Browsing the archives for the support tag.
Subscribe via RSS or e-mail      


What’s the Drug in Your Life? Part II

Habits

This post is a continuation of a discussion of addictive behaviors that started in my previous article, “What’s the Drug in Your Life? Part I.”

Quitting addictive behaviors
Dealing with addictions often needs two things at once: a way to address the problem or problems that made running away attractive in the first place, and a change in habit to stop the addiction. In my case, I moved to a new place where I had a number of supportive friends around me. In this context, it became clear that playing computer games was stupid: it shut out my friends and created problems with them, and it wasn’t really necessary because with my friends around me, I wasn’t lonely. The fact that I didn’t see this in my life until my change in situation broke the pattern is disappointing, but I’m encouraged that I understood myself well enough, all those years ago, to take the step that put me in a situation where I could stop acting addictively.

I hadn’t realized it for years, but recent reflection made something obvious to me: the time when I stopped playing computer games was also the time when I started writing seriously again. After years of avoiding writing (following a year or two of earnest effort and no sales right after college), I was working hard once again, and I began to see signs of success early on in that process. It led directly to my being admitted to an exclusive writer’s workshop, getting an agent, selling my first book, and winning the Writers of the Future contest.

Putting ourselves in situations where we have more supportive people in our lives on a day to day basis makes a huge difference. This can be accomplished sometimes by moving, by making different lifestyle choices, by starting a new activity (check out the free site www.meetup.com for regular activities in your area), by participating in group therapy, or by re-energizing relationships with friends or family. A bonus of this approach is that increased time spent with supportive friends, family, and acquaintances cuts into addiction time, helping address the problem both directly and indirectly. Of course, it’s counter-productive to spend more time with people if they’re encouraging taking part in the addictive behavior; avoid that pitfall!

Counseling (my personal recommendation would usually be to work with an experienced cognitive therapist of some kind) can also help: when we identify what the problem or lack was that helped drive the addictive behavior in the first place and take steps to change that in our lives, the addiction loses a lot of its power.

 

Benefits of quitting
More benefits can come from beating an addiction than might be immediately obvious. Of course the ongoing damage the addictive behavior was doing is gone, but another major benefit is that our brains eventually return to handling dopamine in a normal way, making other activities more pleasureable. The addiction also yields time to do other things, opening up the possibility for more pleasure and improvements in our lives.

Quitting an addiction is also seen as a mark of strength and character by other people; being successful in this tends to raise our opinion of ourselves as well as other people’s opinions of us.

Finally, quitting an addiction opens up the opportunity of stepping up and facing whatever problem contributed to the addictive behavior in the first place. Is it loneliness? Fear of failure? Depression? All of these are much easier to address without an addiction in the way to complicate things.

So, while I hope your answer is “I don’t have one,” let me ask you this question: what’s the drug in your life?

Photo by absentmindedprof

No Comments

ToDoist Is (Was) Down

Resources

FINAL  UPDATE: Todoist is back up: time to immediately save my data!

UPDATE: Todoist tweeted and posted about the problem at 1:35 EST: see http://todoist.com/Support/showQuestion/255/ . They say that their database became corrupted for unknown reasons and that they’re fixing the problem. They also apologized for the outage. I’m no longer worried about having to switch systems, but will take my own advice (below) and start backing up.


In my post “Why Organization Improves Motivation, and Some Organization Tips” from a couple of years back I extol the virtues of Todoist, a free online task tracking system with a modestly upgraded, slightly less free version available as well. Today I’m not so much in an extolling mood. I can open Todoist, and each of the categories shows the proper number next to it showing how many tasks I have in that category, but clicking on the categories themselves opens up a screen with no tasks except for (bizarrely) the completed ones.

I have a work account and a personal account for Todoist, and I’ve tried them both, on different computers and browsers, with the same results, making me think it’s a universal problem. ToDoist Mobile on my smartphone is giving me even more flack, claiming I have no projects (categories) at all.

To my surprise, Google reports that no one has blogged about this, and there appear to be no news articles on the subject. If you’re experiencing this problem, though, I’m here to tell you it’s not just you.

Oh, and did I mention that their support site times out? I can’t even ask what’s going on.

