I came across an interesting listicle the other day. Listicles are those addictive social media posts that prick your curiosity, like, "9 Warning Signs That You Are About to Have a Heart Attack." These lists usually have provocative titles that hook you in but often, the informational content is very thin and worthless. I personally hate listicles because most of them are nothing more than cheap attention grabbers. Wikipedia defines a listicle as, a short-form of writing [mainly used in journalism and blogging] that uses a list as its thematic structure that is fleshed out with enough copy to be published as an article. A typical listicle will prominently feature a cardinal number in its title and subheadings in the text itself. The word listicle is a contraction of two words: list and article. The website, WikiHow, has its own listicle, '1' that teaches you how go about creating your own listicle: (1) Decide on a suitable topic to write about; (2) gather a lot of ideas relating to your chosen topic; (3) Choose the format or type of listicle that you're aiming to write, like list ranking (usually from least to most important), list of random yet related ideas or a list of random but unrelated ideas; (4) Prepare your list in the format you've chosen to follow, the ones that work best have an odd prime number of listed ideas (like 'Three Top Secrets' or 'Five Best Things To Get Excited About') and they commonly contain superlatives like 'ultimate,' 'best,' 'top' and 'major' ; (5) Choose whether your listicle contains images or just plain text; (6) Add the meat to the bones by writing something interesting about each item in your list; (7) Be considerate of your target audience as listicles are less appealing to older people.
The listicle that caught my attention was written by Abbey Stirling, which she titled, "8 Brutally Honest Truths You Need to Hear If You Want to Get Your Shit Together." You can find it on the website educateinspirechange.org. I thought it'd be useful to share these ideas with you even though I don't agree with all of them and I'll tell you why as we dig a bit deeper.
- Number (1) in her listicle is, "You're Going to Regret How Much Time You Spend on Social Media."
Social Media is a very useful tool, connecting people in ways that were unheard of before but it does have many downsides too.
Carl Young remarked, "We need other people to be truly ourselves." We can only make sense of life through our relationships. Richard Koch in his fascinating book, "The 80/20 Principle" has a lot to say about social media and its effect on our relationships. Modern life is making it increasingly difficult to make and sustain high-quality relationships. Through social media, most of us, says Koch, "are opting for a greater quantity of lower quality relationships. We have more relationships but they mean less. And, our principle relationship is ever more elusive and endangered." Digital technology increasingly impinges on our time and is grabbing more of our attention. To compensate, families are getting smaller and family duties, once done by family members, are now being outsourced to others, like childminding and the care of the aged. Koch asks, "Do more relationships add to more happiness?" Certainly not… Professionals at Carnegie Mellon University conducted some research that was sponsored by computer and software companies who hoped to prove that the greater variety and richness of internet relationships would decrease social isolation and raise a sense of wellbeing. But the results startled the sponsors and researchers. It turned out that the greater quantity of internet relationships and time spent on the net, the more lonely and depressed people tended to become. While the quantity of relationships increased, the quality of them stayed shallow, and the time pursuing them detracted from the quality time you could have spent with family and essential friends. This research found that intense and deeply personal relationships turns out to be vital for our feelings of security and happiness. Koch noted that busy, money-focussed people tended to seek lower quality relationships but on a greater scale, engaging the services of others to fulfil that social need, like: personal trainers, personal assistants, coaches, manicurists, shrinks, massage therapists, hypnotists and a host of others. What they are buying are relationships. If you are too busy to spend quality time with family and friends, you are more likely to purchase time with others in manageable, bite-sized chunks to fit in with your busy diary. The fewer relationships, the more centred and deeper, more authentic, powerful, loving and loveable you become. Eighty percent of your satisfaction flows from twenty percent of your relationships. What proportion of your time and effort do you invest in a few quality relationships that give you most of your satisfaction and meaning? You need to devote eighty percent of your relationship-energy to the twenty percent of people that really matter to you.
John C. Dvorak wrote a nice column in PC Magazine a few years ago. In it he speaks of M.I.T. Professor Sherry Turkle's lamenting how the smartphone creates an atmosphere of shallowness and weakens the human capacity for empathy. She bases her conclusions on research but the circumstantial evidence is strong and quite noticeable. There is an addictive nature of our inner reward system to the use of mobile phones. With this global obsession comes a noticeable and disconcerting emergence of new norms of politeness and civility. Anyone around 1998 would tell you that it's rude to use a cellphone in a restaurant or to chat loudly in public. That's no longer the case. Mobile phones are usually on the table in restaurants, on the desk at the office or somewhere close by. Most people I've shared a meal with, flick their attention to their phones with alarming regularity. One or more cellphones are sure to ring at some point during a theatre performance, a varsity lecture, during a public presentation, at the dinner table or at the movies. It doesn't matter how many times people are told to silence their phones, invariably one will ring and some people actually have the inconsiderate audacity to take the call. Smartphones run people's lives at every level.
- Number (2) in Abbey's listicle is, "Your Reactions Are the Problem."
I have a feisty Scottish mother who doesn't suffer fools easily. She, having once been a nurse, ran her household with military precision. My sister and I weren't allowed to have messy rooms, our beds had to be neatly made, shoes polished, school uniforms neatly pressed and no elbows on the dinner table. When Mom and Dad came to visit, she'd do a tour of inspection and would often find her trophy, a finger full of dust that she'd wiped off a picture frame or something similar.
"Is this the kind of filth my children live in?" Her tone was always very accusatory and authoritarian.
What else could I do but react defensively. "Ah, Mom, it's just some dust. Do you always have to go around my home looking for fault? It's all you seem to do when you come here."
