Superbetter

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Find your awesomeness! Let your inner light shine! Love yourself like you love your friends!

Statements that would have made me squirm not so long ago. My deeply rooted beliefs in science, objectivity and reason together with my analytical nature and Finnish pessimism have not been a fertile soil for self-love and positivity, and despite my multiple efforts of becoming happier, I didn’t seem to succeed. A year and a half ago I initiated a personal project where I implemented new positive changes into my life every week and at the time, things seemed to be moving forward and I thought I had figured out the key to my happiness-lock.

I hadn’t. Instead of actually being happy, I had created an abundance of rules to live by. I approached happiness as something I needed to execute.

Without going into details, I will say that the last year has been the toughest of my life. It has taken a lot of mental work, compassion from my friends and family and plain old time to get to the point where I am now. As cliche as it sounds, the darkest place allowed me to see the light. I have chosen the path of personal growth, maturity and most of all love and understanding to move on in life. And it is hard as hell! But, it is worth it.

This time has made a few things very clear. The most important – and most difficult – lesson has been self love. I’ve grown into thinking that I always need to strive for something better and that self improvement is an ultimate definition of being a good human being. I still believe in that but I have learned that it can be done only through positivity. I can’t guilt or punish myself to become better.

The second lesson is that I can’t let other people’s opinions and thoughts define my path. No matter what kind of choices I make in life, there will be people who disagree. I will continue to want the best even for the ones who dislike me because of my choices, but pleasing people who barely belong into my life is not a road to happiness.

The third difficult lesson has been to truly listen to others and to accept their truth. At first this seemed to contradict the previous point but I’ve found out that it really doesn’t. Being flexible and having the ability to adapt is a good quality but that does not mean changing one’s mind whenever different opinions are presented. I do not have to agree with everything, just to be respectful and considerate, to really listen and stop putting my own opinions on everyone else. Having real conversations, asking questions and challenging people’s thoughts is great but just lecturing people on how to think and hihglighting my own perspectives is not.

It is so easy to talk about positivity and the changes it takes but actually putting those things into practice is a bit more complicated than that. It takes so much strength to let go of complaining and blaming others and the environment for your own troubles. It takes even more maturity to respect people despite their mistakes and to respect oneself despite being imperfect and making mistakes. One must be strong to be able to make the choice of loving and respecting others even when you feel hurt. And most of all, focusing on self improvement and growth even when you have no guarantee that others will do the same, takes a great deal of will power and self compassion. Personally, one of the biggest challenges has been to stop hiding behind words and start living by the principles I talk about.

At the moment, I find myself being happier than in years for a very simple reason. I decided to be. I didn’t decide to try or to work on it, but to actually be.

It’s not easy. Life is full of misunderstandings, struggles, jealousy, hatred, violence… I mean, the whole planet is on the verge of war or already in war. Sometimes all the negative things just seem overwhelming and there are so many reasons not to be happy. Being happy might even seem inconsiderate. But I believe that any person willing to do good in the world needs to make the choice of being bigger than the difficulties in their own life.

Things that have helped me in this decision, have been both big and small. Partly I feel like for me it required the massive shaking of my life. Loosing something important opened my eyes to seeing how my own behavior and thoughts played a part in the process. This helped in making a conscious choice of changing my thoughts and feelings and taking concrete steps towards a new way of thinking all the time. So basically, the moment my own role in my unhappiness sank in, I had to change. If I made the choice but allowed myself to get there little by little or slowly, it would have been like an alcoholic getting sober little by little.

Now, back to where I started from. Find your awesomeness! As childish as this statement sounded at first, I find it quite handy now. I started finding my awesomeness through a game called Superbetter. I happened to notice a TED talk where the inventor of the game explained how she came up with the idea of a “happiness game”. The game gave me a joyful way of dealing with my hardships. It made becoming better fun and guilt-free. I highly recommend it to every one willing to enjoy life more. It doesn’t tell you to ignore your hardships like some overly positivity-focused people might do, but it tells you to look at your hardships as something you can fight against. It empowers you because the things you will be doing to get better, are small and easy. To learn more, go to http://www.superbetter.com.

I’m so happy to have finally allowed myself to enjoy life and to love myself. It makes dealing with the tough stuff so much easier and it makes me a better person. I’m more fun to be around, I’m more productive and most importantly, I feel better about myself and thus I am finally able to love and care about people the way they are without the need to judge everyone.

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The “attention economy”: Like me, please!

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“Attention economy” or “affirmation economy” are terms to describe the current state of our social world: the hunt for likes.

