Full Circles

Reflections on Living

Category: Psychological

Information is Not Transformation

If information is all we need, everyone would have become billionaires, with perfect six-pack abs, so says thinker, writer, and entrepreneur Derek Sivers.

Information ≠ transformation.

We spend a lot of our time consuming information, in hopes that we can be transformed. What if we spend our time making attempts at transformation, and then, seek to fill the information gap, when we need it instead? 

Gathering information is makes you feel smarter, but no less closer to what you want. Attempts at transformation is almost always risky. Because we might fall flat on our face. But I think it’s worth it.

Watch this video.

On Suicide: “Do Not Make a Permanent Decision…”

Do not make a permanent decision

Image by Pablo Heimplatz

Do not make a permanent decision in a temporary storm.

 

This is one of the most compelling argument I’ve seen on the topic of suicide. This is from the poet, philosopher Jennifer Michael Hecht.

Hecht makes us rethink from a nonreligious perspective our cultural position on suicide as moral freedom:
“One of the arguments I hope to bring to light is that suicidal influence is strong enough that a suicide might also be considered a homicide. Whether you call it contagion, suicidal clusters, or sociocultural modeling, our social sciences demonstrate that suicide causes more suicide (emphasis mine), both among those who knew the person and among the strangers who somehow identified with the victim. If suicide has a pernicious influence on others, then staying alive has the opposite influence: it helps keep people alive. By staying alive, we are contributing something precious to the world.” ~ from her book, Stay, A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It.

Ripples

The evidence is clear that suicide impacts not just loved ones, but people around us. This is not to put people on a guilt trip. Instead, the empirical findings point towards reality, that we live in a web of relationships. Even a celebrities suicide has a ripple effect on others (e.g., Robbin Williams, Kurt Cobain, Chris Cornell).

Hecht goes on to make an important point: “Your staying alive means so much more than you really know or that anyone is aware of at this moment.”
Though suicidal ideation is different from attempting suicidal (The evidence is clear that suicidal thoughts are more common than we realise, and thoughts about suicide isn’t predictive of suicide attempts). If you are feeling vulnerable to suicide, or know of others who struggle with this, I highly recommend you check out the following, in order of priority:

1. 10 things I wish people understood about suicide

2. An interview with Jennifer Michael Hecht, on the renowned podcast and radio show, On Being with Krista Tippett

3. A short essay On Suicide 

Stay

Here are two points that stand out:

1. Staying alive is a life-saving social contribution.
2. We need to consider the rights of our future selves.

 

Here’s my plea to you: 
1. You matter more than you will know at this point.
2. Let’s figure out a way to end your problems, not your life.
3. Living is your right. You have a right to Life.

A recent Canadian study based on 2,884 people uncovered a really hopeful piece of information. Suicidal people are 7 TIMES more likely to recover completely from their mental health concerns when they have SOMEONE TO CONFIDE TO. [1]

Do not make a permanent decision in a temporary storm. Stay.

Blessings,

Daryl

~

Footnotes:
1. Baiden, P., & Fuller-Thomson, E. (2016). Factors Associated with Achieving Complete Mental Health among Individuals with Lifetime Suicidal Ideation. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, 46(4), 427-446. doi:10.1111/sltb.12230

2. I am a psychologist, but I’m not your psychologist. This short article should not be used as a substitute for the advice of a mental health professional. Please seek professional help if you are at-risk, or contact your local helplines to connect with someone. The first step is to step out, because isolation hurts.
 For people in Australia, here are three helplines:
Lifeline
13 11 14 – www.lifeline.org.au – A crisis support and suicide prevention service for all Australians.
Suicide Call Back Service
1300 659 467 – www.suicidecallbackservice.org.au – A free service for people who are suicidal, caring for someone who is suicidal, bereaved by suicide or are health professionals supporting people affected by suicide.
Kids Help Line
1800 55 1800 – www.kidshelpline.com.au

What is the Opposite of Play? (It’s not work)

The opposite of play, is not work. It is depression.1

When was the last time you allowed yourself to play?

