suffer from chronic insomnia, we have yet to answer the most fundamental questions about the affliction. Scientists are still arguing about the mechanisms of sleep and the reasons it fails in seemingly healthy people. There are few – if any – reliable treatments for insomnia. At the same time, medical journals warn that bad sleep can fester into diseases like cancer and diabetes. Deep in the night, those warnings scuttle around my mind like rats.

“About 18 months ago, during a particularly gruelling period, I felt so desperate that I consulted yet another doctor – but all he did was suggest the same drugs that had failed me in the past. I was thrown back once again on my own ways of coping.

“As a child, I had invented mental games to distract myself. For instance, I would compile a list of things and people that made me happy, starting with words that began with A and moving through the alphabet.

“One night, I was in the Qs, trying to figure out what to add to quesadillas, queer theory and Questlove. Then, suddenly, the game infuriated me – why, why, why did I have to spend hours doing this? In the red glare of the digital clock, my brain rattled its cage. I prepared for a wave of lunacy. But instead of a meltdown, I had a wild idea: What if there was another, easier, way to drive the miserable thoughts from my mind?

“I began to fantasise about a machine that would do the thinking for me. I pictured it like another brain that would fit on top of my head. The next day, I cobbled together my first insomnia machine.

“Though millions of us struggle with chronic insomnia, we’re not a unified army fighting the same foe. Every one of us is grappling with a different mix of mental and physical dysfunctions. Dozens of medical conditions deprive people of sleep; these include apnoea, Parkinson’s disease, chronic pain, depression, brain injury, autism and restless legs syndrome.

“I suspect my own insomnia has a strong genetic component – as a child, awake in the middle of the night, I would listen as my mother roamed the house, searching for a spot where she could curl up with her detective novel and wait for the Seconal to kick in. Insomnia has affected other family members, too, and seems to be coiled somewhere in our DNA. Indeed, a 2015 study of twins found that wakefulness is significantly heritable, especially in women.

“My affliction certainly felt baked in, because it had resisted every intervention. I had done all the right things: I had consulted with a half-dozen doctors; I blocked blue light, ate carbs, avoided carbs, bought a special pillow and listened to meditation tapes. I’d done all the wrong things, too, like gobbling down drugs – from Ambien to Lunesta to lorazepam – but that hadn’t worked either.

“For a while I followed the rules of ‘sleep hygiene’ – a tough-love approach that includes dragging yourself out of bed during wakeful periods, and allowing yourself to crawl back under the covers only when you feel sleepy. But I never felt sleepy. And in our frigid New England house in winter, it was excruciating to be exiled from the wool blankets; I felt humiliated, like a bad dog, as I put one foot and then another down on the cold floor and slunk off to another room. Even the name of the therapy shamed me: The word ‘hygiene’ had an old-fashioned sting to it, an implication that the way I slept was filthy and needed to be scoured.

“So that’s why I – the dirty, disreputable insomniac – took matters into my own hands. I found a stretchy sock that was long enough to wrap around my head like a blindfold. Then I sewed the sock into a circle, from toe to topstitch, making sure it fit securely, so that it would stay in place no matter how I tossed and turned on the pillow.

“I cut two slits in the inner layer of fabric, sewing stitches to create button-hole-like openings. And then I found an old pair of earbuds, sewed foam around each bud, and threaded the foam-bumps into holes in the headgear. This way, the gizmo would hold the speakers near my ears, but not in them – more comfortable for sleeping. Once I had finished, I attached a cheap MP3 player (made by SanDisk) to the rig. Now I could roll my head around, doze, slumber or pad to the bathroom, all while listening to the new voice in my head.

“My boyfriend said that he felt as if he were sleeping next to a hostage. But weird as it looked, the device offered relief. I’d cue up an audiobook and a monologue would commence, blotting out my own thoughts. Instead of labouring to calm myself, I could just drift on the voice pumped into my head. I began to wear the machine all night long, floating in and out of sleep, comforted that whatever happened, the narrator would stay with me.

“After I’d built my headgear, I discovered companies were selling similar devices online – usually in the form of fleece headbands outfitted with flat earphones. I tried some out, but I found they weren’t snug enough to stay in place, so I still use my DIY gear.

“Of course, the insomnia machine is a humble hack. The real challenge lay in curating the audio: It took trial and error to find material that could tame my midnight mind.

“At first, I loaded the machine with the kind of dry disquisitions that, according to conventional wisdom, bring on sleep; I turned to books like ‘Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations’, an important jeremiad about soil quality that is not super-entertaining.

“But the drone in my ears didn’t keep my mind busy enough, so instead I began to pick out funny, engaging and friendly books. When I enjoyed those hours of wakefulness, I no longer tried to sleep, and when I stopped trying to sleep, I slept.

“My voracious appetite for spoken-word audio led me to discover a treasure: the free audiobooks on LibriVox, a storehouse of public-domain literature narrated by volunteer readers. I began to spend my nights in the company of great authors, wandering around in the 19th century, an era no longer protected by copyright laws. Here I befriended the ‘lady explorer’ Isabella Bird, who scaled the Rocky Mountains and survived the winter in a cabin cooped up with frontiersmen.

