Why are we so afraid to be wrong?

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I’m a TED fan. Openly, totally out there, I watch talks almost every day and share so many of them that sometimes I wonder if I’m annoying the hell out of everyone. But I much rather have a news feed full of educational and intellectual posts than celebrity news or something alike.

This speech I like for a number of reasons. Watch it first, then we can talk.

I admire Schulz’s ability to talk about a topic that could make the listeners quite defensive in a way that doesn’t insult, attack or despise anyone. She is in the same boat with all of us and by telling her funny Chinese character example, she is letting us know that being wrong really isn’t that terrible but actually it is very normal and sometimes funny. And now that I think about it, some of the best laughs I’ve had, have been due to similar wrongs.

I co-sign her classification of “a series of unfortunate assumptions”. We explain differing opinions by the assumptions of 1) ignorance, 2) idiocy and 3) evil. We often have a really hard time in accepting differing opinions although we may be perfectly cababale of understanding them. We believe, that by thinking critically, everyone naturally arrives at the same conclusions like there are clear solutions to all questions in the world. What we don’t remember is that critical thinking is always colored byt our values and life experiences and because those are different, our conclusions are different too.

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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.

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.

Project: 14 weeks of positive change, week 10

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For 14 weeks I keep adding new ways of behaving and thinking to my life weekly and see how they affect my well being. The goal is of course to make only positive changes that help me become the best version of myself that I can be.

I always have very high expectations of myself no matter what I do. Succeeding and coming up with solid products has in a way become a definition of who I am over the years, and not just something that I do repeatedly. This is the way I want things to be but, I have also noticed that sometimes I go over the top. Too high demands can block creativity and actually make the end product worse than it could be under a more relaxed condition.

Many of my friends have told me repeatedly that I over-achieve and lately, I’ve had so many things to do that I simply cannot pay an excess amount of attention to all of them, and therefore, week 10 is about “loosening it up”. In other words: putting things in order (first things first), deciding which things to carefully plan and execute and which just to get over with. The week is also about acceptance and leniency: I, as a human being and not a robot, must accept that I make mistakes and that I need help (I hate asking for help) and that I shouldn’t punish myself for these things. So, I’m having quite a mental week ahead of me.


DAY 2

The day had an early start as I went to a meeting at 7 am. After that I had a few lectures and then after studying for some hours I substituted three dance classes in the evening. Many of my days are like this but still I try to obey my own advice and hold on to the new habits that I’m trying to form in this project.

Today, I came to the conclusion that I must allow myself some leeway with respect to my steps of change. Holding on slavishly to all the new activities is, to be honest, a bit stressful in itself. Change is always stressful. But since the goal is to be happy – not perfect – part of the process is to determine how much change do I want and how fast. 10 new ways of life is a lot and there’s still 4 to come.

DAY 4

Today started well – I got an email from the student bureau, saying that my bachelor’s thesis has been accepted with the highest possible grade. I’m really happy! But, this also made me think about what makes me happy. Shouldn’t there be more to be happy about than just a high grade?

I have always liked getting good grades and I’ve always been proud of it. But, at the same time, being “the best” student has interfered with other very human things and that has made me sad at times. So, in a way I have traded sociability to academic success and maybe lost some of my happiness in the trade. That’s why instead of focusing on the achievement, I try to focus on the process: I am now involved in dance therapy research and that allows me to combine two of the things I’m passionate about. I get to work with great, intelligent people and create something that might help dancers and dance teachers speak for their art and its importance.

DAY 6

I was quite torn between things today. The first half of the day I spent on my computer doing statistics homework (deadline tomorrow) and then I had to choose whether to go to a small dance event or not and after that we had a family dinner. The over-achiever in me kept saying that I should skip the jam and just keep doing the homework, then quickly go to my parents’ house and continue to work after. But after listening more carefully to what I really wanted to do, I went to the jam, had a great time dancing and sweating, then went to my parents’ house, ate great food and stayed for a few extra hours just to talk with them.

Why was this the right decision for me? It made me happy. Will I score perfectly on the homework? Most likely not. Does it matter? Not really. Spending time with your loved ones isn’t comparable with spending time on your computer with SPSS.

DAY 7

I had to compensate for yesterday’s decision of not finishing my homework. That meant that I skipped one hour of practice and worked while others were dancing. I must say it was quite a good incentive to just get it done to hear good music and people cheering.

Overall, knowing myself, it is very important to know what am I going after. What do I want from this project? I do it for myself – not for anyone else. Sharing it here, shouldn’t be a reason to do this but just a small incentive to stay consistent. Still, choosing not to do something every day is OK as long as I’m happy with that decision.

It is interesting how the train of thought can lead to a somewhere where you weren’t planning to go to. Starting from the thought that I’m allowed to skip some of the steps of change that I have defined myself, I ended up thinking a lot about why I do things and what do I want. And this lead to thinking that doing things just because I want to do them, is completely natural. Some things can be driven by deeper reasons, but I tend to let myself only do those things as if just wanting something isn’t good enough.

