Help for the Attitudinally Challenged

Powerful technologies for coping with chronic negativity and stress


Negativity can be a very useful skill — it helps us zero in on problems so we can find solutions. But over time it can become habitual, and everything starts to go downhill.

Here's a collection of some of the smartest mental and physical systems I've encountered for overcoming negativity. These are skills the human race may need to learn in order to survive the 21st century.


Improv

   "Yes, and..."

Aikido
   Accept your attacker's energy, blend with it and redirect it

Meditation
   Repeatedly getting lost, and coming back to the present moment

"Yes, and: Acceptance, Resistance, and Change in Improv, Aikido, and Psychotherapy"
   A semi-academic paper on the above topics

Positive Psychology
   Interventions that maximize positive emotions

Life Coaching
   What if you could make the same decisions, but with less struggle?


Many of the above systems have the following aspects in common:

Being present in this moment

Improv

    Be spontaneous; respond to the present instead of preparing for something that probably won't happen.

Aikido

    Be centered in the present moment as well as centered physically.

Meditation

    Focus on the present; let go of distractions such as dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.

Acceptance, Saying "Yes"

I like this excerpt from the end of the movie "Waking Life."  To say Yes to this instant is to say Yes to all of existence.

Improv

The main rule is: Say "Yes, and..." Accept your partner's offer and add to it, embellish it, or redirect it. Avoid blocking. "Enter the danger..."

Aikido

Accept the opponent's energy as a gift, blend with it, and redirect it.

Meditation

Accept the present moment. Instead of trying to block out distracting thoughts, accept them and return your focus to the object of your meditation.


How These Disciplines Have Affected Me

Meditation

Meditation has been helpful for stress reduction and for dealing with the occasional anxiety attack. Focusing on the now takes attention away from an imaginary future and reduces the tendancy to "catastrophize."

Mindfulness Meditation, as practiced in the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course taught in over 200 medical centers in the United States, promotes an attitude of acceptance, which means seeing things as they actually are in the present. Meditation has given me a sense (perhaps illusory) that I can handle almost anything that comes my way.

Aikido

Aikido has been useful as a physical model and embodiment of an alternate way of dealing with conflict. By practicing these techniques, one begins to internalize their meaning. But I've found Aikido a bit hard on my aging body, so I've started and stopped several times.

Improv

People in my improv class were repeatedly saying things like, "this is so much cheaper than therapy!" Improv can be especially helpful for relationships. By learning to accept and build upon your partner's offer, life becomes more fun, playful and spontaneous. I encourage anyone to try an introductory improv class, even (especially!) if it seems scary.

Positive Psychology

Studying the field of positive psychology helped open me up to the possibility and desirability of happiness, something that had never been a priority, or seemed particularly attainable, before. Some very interesting work has been done in this field, and while some of the studies to date seem a bit lax scientifically, in general there's more to it than just glass-half-full "happyology." All in all, though, I still feel that Buddhist psychology has a few thousand year head start.


Other Interesting Technologies

Ericksonian Hypnotherapy

Milton Erickson's therapeutic techniques were based on the idea that resistance to hypnotic trance is similar to resistance to change. Resistance invites struggle, which in turn increases resistance. By giving the subject permission to resist, or even encouraging resistance, the struggle is lessened. Erickson welcomed the resistance as a way of pinpointing the areas of psychic pain, which are the most fruitful areas for intervention. As in Aikido, responding to resistance with flexibility encourages cooperation, because then there is nothing to resist. See "Hypnosis, Ericksonian hypnotherapy, and Aikido" by Windle and Samko, and the Wikipedia entry on Ericksonian Therapy.

Automatic Writing

Automatic writing is the practice of writing quickly without premeditation or conscious control. One simply listens to one’s mind and writes what one hears. Automatic writing can be a useful technique for encouraging creativity. The Surrealists developed the technique of automatic writing, not only for creating literature but also for cultivating hallucinations. A similar technique was adopted for painting. The book The Artist's Way includes exercises based on automatic writing.

Marriage

Another interesting system...


"You could be happy right now."