Play is an antidote to feeling depressed. Play is fuel; without it, we run on an empty tank.

Play is a spark. Many of us need that to reignite our daily living.

Even dogs play.

Dog Playing

Work on play, and play at your work.

Related posts:

Here’s One Mental Model to Change Your Life: Press Play

The Movement of Recovery: Love, Work, & Play

Note: I highly recommend Stuart Brown, MD book, aptly titled Play. See also his TED talk. 

Here’s One Mental Model to Change Your Life: Press Play

 

play-pause-stop

We don’t stop playing because we grow old;

we grow old because we stop playing.” ~George Bernard Shaw

Mental models are powerful ideas to learn. They act like rules of thumb, that is, rough principles/heuristics  to guide the traffic of our minds.  The important criteria on whether to adopt a particular mental model is to evaluate, “Is this helpful?”

If you are in your thirties and above, you might recall the days of playing those bulky videotapes from a VHS machine. It requires manually forwarding and rewinding, until the tape head gets dirty and the visuals become blurry. Or you sit there, waiting for your favorite movie to play on TV, so that you can hit record (and pause when those crappy adverts appear), for many more hours of repeated viewing.

Here’s one mental model  based on this idea.


PRESS PLAY

When your life feels like is on pause, press play.
Play, do something fun, get down on the floor with a baby. Go to the beach, strum that guitar, or sing in the bathroom. tickle your partner.



PRESS PAUSE:

When life takes over and moves too fast like it’s flashing you by, press pause. Recompose, and study one frame of your life. Contemplate on it. It’s ok to take a pause.


PRESS FAST FORWARD:

When you feel stuck, it’s ok to press fast forward. Get out of the rut by stepping on the pedal to the wheels moving. Fast.


PRESS STOP:

(Ever heard a record player get stuck on the same groove on a vinyl and you just let it keep playing? It’s hypnotic).
When things play and replay in your head like a bad loop, press stop.
Then, change what is playing in the first place.

Have you ever feel like you are speeding to get to somewhere because you are late, only to meet with a red light? What do you do? You take heed of the sign, and stop. There are things not within your control. And realise the world is not about you.

Stop. Breathe. Re-treat, or just give yourself a treat.

PRESS REWIND:

Moments of transitions and change, or big events like Christmas, new year, anniversaries and birthdays, are a good time to press rewind.

Recall moments in your life that you were moved, touched and deeply grateful for. Look at pictures and journals. Put on that old song and indulge in the next few minutes. Go back in time. If you keep worrying about time, you lose time.

This is not simply nostalgia, but its a platform of creating self-continuity into your future. As the Japanese proverb goes, a good time to look at the past is on a summer’s eve.


PRESS RECORD:

Whatever the shit may be, don’t forget to press record. Then hit rewind, and play it back again. 
Learn to write things down. Date it, so that you know which time in your life you had this wisdom. To capture a moment, take a photograph. Not at yourself, but at the life that is in front of you.

Reflect:

Do you know what to press, and when?

No one strategy applies to all of life. Life has its platitudes. As the adage goes, if you hold a hammer, suddenly everything becomes a nail.

Play with this idea.

Where our attention is, that is where our life is.

Happy Christmas & a playful new year ahead.

Yours, 

Daryl Chow Ph.D.

29th of Dec 2016

 

The Movement of Recovery: Love, Work, & Play

sunset-summer-large

A man walking is never in balance, 

But always correcting for imbalance.

– Gregory Bateson

People with mental health concerns do recover. Even with chronic and serious mental health concerns like psychosis, obsession-compulsive disorder (OCD), borderline personality disorder (I prefer the terminology of interpersonal difficulty), there is reason to hope, as people do get better and lead a full functioning life.

And it’s also not about leading a  “normal” life, but an “optimal” life.

