Thursday, August 30, 2018

Wide Sweeping Love: Why Does it have to be Just One?

Do you love only either your mom or dad?  Without enough love in reserve to feel strongly for both of them?  Do you only love one of your siblings, and not the others?  Simply by means of having no love left over after in loving one.  Do you only feel deep affection, caring, and/or love for just one friend?  Turning away all other friends for potential deep connections because there isn't enough love, caring, and connection to go around?  Or because loving one friend means by default that its impossible for you to love another?

The answer to all of these questions is of course, no.

We can, and do, love many people in our lives with similar strength and depth.  Usually experiencing poignant connections with several.  Never assuming that the light of love we experience with one will somehow take away from the light of another.

We love both our parents (unless of course, there is an extenuating circumstance).  We tend to love all of our siblings.  We can love more than one household pet with equal affection.  We feel deep caring and love for several friends in our lives.  We can adore many, many different foods.  Feel impassioned by a handful of hobbies.  So why then is it that our culture so touts and strongholds us into the mindset and belief that with romantic love, we can only love one?  That to love more than one is not only impossible, its also wrong, "less than," deceitful, even bad.

Why is monogamy taken to be the one right means, the default way of having a relationship?  Why is it considered the only "right," correct, real, or true way of being in a relationship?  And that all other relationship models are inferior, demonized, wrong, less good, not genuine or true.  Seems pretty narrow, brow beating, as well as impossibly absurd to me. 

No one way is ever the right way, the only good or true one.

Monogamy came into play back during the agricultural age, when ownership of land and property became part of the picture.  With the ownership of goods, we felt a need to also stake a sort of ownership of our partners.  In a way, to protect the passing down of these goods and "keep them in the family."

Yes, to a strong degree, humans do pair bond.  We come to love someone, and then tend to want to keep that person close, to continue deepening the relationship, to remain connected with this person (assuming the relationship remains a healthy and good one).  The more we invest emotionally with each close relationship in our life, the more attached to it we tend to become.  This is all legit and normal.  Its even good.  Though this falls more into an emotional vein regarding love/attachment/closeness than necessarily a sexually one.  Though we tend to assume the two must be one in the same, while they certainly can be and often are, they are not automatically synonymous.  Though in many Westernized modern relationships, we have come to assume and demand this be so (and readily rejecting any ideas of anything otherwise).

There have also been numerous tribes, as well as other cultures and groups, who do not practice sexual monogamy as the default.  Many of the tribes who practice such a different way of interpersonal relations share most if not all of their resources, such as land, food, shelter, and yes, sex.  They tend to live in small groups.  There is little to no competition among them.  Little to no fear of loss or intense jealousy.  (As jealousy stems from perceived fear of loss).  Instead, everything is shared.  They see each other as a team, as companions, as having of each others backs.  Not as though taking things from one another, not as though "this is mine" and "that is yours."  Instead, there is a strong sense of commodore and kinship among them.  And yes, even caring and love.

Among several primates, which are one of the most closely related other species to ourselves, there are several powerful points of evidence that we as humans are not naturally monogamous.  Specifically a species of primate called the Bonobo, these are our closest genetic relatives in the animal kingdom.  The noises females make during sex, to draw other males closer and alert them of her sexual activity and prowess (human females do this too).  The size of certain genitalia and body parts.  Even particulars with regards to how they engage in sexual activity and relate to one another.  For more on this (the evolution of human sexuality), check out "Sex at Dawn" by Christopher Ryan.

And finally, lets examine monogamy itself.  For some people, it works.  Over a lifetime, there is a small subset of couples who remain both sexually and emotionally faithful (though to me, this is one of those ambiguous and much layered, relative terms.  What does emotionally faithful mean exactly?  That you must never desire anyone else?  Because that's impossible, unless you are dead.  Does it mean never having romantic feelings for anyone else?  Never spending time with anyone of the opposite gender?) to one another, and for both of them, it truly works and feels right, good, and is the way that best suits them for having a relationship.

For a greater sweeping of people though, this is not necessarily what best suits them.  Though we have been told that monogamy is the default, the only right way, the script for any and all relationships, many people shoehorn themselves into this arrangement because they don't think anything otherwise is even possible.  They fear outer judgement, and the navigation of inner strife with regards to figuring it out.  They also fear losing their partner if they were to bring such a thing up in the first place.  So they sit with the default, even though it may be an ill-fitting puzzle piece.

Lets consider for a moment:

Roughly half of all marriages end in divorce.

The number of people who remain married must consider those who remain together, though are just moving along based on routine, familiarity, and daily steam.  I am referring to people who are not especially happy nor flourishing in their current relationship/marriage.  The relationship is workable and fine.  Not much more, not necessarily less.  Many of these people will end up having affairs.  Many of them will end up complacent and gritting through a fair degree of it.  So lets assume that on top of the 50% of marriages that end, another decent percentage of marriages aren't especially happy.  (Aka, "being married" in and of itself is not necessarily any kind of success or badge of honor.  Instead, the key question: is the marriage a good one?)

And finally, the number of people who remain married but are downright unhappy.  A flat out mismatch.  An unhealthy union.  Those who have come to what should be a divergence in their paths and yet, they stay (out of some combination of laziness, fear, and comfort- because its easier).

Lastly, consider all the people who cheat, married or not.  The number that's reported varies widely, depending on whom you ask.  Combine that figure with all the people who cheat and didn't admit to doing so on some kind of survey.  Its not a small number.

That is a lot of relationship endings, conclusions, mismatches, and misery.  (Important note: just because something ends doesn't automatically mean it was wrong all along.  It can mean that, though just as often, it doesn't mean that at all).

Maybe the root cause of all this isn't with this insane percentage of people who seem to be either unhappy in their current union, ending things with a long time partner, or cheating.  Maybe instead, the fault is with the system.  If you had a watch that only worked half the time, you would consider it a failure as a product.  Monogamy is a product that works some of the time, for some people.  It also doesn't work much of the time and/or over long periods of time, for a lot of people.

Our marriages today are tall orders indeed.  As a spouse (or even romantic partner, married or not), we are supposed to check all of the following boxes for our partner:

-sole sexual partner
-best friend
-financial advisor
-co parent (if you have children)
-co housekeeper
-permanent +1 (expected to attend most to all events together, going to visit one another's families with the other frequently, etc)

No one person can possibly fulfill all of these roles at any given time, or even most of the time.  When you put that much weight and expectation on any one person and one relationship?  Its only a matter of time before the house of cards collapses.  Its an impossible order.

Might it be that our expectations of one single relationship (aka our romantic one) set us up for brutal disappointment and disillusionment?  For being feeling left wanting often?  For frequently leaving something to be desired?

Maybe it isn't that we have chosen the wrong person.  That something in our partner is lacking.  Again, maybe its the system that is in error.  The fact that we "must" be with only one person, and then if that person doesn't fulfill us in all ways, we are then left with two options.  We have to either deal with it, or dump them.  To me, this seems like a setup for a cycling through people.  Its a setup for perpetual disappointment, yearning, and resentment.  Its also harshly black and white.

What if instead, as we do with friendships, we realized that different connections with varying people fulfill different needs in each of us?  That relevant, poignant lessons can be learned from different relationships and different people?  That no one person can possibly fulfill and meet all our needs?  That placing so much weight on one relationship and person is, quite often, the reason it collapses?  That its likely there are many people who are awesome matches, though whose relationships bite the dust in the midst of all this expectation which no one person can possibly meet?  And that maybe, relieving some of that weight would result in less disappointment, less unrealistic expectations. and less feeling of things to be desired.

I've heard the lame retort and defense of "well, people who are interested in polyamory or open relationships just want freedom to have sex with other people."  Not necesarrily.  And really, if that is someone's main incentive, don't be in any sort of relationship configuration.  Just go out and have sex with people.  Nothing wrong with that, as long as you do so honestly and respectfully with all involved. 

So sure, sex will often be part of having more than one romantic relationship at a time.  Just as often though, it tends to be about having freedom to create and pursue deep, meaningful connections with more than just one person.  Sometimes these relationships are hardly sexual at all and are more emotional.  To contextualize my point though, imagine if you were told, "you can only have just one close friend at a time, ever.  Never more." 

Some people would be ok with this.  Many would not.

Its true that a romantic relationship takes a signifigant amount of time, focus, investment, and energy.  Sustaining more than one would not necesarrily be an easy task.  That's not to say though that it wouldn't be a worthwhile one that might offer more benefits and joys than potentially anticipated.  Some people might have no interest in that anyway, which is fair enough, all well, and totally good.  Some people may though, and its of course, absolutely possible.

Another important point is with regards to jealousy.  Its important to remember that if a relationship is monogamous, jealousy still arises, as well as in non-monogamy.  Both entail fear of loss, moments of insecurity, as well as jealousy.  One is just as likely to be left at some point in a relationship in monogamy as with another arrangement.  In fact, some studies and psychological points suggest it might even be more likely in monogomy.  As in, anything that feels stifled, trapped, contained, may eventually decide on wanting to venture beyond those narrow confines.

In fact, imagine this concept: your partner, or maybe even you, meet someone else whom they like (or, you meet someone that you like).  You feel attracted to this person, want to get to know them and form a connection with them.  You have a choice.  Either forgo this new, potentially fruitful connection with another human being, or, dump your partner in order to pursue it.  As we are told is the "only right" way, you cannot possibly have both.

Imagine though, if you could.  Imagine if you could maintain the loving, close connection you have with your partner, while enjoying a different, though equally as fulfilling connection with another person too.  You didn't have to choose one or the other.  You could experience them both.  To me, that largely diminishes much of the fear of loss.  As with our cultures alignment in the freedom to have multiple close friends and thus, never feel a need to dump one if suddenly meeting a new friend who strikes our fancy (we can just add them into our life, not needing to rid our life of anyone else in the meantime).

My aim in this article isn't to toot the horn of, nor advertise non-monogomy.  (Personally, I am currently in a monogamous relationship, and this feels great/fits well for me at the moment).  Instead, its to suggest that there are positives to this relational approach, as well as validity and truth, to other relational models aside from monogamy. 
Regardless of and apart from what our society tells us in the narrow script they so heavily push on us as being the "only" correct or real one. 

My goal is to draw attention, and even openness, to other ideas and potential ways of engaging in our own relationships.  That generally, one sweater in the same size is not going to fit all.  In fact, it wont even fit most.   Even if we are commanded and demanded that it should and we had damn well better make it fit.  (Evidence of this: a 2016 study published in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy found that 1 in 5 people in the US engage in some form of consensual non-monogamy throughout their lives).

People also change, grow, and shift.  Sometimes, one relational model or approach will work well for an individual for a time, and then they may decide it no longer feels good, or that it leaves them feeling left wanting, or that something about it doesn't feel quite right.  They might experiment with another one and find that it doesn't work out well in the way they though it would, so they fine tune that a bit more.  Adjustments can continually be made.  Just like bodies change as we age, passions and hobbies can evolve and shift, careers often evolve and even frequently alter entirely to something totally different in a persons mid life, relationship needs and styles can also change.

With regards to jealousy once more though, this emotion stems from fear of loss.  Being afraid of losing something, a perceived fear of having something taken from you.  Imagine you are friends with "Jane" and "Mike."  You befriend someone new, "Susan."  Are Jane or Mike terrified of your becoming friends with Susan?  As if this might result in their losing you as a friend?  What if you like Susan a lot?  Would you promptly dump Jane and/or Mike as a result?  As though you cannot possibly have close emotional connections with all three of them?

So lets assume you add Susan to your mix of friends.  Then, what if months later, you befriend another person?  Lets call this person Mark.  In becoming buddies with Mark, are Susan, Jane, or Mike freaking out because you connected with another person and thus, may dump one or all of them?  Because you cannot have multiple friends, it just isnt possible.  You can only have one for whom you care.  If you have any more, you must get rid of the others.  Or, its simply impossible to have deep feelings for more than just the one.  Apparently, this is a human anomaly.

Sounds absurd, right?  Yet, thats exactly how we treat and consider romantic relationships.

Another point aside, our default relationship has one model: work it out, make it so that both people are getting all their needs met, or, break up.  Thats it.  So black and white.  To me, this is often akin to throwing out the baby with the bathwater.  If a relationship is really good, yet there are a few key needs that relationship doesn't meet, why must you either stay and suffer to a degree, be left wanting, or end the relationship entirely?  Cant there be other possibilities in there?  Of course there are.  They just totally freak us out, so we sweep any consideration or exploration of such aside.  And, because our culture so strongly drills into our heads "monogamy, monogamy, its the only real, right, and good way."

Within this article, Ive tried to lay out multiple thoughts from different vantage points.  Most, professing positive and potential advantages to other relational models, while still giving voice and consideration to challenges that can arise.

The point though is this: all relationship types and models have challenges, and all relationship models have great aspects.  No one is better than the other.  The point is about which one is best for you.  Not what our culture and society rams down our throats which, as you can see in looking around, doesn't work for a lot of people over the long term. 

There are numerous positives for having a non-monogamous relationship, and there are numerous positives for monogamous ones.  There are also challenges/negatives that can and will arise in both, monogamous and non-monogamous relationships.  Some of these challenges are different, with the varying relationship types.  Other challenges though are the same.

The major underlying point here though is this: monogamy is not the best way.  Its not the only right, good, true, or valid way to love.  Non monogamous relationships are not bad, fake, or necessarily worse than monogamous ones.  Plenty of people in monogamous relationships are miserable.  What makes a relationship good is: are the two people in it a generally good match, are they happy and healthy together, do they treat one another with love and respect.  None of this is connected to monogamy.

We can love both our parents equally.  Loving all of our siblings the same.  We can and do feel deep affection, love, and care for several close friends.  We can love multiple pets with similar strength.  Its absurd and nonsensical that this is somehow impossible in romantic relations.  That is merely what our culture tells us, which does not make it true.  Love: why does it have to be just one?  It doesn't.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Rules for Life: #1 Remember Lobsters and Lions

"12 Rules for Life" by Jordan Peterson.  This is what I am reading at the moment and while certain pieces of his philosophy, I could leave more than I might take, so much of this book is phenomenal.  Insightful.  Inspiring.  Thought provoking.  Excellent prose and writing.  He digs deep and poses a lot of integral questions, both with regards to each of our individual lives, and humanity as whole.

(The blog entry following is a combination of my own writing swirled with Jordan Petersons.  Several passages are lifted directly from his book, if I found them particularly well said, poignant, or important, in order for my sharing with you here and passing them along- as I think everyone should read the main messages and meat of this book.  However, much of this entry are words that are entirely my own).

The first rule of the twelve that Jordan professes is: standing up straight, with your shoulders back

As this is a particular personal challenge of mine, I decided on writing about it for that very reason.  With regards to the way I most wish to be (as well as, how I have seen, read, and believe is most effective in terms of moving through life, with regards to standing tall and speaking strong), and by spreading the word on such, to also be a means of hopeful personal growth and inspiration via my own professing such to others.

So.  Regarding this first rule of life about standing tall and strong, is it that simple?  What he really means (as this of course, isn't just about the actual physical process and appearance of your body) is to be strong, boundaried, and willing to take people to task when need be (even when its terrifying and incredibly hard emotionally to do so).  His point is that this is absolutely crucial within in a world that is (unfortunately) full of people who will try to stronghold, stomp all over your boundaries, and hurt others. 

Using lobsters as the example, he discusses their anatomy, physiology, and their instinctual process and behavior.  Linking this to the hierarchical structure of human society, and why its thus, of paramount importance to be incredibly strong and self assured (aka stand up straight).

A bit further on how standing tall can change your life....

First, to lay some relevant groundwork, Jordan touches on the gross imbalance of our "winner takes all" world and society.  That a tiny proportion of musicians produce almost all the commercial music recorded.  How just a handful of authors sell all the books.  That just 4 classical music composers wrote almost all the music played by modern orchestras.  That this principal goes on and on, reverberating out further into numerous other veins. 

The rich owning most of our societal resources, while the remaining are spread thin among the rest of us.  This also applies to population of cities (as a very small number of cities have almost all the people), and frequency of words in language (90% of communication occurs using just 500 words- how nuts is that!?).

What exactly does this mean?  That, as unfair as it is, the "top tier" if you will, are who rule the roost.

So, why is this important (and how is it connected) in terms of standing up straight?

As in the example of lobsters, (and this goes for human beings as well), it doesnt take long for these huge crustaceans (especially those stronger and higher up the ladder-though ultimately, all lobsters, as well as all people, "high" or "low," do this) to start testing each other and those around them.  Learning who can be messed with, and whom should be given a wide berth.  And once they have learned this, the resulting hierarchy is surprisingly stable going forth.  All the victor needs to do once he has won is wiggle his antennae in a threatening manner, and a previous opponent will go scuttling for the nearest rock.

Meaning, once someone is firmly situated at the top, its pretty dang difficult to unseat them from such.  Whether they deserve to be there (by intelligence, moral, or their hard won efforts) or not.  Its not necessarily that those at the top should be there.  Sometimes it is, however sometimes it isn't.  Its that once someone is at the top, we tend to regard them as more imposing and intimidating, whether they truly are (or more importantly, should be) or not.  And yes, standing up straight does play into all of this.  Because when we allow ourselves to be intimidated by those "at the top," this is how we remain stuck underneath and live to far less than our full potential.

What's interesting about this dominance jockeying, both among lobsters and humans, is that the part of our beings which keep track of position in the dominance hierarchy is shockingly ancient and finely tuned.  It also powerfully affects every aspect of our being, conscious and unconscious alike. 

This is why when we feel as though (or are actually) defeated, we act much like lobsters who lose a fight.  Our posture droops.  We face the ground.  We feel threatened, hurt, anxious, and weak.  And if things do not improve, we can become chronically depressed.  Serotonin levels in our bodies plummet.

Serotonin in low levels means lower self confidence.  It means more susceptibility to stress, and costlier physical preparedness for emergency.  It means less happiness, more pain and anxiety, greater incidence of illness, and a shorter lifespan.  This is both among humans, and lobsters (his comparative choice in this particular chapter).

Higher spots in the dominance hierarchy (and thus, higher serotonin levels accompanying) mean less illness, misery and death.  It means much more self confidence, feelings of calm and personal worth, more swagger in ones step- if you will.

The takeaway here being: the more often you are able to muster standing up to those who attempt strong holding, oppressing, or pushing you around?  This releases chemicals in your body that make you feel more confident, more at ease with yourself, happier and stronger.  Thus, its a cycle.  If standing up for oneself regularly and when needed, one will be able to do so with greater ease regularly.  However, if instead one anxiously avoids such, this results in lower levels of feel-good chemicals in ones body and thus, higher anxiety, more depression, and lesser ability to stand up for oneself going forward. 

The more you stand up, the more you are able to.  The less you stand up, the less you are able to.  Each one feeds into itself.

Interesting related aside: when a person is badly hurt at some point in their life, as in traumatized or abused, the dominance counter in their brain can transform in a manner that makes further hurt more likely, instead of less.  This often happens in adults who were viciously bullied or abused during childhood or adolescence.  They can become anxious and easily upset.  They then shield themselves with a defensive crouch and avoid direct eye contact.  This means that the damage caused by bullying/abuse (the lowering of status and confidence, the continual stomping all over ones boundaries and violating of their personhood) can continue on, even after the bullying has ended.

Just as often though, people are bullied because they wont fight back.  This may or may not have anything to do with their background.  Instead, this can happen to people who are more tempermentally compassionate and self sacrificing, who may struggle more with an ability to say no and stand strong.

All of the above though is going to result in a life of greater hardship.  Having weak boundaries and choosing not to stand up/fight back when needed, or, succumbing to past traumas/injuries and, when unable to surmount and heal from the past damage inflicted by this, both these issues can mean someone going through far more struggle in life when it comes to standing tall and strong when needed.  This will often result in more distressing relationships (because weak boundaries in any and all relationships mean more drama), and a harder time moving through life and obstacles, if one is weak in the face of such.

However.  If you say no, early in the cycle of oppression, and you mean what you say (which means stating your refusal in no uncertain terms and standing behind it), then the scope for oppression on the part of the oppressor will remain bound as it should be, and thus, limited. 

Forces of tyranny expand to fill the space made available for their existence. 

People who refuse to muster appropriately self protective territorial response are laid open to exploitation as much as those who genuine cannot stand up for their rights.

Naïve, generally harmless people tend to guide their perceptions and actions with thoughts such as, "people are basically good," "no one really wants to hurt anyone else," and "the threat (and, certainly the use of) of force, physical or otherwise, is wrong." 

Not only are these naïve beliefs untrue (there are many good people in the world, while there are also a lot of bad.  There are plenty of people who do desire hurting others, emotionally or physically.  And while threat of force is generally wrong (though not always.  Consider in cases of self defense), there are still people who will absolutely use it), holding these beliefs as ones personal truths tend to invite being abused, preyed on, or taken advantage of by these very people.

Many bureaucracies have petty authoritarians within them, generating unnecessary rules and procedures simply to express and cement power.  Such people produce powerful undercurrents of resentment around them which, if actually expressed and stood up against, would limit both the expression of pathological power as well as holding the actual tyranny at bay.

With all of that said, standing up for yourself in the face of people attempting to trample your boundaries, trying to control or manipulate you, acting cruel or tyrannical, bullying, taking advantage of you, you name it, is the only way to move through life with a sense of purpose, strength, and emotional wellbeing intact.

When you give in to those who try to push you around, you show them that their bullying/pushiness/taking advantage/cruelty works.  You allow them to have the power, and to ride roughshod over you.  You teach them that the way in which they are acting is not only ok and acceptable, but that you will allow it.  They learn that with you, anything goes.  That they can call any shots they like, and that you will jump.  And you, in turn, suffer.  Feeling resentment, anxiety, distress, a lack of control over your own life, etc.

A lot of people might feel skeptical.  How can standing up straight change any of this?  How can standing tall alter our responses to tyrannical, cruel, pushy, bad people? 

Because standing up straight with your shoulders back isnt just about your body, as you are not just a body.  You are a spirit. 

To stand up with your shoulders back means to accept the terrible responsibility of life, with eyes wide open.  It means willingly undertaking the sacrifices necessary to generate a productive and meaningful reality.  It means withstanding the ensuing uncertainty, and establishing, in consequence, a better, more meaningful and productive order. 

Think about it: we take more seriously those who are sure of themselves.  Confidence is attractive, and convincing.  When people are shaky and unsure, those are the ones we tend to ignore, bulldoze, dismiss.  Those who are strong, stand tall, and state things with a decisive, firm air?  They are the ones who make things happen, and to whom people listen.

So, watch your posture. 

Quit drooping and hunching. 

Speak your mind. 

Put your desires forward, as if you had a right to them- at least the same right as others. 

Walk tall and gaze forthrightly ahead. 

Dare to be dangerous. 

Encourage the serotonin to flow through those neural pathways that are hungry for its calming influence.  People, including yourself, will start to assume that you are competent and able (or at least they wont automatically conclude the opposite).  More people will respect the boundaries you place forth, and the things you say.  And at least with those who do not, with those who still try to push, control, and be cruel (and there will always be these people around.  Always), you will have grown more strength, resolve, and confidence in dealing with them.

And thus, emboldened by the positive responses you receive, you will begin feeling less anxious.  You will find it easier to pay attention to the subtle social clues that people exchange when communicating, as you will be watching with a smooth, self assured ease, rather than an anxious, worried gaze.  Your conversations will flow better, with fewer awkward pauses.  In feeling at peace with and confident in yourself, this will glow and radiate out of you. 

More people than prior will take you with greater weight and seriousness.  And while you will still encounter those who will try to stronghold you (this is par and parcel with life- these people will pop up everywhere you go), you will find that in standing tall, believing in yourself, in drawing those strong lines and boundaries around your self and your personal values, and in speaking your mind and daring to be dangerous, your life will start shifting in powerful ways.

Stand up straight with your shoulders back. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Crushing Criticism: Why it Never Works.

"Constructive criticism."  We have all heard this term (which actually, folks, is an oxymoron), and often find ourselves duped into thinking its something positive, that its something we should be fine with and feel good about.  As though placing the word "constructive" before the blow of criticism is supposed to make it a positive thing.  (Akin to when someone says, "I don't mean to offend you, but....").  As though its a method of communication/interaction that's helpful, one that should spurn change and growth.

Here is why it does absolutely none of that.  And how actually, it damages and diminishes, accomplishing exactly the opposite of what someone was (supposedly) going for in giving their "constructive" criticism.  Both, in the context of romantic relationships, colleague relations, boss/subordinate situations, as well as friendship, and even familial relationships.  This applies to all kinds of human interactions.

First off, just to give a wider context/theory/idea worthy of examination and which connects to this.  Renowned psychologist and marriage counselor Dr. John Gottman can predict with a 98% accuracy rate after watching a couple interact for a mere 15 minutes, whether or not they will stay together over the long term.  How nuts is that?!  Just 15 minutes of watching mundane conversation and interaction, and he can predict with near complete accuracy whether or not they will last.  So.  This guy knows both human interaction and social relationships.

Something Dr. John Gottman says is this: for every 1 negative piece of feedback, there need to be 5 positive ones to counter-balance it out.  Yup, a ratio of 5:1
Five positive interactions/sentiments/feedbacks/moments, for every 1 negative. 
If the negatives creep up to being more frequent than this, the relationship and connection begins to diminish.  Chipped away at further and further, and eventually, crumbling.

What does this mean in terms of negative feedback?  Well, it means that its powerful.  That even just a little bit has heavy effect.  That you need to be very careful with when and how you deliver it.

Also, within the book "The Power of Moments" by Chip and Dan Heath (who educate the reader on how to elevate moments in life from ordinary to extraordinary, both in the business and personal realm), they mention a study which found the #1 reason employees either outright quit or just become disengaged is this: lack of recognition/praise/acknowledgement of their work. 

So there's a bit more food for thought ;-).  Thus, both being criticized as well as unacknowledged for the good you are doing cause some pretty damning results.

First off, the word "criticism" is a dangerous one.  When I looked it up on, the definition was:

--the act of passing judgement as to the merits of anything.
--the act of passing severe judgement, faultfinding.

Criticism is a failure at obtaining positive behavior change.  Some major reasons for why it fails are because criticism embodies a few key things that people hate, including:

--It devalues, and as humans, one of our greatest life yearnings and needs is to know that we are of value.
--It calls for submission, and we hate to submit.
--It calls into focus the bad instead of the good.  And hones in on that perceived negative, as opposed to commending for what good might have been seen or done.
--It blames and says "you are wrong/bad/not enough."

When people feel valued, appreciated, seen for the good in them, praised and acknowledged for their work and efforts, this is when they thrive.  This is when they aim to please further.  This is when they care more about what they do, rather then less.  This is when they want to continue doing well, in order to garner more of that praise and positive feedback.

Why do people criticize?

Critical people tend to be easily insulted, defensive, judgmental, and in need of ego defense.  They were often criticized themselves frequently, though especially earlier in life, potentially by caretakers, peers, siblings, at an age where criticism can be especially painful.  Criticism says far more about the person dishing it out, the state of their heart, then it does about the person to whom they are directing it.

Many people confuse the concepts of criticism and feedback, assuming them to be one in the same.  Such that, when what they are actually doing is criticizing, their tending to tout it as "Oh, I was just giving feedback."  They are not the same thing. 

Here is how to tell the difference:

Criticism focuses on what is wrong.

Feedback focuses on what was good and then maybe how to improve it further.  The key phrase in there though is focuses on what was good.

Additionally, a lot of people will say, "I was just offering feedback, and the recipient took it so badly.  They were too sensitive.  They took it wrong."  (So, not only is the critical person being critical in the first place in focusing on and delivering the negative- they are also blaming the person receiving such for feeling upset about it.  That's a lot of finger pointing in the other direction...a lot of condemning). 

The reason people likely grow offended or resentful of those who are potentially offering them feedback (if it truly isn't criticism) can be because people respond to tone, not what was your intention If you offer feedback though in a cutting, nasty, rude, or condescending tone, it will still be heard as criticizing, even if it isn't.

Or, the recipient might feel upset or defensive because actually, the person giving feedback is actually dishing out criticism and merely labeling it as feedback (when in reality, it isn't).

So to reiterate:

---Feedback focuses on what is good and what went well, with the follow up being some potential improvements for next time. 


---Tone is crucial.  If delivered in a nasty, condescending, cutting, or chiding tone, it will still be received as criticism, even if what you are saying is actually positively focused.

Finally, what happens when people are continually criticized, over, and over again?  The negative continually being focused on.  Always what they did wrong, or what they missed, or what could have been better, or what wasn't so great.  And if only occasionally or rarely is there any positive feedback thrown into that mix.  What happens then?

Resentment and bitterness build.  Eventually, when quickly learning that most of the time, ones efforts, ideas, and actions are met with continual focus on what is wrong with them, ways they came up short, the areas in which they were wrong, people give up.  They grow disheartened, exhausted, and decide to stop trying.  They lose interest and heart.  Criticism is not how to produce change.  Its how you produce, with a bit of time passing, bitter, resentful people who will eventually throw up their hands and walk away (at least if they have any semblance of self esteem and clarity of thinking).

Continually criticizing someone is akin to chipping away via chisel at a statue.  Eventually, on bits and pieces breaking off more and more as time passes, it crumbles all together.

Want to see far better results from your subordinates?  Find yourself wishing those around you might do certain things differently?  Feeling frustrated with someone you love for a mistake they made?  Do not criticize.  It will only make things worse, both in the short term and long.  Dimming their spirit, ushering in shame and disheartenment, and eventually if you continue on a routine path of critical communication, resulting in bitterness, resentment, and the throwing up of ones hands.

Instead, lift those around you up.  Commend them for the awesome and the good that you see within.  Remark on what they do thats wonderful, worthwhile, and that which makes you happy.  Focus on the ways they have improved, on what they do and have done right.  When you treat others as though they already have the qualities you might wish they showcased more abundantly, they have a funny way of subconsciously wanting to prove you right and slowly but surely becoming more the person you think them to be (in a great way).

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Necessary Leavings

Talking on the phone with a close friend the other night, something she said caught my attention and held it.  We were discussing a friend of hers who had remained in what was a toxic work position for years, hating nearly every minute of it, while her reason for staying was "I was scared I wouldn't find anything better."

This particular remark struck a chord inside of me, as its one I have heard time and time again, from friends, family members, acquaintances, romantic partners.  The premise being this: I am not necessarily so happy or satisfied with a situation in my life as it currently stands, however, I am going to stick in/with it because I am too afraid of the unknown and taking a chance to seek something better for me.  I prefer what is "known,"  (aka, comfortable/easier), even when not especially satisfying or good, to the unknown, (which has a high likelihood-especially if one chooses carefully, of actually being better).  (And folks, newsflash, even if the next situation isnt better and somehow, major bummer, the next thing also isnt so great?  Let that one go as well and move on.  Sometimes, frequently even, we have to search through a few trial and errors before striking gold).

Why do so many people (I have certainly done this too) stay in situations, whether it be a job, a romantic relationship, a friendship, or some other life situation, that is either: barely satisfactory, or even downright bad/toxic/negative, for fear of letting it go and seeking out better?

Curious about this, having heard this theme come up in the lives around me time and time again, I did some research.  Turns out (though this isnt exactly news) that as humans, we are hardwired to hate uncertainty.  However this is where it gets interesting.  Apparently, a recent study found that we hate uncertainty even more than knowing for sure that something bad is going to happen. We prefer knowing something bad is to come, as opposed to not knowing at all.  How interesting is that!?  Hence, why people stay in the mediocre to even shitty known, to avoid the seeming vastness and gray of the anxiety provoking unknown.

Pretty fascinating.  Some doubters might be raising their eyebrows challenging, "wait, so youre telling me its more stressful to wonder if youre going to be fired than being relatively certain of it?  Or, that its more stressful to be rushing to the meeting and not sure you will make it on time, as opposed to knowing for sure that you are actually going to miss it and thus, get in trouble?"

Yes.  Thats exactly what I am saying (or really, research is telling us).

So.  There is a part of your brain responsible for dopamine output called the striatum, which releases dopamine like something akin to a geyser at particular moments in our daily lives.  When you experience something pleasurable, eating a slice of cake, being hugged, sex, the list goes on, dopamine is released.  This feels good and thus, motivates us toward doing more of these activities.  Interestingly, the striatum also works with regards to negative input or stimulation.  Propelling us away from punishment or negative consequences.  Additionally, to go a step further, the striatum also weighs, a mathematical calculation of the subconscious, what are the likelihoods of either these positive rewards/sensations, versus the negative consequences or punishment of occurring.  

This alarm system is constantly weighing the likelihood of which side is more likely to prevail, if you will, and then alerts most resoundingly when the odds approach something around 50/50.  This makes sense with regards to say, animals in survival mode.  They need to be ready to go, on their toes, and action oriented when outcomes are least predictable.  And when results are uncertain, up in the air, this pushes us more fully towards action.  With how it will all play out being a toss up. 

This also results in the most stress.  

We like to be able to anticipate what the consequences, positive or negative, will be.  When we cannot be sure, this freaks us out big time.

And to add a top layer to the cake, we usually imagine the worst.

What's crucial to both fully understand and remember though, is that despite our terror and anxiety over uncertainty and our attempts to control it by remaining "safe" within "what we know," is that actually, all of life is uncertain.  Sure, we can try and predict how something may turn out.  Sometimes we are right.  Much of the time, we are flat out wrong and the result is any of a plethora of other conclusions and/or possibilities that existed beyond the realm of our consideration.  The point being, as much as we want (and try) to control how our lives turn out by avoiding uncertainty and the unknown, we tend to forget that life is one big unknown, one giant uncertainty, and that ultimately, we have no idea how its going to unfold or play out.  And that a vast majority of the time, things end up evolving and shifting in ways opposite or contrary to what we might have imagined or assumed.

Further, our culture is one that views "having control" as a virtue and something worthy of much admiration.  Congratulating ourselves when we feel we are doing a good job of "remaining in control," as well as looking up to others who seemingly control their personal circumstances to a high degree.  However, this is an illusion.  No one truly controls their lives to anything beyond a minimal degree.  There are too many wild card variables beyond our control, including: all the other people surrounding us, traffic, weather, accidents, economy shifts, elections, illness, injuries, surprises, being in the right place at the right time, sudden life changes, losing a job or being offered one, deaths and births, opportunities popping up where we hadn't anticipated them.  The list goes on.

Our control is minimal.  To a large degree, we can control both our own feelings/thoughts/mindsets, as well as our own behavioral responses.  Thats about it though for things in our life we have true personal control over.  (And even that is subject to the variance and fluctuations of human instinct as well as the hundreds of nuanced layers to each human person, which are nearly endless, fluid, and ever shifting and changing).

So.  The fact that we ever truly have control is a fallacy.  Thats been debunked by plethora's of Buddhist thought processes and values, free thinking, and philophisizing people for hundreds of years.


Why then do we attempt to control our lives by staying in situations, whether a job, romantic relationship, friendship, or other life situation, that are either: 

1. merely mediocre.
2. flat out not good for us/toxic/damaging, either emotionally or physically.
3. long past their expiration date/something we have outgrown or moved beyond, and that if we were to let go and seek something other, would likely be far happier. 

Why do we stick with these things so often when actually, doing these very three things contributes strongly and directly to our leading lives that are far less happy, satisfying, fulfilling, or healthy as they could be otherwise?

Why do we let this intense fear and distress over the "unknown" keep us locked into life situations that are certainly not stimulating growth, that might be lame, barely satisfactory, or even outright shitty, when we could be doing similar or even totally other things which will make us far happier and will be vastly improved situations, if we just found the guts, motivation, and initiative to take the risk and let go of that known to venture out towards seeking something better suited to us?

In life, each of us, and at many times, will come upon crossroads that necessitate a necessary leaving.

Some of us admit and face this fact, even though its scary and can entail heartbreak and pain, as well as anxiety over the coming change and initial unknown.  A majority of people though turn away from this.  Invent all sorts of reasons why staying in the same dead end situation is better.
"Easier," "shared history," "I know what to expect," "well, some of it is still good," "I feel guilty leaving," "I dont want to hurt someone else," "its too difficult."

In the end, all of these excuses are the same, which is their ultimately keeping you locked into a situation that isnt to the best potential for your life path and which keep you stuck in the same rut which its likely you would be happier and healthier on moving out of.


What we know, innately, as human beings- in the deepest, most instinctual part of our souls is this: that choice is one of the most powerful things we have going for us.  And thats the very reason we are so terrified of making them.  Terrified of the consequences.  Terrified of being held accountable.  Terrified of not knowing what lies down the path ahead.  Again, we would apparently rather stay in something mediocre, or even shitty, in order to avoid the unknown and new.  

What we forget though is that allowing ourselves to fall victim to this fear and live our lives by it?  And that avoiding risk, and change, and unknown in order to feel "more comfortable" and less afraid?  This leads to a significantly less rich life, with far less possibility, novelty, growth, and from living a life of all the awesomeness it could be.  It leads to settling.  It leads to regret.  When allowing our fears to dictate our choices, this shortchanges us.  Big time.

So often, we refuse to let our hearts and our minds talk to each other- because if we did, we would have to do something.


Necessary leavings come up frequently in life.  Yet, the majority of the time, we view endings and leavings as failures.  As something to fear.  As unnatural or bad.  Endings are nothing of the sort.

Endings are a necessary and vital aspect of life.  Everything in life has cycles that entail beginning, growth, and conclusion/ending.  This includes jobs, relationships, projects, life phases, and more.  Seasons change.  Animals procreate, grow up, elder, and then die.  There is a time for growth and flourishing, and a time for letting go in order to move forward.

Endings are necessary in order to make way for better things to come.  Leavings can be crucial to allow space for something thats a better fit for us at that time to come along.  A conclusion is often a springboard into further growth and a new chapter.  Endings, when the time is right, are breaths of fresh air.  Doors flung open of possibility.  An important and sensical life shift, a step up to the next phase into which we are meant to enter.  An ending can be the wrap up to an important, crucial life lesson.  It can be a dawning realization and epiphany of a new life direction/path, value, or priority.


How can I assess if its likely time for an ending or leaving?  A few questions to ask yourself:

----If this situation stayed exactly the same as it is now, exactly the same in every way, am I totally ok with that and will I be happy with this 1 year from now?  Three years from now?  Five years from now?  Assuming that absolutely nothing about this situation or relationship will change.  If may have a compelling and potentially telling answer indicating a possible forthcoming necessary ending or leaving.

----If this is a relationship or person you are dealing with (colleague, family member, close friend, romantic partner), are they open to feedback?  Do they show any indication or self awareness of how they could have been acting in hurtful or wrong ways?  Do they show a sense of personal responsibility?  After receiving feedback/constructive criticism, do you see any sort of change in their behavior?  
If the answers to these questions are mostly no, you are looking at a situation unlikely to change.  And thus, a potentially necessary ending might be in the works somewhere down the road.  However, if the answer to at least 3 of these questions is basically a yes (especially the last one), you have a situation that may warrant some hope and further sticking with it a bit longer to see what happens.

----Is staying within this situation/relationship/life habit/way of thinking/job, whatever it may be, going to cause me to lose something else from my life that is deeply meaningful and important to me?  That brings me much joy and fulfillment?  That adds much to my life?  
If so, it might be worth reconsidering this said situation/relationship/habit/job that is threatening something else important, and just how worth keeping it in your life might be if you were to lose said deeply meaningful/valuable other thing in your life.  Is it truly worth the cost?  If not, it might indicate this is time for a necessary leaving/moving on from the situation/relationship/habit/job that doesnt threaten something else immensely meaningful in your life.

----Does this relationship/job/situation cause me a medium to significant degree of stress/anxiety/take a toll on my health/cause me emotional strife?
If the answer is yes, whether you claim to potentially even like it and/or find some good in it or not, this is a strong indicator that it might be worth examining closely and considering a potentially necessary leaving and thus, change to something that doesnt cause a significant degree of stress/anxiety/take a toll on your health or cause you emotional strife.


And lastly, for those struggling with the idea of the "unknown," with the anxiety and fear of taking a huge risk and moving towards something brand new, here are two mindsets that can significantly help toward feeling bravery in the face of a necessary leaving:

1. Decide what you believe about life.  

Are you here to prove something and merely survive, going along and existing day to day, paying your dues?  Or, are you here on earth to connect with others, to adventure, grow, and live your most awesome life imaginable?  It cannot be both.

This journey is either a test designed to lead to wild success or crushing failure (very black and white thinking, as well as basing your life fulfillment and success on a misguided societal standard), or, this journey is a safe process, one in which the universe is on your side, and there to help you grow to your upmost potential.  That great things will happen if you choose to listen carefully to what its telling and showing you along the way.  (Even when its scary and entails risk and unknown ;-)).

I believe life is an awesome journey, a wild and incredible ride, and a thrilling story, filled with twists, turns, exhilarating hills, and some stomach flipping plummets.  I believe that the universe doesnt make mistakes.  That everything that happens to each person is exactly the thing meant to be happening to them in that moment.  That either good, or whether perceived as something "bad," all of it is exactly what is meant to be happening in order to teach you a vital lesson, challenge you in a pivotal way, show you what you dont want, or lead you in a specific direction.  That if you choose to pay attention and follow the path of growth beckoning you (and sadly, many people do not do this), that you can and will have an amazing life.

I believe that life is one gigantic experiment.  And that in our brief flash of time on earth (which goes quick.  Damn, I feel like I just blinked and looked up to see 1/3 of my life has already gone by.  Now thats alarming and sobering), we should make as many experiments as possible.  Each one serving towards steppingstones of growth making up the whole of who we are meant to become.

2. Choose to believe there is a net thats got your back.

Sometimes life can feel like walking across a tightrope.  At times, it feels risky, dangerous, anxiety provoking, precarious.  It actually isnt.  Sit for a minute and imagine all the times you were afraid to do something, to make a decision, to take a leap.  Consider all the things you were terrified of happening.  All the worst case scenarios you imagined.  All the big, awful things you worried were going to happen.  Picturing, in your anxiety, all your worst fears coming to life.  Pivotal question here... How many of them actually happened?

How many of these imagined awful scenarios or worst fears came to pass and be?  Probably almost none of them.

So you see?  The vast majority of the time, none of these things we are so terrified of coming to pass (when faced with the unknown) ever actually come to pass or actualize.

Sometimes, life can feel stressful and scary in these big moments of unknown.  Especially when facing a necessary leaving or ending.  This venturing out into something different, new, and blurry can feel terrifying.  Remember this though: there is a net.  The universe has your back.


All of life is an experiment, as well as one big classroom.  The point of which is for you to follow along the path of growth, personal experiments, and taking as many opportunities and risks as you can, while you have the chance and are here.  However, we cannot do this by remaining in situations (job, relationship, life habit, way of thinking) that no longer serve us, that hold us back, that hinder our growth, or even that harm us.

In order to live our most awesome life, we need to learn the art of necessary leavings.  To be able to face, with bravery and honesty, when a phase or situation in our life has come (or needs to come) to a close.  And then, to walk courageously through the doorway of that necessary leaving and into the light of something new.