Your critics aren’t the ones who count

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There is nothing more frightening than the moment we expose our ideas to the world.

Brené Brown is one of my favorite researchers at the moment. Her insights into being vulnerable have been life changing in such a wonderful way for me that I almost can’t imagine a life without learning from her.

This video clip is her presentation in the 99 conference to people working in creative industries. Shortly, she is saying that without vulnerability we cannot create.

When we present an idea of something that we care about, we are afraid of rejection. In dance, we present ourselves, our ideas of the music and movement and rejection hurts because we care so much. In the video, Brené introduces a few very good thought patterns to get ourselves ready for the criticism that we know we have to face for sure.

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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.

Got to dance

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What happens when your working group shrinks from four dancers to just one – you? Can a you force yourself to perform? What do you simply have to do as a dancer?

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Photo credit: Ernest Protasiewicz

These were some of the questions I had to ask myself a few months ago. Me and three other dancers had applied to perform at the UrbanApa festival this fall and our application was accepted. But before we even got started with the process, one dancer decided to leave it because of her extremely busy schedule. Almost right after that, another dancer had to quit due to her health and a few weeks before the performance, the third dancer realized she had booked and payed a trip for the same weekend as the festival. My option was either to leave it or to do a solo.

I’m the kind of a person who finishes her stuff. I take a lot of pride in sticking to my words and acting accordingly and, this time, the change of plans turned out to be something that I had wanted for a long time. See, I love the stage but I have performed mostly in groups and doing a solo piece required the kind of confidence that I simply didn’t have earlier. Now I did.

The name of my piece reflected the situation I was in but it also captures well what I wanted to say. In a workshop I took last summer, the teacher said that when he realized that everything has been done already, dance moves lost their meaning completely for him. I simply can’t agree with him in that dance moves don’t matter.

I do think that moves that are performed just as moves (like in sports) are empty and a bit meaningless but, for me, real dance is expression and story telling through movement. If there are no dance moves, what separates dance from performance art? I think dancers can do other things besides dance moves, too, but all our education and technique support our creativity and allow us to tell our story the way we want. Just showing technique is boring, not doing technique at all is, in my opinion, a waste of dance history and disrespectful to the culture.

So, here it is. It is a work in progress and I’d like to expand the performance in the future. Hope you like it.

Time to get uncomfortable

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Comfort is a good thing, isn’t it. Comfort is what most people want – a nice life without stress or pain, engaging in enjoyable activities, having economical stability and probably spending time with the family and friends. It depends of course on one’s personality and temperament, what is enjoyable (cozy nights at home for some and bungee jumping for others) but the search for personal balance is common. Comfort means safety.

In my opinion, comfort and safety can be measures of a good life, but they can also be just a bit nicer way of saying laziness and fear.

Take for example, me. I have numerous projects going on at the same time, I am intelligent, good dancer and singer and I used to be a remarkable student. But, if I stay comfortable like I am now, I will keep on having those multiple projects and I will keep on working a bit on each of them instead of focusing on and challenging myself. I will keep on storing my thoughts in my mind instead of bringing them up and finding myself in debates. I will keep on being just a good dancer and not brilliant, or a good singer instead of an amazing artist, and I will always stay away from the big stages I dream of. I will keep on putting only one third of the effort that I could put into studying and, thus, be an average student and become an average psychologist instead of great – which I know I could be.

Do you see the point I’m trying to make?

I read an interview of a young Finnish woman who had realized at the age of 25 that her IQ was way higher than average. She went to the Mensa exams and became a member. This was important because prior to that, all her life, everything had been easy. School had been so easy that she barely needed to open the books to get good grades – not excellent, but good. She never learnt to push herself intellectually since she simply didn’t have to. Life was comfortable like that. But learning about her high IQ made her understand that she wasn’t functioning anywhere near the limits of her comfort zone, that she was merely doing what she thought people in general do. So she decided to get uncomfortable. She started traveling, meeting new people, reading more and getting into more detail than before – and she had a great time.

This is not an ode to discomfort because I do think that there’s a limit between challenging oneself and being reckless. I don’t support stupidity and the whole “yolo” thing that somehow translates idiotic into living life to the fullest. But, I admit, there’s a good side to stupidity, too, because often people who surpass their limits are too stupid to think they can’t do that whereas we smart people are very good at creating believable excuses. I certainly am a master of excuses!

For instance: I didn’t want to shoot a dance video and I kept telling myself the reason was that there are so many bad dance videos I don’t want my video to be compared to and there are also so many great dance videos that I didn’t have anything to add. I really don’t like looking at bad dance videos and, yes, Youtube is full of them, but that explanation is still complete b***s***. I wanted to make a dance video for a really long time and to make myself seen but I was just scared of being seen. I was scared that after putting my video out there, no one would watch it or like it. I was afraid of being rejected by the dance community that is so dear to me.

After publishing my two latest videos, I wonder why was it so scary. In the end, not so many people watched it, not so many commented on it… but who cares? Those videos were for me, not for them.

Another example: my psychology studies. I’ve been studying for four years now in the university and from the start, I’ve had some motivational issues. I’ve told myself that my motivation was lost because studying was too easy. It is true that in the beginning I was a bit disappointed, but no one denied me from reading more. I just didn’t. After a while, my only goal was to pass the courses, I wasn’t really learning and I skipped so many lectures that my fellow students thought I had quit. And I have been close to quitting many times, convinced that psychology is not for me.

I’ve been lying to myself – and believing my own lies. Psychology is fascinating but, coming to the university and sailing through the first year or so, I encountered a situation that I wasn’t prepared for: some of the things that we’re studying are actually hard to understand and I really need to pay attention and think to digest them. I made the comfortable choice (because of all my projects and constant hurry it was easy to make and not feel guilty of).

This summer I’ve had a real vacation – something I haven’t had in years. I’ve had time to think about my life and what I do and I have realized that this kind of comfort takes away my happiness. I’m shy but I enjoy the company of other people and if I don’t push myself to talk to people, I’m lonely and sad. I’m highly self-critical but if I don’t push myself to try things I haven’t tried before and I’m not good at, I stagnate which makes me feel unworthy and sad. If I just stay comfortable I can’t even truly enjoy the cozy snuggling moments with my boyfriend because there’s no contrast to the other things in my life.

So, I’ve made the decision to get uncomfortable, too. I’ve started to read and study like I used to read. I’ve been active in asking people to do things with me, I’ve cut unhealthy food from my diet and started exercising more. I sing when others can hear me, I dance at the bus stops if I feel like it. I say my opinions out loud and ask for fair treatment. These “risks” seem to make me feel happier, more alive and more responsible for my own well being.

It might be your turn to get out of your comfort zone, at least a few steps.

Meat! Indifference! We don’t wanna know!

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I am currently reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s book ‘Eating Animals’. I’ve been vegetarian for many years now and I am considering veganism. I wanted to have arguments for and against my decision – thus the book. Foer doesn’t preach veganism or try to make meat eaters feel guilty, but he writes about facts and describes his experiences of getting to know to the meat production industry.

Usually people emphasize the emotional side of things. Animals are so cute and intelligent and I’m sure you couldn’t kill an animal to eat it. Those are not bad arguments because animals are cute and intelligent and probably many people wouldn’t or couldn’t. But there are always people who pass these arguments saying eating animals is necessary for the survival of the humankind and that societies cannot afford to think about the ethical issues. Before reading the book, I didn’t have much to say after those arguments. There are also idiots (excuse my language) who still insist that animals are “just animals” and they can’t think or feel – who cares? For them I have only one thing to say, and that is: “read, idiot.” Unfortunately people often just shut their eyes and ears. It is easier not to know. It is safer to think only about myself. Too bad, because if you really want to think about yourself, you find out about these things.

An interesting point, that I never thought about before, is that industrial meat production might be a major cause for pandemics like the H1N1. But… eh.. how?

Did you know that in the US, feces are legally a “cosmetic flaw” instead of a health hazard? This means, that the USDA inspectors are allowed to accept birds covered in feces to move on in the process – and in general, the inspectors have approximately 2 seconds per bird (that’s just short enough not to see the dozen diseases and anomalies they are supposed to check). All birds that have been slaughtered are put in the same big tank of cold water and this is a nice to way to ensure that even the healthy chickens become contaminated.

According to many researches, birds are the origin of all influenzas. Even the “Spanish flu” in 1918, the most destructive pandemic of human history, was caused by the same virus as the bird flu of the 2000s. Because of the production methods in the industry, the birds have a miserable heritance and they are sick fro birth to death. It is a foolish idea that growing 50 billion sick and intoxicated birds and then killing and eating them doesn’t have anything to do with influenza. It is the most common way (and probably the only way for most people) of being in any kind of contact with birds. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) bird meat is the most common pathogen. In a research published in Consumer Reports, there is either Salmonella or Campylobacteria in  83% of bird meat (also organic and non-antibiotic) at the moment of purchase.