I understand it’s a free service, but it’s still very damaging to have a large amount of critical information disappear on you and to not know whether or when you might ever get it back. Being able to access Todoist on my phone as well as on computers wherever I may be has been terrific, but going forward I may give that up just to get some peace of mind that I won’t lose it all. Losing my task list would set me back enormously and cause problems in many areas of my life.

The moral? Back up your data. In my case, it would have been smart to get into the habit of at least once a week (and preferably more often) entering “view all” in the search box on todoist and saving the resulting page, which lists all current tasks in all categories, but I’ve tended to think of backup as only applying to data on devices I own–bad mistake. If my data does reappear, I’ll certainly get in the habit of doing this. If you’re not in my position, may I please very strongly recommend regularly backing up your task list (and calendar, for that matter)?

And if you are on Todoist, like me, could you comment on whether you’re experiencing the same thing today (Thursday, July 28th) or not?

Update: I should have thought to check the Twitterverse; when I did, I found others experiencing the same problem. Not long ago, @JB66 reported “It’s still mostly down, but if you view Completed Tasks it shows your current tasks as well buried in there.”

8 Comments

How to Believe

States of mind

Accomplishing new goals in our lives usually means changing our habits, and changing habits requires commitment to a goal. Underneath that commitment, though, there has to be faith. There’s a goodly amount of research out there to support the idea that if we don’t believe we can do something difficult, we won’t make a very good attempt at it.

Why belief is important to success
Belief’s importance makes a lot of sense: after all, accomplishing something difficult means putting in effort and attention over time, and as human beings, we tend to be very bad at putting time and effort into something when we don’t believe we’ll succeed–and rightly so! It doesn’t make much sense to expend our efforts in areas where we expect to fail.

But a problem comes up when something that we really can do feels impossible. We might want very much to do that thing and know exactly what steps we should be taking, but if we have trouble picturing success, eventually resolve tends to falter. We stop putting in effort because we have a crisis of faith, and that interruption causes our effort to fail, which reinforces the idea that what we wanted to do was impossible in the first place.

While fortunately we human beings tend to compensate for this sometimes with bull-headedness and unrealistic expectations (and I really do think that’s fortunate–otherwise we’d be like movie studios that only produce copycat movies for fear that something original will flop), more often, lack of belief leads to failure.

So sometimes, the reason you don’t believe you can earn a degree and get a better job is just that you’ve never had a better job, or the reason you can’t really believe you’ll lose weight is because you haven’t done it successfully before. Yet both of these things, for example, are achievable by almost anyone.

Building belief
So how can we help ourselves believe in our goals? Here are some ways to make that happen:

  • Talk to or research someone else who’s done it. Seeing is very close to believing.
  • Learn about how things work. For instance, learning about the relationship between building new muscle and increasing metabolism can provide more reason to be optimistic that exercise will lead to weight loss.
  • Root out broken ideas. It’s common to tell ourselves “facts” that don’t really hold up on examination. The page “All About Broken Ideas and Idea Repair” provides resources to learn how to repair broken ideas.
  • Track your progress. Every step toward your goal provides evidence that you can get closer. Be aware of your successes to bolster your confidence and your missteps to know where you need to be cautious. For more on this, see “How Feedback Loops Maintain Self-Motivation.”
  • Revisit past successes. If you’ve quit smoking for a couple of months in the past, or if you’ve been caught up with all of your correspondence at other times in your life, remind yourself of what you did and what you were able to accomplish.
  • Visualize success. Imagining a situation vividly enough helps it feel more real. Visualization is a way to get motivation from our own potential future successes.
  • Talk it out with someone supportive. Finding someone who wants to encourage you toward your goals can make a real difference (see “How Supporters and Partners Help Motivate Us“). Sympathetic friends or family members may not have the same blind spots we often have about ourselves, and a little encouragement can go a long way.

Photo by ornellaswouldgo

No Comments

7 Ways to Find Supporters and Partners

Strategies and goals

Following up on my last article, “How Supporters and Partners Help Motivate Us,” here are some ways to find people to help your efforts toward reaching a goal.

