Bring Back Boredom on Break the Twitch

Hello to readers of Everthrive! 

Recently, I was offered the opportunity to write and record guest content for Anthony Ongaro of Break the Twitch, a website that focuses on minimalism, habits, and creativity. My article "Why We Should Bring Back Boredom" discusses what boredom is, why we think boredom is something to avoid, and what we can learn from boredom. It concludes with ways we can use boredom to our advantage. The goal of my post is to show that boredom is actually a good thing, and not a thing to escape from. 

This was my very first guest post, and my very first recorded Skype call!

You can read "Why We Should Bring Back Boredom" by visiting Break the Twitch. Below, you'll find the video of Anthony and I chatting about Everthrive, why I created my site, and what we can do about boredom. 

A bit about the process of creating guest content...

At first, I was daunted by the task of creating content for a site other than Everthrive. However, understanding boredom - taking time to really reflect, disengage, and grow from those stagnant times in life - is a subject I am very passionate about. I was so thrilled to have the opportunity to share my ideas with Break the Twitch's community! The video element was a challenge for me, as I'm not quite used to being video recorded, especially at close-range. Despite Anthony's very helpful and reassuring coaching, I was rather nervous about the whole filming aspect of the post. But, I guess I did OK? 

Looking back, I know that the experience of being filmed was invaluable. Watching the footage helps me to develop a fuller awareness of how others may see me, gives me a chance to reflect on how I express myself physically and verbally, thereby helping me to be a better communicator. 

Thank you, Anthony, for the opportunity to grow and share with you! 

 

 

Dance in the Mud

Finding Joy Against All Odds

New Belgium's Tour de Fat 2014: Logan Square, Chicago

New Belgium's Tour de Fat 2014: Logan Square, Chicago

You're at your favorite music festival. The greatest band ever is playing, and you're so excited to be there. But, it rained last night, and there is a giant mud pit where the dance area should be. Upon realizing this, your smile fades, red flames lap at your insides, and you suddenly can't have fun. This is terrible. Everything is terrible.

Why can't we embrace the mud? Why is it so difficult to see the positive side of a situation?

It's easy to tell someone to "Be positive!" However, someone who is stuck in the alluring, stimulating land of negativity doesn't want to hear such trite things. Oftentimes, I am this someone, hanging out with my negatives, languishing in the bad, just because it feels better. For me, an important first step not just to tell myself to "be positive!" In order to journey over to the Land of the Positive, I have to acknowledge the reasons I dwell on the negative aspects of life.

Science says that we are hardwired to dwell on the negative since evolution has shaped us into alert, danger-avoiding creatures. In prehistoric cave-man days, we often had to run from life-threatening danger while gathering food or protecting our families. Detecting the negative was imperative for our survival. Even though we aren't up against this type of danger in the present, we're still programmed with something called a "negativity bias." 

The negativity bias can be explained as the tendency of people to focus on the negative, since the bad ignites our minds more than the good. Negativity is like a drug. It stimulates us. Our minds are very sensitive to negative thoughts, emotions, traumatic interactions, difficult events, and tough social interactions. Negativity makes lasting impressions, outweighing the positive in many ways. 

Everyone knows that focusing on the bad can bring us down, and spread negative energy to others. Negativity can stimulate specific glands in our bodies that ignite a "fight of flight" response, raising our stress hormones (cortisol), and lowering the body's natural immunity. We can actually become sick from negativity. 

What can we do about this?

First of all, to focus on the good, we should realize that the Land of the Positive isn't so far away. And, we should be open to reaching this destination, just as long as we really appreciate it. Science also tells us that it takes much longer for our minds to "emotionally absorb" good events. Next time something great happens, take some time to really experience and appreciate the awesomeness. Soak it up. Take a mental picture. Conjure it up later when you're feeling blue. 

It's OK to take a break from the difficult realities of the world. Shift your focus from your super-charged Facebook feeds, CNN headlines, FOX news, Drudge Report, and all of that. Political and social realities are important, and need our attention, but sometimes it's good to come up for air. Recharge. Tune in to your immediate surroundings. Your home. Your partner. Your children, family and friends. Your unconditionally loving dog or cat. These aspects of your life deserve your love, your time, and your gratitude. 

Focus on creating something new. Creating a new recipe for the family dinner, write a letter to an old friend, create space between yourself and negative feelings by experiencing nature. Start volunteering for organizations that will be able to make a difference on the realities of many. Creating helps us grow with each experience so we can contribute to the world around us; contributing naturally infuses our lives with meaning and positive vibes. 

In order to save ourselves from the negative, we have to find joy despite the odds. We have to listen to our desire to succeed, to live, and to be happy. We have to embrace our metaphorical mud pits, understanding that dirt is harmless, and allow ourselves those incredibly meaningful experiences where positivity floods into our minds, bodies, and souls. 

Get out of the negative. Find joy against the odds. Dance in the mud. 

 

 

Making Time to Live

Last weekend, I married the love of my life. The earth slowed, silencing its noise, and the only thing left was our two hearts beating as one. We experienced joy we had never felt before.

Since we are using this time to live peacefully, intentionally, and contentedly as husband and wife, I will resume posting in the last few weeks of July.

When patterns are broken, new worlds emerge

Last weekend, I enjoyed a long lunch in the city with my fiancé and our friend Jon. Afterwards, we needed to get to Lincoln Park, and had been planning on taking the CTA. But, when it came time to depart, we made the impromptu decision to walk. It was a gorgeous late spring day in Chicago - perfect for a four mile stroll.