Lots of thinking. This was some bits while most of it got onto the pages of my diary (week 6!). These thoughts will definitely keep maturing but one thing is for sure. It feels good to breathe. It feels good to get things done but also to be able to do something fun in the between. Life shouldn’t be all about duties.

Project: 14 weeks of positive change, week 6

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The American Psychological Association posted this article to their Facebook page a while ago. I have always loved writing and keeping a diary has been an important part of my life and a way of dealing with the good and the bad. As the article states:

…we all have a personal narrative that shapes our view of the world and ourselves. But sometimes our inner voice doesn’t get it completely right. Some researchers believe that by writing and then editing our own stories, we can change our perceptions of ourselves and identify obstacles that stand in the way of better health.

To me, writing is especially effective because seeing what you think makes it more concrete. You can get back to your thoughts later if you need time to let out emotion. Written words can function as a same kind of a mirror as another person – from the other person you would hear back what you say, from written words you see it. Sometimes, having more time on each thought and being able to go back to them allows me to express way more than just talking things through. Because as I talk, I forget what I was about to say and the train of thought might start going into a whole new direction – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But when I write, even if the direction changes, I can always go back “in time” to my earlier thoughts and continue from there. This might also make me see new connections between my thoughts as I can see what lead where.


DAY 7

I had a ridiculous week. Finding time for writing was nearly impossible and I ended up writing only two proper entries. I did write down some thoughts every now and then to go back to them later. In general, I’m having a hard time maintaining all the steps of change that I’ve taken so far. Not having a lot of time and being somewhat stressed all the time makes me want to walk into the nearest shop and buy a bag of candy and in the mornings I definitely don’t feel like waking up 15 minutes earlier to stretch. I’ve stayed strong though and I’m happy for that. Writing down my cravings has helped in coping with them.

One thing that I have noticed about writing is that it makes me feel optimistic. Many times just writing what has happened is enough to either diminish negative feelings or at least to get the process of changing the way I think about the incident going. And writing about positive things makes them feel even better, as if they were more real.

I am sometimes prone to giving credit of my own work to other people and I don’t realize my own accomplishments very well. To empower myself I have tried to write down things that I am good at, things that I have done well and the things that I like in myself. It is so important to know the good things as well as the bad ones to be balanced. Having a positive self conception can lead to success in things where a negative self conception would make you fail. To know and to make very clear to myself what I am capable of makes me put in more effort instead of giving up. And then writing what I actually did after trying harder, gives me a great feeling of achievement.

I’m also writing lyrics whenever I have enormous feelings – good or bad. Lyrics let me vent even more than diary entries because I like to be very analytic when actually writing but lyrics come about more freely. It’s very therapeutic to dress up personal life events as stories or poems and to manipulate the events the way I want to and to say “out loud” even quite harsh opinions and feelings. Then thinking that maybe one day I will write music to the words makes it even more meaningful.

In general, I find writing very important and useful. Whether it’s poems, lyrics, free flow or a deep searing analysis, it helps to understand your emotions and thoughts and especially their connections to each other and that is extremely important to understand your reactions to life events. This understanding leads to the ability to control your reactions which, in turn, lets you function better in social situations and, for me, it is quite important to have healthy social relationships. The understanding also leads to a deeper relationship with your inner voice that I mentioned in the beginning of this text.

Project: 14 weeks of positive change, week 5

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Men are disturbed, not by things, but by the principles and notions which they form concerning things –Epictetus

For my whole life, I have been an outsider and not many people understood me well. I have been lonely, misunderstood and unappreciated. People have used me and my willingness to do good and I never get what I deserve. I have failed compared to what I could have been by now.

Or have I?

I used to have that kind of thoughts running wild in my brain when I was younger. I honestly believed that nobody liked me and that I was never good enough for anything. Without going much further to the dynamics and origins of these thoughts, I’ll say that I’m much more lenient on myself nowadays than back then and I have learnt to appreciate myself more. I’m not nearly as dependent on what other people think of me as I used to be which allows me to be and breathe more freely.

In the uni, we have studied different therapy forms and one step in my project is to start applying principles of what we call “solution centered therapy”  and just positive thinking in general into my own life. I’m not trying to be my own therapist but I believe that by practicing positive thinking, I can improve my life quality since I’m not in a clinical condition and my meta-cognitive skills are good.

The quote in the beginning of this post refers to the idea that many things are not harmful if our perception and thoughts about them aren’t – and vice versa, harmless things can turn harmful if we think of them as such.


DAY 3

Many negative thoughts I have, have something to do with hurry. I often feel like I have too much going on and that I can’t cope. Then again, I have time and time again proved that I can – regardless of my doubts and the ridiculous amount of tasks. This week too, as I looked at my calendar, I felt desperate. But, I decided to shift my approach a bit.

One of the basic ideas of solution based therapy is that people already know the answer to their problems – they just don’t know that they know. Applying this to my problem, instead of focusing on how much I have to do in how little time, I try to concentrate purely on what has to be done and how could I do it best.

DAY 5

Today we had the first practice of a new training group. There are many very talented dancers in the group and I’m excited about getting to dance and train hardcore with them. At the practice though, I noticed feelings of inferiority. I kept thinking that all the others were doing better than me and that I must have looked stupid.

