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For the past few years, I’ve been giving up some habit or another for the duration of Lent. On occasion, I’ve gone without red meat, without chocolates, without coffee – though not all at the same time. This year, I decided to give up online chat forums and message boards up until Easter. It’ll be an interesting experiment, not least because I’ve rediscovered my love for the Sedona Method during the past few weeks.

Lent, Day 1: Habitual thinking revealed

A lot of my social life these days has been revolving around a few message boards. A natural consequence of being at home with our daughter who, incidentally, only naps longer stretches in her own crib. On the go, she might take a 45-minute nap, but that’s not enough to sustain her through the day, so if we’re going somewhere, it’s only after her nap and lunch. And even when I do work during her nap, I need breaks. Ergo, there’s been plenty of “oh, I’ll just check the boards while I have my coffee / before she wakes up / now that hubby’s home and playing with her.”

I noticed today that I’ve been thinking in terms of message board thread topics. As in, I notice something and think “ooh, next time I log on I might post this thought in thread X” rather than “ooh, next time I see [name] I’ll tell them all about this!” First reason to cut back on the boards.

During the last few days before Lent, I knew I’d be taking a break from reading the boards and compensated by rummaging through every single half-interesting thread. That in itself was an interesting thing to notice. It wasn’t as much the content of the conversation as it was the act of reading the conversation that I seemed to be needing. Or rather, the illusion of partaking in a conversation. There really wasn’t a need to contribute as much as just experience the social action. The fact that I did that online and, furthermore, on a message board instead of calling, texting or Skype-chatting up an actual live acquaintance? Second reason to cut back on the boards.

At the moment, I’m not restricting any area of food or drink due to Lent. Yet. I might go with a gentle “only eat sweets and such as a dessert or with coffee” approach, as I’ve done some years. Or I might give up, say, chocolate at some point. I’ll find out what I need to give up by trying to think what would leave me feeling most deprived. 🙂 That’s what I’ll need to let go.

Letting go

About a month or two back, I rediscovered the Sedona Method. I was going through my iPod, and noticed I’d set up a keyword search iTunes subscription from BlogTalkRadio for “sedona”. There were a few interviews of Hale Dwoskin in different programs, and I listened to most of them. And then I bought the book, browsed the forums, and bought the film. Suffice to say I resonate with the method. 🙂

The thing that clicks most for me in the method is the fact that every positive gain is a side effect. The main aim of the method is to become so released and “hootless” about the world around you that your happiness doesn’t depend on anything that happens or doesn’t happen. In other words, I might well end up attracting a phenomenal fortune and incredible success as a consequence of being fully released on my life, and I might not, but either way, I won’t care too much.

Releasing and letting go are, of course, processes that happen naturally and there are probably countless different ways and methods to release – EFT, AER, yoga, meditation, the Sedona Method, to name but a few. Regardless of how you release, I heartily recommend at least exploring some ways of releasing. The fundamentals are the same, but people have preferences when it comes to ice cream, so why not self-help. 🙂

As far as Lent is concerned, I’ve made good use of letting go whenever I’ve noticed a thought pattern that relates to the message boards. The great thing about releasing is that you can release on seemingly positive emotions as well, and they’ll only get deeper and better. That way, I don’t have to wonder whether or not this or that emotion is a good candidate for releasing – if I’m feeling it, and especially if it’s not flowing through me for some reason, I can release on it and see what happens.

Shiva Nata Finland brewing on the back burner

Thanks to some work and my MA thesis, the Shiva Nata in Finland project has been simmering at the back burner of my subconscious for a few months now. I’ve been slowly reawakening my practice – recent accomplishments include getting totally lost within seconds of doing Level 3 to Faith No More’s Evidence. Several times.

What I’m currently considering is doing a series of how-to videos in Finnish and posting them here and what will eventually be the Shiva Nata Finland website. I’m also dreaming of a workspace that will be a combination of an office and a teaching facility, but for that to happen I’ll first have to have a steady flow of Skype teaching or appointments to teach locally at different facilities. Childcare poses somewhat of a question with the on-site teaching, but I’m positive that if such requests arise, an elegant solution will present itself.

