Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Thinking vs. Doing

It's hard to believe I haven't posted on this blog in 8 months! Well, actually, no, it's not hard to believe. I have a tendency to begin things with a lot of gung-ho enthusiasm but then lose interest or not carry them through. I spend a great deal more time thinking than doing. There is an old song by the Indigo Girls that I like (from their Nomads Indians Saints CD of 1990) called "Hammer and Nail." The refrain is:

Gotta get out of bed get a hammer and a nail
Learn how to use my hands, not just my head
I think myself into jail
Now I know a refuge never grows
From a chin in a hand in a thoughtful pose
Gotta tend the earth if you want a rose.

Gosh this is me. I often think myself into my own prison of inactivity!

I do value this thinking side, as it is one of my greatest strengths. However, I have realized that I "think too much." In Jungian theory, we all have four psychological functions: Thinking, Sensing, Feeling, and Intuition. We all have these functions. We just have them in different proportions, you might say. Each of us has a superior function, which we prefer and which is best developed in us, a secondary function, which we are aware of and use in support of our superior function, a tertiary function, which is only slightly less developed but not terribly conscious, and an inferior function, which is poorly developed and so unconscious that we might deny its existence in ourselves.

For me, the Thinking function tends to overpower everything else. I've taken the Myers-Briggs personality type test-- years ago I took the full-blown, written test, and then since then I've taken various online tests at different times. I always come out as a "rational," with a high level of the "N." The other functions have come out differently at different times in my life. I think this is due to the fact that I have struggled with depression for most of my life. I know I'm basically an extrovert, because I am energized by interacting with other people, rather than drained. But depression is very subtle and insidious. It shades responses, disrupts thought patterns, and, in my opinion, masks one's true personality.

I am relatively free of depression these days (yes, thank you, it's wonderful!) due to effective medication and long-term therapy. One of the things I've learned in therapy is that I tend to bury and subjugate my emotions. I suppose this means that my Feeling function is "inferior." A long time ago, in a Jungian study group I was in, we learned that a way to strengthen an inferior function was to focus on developing the tertiary function, which is a little easier to get at.

I am not completely sure which function goes where and how to classify everything, but I do realize where I need some balance. I have existed in my mind to the detriment of being "in the world." I have discounted simple sensual experiences, like cooking my own food, making the house look better, pursuing physical activity, and just DOING things. So I have been trying to change this. I am cooking more, and trying to pay more attention to what I eat. I attempt to get outside, and take the dogs for a walk. I started learning to play the guitar. I know that I have a long way to go, and some of it entails changing habits and doing things I don't particularly "want" to do. I do not want to turn this into a list of things I "should" do. (The word "should" is not allowed in therapy, and for good reason.) A list of tasks is just work, and feels like a burden, and I need to find the joy in doing things for their own sake, and learn to appreciate how doing them makes me feel.

But writing about doing things, and actually doing them, are two different things, so I will stop here, and go and DO SOMETHING!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Community by email

An interesting "social network" has evolved on my campus. I work at a small institution, located in a very small rural community. It is often said that "everyone here knows everyone else." While that might have been true 20 years ago, it's not true any more, because the number of people living and working here has probably doubled since then. However, we are still small, and there is a high degree of interconnectedness.

Perhaps because of this relatively small size, people have no qualms about blanketing the campus with emails about any number of things. In order to reduce this stream, about ten years ago the email system administrators created some "opt-in" email lists and put out the word that the large group mailing nicknames, like "facstaff" were for university business only.

The list that really took off was one called "Classifieds." This was originally for posting items for sale or wanted to buy. However, in the absence of any other list to use for announcements or non-sale messages, people began using it for all kinds of things.

So now, the "classifieds" list has become the place to go to stay "in the know." Not only do you get announcements of non-campus events, but people commonly post questions like "Who should I get to fix my roof?" "Does anyone know a good massage therapist?" "Has anyone seen the Fed-Ex guy?" Even: "Can someone tell me how to pronounce the name of this famous architect?" People ask for phone numbers, copies of articles that appeared in the newspaper, even books. It's been useful for finding lost pets. People get quick responses during the workday, and frequently post thank yous and comments like "classifieds rocks!"