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I have written some posts about social media and probably some readers are familiar with my reservations with respect to it. Lately I have had some eye-opening conversations about the topic and I also encountered an informative article in Psychology today (one of my favorite every day reads) that validated some of my thoughts, although the original text wasn’t exactly about social media. Shortly, I believe the way we use social media without making conscious choices about how we use it, can do a lot of damage for our actual social interactions and self-esteem.

Ever since Facebook got a like button, sharing changed. And I think there is a simple and natural reason for that: in general, people like to be liked. And since there are no alternatives, we can only like – or comment which, I think, has a certain stigma nowadays. I mean, we all know what are the comment sections are like in general. The conversation isn’t always very educated and if I imagine what it would sound like, I would hear multiple people shouting on top of each other without listening at all.

We like positive attention, and is there a more simple and easy way of giving attention than clicking the like button? To like, you don’t need to know what you’re liking, you don’t need to know anything about the topic or to engage in conversation about the topic. You simply click and move on which is extremely handy because people will get a notification and probably they will assume that the like indicates attention, although it might not. Likes are cheap. Just to make a point, I have to say I know a bunch of people who will scroll down their news feed and click like on everything they see without stopping to actually give a second thought to anything. Not liking something is almost a statement from them. So actually a like isn’t attention – it’s the standard procedure.

Of course to many, liking is what I personally would love it to be. I click like when I see or read something I really find interesting or nice. There was a time, though, when I started gradually shifting towards the conveyer-liking, because it works. The more you like, the more you get likes. And in enterntainment business, attention is what brings the money in. At some point I noticed though, that this method made me more and more vulnerable. I was paying so much attention to how many likes I would get and the likability began to be what define the content although I have always appreciated quality more than popularity.

So in a way, liking is a way to reinforce oneself. The moreI like your stuff, the more you like my stuff back.

But, think of a situation where every time you clicked like, you would have to say something, question, make a point – start a conversation about the subject. You would actually have to engage in a topic more deeply and possibly get back to it later, possibly even multiple times. That’s something that people nowadays don’t seem to do too much (even videos are less than a minute long to make the viewers watch the whole thing; thus, persistence isn’t a very modern thing). Or if there actually was a dislike button to balance the equation. At the moment, we either get positive reinforcement or no attention at all.

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I believe that it would reduce the amount of attention people get and give significantly, but at least it would be more real. But because the opposite is the current reality, the content of social media in general is more and more about grabbing the attention – more skin, sex, drama, violence, exclamation points, capslock… Shocking but easily digestable content that appeals to most humans since most humans are interested in other humans, human stuff and things that evoke basic emotions; fear, aggression, joy and sorrow. Content that goes beyond these basic emotions and that challenges the reader/viewer isn’t as popular.

And the world needs something real. Social media connects people across the globe but the connection is rather superficial. If that superficial connection is mistaken for friendship, we predispose ourselves for dissapointment.

Is it really staying in touch, if you see the other person in your news feed but you never even send a private message? Is it really knowing what’s going on in their lives, seeing the public story?

I don’t think it is. But it’s fine as long as we know it.

I get a bit sad every time I see someone writing about how there’s something bad going on in their lives. I always think that I wish they would have someone who would really be there for them, to listen to them and to comfort them because waiting for empathy from social media is a bit like lottery – sometimes you might win and usually if you win, it’s small money. You might get likes and reassuring comments but those things can never replace real hugs, real company, real listening… And when seeing someone post about negative stuff over and over again, I think that it is sad how the social media has taught these people that they get attention for highlighting or even exaggerating the hardships.

Some people seem to think that this way of using social media is being real. To share everything with everyone. I kinda used to think like that until I relized that most people don’t really care – and I’m not blaming them. As I shared really personal thoughts, emotions and life events, I was expeting real attention but I got likes instead, and at some point I realized that the more I shared about me, the worse I felt. The more neglected and alone I was. In reality, I was replacing real people and real connection by attention which I mistook for caring. And I do think that deep down, we humans need caring and acceptance instead of attention.

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Hugs are real. Touch is real. Research says that a hug releases neurotransmitter oxytocin which is also active in reducing depression and anxiety and the impact is long-lasting. A like makes one feel good for a little moment and controversially, if there are only a few likes, they make one feel bad. We need more likes to feel good. The attention economy starts looking like addiction.

I don’t wonder that so many people are starting to “fight back”. They get off social media and engage in more traditional activities that promote mindfullness. I am doing that myself, too.

There is a but, though. Social media is sort of necessary for someone like me  – I need to promote my work and there are some real virtues in Facebook, for instance. The messenger and the group function are extremely useful. Most of my work-related communication happens in Facebook and if I sign off, I’m in trouble.