“Charlotte Brontë whisked me to the fictional kingdom of Labassecour. And Mark Twain confided that a flirtatious shopgirl had persuaded him to buy a pair of kid gloves suitable for wearing to the opera – even though he preferred buckskin.

“The slow pace of 19th-century novels and memoirs is perfect for an insomnia machine: You fall asleep when the characters are having dinner, and when you wake up they’ve only reached the drawing room. It feels as if you’re surrounded by friends, dozing comfortably in a corner as life carries on.

“Literature did not cure my insomnia, but transformed it into a manageable condition, and so I feel enormously grateful to the internet and its crowd of volunteers for providing thousands of hours of literary medicine. I think of Jorge Luis Borges, who lamented that he had been put in charge of Argentina’s National Library after he’d gone blind and was unable to peruse a single page. Today we live in a splendor that Borges might have dreamed into existence, a library we can stumble through in the dark.

“In 1886, the author Franklin Harvey Head reported that his contemporaries regarded insomnia as a ‘modern and even an almost distinctively American disease”’ brought about by the hustle-bustle of the railroad and the telegraph. As wires spread across the country and incandescent bulbs burned away the stars, some warned about what would happen when electrification spread into rural towns. Surely, chickens would die of insomnia – and presumably the farmers, too.

“Whenever a new technology comes along, we inevitably blame it for ruining our sleep. Today, we believe that phones and laptops will scramble our sleep, even though the evidence of that is thin. Few studies have been done to find out whether digital media can set off insomnia in adults, and the findings of what research has been done tend to be contradictory. Nonetheless, many health professionals recommend that we banish all digital devices from our bedrooms.

“Of course, there are many ways to ruin your health with a laptop – like engaging in a flame war on Facebook at 4 in the morning. But used judiciously, the internet itself can become a therapy. Both Netflix and Amazon cater to insomniacs by offering ‘sleep-tainment’ options; you can watch videos of a window fan, a train ride through the mountains, knitters chatting in Norway, drizzle falling on leaves or rain tapping on the walls of a tent. This testifies to how many people like to drift off to the lullaby of digital media – and how idiosyncratic our tastes can be.

“Most important, the internet is becoming a place for insomniacs to gather together and figure out what works, to share insights and help one another. For instance, in 2013, Drew Ackerman created a podcast to lead listeners into slumberland. Now, three times a week, he climbs into a makeshift studio in the back of a closet and spins whimsical stories about matters of no importance. ‘Fasten your sleep-belts,’ he might murmur in a codeine drawl before jumping into a tale about the glug-glug-glug sound of a water cooler.

“Ackerman told me that he has designed his ‘Sleep With Me’ podcast to tame the vigilant, overactive ‘guardian’ in the brain that feels it must stay awake to worry. ‘I’m trying to trick the guardian,’ he said. ‘It hears my voice and decides: This guy is a goofball. He’s not a threat. That ‘frees up the rest of your brain to drift off.’

“Ackerman has no training as a sleep doctor or health professional – he too, found salvation from insomnia in audiobooks, specifically aboard the Pequod, squinting out at the 19th-century sea as he floated along on Melville’s words. That experience led him to wonder whether he could fine-tune audio as a therapy.

“Nowadays, about 70,000 listeners download each episode of his podcast, and reviewers attest to the power of this treatment. Ackerman treats insomnia as a disease of existential loneliness. ‘I hear from so many people who listen to the podcast while their partners are sound asleep,’ he said. ‘They might be in bed with somebody who loves them. But in that situation, it’s the deep dark night, and you’re all alone.’

“And so Ackerman has created an alter ego named Dearest Scooter who hosts the show and acts as your ‘bore-friend’ – in the bunk bed of your mind, he’s the compassionate brother lying a few feet above you, a voice in the darkness promising he’ll talk until you drift off.

“He’s also the antithesis of the sleep-hygiene therapists. He doesn’t shame, he commiserates; he knows how horrible insomnia is, and he’s here for you. ‘People need to be validated,’ Ackerman said. ‘If I’m thirsty, I drink; if I’m hungry, I can eat. But when I want to sleep, that’s not under my control. And that’s why this is such a painful mystery.’

“So many of us are muddling along, finding relief where we can get it. At least we have one another. At 2 in the morning, with my insomnia machine strapped to my head, I listen to a volunteer reading George Meredith’s ‘The Egoist’ in a South Indian lilt. As every parent knows, there is magic in the human voice telling a story; this is the oldest and most primitive insomnia treatment. In the dark hours, when we’re wandering in the wilderness of thought, sometimes we just need to feel that someone, even a digital someone with a pre-recorded voice, is watching over us.”

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How to survive an adolescent, Act 1.
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How to survive an adolescent, Act 1.

