Writings/Blog

Year End Reflections on Quality

As the year approaches its end, a particular element of human perception has come to possess my thoughts – that of Quality.

What is Quality and why is it so compelling right now?

As I am influenced by Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (ZAMM) on this issue, I think of Quality as a phenomenon, an emergence. It is an in the moment recognition of what is good, of value. As the year ends, and a new year begins, thoughts of making things better seem to be innate to being human.

ZAMMcover

There are 2 characteristics of Quality – the Quality itself; that which is good emerges, and the quality of your engagement – that you care. It is a symbiotic relationship between what emerges and what you perceive as emerging because it appeals to you. Because it appeals to you,  it has value, it has Quality. Because it has Quality, you care about it and this caring guides what you discern to be good, to be Quality.

That sounds vague, I know, so let me include one of my favorite quotes from ZAMM. This describes how mathematician Henri Poincare, in his quest to determine mathematical facts, chooses from an infinite array of possibilities:

“In the end he decided that mathematical solutions are selected…on the basis of ‘mathematical beauty’ of the numbers and forms, of geometric elegance. He said “this is a true aesthetic feeling which all mathematicians know… but it is this harmony, this beauty that is at the centre of it all”

Many of us are interested in Eastern philosophies and practices, such Buddhist, Zen and Advaita “I am that” meditations, whose common directive is to “be in the now”. As Westerners, though, we sometimes accept this advice on faith without really understanding what is the real benefit of being present.

From our results-driven Western mind, we see the “goal” of being “in the now” as helping us become more (compassionate, tolerant, focused…inject positive attributes here). But attempting to stay “in the now” and having faith that being present will lead to self-improvement later can leave us with a vague sense of unease that we are “not doing it right” and are somehow morally deficient.

However, this unease could be because we don’t have the “Why” the Western mind generally requires for action. This seeming lack of direction can lead to boredom, or “monkey mind” as a vague “reward” of higher moral character is often only motivating in theory.

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I think if we conceive of this “being in the now” as a chance for our unconscious processes to discern Quality, this is more in line with our Western sense of wanting what is “better”, experiencing that “better” as Quality, and at the same time perfectly justifies the reason to be “in the now”

In this way, allowing our unconscious to lead us to what is “better” in the moment is a way to function in the world that can make aesthetic choices, aid in all manner of decisions, and improve the dynamics of our relationships. This way can also help us face difficulty by helping us see the best within the worst. Viktor Frankl certainly knew how to be open to Quality.

So, being “in the now” is the moment of engagement with Quality. It is a way of operating, using the great resources from the East to cultivate meditative consciousness , that can indeed improve our ability to live each moment not just “in the now”, but in a state of being open and receptive towards Quality, and allowing Quality to guide our thoughts and actions.

Nietzsche’s Ubermensch as a Beacon for Therapy

Who wants to be a better person? Judging by the volume of self-help books, lifestyle gurus, and “10 ways to…” blogs, just about everyone. As a therapist, I see people who need help in the relief of psychic pain, but I see just as many who want to improve their careers, their relationships, and find meaning in their lives.

150 years ago, The philosopher Nietzsche saw dysfunction in his own times, as he declared, with great fear for the future of mankind, the death of God. Due to this loss of a secure value system, Nietzsche predicted an emerging collective nihilism, priming the world for shallow and destructive values and ideologies. In what many consider his masterwork, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, the eponymous protagonist comes down to the world after many years in thoughtful spiritual seclusion at the top of a mountain to bring the message of a better way to be in the face of this danger, that of the Ubermensch.

Nietzsche’s fear for the future of mankind resulted in the idea that true and real values must be recreated. The embodied blueprint of these values to Nietzsche was an idealized and advanced version of the human, known as the “Ubermensch”, or overman. This “noble” individual would encompass the traits necessary for human flourishing in the absence of guidance of the now dead God. Using a thought experiment, which Nietzsche named “eternal recurrence”, he mused that this conceptual super-human had what it took to live a life so meaningful, that he would be willing to re-live his life exactly as it was for eternity.

Can we imagine a life so meaningful and rich that we would choose to repeat it? In therapy, we indeed search for flourishing and for meaning. We come to therapy to aid in that quest by embarking on a search to find, as Carl Rogers (1995) characterized “congruence” between our real feelings and desires and how we act. We embark on a search for what the DW Winnicott referred to as “true self” (1960), which during the course of therapy we find has been partially or largely repressed by parents, peers and authorities who, rather than encourage who we really are, attempt to mold us into what they expected and/or needed us to be.

The “Superman” expressed by the Ubermensch seems to express the highest form of a true self. That self who has completely determined his own values in the advent of no God to guide him. This man is “noble”, in the sense that he has transcended some of the more objectionable aspects of human nature – generally those which keep us trapped, victimized and beholden to others and our own negative self-talk.