  1. Friends and family. It’s not unusual to hide goals from friends and family members, especially goals to fix things in our lives that aren’t going well, for instance getting fit or decluttering. But specific friends or family members who are likely to be sympathetic to our aims–even aims we’d usually keep private–can provide a welcome source of encouragement, feedback, and in some cases inspiration. People you know who are working toward the same goal you are can be especially helpful.
  2. Local groups. The more common a goal, the more likely there are groups to help you succeed in it. Professional associations, Weight Watchers, Alcoholics Anonymous, writers’ groups, and other organizations can be invaluable. In most cases, it’s preferable for the group to include or be run by someone who is already successful in the area in question.
    Three good places to find local groups are the yellow pages, local daily and weekly newspapers, and www.meetup.com, a free resource for finding and forming local groups.
  3. Cognitive therapists. Cognitive therapy can be particularly useful not only in helping work through emotional problems but also in clarifying goals and priorities, clearing away conflicts, and becoming more effective in life. Until relatively recently, far more emphasis in psychological research and practice has been put on people with serious difficulties than on what is now called “positive psychology”: building on strengths and realizing potential. In the last decade or two, this tide has begun to turn, creating much more awareness of therapy as a means to pursuing our better selves. Kari Wolfe contributed an article on this site that gives a good introduction to cognitive therapy, “What in the World is Cognitive Behavior Therapy?“.
  4. Professionals. Depending on your goals, there may be professionals who can help you succeed: organization specialists, fitness trainers, coaches, and others. Both with these kinds of professionals and with therapists, it’s worth putting a good bit of effort into research, as a truly bad fit can be worse than doing nothing at all, but a very good fit can yield benefits far beyond the expected.
  5. Classes. You may not necessarily need more education in the area of your goal, but if education is useful to you and available, getting involved in a class–whether it’s pursuing an MBA, taking a class offered through your local community, or even in some cases taking a course online–can provide connections to people who are care about your goal and can help you move forward.
  6. Online groups and forums. Online groups in many cases don’t offer nearly as much human contact as groups that meet in person, but they can be easy to access and are often large, active and knowledgeable. They can be a source of support and camaraderie online as well as a possible way to meet people who can become friends in person. One excellent example is the free online fitness and weight loss site, SparkPeople.
  7. Events. Events that focus on your goal area can be a great source of new contacts, ideas, friends, supporters, and colleagues.

Photo by foreverdigital

No Comments

How Supporters and Partners Help Motivate Us

Strategies and goals

Recently a reader commented with this useful question: “How do I find people who can support me in reaching my goals, whether by encouragement, having the same/similar goal or even a goal of their own? Are there any tips you can offer regarding how to tell people that I’d like to work on a goal?” In this article, I’ll talk about how other people can fit into your plans for achieving your goals. In the follow-up, I’ll talk about specific ways you can find supporters and partners.

First, it’s worth mentioning some of the benefits of support and buddying up:

  • More resources for information and help
  • More reminders of what you’re doing and why it’s important
  • People to cheer you on and help boost your mood
  • An “audience,” people to witness your progress, making you less likely to just silently let your goal slip (although if you get very anxious about other people’s opinions, this may not be a good option for you)
  • Sometimes, models to emulate
  • Sometimes, companions to do things with
  • Opportunities to maintain a feedback loop, to make it easy to reflect on how you’ve been doing and how you could tweak your approach for the better
  • Increased social time in general, which even if it has nothing to do with your goal tends to improve mood (see “Want to Reduce Stress? Increase Social Time“).

People can help you in a variety of roles:

  • mentors are skilled at doing whatever you’re trying to take on and can provide specific help and guidance. A mentor could be a friend or family member who has already done what you’re trying to do, a specialist like a personal trainer or professional organizer, a therapist, a coach, a teacher, etc.
  • partners want to achieve the same goal you do and can get together with you to work on it. My belief, although I don’t know of any research to back this up, is that partners who are at about the same place you’re in work best, since you two are likely to face similar challenges, and you’ll neither be discouraged by the other person being far ahead of you or impatient at the person being far behind.
  • groups get together on a regular basis to share ideas, witness each other’s progress (or sometimes lack of progress, because occasional failures and setbacks are a normal part of pursuing a goal), offer encouragement, and otherwise help keep each other on track. Online groups generally offer discussion and support without meetings, which adds flexibility but takes away the structure of a regularly scheduled check-in.
  • role models can be people you know or people you’ve only heard of, and have achieved what you want to achieve. Role models offer the opportunity to learn how to successfully reach a goal and a clear reminder that it can be done.
  • supporters include anyone who can make a constructive contribution to your progress by helping to provide information, encouragement, or discussion.
  • competitors are other people trying to reach the same kind of goal as you who inspire you to work harder. Some of us respond well to competition and some don’t. If you’re someone who does, then trying to be the most successful person in your weight loss group or to get an agent before any of your other writer friends can be a good way to stay motivated.