The literature in what is loosely called the Recovery Movement suggests several factors that contribute to a person’s recovery. Beyond what most mental health professionals thinks, it’s not just a reduction of symptoms like low mood, anxiety, or voice hearing, but rather consumers on the receiving end of help point towards a different horizon.

Gleaning from  a variety of clinical studies, qualitative research, and firsthand encounters with people on their journey of recovery, there are three pillars that stands out:

WorkLoveplay Continue reading

The Dark Side of Pursuing Happiness

food-sunset-love-field-large

The search for happiness is one of the chief sources of unhappiness.

– Eric Hoffer (1954)

Have you considered that there is something dysfunctional about our deep cravings for the pursuit of happiness? It’s like most things in our lives. If we eat too much of it, it spoils the good of having enough.

Dark SIde of Happiness Graph

 This is about the dark side of the pursuit of happiness.

The Negative of Happiness

My profession in the mental health circles are guilty for propagating this overly simplistic and self-defeating idea. Sometimes it’s bubble wrapped in the paddings of positive psychology. At other times, it’s coated in the zeitgeist of “client’s goal” when they tell us that all they want is “TO BE HAPPY.” Shouldn’t we listen and abide by their goals?

This is the danger. We fail to see the negative impact of over-valuing something so innocuous, and forget to critically evaluate the shadow side of this pursuit.

A recent study by Ford, Mauss, and Gruber 1 caught my attention. I was totally floored when I read this.  Published in a well regarded American Psychological Association journal Emotion, these researchers wanted to find out if there were negative consequences to people who valued happiness to an extreme. It turns out that not only do these “happiness-chasers” have worse psychological health, such as experiencing depressive symptoms, there were also associated with bipolar disorder! Based on the combination of studies that Ford and colleagues did, they were even able to demonstrate that participants with extreme valuing of happiness were at an increased risk of developing manic symptoms, as well as maintaining feature of bipolar if they were already diagnosed with such an issue.

I was aware that the clients that I’ve met through the years with bipolar symptoms sometimes have inflated and grand goal-setting, which spirals them in a self-defeating cycle. But what Ford and colleagues indicated in their study was a flashbulb moment for me.

This has important implications for us to come full circles and reconsider the ethos of knowledges-based, and sometimes hedonistic culture. Happiness does have it’s dark side.

As a psychologist, I’m going to take a more specific angle. I’m going to make the case about about the negative impact of our “happiness-chase” on our emotional wellbeing.

Continue reading

The Music of Your Emotions: Why it is Important to Listen

 

 Girl in the woods Michelle Karpman

 “There can be no knowledge without emotion. We may be aware of the truth, yet until we have felt its force, it is not ours.” – Novelist Arnold Bennett

Common speak advocates keeping your emotions in check, not letting your emotions overrule you, being rationale, and the like. We come to relate with our emotional world as if it’s something of a hassle by-product of the human design.

Sadly, when we lose touch with how we feel, we lose our emotional compass to guide our living. Instead, defenses and fear dictate what we do.

I think the fear of our emotions runs deep. Propriophobia (PRO-pree-o-FO-bee-a) is Greek for “fear of one’s own felt sense” (technically: “fear of one’s own”). One might also translate it as “fear of the inner self.”*

Why do we fear our emotions? And what is the purpose and function of emotions if it seems to be a manufacture’s design in our biology?

First, I don’t think we necessary fear our emotions consciously. It’s the plight of modern living. Our attention is devoted to what’s out there. There’s lots to get done, tick-boxes off the list, and a job to keep. What we unconsciously end up with is a highly valued “rational mind,” as if this system is void of emotions, subscribing to the mind-over-body type of mentality. We see the nebulous stuff of emotion as “in the way.”

Said in another way, we relegate our emotions. We override our feelings in order to get some order.

But emotions are not just in the mind. It is a real bodily experience (see image below). Emotions are bodily activation that organises our behavior. Check with yourself if this holds true: Think of a time when something make your feel anxious or scared. Where do you feel it in the body? Chances are, you would feel your heart beating faster, butterflies in the stomach, and/or tension in the chest region. Or think of a time when someone make your angry. Where do you feel it in the body? Chances are, you would experience your fist clenching, a flush of hotness over your face, etc.