“You just don’t get it! You’re so cruel! Why did you even have children if you can’t be a parent?! All my other friends parents would let them go [to the party]!”
My 13 year old daughter screams as she slams the door to her unkempt room, the house fills with the now all too familiar noxious yellow gas of parental defeat and crushed teenage dreams. In that moment, I hate being a parent, I hate adolescents, a heady blend of impotent rage and self pity mockingly swirl around my deactivated therapeutic skills. All those books I’ve read on consistent, attuned parenting are burning gloriously in the middle of my mind, where my daughter’s judgement smugly warms it’s hands. It’s different when it’s my child, I grumble to no one.
“You ungrateful little shit!” I scream at the impassive door, it takes every iota of self control to not go into her room and throw all of these toxic emotions at her in an effort to reclaim some sense of ego equilibrium, but I know that it’ll just make me feel worse, that I’ll bully her into submission and with that will come guilt, for which I’ll apologize thereby rendering any attempt at boundary setting totally ineffectual. So I try and suck it up, shaking with anger, I shout at the dog, collateral damage.

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How memory works.
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How memory works.

In today’s excerpt – from “Making Connections” by Anthony J. Greene. How memory works:

“Many people wish their memory worked like a video recording. How handy would that be? Finding your car keys would simply be a matter of zipping back to the last time you had them and hitting ‘play.’ You would never miss an appointment or forget to pay a bill. You would remember everyone’s birthday. You would ace every exam. Or so you might think. In fact, a memory like that would snare mostly useless data and mix them willy-nilly with the information you really needed. It would not let you prioritize or create the links between events that give them meaning. For the very few people who have true photographic recall — eidetic memory, in the parlance of the field — it is more burden than blessing.

“For most of us, memory is not like a video recording — or a notebook, a photograph, a hard drive or any of the other common storage devices to which it has been compared. It is much more like a web of connections between people and things. Indeed, recent research has shown that some people who lose their memory also lose the ability to connect things to each other in their mind. And it is the connections that let us understand cause and effect, learn from our mistakes and anticipate the future. …

“Learning and memory are not sequestered in their own storage banks, but are distributed across the entire cerebral cortex. … The significance of these findings is profound. It means that memory is dispersed, forming in the regions of the brain responsible for language, vision, hearing, emotion and other functions. It means that learning and memory arise from changes in neurons as they connect to and communicate with other neurons. And it means that a small reminder can reactivate a network of neurons wired together in the course of registering an event, allowing you to experience the event anew. Remembering is reliving. …
“The hippocampus [is] an essential mediator in [connecting neurons]. In a very small brain, every neuron might be connected to every other neuron. But a human brain that worked on this model would require that each of hundreds of billions of neurons be linked to every other neuron, an impossibly unwieldy configuration. The hippocampus solves this problem by serving as a kind of neural switchboard, connecting the distant cortical regions for language, vision and other abilities as synaptic networks take shape and create memories.

“[People with hippocampus damage] appear to have impairments that go well beyond the loss of memory creation. They also have severe difficulty imagining future events, living instead in a fragmented, disconnected reality. Recent studies show that imagining the future involves brain processes similar to, but distinct from, those involved in conjuring the past. We also tend to remember the people and events that resonate emotionally, which is why forgetting an anniversary is such an offense: it is fair evidence that the date is not as important as the ones we do remember. The discovery that memory is all about connections has revolutionary implications for education. It means that memory is integral to thought and that nothing we learn can stand in isolation; we sustain new learning only to the degree we can relate it to what we already know. …

“The connections across the brain also help us conceive the future, as recent imaging studies have shown. Functional magnetic resonance imaging … shows that a mosaic of brain areas similar to those involved in memory is active when participants imagine details of hypothetical or prospective events. …

“[This] can sometimes cause us problems by altering our memories instead of augmenting them. … Psychologist Elizabeth Loftus [has shown] how easy it is to create false memories of past events. In one study, participants watched a film of a car accident. Researchers asked some subjects how fast they thought the cars were going when they ‘smashed into’ each other and asked other subjects how fast the cars were going when they ‘hit’ each other. The subjects, who heard the word ‘smashed’ gave significantly higher estimates of the speed. In other experiments, subjects were fed incorrect information about an accident after watching the film; they might, for instance, be asked repeatedly whether a traffic light had turned yellow before the collision when in fact the light was green. Many then remembered a yellow light that never existed, which is why eyewitness testimony after police interrogation can be so unreliable.”

“Making Connections”
Author: Anthony J. Greene
Publisher: Scientific American Mind
July/August 2010
Pages: 22-29

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To thy own self be true.

To thy own self be true.

“Man is born free and yet everywhere, he is in chains”- Rousseau.

As men, many of us are socialized to serve and maintain collective structures such as family, organizations and social institutions that all have a life of their own but require the repeated sacrifice of the individual to sustain them. When men stumble into my office (often out of desperation, unsure of where else to turn), stumped by the disintegration of their best efforts with regards to work, love and family, they resemble lost, angry and confused children. We have been conditioned to donate the most vital parts of our lives to these institutions and I suppose in some ways, that is why humanity has ‘flourished’ on the planet, but career, producing children, having the generic dream of two cars in the garage and a chicken in every pot is all illusion compared with that one thing, that our lives are meaningful. Without meaning, we sustain the most grievous of wounds to the soul- a life without depth. There seems to be a terrible, invisible virus in the lives of modern men, a discrepancy between our role expectations and the needs of our souls.

On average, men die eight years before women as a result of stress and the toxic addictions we use to soothe ourselves. We are four times more likely to be substance abusers and also four times more likely to take our own lives.

We do not live by bread alone. We need more in our lives to feel alive. In ‘The wounding and healing of men’, Hollis outlines steps to healing that may offer you at least a fragment of the map towards a life that matters-to you.

1 Remember and forgive the father

Many of our fathers were more wounded than we can imagine, with few alternatives or emotional permission to be themselves, they were unspeakably lonely. For such men we must grieve. Grief is honest. It values what was lost, or was never there.

The wounded son will wound his son if he does not cleanse himself and break the cycle. Each son must examine, without judgement, where his father’s wounds were passed on to him.

Some of those questions may be-

What were my father’s hopes and dreams?

Did my father live out his dreams?

What would I have liked to know from him about being a man?

What was my father’s unlived life, and am I living it out, somehow, for him?

2 Tell the secrets

Those of us in the healing professions know that wherever there is denial, the wound festers. Or, as the twelve step program puts it, what I resist, will persist. Many men’s lives are based on denial and resistance to the truth, that we are torn between fear and rage. And that in relationships (whether it be with our partners or our work),  we are emotionally dependent on them but resentful of the object of that dependence.

Our mythology is full of heroic adventures- mountains climbed, wars fought, dragons defeated- but it takes even more courage for a man to speak his emotional truth to another.

Telling the truth of our soul to ourselves is the first task, living that truth is the second and telling it to others is the third.

3 Seek mentors and mentor others

I have noticed that it is men of greater emotional strength and core honesty who seek therapy. The others are too fearful. Therapy is but one way men can share the secrets about the task of being a man. It is often in therapy that they realize that they must heal themselves, that their partners cannot. Then they cry and rage, and admit the fear. When these things happen, healing begins. Most men will not enter therapy of course. Yet they can still turn to other men and pass on what they have learned, or learn from others. A mentor is one who has visited the other side and can tell us something of what it’s like to be there.

4 Heal thyself

Do not let yourself live a sham, someone else’s sense of what your life should be about instead of your own. The crux of our lives as men, whatever your age or situation, is to pull out of our automatic behaviours and attitudes, to radically reexamine our lives and to risk living out our thunderous imperatives of our souls.

Empowerment means that one feels good energy for the tasks of life. one feels the permission to dive into life and struggle for depth and meaning. one feels that there are resources within to draw upon when the forces of darkness are nigh.

A man must ask himself:

What fears block me? What tasks do I in my heart of hearts, know I must undertake? What is my life calling me to do? Can I bring my work and my soul closer together? How can I serve both individuation and relationship?

Being a man means knowing what you want and then mobilizing the inner resources to achieve it.

5 Recover the soul’s journey (The Godseed)

Most of us are still reluctant to examine our lives in case we are then called to change, and change always brings anxiety. But when one realizes that the anxiety accompanying change is preferable to the depression and rage occasioned by limiting ourselves, change becomes more attractive.

What is the point of just working hard and feeling broken? Why else are we here on this spinning blue planet, if not to try to know ourselves? Men have stopped asking the right questions and so begin to suffer soul-sickness.

“Traveller, you have come a long way led by that peculiar star. But what you seek is at the other end of the night. May you fare well, companero, let us journey together joyfully. Living on catastrophe, eating the pure light.” -McGrath- Epitaph.

 

 

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Coping Ugly

Coping Ugly

By Amy Morin
There’s a good chance you’ll experience some type of crisis during your life: Research estimates that almost 90% of people endure at least one traumatic event.
Whether you’re dealing with serious health problems, natural disasters or the loss of a loved one, adversity doesn’t have to hold you back from reaching your greatest potential. Mentally strong people often bounce back from a crisis even better than before; they may even report feeling healthier, happier and more hopeful after a tragic event.

In my experiences as a therapist and through my research for my book, 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, I’ve discovered the strategies that help mentally strong people thrive after a crisis:

1. They focus on what they can control
Digging in your heels won’t stop a crisis from happening, but it will waste your time and energy. Mentally strong people put their resources where it matters most by focusing on what they can control—even when the only thing they can control is their effort and attitude.

2. They reflect on what they’ve learned
You can learn a lot about yourself in your darkest hours. While it’s not helpful to replay your painful memories, taking time to think about what an experience has helped you learn can lead to growth.

3. They take decisive action
Ignoring problems or hosting a pity party won’t make a difficult situation any better. In fact, the longer you avoid problems, the bigger they might grow. Mentally strong people look for solutions and tackle problems head-on.

4. They practice gratitude
No matter how rough your experiences are, there’s always something to feel grateful for. Mentally strong people practice gratitude, even during the toughest times. They remind themselves of all the good things in life while still acknowledging their pain.

5. They look for new opportunities
Sometimes a crisis can change your entire life. A job loss or a financial disaster may force you to change course. Mentally strong people accept that they need to adapt to change, and they look for opportunities that will improve their lives.

6. They evaluate their priorities
A major crisis can cause you to second-guess the way you’ve lived your life. But instead of questioning themselves, mentally strong people turn life-altering circumstances into an opportunity to take a closer look at their priorities. Through this process, they ensure that their behavior is in line with their values.

7. They recognize their inner strength
Thinking things like, “I can’t handle this,” or “I can’t get through this,” will affect your ability to cope. Mentally strong people draw upon their inner strength. They trust in their ability to deal with whatever life throws their way.

8. They take care of themselves
It’s impossible to be at your best if you’re exhausted and worn down. So even in the middle of tough times, mentally strong people make sleep, exercise and healthy eating a priority. They know they can’t be mentally strong if they’re not feeling physically strong.

9. They remain psychologically flexible
Recovering from a crisis requires you to be flexible in the way you think, feel and behave. Mentally strong people are committed to adapting their circumstances. Rather than repeat their usual patterns, they’re open to creating positive change in their lives.

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One breath at a time.
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One breath at a time.

My mind has been agitated lately. A series of skirmishes with life has left me feeling quite anxious. Reading anything but a brief news feed becomes difficult and my internal monologue is repetitive and stale. I am currently acutely aware of the correlation between my agitated mind and a shallow mood. So what to do? Interestingly enough, many shrinks I know are on some form of antidepressant medication, or are self medicating low mood through the common strategies such as compulsive series watching, alcohol, smoking pot, pornography etc. I’ve had a brush with one or more of these dark little friends over the years, I’ve also tried multiple workshops and retreats offering masculinity, miracles, holotropic breathing, medicinal plants, lucid dreaming, conscious coupling, conscious uncoupling, yoga, mindfulness, a dizzying array of self help literature, blogs, lectures, the list goes on- and where has it all led my curious, sometimes ferocious often anxious mind? Back to the mat, back to my little cushion with a picture of a chihuahua on it. Perhaps that’s all this self important mind is in the mirror, a yapping little chihuahua who doesn’t know when to keep his little trap shut. So, this morning, at 4:37a.m. I dragged the yapping little shit to my cushion, lit a candle and made it sit. Boy was it hard. Yap, yap…on and on it went, parading an endless stream of mind confetti. I kept returning to my breath as I had been shown…again and again, my mind strained at its breath-leash, unaccustomed to not being able to have its way. Puppy training classes. I wasn’t cruel as I tugged on the leash, bringing my mind back to the breath again and again and again, I was patient, prepared to sit for as long as it would take. Slowly, ever so slowly it began to sit with me, seconds initially, then a minute or two, then off it would dash. I can see that it’s going to take some time, but that’s ok. I’m clear that making the time to sit with my mind and let it know , through the breath, that it is safe, that it can come to rest, will bring a sense of calm that I am aching for as weather pulls through my life, one breath at a time.

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The Demon Ship.
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The Demon Ship.

Let’s imagine for a moment that you are on a boat, I like to imagine something out of Mutiny on the Bounty. Your standing at the tiller in the middle of the ocean. Below decks are the most awfully terrifying demons, dementors and furies. They are made of your greatest fears. You have made a deal to placate them, to keep them below decks…the deal is that in order for them not to rend you limb from limb with their powerful jaws and sharp fangs, you have to drift aimlessly on this ocean, alone, forever.
Thing is that after a couple of months of this ‘drifting’, you’re becoming hungry, deep in your soul, you know there is more to life, that in order to evolve and live with meaning and purpose, you will need a clear direction.
As your hands grip the tiller, the demons are immediately present, howling all manner of horrors into your face, “you’re going to fail”, “no one will love you”, “you’re fat…too old! “, “pathetic!” On and on they howl until eventually you concede to the fears, convinced of their truth. And you continue to drift, to starve yourself of the nourishment you so desperately need.
Months pass, you become spiritually emaciated and intellectually stagnant, your moods darken and your heart grows weary. Slowly the realization dawns that unless you are going to make a concerted effort to plot a course and move towards something that will really enrich your quality of life, you will suffer a pale death, drifting aimlessly until your final breath.
Courageously you set course, determined to get out of your comfort zone, to apply for that new job or move towards a new relationship, to move actively towards change. On cue, the demons return, knowing that you are fueled by courage, they redouble their efforts to pull you off course, they fling shame, humiliation and despair into your eyes, but this time you white knuckle through their barrage. As you continue heading in a purposeful direction, you begin to notice that the demons are made of smoke and mirrors, old stories about yourself, ancient, worn fears whose teeth are worn smooth by the knashing of a weary mind. They become more and more insubstantial with each passing mile as you approach a new shore. Slowly as their volume fades, you become aware of the warmth of the sun on your face, the other ships in close proximity, you notice you are no longer white knuckling and are actually beginning to enjoy your journey…

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Serial Killers

Serial Killers

My eyes are bloodshot and puffy, my skin is a paler shade of white than I’m used to and I’m sure I’m wearing yesterday’s clothes?! This is what happens during a House of Cards (season 4) binge. I’m ashamed, I am an addict, I can’t turn my attention away from the Machiavelian machinations of the power hungry Underwoods.
The psychology behind the narcissistic- sociopathic characters is masterful, the writing slick and the acting more than accomplished. But, I can’t help feeling even as I stuff as much of it into my exhausted mind after a full day’s work as I can, that I am ingesting something fundamentally unhealthy, that I shouldn’t look at it too closely in case I lose my appetite. This form of low level information processing is like eating processed food that tries to distract you from the dastardly fine print of its label filled with carcinogenic preservatives.

In 1843, Marx wrote that “religion is the opiate of the masses”, 173 years later I dare to state that religion has been replaced by Series! Want to write a few pages of that book you promised yourself you would write by 45? Nah, why don’t you just lie back and watch another installment of that great show you’ve chosen as your new best friend for the next week. Need to talk about a thorny issue with your partner? Rewrite your CV, complete your overdue taxes? Perish the thought! The Devil no longer carries a pitchfork, or wears Prada, her name is Claire Underwood and she has a really complicated relationship with her mother.

Watching my mind wriggle out of the responsibilities it has in order to get its ‘fix’ has become farcical. I suppose I could consider a 90 day series fast, you know…to teach my mind a lesson after its gratuitous gorging at the trough, but I’ve just got three more episodes to watch and then I’ll pull myself together (?)

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Is there anybody out there?
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Is there anybody out there?

I read a fascinating article the other day about a psychologist called Douglas Vakoch who is the Director of Interstellar Message Composition at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). What a fascinating and rather odd job title.
Douglas has the difficult task of responding if beings from another planet sent a message to us through deep space…Think about that for a moment, how would one man respond to an interstellar collect call for seven billion humans?

Most often messages to extraterrestrial audiences have focused on human strengths. Take the Voyager spacecraft’s interstellar message – in over 100 pictures of life on Earth, with an emphasis on human presence, there were no depictions of war, poverty or disease.
Why not? Who determined what humanities ‘best side’ was? But perhaps it is precisely an emphasis on our vulnerabilities that may be of the most interest to extraterrestrials. No matter how narcissistic Humans are, we most certainly will not be the most intelligent beings in the galaxy, if we make contact. Humans have only had the capacity to communicate with radio for less than a century – a blip in the 13-billion-year history of our galaxy.

Perhaps it is not the beauty of our symphonies that will set us apart from extraterrestrials, nor our moral perfection – living true to our ideals of altruism.
If we wish to convey what it is about us that is distinctive, it may be our weakness…our fears…our unknowing – and yet a willingness to forge ahead to attempt contact in spite of this that truly reflects our unique contribution to a much greater whole.

The article got me thinking about the space that exists between people here on Earth. How every individual could be seen as Earth, separated from others by what can sometimes feel like infinite space. Struggling to communicate, or understand, believing that we are always essentially alone and unknown.
I see so many lonely people in therapy, good, caring, aware souls who truly believe there is no one out there that will understand or accept them for who they really are.
As Humans, we appear to be so invested in categorizing each ‘other’ in order to make sense of our personal worlds (think race, class, gender etc), that we think we’ve got the ‘other’ all figured out. We roll out our ‘best selves’ with a marching band (much like the images of Humanity carried by Voyager), showing our ‘shiny parts’ not only to others but also to ourselves in an effort to defend against our whole, beautiful, damaged selves being truly witnessed. Disconnected from other living beings through our resistance to sharing our vulnerabilities with one another we drift alone and unknown in a sea of possible connection.

Perhaps we will be the intelligent species that has the most exquisite balance of joy and sorrow of any civilisation in the Milky Way. And it is the fundamental facts of human existence such as these that might best be explained not only to other civilisations, but with great courage to each other in an effort to be truly seen and to finally realize that we are not alone.

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7 Ways to get people to like you.
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7 Ways to get people to like you.

I find that many of my patients really struggle to connect on an interpersonal level. There is little information out there about the basics that need to be in place for successful communication. So here is an article I found called “7 ways to make people like you”, courtesy of an FBI behavior expert. It’s a bit thin and poorly written in places but I learnt some interesting facts. Hope you enjoy.

Meeting new people can be awkward. What should you say? How can you make a good impression? How do you keep a conversation going?

Research shows relationships are vital to happiness and networking is the key to getting jobs and building a fulfilling career.

But what’s the best way to build rapport and create trust? Plain and simple, who can explain how to get people to like you?

Robin Dreeke can.

Robin was head of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Program and has studied interpersonal relations for over 27 years. He’s an expert on how to make people like you.

Robin is the author of the excellent book, It’s Not All About “Me”: The Top Ten Techniques for Building Quick Rapport with Anyone.

The book covers the following topics.

1. The #1 secret to clicking with people.

2. How to put strangers at ease.

3. The thing you do that turns people off the most.

4. How to use body language like a pro.

5. Some great verbal jiu-jitsu to use on people who try to manipulate you.

And a lot more. Okay, let’s learn something.

1. The most important thing to do with anyone you meet.

Robin’s number one piece of advice: “Seek someone else’s thoughts and opinions without judging them.”

Ask questions. Listen. But don’t judge. Nobody — including you — likes to feel judged.

Here’s Robin:

The number one strategy I constantly keep in the forefront of my mind with everyone I talk to is non-judgmental validation. Seek someone else’s thoughts and opinions without judging them. People do not want to be judged in any thought or opinion that they have or in any action that they take.

It doesn’t mean you agree with someone. Validation is taking the time to understand what their needs, wants, dreams and aspirations are.

So what should you do when people start spouting crazy talk? Here’s Robin:

What I prefer to try to do is, as soon as I hear something that I don’t necessarily agree with or understand, instead of judging it my first reaction is, “Oh, that’s really fascinating. I never heard it in quite that way. Help me understand. How did you come up with that?”

You’re not judging, you’re showing interest. And that lets people calmly continue talking about their favorite subject: themselves.

Studies show people get more pleasure from talking about themselves than they do from food or money:

Talking about ourselves — whether in a personal conversation or through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter — triggers the same sensation of pleasure in the brain as food or money… [The Wall Street Journal]

(To learn how FBI hostage negotiators build rapport and trust, click here.)

So you’ve stopped being Judgy Judgerson and you’re happily validating. Oh, if it were only that easy… What’s the problem here? Your ego.

2. Suspend your ego to get people to like you.

Most of us are just dying to point out how other people are wrong. (Comment sections on the internet are fueled by this, aren’t they?)

And it kills rapport. Want to correct someone? Want to one-up them with your clever little story? Don’t do it.

Here’s Robin:

Ego suspension is putting your own needs, wants, and opinions aside. Consciously ignore your desire to be correct and to correct someone else. It’s not allowing yourself to get emotionally hijacked by a situation where you might not agree with someone’s thoughts, opinions, or actions.

Contradicting people doesn’t build relationships. Dale Carnegie said it many years ago — and modern neuroscience agrees.

When people hear things that contradict their beliefs, the logical part of their mind shuts down and their brain prepares to fight.

Via Compelling People: The Hidden Qualities That Make Us Influential:

So what happened in people’s brains when they saw information that contradicted their worldview in a charged political environment? As soon as they recognized the video clips as being in conflict with their worldview, the parts of the brain that handle reason and logic went dormant. And the parts of the brain that handle hostile attacks — the fight-or-flight response — lit up.

(For more on keeping a conversation fun, click here.)

So you’ve stopped trying to be clever. But how do you get a reputation as a great listener?

3. How to be a good listener.

We’ve all heard that listening skills are vital but nobody explains the right way to do it. What’s the secret?

Stop thinking about what you’re going to say next and focus on what they’re saying right now.

Be curious and ask to hear more about what interests you.

Here’s Robin:

Listening isn’t shutting up. Listening is having nothing to say. There’s a difference there. If you just shut up, it means you’re still thinking about what you wanted to say. You’re just not saying it. The second that I think about my response, I’m half listening to what you’re saying because I’m really waiting for the opportunity to tell you my story.

What you do is this: as soon as you have that story or thought that you want to share, toss it. Consciously tell yourself, “I am not going to say it.”

All you should be doing is asking yourself, “What idea or thought that they mentioned do I find fascinating and want to explore?”

Research shows just asking people to tell you more makes you more likable and gets them to want to help you.

The basics of active listening are pretty straightforward:

1. Listen to what they say. Don’t interrupt, disagree or “evaluate.”

2. Nod your head, and make brief acknowledging comments like “yes” and “uh-huh.”

3. Without being awkward, repeat back the gist of what they just said, from their frame of reference.

4. Inquire. Ask questions that show you’ve been paying attention and that move the discussion forward.

(To learn the listening techniques of FBI hostage negotiators, click here.)

I know, I know — some people are just boring. You’re not that interested in what they’re saying. So what questions do you ask then, smart guy?

4. The best question to ask people.

Life can be tough for everyone: rich or poor, old or young. Everyone.

We all face challenges and we like to talk about them. So that’s what to ask about.

Here’s Robin:

A great question I love is challenges. “What kind of challenges did you have at work this week? What kind of challenges do you have living in this part of the country? What kinds of challenges do you have raising teenagers?” Everyone has got challenges. It gets people to share what their priorities in life are at that point in time.

Questions are incredibly powerful. What’s one of the most potent ways to influence someone? Merely asking for advice.

Via Adam Grant’s excellent Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success:

Studies demonstrate that across the manufacturing, financial services, insurance, and pharmaceuticals industries, seeking advice is among the most effective ways to influence peers, superiors, and subordinates. Advice seeking tends to be significantly more persuasive than the taker’s preferred tactics of pressuring subordinates and ingratiating superiors. Advice seeking is also consistently more influential than the matcher’s default approach of trading favors.

Twisting your mustache thinking you can use this for nefarious purposes? Wrong, Snidely Whiplash. It only works when you’re sincere.

Via Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success:

In her research on advice seeking, Liljenquist finds that success “depends on the target perceiving it as a sincere and authentic gesture.” When she directly encouraged people to seek advice as an influence strategy, it fell flat.

(For a list of the questions that can create a strong bond in minutes, click here.)

But what if you have to approach someone cold? How do you get people who might not want to talk to you to willingly give you their attention?

5. How to make strangers feel at ease.

First thing: Tell them you only have a minute because you’re headed out the door.

Here’s Robin:

When people think you’re leaving soon, they relax. If you sit down next to someone at a bar and say, “Hey, can I buy you a drink?” their shields go way up. It’s “Who are you, what do you want, and when are you leaving?” That “when are you leaving” is what you’ve got to answer in the first couple of seconds.

Research shows just asking people if now is a good time makes them more likely to comply with requests:

The results showed that compliance rates were higher when the requester inquired about respondents’ availability and waited for a response than when he pursued his set speech without waiting and inquiring about respondents’ availability.

Nobody wants to feel trapped talking to some weirdo. People are more likely to help you than you think, but they need to feel safe and in control.

(For more on how to make friends easily, click here.)

Even if you get all of the above right you can still come off like a shady used car salesman. And that fear stops you from meeting new awesome people.

Robin says one of the key reasons people come off as untrustworthy is because their words and their body language are misaligned. Let’s fix that.

6. The best body language for building rapport

You words should be positive, free of ego and judgment — and your body language (“non-verbals”) needs to match.

Here are the things Robin recommends:

1. “The number one thing is you’ve gotta smile. You absolutely have to smile. A smile is a great way to engender trust.”

2. “Keep that chin angle down so it doesn’t appear like you’re looking down your nose at anyone. And if you can show a little bit of a head tilt, that’s always wonderful.”

3. “You don’t want to give a full frontal, full body display. That could be very offensive to someone. Give a little bit of an angle.”

4. “Keep your palms up as you’re talking, as opposed to palms down. That says, “I’m hearing what you’re saying. I’m open to what your ideas are.”

5. “So I always want to make sure that I’m showing good, open, comfortable non-verbals. I just try to use high eyebrow elevations. Basically, anything going up and elevating is very open and comforting. Anything that is compressing: lip compression, eyebrow compression, where you’re squishing down, that’s conveying stress.”

Research backs him up. From Dale Carnegie to peer-reviewed studies, everyone says smiles matter. (In fact, to increase their power, smile slower.)

It makes us happier too. Neuroscience research shows smiling gives the brain as much pleasure as 2000 bars of chocolate — or $25,000.

Via Smile: The Astonishing Powers of a Simple Act:

Depending on whose smile you see, the researchers found that one smile can be as pleasurable and stimulating as up to 2,000 bars of chocolate! …it took up to 16,000 pounds sterling in cash to generate the same level of brain stimulation as one smile! This is equivalent to about $25,000 per smile…

(To learn how to decode body language and read people like a book, click here.)

So now you come off as the pleasant person you are, not as a scheming taker. But what do you do when the other person is a scheming taker?

7. How to deal with someone you don’t trust.

The name of my blog is not “Helpful Tools For Sociopaths.” I’m not trying to teach you to manipulate others.

But what should do you do when you feel someone is using these methods to try and manipulate you?

Don’t be hostile but be direct: ask them what they want. What are their goals in this interaction?

Here’s Robin:

The first thing I try to do is clarify goals. I’ll stop and say, “You’re throwing a lot of good words at me. Obviously you’re very skilled at what you’re doing. But what I’m really curious about… What’s your goal? What are you trying to achieve? I’m here with my goals, but obviously you have to achieve your goals. So if you can just tell me what your objectives are, we can start from there and see if we can mutually take care of them. If not, that’s fine too.”

I watch for validation. If someone is trying to validate me and my thoughts and opinions, I am alert to it. I love doing that as well. So now I’m looking for intent. Are you there for me or are you there for you? If you are there strictly for your own gain and you’re not talking in terms of my priorities ever, that’s when I’m seeing someone is there to manipulate me.

Want to build a connection with someone? Focus on trust, not tricks. That’s how you earn respect. Trust is fragile. And mistrust is self-fulfilling.

When you ask people what the most important character trait is, what do they say? Trustworthiness.

Participants in three studies considered various characteristics for ideal members of interdependent groups (e.g., work teams, athletic teams) and relationships (e.g., family members, employees). Across different measures of trait importance and different groups and relationships, trustworthiness was considered extremely important for all interdependent others…

(To learn how to detect lies, click here.)

That’s a lot more to digest than “Just be yourself” but far more effective. Let’s round it up and make it something you can start using today.

Sum up

Here are Robin’s tips:

1. The single most important thing is non-judgmental validation. Seek someone else’s thoughts and opinions without judging them.

2. Suspend your ego. Focus on them.

3. Really listen, don’t just wait to talk. Ask them questions; don’t try to come up with stories to impress.

4. Ask people about what’s been challenging them.

5. Establishing a time constraint early in the conversation can put strangers at ease.

6. Smile, chin down, blade your body, palms up, open and upward non-verbals.

7. If you think someone is trying to manipulate you, clarify goals. Don’t be hostile or aggressive, but ask them to be straight about what they want.

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