The idea of the a “noble” person is a theme of much of Nietzsche’s work. But within each of his books, descriptions of this Superman tend to be expressed differently, so to delineate these characteristics in a “10 ways to be an Ubermensch” list is a challenging prospect. One for a professor of philosophy to endeavor.

While researching Nietzsche, I found an interesting paper by just such a professor: Randall Firestone of El Camino College in Torrance, CA. In his paper, Nietzsche’s Best Life: The Ten Greatest Attributes of the Ubermensch, & a Comparison to Aristotle’s Virtuous Person, Firestone has parsed through the work of Nietzsche and Nietzsche scholars to, in fact, determine those 10 complementary and sometimes overlapping characteristics of the Ubermensch.

These are:

Self-determination,
Creativity,
Becoming,
Overcoming,
Discontent,
Flexibility,
Self-mastery,
Self-confidence,
Cheerfulness, and
Courage

So, using this useful resource, and with direct quotes from Nietzsche himself, let’s explore what each of these traits mean according to Nietzsche, and the ways in which we can use an understanding and implementation of these attributes to guide therapeutic improvement of both our mental health and our lives.

1. Self Determination

“A man is called a free spirit if he thinks otherwise than would be expected based on his origin, environment, class and position, or based on prevailing contemporary views”
-Nietzsche, Human, All too Human.

Nietzsche believed that it was an important component of self determination to question the virtues and values of one’s society and weigh this against what your authentic self determined are your values. As expressed by Firestone, “Nietzsche’s self-determining person is autonomous, freethinking and fiercely independent”.

Thinking for yourself is key to a satisfying life. If you can formulate your own opinions, you will be able to make important decisions that are right for you. During the course of our lives, we are taught what is right and wrong by our parents, our peers and our teachers. But often aspects of these values simply don’t align with our true gut feelings. There might come a time in therapy, when we unpack old messages, confront the internalized values of our parents and authorities, and determine what moral system is truly ours.

2. Creativity

“New ears for new music. New eyes for the most distant things. A new con-
science for truths which have hitherto remained dumb.”
The Antichrist

Firestone quotes Brian Leiter, one of the most notable scholars of Nietzsche, “he ultimately admired creative individuals the most: in art, literature, music, and philosophy …” (p.383) A creative person is possessed of the ability to create meaning in his life and his own character. Creativity in this regard is the construction of a “noble and free-spirited” being, as well as the construction of meaning and purpose in one’s life. Indeed, Nietzsche believed that the cure for nihilism is a profound sense of meaning.

Therefore, to improve our selves and our lives, we must overcome the trappings of our age such as the temptations of living in the superficial and comparative world of social media or the desire to possess the latest and greatest thing as recommended by others, and instead create a truly meaningful existence based on our own authentic values. And, like the great creatives, such as Goethe and Beethoven, (whom Nietzsche himself admired and whose ranks he strove to join and succeeded), we too may be possessed of creative attributes that could be discovered and/or further explored in therapy as we use them to express what we can find so hard to articulate and to develop to nourish our souls.

3. Becoming

“What is life – Life – that is constantly shedding something that wants to die”
-Nietzsche, The Gay Science

Becoming means always improving, changing, reevaluating – but it also means that parts of you must die. We have all come to a point where we realize that some particular trait, quirk or habit is no longer working. There needs to be a dynamism in our thinking and a willingness to update our ideas, beliefs and actions. Otherwise we stagnate in our habits and just exist rather than live.

In therapy, we may refer to these as defenses, or “old patterns”. Until we know what these are, we are “stuck” in an old way of understanding the world and relating to others. In the work of therapy, these maladaptive patterns are revealed, worked through, put to rest, and new ways of being and relating are developed. Of course, the work can be distressing and uncomfortable. Becoming means pushing yourself past comfort, into what psychologist Vygotsky referred to as “the zone of optimal development” (footnote), where you are challenged enough to improve. Taking on too much of a challenge is overwhelming, but too little is stagnating. With this optimal challenge, you cannot help but “become” something better.

4. Overcoming

“What does not kill him makes him stronger”
Ecce Homo

Overcoming of course means overcoming adversity, but not just that. It also means overcoming your own limitations. Nietzsche was painfully ill for most of his short life, but that didn’t stop him. He worked around his illness. He used his downtime to think and when he could, write, as he’s said, “I say more in a sentence than others say in a book”. Concise, powerful and packed, his writing had to be that way, and his unique aphoristic style was partially in response to his limitations.

One main objective of therapy is to overcome maladaptive defenses, often originating from adverse events in childhood. In therapy, we develop the ability to overcome the old ways of relating based on what happened to us. By exposing and reconciling these defenses, we open up the whole of our potential. The famous “will to power” associated with Nietzsche is not a way of forcing one’s will on others, rather it’s the will to fulfill your own destiny that powers you through barriers.

