Month: October 2012 Page 1 of 2

Spain, then and now

Seven years ago, I was falling in love with a boy. I thought he was falling in love with me too, but then he abruptly called things off. Naturally, I was devastated. So when an opportunity for escape came up, I snatched it.

Two weeks in Spain didn’t heal my broken heart, but it sure helped. It gave my lost and drifting love someplace to anchor, to breathe. My feet kissed the cobbled streets of Granada, my arms embraced the scorching air of Sevilla. I drank in the art and history of Madrid. I floated in the shining blue waters off Barcelona.

No surprise: I left a part of myself there.

Seven years later, I returned to Spain, with the very boy who had once broken my heart. In a way I was introducing one lover to another. I think it went all right.

10-20 prado 002
10-21 Retiro 020
10-22 Palacio Real 004
10-23 Alhambra 023 10-23 Alhambra 089
10-23 Alhambra 104
10-24 Ciutadella and Arc de Triomf 006 10-25 Sagrada Familia 053
10-25 Sagrada Familia 071 10-25 Barceloneta and Port Vell 011
10-26 Font Magica 033
10-27 Retiro 026

Sticks and stones

In honor of National Bullying Prevention Month, Natalie Whipple recently blogged about a hurtful incident from her childhood. It’s a brave, honest, and insightful post — as Natalie’s usually are — and I connected with it deeply. Unfortunately, what I identified with was not Natalie’s perspective, but that of her young bullies.

As I hope you all know, I’m generally a nice person, but when I was in second grade, I did a very not-nice thing. I told one of my best friends that I hated her.

Did I mean it? Of course not. Like I said, she was one of my best friends. So then why did I say such an awful thing? Honestly… it was a stupid 7-year-old whim. That’s it.

Upon seeing my friend crying, our teacher asked what was wrong. Upon learning what had happened, our teacher pulled me out of class. Upon realizing the hurt I’d caused, I said I was sorry.

Did I mean it? With all of my dumb, ashamed little heart.

My friend accepted my apology, but things were — understandably — never quite the same between us. Over the next few years we drifted, but I’m happy to say that she became a stronger person, and she made new friends who were probably better to her than I had been. Meanwhile, I learned two really important things:

1. Be kind, because there are no do-overs in life.
2. Step in and speak up when you see someone hurting someone else.

I give our teacher a lot of credit for not blowing the incident off, for taking me aside to explain what I’d done wrong and how I could/should make it right. Maybe I would have apologized anyway; but maybe not. Too many times, we look the other way and hope for the best, but that won’t do a thing to help either the bullied or the bullies.

How to be a “willpower machine” (part 2)

Part 1 discussed the importance of sleep and self-forgiveness.

3. Get to know your future self

This section of McGonigal’s talk was really interesting to me, because I hadn’t thought about it in these terms before. Essentially, the more you feel like you know your future self, the more likely you are to make good long-term decisions to benefit them.

Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you think your future self will be similar to your current self. It’s more about being able to clearly visualize your future self — feeling like your future self is a friend, not a stranger — regardless of how alike (or not) you are to them.

If you don’t feel like you know your future self very well, there are a few things you can do to get better acquainted with them.

  • Write a letter to your future self
  • Imagine your future self doing something (even something mundane, like grocery shopping)
  • Imagine your future self in relation to whatever “willpower challenge” you’re struggling with
    • Both good and bad outcomes can increase motivation

4. Understand your failures

As discussed in part 1, negativity is generally detrimental to motivation, but it turns out that understanding one’s failures can actually be more helpful than understanding one’s successes.

To explain, McGonigal discusses a study in which women who were attempting to lose weight were asked to predict how and when they were going to fail to follow their regimens. What were the circumstances that would probably lead to eating a cookie or skipping a workout? How were they going to justify it to themselves? How were they going to feel about it afterward?

Interestingly, the women who “predicted their failures” in this way were far more likely to prevent or avoid them (as compared to the control group, who simply went through the weight loss program without being asked these questions).

On a related note, those who were reminded of (and/or applauded for) their successes were less likely to continue on the path to further success. Ex: If the women were told, “Hey, you’ve done a great job in meeting your weight loss goal this week,” then they were more likely to accept a candy bar on the way out.

So there’s a fine line to walk between positivity and negativity, between not beating yourself up and celebrating prematurely.

5. Hold your breath (literally)

McGonigal winds down with this fun fact: Holding one’s breath is one of the best predictors of a person’s capacity to succeed at difficult goals. It’s a measure of “distress tolerance,” or the “ability to stay put when things get uncomfortable.”

See, willpower isn’t always about doing hard things; it’s about often about not doing easy things (like checking email instead of writing, or smoking instead of quitting, etc.).

There’s a technique for helping with this, but it’s sort of a catch-22. Basically, when you’re feeling the urge to do something you shouldn’t, embrace it. Recognize the physical discomfort that not doing it causes. Accept it. And then wait it out.

(This is the part that’s related to holding your breath, by the way. Because, you know, depriving your lungs of oxygen is pretty uncomfortable, but just doing it for a few seconds won’t kill you. So can you hang in there, or do you immediately cave in and gasp for air?)