If you’re a Shivanaut wanting to get Skype consultation in Finnish or English, you can contact me at insightings at gmail and we can work out a time and price for some one-on-one. 🙂 I will start tackling the videos once the penultimate version of my thesis is ready, so probably not before June, but phenomenal things have been known to happen when you’re released on something and put it out there for the universe to cuddle. 😉

Thank you for reading this far – keep catching your own insightings, Lent-inspired or otherwise!

Love,

Sari

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If you’re too busy to give your neighbor a helping hand, then you’re just too darned busy.
Marie T. Freeman

To honor 10/10/10, I created my five-year-plan i.e. the Time Capsule. I started writing my Time Capsule by writing my name and the date five years from now in the middle of a blank sheet of paper. I’m totally a mind map kind of person, so the format was a no-brainer. I didn’t really want to focus on practicalities at all, so I started with a basic question – what do I want to fill my days with in five years? The answer consisted of four key verbs that became the nodes of my mind map and a series of four posts.

The first two nodes were the red one and the green one. What followed was the orange one – I Help.

One of the key parts of what I want to do in the future is help others. I know this on several levels. Still, this post has been hiding in the dark for several weeks. See, after creating my Time Capsule, I started to question whether I really really want to help people. Or rather, if helping people is what I want, instead of thinking it’s what others want me to want.

Tricky and complicated? Yes.

In a previous post, I mulled over the need to feel useful.  In other words, the belief says that if I’m not useful, I’m worth nothing. I’m trying my best to let go of that belief, but it’s not easy. After all, it’s been present in my life for at least a decade, if not two. Seeing how I’m only 27, it’s a large part of my life. 🙂 Whenever I end up doing something that is not ultimately useful, I feel like I’m wasting time, for me and those around me.

So is the whole “I help” thing really only a thinly veiled channel to feed that mistaken belief? Am I building myself a life of living on someone else’s terms and not my own? These were the questions I thought about for the past few weeks, as I was trying to write this post.

Because on the one hand, there’s inherent value in helping other people. I know that, and I’ve experienced it time and time again. And on the other hand, there’s the bitterness that comes from only ever doing what others want you to do and never pursuing your own dreams. I don’t want to end up being an eighty-year-old grandma who only ever talks about how she could have been this and could have been that, but she ended up taking the conventional route and helping others succeed instead.

I think the solution lies in the kind of help I want to provide others. I’ve done a fair share of altruistic helping, and of course that bears its own rewards when you see how happy the recipient is. I’ve also helped people out of a sense of duty or debt – or to receive praise, admiration and gratitude. But that is not what I want to be doing for the rest of my life.

In my ideal world, I would get to do what I love and, almost incidentally, help people as a side product. I want to teach others and help them improve their skills in communication, among other things. I want to write about my experiences and provide inspiration and comfort for people who are struggling with the same questions. I want to sing, dance, laugh and play from the bottom of my creative heart, and then let others see what I’ve created and feel moved in one way or another.

In other words, I want to do what I Love – the fourth and final node of my Time Capsule.

More on that sooner rather than later, I hope.

Thank you again for tuning in, and plentiful insightings in your neck of the woods!

Love,

Sari

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Skill and confidence are an unconquered army.
George Herbert

I’ve been battling with a lot of seemingly unrelated issues lately. On the one hand, there’s my deep-rooted procrastination about my MA thesis. My favorite means of procrastination has been hanging out on message boards, reading more than contributing. And then there’s my Shiva Nata in Finland project that’s been hovering at the edge of my active attention for a while now.

All of these issues share an element of being seen and watched. There’s the online presence I’m creating while participating in the message board culture, and a big part of that is noticing how others see me. I feel the need to contribute, either by asking questions or sharing knowledge, rather than just to agree with others using silly smileys. I need to feel Useful.

The Shiva Nata in Finland project is currently me trying to figure out a context in which I could teach Shiva Nata in Helsinki. To my knowledge, there aren’t that many Shivanauts in Finland. This means that I need to find enough people who are willing to give it a go and a venue to teach in – not to mention figure out a feasible mode of teaching. This would mean telling people that I’ve got this great thing and how would you like to be a part of it. Scary stuff.