5. Discontent

“I say unto you: One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.”
Thus Spoke Zarathustra

Related to the “will to power” is the driving force of discontent. The chaos and turmoil within ourselves are expressions from our true selves toward our true desires. Rather than suppressing these uncomfortable feelings, we need to feel them wholly and allow them to guide us toward their resolution. Turmoil is life-affirming, according to Nietzsche, and should be used to drive creative solutions to problems, and to spur us on to use our talents to become the “dancing stars” we can be.

Much of what we achieve in therapy is an ability to tolerate negative emotions. By learning to do so, we can handle more of the necessary stress and adversity that it takes to make headway at work, in creative endeavors and in difficult relationships. We can also learn that our anger, long repressed, is valid and can guide us away from succumbing to the will of others.

6. Flexibility

“Freedom from conviction of any kind, the capacity for an unconstrained
view, pertains to strength”
The Antichrist

We need some basic codes of conduct, but in terms of outlining rigid moral regulations, Nietzsche viewed these as being unrealistic. The world is enormously complicated, and oftentimes, rules can be too rigid in actual practice. There are a tremendous amount of “shoulds”, which can constrain us to a boxed in way of viewing the world and cause us distress if what happens doesn’t align with what we expect.

As with self-determination, we can examine these “shoulds” and determine how much is imposed on us by the status quo, and how much is an expression of our actual true needs. Our real needs are increasingly worked out as we get to the root of the true self in our sessions. Aligned with being self-determining and creative, a flexibility with our relationships can improve how we interact with others. It is probably fair to say that most of the trouble in relationships has to do with the “shoulds” we impose on our friends and partners.

7. Self-Mastery

“One has to learn to see, one has to learn to think, one has to learn to speak and write; the end in all three is a noble culture … Learning to see, as I understand it, is almost what is called in unphilosophical language ‘strong will-power …’”
-On the Genealogy of Morals

Again, The “will to power” is not about overpowering others (and I am pretty sure this is one of the many areas where Nietzsche is misunderstood) It actually has to do with power over oneself, or self mastery – becoming the best you could be.

To increase our knowledge, our abilities to express ourselves, to improve our talents, and to become more disciplined is to master aspects of ourselves that may be undeveloped. With the advent of autonomy, and of discovering and nourishing one’s true self comes the responsibility of acting in the world with this new found agency. In therapy, we can address lack of motivation, procrastination and impulsivity, and work on improving these troublesome tendencies.

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8. Self Confidence

“The noble soul has reverence for itself.”
-Beyond Good and Evil

For Nietzsche, it is noble that the ubermensch appreciates his own attributes. If you have this confidence, you can also accept the fact that you are human and your emotions and instincts are part of you and that you need not be ashamed of them. Anti-shame is really what self-confidence is about for Nietzsche.

If the expression of the true self is not encouraged from a young age, one can be made to feel shame at spontaneous expression. A child’s natural self is stymied in favor of what adults want from him, and this dynamic can perpetuate through shame…as shame is a powerful behavioral control. But eventually, if one can come to see shame as just that…a natural and powerful mechanism to keep oneself from behaving in a way that threatens early relationships, and in a child’s mind, threatens survival. If this shame can be examined for just what it is and dismantled, it is much less likely to undermine our self confidence, and elicit our anger towards others when our projections onto them trigger this shame

9. Cheerfulness

“To stay cheerful when involved in a gloomy and exceedingly responsible business is no inconsiderable art: yet what could be more necessary than cheerfulness?”
Twilight of the Idols

As articulated by Firestone, “the Ubermensch says ‘yes’ to what comes their way, not deterred by society’s rules and prohibitions which would keep one from fully living and appreciating life. Like a child, one should explore life with wonder and awe…”. Viktor Frankl, who was influenced by Nietzsche, mirrored the “yes” to life. Frankl (1995) asserted that one has a choice as to their attitude and that one could have an attitude of cheer and hope, even in the most adverse of circumstances. To realize that one has this freedom is psychologically liberating. The implication of this realization is one that is transcendent in the sense that earthly pain has a spiritual purpose that can be transformative.

Pain as transformation is an ancient spiritual archetype and figures into therapy as well. Sometimes, a client will say to me “I’m not feeling better, I’m feeling worse!” The pain emerges as old defenses are rendered impotent and old wounds are laid bare to be confronted in a truthful way. In this way, that pain is a marker of emerging transformation and can and should be seen as hopeful. And hope is uplifting. I encourage clients to add faith at this point that an improvement of psyche is in the works, and to be positive, even cheerful about this pain and what it means. Taking that positive attitude can only enrich the transformative experience, amidst the pain and transcend it.