There’s also one group to avoid: detractors. This includes anyone who will get in the way of you achieving your goal, whether or not they mean well. Anyone who encourages or excuses your bad habits, distracts you with things that prevent you from making progress, or actively tries to disrupt you through badmouthing, scoffing, unkind comparisons, or other tactics is worth avoiding if possible, keeping out of the loop if it’s not possible to avoid them, or ignoring if it’s not possible to keep them out of the loop.

Photo by Wootang01

No Comments

Writing Motivation Interviews, Number 1

Interviews

I’ve recently been asking writers I know who have broken through and made pro writing sales a set of twelve questions about their motivation, experiences, and challenges. Writing is a useful thing to look at when talking about self-motivation because in many ways it is a solitary kind of work that requires a lot of inner drive, and sometimes keeping that drive on track isn’t the easiest thing in the world. Here’s one of those interviews.

Writing (the person pictured is not the interviewee, by the way)

1. When did you start writing? How long have you been at it?
I was one of those over-achievers who was telling stories even before I learned my ABCs – there are cassette tapes to prove it.  My computer archives stretch back 20 years, to when I was 8 and my parents bought their first personal computer; one of my pre-computer stories (written on my parents’ typewriter) survives but I’m not sure how old I was when I wrote it.

2. What kinds of things do you write?
Any and every sub-genre of fantasy, with some science fiction and historical non-fiction thrown in the mix.

3. What writing accomplishments so far mean the most to you?
Being published for the first time, hands down, means the most!  Discovering my name was an entry in library catalogs like worldcat was pretty awesome, too.

4. How much writing would you say you have done so far in your life? Can you estimate hours, pages, or number of words?
I used to organize my stories by page count, up until Dec. 2008 (and the hard-drive death of the laptop I was using then); a quick guestimate from my recovered files archive yields approximately 3690 pages.  I joke that was my million words of crap [Luc’s note: Orson Scott Card has suggested that as a rough estimate, we all have about a million words of crap to write before we hit our stride as writers] as that’s also about the time I started getting serious about being published (and started getting positive feedback from pro markets.)  Only the best of my works in progress and story fragments got brought forward onto the new computer, so I’ve got approximately 680,000 words now, of which probably half is new material since Jan. 2009.

So at 250 words/page, I guess that puts me at ~1.2 million words.  (Note: this is only my fiction.  I’ve written at least another 700 or so pages of non-fiction during college and graduate school, but that’s another type of writing entirely.)

5. What kinds of messages did you get from important people in your life when you were young about what you were capable of and what was possible in your life? Did you feel supported, rejected, ignored, encouraged, misunderstood, pushed?
My parents always supported me 100%, and I have vivid memories of moments in which my teachers were equally encouraging and helped me to improve my writing.

6. What’s the hardest thing you’ve had to experience so far as a writer–a really difficult project, a really painful rejection, a setback or delay … ? (Feel free to mention more than one)
I went to a summer program on creative writing when I was seventeen and discovered that my writing instructors didn’t like science fiction and fantasy, which was pretty much all I’ve ever written or wanted to write.   As part of the program we were supposed to submit our stories, so I subbed around some literary fiction (that I thought was crap and my instructors loved), got back a bunch of form rejections, and then was quite relieved to wash my hands of the whole experience.

7. When that thing happened, what did you do? How did you respond?
It sounds hokey, but I realized I had to be true to myself in my writing – I had to write the kinds of stories I liked, not the kinds of stories other people wanted me to write.