The latest addition to this whole Vortex of the Terror of Being Seen came today, when I finally cracked open my thesis files again. My seminar paper is due in two weeks, and the next step towards that goal is to transcribe a section of my data – a videotape of me teaching a lesson.

“Dude. Seriously. Lame.”

The realization of the Vortex actually came a few days ago. I was trying to figure out why I suddenly felt the urge to purchase something that I don’t really need but that’s a Limited Edition Item that Everyone Is Bound to Want. I dug around the problem by journaling, and discovered a deep-rooted belief that I have:

“Unless I’m interesting or useful, I’m an embarrassing nuisance.”

Hmm. That’s interesting.

By having an interesting Limited Edition item, I myself would become interesting by association. With Shiva Nata, I would have to convince others that the practice is both interesting and useful, and so I would become interesting and useful by association.

The worst case scenario with either of these would be for me to show up and get greeted by evasive looks and an embarrassed “This was what you had for us? …Umm, it’s not even close to what we were hoping for. Maybe it’s best if you just go home.” My worst social nightmare is to be perceived as an embarrassing wannabe hangaround that no-one has the heart to get rid of.

Which brings us to an interesting point about my thesis procrastination.

My data, as I’ve already mentioned, consists mainly of a videotaped lesson where I navigate a group of teenagers through a drama process. The teenagers were new to the genre, and since teenagers are the undisputed kings and queens of the eye roll when they’re not one hundred per cent sure about a situation, there was much eye rolling to be had. It’s an understandable defense mechanism, and since the teenagers did participate and put in an effort, it didn’t damage the process too heavily. It was caught on tape, though.

And as I watch the tape, all of the embarrassed glances seem to be aimed straight at me, like daggers.

My brain knows that the thing I perceive as embarrassment is strictly, purely and only a characteristic of the participants who are feeling unsure of their footing. After all, there’s a new type of activity with a not-yet-familiar teacher, outsider spectators and video cameras. I mean, I’d be pretty insecure, too.

The part of me that holds on to the belief of me being first and foremost a nuisance, though, is going bonkers with this huge pile of evidence. “See? See?! I’m right! I’m one hundred per cent right and there’s a video to prove it! Ha! I knew it!” There’s a little goblin with a pitchfork tail running around, waving its hands, and bouncing around. Kind of hard to ignore.

A short recap. In order to work on my thesis, I have to transcribe 75 minutes of what is effectively a live enactment of my worst social nightmare.

Geez, wonder why I’m procrastinating? 🙂

The dilemma of being seen

What’s difficult about this fear of being seen is its twin, the desperate need to be seen. Eye contact alone is hugely important in relationships. When raising children, the best thing you can do is give them your uninterrupted attention, complete with eye contact, several times a day.

When I was starting out as a kids’ group counselor as a teenager, our course leader advised us to seek eye contact during roll call. Whenever we’d say someone’s name and they’d answer, we were to really notice the answer and the person by maintaining eye contact for a few seconds before moving on. I’ve been on the receiving end of this policy and it makes a world of difference.

Being seen, being watched, is a vulnerable state, though. Maintaining eye contact can be a high status marker, and high status is linked to power. When you’re being watched, someone is using power over you. That’s why it’s so difficult to go on stage thinking that there will be an audience. Waiting for an audience reaction is like standing against a wall blindfolded and trying to guess whether the guns shoot bullets or “Bang!” flags.

One useful solution to this problem is to put on a different role. Actors do this as a part of their profession, but other performing jobs do require some kind of role protection. There is the role protection of the uniform – a police officer in uniform is first and foremost a police officer, not Jake, except among his peers. The same goes for clergy members, store clerks, and other professions where you represent your position, not your personality.

Teachers don’t have uniforms, at least not in the Finnish educational system. The role protection must be an inch deeper, in the behavior of the teacher. I’ve been very happy with the way I’ve grafted my Teacher Me, a character who can maintain discipline and create a warm ambiance in the classroom, who is reliable and inspiring. And, most importantly, who deflects all kinds of status threats effortlessly.