The Physiological Experience of Emotions

From Nummenmaa, L. Glereana, E., Harib, R., & Hietanend, J. K. (2014). Bodily Maps of Emotions. PNAS.

Emotions are purposeful. They are like alert bells that ring to greet you, “Hello… anyone there?” In times of distress, they are like sirens that begs your attention, “Hey, something is going on. You need to…(fill in the blanks)” Contrary to the bad rap of emotions, there is no right or wrong with emotions.Emotions are signals of us to take heed. In working with people in therapy, you’d often see that several psychological disorders are in part due to an experiential avoidance of the emotional world. A person who avoids feeling anxious by compulsively washing his hands, manifesting as OCD; a person who another who relegates her own feelings while staying in an abusive relationship, or another who experiences a burnout while not attending to the build up of compounded stress over the months of terrifying deadlines.

Here’s a list of the purposes of emotions:

1. A sense of who we are;

2. Connection with others;

3. Cultural and Intergenerational connection of shared values;

4. Motivation & drives us to action on what we want;

4.Sense or direction (emotional compass);

5. Learning, and

6. Meaning.

Working with our emotions is crucial. If we don’t, it’s like trying to play an instrument without tuning it. We need to learn to tune in, in order to have a musical life.

Here’s a quick tip:

1. At the end of each day, ask yourself, “How am I feeling right now?”

2. Be patient, and allow this to be answered by your bodily experience, not your intellectual explanations. Emotions are meant to be experienced, not explained.

3. Ask yourself: What is your emotion informing you about what you need at this point? Then, action follows: “What do I need to do?”

Don’t wait ’til the sirens are sounding, by then you’d be trying to put out the fire.

Best,

Daryl Chow, Ph.D.

~~

Note:

* This was borrowed from my colleague and friend’s website, Dr. Jason Seidel.

Act-in-Order-to-Know (Not the Reverse)

Beyond Comfort Zone

“A man who fails well is greater than one who succeeds badly.” -Thomas Merton, no man is an island, p.127

My profession is guilty of adding to the problem. We continue to propagate the notion that we need to somehow figure out our lives before we act. Otherwise, God forbid, we act rashly without much thought.

Certainly, some major events in life, like making a decision to getting married, making a huge financial investment, moving to a new country and the like, requires some forethought. But for the majority, we want to stray away from “Analysis-Paralysis”, that is, thinking so much about something that we become crippled by the fear of making a wrong decision or failing. Others might argue that we should at least “think” about it before we act on a decision. I agree on this point. But after working closely with people for some time in therapy, I realise that the problem in life are often not because people don’t consider the pros-and-cons before they act, but rather people slip into the pit-holes of one of the following:

1. Analysis-Paralysis, leading to symptoms of depression and anxiety;

2. Catastrophising (i.e., projecting the worst about future outcomes), leading to symptoms of anxiety;

3. Self-blame (for past mistakes), leading to symptoms of depression.

Continue reading

Do you Need a Holiday from a Holiday?

clouds-grass-meadow-446 (small)

The truth is, holidays are tiring. Most of our getaways are succumbed by our anxiety to see more, do more, get more – much like most of our working lives.

When we say, “i need a holiday,” what we are really saying is, ” I need a break,” “I need some rest to recharge.” Yet most of our vacation planning gets filled with activities. Even in our supposed break-times, we are busy! Ironies of ironies, social research indicate that people are just as stressed, if not more stressed BEFORE And AFTER a holiday. Think about the pile of work you try and clear before you leave, and the looming burden awaiting for your return to at the frontline.

When we are planning for our holiday, I think it it’s important to ask ourselves “what we really need?” Most of time, i reckon it’s rest. Meaning, a getaway from activity.

Non-activity is one of the biggest hurdle in modern living.

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