Monday, August 24, 2009

Fading Memory

For some reason, my mom can’t view my blog. When she clicks on the link, she gets an “illegal operation” error of some sort. When she finally can get on and read this, I know it will be OK – she has a sense of humor – as does my wife, who, I think, is the punch-line of this story.

My wife and daughter recently made a trip to visit my mom. I had to work, so I couldn’t join them. As I was getting ready for bed that night, I asked my wife, “How was mom?”

“I’m worried,” she said. “She told me the same exact story within ten minutes.”

“Oh,” I said. “What was the story about?”

“I don’t remember,” she said.

We both got one of those too-rare belly laughs from the irony of this exchange. We could all use more. Life is pretty absurd, after all.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Not Worrying But Flourshing

“What worries you, masters you.” John Locke

What’s been mastering me over the last three months is building that darn grandfather clock. It was, as we used to say in the orchestra, “an octave above my salary” (or at least an octave above my skill level!). So, I worried it to completion:

• Are my measurements within 1/32 of an inch?
• Will the pieces go together?
• How will I get the glass made and installed?
• Will the door fit the opening?
• Crap, the door stiles are bowed,what’s going to happen when I install glass?
• Will the clock movement fit?
• If it fits will it run and actually tell time?

Just a small sample, but you get the picture.

There must be some instrumentality in worry, given its breadth of practice. I think it serves us best when it spurs us to take action and address a problem. It serves us badly when it turns into irrational rumination.

“Will the pieces, go together? This is really sloppy, amateurish work. It would be an awful waste to put and expensive clock mechanism in such a shabby case. What if it doesn’t even fit? What if it doesn’t work? What an awful excuse of a human being, I am. Why did I even try to do this...and on….”

Positive Psychology gives us tools to head off rumination before it starts. Positive Psychology is not positive thinking. It’s a new discipline that’s been around for about 10 years. Rather than focusing on what’s wrong with someone and fixing that, as prior psychological practice did, positive psychology focuses on helping humans flourish.

For example, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a specific tool from positive psychology to stop rumination and unproductive worrying. It teaches you to stop a negative stream of thought and consciously examine it for fit with reality. If the clock didn’t work, would that by itself really mean I was bad human being? Not really (but I’d probably still feel like one).

Stopping negative thought is important because negative thoughts lead to negative emotions which are twice as powerful as positive emotions. And to flourish, you need to experience positive emotion in the ratio of at least three to one. I learned this from Barbara Fredrickson’s Book, Positivity:

In her book and website, Fredrickson offers tools and practices to improve one's positive ratio to the three to one level (most people are two to one or lower) and, thereby, flourish.

Bad stuff happens. Bad stuff is real. Practing Fredrickson’s methods, is like making emotional bank deposits, so that one is equipped and resilient when faced with adversity.

While there’s nothing bad going on for me right now, I’m hoping that making these deposits will help me flourish and become a little bit better human being. At least, I’m hoping that I won’t ruminate and fixate on my next grandfather clock-like project (which turned out OK, after all).