One of the reference librarians has said that "classifieds" has taken the place of library reference for information. He does answer some questions as a librarian when it's appropriate.

Occasionally there are conversations or funny exchanges, but most of the time people prefer to answer questions directly to the asker, so unless the original person posts a summary of responses (like about experiences with roof repair) you don't get the answer! This bothers me-- I want to see the answers to the questions, but as in any list, there are varying approaches. Many people are afraid to post publicly, and others think it "clutters up the list."

Recently there was a notice about some shady people going door to door asking for money for some undefined reason and asking strange questions about the community. Several people had the same experience, and posted it. Several people recommended calling the police when it happens, not several days later (duh.) One person asked that this exchange be taken off-list so that everyone didn't have to get these messages. Another person responded that this was important to the people who live here, and that it was a fine way to use the list.

One person in the community took it upon herself to create a "community" email list, off the university network. She reposts selected items on this list for people who can't subscribe to the classifieds list-- not all the buying and selling, but the announcements and events and lost pets. The campus department has also begun to participate, posting alerts about weather and other safety issues. They can post to all the lists, of course, but they also post to classifieds, and this is repeated on the community list.

In my opinion, this is social networking. It's happening on email, which is not a new technology, certainly not "2.0." But it's the common denominator, and it is the way to reach the most people in this community. In my work with organizations, I've found that email is still new to a lot of people, and they often don't really know how to use it very well. Many people have no idea how to attach documents or forward things correctly. And yet, it's still a basic. Everyone on the net has some kind of email address. They might not join a group, or read a blog, and have the faintest clue what RSS is or how to use a wiki. But they can shop and send email.

And lastly, I have a pet peeve about the use of the word "classifieds." These postings are not classified at all. Our local weekly newspaper, which is packed full, well-edited, well-designed, well-respected and full of advertising, has been misusing this word for decades. They have a "classifieds" section with small ads, but the ads are not classified at all. They are all mixed up. Now granted, there is only one page, but it's a very packed full page, and you have to read all of the ads to find what you are looking for. At the times I've mentioned my irritation with this to others, they think I'm just being obsessive. I had the opportunity once to sit next to the editor of the paper at a charity event. She is a very smart and educated person who is active in the community. I told her how wonderful the paper is, and also mentioned this issue about the "classifieds" not being classified. She listened, and I don't think she took offense, but nothing changed, so I expect that nobody else at the paper felt that it was an issue.

One person said that the word "classifieds" has taken on a new meaning. People have no idea what classfication is, and so to them "classifieds" simply means small ads or postings. That could be true, but it's rather sad, in my opinion.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Happiness Project and a digression about depression

I've been reading a blog by Gretchen Rubin called The Happiness Project. Rubin is writing a book with that title, about "test-driving every principle, tip, theory, and scientific study" she can find about making oneself happier. She says she has indeed made herself happier, by making very small shifts in behavior. I think her lists of "resolutions" are too big, and rather overwhelming, but I'm interested in finding out how she actually makes these small shifts in behavior.

When it comes right down to it, my main goal is to be a happier person. I don't mean I want to have more hedonistic pleasures. I have joked that I have "anhedonia-- a psychological condition characterized by inability to experience pleasure in normally pleasurable acts." That's not really true-- I do experience pleasure. I joke around and laugh a lot, and generally am not a morose person.
But I've been told by a professional that I have "dysthymia--
a chronic form of depression characterized by moods that are consistently low, but not as extreme as in other types of depression." Yes, medication helps. Yes, exercise helps. No, I'm not complaining. I have many things to be grateful for and proud of, and realizing this just baffles me sometimes and leads me to self-chastisement along the order of "you are very fortunate and gifted, and you can do anything you set your mind to, so why don't you just get over it." But anyone who has had any experience with any kind of depression (and the numbers of us are legion) realizes that depression is totally insidious. It eats away from the inside and robs a person of rational thought. Or, as has happened to me at times, leaves nothing left but rational thought with no emotion.