This may not be the best example, but it is an example nonetheless. We chose to walk, breaking our pattern. We changed our plan. We simply traveled north, barely consulting our GPS. We decided to meander through the zoo - it's free! why not? - and, to my elation, we happened upon an amazing art piece near Lincoln Park Zoo's South Pond. I had seen photos of this arch in my Instagram feed, and often wondered where it was, reaching its curvaceous wooden beams towards the sky.

As the arch meets the sky, a pattern is broken, and an appreciation for art and nature takes over. Instead of thinking about the negative impact that civilization has on the world, we think of the positive. Our impulsive decision to forgo public transportation was validated. This arch offered us a zen retreat in the midst of car horns and bustling commuters. Surrounded by a natural prairie landscape, this place provided an entrance to a new world of calm and peace.

“When patterns are broken, new worlds emerge.” - Tuli Kupferberg
 

Stop Overthinking

"The more you overthink, the less you will understand."

-Habeeb Akande

“I'm tired of being inside my head. I want to live out here, with you.” - Colleen McCarthy. Photo taken outside of Detroit, MI, 2014.

“I'm tired of being inside my head. I want to live out here, with you.” - Colleen McCarthy. Photo taken outside of Detroit, MI, 2014.

I used to spend a lot of time overthinking.

Trapped in that never-ending "what-if" loop, I'd stress about how intruders might access my apartment. What if I left the candle burning at home? Will the hissing radiator explode while I'm at work? What if I made the wrong impression at dinner last night? What if I talked too much, or too little? Sometimes I'd feel for my wallet or keys three times in the course of a train commute. It made my heart palpitate a little less. 

I'd often ruminate on nonexistent symptoms. What if I had a terminal illness? I'd self-diagnose a skin anomaly on Web MD until concluding that I must immediately seek a specialist. I'd visualize my death, create my will, divide up possessions among family members, and my plan my ashes to be scattered at sea, despite a propensity for seasickness. In this real-life scenario, circa 2007, I actually did consult a specialist who, after a physical evaluation, told me there was absolutely nothing wrong with me, and that I was worrying too much. At that moment, I didn't feel relieved. Instead, I felt like an idiot. 

I thought it was a normal part of life to decipher codes and hidden meanings everywhere. Doesn't every intelligent person do this?

Actually, no. 

At the times where my worrying reached its peak, I wasn't happy with my life. My unhappiness was caused by fear, which in turn revealed overwhelming, incessant worrying. I was afraid of being alone, afraid of failing, and afraid of my future. Through analyzing my own experience, others' experiences, and through research, I've learned that overthinking is a symptom of the distressed and isolated. I've learned that fear can lead to social anxiety, and sometimes even avoidance of social activities altogether. People who are afraid of social interaction have a tendency to self-medicate through various outlets, such as shopping, spending hours on Netflix, social media, or abusing substances or food. These distractions may help for a bit, but ultimately they mask our fear, helping it fester deep within our minds, until it explodes when we least expect it, destroying relationships and our health. 

When we feel that life is in disorder, we devote too much time to the negative. In fear, we overthink things, and we cling to solutions to the wrong problems. We dwell on things that didn't go well, and constantly think up worst case scenarios. Often, its a general lack of confidence that causes us to worry, or perhaps its that we feel that worrying will protect us from harm. Yes, back in caveman times when we were hunters and gatherers, stress did actually protect us from harm, as in death via saber-toothed tiger. Fast-forward to present day, we still get the same stress signals, but from benign sources that aren't life threatening. Now, at the prospect of failing, let's say, the written portion of the driver's test at the DMV, our hearts pump three times their normal speed, sending more blood to our limbs. Capillaries close down, sending our blood pressure up, so that we can theoretically "sustain a surface wound and not bleed to death. Even our eyes dilate so that we can see better" (Stress Stop 2009). Our bodies and minds have trouble telling the difference between an encounter with a saber tooth tiger and a multiple-choice test. 

There are ways we can help our bodies and minds acknowledge the difference. To combat overthinking   and overreacting, we can practice the following: 

1. Notice and appreciate our thoughts - If we take account of the situation, and put it into perspective, we might be able to understand the reasons behind our catastrophic thinking patterns. Some might suggest keeping a journal to chart the frequency of our negative thoughts. 

2. Spend time outside - Nature has a way of soothing us, taking us back to simpler times. All is well when the birds are chirping, the streams are flowing, and animals scamper to and fro. Time spent on trail or camping might increase our confidence to a point where there is no room for worrying. 

3. Exercise - Studies show that exercise is very effective at increasing alertness, and enhancing our brain function by releasing natural endorphins, aka pain killers Physical activity can actually trick us into feeling happier, making us actually happier. 

4. Socialize - Seek out your friends and loved ones. Talk to them. Make meaningful memories with them. They can help you see past your worries, give you some perspective and alleviate your loneliness. 

5. Breathe - Take some time to breathe, in and out, slowly. This naturally reduces your blood pressure and heart rate, calming you down so that you can see clearly. 

6. Let go - Know that you can only control what you do, say, or feel. You can't control anything that happens "at" you, and you can't control what other people do. You are in control of yourself, so let all of those worries go! Be grateful for what you have, and know that you will be OK. 

 

For more methods to overcome worrying, check out the following related posts -

Learn from Loneliness

Acknowledge Fear

Breathe

Unburden by Choice

Be Free