The problem with the thesis data, however, is that it’s not my Teacher Me doing the transcription. It’s Student Me, and she’s completely unprotected from the eye-rolling power of the teenagers. She does not have the shield of experience on her side like Teacher Me has, and the “You’re a nuisance!” goblin has a clear shot whenever it pleases.

This is what I fear with the social circle around the Limited Edition and the Shiva Nata in Finland project. If they see me the wrong way, they’ll want nothing to do with me. If I just show up, plain old Me, no interesting gadgetry or sacrificial usefulness, they’ll see I’m an embarrassing nuisance.

And if I feel I’m seen the wrong way, I feel the need to quickly create a barrier against the Nuisance Goblin. When I do that, I lose contact with myself, and with that I lose any potential of creating actual human contacts.

I wish there was an elegant, sophisticated solution to this problem, other than Shiva Nata and journaling, followed by Shiva Nata and some more journaling. But at least now the Nuisance Goblin has been brought to my attention, and I can start negotiations so as to not have it running around in my head anymore. This has also been an exercise in letting myself be seen, warts and all.

Thank you for stopping by, and for lending your proverbial ear and eye. If any of this sparks any ideas, I’d love to hear them in the comments. Until next time – keep catching your own insightings!

Love,

Sari

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It’s trusting that doing things to take care of yourself doesn’t mean that anyone else is less important.
Havi Brooks (on sovereignity)

I’ve been wanting to re-establish my Shiva Nata practice for a while, now. The fact that it’s been gone for a while, though, suggests that there’s something else lurking in the shadows, too. And what would be a better way to figure out the lurkers than to do some Shiva Nata and then let my mind associate its way to the answer.

Meta Nata

The good thing about not having done serious Shiva Nata for a while is that I’m really rusty. In other words, it doesn’t take too much to get me mixed up and open to epiphany central. This time, I only had to do a few starting positions of Level 2 with legs, and it wasn’t long until I was getting lost and having to start again.

Excellent. 🙂

After doing about four starting positions and mirror reflections of Level 2, I grabbed a glass of water and sat down at my computer. My husband had agreed to take care of the baby while I did my Shiva Nata and writing, so I could concentrate.

At the top of the document, I wrote “Why am I not doing Shiva Nata?” and took a sip of water. Then, I started writing all the things that popped into my awareness. And believe me, there was a lot of popping happening

*ding*

It has been quite a while since I’ve had one of those “well, duh!” -moments about my patterns. Then again, with the break in Shiva Nata, that’s no surprise either. 🙂 I discovered a few different threads behind my resistance (or maybe indifference?) towards doing Shiva Nata.

The biggest pattern behind it, however, was the whole “not putting myself first” thing. As in, I often remember the possibility of doing Shiva Nata late in the evening, when I’m already going to bed. At that point, I don’t want to give my brain the kind of zap Shiva Nata would cause, so I skip it. In the morning, I hardly have any time to grab breakfast, since the baby needs to be fed, changed, clad and cuddled. And all through the day, I’m more or less tied to the baby when she’s awake.

My husband does help with the baby, of course, but since I’m the one with the food, I can’t delegate all of the responsibility to him. And when the baby sleeps during the day, I seem to gravitate towards less physical activities, such as watching TV or hanging out online.

There’s also the body aspect. During pregnancy and right after giving birth, there’s a kind of protective barrier around the body image. It’s not as much my body as it is a vessel of taking care of, and bringing about, a whole new person. As soon as I start taking care of my body purely for the sake of me, I become (as the voices in my head bellow) a selfish person who puts her own well-being before that of her baby, and how can I be such a horrible monster.

The oxygen mask thing

Yesterday, Havi wrote about sovereignity. About putting your own oxygen mask on first. Incidentally, that’s also what Flylady is all about – loving yourself first so there’s enough of you left to take care of others, too.

I’ve already realized I have to drink enough water and eat well to be able to feed the baby. I’m also beginning to realize I have to get my sleep when the baby sleeps (even though she currently sleeps like an angel, only getting up a few times a night to feed) so I’m not overwhelmingly tired when she’s awake. Being tired makes it easier to start resenting her for demanding care – something I don’t want to end up doing.