A few years ago I read a well-known book on depression, The Noonday Demon : an Atlas of Depression, by Andrew Solomon (2001.) Solomon described depression in such a way that I was moved to type out a few excerpts and save them in a file. (The emphasized parts are my doing.)

From pp. 15-16:
Depression is the flaw in love. To be creatures who love, we must be creatures who can despair at what we lose, and depression is the mechanism of that despair. When it comes, it degrades one's self and ultimately eclipses the capacity to give or receive affection. It is the aloneness within us made manifest, and it destroys not only connection to others but also the ability to be peacefully alone with oneself. Love, though it is no prophylactic against depression, is what cushions the mind and protects it from itself. Medications and psychotherapy can renew that protection, making it easier to love and be loved, and that is why they work. In good spirits, some love themselves and some love others and some love work and some love God: any of these passions can furnish that vital sense of purpose that is the opposite of depression. Love forsakes us from time to time, and we forsake love. In depression, the meaninglessness of every enterprise and every emotion, the meaninglessness of life itself, becomes self-evident. The only feeling left in this loveless state is insignificance.
Depression has been roughly divided into small (mild or dysthymic) and large (major) depression. Mild depression is a gradual and sometimes permanent thing that undermines people the way rust weakens iron. It is too much grief at too slight a cause, pain that takes over from the other emotions and crowds them out. Such depression takes up bodily occupancy in the eyelids and in the muscles that keep the spine erect. It hurts your heart and lungs, making the contraction of involuntary muscles harder than it needs to be. Like physical pain that becomes chronic, it is miserable not so much because it is intolerable in the moment as because it is intolerable to have known it in the moments gone and to look forward only to knowing it the moments to come. The present tense of mild depression envisages no alleviation because it feels like knowledge.
From pp. 292-293:
In the fifth century, Cassian writes of the... noonday demon spoken of in the Nintieth Psalm... The section in question would be literally translated from the Vulgate: His truth shall compass thee with a shield: thou shalt not be afraid of the terror of the night, of the arrow that flieth in the day, of the business that walketh about in the dark: of invasion, or of the noonday demon. Cassian presumed that 'the terror of the night' refers to evil; 'the arrow that flies in the day' to the onslaught of human enemies; 'the business that walks in the dark' to fiends that come in sleep; 'invasion' to possession, and 'the noonday demon' to melancholia, the thing that you can see clearly in the brightest part of the day but that nonetheless comes to wrench your soul away from God. Other sins might waste the night, but this bold one consumes day and night.
I have taken the phrase as the title of this book because it describes so exactly what one experiences in depression. The image serves to conjure the terrible feeling of invasion that attends the depressive's plight. There is something brazen about depression. Most demons-- most forms of anguish-- rely on the cover of night; to see them clearly is to defeat them. Depression stands in the full glare of the sun, unchallenged by recognition. You can know all the why and wherefore and suffer just as much as if you were shrouded by ignorance. There is almost no other mental state of which the same can be said.
I have spent many years trying to think my way out of depression. It doesn't work. What seems to work best for me is to feel a sense of accomplishment. I tend to get bogged down in making lists of things I need to do and then feeling too overwhelmed to actually do any of them. I also have a hard time getting started on a project, and get sucked into procrastination and avoidance behaviors. When I actually manage to complete something, I feel good about myself and am able to do more.

All of these writing is an attempt to approach change differently so that I can actually accomplish the goals I set for myself.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Thoughts on the New Year and resolutions (Part 1)

I'm not immune to the New Year's resolution craze. The beginning of a new year offers a powerful incentive to look back, reassess, and set goals for improvement. I think most people want to improve something about their lives. Few of us have reached a state of total satisfaction and happiness. Striving for something better is a healthy and natural human trait.

I can't tell you how often my reflections about goals and life and motivations have gone back to something I learned in a beginning psychology class-- Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.