The experience also pretty much killed my initial attempts at getting external validation for my fiction, and I just wrote for myself for the next 4-5 years.  I didn’t start seeking professional publication again until I graduated from college.  Since my writing improved immeasurably over the course of those years, this was probably a good thing for editors everywhere.

8. Why do you write? Why not let someone else do it? What keeps you going?
The voices in my head won’t let me stop… yeah, only slightly joking.  I have an incredibly active imagination and sometimes the only way to get an idea or a character out of my head is to write them down.

9. What kinds of things help you write more? Music, a deadline, reading something good someone else wrote, your own success … ?
I sometimes get inspired by music and reading stuff by other people, but the thing that gets me to write the most is when I’m procrastinating doing something I really don’t want to do.  I also have a competitive streak which means, if I’m in the right mood, sitting down to a group writing session can make me incredibly productive.  But when all’s said and done, there’s nothing like a deadline to make me actually sit down and finish/polish what I’ve started writing.  I absolutely hate missing externally-imposed deadlines, so it’s my best motivator.

10. What kinds of things get in the way of your writing or make you write less, other than life obligations like job and family? Do you do anything about these obstacles?
I write less when I’m going through free-reading binges (e.g. in the past week I’ve written less than usual, but I’ve also read 15 novels).  Unless I have a deadline, I usually just read myself out and then go back to work.

I also tend to want to write less when I know exactly where a story’s going – I’m a complete pantster – for which my main remedy is butt-in-chair.  If that doesn’t work, then I start playing around with alternative viewpoints, spin-off stories, or even extra world-building, to rebuild my enthusiasm for the project.

11. Has anyone–a parent, teacher, mentor, role model, spouse, nemesis, editor, etc.–been especially important in your success so far as a writer? If so, what have they done for you?
I’m going to have to give credit to my dad, who wouldn’t stop nagging me about this “Orson Scott Card Literary Boot Camp” thing one of his coworkers went to and insisted I send in a writing sample.

12. What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned so far about being a writer–not about the things you write, but about the task of writing them or the role of being someone who writes?
Finish what you start.  When I first started writing, I never finished anything.  The first couple of stories that I made myself finish were crap.  Then they got slightly less crappy.  Then the ending started to be half-decent.  Then I actually sold one of them (though I was asked to re-write the ending)!

Photo by Chapendra

2 Comments

How Are Your Friends’ Habits Changing You?

Habits

One of the books I’m reading at the moment is  Tom Rath and Jim Harter’s Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements, which summarizes the findings of ongoing research by Gallup over a number of years on the subject of wellbeing and happiness. In the section on social wellbeing, Rath and Harter point out an important influence on our lives that’s often ignored: our friends’ habits.

Habits of friends have a profound effect on us, often even more than habits of parents or spouses. For example, when I was much younger (and more foolish), I smoked, though not heavily. When I moved to a new town where I’d be spending time constantly with friends who didn’t smoke–and who didn’t like smoking–I stopped. I literally smoked right up until the day I moved, then quit cold turkey and never picked up the habit again.

There are some useful ideas that emerge from understanding the power of friends’ habits, ones that impact our own self-motivation and give us more tools to help people who are close to us.

1. Buddying up makes habit change easier
Working together with a friend who wants to make some of the same improvements you do helps encourage habit change in at least three ways: first, any kind of social support makes us more likely to follow through with the changes we want to make in our lives. Second, any gains our friends makes help encourage and influence our own improvements. And third, changing habits together with someone whose company is enjoyable makes the change and the new habits more attractive, which makes it easier for the new behavior to become permanent.

2. Improvements in your life can help improve your friends’ lives
If you want to help make your friends’ lives happier, more successful, healthier, or more fulfilling, one of the best possible things you can do is acquire a good habit yourself. The change in you has a good chance of being noticed and admired by your friends, and it’s possible some of them will make improvements in their own lives inspired by your example. Additionally, making a positive change in part for the benefit of friends offers you an additional, very meaningful kind of inspiration to succeed.

3. Pick your friends carefully
If you spend time with people who are stuck and unhappy with their lives or who have bad habits you don’t want to pick up, your own quality of life is more likely to worsen unless you have so much support from other parts of your life that you’re a much stronger influence on your friends than they are on you.

