Eye of the Optimist-Changing Habits

Posted on September 29, 2015 at 2:52 AM Comments comments (0)
Excerpt from the self-help book, The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg (Random House, 2012, pages 61 and 92). 

The author uses a narrative style throughout much of this book to instruct on consciously changing habits from the point of view of real peoples's successful experiences in changing their own habits or the habits of others. In this excerpt, Duhigg tells how a football coach named Dungy found a way to turn a failing team into a winning team by developing a strategy by which to change the players' habits.

"Rather than creating new habits, Dungy was going to change players' old ones, and the secret to changing old habits was using what was already inside players' heads. Habits are a three-step loop--the cue, the routine, the reward--but Dungy only wanted to attack the middle step, the routines. He knew from experience that it was easier to convince someone to adopt a new behavior if there was something familiar at the beginning and end.

"His coaching strategy embodied an axiom, a Golden Rule of habit change that study after study has shown is among the most powerful tools for creating change: Dungy recognized that you can never truly extinguish bad habits.

"Rather, to change a habit, you must keep the old cue, and deliver the old reward, but insert a new routine.

"That's the rule: if you use the same cue, and provide the same reward, you can shift the routine and change the habit. Almost any behavior can be transformed if the cue and reward stay the same.

"The Golden Rule has influenced treatments for alcoholism, obesity, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and hundreds of other destructive behaviors, and understanding it can help anyone change their own habits. (Attempts to give up snacking, for instance, will often fail unless there's a new routine to satisfy old cues and reward urges. A smoker usually can't quit unless she finds some activity to replace cigarettes when her nicotine craving is triggered.)" (Page 61)

Duhigg concludes the story of coach Dungy by saying that he finally got hired to coach the Bucs NFL team, after being rejected by hiring committees four times prior to that. Dungy demonstrated the validity of his strategy by proving it in practice: he became the only coach in NFL history to lead a team to reach the play-offs in ten consecutive years, and the only African American coach to lead a team to win a Super Bowl.

Dungy nevertheless had trouble sustaining his team's success. He then offered a way to make the new habits enduring, according to Duhigg: "If we keep the same cue and the same reward, a new routine can be inserted, but that's not enough. For a habit to stay changed, people must believe change is possible, and most often, that belief only emerges with the help of a group." (Page 92) Find or create a support group or community that will help you stay away from the bad habit, such as nicotine or whatever. As far as I can see, an example of of this sort of activity may be the way vegetarians create social clubs or events like cooking groups or activities, recipe books and trade, new restaurants and so on. Eventually, a change to self-identity and group identity emerges. We are really talking about deliberately changing culture by renovating the old and building something new from within the old structure and belief system.

Duhigg's book advocates that not only individuals can change bad habits by following this strategy; he lays out a strategy for business and positive societal change as well. A community, then the larger society has to cultivate a new identity by changing habits, encouraging habit change and supporting those who wish to change their habits similarly. The collective motivation turns into a collective belief that change is happening and will transform society and endure.

Eye of the Opposite-Say Yes more

Posted on September 27, 2015 at 12:50 AM Comments comments (1)
Quote from Davina McCall's 2005 novel "Yes Man" (made into the movie with Jim Carrie of the same title): 

The sentence had tripped off the man  on the bus's tongue like he'd been saying it all his life.
    "Say Yes more," he'd said.
    "Say Yes more," I'd repeated. Three little words of such power. 
    "The people without passion are the ones who always say no," he'd said, moments  before, and I'd turned, stunned, to listen."
    "But the happiest people are the ones who understand that good things occur when one allows them to."   
    And that was that.
    That was all it took to turn my life on its head.

As the story develops, the protagonist takes this advice wholeheartedly and goes overboard, as a result, to find himself in hilarious situation after hilarious situation because he wants to say "yes" to nearly everyone, no matter the question for the remainder of the year. 

However, the advice as given is not bad. In fact, it may be what a lot of people need to hear.  (Not that there aren't people who are already saying "yes" too much who need the opposite advice of saying "no" more, which can be positive for such people.)

Eye of the Optimist-liking misery

Posted on August 25, 2015 at 8:49 PM Comments comments (1)
I've often thought that there are lots of people who seem to like misery because they nurture it and defend it. It can be a bad habit and even an identity. They typically want you to choose misery too. They may try to drag the people around them down with them. 

I think some people choose misery (which is not the same as suffering in the sense used here). It seems easy and they like sympathy. They often want others to take care of things for them, if others accept their "handicap". It's easier because they don't have to criticize themselves while it is very easy to criticize and blame others. They don't have to assess and make change. (What's the use if life and people are all rotten, eh?) They absolve themselves from their own responsibility and lay the responsibility on others. Etc., etc.

I happened upon a good description of the believers of misery with a list of behaviors they engage in. One could think of more such behaviors, like opting not to acknowledge their own successes and the successes of others. They also might like to put up roadblocks to improving their attitude and life circumstances. Anyway, try this list out for starters, and see what else you can come up with. Maybe you're one of these people stuck in the misery rut because you've come to love it. The slant taken in the writing of this article is sarcasm, which makes it all the more poignant.

The 14 Habits of Highly Miserable PeopleHow to succeed at self-sabotage.By Cloe Madanes / Psychotherapy NetworkerNovember 18, 2013 from Alternet.org