10. Courage.

“But courage and adventure and pleasure in the uncertain, in the un-
dared—courage seems to me man’s whole prehistory … courage, finally refined, spiritualized, spiritual, this human courage with eagles’ wings and serpent’s wisdom—that, it seems to me, is today called—‘Zarathustra!’”
Thus Spoke Zarathustra

Courage is the underlying attribute that allows the Ubermensch to develop all of these characteristics. Firestone: “I think it is easy to misread Nietzsche and to misunderstand his focus. He is primarily concerned with spiritual or internal courage, not with the mundane courage of physical battle”. This courage is what allows one to flout rules and conventions that honestly do not work for you and perpetuate the false self. But to go against societal norms means one faces the threat of losing the security of belonging, even if that belonging requires maintaining a persona and not being true to one’s nature. That sacrifice can feel much easier.

It takes a great deal of courage to confront not only psychic pain, but its origins. To see one’s childhood for what it really was, and to begin to challenge those ingrained values that were imposed by authorities and peers, to realize that one has been living for others and not oneself can be frightening and destabilizing. However, in order to find one’s true self, there may be no other way.

Conclusion

While Nietzsche encourages us to “create our values”, his vision really gives a life-affirming interpretation to values that we already believe to be good. We already know that being courageous and creative are positive values. What we do is use these in our own unique ways to improve our self-determination to overcome adversity. The Ubermensch is not meant to be a real person that we should compare ourselves to (and fall short of) The Ubermensch it is more of a process toward something better. It is a beacon of greatness, let’s say.

As we work through our problems and improve our lives in therapy, we can use the attributes of the Ubermensch to inform that work. All 10 attributes have a common thread – that of authenticity and the will to be the best we can be, even if the cost seems high. And the best we can be must necessarily be who we really are. In the long run, that is worth the cost.
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References

Firestone, R. (2017). Nietzsche’s Best Life: The Ten Greatest Attributes of the Ubermensch, & a Comparison to Aristotle’s Virtuous Person. Open Journal of Philosophy, 7, 377-407. https://doi.org/10.4236/ojpp.2017.73020

Frankl, V. E. (1984). Man’s search for meaning: An introduction to logotherapy. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Rogers, C. R. 1. (1995). On becoming a person: a therapist’s view of psychotherapy. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Nietzsche, F. W., & Kaufmann, W. A. (1982). The portable Nietzsche. New York, N.Y., U.S.A: Penguin Books..

Vygotsky, L. S. (1934/1962). The development of scientific concepts in childhood. In eds Hanfmann, E. & G. Vaker, Thought and Language. Studies in Communication (pp 82 – 118). Cambridge, MA: MIT press.

Winnicott, D.W. (1960) Ego Distortion in Terms of True and False Self. In: Winnicott, D.W., Ed., The Maturational Processes and the Facilitating Environment: Studies in the Theory of Emotional Development, Karnac Books, London, 140-152.

Winnicott and Being True to Ourselves

“I just don’t know who I am” “I don’t feel like I exist” “I don’t feel alive”

These are complaints I often hear in therapy, and these symptoms seem mystifying and untreatable to people suffering from emptiness and identity crisis. These are patients who have robust False Selves that dominate their personalities and require validation from others’ reactions. These False Selves learned long ago their job was to keep the True Selves hidden.

The concept of the True and False Selves, articulated in Ego Distortion in Terms of True and False Self (1960), is the work of  important 20th century psychoanalyst and pediatrician DW Winnicott, whose early studies of the mother-child bond paved the way for a whole generation of theorists of what is presently the best-researched area of psychology – attachment. Winnicott’s work emphasized the critical importance of the mother-infant dynamic, and how a good bond between them was necessary for healthy development.

According to Winnicott, an infant is born unintegrated – meaning that he cannot tell the difference whether a perception is coming from within himself or from the environment. When distress such as hunger emerges and then is satisfied by the mother, the infant feels omnipotent. He is not aware yet that he is separate from the mother, who responds to his cries, but rather that his needs are met by his own will.

Of course, despite this unity, the infant will have impulses to express himself completely naturally. This natural expression, or “spontaneous gesture” is the beginning of the baby’s individuality being expressed in the world.

How the mother meets natural expression determines the degree to which the “True Self” develops. This is where Winnicott implements likely his best-known concept, the “good enough mother”.  It is up to the “good enough mother” to meet this spontaneity with positive encouragement or “mirroring”, to allow the infant’s ego to grow along the lines of the True Self.

Says Winnicott:

“…the infant begins to believe in external reality because of the… mothers relatively successful adaption to the infant’s gestures and needs, and which acts in a way that does not clash with the infant’s omnipotence. On this basis the infant can gradually abrogate omnipotence. The True Self has a spontaneity, and this has been joined up with the world’s events.”

The “not good enough mother’ rather than meeting the baby’s expression, will substitute her own expression…for example, will shut down the infant’s spontaneity with her own gesture such as harshness or lack of engagement. The “not good enough mother” either cannot, for whatever reason, sense her infant’s needs, and/or allows her own needs or misattuned emotional states to predominate.