McGonigal calls this “surfing the urge.” Again, the idea is to remember and trust that the discomfort will go away without you acting upon it, given enough time. And while you’re letting it pass, fully absorb the sensations. Focus in on them. Breathe through them. Then broaden your awareness, and look for the next opportunity to proceed toward your goal, instead of away from it.

How to be a “willpower machine” (part 1)

Thanks to the INTERN (aka Hilary T. Smith) I recently saw this great talk on willpower, given by Kelly McGonigal, PhD. The video is long, but I think it’s well worth your time.

(Tip: Listen to it while folding laundry, doing dishes, etc.)

Now, I don’t want to re-hash the entire thing — you should just watch it! — but there were several points that really resonated with me.

1. Sleep

I can’t tell you how often I’ve wished for a few more hours in the day, or how badly I’ve longed for a time turner like Hermione had. Usually this feeling sets in right around dinner, when I realize the day is ending and I still haven’t accomplished half the things I wanted/intended to. Sometimes I just scramble to finish as much as I can before bed, but other times I force myself to stay up late, to make up for the time I misused earlier.

In losing sleep, I tell myself that I’m “creating” more time, that lots of people only need 4-6 hours a night, that waking up the next morning might be painful, but it will be worth it. I also tell myself that this is my own fault, that I deserve the pain of exhaustion.

All those things may be true, but so is this: When I get less than 7 hours of sleep, I become clumsy. I cry at silly things, like songs or commercials. And I have a much harder time focusing or buckling down to work.

That of course means I’m less likely to be productive the next day, which means I’ll have to stay up late to make up for it again. Which means I’m even less likely to be productive the next day, which means I’ll have to stay up late a third night… And so on and so forth, until I’m an incoherent sleep-deprived mess who crashes on the sofa in the middle of the afternoon, dead to the world, drooling like a loon.

Unsurprisingly, McGonigal asserts that sleep is one of the key physiological factors* in building up and harnessing our willpower. So from now on I’m going to try to remember that a good night’s rest will help more in the long run than an extra hour or two of working.

*Physical exercise, diet, and meditation are the other main factors.

Speaking of downward spirals and the importance of avoiding them…

2. Forgive yourself

“The harder you are on yourself when you have a willpower failure, the more likely you are to have the same failure again, and the bigger it’s going to be when you do.”

(Note: This holds applies to things much more serious than writing productivity — such as alcoholism, drug addiction, gambling, etc.)

So, this is something that I sort of intuited over the years, but I’m glad to see that it holds up to science — i.e., it’s not just something I made up to let myself off the hook.

Basically, don’t beat yourself up, because that only makes things worse. It sets up a negative mental and emotional space around your goal, which makes you less likely to even want to approach, much less break through and achieve.

Now, I don’t think you want to be oblivious or unconcerned about your bad behaviors; you just don’t want to harp on them either.

Stay tuned for part 2, which covers future self, failures, and holding your breath.

TV Talk: “You’re my person” (or: The real love story of Grey’s Anatomy)

Spoiler level: Low.

For a few years, the writers of Grey’s Anatomy maintained a blog, and every Friday after a new episode aired, the writer of that episode would post about it. I loved that blog, and all the extra insight/entertainment it offered. I also — surprise surprise — loved to leave comments, telling the writer all my critical (but not necessarily negative) thoughts on their episode. Because, obviously, they needed and wanted to know.

Well, I certainly wasn’t the only delusional person who thought that. Hundreds upon hundreds of fans would leave long-winded diatribes that some poor intern had to sift through. Besides “loved it!!” or “hated it, ugh,” mostly what they said was, “Why aren’t you giving more screen time to MER/DER?!??!11?!?!1!?!”

Personally, I never felt like we needed to see more of Meredith and Derek (sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G). Yes, I enjoyed their love story over the first few seasons, but then I noticed the bigger, better love story: Meredith and Cristina.

Grey’s Anatomy
9.02 – “Remember the Time”

From Day 1, I think “Mer/Cris” is what this show has really been about. Not in the lesbian sense (although I’m sure some viewers wouldn’t have minded that) but in the BFF sense. Through affairs, drownings, miscarriages, weddings, shootings, and now a plane crash, Meredith and Cristina have always been there for each other. “You’re my person,” as they like to say.

What does being someone’s person mean? Well, whenever I think of Meredith and Cristina, I am reminded of this quote from Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love:

People think a soul mate is your perfect fit, and that’s what everyone wants. But a true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that’s holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life. A true soul mate is probably the most important person you’ll ever meet, because they tear down your walls and smack you awake.

That is why I don’t care whether or not Mer/Der get lovey dovey time in every episode, or whether Cristina and Owen get back together.

Look, we have plenty of romantic stories to choose from. There is no theme more prominent in television, movies, books, or music. And don’t get me wrong, I’m all for romance. But true friend-love? Two people who would lie, risk their careers, jeopardize their lives, do almost anything for one another — and not because of sex or marriage, but simply because they truly care for and understand each other that much?

That’s what I want to see more of. That’s what needs more screen time.

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