Most of us claim we want to be happy—to have meaningful lives, enjoy ourselves, experience fulfillment, and share love and friendship with other people and maybe other species, like dogs, cats, birds, and whatnot. Strangely enough, however, some people act as if they just want to be miserable, and they succeed remarkably at inviting misery into their lives, even though they get little apparent benefit from it, since being miserable doesn’t help them find lovers and friends, get better jobs, make more money, or go on more interesting vacations. Why do they do this? After perusing the output of some of the finest brains in the therapy profession, I’ve come to the conclusion that misery is an art form, and the satisfaction people seem to find in it reflects the creative effort required to cultivate it. In other words, when your living conditions are stable, peaceful, and prosperous—no civil wars raging in your streets, no mass hunger, no epidemic disease, no vexation from poverty—making yourself miserable is a craft all its own, requiring imagination, vision, and ingenuity. It can even give life a distinctive meaning.So if you aspire to make yourself miserable, what are the best, most proven techniques for doing it? Let’s exclude some obvious ways, like doing drugs, committing crimes, gambling, and beating up your spouse or neighbor. Subtler strategies, ones that won’t lead anyone to suspect that you’re acting deliberately, can be highly effective. But you need to pretend that you want to be happy, like everybody else, or people won’t take your misery seriously. The real art is to behave in ways that’ll bring on misery while allowing you to claim that you’re an innocent victim, ideally of the very people from whom you’re forcibly extracting compassion and pity.Here, I cover most areas of life, such as family, work, friends, and romantic partners. These areas will overlap nicely, since you can’t ruin your life without ruining your marriage and maybe your relationships with your children and friends. It’s inevitable that as you make yourself miserable, you’ll be making those around you miserable also, at least until they leave you—which will give you another reason to feel miserable. So it’s important to keep in mind the benefits you’re accruing in your misery.
• When you’re miserable, people feel sorry for you. Not only that, they often feel obscurely guilty, as if your misery might somehow be their fault. This is good! There’s power in making other people feel guilty. The people who love you and those who depend on you will walk on eggshells to make sure that they don’t say or do anything that will increase your misery.
• When you’re miserable, since you have no hopes and expect nothing good to happen, you can’t be disappointed or disillusioned.• Being miserable can give the impression that you’re a wise and worldly person, especially if you’re miserable not just about your life, but about society in general. You can project an aura of someone burdened by a form of profound, tragic, existential knowledge that happy, shallow people can’t possibly appreciate.
Honing Your Misery Skills
Let’s get right to it and take a look at some effective strategies to become miserable. This list is by no means exhaustive, but engaging in four or five of these practices will help refine your talent.
1. Be afraid, be very afraid, of economic loss. In hard economic times, many people are afraid of losing their jobs or savings. The art of messing up your life consists of indulging these fears, even when there’s little risk that you’ll actually suffer such losses. Concentrate on this fear, make it a priority in your life, moan continuously that you could go broke any day now, and complain about how much everything costs, particularly if someone else is buying. Try to initiate quarrels about other people’s feckless, spendthrift ways, and suggest that the recession has resulted from irresponsible fiscal behavior like theirs.Fearing economic loss has several advantages. First, it’ll keep you working forever at a job you hate. Second, it balances nicely with greed, an obsession with money, and a selfishness that even Ebenezer Scrooge would envy. Third, not only will you alienate your friends and family, but you’ll likely become even more anxious, depressed, and possibly even ill from your money worries. Good job!Exercise: Sit in a comfortable chair, close your eyes, and, for 15 minutes, meditate on all the things you could lose: your job, your house, your savings, and so forth. Then brood about living in a homeless shelter.
2. Practice sustained boredom. Cultivate the feeling that everything is predictable, that life holds no excitement, no possibility for adventure, that an inherently fascinating person like yourself has been deposited into a completely tedious and pointless life through no fault of your own. Complain a lot about how bored you are. Make it the main subject of conversation with everyone you know so they’ll get the distinct feeling that you think they’re boring. Consider provoking a crisis to relieve your boredom. Have an affair (this works best if you’re already married and even better if you have an affair with someone else who’s married); go on repeated shopping sprees for clothes, cars, fancy appliances, sporting equipment (take several credit cards, in case one maxes out); start pointless fights with your spouse, boss, children, friends, neighbors; have another child; quit your job, clean out your savings account, and move to a state you know nothing about.A side benefit of being bored is that you inevitably become boring. Friends and relatives will avoid you. You won’t be invited anywhere; nobody will want to call you, much less actually see you. As this happens, you’ll feel lonely and even more bored and miserable.Exercise: Force yourself to watch hours of mindless reality TV programs every day, and read only non-stimulating tabloids that leave you feeling soulless. Avoid literature, art, and keeping up with current affairs.
3. Give yourself a negative identity. Allow a perceived emotional problem to absorb all other aspects of your self-identification. If you feel depressed, become a Depressed Person; if you suffer from social anxiety or a phobia, assume the identity of a Phobic Person or a Person with Anxiety Disorder. Make your condition the focus of your life. Talk about it to everybody, and make sure to read up on the symptoms so you can speak about them knowledgeably and endlessly. Practice the behaviors most associated with that condition, particularly when it’ll interfere with regular activities and relationships. Focus on how depressed you are and become weepy, if that’s your identity of choice. Refuse to go places or try new things because they make you too anxious. Work yourself into panic attacks in places it’ll cause the most commotion. It’s important to show that you don’t enjoy these states or behaviors, but that there’s nothing you can do to prevent them.Practice putting yourself in the physiological state that represents your negative identity. For example, if your negative identity is Depressed Person, hunch your shoulders, look at the floor, breathe shallowly. It’s important to condition your body to help you reach your negative peak as quickly as possible.Exercise: Write down 10 situations that make you anxious, depressed, or distracted. Once a week, pick a single anxiety-provoking situation, and use it to work yourself into a panic for at least 15 minutes.
4. Pick fights. This is an excellent way of ruining a relationship with a romantic partner. Once in a while, unpredictably, pick a fight or have a crying spell over something trivial and make unwarranted accusations. The interaction should last for at least 15 minutes and ideally occur in public. During the tantrum, expect your partner to be kind and sympathetic, but should he or she mention it later, insist that you never did such a thing and that he or she must have misunderstood what you were trying to say. Act injured and hurt that your partner somehow implied you weren’t behaving well.Another way of doing this is to say unexpectedly, “We need to talk,” and then to barrage your partner with statements about how disappointed you are with the relationship. Make sure to begin this barrage just as your partner is about to leave for some engagement or activity, and refuse to end it for at least an hour. Another variation is to text or phone your partner at work to express your issues and disappointments. Do the same if your partner is out with friends.Exercise: Write down 20 annoying text messages you could send to a romantic partner. Keep a grudge list going, and add to it daily.