These early messages are critical because they determine to what degree the child will be able to express himself naturally or to get the message he has to be compliant to continue to receive care.

As stated by Winnicott:

“It is an essential part of my theory that the True Self does not become a living reality except as a result of the mother’s repeated success in meeting the infant’s spontaneous gesture…”

If the spontaneous gesture is met with acceptance, then the infant develops to understand that his authentic impulses have a place in the world to imagine and be creative as he develops his ego and personality.

So what happens if, in fact, the True Self is not cultivated? In this case, a “False Self”, propelled by that early capitulation to compliance begins to emerge. This False Self becomes a deep-seated defense whose express purpose is to keep the True Self hidden, as the early perceived rejection of the True Self indicates that only be keeping the dismissed True Self hidden will the infant’s needs continue to be met.

Ultimately, the False Self personality will continue the pattern of looking for validation from outside sources, and be rigid in his adherence to fixed ideas about himself, as the ability to have flexibility in understanding experience is in the domain of the True Self

Winnicott knew the real purpose of the False Self was to be able to enable a person to operate in society. A healthy expression of the False Self was that it functioned as just that – a bridge between the True Self and society. Pathology emerged when the False Self took over, by varying degrees, the personality and the entire self by making its purpose instead to hide the True Self. This False Self presented a persona cultivated by the “not good enough” mother who elicited what she needed from her infant instead of mirroring and encouraging his spontaneity.

Under the dominance of the False Self, certain symptoms, such as emptiness and “not knowing” who one really is, manifest. Winnicott believed that it was under the influence of the False Self that patients reported complaints of “not feeling like they ever existed”, not knowing who they were, and not feeling “alive”

Winnicott:

“The spontaneous gesture is the True Self in action. Only the True Self can be creative and only the True Self can feel real. Whereas the True Self feels real, the existence of a False Self results in a feeling unreal or a sense of futility”

People who suffer from a robust False Self don’t fully feel their vitality; they do not feel authentic. And why should they? The foundation of their personality is built on someone else’s agenda. They have not had an opportunity to creatively explore who they really are.

But the True Self can be cultivated through unveiling its existence, confronting the reality of the past, and getting a chance – in therapy and/or through relationships with empathetic and authentic others – to honestly experience one’s spontaneity. When the True Self is finally uncovered, a patient can start to explore that self and to really live…possibly for the first time ever.

 

 

Fido’s Fast Fix for the Blues

Have you ever noticed how seems to be absolutely thrilled when there is something to dig up out of the ground or a squirrel to chase? He is totally engaged, tail wagging, movements are focused and quick. He is demonstrating unbridled enthusiasm!

Enthusiasm is how the late great neuroscientist, Jaak Panksepp described the SEEKING system (which he capitalized for clinical purposes). He identified Seeking as the “master” emotion underlying all actions. The circuit of the brain that is engaged when the hound is on the trail of the fox is one that we share with our furry brethren, as we do all primal emotional systems.

As we have noticed in our four footed friends, the experience of Seeking itself is highly pleasurable. The system runs on dopamine, the feel-good neurotransmitter.

What you find is pleasurable only temporarily. Seeking is deactivated once the thing you are seeking is found. To continue fueling that fun, this activity must be ongoing – as goals are met, new ones need to emerge. So, the most instantly pleasurable seeking activity is one in which the searched-for items are numerous or ever-present.

When we feel depressed, we are inclined to wallow passively, often watching tv or mindlessly surfing social media. But passive activity of this nature does not engaging the seeking system. What’s more, heavy recreational internet use is correlated with depression.

When you feel down, it’s time to engage in some active goal-oriented activity. And to get your body into it in a physically active way double down on the dopamine, as physical activity provides an additional boost of this beneficial neurotransmitter.

So what are some activities that steer clear of the internet and engage our seeking system with continuity, and incorporate some physical activity?

Foraging– Looking for certain things out in nature such as plants, rocks, mushrooms or arrowheads (please photograph these and leave them).This activity is excellent for ongoing stimulation of the seeking system, because you are on a continuous search and the goals are endless

Birdwatching – get a copy of Backyard Birds and comb the neighborhood for familiar feathered friends (and not so) whose names you never knew.

Bookstore Browsing – Have a subject that interests you? Rather than scroll through Amazon, get out and over to your local bookstore. See how many books you can find that tackle your topic.

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Flea Market Finds – Big box stores can be dreary due to their homogenous offerings, and there is an efficiency to their organization that doesn’t engage the active searching. Flea markets and thrift stores are a different story, as merchandise is unique and often surprising.

Sort Out Old Stuff – Go to your storage space and tackle that files of old papers or disorganized cds and engage yourself in nostalgia as you discover music you once loved or relive pleasant memories. This activity has the added benefit or organizing out your life, which in itself is uplifting. You could also comb your over-packed closet for things you will never wear again and bag these up for donation.