Typically, animals in factory farming eat antibiotics every time they eat. Humans only eat antibiotics with doctor’s order so that the bacteria in our bodies don’t become resistant. The factory farming system creates an opportunity for some kind of super bacteria to develop.

Factory farming is also the biggest individual producer of greenhouse gases. Bigger than traffic, bigger than any other production industry. It is responsible for 18% of all greenhouse gas emissions. That is, nearly one fifth. A mixed eater (I don’t know the correct term) produces seven times more greenhouse gases than a vegan.

I haven’t even touched the suffering yet. And everything I’ve written so far, is very shortly said. To get a wider view of the topic, I suggest reading the book. Specially someone who wants facts and raw data, it is a good read. It is not sentimental although it is clear that the writer has a conviction. It is also a good read for someone who is very emotional about their own conviction and want to have better arguments to support their view and to answer to the supporters of meat eating

Like Foer says, it is a very sensitive topic. Usually people either don’t want to know or then they want to forget. Personally, I can’t forget and I don’t want to. I have decided to fight indifference because there is nothing more dreadful in this world. I do not want to eat shit, I do not want to support an industry that is based on secrecy, suffering, low morale and irresponsibility. I do not want to support an industry that is working for a world of weakening generations and stronger diseases. I do not want to support an industry that way too often does not care even for the humans working in it. Read the book.

I’m just that good

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We Finns suck at giving compliments. Actually compliments are met more like plague – avoid them in any possible way. I don’t know if it is the fear of them turning into selfish and arrogant bastards or is it the fear of making yourself look worse than the other person. It is considered a virtue to talk yourself down and not ever highlight yourself or anything you’re successful in.

But, even more, we suck at complimenting ourselves. Lord have mercy if you are impudent enough to tell you’re really good at something or that you’re pretty or smart or popular. Kids are told not to dream big, not to strive too high.

I might exaggerate just a bit… But for me this is always a current topic and a rather emotional one, too. See, to be completely honest, I’ve always been pretty good at anything I get involved in. I was really good at school and I liked studying. I was never a complete nerd though, because i didn’t have enough time. But if I ever made the mistake of saying out loud that I was disappointed with my performance, people got mad at me. “Oh come on, don’t complain about a 9. We others got lower grades.” As if the problem was the number itself. They didn’t quite get the point – the problem was that I knew I didn’t have as deep understanding of what we were studying as I could’ve had. I never tried to learn anything just because I had to but I always wanted to learn because I was genuinely interested in things. And studying was easy, too. Yes, I got into the university to study psychology with the first try, among the approximately 3% of all applicants, without cram school and without studying psychology in high school. At the same time I’ve been on a very high level in three different sports, performed as a singer and dancer, founded an organization, had multiple jobs at the same time, helped my close friend to survive serious burn out, lost 5 family members within 2 years and still somehow survived.

The Finnish culture appreciates modesty and humility. They are good characteristics. But, taken to the extreme, they might give rise to self-worth issues. This is a culture where I grew up thinking I’m ugly, too fat, undesirable and boring. The only thing I was sure about was my intelligence and then I was made feel bad about that, too. I used to be bitter, but now I’ve understood that actually the fault is not in me, that I should not blame myself for being everything I am. That I should not try to hide myself or change myself if I’m above average. That maybe I shouldn’t be shy but maybe I should be proud.

A while ago I read an interview from a young woman who found out her IQ was above the admission level of Mensa (130). That inspired her to challenge herself in new ways because until that point in her life, everything had been easy. Mensa or not, realizing your own potential can be liberating and/or relieving. Accepting your potential is also the end for excuses – you just gotta do what you gotta do without “I can’t” or “I shouldn’t”. Embracing your worth is the best kind of honesty.

Like a very special person in my life always says: what you have done and what you are able to do and what you want and will do, is yours. You are you, and no one can take that away from you. Your dreams and your wishes are perfect so why not strive for them.

I have decided to achieve peace of mind with this respect. It doesn’t mean that I’ll start telling everyone everything I’ve ever achieved or that I would think of myself as a better human being than other people. It means that I am honest with myself, my abilities and my weaknesses, and I will not need the acceptance from other people when deciding my own limits or goals. Writing here some of the stuff I’ve done, is a first step – me telling to the world that I am just that good.