So, here I come to the point in the first section – it’s not about whether we use social media or not, but how we use it. I’m doing my best not to engage in the attention economy so I avoid posting if I feel lonely, sad or misunderstood. Instead I want to use social media for promoting things I really believe in and for taking care of business. Friendships and family matters belong into the real world for me. And truly personal insights onto the pages of my diary.

Publicity and privacy

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All world’s a stage.

Especially in the field of art and in the time of social media – all our actions are part of the branding process. I have many Facebook friends who use social media purely for advertising purposes: they post dance videos, pictures, dance events and write statuses about dancing, they befriend dancers and dance fans who they don’t know personally. But, I also have friends who post pictures of all kinds of life events from birthday parties to weddings and even funerals, status updates about their family and friends and they befriend people only if they actually know them.

Neither way is “right” or “wrong”. They’re just different ways of using a tool for different purposes. I perfectly understand the reasons for both and personally, I use both. I use friend lists a lot. If I want to share something more personal, I make it visible only to a few selected people. Dance stuff that I wish to share with a vast audience, I make visible to all friends or even public.

I think the way our lives are both public and private, is interesting. It is also a bit controversial in a number of ways. Because we are all “public”, other people easily start thinking they know us based on what they see of our lives and make evaluations about us as people based on those things. It isn’t an easy task to differentiate what we know about the person or the personality, and what we know about what that person does. Looking at the public image someone displays of themselves doesn’t really tell us anything about their motives. We might think we have the capacity to deduce “oh he only wants attention” or “she thinks she knows everything” whereas the reality might be different – especially when someone makes the decision of not sharing anything too personal. Yes, there are still people like that, and as for some it might seem old school, to me it is an attractive alternative and a way of keeping important things to people you trust and who are truly close to you.

Because social media gives us a tool to mold the perception that others have of us, it allows for impression management. Giving a positive image of youself is somewhat natural to humans, I think, and can help in thinking more positively about yourself too. But taken too far, it might turn upside down and start creating too high expectations for reality: I should feel as awesome as let everyone understand, I should be as active, interesting or successful as my profile looks like, so am I failing if I don’t?

And whether we want it or not, people will always have opinions and those opinions will be affected by what people see and hear. Limiting our public lives into only positive things might make some people think that we are extremely happy people or that we have a great life. It might also make someone think that we are terrible show offs. Maybe some will think that we only want to share positive things. And the truth is, this applies to real life situations too and not just what we do in social media. Some of us are really good at behaving in a certain way no matter what’s going on in their private life. And for some of us this is a reason to believe that everything is well or that the person just doesn’t give a crap. Both possibly false interpretations.

It is a very natural human tendency to be interested in other people’s lives, thoughts, feelings and how they are as people. And unfortunately it is also very human to use schemes and heuristics in interpreting situations and behaviors. Our own experiences create expectations of situations – we “know” how things are supposed to go and why. Having schemes (scripts) is very useful because we don’t have to re-evaluate every situation but we know how to behave properly almost automatically. But, using simple schemes to evaluate complex situations can be misleading and harmful. Or at least our understanding of the situation can be only partial, which is ok until we start acting on that understanding. Some might say that it is the person’s own responsibility to give such an impression that people can safely act based on that, and some could argue that it is our responsibility to find out the true nature of things before acting. I support both views; I do think that finding out as much of the truth is always a good idea, but I also think that we as humans need to pay attention to the way we interact with others.

Another aspect to this topic is the respect we ought to have for each other’s boundaries. No one can demand someone else to show or tell more about themselves than they want to. Then we just need to figure out what level of publicity are we ok with.

Why am I writing about this topic right now? I’ve experienced in my own life how big controversies can different expectations of privacy create. So, paying attention to it before things get weird is highly recommendable, if you ask me. And in general, we forget so easily nowadays that once we post something into Facebook or some other social media, it will stay there. So think carefully of what you share because those things might turn against you in ways that you can’t anticipate.

Dancer, choreographer, dance teacher – and now also a dance school owner.

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Year 2015 seems to become a big year for me. I am working hard to be the best version of myself and I am also taking big steps in my career. I finally became officially a bachelor of psychology (I’ve completed the studies ages ago but now I got the thesis and the certificate), I’m involved in a research project about dance therapy for chronic brain damage patients, I coach and make choreography for 6 competing teams, I train harder than I’ve trained before and I’m happy to be a part of a crew. I am also the executive director of a new dance school in Vantaa and quite excited about that.