So here are a few ideas to alleviate a temporary depressed mood by engaging our natural and hard-wired love of searching and adventure.

A caveat – clinical depression is a different story. If you have the blues for 2 weeks or more without an obvious cause, it’s probably time to seek counseling. But if you need to jolt yourself out of the temporary blahs, get out the door on a quest for something, anything that engages the enthusiasm inherent in the SEEKING system!

7 Steps to Get out of the Your Procrastination State (and get your Creative Juices Flowing)

I think I have some reasonably good ideas pertaining to understanding and working with parts of self. In fact, I have an ongoing project that I am undertaking around this topic which fulfills me intellectually and spiritually and that I hope will help both my patients and myself. During the course of any given day, I might have insights and ideas pertaining to this project that I will jot down into one of my many composition books, or if one is not within arms reach, a random slip of paper. For some reason, in bed at night I tend have the most profound ideas, and often I can even muster the discipline to turn on the light grab my comp book and make a note.

Multiple-Personality-DisorderYet, when I am ready to sit down and write, to pull it all together, one of my parts emerges with a vengeance and dominates my personality. It is Procrastination. When under the spell of Procrastination, have a sudden urge to do anything but work. In fact in between this sentence and the last, one of my parts, Ms. Procrastination, compelled me to spend 17 minutes scrolling Facebook.  So what is it about the task of having to write that is so damn painful that I have to distract myself with something mindless, and how to I switch out of this state?

It is as if the sensation of this part is physically holding you back from what you know to be the greater good, that it is dead-set on keeping you away from what you are doing and attending to it. Most of us know that Procrastination is a member of our internal family, and it may seem a more formidable sub-personality in people trying to produce creative content. In me Procrastination is characterized by a daunting feeling of futility that sets in when I get the idea to start the project, as well as a desire for instant gratification. It’s as if she’s telling me that the hard work I am considering embarking on won’t result in anything and why not just enjoy myself?

I also think also many of us who want to be create content, start businesses, or produce art are daunted by the sheer productivity of famous people who really are doing so. A best-selling author recently said that he gets up early, and works non-stop “as hard as I can” for 16 hours. Elon Musk, arguably the most productive person on the planet, also works continually and needs less sleep than the average person – 6 hours or so. I have heard tell of some insanely productive people are blessed with the need for as little as 3-4 hours a night.

But most of us don’t live this super-productive paradigm. This admission is realistic, as is the notion that most of us will never be Elon Musk. However that doesn’t mean we can’t be productive and create content of significance or beauty in it’s own right, and maybe even that will improve the world. But to do this, however, means to overcome the negative state of mind that besets us when we embark on something that requires us to be actively involved in the difficulty of creating something, rather than engaging in the vicarious thrill of passively experiencing the inner world of Elon in this Joe Rogan interview.

So, we need a plan to gently put Procrastination aside for a period of time. And in the spirit of us all contributing to the self-and-world improvement project I will share some strategies.

1. Schedule a Block of Time

This is something that everyone who gives productivity advice tells you. You need to schedule writing time. And there is a reason for this. Because it works. The first step in convincing yourself to work is to schedule it as necessary – as if it is part of your job.

Graham Green, one of the 20th century’s most notable authors would work religiously from 8-12, then take the rest of the day off. Naturally, as I often do, I must mention Robert Pirsig, the author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, who rose in the middle of the night to work on his great autobiographical novel before going to his job in the morning. Herman Melville, EB White and many of the greats had a set routine for writing.

No question a routine is necessary, which for practical purposes can manifest as a set block of time. But how much time? It has been demonstrated that approximately 3 hours in a day is the maximum amount of time you can fully concentrate on anything and still remain productive. This is heartening, because it means you can relieve yourself of the notion that of devoting excessive amounts of time to your project will make you more virtuous.

So, why not have 1 hour a day that you devote to your creative endeavor. Most of us can manage this. Then, perhaps try those 3 optimal hours of production on the weekend. Think of these slots as necessary parts of your day, and schedule them on your calendar

2. Turn Off the internet

I could go into detail as to why this is a non-negotiable step in the process of avoiding procrastination, but I think we all know the reasoning behind this critical of steps. You can access all manner of data and scientific evidence of the detrimental impact of excessive interaction with your phone.

Let’s make no bones about it. The internet, and social media in particular is the biggest time suck there is. And it’s extremely addictive. Listen to these giants of tech expound on the problematic nature of social media:

So, enough said about this step. It is necessary.

3. Use Active Imagination

The great psychologist Carl Jung forced himself to sit alone in his office for 2 hours a day, and allow his imagination to run wild. The result of many years of this regular practice was his masterpiece, “The Red Book”. His dedication to this block of time to just be with his unconscious resulted, after several years, in a work of profound psychological depth and beauty.