According to Maslow, the higher needs in this hierarchy only come into focus when the lower needs in the pyramid are satisfied. Once an individual has moved upwards to the next level, needs in the lower level will no longer be prioritized. If a lower set of needs is no longer being met, the individual will temporarily re-prioritize those needs by focusing attention on the unfulfilled needs, but will not permanently regress to the lower level. (from Wikipedia)

People who are struggling with meeting the more basic needs often look at the new year with hope: "Maybe this year I'll find a better job so I can afford to get a car that works, or move my family to a safer neighborhood." "Maybe I won't hurt so much this year." "Maybe we'll get enough rain for a decent corn crop." "Maybe the war will end and life can get back to normal." I feel extremely fortunate that my basic needs are met, when there are so many people in the world who are lacking so much.

Most New Year's resolutions are goals that fit into the esteem or self-actualization category: "I'm going to write every day in my blog." "I'm going to get organized." "I'm going to train for my first triathlon." Or maybe in the love/belonging category: "I'm going to spend more quality time with my spouse (or family.)"

However, what about the most common resolutions: lose weight, quit smoking, get more physically fit. Aren't those related to health? Yes, and self-esteem, and maybe even love (attracting a partner.) Human nature and psychology are complex and Maslow's model doesn't tell the whole story, but is still a useful tool for understanding.

Behind many resolutions is a yearning to break free of addictions. The following excerpt is adapted from Power, Freedom, and Grace, by Deepak Chopra, as presented on the Green Living website:
Addiction is the No. 1 disease of civilization, and it's directly and indirectly related to all other diseases. Besides physical addictions, such as the addiction to food, tobacco, alcohol, and drugs, there are psychological addictions, such as the addiction to work, to sex, to television, to shopping, to appearing young, to control, to suffering, to anxiety, to melodrama, to perfection.

Why are we addicted to all these things? We are addicted because we are not living from source; we have [lost] our connection to our soul. The use of food, alcohol, or drugs is essentially a material response to a need that is not really physical at its foundation.
I emphasized that last sentence, because it resonated with me. Of course, this is not the first time I've read or heard this. Years of therapy have taught me that falling into self-destructive behavior is usually the result of some other problem. How often do we eat when we are tired or depressed, not because we are really hungry. Or numb ourselves with books and television shows because we don't want to face what's really bothering us. Understanding this is the first step to breaking the habits we do not want, but it's not enough.

The Loose Cannon Librarian posted recently about her "constant project" to reduce the inefficiency of processes in her library. Her introduction is what caught my eye:
I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions. I’m all for the holiday, for a little mid-winter joy for the turning of our rather arbitrary calendar system. But another revolution around the sun doesn’t provide enough impetus for me to declare a personal revolution. Most resolutions are hour-by-hour affairs, not watch-the-ball-drop-and-it’s-a-new-me overnight sensations. This may be the year I stop biting my nails, loose twenty pounds and send holiday cards, but it won’t be because this is the year I *really* wanted to- it will be because this is the year the incremental work built up to a new habit. We mostly become better people, learn more, improve our skills, break bad habits, build good practices in a creeping, inefficient way. Tempting though it is, the quick fix raises our eyebrows and suspicion. We change ourselves by creating new connections, internally and externally.
She was referring back to Penelope Trunk (The Brazen Careerist) on How to make a New Year's resolution that you'll keep:
Most resolutions are goals to change our behavior: Stop smoking, stop eating crap, stop being late. This is not a small change. This is a change that requires a massive overhaul of our daily life - hour by hour.
We can each meet one or two big goals a year. We can’t change a lot of bad behavior - the more resolutions we make the less likely we are to keep them, according to Roy Baumeister, psychologist at Florida State University. But we can change one. Pick the one that’ll mean the most to you. And, you will be pleasantly surprised to find out that changing one habit actually requires so many small changes in your day that you also end up being able to change other habits, because the patterns of your life change.
So after this long compilation of other people's ideas, what is my point? My point is that I really want to set some goals and make some changes in my life in 2008, but I want to do it thoughtfully. I don't want to list a bunch of resolutions that I'm not going to keep. I want to make a commitment to something and develop a plan to actually do it. More thoughts coming.