5. Attribute bad intentions. Whenever you can, attribute the worst possible intentions to your partner, friends, and coworkers. Take any innocent remark and turn it into an insult or attempt to humiliate you. For example, if someone asks, “How did you like such and such movie?” you should immediately think, He’s trying to humiliate me by proving that I didn’t understand the movie, or He’s preparing to tell me that I have poor taste in movies. The idea is to always expect the worst from people. If someone is late to meet you for dinner, while you wait for them, remind yourself of all the other times the person was late, and tell yourself that he or she is doing this deliberately to slight you. Make sure that by the time the person arrives, you’re either seething or so despondent that the evening is ruined. If the person asks what’s wrong, don’t say a word: let him or her suffer.Exercise: List the names of five relatives or friends. For each, write down something they did or said in the recent past that proves they’re as invested in adding to your misery as you are.
6. Whatever you do, do it only for personal gain. Sometimes you’ll be tempted to help someone, contribute to a charity, or participate in a community activity. Don’t do it, unless there’s something in it for you, like the opportunity to seem like a good person or to get to know somebody you can borrow money from some day. Never fall into the trap of doing something purely because you want to help people. Remember that your primary goal is to take care of Numero Uno, even though you hate yourself.Exercise: Think of all the things you’ve done for others in the past that haven’t been reciprocated. Think about how everyone around you is trying to take from you. Now list three things you could do that would make you appear altruistic while bringing you personal, social, or professional gain.
7. Avoid gratitude. Research shows that people who express gratitude are happier than those who don’t, so never express gratitude. Counting your blessings is for idiots. What blessings? Life is suffering, and then you die. What’s there to be thankful for?Well-meaning friends and relatives will try to sabotage your efforts to be thankless. For example, while you’re in the middle of complaining about the project you procrastinated on at work to your spouse during an unhealthy dinner, he or she might try to remind you of how grateful you should be to have a job or food at all. Such attempts to encourage gratitude and cheerfulness are common and easily deflected. Simply point out that the things you should be grateful for aren’t perfect—which frees you to find as much fault with them as you like.Exercise: Make a list of all the things you could be grateful for. Next to each item, write down why you aren’t. Imagine the worst. When you think of the future, imagine the worst possible scenario. It’s important to be prepared for and preemptively miserable about any possible disaster or tragedy. Think of the possibilities: terrorist attacks, natural disasters, fatal disease, horrible accidents, massive crop failures, your child not getting picked for the varsity softball team.
8. Always be alert and in a state of anxiety. Optimism about the future leads only to disappointment. Therefore, you have to do your best to believe that your marriage will flounder, your children won’t love you, your business will fail, and nothing good will ever work out for you.Exercise: Do some research on what natural or man made disasters could occur in your area, such as earthquakes, floods, nuclear plant leaks, rabies outbreaks. Focus on these things for at least an hour a day.
9. Blame your parents. Blaming your parents for your defects, shortcomings, and failures is among the most important steps you can take. After all, your parents made you who you are today; you had nothing to do with it. If you happen to have any good qualities or successes, don’t give your parents credit. Those are flukes.Extend the blame to other people from your past: the second-grade teacher who yelled at you in the cafeteria, the boy who bullied you when you were 9, the college professor who gave you a D on your paper, your first boyfriend, even the hick town you grew up in—the possibilities are limitless. Blame is essential in the art of being miserable.Exercise: Call one of your parents and tell her or him that you just remembered something horrible they did when you were a child, and make sure he or she understands how terrible it made you feel and that you’re still suffering from it.
10. Don’t enjoy life’s pleasures. Taking pleasure in things like food, wine, music, and beauty is for flighty, shallow people. Tell yourself that. If you inadvertently find yourself enjoying some flavor, song, or work of art, remind yourself immediately that these are transitory pleasures, which can’t compensate for the miserable state of the world. The same applies to nature. If you accidentally find yourself enjoying a beautiful view, a walk on the beach, or a stroll through a forest, stop! Remind yourself that the world is full of poverty, illness, and devastation. The beauty of nature is a deception.Exercise: Once a week, engage in an activity that’s supposed to be enjoyable, but do so while thinking about how pointless it is. In other words, concentrate on removing all sense of pleasure from the pleasurable activity.
11. Ruminate. Spend a great deal of time focused on yourself. Worry constantly about the causes of your behavior, analyze your defects, and chew on your problems. This will help you foster a pessimistic view of your life. Don’t allow yourself to become distracted by any positive experience or influence. The point is to ensure that even minor upsets and difficulties appear huge and portentous.You can ruminate on the problems of others or the world, but make them about you. Your child is sick? Ruminate on what a burden it is for you to take time off from work to care for her. Your spouse is hurt by your behavior? Focus on how terrible it makes you feel when he points out how you make him feel. By ruminating not only on your own problems but also those of others, you’ll come across as a deep, sensitive thinker who holds the weight of the world on your shoulders.Exercise: Sit in a comfortable chair and seek out negative feelings, like anger, depression, anxiety, boredom, whatever. Concentrate on these feelings for 15 minutes. During the rest of the day, keep them in the back of your mind, no matter what you’re doing.
12. Glorify or vilify the past. Glorifying the past is telling yourself how good, happy, fortunate, and worthwhile life was when you were a child, a young person, or a newly married person—and regretting how it’s all been downhill ever since. When you were young, for example, you were glamorous and danced the samba with handsome men on the beach at twilight; and now you’re in a so-so marriage to an insurance adjuster in Topeka. You should’ve married tall, dark Antonio. You should’ve invested in Microsoft when you had the chance. In short, focus on what you could’ve and should’ve done, instead of what you did. This will surely make you miserable.Vilifying the past is easy, too. You were born in the wrong place at the wrong time, you never got what you needed, you felt you were discriminated against, you never got to go to summer camp. How can you possibly be happy when you had such a lousy background? It’s important to think that bad memories, serious mistakes, and traumatic events were much more influential in forming you and your future than good memories, successes, and happy events. Focus on bad times. Obsess about them. Treasure them. This will ensure that, no matter what’s happening in the present, you won’t be happy.Exercise: Make a list of your most important bad memories and keep it where you can review it frequently. Once a week, tell someone about your horrible childhood or how much better your life was 20 years ago.
13. Find a romantic partner to reform. Make sure that you fall in love with someone with a major defect (cat hoarder, gambler, alcoholic, womanizer, sociopath), and set out to reform him or her, regardless of whether he or she wants to be reformed. Believe firmly that you can reform this person, and ignore all evidence to the contrary.Exercise: Go to online dating sites and see how many bad choices you can find in one afternoon. Make efforts to meet these people. It’s good if the dating site charges a lot of money, since this means you’ll be emotionally starved and poor.
14. Be critical. Make sure to have an endless list of dislikes and voice them often, whether or not your opinion is solicited. For example, don’t hesitate to say, “That’s what you chose to wear this morning?” or “Why is your voice so shrill?” If someone is eating eggs, tell them you don’t like eggs. Your negativity can be applied to almost anything.It helps if the things you criticize are well liked by most people so that your dislike of them sets you apart. Disliking traffic and mosquitos isn’t creative enough: everyone knows what it’s like to find these things annoying, and they won’t pay much attention if you find them annoying, too. But disliking the new movie that all your friends are praising? You’ll find plenty of opportunities to counter your friends’ glowing reviews with your contrarian opinion.Exercise: Make a list of 20 things you dislike and see how many times you can insert them into a conversation over the course of the day. For best results, dislike things you’ve never given yourself a chance to like.-----