Simply being aware of the impact friends can have on our habits and wellbeing can help bring out problems that were hidden and offer new possibilities for making things better.

Photo provided by freeparking

No Comments

Useful tool for Nutrition and Fitness: SparkPeople

Resources

A screenshot of part of the Nutrition Tracker tool at SparkPeople

Ever since I started seriously working on my own fitness back in 2005, I have kept track of what I eat, my weight, and how much I exercise in little notebooks that I carry around with me, at least most of the time. Recently, though, a friend showed me SparkPeople, a free nutrition and fitness site. SparkPeople allows users to track what they eat, how much they exercise, and what kind of exercise they do (including both cardio and strength training categories), weight, measurements, and other fitness metrics. It’s well-suited both to weight loss and to other fitness goals and offers charts and totals of helpful values like calories, fat, protein, cholesterol, sodium, vitamins and minerals, calories burned in exercise, and more. There are other features I haven’t used extensively, including recipes, forums, goal-setting, and tracking how much water you drink. All of these features are free; to the best of my knowledge there are no paid membership options on the site. SparkPeople is supported by noticeable but well-behaved advertising.

Personally the most useful feature for me is the Nutrition Tracker, where I can tap into a very large database of foods and record exactly what I’m eating in as precise amounts as I can figure out. This allows me to receive detailed nutritional reporting. The tracking on this site takes me a little longer than my notebook method because I previously counted only calories, and I had memorized the calorie counts of most foods I ate, but it has several benefits. One is that it gives me much more information than I had on my own, protein and cholesterol totals being especially useful to me. Another is that, interestingly, I feel compelled to track everything every day–even on the days when I exceed my calorie goal, when the total is less appealing–because if I track a partial day, it feels like I’m being misleading: it would appear that I had only eaten however many things I tracked instead of that I stopped tracking. Using my paper system, there were days that I didn’t track. I like this slight extra incentive to be consistent.

A third benefit is that I’m forced to write down the specific foods I eat rather than, for instance, writing “omelette” and estimating total calories: my numbers are more precise using this system.

While I find some of the tools a little cumbersome–speaking as a techie, for instance, I’d love to see the tool for adding foods integrated into the Nutrition Tracker page as an iFrame–all in all they have been fairly easy to use and quite useful. Of course you have to have access to the Internet to update the system, but they have a good mobile phone interface that I’ve barely used but that might do the trick for people who don’t always have access to a computer.

Speaking about motivation specifically, notice that this site provides some key pieces: one is supporting detailed tracking and regular review of tracked information, which is a rudimentary feedback loop (a more sophisticated feedback loop would just add free-form discussion or journaling about what led to good and bad outcomes and how to change or stick with behaviors for best results in future). Another is the community that’s available there for encouragement and cameraderie. Yet another is focusing attention on nutrition and exercise issues, since more attention often translates to more and better motivation.

Since there are a lot of features on this extensive site that I haven’t used, I hope other SparkPeople users will post their impressions and tips in comments.

2 Comments

Mental Schemas #5: Alienation

Handling negative emotions

This is the fifth in a series of articles that draw on the field of schema therapy, an approach to addressing negative thinking patterns that was devised by Dr. Jeffrey Young. You can find an introduction to schemas and schema therapy, a list of schemas, and links to other schema articles on The Willpower Engine here.

I went to a dance club late last year, not because I’m a good dancer or used to going to clubs, but because it seemed like it would be fun. I paid the ridiculous fee (I don’t remember the exact amount, but I think it was more than the total value of everything I was wearing) and walked into the big, trendy, excitingly-architected room to discover that I had come on … Lebanese Night. Lots of Lebanese guys in nice shirts were standing around with drinks, looking cool not dancing while small knots of Lebanese women danced on the floor, probably talking about how men are always too chicken to dance.

Not being Lebanese, a good dancer, or even a resident of the city I was in, I felt more than a little out of place.

Usually I find a way to connect in any group I’m in, but this was a clear exception. I was apart: they were them and I was me, and I didn’t see any way to change that. People with the “social isolation” or “alienation” schema feel this way all the time.