In addition to the physical aspects, I think I also have to take care of my mind. The better I feel about myself both physically and mentally, the better equipped I am to interact with her, to connect with my baby, to find ways to communicate. It’s easier for me to try and figure out the message she’s sending when she cries, so I can respond to her needs and eventually remove the cause of her discomfort. I have the energy and the motivation to provide her with inspiration and learning opportunities. In short, I’ll be a better mother when I take care of myself.

Plus, I’ll be a happier person for my own sake. And no, it’s not selfishness, if I’m not doing it at the expense of other people. (This is a huge statement, coming from me, by the way.) Now, if only I could find a way to remember this tomorrow. And the day after, and the day after that.

My goal? Trying to put in five minutes of Shiva Nata every day, topped off with a few minutes of quiet sitting down. I think that’s manageable, even with a two-month-old fighting for my attention. After all, we’ll both benefit from it.

Thank you for stopping by again – and keep catching your own (possibly Shiva Nata-inspired) insightings!

Love,

Sari

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Less is more.
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

A few tidbits before I crawl into my cave for a Christmas holiday and renounce any responsibility of things not concerning eating, sleeping, or looking both ways before crossing the street.

Balance, baby

After meeting my last deadline, I’ve been beat. Exhausted. Lethargic, even. For a few days I wondered why that was, until I looked back on the past fall and the entire past year. I’ve had quite a bit on my plate, both emotionally and work-and-study-wise.

As if that wasn’t enough, in December I started blogging as well, although this has been a welcome channel to record and analyse all the little insightings I’d otherwise ignore and forget. I’ve even thought it would do me good to read through my archives every now and then so I don’t forget the things I’ve learned.

In life, learning and everything, there’s the ebb and flow aspect. You can’t breath out without breathing in, or use energy without replenishing your reserves. Not very long, at least.

In learning, I feel that once I’ve gathered enough information, I need a way to process it so it sticks with me. Exams are a typical, yet mechanical way to do this, but classically the best way to really learn something is to try and teach it to someone else. That’s when you find out if you’ve really understood how things work. Blogging, incidentally, works in a similar way.

A lot of my friends (myself included) are not very good at the receiving part of life. It seems like being active and productive is the only valid way to exist in this world. It’s not really conscious, but I come to think of it whenever I sign up for another volunteer project or job stint – “Wow, there I go again, hope I have enough in me to get this done, too…”

I’m still very much a work in progress with this one and hope to keep learning about it for the next, say, fifty years. Now, though, I’m trying to take my own advice. Since it feels like I’ve had a long exhale during the past twelve months, I will give myself permission to inhale for the next week and focus on myself and my loved ones for the holidays.

That means a week of blogging hiatus, too. And as logically follows, after that inhale there will be a glorious exhale of insightings gathered throughout the holidays. I’m already excited to get to write that stuff after I’ve had a few days off. 🙂

Symbols matter

The holidays are coming, and the one I’m celebrating is Christmas. I have been a bit anxious about how our family will cope with our first Christmas without K, so all through the fall I kind of worried about my Christmas spirit.

Then, on December 1, we put up a Christmas tree. A plastic one, granted, but a beautiful one nevertheless. We put up the lights right away, but decorated it bit by bit during December. The sight of a lit tree in a dark living room has delighted me (us) all month, and helped us build our holiday spirit despite it all.

Another symbol I’ve been recently thinking about is my wedding ring. It’s still seven months until our wedding, and some people might feel it’s silly to get the ring already. (FYI: In Finland, most people consider the wedding ring the “important” one, and the engagement ring is often the plain one, if it’s worn at all.)

I wanted a ring I could really really be happy with on our wedding day as well as on our 30th anniversary. After all, the ring and the pictures are the only tangible things that will still remind us of our promises 30 years from now.

So now I have my ring. It’s beautiful. And sitting in its box waiting for July. Most importantly, I don’t feel like I’ve settled for anything less than what was right for me. In that, I feel it symbolises our relationship even better.

To a large extent, people think in symbols. If I think of Christmas, there are a few symbols that come up instantaneously. Marriage: same thing. Movies, drama, and literature rely heavily on symbols – glasses for the smart characters, lipstick on the pretty girls, anyone? Even language is a symbolic way to illustrate the world around us, and no two people will have the same connotations of any given word.

Symbols evoke in you the sphere of experience they are tied to. They also bring about the individual connotations you have about the specific experiences. For one person, a Christmas tree symbolises love, caring and belonging; for someone else it might symbolise fear and uncertainty, and maybe evoke the distorted laughter of drunken adults.

Because the power of symbols is so strong, it’s important that we get to influence the symbols we encounter. If you feel the need to emotionally connect to something – Chrismas, your relationship with your friends or family, your spirituality – find a symbol that is meaningful to you, and keep it close and visible.

If you feel anxious when thinking of a tree, don’t get one just because you feel you have to. Think of another symbol for the holiday season that stands for love and belonging – or create one. Ten years from now, maybe the sight of a bunny or a teacup will conjure up happy memories from the past.

Thank you for being here

I’m so grateful that someone actually wants to read what I have to say. Hope you find more of what you came here for in the (not yet gargantuan, but getting there) archives, and hope you have a lovely holiday, whatever it is that you celebrate.

And until next time, keep catching your own insightings!

Love,

Sari

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subtext
noun
the implicit or metaphorical meaning (as of a literary text)
(Merriam-Webster Online)

Today’s insighting was inspired by a conversation I had with my dear fiancé the other day. It was A Typical Conversation in Two Acts:

In Act I, we were talking past each other while seemingly communicating;

In Act II,  we started talking about what it was exactly that the other heard in the remarks we made in Act I.

That got me thinking about subtext, a literary or dramatic notion about the implied meaning behind what is said.

Subtext and drama text

The play on the page might have the following dialogue:

J: I love you.
M: What?
J: You heard me.
M: I sure did.

It’s up to the director of the play to figure out what happens during and between those lines. In other words, what is actually meant by the characters when they utter those lines.

If you wanted to make it a (cheesy) romantic comedy scene, you could go with the following subtexts:

J: I love you. (Please don’t reject me?)
M: What? (This is a dream come true!)
J: You heard me. (You are… happy?)
M: I sure did. (Come here and let me embrace you!)

If, on the other hand, you wanted to make it a tragic scene depicting the relationship between a mother and a child, you don’t have to change the lines, just the subtext:

J: I love you. (You owe me your life!)
M: What? (How can you guilt me like that?!)
J: You heard me. (I have the power in this situation.)
M: I sure did. (I am so disappointed.)

Add to this the layer of movement, gesture and facial expression, and you get two very different interpretations of the same script.

Of course, the actors know each others’ subtexts. In an ordinary conversation, though, we can’t always be sure of how our remarks are interpreted. Even more importantly, we can’t be sure if we’ve interpreted the other person correctly.

Subtext and everyday communication

For every single utterance, there are a multitude of interpretations depending on the context and the relationship of the interlocutors. The degree of appropriate directness between interlocutors, first of all, is determined by the formality of the situation and their distance in social hierarchy.

Then there are politeness and imposition issues – it’s all right to be direct when asking for the salt in the breakfast table, whereas it’s quite another matter to ask your boss for a raise or a week off work. This I hope to come back to later.

With indirectness, then, comes the problem of multiple interpretations. And this is where subtext marches onstage.

Case in point: The Typical Conversation (Act I)

This is how I interpreted the conversation

Me: I’m feeling crappy about that thing you did or didn’t do.
– – subtext: I’m feeling bad.

J: But blah blah blah, I did blah blah. (I’m rephrasing here)
– – subtext: You are not allowed to feel bad.
Me: The thing was, blah blah…
– – subtext: I am too allowed to be upset, you blockhead!
J: But couldn’t you have blah blah…
– – subtext: It’s your own fault you’re feeling upset, so there! Ha!

and so on.

This is how J told me he had interpreted the conversation

Me: I’m feeling crappy about that thing you did or didn’t do.
– – subtext: You ruined my day and are a lousy person

J: But blah blah blah, I did blah blah. (I’m rephrasing here)
– – subtext: You are attacking me and I don’t think I did anything wrong.
Me: The thing was, blah blah…
– – subtext: You lousy person, I’m determined to make you sorry!
J: But couldn’t you have blah blah…
– – subtext: You’re blaming me for your own mistakes, ma’am!

In other words, it was the classic I-need-to-be-heard, he-feels-the-need-to-defend pattern. Even though I really was trying to be constructive, instead of starting out with:

Me: You f**king d******, why do you always blah blah blah!!
– – subtext: I’m feeling bad.

What eventually defused the situation – and marked the transition between Acts I and II – was J’s comment:
J: I understand you’re upset
– – subtext: I understand you’re upset

After hearing that, I didn’t need to convince him that, indeed, I was feeling upset. From his point of view, I could stop attacking him and start thinking about whether or not I’d had something to do with the end result, too.

It’s all very classic communications stuff, but it was interesting to see just how deep these pre-programmed scripts of subtexts can run. And how long it took both of us to realise that it was not, in fact, about the initial issue anymore.

Talk about a duh moment. Wait – we weren’t, like, listening to each other? Whoah.

As for the topic of saying what you mean and meaning what you say… ahhh. A large part of the pragmatical branch of linguistics is concerned with the mechanisms around that very phenomenon.

I promise to unleash my inner linguist and address those mechanisms as soon as I get some empirical material to illustrate my points. With the holidays coming up, I have no doubt my data will be plentiful.

Have a lovely weekend (or week, if you’re reading the archives), and keep catching your own insightings!

Love,

Sari

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This is a series of posts about motivation, based on Richard Ryan and Edward Deci’s Self Determination Theory. In each post, I will talk about one of the three key needs that are linked with intrinsic motivation: Competence, Autonomy, and Relatedness.

It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Situation: I’m in the middle of battling a severe case of demotivation, and I’ve summoned the Three Motivation Musketeers – Competence, Autonomy, Relatedness – to my rescue. In the previous posts, Competence and Autonomy have been doing a good job with battling the Monstrous Demotivation Monster, and Relatedness is about to step in to finish the task once and for all.

For some reason I get a real kick out of reading people’s Twitter updates and Facebook status reports. Especially if I’m surfing Twitter and Facebook to avoid doing that-thing-I-should-really-be-working-on. Or in the procrastination vocabulary, if I’m “just about to get started” on that. It’s a lot easier to take on my own demotivating task if I know there’s someone else out there battling theirs at the same time.

And oh, the joy of being able to update or report an achievement! Even if no-one actually comments, I know someone somewhere knows what I’ve accomplished! Yay me!

To me, the power of Relatedness is three-fold. First, there’s the support and acknowledgement that comes from belonging to a like-minded group. Second, there’s the all-important accountability. And third, there’s the more-than-the-sum-of-its-parts idea of pooling your brain power.

1. Belonging

Everyone has an experience of a class, a course or a study group that just clicked. The atmosphere was positive and supportive, and everyone seemed eager to pitch in and do their part. The teacher knew the topic, and was approachable and fair.

Did you feel motivated about the topic of the course or class? Well, duh.

A supportive, trusting environment enhances motivation, because it decreases the amount of energy we spend on being afraid. Whenever I enter a new group of people, be it for school, work or some extracurricular activity, I spend the first few sessions being afraid of making a complete fool of myself.

That eats up a whole bunch of energy I could be spending on other mental processes, like, say, learning.

The teacher (or group leader) plays an important part in this equation, since it’s their responsibility to create a supportive atmosphere in the group. Noticing each student, receiving their remarks with respect, and encouraging positive communication are strategies a teacher can use to create that atmosphere.

Participants are responsible for the group dynamics as well – depending on their age, of course. If a sandbox fight breaks out between five-year-olds, I’d look to the caregivers watching over the situation.

Poor workplace dynamics, though, can’t be blamed solely on the boss, although management does have a big role in creating the group culture of the company. If ten adults notice a problem and none of them does anything about it, there are ten people responsible for letting the problem exist.

So how does all this translate to my battle with the Magnificent Demotivation Monster?

Relatedness is already going through my list of friends, trying to figure out who to call. No matter what the task, I’ve already got a context-independent circle of friends who might well take the time to listen to me rant. If one of them can actually help me out with the task, all the better.

What I mostly need from Relatedness now, though, is the knowledge that I’m not alone. There is someone out there who knows what I’m battling with and cares.

2. Accountability

This is a biggie for anyone who has ever tried to change a habit. Tell one person, or no-one, about your attempt to quit smoking, and you might or might not succeed. Tell fifty people that you’re going to quit smoking, and it’ll be a lot harder for you not to make it.

This, again, boils down to the “not wanting to make a fool of myself” emotion. I don’t want to seem like a person who doesn’t live up to her promises. If I’ve told ten people I’m quitting, I’ll rather shudder through a meeting with them than sneak out for a cigarette. The more people I tell, the less people there are that don’t know, and the more I have to keep to my word, if only to protect my reputation.

It’s also about not wanting to let people down.

Did you ever have a teacher whose lesson you never wanted to miss and whose exams you always wanted to ace, so as to not disappoint the teacher?

In truth, the teacher’s emotions probably didn’t revolve around your success in that particular subject. Sorry to burst the bubble. The main thing is, though, that you thought they did. And that thought kept you working on the project more than on any of the other projects combined.

And by you, again, I mean me. In high school, I did extended physics mostly for this reason. Which is awesome, since I would otherwise never have taken physics seriously. 🙂

So to get Relatedness in your corner on this one, can you come up with someone you really love and respect, and then tell them you’ll be finishing this project by such and such date? Maybe promising them a weekly update on how you’re doing and what kinds of problems are coming up? And then buying them a cup of coffee and lending your ear to whatever it is they want to talk about?

3. Brain power

Sometimes I’m struggling with a task, a translation text, an essay or a project and can’t seem to make a dent in it. The whole thing is full of knots that are tied up into other knots and the whole thing is icky and nasty. I then complain about it to someone, who asks me two questions and points out a loophole I’d missed or a fact I’d forgotten. *ding!* I’m back on track in no time at all.

You can only do so much on your own. When you’re working with someone else, there’s a lot more brain capacity available and more pairs of eyes to pay attention to detail.

You know how you sometimes watch a game show where the contestants have already made it to the second or third stage of the competition, and then start making stupid mistakes? And you’re sitting on the couch going “I can’t believe that idiot is about to lose zillions of dollars by not knowing that stuff!!“? And nearly dialing the “sign up for our game show here” number because you’d certainly win the zillion dollars?

Chances are they know that stuff. It’s in there somewhere, and when they’re watching the show later they know they knew it. At the time, they were just using a lot of their brain power on thoughts like “I hope I don’t screw up” and “I wonder if Mom is watching” and “Oh man, did I just swear on TV?” and “Geesh, that game show host looks like a leprechaun“.

The same phenomenon happens in improvisation games all the time. The person whose turn it is blanks out completely, while the others have a thousand ideas for that particular association. When everyone gets to chip in and blurt out an idea, the story starts to evolve fast and no-one has sole responsibility for the result.

When a group of people pool their brain power on a task, it’s likely that they’ll not only get it done faster, it’ll be better than any of them would have managed on their own. Embracing the collective responsibility for a task will also increase the chances of better group cohesion and mutual accountability. Relatedness has just scored a hat trick on this one and is taking his bows as we speak.

One for all and all for one

Like the original Three Musketeers (or my favorite spin-off, Musket Hounds), these three Motivation Musketeers are awesome on their own. They totally rock at what they’re good at, but they do have some weaknesses. Their best performance, then, comes when you get all three together in your corner.

It would be arrogant to say this is all you’ll ever need to know about motivation. This goes a long way, though, and especially if you have a basic inventory of actions from each of the three Musketeers, you can really develop your self-motivation skills.

Again, if there’s anything that popped up for you while reading this series, I’d love to hear your comments. Until we meet again – keep catching your own insightings!

Love,

Sari

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