Posted in mental health, mindset, motivation, physical health

Adaptation, oversimplification, hyperbole, and change

As part of a conversation in episode 42 of No Stupid Questions, Stephen Dubner made mention of people who lived through—and therefore, for a period of time, adapted to—horrible situations, and then shared this hypothesis:

“All of us can adapt to some degree. But with something as simple as removing sugar from your coffee, to me, that’s just a little problem of engineering. You just need to find a way to engineer yourself into the choice … and then you’ll adapt.”

It was a provocative statement, and one he could make easily, as it was Angela Duckworth, his cohost, who had altered her morning coffee. His coffee remained as-is.

After thinking about this a bit, it feels oversimplified and like it’s missing a key component.

The people he referred to who adapted to horrible circumstances, had to. The alternative was death. (Nor were those options necessarily mutually exclusive.) If people were going to survive, they had to make it through one more hour, one more day, one more week of whatever circumstance they were living through. Often, these stories are from war zones, but they’re also from people who have been captured or kidnapped or other outside-my-reality circumstances.

Also, the people who didn’t adapt and gave up aren’t around to tell their side of the story, so perhaps that is underrepresented.

Most people don’t have to live without sugar in their coffee, and as such, “I can’t live without sugar in my coffee!” is accepted hyperbole.

That said, we’re much more adaptable than we give ourselves credit for, in some regards, and too adaptable in others.

It’s been my experience that many of us adapt to poor interpersonal circumstances—whether it be family, toxic friendships, poor work environments—and live with weight on our shoulders as a result.

Likewise, we adapt to feeling sluggish or bloated as a result of diet and exercise choices.

In both of those cases, the way we feel is just normal. A new, undesirable normal. A normal we might not be happy with but fear changing (because change is hard and scary) and so we suffer.

Changing those things is somewhere on a sliding scale of hard, based on experience, mindset, available resources, privilege, and so on. What one person sees as treacherously difficult another might be able to power through fairly quickly. I’m not going to attempt to distill that into more specific thoughts or advice; it’s too complex.

The takeaway instead is that change is possible, and it starts with mindset. Angela had some interesting moments in talking about drinking coffee without sugar instead of her usual teaspoon, and it was all in her head. Her coffee without sugar was never subjectively rated as just as good as her coffee with sugar, but it improved.

It’s possible to get used to having vegetables for half your dinner and to crave vegetables if you go a day or two without enough. The vegetables just need to be as ubiquitous and the junk food. And made to be tasty. There are endless ways to prepare vegetables so they’re tasty; I didn’t know any of them until I became vegetarian. All of that takes effort, until it becomes part of the fabric. Bonus points if you can make positive emotional connections. And you have to want to do it (so many things I want to want to do…). And you have to make the energy to do it (figuring out new food takes more energy than it seems like it should.)

So while there might be external factors to consider, the biggest hurdle is ourselves.

Doesn’t it seem like that’s always the case? Empowering and infuriating.

Posted in ebb & flow, mental health, mindset

Engaging with content

Too long, didn’t read.

I can’t listen to hour-long podcasts.

I don’t click on videos that are more than three minutes long.

As a creator, I feel pressure to create content that is meaningful, that will connect with my audience, that has substance and value, and is short.

If it’s too long, no one will read it.

I think we sell ourselves short and are dumbing ourselves down in this way. I mean, three minutes for a cat video is long, but for something with substance and meaning?

That said, we need to choose what we engage with. There’s a constant stream of new stuff, in addition to the old stuff that’s worth revisiting. 

I feel like this is one of the downsides to technology as it is—an ever-increasing supply of new stuff and the availability of all the old stuff. 

For those of us who are interested in a lot of things, it’s really hard to sort out the stuff that’s going to get our attention.

Regardless our interests, there’s more available to us than we can take in. We don’t have the time or energy or focus to absorb it all. Instead of picking five things out of the hundred coming at us, and really soaking those in, we just read headlines and take sound bites from all hundred, or as close as we can get. 

And we end up with crap.

And our brains are constantly buzzing.

And we burn ourselves out. 

Right now in Arizona, there is garbage passing through the legislature that supports voter suppression, that undermines public education, that hurts a lot of people in a lot of ways. It’s all important, and very few people have the emotional energy to follow it all and take action on it all.

It’s too much.

That’s just the state level. We “should” keep abreast of what’s going on at the national level, and in our towns, and in our school boards. 

Instead, we take in headlines and sound bites, because we can’t possibly stay on top of all of that.

A better solution might be to pick one—maybe two—topics and follow those. Make phone calls and send letters for those. Do it without guilt of not doing it for all of them. We can’t do it for all of them. If you have like-minded and equally burned out friends, perhaps split the causes, so between you, you’ve got multiple topics covered.

Finally, for information-based incoming, whether it’s about maintaining your house or parenting or tips for your hobby or political or gardening or whatever, limit it to what you can use now or soon. 

I am terrible at this and have hundreds of bookmarks and emails in folders and videos on the “to watch” list. And yes, I was genuinely interested in those things that I bookmarked five years ago, but five years later, or two years later, or a year later, I need to just acknowledge that I’m not going to read them and delete. Electronic slash and burn. Yes, it is interesting. No, I’m not actually going to make time to look at it.

I did go through and delete many bookmarked things, but I couldn’t bring myself to just clear it all out. “Just in case” is strong. At least some of it is cleared out. Getting there…

I’ve changed my email rule to max 20 messages in the inbox. So when I hit 21 (or more), I look through, see what’s been just sitting there, and do something—read it, act on it, delete it. What does it need to get out of the inbox?

That’s worked pretty well. Not holding on to things for weeks or months that look interesting that I’d like to dive into more and just don’t. 

And unsubscribed from lists that I consistently delete without reading.

And started taking time to read books again, instead of using all my reading time on online pieces. There is something different about reading a book instead of reading online items, even if the stuff online is good stuff. Which then leads to the same question—which should I choose to read?

How do you decide what content to engage with? Do you give longer articles or videos or podcasts time?

Posted in about me, connections, gratitude, mental health, mindset, vulnerability

Inspiration, hope, and being on display

For a few years now, I’ve received “Notes from the Universe” in my email.

Sometimes I read them and hit delete and that’s that.

Sometimes I read them and smile and hit delete and that’s that.

Sometimes I read them and they hit me just the right way. Or the wrong way. Or both.

Here’s an example:

Do you know what you’ve created, Heat?
No, besides an intergalactically known saunter named after you.
Inspiration, in the eyes that have watched you. Hope, in the minds that have admired you. And love, in the hearts that have known you.
Not bad, kiddo, not bad at all –
The Universe

There are days when reading this makes me happy. Inspiration and hope are the best I have to offer, and when people have been changed for the better because of their interactions with me, it feels fantastic. This has happened in teaching, in health coaching, in blogging, in “overdisclosing” about personal struggles.

There are other days when I’d rather just have a few people close by than admirers from afar and that paragraph cultivates loneliness, or feeling like a zoo animal to be watched (with a variety of reactions) but not interacted with.

An intergalactically-known saunter is kind of fun, though.