I’ve just listed 14 ways to make yourself miserable. You don’t have to nail every one of them, but even if you succeed with just four or five, make sure to berate yourself regularly for not enacting the entire list. If you find yourself in a therapist’s office—because someone who’s still clinging to their love for you has tricked you into going—make sure your misery seems organic. If the therapist enlightens you in any way or teaches you mind-body techniques to quiet your anxious mind, make sure to co-opt the conversation and talk about your misery-filled dreams from the night before. If the therapist is skilled in dream analysis, quickly start complaining about the cost of therapy itself. If the therapist uses your complaints as a launching pad to discuss transference issues, accuse him or her of having counter-transference issues. Ultimately, the therapist is your enemy when trying to cultivate misery in your life. So get out as soon as possible. And if you happen upon a therapist who’ll sit quietly while you bring all 14 items on this list to life each week, call me. I’ll want to make an appointment, too.

Cloe Madanes is a world-renowned innovator and teacher of family and brief therapy and one of the originators of the strategic approach to family therapy. She has authored seven books that are classics in the field: Strategic Family Therapy; Behind the One-Way Mirror; Sex, Love, and Violence; The Secret Meaning of Money; The Violence of Men; The Therapist as Humanist, Social Activist, and Systemic Thinker; and Relationship Breakthrough. Contact:[email protected].

Eye of the Optimist-Immediacy Theory

Posted on August 24, 2015 at 9:16 PM Comments comments (0)
Immediacy Theory, from study.com
Ch. 13, Lesson 9 Immediacy in Communication: Definition & ConceptInstructor: Shawn Grimsley
  • An important component of communication is often signaling a positive desire and willingness to communicate. In this lesson, you'll learn about immediacy in communication and some related concepts. You'll also have a chance to take a short quiz.
  • DefinitionImmediacy in communication is the way we signal closeness, willingness to communicate and positive feelings to another person. According to Peter Anderson in his article in the Encyclopedia of Communication Theory, '(i)mmediacy behaviors are actions that simultaneously communicate warmth, involvement, psychological closeness, availability for communication and positive affect.' These behaviors are both verbal and nonverbal.Verbal Immediacy BehaviorsYou exhibit verbal immediacy behaviors when you signal warmth and a willingness to connect to the receiver of the message, and when you use language that expresses immediacy. Keep in mind that cultural differences may make some of these verbal signals inappropriate.This is a fairly abstract concept, so let's look at some examples of verbal behaviors of immediacy:
  • Pronouns. Using plural pronouns such as 'us' and 'we' instead of individual pronouns such as 'I' and 'you' demonstrates immediacy in communication. The use of plural pronouns brings people together, while individual pronouns tend to make people feel separated.
  • Manner of address. Using informal means of addressing one another also signals immediacy in communication. For example, you address the receiver of your message by her first name or nickname rather than use of a title such as Ms., Dr., or Professor along with the person's last name. Again, informality tends to bring the communicators closer together and makes communication easier. Keep in mind cultural differences here - informality may be viewed as disrespectful in some cultures.
  • Openness. Being open in communication and being willing to disclose information are also immediacy behaviors. However, be mindful of cultural differences.
  • Compliments. You can gain a lot of traction through complimenting the other person because it will help encourage positive communication and signals immediacy in communication.

Eye of the Optimist -Orientations

Posted on August 12, 2015 at 12:29 AM Comments comments (0)
I have returned from vacation to teach classes in an orientation program for undergrads who have just arrived from abroad to get a few months of work experience teaching English in public schools. They are lucky they get this comprehensive program. Many teachers never do when they first start the job abroad. Someone says, "Here's the book. This is the classroom and these are the kids. Teach." Hopefully, there is someone friendly to ask advice to, but often there is not.

Would it not be wonderful to have orientations to every activity and phase of life? I supposed you could look around and find some sort of one, with all the blogs and self-help activities, but that requires you doing the fishing and knowing what to look for. At some new jobs, someone is there to show you the ropes and you may get a grace period. Often, though, there is no actual training. It is sink or swim. What about other life activities, such as leaving secondary school, starting your first dedicated romance, choosing places to live and moving in, and so on and so on? It is always nice to find some kind person, or even pay for a service to give you some pointers and wisdom as to how to proceed and what to expect.

Actually, I really wish I had a life coach by my side all my life. Perhaps, a secretary, too. They would be so helpful in keeping me on track and making better choices.

It all goes to show you the true value and functions of education. When do people not have learning experiences?

Eye of the Optimist-Parting

Posted on August 9, 2015 at 7:20 PM Comments comments (0)
Here I am at the end of my vacation in my home town, packing it up and preparing for the voyage back to my life far away. It has been a full week of reviewing life histories including mine, taking stalk of profound ongoing changes and saying good-bye yet again. It seems to me that parting takes up so much of life's space, activities and emotions, especially contemporary modern life.

Parting: parting ways, parting concepts, choosing sides, semantic processes of refinement and invention, re-classifications, divisions, re-castings, make-overs, departures from people and places, regrouping, and so on. In many ways, humans are always ending something or leaving something or someone; I guess it is a facet of change.

I had this epiphony while listening to writers tell an audience about some autobiographical stories they had been spilling onto paper. Not only were they releasing recollections of events from their life experience, they were setting free words into the open air. We in the audience were asked to think of and write down one word that encapsulated our response or experience of listening to the stories. I wrote "parting". One writer spoke about parting company with their children, another about childhood death while a third talked about parting with a self-image. These writers were introduced with a commendation for their willingness and courage to release the stories and words, so I thought of that activity as another kind of parting. Their storytelling also involved defining and categorizing experiences, which can be thought of as another sense of the word, "parting". Leaving this event, I continued to think about parting.

In the last few weeks, I have been reuniting with people with whom I parted some years ago, then revisited and parted again, and so I had to part yet again. Discussing my plans with these people, the question as to where I would live in the next two to five years came up, and I explained my intentions to part with South Korea and English teaching. 

All sorts of partings became evident in my interactions and conversations. The topics of old age and death in old age also came up. There were confessions and sharings of such experiences. Parting can be a long and involved process, as in the case of a dear departed one or the case of the transition from able to less able elder. I suppose some philosophers might well say that it is a life-long process. Some cases such as these and others were about physical moves of residence, which can also be a big transition. Then there is the change in employment or job status, topics which indeed came up more than a couple of times. 

Then there were the incidents of break-ups. I heard about associations engaged in rancorous and messy splits. You know, people can simply announce they are ready to make a change and thank the teachers, organizers and coworkers/ associates without finding blame, getting angry, and denouncing the former association, but people behave those ways a lot when it is time to make a change, especially in this town. It is not one of the most admirable features of my hometown. Of course longer term associations and more intimate associations like romance and marriage tend to be more emotionally charged and the unwieldy and out-of-control sentiments are easier to appreciate for the greater difficulties in managing that kind of change. However, changing social, community, musical, recreational, sport, educational and the like should pass much more smoothly and rationally, but they don't usually, in my experience. Go figure.

Of course, aging and travel requires parting with memories and memorabilia. On this particular trip, I threw out items stored for decades. It was a last farewell to treasured keepsakes and documents but one has to part with them sooner or later. I think it is good to keep personal history and present life in balance, so that we can enjoy and review cherished and important memories without living too deeply within memory. I find it helps to keep on track for personal development and achieving new goals by ridding myself of excess baggage of the past; it is decisive and categorical action.

I could have found somewhere else to go for a holiday this year. That's what I did the two previous summers. The fact is, though, that my roots are here, and I cannot completely uproot myself or avoid tripping over them when I am here. Those roots compel me to revisit them from time to time, and I am constantly challenged to find new locations for growing and extending myself and my dreams. 

My departure from life here and the subsequent visits and partings make me ever more conscious that places are altered and new places arise. One is always faced with the question, "Where in life next?" Where am I going to reside in the future? How will that alter my identity, associations, purpose and occupation in the future?

Eye of the Optimist-writing and reflecting for social success

Posted on June 17, 2015 at 6:14 AM Comments comments (0)
Here are two tips about adjusting your head to take on a more positive viewpoint. They both involve writing. The object is more social success.

Two Simple Exercises To Help You Think More Positively
Copyright 2015 http://www.succeedsocially.com/positiveexercises

It's human nature to focus on the negative. It makes sense to a degree. We need to notice what's wrong and think about how to fix it. However, if this tendency goes too far it can make us unnecessarily insecure or depressed. We can counteract it by taking time to explicitly remind ourselves of the many things that are going well in our lives. The two exercises below are built on this principle.

I first read about this exercise in the Positive Psychology book Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being by Dr. Martin Seligman. Studies have shown it to be effective in reducing feelings of depression.

1. Before you go to bed set aside a few minutes to write down three things that went well for you that day. It doesn't matter if it's in a physical journal, a Google Docs document, or your phone. Use whatever method is most convenient for you.
  • Went on a bike ride and explored some new trails.
  • Saw an interesting new movie with my friends.
  • Did well on my Calculus exam, despite being nervous about it.
  • Had a nice chat with my mom on the phone.
  • Had a nice fun date night with my husband.
  • I asked Stephanie out on a date. She said no, but at least I tried.
  • Got a big chunk of that project at work out of the way.
2. Besides each item write a quick explanation about why it happened. For example:

My personal experiences with the exercise
  • Within a week of starting I started noticing an effect on my thinking. Because the exercise only asked me to think about and record the good parts of each day, my mind gave them that much more weight.
  • Even when something bad happened I didn't dwell on it as much, or even started focusing on the silver lining, which I could write down for the exercise. Since the negative events weren't being permanently captured they faded from my consciousness more quickly.
  • Every day ended on a little positive note.
  • After about two weeks I started to get this feeling that I was riding this streak of success-filled days. After all, I had a written record to prove it.
  • At times the exercise changed my behavior. If I was having a lazy, uneventful day I'd think, "I should go out and do something fun, or get some work done, so I'll have some decent points to write down for tonight."
  • When I encountered the exercise I misread the instructions and thought it said to give a reason why each event happened, but based on what I did personally, through my actions or personality, to bring it about. It was a happy accident, because it made me focus on the choices and character traits I had that allowed me to bring positive things into my life. If you do the exercise you may want to try this variation.
  • The exercise inspired me to try similar ideas, like taking some time on New Year's Day to come up with a list of every success and highlight from the previous year.

Things I'm Grateful For exercise (Ongoing version)
1. Before you turn in for the night write down three things you're grateful for. They don't need to be related to anything that happened to you that day, just anything you can think of. The items don't need to be deep or poetic, just something you appreciate having in your life. Some examples:
  • ...I have my health.
  • ...I live in a safe, prosperous country.
  • ...there are so many good video games coming out right now.
  • ...I have such awesome friends.
  • ...that I have the time and freedom to work on my social issues.
  • ...I'm relatively financially secure.
  • ...mangos are in season.
  • ...that Mad Men exists and is such a well-written, nuanced show.

2. Again, commit to trying the exercise for at least two weeks. If it doesn't float your boat, don't worry about quitting. If you find it helpful, continue with it as long as you'd like.

Sit down, and in one session write out as many things as possible that you're grateful for. You'll likely get more results for your mood when you remind yourself of these things daily, but this version is good for giving you a quick shift in perspective. It can help you see the bigger picture if you're in a spot where life isn't going your way.

Eye of the Optimist - Life Transitions

Posted on May 18, 2015 at 12:40 AM Comments comments (0)
I teach and in one of my classes we have been talking about life transition. We have discussed the meaning of the term and what kind of mental process that one goes through when they experience a big change in the life situation. It is really a question of mental health. If you make it through the process, you come out healthy and feeling positive about the new circumstances. You adjust and go with the flow.

There seems to be a lot of information on this topic on the internet uploaded by kind people and responsible services that are knowledgeable about it. I think people should be grateful for that because a big life change can be very disruptive, disconcerting, frustrating, infuriating, and hard to manage. Actually, one big change usually brings another, so that humans usually experience multiple life changes all at once.

Consider moving. You lose  many familiar neighbours, friends, routines, recreational activities, scenery, and conveniences such as reliable services and stores. Proximity to a significant family member may be lost as well. The move likely coincides with a change in occupation, too. You have to learn new procedures, routines, authority, commutes and information. You have to get used to a new physical environment, as well as a new social context.You have to build new relationships and find out where the things you need and want are. 

What may have been the reason for the move? Was it the job? Was it finances? Was it a change in mates, like a marriage or divorce? Both a big change in financial circumstances and cohabitation are earthshaking life events that impose enough of a burden each in of itself. When compounded with the move and a change in employment, it would be more than most people can bear, so they suffer anger and anxiety, along with grief over the losses. 

The mental health would be in great risk in the event of compounded life changes, so coping methods would be necessary, including remedies for physical health, counseling, relaxation, reflection techniques such as journal writing and goal making. All the more reason to write blogs and other kinds of journals! All the more reason to regularly reflect, assess and set and adjust your goals, short and long term!

There are a pile of expectations of individuals in the modern world. It is very demanding. It pays to be aware of what effects a life transition have, and what the process is like in order to stay grounded and positive-minded.

Eye of the Optimist -Cultural Awareness

Posted on April 30, 2015 at 7:27 AM Comments comments (0)
Living and teaching in a foreign culture has its frustrations and anxieties. Rather than succumbing to such negative feelings, one can use the opportunity to develop more cultural awareness. Moreover, one can assume some responsibility in educating herself and students about cultural difference. Who better than a foreign FL teacher to teach cultural awareness?
As more societies become more and more multicultural in this day and age, and people generally must travel farther and more frequently, intercultural contact is a fact of life. Appreciating cultural difference and adjusting to different cultural milieus is a necessity. Lack of appreciation and failure to adjust can lead to acute conflict.
If you are a speaker of another language yourself, you know that language learning is an education in cultural awareness above all else. If you learn a language because you are attracted to it and enjoy the challenge, you know the joy of exploring a culture as much as a land and all the revelations it holds, despite the initial inconveniences and problems with communication. Indeed, cultural competence may be more important than linguistic competence when it comes to actually communicating effectively.
Cultural encounters, however, are not bowls of cherries if you must be immersed and learn to navigate through unfamiliar social situations over the long term. It can be a painful struggle that makes you confused and uncertain. Actually, the teacher teaching abroad may experience culture shock as much as the foreign student studying abroad. After the so-called “honeymoon” phase, when everything seems wonderful, intriguing and exciting because it is new, they can quickly sink into the negative feeling of the next stage. In the throes of culture shock, they can typically experience the following symptoms: difficulty sleeping, sadness, homesickness, exhaustion, increased worry, a desire to withdraw, unexplained crying, and overeating. They can fall into a habit of blaming the host people and country, and even associate with compatriots to grouse about them. The negative discussion and feelings can develop into hostility and stereotyping. If they do not take steps to understand the process they are experiencing and learn about the new culture, they can remain alienated and may become stuck in a negative and hostile mindset. There are many websites with pages that describe this mental health process in detail and recommend recourse. In writing this piece, I recently read an article (Oberg, undated) on the World Wide Classroom, a Consortium for International Education and Multiculturalism that offer resources for employees and students abroad (http://www.worldwide.edu/students/). Colleges often offer similar help, for example the following site: http://www.northeastern.edu/nuin/pdf/aus_stages_culture_shock.pdf .
The FL educator can and should help. Not only can she educate herself to deepen her own awareness, she can weave cultural awareness into classroom language lessons. First of all, though, she should take care of herself and take measures to become more familiar with the language and culture of the new setting if she is a recently arrived foreign teacher. If she teaches in her home culture and has foreign students, on the other hand, she and her institution should make efforts to ease the students’ situation.

Starting from the assumption that language and culture learning are one and the same process, classroom language lessons can be put into specific contexts and language tasks appropriate to the contexts learned and practiced. Comparisons between the cultural contexts and practices of the target language and that of the students can be made and discussed. Positive examples of intercultural situations, such as traveling and so on, can be made without glossing over the difficulties of adjustment. Humour can be used to shed light. 

The FL educator can lend the privilege, insight and knowledge of her situation to raise cultural awareness in the classroom. The understanding gained and discussions accomplished will be valuable for the language learner over time. Also, potential conflicts that students or graduates might otherwise get into can be avoided or mitigated because of the lessons learned in the FL classroom.

Eye of the Optimist-shedding toxic ties

Posted on April 26, 2015 at 6:50 AM Comments comments (21)
Today I found the courage and resolve to let go of a toxic relationship. I made the decision that it is a positive step to dissolve such a soured relationship.

I have discussed this sort of problem before when I decided it was healthier for me to back out of associations in some cases, while generally looking to build positive relationships in my life, and consequently the community around me. I dealt with this while writing "A Year of Living Positively" as I went through a couple of episodes with people who breed negativity in my life. I never felt comfortable with them. They were people who made me feel smaller. Back then I asked myself, "Why stay attached to people who cause me to feel lousy, and invoke behaviour I do not like in myself?" Best to remind myself of my own self-worth and know when it is worth it to leave, stepping back defeats negative factors and strengthening the positive.

It seems like departures take place far too often in life. I guess only a few people are fortunate to have a more secure grounding and live genuinely in nurturing social environments. I believe that kind of situation to be rare.

It is always painful at one level or another to break away. It is also a mental adjustment. You know when it is healthy to do so when your body relaxes and you can breathe better once the step is taken. Nagging thoughts as well as feelings dissipate. It is harder to accept in certain circumstances, though, like when a purely social association is involved, or, worse, when it revolves around a social cause or community service. When the object is to assist others or provide a friendly occasion, why are some people fearful enough to let their anxieties or resentments or desire to dominate get in the way and rupture what could and should be a positive experience? I don't know, but I know I don't want to be around them, even though it may interfere with one of my set goals, desire for company or ideological or political aims. If it is a destructive situation and the fight is not a life or death matter, then leaving may be a solution.

At the heart of the matter in my story today is a spiteful woman who does not like hearing "no" when she wants something. She is vengeful. She caused some wrecking of a non-profit association last year, which I was able to repair. She had spread gossip and negativity because a conference turned down her application to present. She retreated into the background but she got extremely busy on the internet, particularly in social media promoting herself, and self-publishing this and that to construct a facade of an expert. Just when things with this organization got back into the upswing this year to the point where I thought things had stabilized because we had organized successful public events, she is at it again. Her demands to make a presentation to members was rejected by a leading figure (me)and she again resorted to personal attacks and gossip through her circle of friends to thereby inflame a situation and distort information.  She has too much influence socially and she is able to manipulate those volunteers still active at meetings, and they have too little experience and insight to see through it and appreciate the larger picture. This person is never concerned about others or the state of the organization; rather, she talks about herself and her views, trying to build herself up by knocking others down, and can see little else. By her indirect interference, she has practically destroyed the Chapter this time around. I was the target of her vengeance and spite. I could no longer endure and threw in the towel. I cannot function in such an atmosphere any more.

I do not know how my accusers will be able to rescue the organization. As things stand, there is not much skill or will left to do it. I tried. There is nothing more I can do anymore. I was very uncomfortable and endured put-downs, hostility and coldness all along for the sake of the larger cause, safeguarding an important service to the community here, but I can no longer endure.

To the main protagonist in the drama to beat me down, I suggest she get psychological counseling. For me, I can now fulfill a 2015 New Year's pledge to withdraw from volunteer work by allowing myself to drop this last standing volunteer commitment and set myself free from the possibility of any such wrangle occurring in my presence in the midst of altruistic benevolent activities again. Sad, but that's the reality.

Thinking and Doing It Positively

Household Treasures

11 January 2021

I heard an interviewee speaking over the radio talk about cherishing items in the home. It is one way to explore and enjoy surroundings without traveling, he said​I'll try it.

A lot of objects on display in my apartment are artifacts from my travels, ironically. They refresh my most poignant memories of precious and mind-opening explorations.

Sitting atop the filing cabinet next to my desk are to souvenirs from South Korea, where I worked and resided for 10 years. After such a lengthy stay, I have loads of memories prompted by numerous artifacts of my experiences in that country. These two are among the best reflections of cultural and historical particularities of South Korea. They are a framed photo of a hero central to the labour and national democratic struggles and an ornament from folk culture in the countryside of the southern part of South Korea.

Jun Tae-Il was a courageous student activist leading actions against the last dictatorship in his country. He represents the heart of the movement and the victory for democracy. He became a martyr when the police fatally shot him while he was demonstrating in the street in Seoul, the capitol. The ornament is an ceramic fertility fetish, an image of a penis from one of several such parks in the southern region where I used to live. This part of the country remained tribal longer than other parts, so folk traditions such as shamanism and superstitions have endured. Fertility monuments were erected (pun intended), of course, bring about more healthy children. The foreigner exploring such parks giggle at the sights. 

Next to the filing cabinet is a bookshelf. One of the most noticeable objects near the top of this piece of furniture is a tacky, plastic, white alarm clock. It is significant because I bought it to ensure I woke up on time on my last morning living in South Korea. I had an early flight. As a small travel alarm clock had recently failed, and I was not sure my phone alarm would wake me fully, I picked up a cheap clock at a local general store. I don't use it as its ticking is noisy, but I have not thought to give it away. It remains perched on the shelf, deprived of a battery, as a reminder of my departure from the ex-pat life and return to Canada. 

I also have items saved from two trips to Cuba, one in 2003 and one in 2019. Both trips were organized political events. The first took me there with a political choral group to meet Cuban choirs, learn some of their songs, perform with Cubans, attend the May 1st rally, meet labour associations and tour the island for two weeks. I am looking at a typical replication of a sketch of Che Gevarra which one can find easily in street markets. Our choir, supportive of the Cuban revolution, valued the Cuban revolutionary democracy, social arrangements and political principals which that image, the most famous in all the world, represents to millions of people. It inspires and gives hope. I remember strolling through the streets, visiting markets and restaurants, chatting with locals and attending all the meetings on our hectic schedule. I have other little treasures such as a ceramic, hand painted ashtray, photos of our Cuban comrades, and an African-Cuban, wooden statuette.

Above my desk hang a pair of water colour paintings in wood frames. They portray sites in southern Manitoba in the general area where my grandparents met, married and bore my mother. They feature two views of the banks of the Red River, a river highly important to Canadian history. There were battles against invading Americans launched there and a key struggle of the Métis nation. The city of Winnipeg lies nearby, which used to be the industrial hub of Canada until the Panama Canal opened up and undermined the Canadian railway system. I have only passed through Winnipeg by car. This area is not one I remember, for I have never visited it. 

On the floor near my desk lies a wicker hamper. I have mixed feelings about it, but it has been very useful, so I have kept it. You see, it belonged to my father's second wife. My father remarried this odd, older person rather quickly after my mother passed, which denied her children necessary time to adjust. I carried resentment about her, but chose to avoid them rather than say anything or show my negative feelings. As I said, it is a practical item for it holds linens and Christmas stuff and allows aeration through the woven stems.

I originally bought the filing cabinet to organize research, not academic information but information found in the course of activism and stabs at political journalism. It therefore stores records of several international and regional conferences. Though I purge it once in awhile, there are still clippings, leaflets and pamphlets. They cover issues such as Canadian mining firms abroad, human rights cases, privacy rights, student concerns and transportation. I have been replacing old articles and folders with my own writing pieces. Among them are also old, self-published newsletters addressing local and international issues, some of my published articles and unpublished poems. 

Conversational News

10 January 2021

It is so good to be able to express myself and have contact with readers through this blog again. The loss of the access to my blog along with other aspects of confinement and restrictions really affected me. There were added unsettling restrictions due to circumstances, even including access to my games when Adobe Flash Player was removed. I was feeling the mounting stress of rising COVID cases and the awareness of the damages inflicted by this disease as well as the damage inflicted by states that remain focused on helping profitable enterprises more than addressing the disease and health care and financial interventions fully and equitably. Most such as Canada are handing the responsibility of pandemic management to individuals. Very unjust!

I had been handling the conditions of the pandemic fairly well, but emotions were catching up to me in December as I personally began to feel tired and stressed. I started to feel irritable and alarmed. I looked forward to two weekends at home over Christmas and New Years, but the employer wanted me to work on the Saturdays. Saturday being the heaviest work day for me with five hours straight teaching and two hours travel, I had been wanting relief to get a chance to rest and calm down. I ended up taking the Saturday following NY Day off, which certainly helped. I am much better now.

I did not carry through with my usual practice of personal assessment and planning in December as is my habit. I was too agitated. I did not want to reflect on this past year, actually. Not then.

Anyway, there is not any change in my goals. I generally carried through with financial, livelihood, social, family, health and growth goals. However, the social and family goals were frustrated by Covid-19 rules. However, there are elder relatives with multiple health problems whose mental health was being upset by the situation, so I have been visiting with them in cafes and such. They are better now. I have also been aiding an elderly neighbour whose health, already in decline this year, was getting worse partially because of Covid-related restraints. (Her degrading sight and hearing, as well as shaking and loss of balance, caused her to stop driving permanently, and skeletal issues caused her to stop regular exercise. She is worried she will be forced to consider entering a facility while many care homes are in crisis!) My exercise regime was also compromised. The local fitness center remains open but I perceive it as risky, so I do not go there. Aside from some hiking and walking to accomplish transit and errands, I haven't been exercising much until recently. Now I do some yoga, lunging, stretching and weighted arm raises sometimes. I am prevented this week because of an inflammation (hemorrhoid caused by lengthy sitting!).

 One big factor affecting stress and anxiety levels is news reportage. State and private corporate news services, like most enterprises today, try to streamline by relying more on tech and web browsing to find news topics. There are fewer reporters and there is less extended, investigative reporting. For the past decade at least, such services have resorted to "conversational journalism." It is an adjustment to distrust of news and official authorities during a trend of democratization, I feel. However, it tends to keep popularity and viewer or reader stats in mind. Topics can be sensationalized by rehashing events and speculation. Commentators are brought in to discuss as are senior reporters, but the discussion is not very productive in that it does not lead to increased knowledge. Rather, it keeps generating more questions. Conversations often entertain unanswerable questions, particularly because there can be no resolution. They just push the topic and stimulate possible answers to stir up controversy and alarm in order to improve ratings. Pertinent information might be omitted if it actually answers a question. Once audiences abandon a thread, they turn to some other topic and start over. It is really unconscionable because of the innuendo, speculation, rumour, omission, lack of investigation, assumptions and biases.

The COVID coverage is a clear case in point. Partial information is supplied, such as a medical official's announcement that is partly based in some truth. The announcement is questioned. Opponents are recruited to present the false arguments. Sideline topics are raised to create more friction. Proper sources are ignored. Questions are recycled and spin round and round with no conclusion. The affect is understandable: alarm, anxiety, fear, stress, accusations, complaints, etc.

I follow a couple of doctors who produce daily videos to update viewers on scientific developments and explore reasoning behind government and medical decisions regarding the pandemic. I rely on Dr. John Campble and Doctor Moran. Find them on Youtube. Campbell is the most digestable, for he uses plain English, which Moran is more technical. The latter seems to be addressing people in the medical field. By following Campbell, in particular, I can see the gaps in the regional and national news reporting. I can see that they are lagging behind the news by ignoring or failing to search for reliable information.

We're Back

07 January 2021

Apologies to my followers and viewers. You have been very supportive and encouraging for many years. I might have disappointed some of you who were looking for new entries from me. 

Let me explain. VISTAPRINT changed its platform last year. When they did that, the method for making blog entries changed. I had no information from them about what to do. It simply appeared that I know longer had any blogging service. 

However, I just spoke to a VISTAPRINT rep who guided me. I can now write blog entries, as you can see.

It was a strange year all the way around. Things seemed kind of more chaotic than usual. I felt agitated and stressed last month for no definite reason. I had trouble sleeping. I felt exhausted.

My general astrology reading asserted that the pulling away of Jupiter, one of my planets and a very powerful one, from Saturn would make Sagitarians feel exhausted by the end of December. Despite the restrictions imposed because of the pandemic, it does indeed feel like I worked and accomplished a lot (activism, teaching, writing). Things are supposed to get easier for us Sagges. 

There was added stress because of the effects of the pandemic. Not only that but worse, state aggression seemed to increased around the world, causing civilian mass responses. Though I had handled it pretty well until the end of 2020, I guess it finally got to me and I started soaking up some of the stress and anxiety emitting from my region and beyond.

2021 is starting out a bit weird, too. Just look at yesterday's events. U.S. Whitehouse invasion. Solar flare sending rays that caused several storms, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. More lockdowns. 

I wish all my readers well. I will resume entering focused pieces when I have more time. Please stick with me. Thank you for your comments to date.

Ed Wise


15 January 2020