Digging In

Discounting the Positive

It took the intervention of a really good supervisor (and the persistence of my husband) to break this habit. A specialty of mine was laughing off compliments by saying something self-deprecating in a humorous way. Maybe something like, “Yeah, sure, but I didn’t exactly achieve world peace.”

What is “discounting the positive”? You find ways to say that what you did accomplish doesn’t count. “I had a generous judge.” “It’s always easy for me to work in pastels.” “I copped that idea from someone else.” “I swim fast because I have long arms.” “Anyone else could have done it.”

1) What is the evidence?
Everyone else had the same generous judge. Since there’s nothing new under the sun, maybe you did cop that idea but you also put your particular spin on it. Maybe you have long arms; but not everyone with long arms can swim, let alone swim fast. Maybe anyone else could have done it; but did they?

2) What are alternative explanations?
That someone else created that piece? That someone else swam your race? I don’t think so.

3) What are the implications?
Maybe you did get lucky this once. Maybe you did “borrow” someone else’s idea. Maybe you do have long arms. None of that takes away from the totality of your efforts in your art or sport. You’ll find that out if you only rely on getting lucky, or stop practicing because you’re relying on your long arms, or only look at others’ ideas to make good, creative work.

4) Is this thought useful? I doubt it. What do you think?

A coach can both help you see if and when you fall into this trap, and also be a great cheerleader for all the positives you do.

Managing Stress and Anxiety

Woman holding head screamingWhen we’re stressed hormones course through the body preparing us for fight/flight/freeze. While this is adaptive for brief times of crisis, chronic stress takes a physical, emotional, and mental toll. Most of us have experienced the tense shoulders, stiff neck, or stomach ache that accompanies stress. What you may not know is that the effects go much beyond these symptoms. The body is on alert; problem solving and the creative process are luxuries that are sidelined. Paradoxically, being too stressed can also lead to over-thinking, which disrupts flow.

There are many tools for managing stress and anxiety. The simplest and most portable is deep breathing. Ideally the belly will go in and out with each breath. This may take practice; breathing while leaning way back (or lying down) with one hand on the chest and one on the belly can help. Focus on the breath. The mind will wander; when it does, gently (and without judging) return focus to the breath. According to psychotherapist Don Altman, MA, LPC, author of One-Minute Mindfulness, research shows that after only 20–30 seconds of relaxation breathing, the body begins calming. The body’s calming includes lowered blood pressure, increased alpha (calming) brain waves, and decreased pulse. All of us can find a minute or less to gain these benefits; even if it’s on a bathroom break in the midst of an insanely busy day. (Unless, of course, your toddler has followed you into the bathroom.)

There are many variations on deep breathing. You can do 5-2-7 breathing: breathe in to a count of 5; hold it for a count of 2; exhale to a count of 7. Some like to add a calming phrase; it can be as simple as, “In with relaxation, out with stress.” A line or two from a favorite poem, prayer, or song works for some people.

Here are some fun adaptations for kids: Breathe in the smell of a flower and then blow off the petals. Lie on the floor, with a stuffed animal on the belly  and watch the animal go up and down. Make believe your belly is a balloon and fill it with air; when you exhale make the noise a balloon makes when you let the air out.

You can find apps for relaxation breathing, calming visualizations, or muscle relaxation.  Doing a computer search of these things yields good results too.