Social isolation isn’t entirely a bad thing. From outside the group, it’s sometimes possible to get a novel perspective, for instance. A lot of very good science fiction has been written from the point of view of someone who’s used to being completely different.

But alienation can also be lonely, painful, and obstructive. Sometimes you need to connect with a group to be able to accomplish something, to feel safe, or just to feel fully human. A child who feels very different from everyone else or who comes from a family that feels very different from other families, can grow up with a sense that no community will welcome them, that they’re not a part of anything.

A person with an alienation schema might join a group but not really get involved, or act out in a group in a way that will tend to encourage rejection, or avoid groups entirely.

Getting past an alienation schema–or any schema–takes time and effort, and it’s accomplished by paying attention to problem thoughts and attitudes, then deliberately coming up with more constructive ones. For instance, a person with this schema might arrive at a party and think “I didn’t dress up enough. Everyone here must think I’m a slob.” This kind of broken idea is known as “mind reading”–presuming to know other people’s thoughts and then acting as though those thoughts were an established fact. Repairing broken ideas that lead to feelings of alienation usually means understanding that it is possible to to genuinely be accepted into a group, and at the same time being OK with that fact that not every group accepts every person–that rejection from one group isn’t the same as proof that the rejected person doesn’t belong anywhere.

Whether or not this thinking would do me any good on Lebanese night when I don’t even know the difference between mawared and mazaher … well, that may be another thing entirely.

Photo by Steve White

No Comments

Mental Schemas #3: Emotional Deprivation (with help from Holden Caulfield)

Handling negative emotions

The Emotional Deprivation Schema
A few quotes from J.D. Salinger’s character Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye can help explain what this schema is about.

“Sometimes I act a lot older than I am–I really do– but people never notice it. People never notice anything.”

“She bought me the wrong kind of skates–I wanted racing skates and she bought hockey–but it made me sad anyway. Almost every time somebody gives me a present, it ends up making me sad.”

Occasionally feeling like other people don’t understand, don’t care, and/or couldn’t do anything about it even if they did seems to be a normal part of the human experience. Feeling like this every day and all, though, can be emotionally debilitating as hell.

I’m not suggesting that everything that goes on with Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye is part of an emotional deprivation schema. As real human beings, our motivations are too complex to be meaningfully explained by any one concept, and to Salinger’s credit, Holden feels like a real human being to many readers. But Holden does us a favor in helping to show the emotional deprivation schema and some of its effects.

A person with an emotional deprivation schema might choose relationships with people who aren’t very capable of giving care, understanding, or support, and might act in ways that make it harder for even people who are capable to give these things. Such a person might provoke others or try to keep people at a distance (on the assumption that they wouldn’t really be able to get close anyway).

Overcoming an Emotional Deprivation Schema
Making progress with this schema first requires understanding how it’s working in one’s life: taking note of behaviors and choices that come from these beliefs and that can affect relationships. Techniques like journaling, talk therapy, and mindfulness practices can help bring these ideas out.

One way to tackle an emotional deprivation schema–or any schema–is to identify broken ideas and then repair them. Schemas express themselves as broken ideas, and repairing these ideas helps make progress in taking down the schema.

Since an emotional deprivation schema is a lack of faith in receiving attention, care, and understanding from other people, any experience that demonstrates people actually providing these things is worth paying attention to and building on. Even small gestures, when recognized as real caring or support, show the inherent flaw in the line of thinking that this schema promotes, and focusing on these gestures widens the cracks in this kind of mistaken belief in a way that can eventually break it apart.

Holden himself seems to have come up with a way to feel better about other people caring about him, which is to care about other people:

“Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around — nobody big, I mean — except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff — I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be.”

Unfortunately, this particular way of demonstrating that people can care for each other is a little impractical. Yet right at the end of the book, Holden finds a simpler, more practical way, which is just watching his little sister on a merry-go-round.

“I felt so damn happy all of a sudden, the way old Phoebe kept going around and around. I was damn near bawling, I felt so damn happy, if you want to know the truth. I don’t know why. It was just that she looked so damn nice, the way she kept going around and around, in her blue coat and all. God, I wish you could’ve been there.”

Photo by Fozzman

3 Comments
« Older Posts


%d bloggers like this: