Pressure, Stress, and Mindsets


Kelly McGonigal spent many years telling people that stress was dangerous,  but it turns out that research shows that stress is only dangerous to people who think it is bad, dangerous, or harmful. 

It turns out that people really can thrive on pressure. 

Dr. McGonigal made this video to help correct some of the old perceptions. 

Now,  why am I writing about this?  Because I’ve never been great at handling pressure and stress. I thought that was hard-wired, unchangeable,  but apparently changing your attitude toward stress can help change its effects on you. 

So what now?

Dr. McGonigal showed us one immediate,  easy to use stress intervention.  Whenever you feel stressed,  tell yourself “My body is preparing me to meet this challenge.  My heat is beating harder and my lungs are pumping faster to get more oxygen to my body and brain.

Tell yourself that until your believe it and you can eliminate the cardiovascular dangers of stress (mainly blood vessel constriction) and make yourself less flustered and more energized. 

Additionally, connecting with others,  especially caring for others, makes us more resilient to stress. Community and compassion can actually nullify the health damages of major life events. 

Also, “chasing meaning is better than trying to avoid discomfort.”

I’m going to try to our these into action. I’ll report back later and let you know how it goes. 

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Rekindling the Creative Spark: An Experiment Upon Myself, Part 2: Proposed Treatment


Yesterday,  I detailed a problem not only with my writing, but with my imagination overall: 

I’ve allowed the pump to run dry,  so even if the well has water,  and even if I go up the hill to fetch a pail, I’ll have to do some serious priming to get anything drinkable. 

And if I’m not careful, I might fall down and break my crown 🙂

So what am I going to do? Metaphor aside, an imagination isn’t like a water pump or car engine. 

Well, I  have a few ideas: 

Listen to music that fired my imagination the past, musicians whose lyrics were poetic,  with imagery,  metaphor,  and complexity. 

  • Sarah McLachlan
  • Bob Dylan
  • Peter, Paul, and Mary 
  • Wyclef Jean 
  • Sting
  • Mary Chapin Carpenter
  • Rosanne Cash
  • Maria McKee
  • Leonard Cohen
  • Bruce Cockburn
  • Sarah Brightman
  • 10000 Maniacs
  • Beth Patterson
  • Rich Mullins
  • Jennifer Knapp
  • U2
  • And many others 

Seek out more music by musicians who’ve caught my attemtion once or a few times in the past:

  • Amanda Abizaid 
  • Amanda Ghost
  • Martin Page 
  • Nina Gordon
  • Charlotte Sometimes
  • The Pogues
  • Shakira
  • Sara Evans
  • Annie Lennox, both solo and in that band my auto-correct won’t let me write. 
  • even Guns N Roses

(It occurs to me how white this list is,  with the exception of Wyclef and Shakira. Maybe I should look in some new directions as I seek out new material)

    Seek out new music that may have the same qualities.  This is harder,  because it involves spring through a bushel and a half of disposable pablum. The old stuff comes pre-sorted.

    But this is not just about music. I need to read actual poetry. I also need to constantly read fiction, fiction with imagery, fiction that plays with language. 

    Perhaps most importantly, I need to take better care of myself. I need to get enough sleep. I need to get more exercise,  and I need to eat less refined sugar. 

    I need to clear space my mind. This isn’t about excusing myself from doing the things that need to be done. 

    It’s about clearing out the clutter, watching less tv, wasting less time on Facebook, Slate, etc. 

    It’s about doing one thing at a time. Multitasking isn’t just inefficient; it’s frustrating and depressing, too. 

    It’s about regeneration. But mostly about getting enough sleep. 

    I hypothesize that two weeks of adequate sleep, limited attention-splitting time wasters, and reaquaintance with nearly forgotten favorites will have back to my old self. 

    I’ll collect data and get back to you with the results. 

    Rekindling the Creative Spark: An Experiment Upon Myself, Part 1: Stating the Problem


    I have allowed the quotidian to conquer my mental landscape. 

    I have let this happen because I won’t just pull the trigger and go the ¿#☆€ to sleep.

    Although I work an enviable 8 to 4, Monday to Friday schedule, I feel like the narrator in R.E.M.’s song “Daysleeper.”

    How did this happen? I let myself read too many scattered articles on the internet (I’m beginning to hate Facebook), and too few really good books … especially paper books (I love my kindle, but it’s just not the same).
    I’ve let this happen by listening to too much disposable radio music and too much nostalgic 80’s music, and not enough music that’s actually poetic, with imagery and metaphor in the lyrics. 

    I’ve lost touch with the music that fired my when I was younger and had imagination to spare. 

    And heaven knows when I last read actual poetry.

    To make a long story short, I  have let my creative gas tank run empty.

    That’s fairly easy to fix. Ideas are cheap, and quick flashes of inspiration can be found almost every day. 

    That isn’t the real problem. Grab a gas can, get a ride to the gas station, and fill up.

    The real problem is that I have let the moving parts get dry. I haven’t done the deep, long-term maintenance to keep the engine in good running order.

    So even when the tank has gas in it, and I try to write, it’s like grinding gears together. 

    I went years without an oil change, and now I need a major tune-up.

    This isn’t unfixable: creative engines have come back from much worse, and in worse conditions. 

    But it does have to be fixed. Even if I didn’t want to write fiction again, I’d still need a fully-functioning imagination. 

    Next time,  we’ll look at proposed methodology for fixing the problem.  I may even throw in a hypothesis or two. 🙂

    August So Far: Sleep, Exercise, and Rekindling a Creative Spark


    I’ve outlined some writing goals and life goals for August.  I’m writing this on August 7, so I thought I’d report  on how the first week went. 

    I’m still struggling with sleep, but I have determined that 7 hours a night is not enough for me.  My next test will be to see whether I need 7 1/2 or 8 hours. 

    I did manage to exercise three times the first week. I swam twice,  I did chair squats once,  and we took a walk the park once.  At this rate,  I won’t be ready for the 2020 Olympics,  but it’s a good start. 

    As far as writing fiction goes, I’m beginning to wonder whether planning plots is really the best move at this point.

    After I finished my dissertation, I immediately started writing what I thought would be a novel or novella,  but ended up being alongish short story. 

    It’s rubbish, of course,  and by the end I just wanted it to be over. I only finished it at all because giving up so close to the ends would have been a self-sabotaging defeat. 

    And I’m still stuck right there, in a mess of my own making. 

    I get enough sleep to do well at work, but not enough to have any energy or clarity left after we’ve put the little one to bed. 

    Honestly,  I don’t have any desire to write our do anything else after we put Daughter to bed. Most of my experimental cooking is on the weekends, even.

     and I’m not getting to bed early enough to get up an hour early to write or do  whatever before work. 

    Still I’m simplifying my goalsfor August:  Forget everything else.  Sleep matters. 

    As for my creative side, I’ll be taking some concrete steps to refill the old gas tank,  beyond just getting more sleep,  but I’ll talk about those in an upcoming post.