Forcing myself to focus on the positive aspects of the situation, wasn’t easy. Even when there were so many good things! I have wanted to train hard with other dancers for a long time, and now I was doing it instead of being alone and just filming my dance. I got to exchange with some of the best hip hop dancers in Finland and being in the group means that I am considered one, too. The thought that helped me most was that I don’t need anyone’s approval of my dance – I do it for me and I have the right to be happy about it.

In general, it has always been hard to make genuinely positive appraisals about myself. I know I am good at things but I don’t find myself good. Trying to change this isn’t a completely new idea but it is actually an ultimate goal – to feel good about myself on all levels. I think I am making progress and that’s creating a positive cycle so that it becomes easier and easier to think positively.

DAY 7

A positive way of thinking, just like stress control, will probably come with time. For now, I need to concentrate hard whereas I’d love it to become automatic. I feel like it is the right thing to do and even though at times I have found it frustrating (the moments when I’d usually just vent), the I’ve already noticed that it is extremely relieving not to sink into negativity. Feeling annoyed, irritated, disappointed, angry or hurt takes a lot of energy from feeling happy and satisfied and I don’t want to let little things take me down like that anymore. The negative feelings and thoughts can do so much damage without you even realizing it.

For instance, I could keep thinking that I have too many responsibilities and too much to do and absolutely no time for anything fun. This way of thinking would most likely make me see my whole life as a burden. The truth is that I do have many responsibilities but I should be proud of that. People trust me with all kinds of things. My work is fun. The fact that I get paid for doing what I love to do, is quite a blessing. Instead of working to be able to spend the money on dancing, I dance and use my creativity to get paid.

Some of the thought chains are very private and I really do need to work on them. I say this because I don’t want to give the idea that it is possible to switch the way of your thinking just like that. Your own decision of doing that is huge – and there will be no change without it, but it’s not easy. Good things come to those who are patient, work hard and try to reach for the good things.

Project: 14 weeks of positive change, week 4

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Here we are, back in the normal life with its tight schedules and deadlines, running around in three to six different places within a day. I have so much to do that sometimes it scares myself, but at the same time I’m really interested in everything I do and I like all my projects. I jut need to create a way to be able to do everything I’m supposed to do and I want to do.

I knew already in advance that the beginning of my daily routines would be a tough point in my project – I need to focus hard not to fall back to my old habits. That’s why this week’s theme is stress control and active relaxation.


DAY 1

Four hours of school, a dance class and teaching – not too bad at all. I still wanted to apply my first and foremost method of relieving stress: time management. I marked into my calendar everything I know is coming during the spring. Lectures, dance classes, events, meetings… If a tight schedule, I even looked for the public transportation schedules and wrote down the bus numbers and stops.

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This week

So, for instance, this week looks like in the picture. It is quite calming to see both how busy you are and how many hours you have free (to be used in studying etc.).

I’m also a believer in to do lists. I have a notebook for writing down everything I need to do, even the smallest of things. If some tasks have deadlines, I write them down too, and every time I get something done, I rule it out. Because of the project and my goal of relieving stress, I try to rule out at least one thing a day and more, if possible. It gives me a sense of accomplishment and helps not to feel like everything is just piling up.

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To do

Compared to the fall, I have more time for studying because most of the choreographies of competing teams are done and I don’t need to plan new choreo. It takes surprisingly much time and effort. This is a welcome change because I have a few really arduous courses going on at the moment.

DAY 4

I’m not very good at relaxing. I have always a bit of something going on and my mind is working on several things at the same time. I like having a lot to do but I also realize that it is important to be able to let go every now and then.

As active relaxation methods, I have tried listening to soothing music as I go to bed and tension-release. This means that I first flex a certain muscle group for 5 seconds and then release – and this is done to the whole body. It helps to become conscious of the body and its sensations.

DAY 7

I’m not completely sure how my stress control works. I had an extremely busy weekend because I organized workshops for Kapela (a really good French house dancer) and on top of that, I had my regular classes and I tried to do homework. So, no matter how well I had planned the schedule and made sure about every little detail, it was still very stressful. Bu probably careful planning did help and I don’t even want to know what it would have been like if I didn’t plan as well as I did.

Because of situations like these, another way of reducing stress and managing time is to say no. It has always been difficult for me to decline anything people ask for, whether it’s an event invitation or helping out a friend. Now I’m trying to remember to make a realistic evaluation of each request and decline if it seems like en extra stress factor.

Probably this step of change requires a lot of patience. Some habits are hard to get rid of and right now it is hard to even try to change my schedules because most things in my agenda are fixed until may.

Conclusion: marking everything possible to the calendar and using the to do notebook actively are definitely effective ways of managing time and thus relieving stress. As relaxation methods, stretching and listening to calm music work very well for me. One surprisingly good way to relax the mind for a moment, has been to watch an episode of a TV series or to do house work like ironing or dusting. Overall, like Nike says, “just do it” seems to be the most effective way of coping with stress.