As some of my readers might have deduced from my earlier posts, I am quite into this dancing thing. Dance is the major component of my life and I love it. I never dreamt of becoming the head of a dance school, though. But, I think this is a prime example of what my father has told me: do the things that feel right and good now and life will take you to the right place.

I have taught dance for 5 years at VVS (Vantaa gymnastics club) and it is almost hard to believe how a gymnastics club has become one of the leading street dance centers in Finland. Our crews do extremely well in local competitions and we have hundreds of dancers. At the same time, we teachers have been craving for more! We want our students to have the chance to dance as much as they want and train as hard as they want. During the last year I’ve worked very hard to be able to enable my students (and other dancers) to have an environment that lets them explore their capabilites and limits as dancers. I feel like this is the right path and I want to keep pushing to create even more opportunities. These are some of the reasons why starting our own dance school just feels right. Having a dance organization instead of a dance department in a gymnastics organization gives us a sense of importance and dignity that we think street dance deserves.

I’m proud to introduce Vantaa Street Dance Association (VKTY) – the new home for street dance and also other dance styles in Vantaa. The organization of which I am the executive director of. We are a non profit organization so we exist for the dances and dancers – not for anyone of us to become rich or for other personal reasons. We have a mission of raising the level of street dance and street dance teaching in Finland and to allow dancers pursue their goals and dreams in dance.

There are of course many dance schools in Finland already. But I really do think that we are a breath of fresh air among the dance schools. Some schools only strive for success in the Finnish Championships, others don’t have any classes for ambitious dancers, some want to look cool and some are expensive. Because we are a non-profit, we can keep our prices low. We offer classes and groups to dancers on all levels whether they want to compete or not and we train dancers both in freestyle and choreography. We are known for good vibes and a warm atmosphere. I know I might sound like I am bragging but I am just so proud and for a good reason. I cannot wait to see what the future has for us! Personally, I feel like this is the start of a new chapter in my life because now I can represent something that I fully believe in and work with people who believe in those same things.

Project: 14 weeks of positive change, week 14

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The last week of my project has a clear goal: to do something that I haven’t had the courage to do before.


DAY 4

As a dancer I’m in a situation where I want to prove myself. I’m starting to trust my skills more and more and I feel like testing them all the time. Until now I’ve been quite shy of talking about my ability and I have a tendency to talk myself down. The challenge – to do something I’ve been afraid of doing – fits this equation perfectly. That’s why I made a Facebook post calling out all local hip hop dancers to come to the session on Sunday to dance with me. Because I have my 26th birthday, I will dance 26 rounds against/with anyone who wants to dance. It’s not like I’m saying I believe I will “be better” than everyone but I’m not afraid to dance against anyone. I was scared to say and/or show that publicly. I guess I’m so used to the Finnish version of humble which practically means that you can’t say anything positive of yourself or you will be considered egoistic.

DAY 5

For some reason, I usually don’t share my writings in Facebook. Again, it’s the fear of being labeled as an attention seeker. I decided to make an exception and start sharing some of my texts because the point really isn’t to get attention but to share my thoughts about certain matters. I chose to share “10 reasons why dance is important”.

DAY 6

Being an introverted person, making new friends or approaching other people is a bit difficult. I’m very interested in people – thus my studies in psychology – but I have to admit that I’m jealous of the people who can just go and talk to strangers and who get along with everyone. But, I actually do think that I’m responsible for my own social isolation and connections. I enjoy solitude but I also enjoy spending time with people and getting real human connections and that’s why I need to reach out to others, too.

I started with going to talk to just one person I didn’t know. And it was actually a nice experience even though the chat was quite short. So from now on, I will try to speak every week with at least one person I haven’t talked with earlier.

Another thing I will try to do from now on is to say hi to every one I know. For instance, Kisahalli is this place where many dancers go practice and you start to remember faces. I’ve been going there for years and seen the same faces for years so maybe it is ok to say hi to these people. And who knows, maybe even talk to them.

DAY 7

One of the things I wanted to do, was to record one of my songs and finally publish it but I didn’t manage to book a studio. This will be a future thing to do, then. The aim of my project has been to create new ways of behavior that I will stick to even after the 14 weeks.

Project: 14 weeks of positive change, week 13

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Love what you do, do what you love.


DAY 1

I went to my parents’ house to look after their two cats and two dogs while they both were working a long day. Spending time with the furry ones is very pleasant to me. I love animals and being around them makes me happy. So, in between on studying and working, I gave myself a little more time to play with them and to just look at them while they were being cute and funny. It’s like therapy to me.