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Sit there in front of your screen or notebook, and rather that becoming frustrated with lack of creativity. Just sit with your mind and let your unconscious take over. Keep the project in mind, but don’t distress if your mind wanders a bit. If you have the goal in mind, have faith that the unconscious will help you if you give it some leeway.

4. Have a Related Side Project

Say you are really stuck. Your frustration or blankness is simply too impenetrable. A good antidote to pursue a fairly rote or even mindless task that has to be done pertaining to your project so the aggravation of having to produce ideas from the blue is temporarily assuaged.

A good strategy for me to use during my scheduled time is making notes from a book that I need to read and digest for the project anyway. Some other examples of segueing into a related project if, say, you are working on something artistic, would be to sketch out related images, or practicing scales or a song you are otherwise trying to master, if working on something musical. Or your could organize your paperwork, review your notes or again, if writing or doing videography, just do a little fine tuning or editing of what you have so far.

This approach solves 2 problems: 1. You aren’t faced with a blank sheet, blank surface and a blank mind, you actually are using your scheduled time and it does not require any exceptional creativity to make notes. 2. It keeps you away from filling that gap with those oh-so-familiar distractions you rationalize as “productive”, such as pairing your socks, doing the dishes, or cleaning the dust bunnies from under your couch.

5. Sub-Schedule a Break

Depending how long you plan to work, schedule a mid-way break. If you are working longer than an hour, schedule quarterly breaks. For example, every 45 minutes, give yourself 5 minutes to unwind, do a few reps with hand weights or run up and down the stairs, play with your cat, make a short personal call…again anything but getting on the internet!! Don’t go down that Rabbit Hole! But do give yourself a chance to regroup and then return at least partially refreshed.

6. Reward

“Give yourself a reward engages our basic instincts for something pleasurable at the end of a period of difficulty.

Graham Green, who I previously mentioned, would finish his work at 12pm, then go for daiquiris before lunch and spend the afternoon lunching with friends. Now, remember Green was writing in the middle part of the 20th century, where views of alcohol consumption were quite different. Think Mad Men. So obviously, I don’t recommend alcohol as a reward, but I do recommend scheduling a fun event, a romantic interlude, taking a walk in the park, a healthy snack like a Keto fat bomb, or if you have a regular practice – a meditation session. Which brings me to…

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7. Meditation

Yes, I know I continually recommend meditation, but there’s a reason. This is a practice that will both decrease the occurrence of negative emotion bubbling to the surface (including that depressive feeling of futility) and increase your capacity for concentration. All creative souls should have a meditation practice of some sort. So get in the habit of this – start with 5 minutes, use an app like Headspace, or a wonderful personal neurofeedback device called Muse.

While you can incorporate meditation in the breaks or as a reward (if you are so inclined), it is really an ongoing support of your project. It is also a method to care for the mind and the soul that has demonstrated with robust evidence as to it’s positive benefit across all domains of life.

It is also important to be aware of your capacity for distraction and for the characteristic negative feelings toward difficult creative tasks from your Procrastination part that prevent you from working. With meditation comes the increased skill of mindfulness that we can use to notice Procrastination and gently ask her to let us be for now, that we will get to her needs for more passive entertainments when we are through.

So there you have it. 7 ways to tackle this substantial and mostly universal state called Procrastination. Surely there are countless additions to this list, but these tend to work for me so far. And remember, the state of Procrastination is one that most of us have in our cast of inner characters. Like any of our troublesome parts, she needs to be respected and worked with, not against. If we malign any of our states and try to get rid of them; to suppress them, they will furtively find a way to undermine us…like those 17 minutes of Facebook, because I “somehow” forgot to put the iPad on airplane mode!!

An Ancient Antidote to Click-Bait

The internet has created a hyperlinked and hyperefficient world. It is a world where you can access the sum total of Western knowledge with a few keystrokes; it’s a world where is a world in which all physical needs of all people can, through technology, soon be met. In fact, it looks as if poverty in the material sense could be alleviated globally. There are many upsides to the the digital networking that characterizes our world.

But there is a major downsides, and most these trade offs are psychological in nature, imho. Online activity, especially using social media, likely decreases our attention span and increases our anxiety. The virtual world is a more immediately gratifying and entertaining substitute for real interaction. Socialization, in the form of social media feeds full of highlights, and the ease of swiping comparatively ordinary people away on Tinder puts an idealized and simplistic spin on real people and real life. Also, social media is addictive, as platforms like Facebook are formulated to be so, relying on the dopamine “kicks” of instant gratification and validation…and more ominously, it appears that the flow of information we are getting from the media can program our opinions.

Conspiracy? Not exactly. Much of the media, forced into click-baity, polarizing sensationalism by i-economics has become far removed from impartial journalistic integrity it once possessed. Algorithms detecting our clicks operate in microseconds with A-B testing; tracking what we click on versus what we don’t and bolstering more of what we do click on, which becomes a microcosm or “bubble”. News is fake and facts don’t matter. The narrative is so customized and reinforced by the assent of our friends, that it is almost impossible to understand we are in the bubble.

However, I believe there is an antidote. And it’s one you’ve heard frequently – a regular meditation practice of some kind. Why? This is a practice that, by virtue of its nature, forces you into the moment. As each thought carries us off, we redirect and that redirection teaches us, ultimately on a neurobiological level, to stay focused – a boon for navigating the internet and not being carried away by clickbait! But more importantly, the actual being in the moment is what allows us to evaluate our experience as it happens. This is a state of mind that, if cultivated through regular practice, allows us to evaluate information with what Zen Buddhists call the “beginners mind” – fresh, and not fraught with associations and biases.

Robert Pirsig, who wrote the very influential “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” in a classic interview in 1974, suggested that we need to practice non-doing (meditation) as well as doing, and be good at both and use whichever one as appropriate. “When you get both of them in a mixture back and forth, you live a much fuller life”. Analyzing, clicking and reacting is doing; sometimes we need to step back and notice, non-judgmentally, this influx of information. That is non-doing.

Dr. Eric Dodson, a professor of psychology and practicing Zen Buddhist, sees meditation as being able to connect to the basis of intelligence – the receptivity of the present moment – can handle incoming information more “harmoniously”, as opposed to our standard cognitive intelligence, which analyzes and judges reactively. Says Dodson, “A mind that is always whirring frenetically is not likely to perceive the reality of the present moment clearly and accurately”. And is more prone to suggestion..

It’s all the more important in the post-internet world to be able to look at the world through the beginner’s mind, through the Zen state of receptivity. I fear if we don’t have access to this state of non-doing, to this alternative intelligence, to this beginners mind, we are going to be continued to be bobbing helplessly on waves of addictive digital constructs.

It’s also all the more important for us to be able to harness this meditative state. From a non-reactive “intelligence”, we can step back an see what’s really going on. As Pirsig said in the interview, “All that garbage in our head” has to “float away” with the purification of regular meditation and the transformation of consciousness from reactive to responsive that it encourages. In that way, you have half a chance of making up your OWN mind, and not letting some algorithm do it for you!

Mood Disorders, Ketogenic Diet and Intermittent Fasting

I want to draw your attention to a method of improving all manner of health and mental health issues. This would be a radical change in diet.

As the research slowly emerges, and it does emerge slowly due to the vested interests of the pharmaceutical and food industries, with their vast coffers, which direct funding towards research that tests drugs and steers research away from indicting the processed food industry. However, ongoing real world observation of the effectiveness of dietary intervention has encouraged independent studies, which suggested that indeed diet is one of the best methods of improving mood disorders. This positive news is resulting in more and better funded research and more hope that finally diet will be taken seriously for its positive effect on health and mental health.

Also emerging is research that insulin resistance is far more culpable in mood disorders than previously acknowledged. Insulin resistance occurs when years of a carbohydrate rich diet and a heavy load of insulin results in cells turning off insulin receptors. This eventually leads to diabetes, and the host of accompanying health problems including mental health issues.

Fortunately, insulin resistance can be reversed with the proper diet. No, don’t look at the standard diabetes diet promoted by the USDA and their cronies, the food industry. Look to the Ketogenic diet. This diet, once a super strict, virtually carbohydrate-free, low protein and high fat diet that has been used for 100 years to resolve epilepsy, has recently been updated, due to research findings that it was effective with the addition of a few carbohydrates. Now it boasts a high level of palatability with the addition of many vegetables, some low sugar fruit, nuts and seeds.

As stated, the Ketogenic diet is one that removes the majority of carbohydrates from the diet, and all sugars and starches.  This means the elimination of flour, sugars, corn and grains. Replacing these ill-accepted staples are vegetables, quality protein and healthy fat. Quite a lot of fat in fact – which is both filling and highly neurogenic (very good for the brain). Epilepsy is not the only brain disorder it helps. It is implicated in improvement of Parkinson’s, brain fog, even dementia. Small wonder the Ketogenic diet is proving effective for mood disorders.

Strong research is also coming to the forefront that fasting and intermittent fasting is extremely beneficial to health and mood. Look to Doctors Valter Longo and Jason Fung for information. In 2016, Dr Yoshinori Ohsumi won a Nobel Prize for his work describing the mechanisms of Autophagy – where the cells clean themselves up during fasting. Autophagy has significant implications for health.

I am a fan of Dr. Eric Berg, a location nutritionist who focuses on the beneficial combination of the Keto genetic diet in conjunction with intermittent fasting. Here is an hour long webinar in which he discusses Ketogenic diet and intermittent fasting.

Dr. Berg has over 2000 videos that can help you get started with this healthy way of eating and of living. I encourage you to review some of these, and to try this Keto/fasting combo – with your doctor’s approval of course – and see if some of your mood problems decrease or even resolve!