DAY 3

I haven’t had time to sing for a long time. Today I decided to make time so in between of studying, I sat down in front of the piano and stayed there for 30 minutes. It’s not long but it felt so good! I love music and I love singing and it’s always been a part of my life so not doing it is almost like blocking a part of my personality. Not surprisingly, concentrating on multivariable methods was a lot more tolerable after my little session.

Because of the positive rush I got out of playing and singing, I decided to allow myself another half an hour with music later. This time I played with a beat software and had a lot of fun.

DAY 4

After an early meeting about some really exciting stuff, I rushed home to study before going to work. My boyfriend happened to be still at home so I decided to devote some of my time to just being with him. Spending time (no matter how silly or little things we’re talking about) together is very precious and I don’t even want to start to justify it more than that. I just feel like everything I do is so much more meaningful and I’m so much more efficient when I allow myself to give time to “extra” things. Things that I don’t absolutely need to do but that I love doing. Which actually turns them into exactly those things that I absolutely need to be doing. I found a nice quote related to this train of thought:

Ignoring your passion is slow suicide. Never ignore what your heart pumps for. Build your career around your lifestyle, not your lifestyle around your career.

It seems like a bit of a jump from talking of doing things that you like to talking of creating a lifestyle. But it is actually a logical path: the things that you do is basically the content of your life. This content defines your life – what you actually do, is you – not what you dream of doing.

DAY 7

Sundays are nowadays my favorite day of the week but for different reasons than for most people. It hasn’t been a free day for me for many years. Now, I teach but I’m also hosting a weekly hip hop session where anyone can come to practice. We really get down! It is so important to me to be able to dance full out and to try my own limits. Dancing is by far the most enjoyable thing for me at the moment and every Sunday I lose myself in the music. The people coming to the session are nice and no one is trying to be something they’re not. It is a great way of ending the week: doing what I love most.

Project: 14 weeks of positive change, week 12

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One of my most salient challenges at the moment is that I cannot become two people instead of one. It is really a pain in the butt. Life would certainly be easier if I could just casually clone myself and in that way make sure that all that needs to be done, will be done. But, hey, gotta make the best out of what I have, which is one brain, one body, one mind. One me. If I can’t multiply myself, I need to figure out other ways of coping with all this stuff.

The sole purpose of my project is to make my life more positive and me happy, and one thing that always makes me happy is doing things well. It is more like a way of life and a way of defining me than just something that I do: whatever I do, I do it well. To be able to do this, I need to focus. Lately though, I have felt like my ability to concentrate has diminished. The mind’s capacity of handling things is limited and most likely I am continuously pushing my brain a bit too much. This week is therefore about trying to improve my concentration.


DAY 1

Be in the now.

First thing in the morning when I woke up, I stopped myself. Usually I would rush out of bed to get the day going. Today, I kept my eyes closed, found a comfortable position and breathed. I tried to scan my body mentally to feel if there were tensions. I tried to sense the bed – the warm spots and the scents.

How do I feel now? What do I think of the now?

Not how do I feel when thinking of the future, or what do I think of the future. Or how have I been feeling, what do I think of the past.

Allowing myself those little moments of actually being happy now is precious. And I say happy because most of the time if I stop and think, right now, I’m fine. Or more than fine!

And to develop an ability to be in the now is huge. How big a portion of life will we miss if we just keep on thinking of what’s next?

DAY 5

Observe yourself.

Today focusing was very difficult. At practice, my mind kept wandering. I had just heard of some measurements that I ought to be doing next week and the idea of losing precious study-time stressed me out. I didn’t succeed very well in trying to empty my mind about the stressful stuff and concentrate on the essential. It was a good learning experience though – I was at least able to stop and observe my own reaction to the situation and that made me understand something of myself.

DAY 6

One thing at the time.

The decision of not going out but to stay in and sleep well, was a good one. Today I headed to teach at 9 am and came home at 8 pm and I don’t think I could have stayed focused for the whole time if I had been tired too. In the same fashion, thinking that I will have time for other things once I have completed my current tasks, makes me feel less like I’m losing something which helps me to stay focused.

Deciding in advance which things I would work on today, helped a lot too. I chose the most urgent ones and actually told myself not to think of any other work or school related things at all.

DAY 7

Even a little helps sometimes.

Is stress reduces my concentration, then reducing stress should help improving it I guess. Today at least I realized that sometimes it is better to spend even a little time on something – for instance bus or train rides on studying. Thinking of tasks in small pieces instead of big chunks seems to work very well for me. I don’t get scared of what I’m supposed to do or frustrated because it seems so much. For me, frustration is one of the major things that knocks off my focus.

So, getting a bit of quite many necessary things done earlier, helped me then to go full out in practice. I was able to immerse in the music and dance and I got so much more out of it.