"Don't talk to your mother that way," she'd reply, "Dirt is dirt and this place is filthy."
"No Mom, just because you found a tiny bit of dust somewhere, doesn't make this place dirty."
The altercation rapidly nosedived and invariably ended ugly. So, there's a lot of wisdom in Abbey's meme, 'Your Reactions Are the Problem.' The world is always going to challenge us in some way but it is the way we respond to that provocation that determines how things will end. It's a promising idea to learn some non-violent communication techniques.
There's the commonly-told story of a Chinese General sent to Tibet in an attempt to annex this mountain kingdom that highlights the profundity of non-violent responses. As they had done before, the Chinese soldiers created mayhem in the Tibetan villages and would slaughter the Buddhist monks. After an attack one day, the General asked his adjutant whether all the monks in the village had surrendered and his adjutant replied that all but one monk remained. Incensed by this monk's defiance, the General arranged for a platoon of soldier to march up the hill to the monastery at dawn the next day, led by the General himself who had promised to deal with the dissident monk personally. When the soldiers surrounded the temple, they found the monk sweeping the courtyard, a task he'd always done. The General walked up to him and barked, "Do you know who I am because I could instantly draw my sword and plunge it into your belly." The General had the upper hand with his armed soldiers surrounding the temple blocking the monk's escape. The General had no conscience killing a monk; he'd done it many times before and intended to do it again. But the monk's reply came as a huge surprise. Unafraid of death and with a strong belief in reincarnation, the monk replied in a non-inflammatory way, "But you don't know who I am," he said gently and calmly, "I would instantly let you draw your sword and plunge it into my belly." The monk's gentle fearlessness undermined the General's authority and the monk was spared. The balance of power had shifted.
After a while, I learned how to use non-violent language to sidestep Mom's criticism of the way I ran my home. When she came one day with a finger full of dust, I gently replied, "Ah, thanks Mom, where did you find it so that I can have it cleaned away on Monday?" It completely took the wind out of her sails.
I so agree with this meme that, 'Your Reactions Are the Problem' and I urge you to change the way you respond to life's challenges. Regardless of how difficult something is, it's always your reaction to it that dictates how much it is going to affect your life.
- Number (3) in Abbey Stirling's listicle is, "The Riskiest Thing You Can Do Is Avoid Risks."
The meme that springs to mind at once is, "Faint heart never won fair maiden." If there's someone you find sexually attractive, you will have to put yourself on the line and introduce yourself. There's nothing riskier than complacency. Be careful not to fall into states of mediocrity. Some people are naturally shy and timid and work a little harder at overcoming the fear which holds them back. Others are risk-averse and overthink, micromanage and worry too much, instead of trusting their gut and taking calculated risks. The saying is that, "Necessity is the mother of invention." You might be the type of person that struggles taking risks until life pushes you into a corner and forces you to act. You may also be the kind of person who fails to act, even if it results in your own demise. Your sympathetic nervous system regulates your body's unconscious actions to keep homeostasis. It includes your flight and fight responses but your parasympathetic nervous system complements your sympathetic nervous system by stimulating states of 'rest-and-digest' or 'feed and breed.' Mindfulness, meditation and breathwork techniques activates your parasympathetic nervous system which then produces calmness and composure.
Here's a cool technique you can use. Try it right now…
Focus your attention on your breath. I like to close my mouth and breathe through my nose because it allows me to better regulate my breath. If you have nasal congestion, you may wish to make a tiny aperture between your lips as if you were breathing through a straw. Breathe normally for a little while, noticing how the air moves in and out of your body. You'll notice that it is easier to detect your inhalation because air entering your body is a little colder than the air leaving it. As you increase your awareness of your breath, begin to change its rhythm, turning the pattern of breathing into a rectangle or square. What do I mean by this? Well, let's say that you choose a rectangle of 4 units on the short side and 6 units on the long side. This shape could then be mapped to your breathing pattern, breathing in and out for 6 seconds and pausing between in- and exhalations for 4 seconds. Let me exaggerate the sound of my breath so that you can follow. I shall do this for three breaths. Mimic my breathing then carry on breathing while listening to what I say next. Notice how your body begins to relax as you continue your 6x4 breathing pattern. You could choose any pattern like, 4x4, 4x8 and so on. Notice how your head spins a little even though you are breathing precisely. The feeling is a little intoxicating. Now, the proof is in the eating, as they say… While breathing to your 6x4 rhythm, try to bring a recent worry to mind, one that disturbed you a lot in recent times. Try hard to get your mind and body to respond to this memory with fight or flight and notice that the harder you try to get anxiety into your body the more your body chooses to relax.
- Number (4) is, "You Should Always Have Enough Money for What Matters."
I'm not entirely convinced that this subheading in the listicle is one that you should follow when you are trying to deal with life's stuff. Sure, money makes the world go around; but the love of money is also the root of all evil. I understand what this listicle idea is trying to say. It encourages you to properly prioritise your spending, making sure that there's always a little extra for you to spend on yourself, like having a good cup of coffee at some lovely coffeeshop. It's true that you should pamper yourself a little but I'm not sure that encouraging you to seek solution to life's problems through purchases is necessarily a good thing. I would have replaced this subheading with, "Everything You Do Should Aim at Build a Better Relationship with Yourself."
Let's imagine that you walked into a crowded room and caught a glimpse of yourself standing in the opposite corner, what would you do? Would you find the other-you compelling and interesting, enough to motivate you to cross the room and say hi or would you see that other-you as dull, uninteresting or even boring? If buying yourself a cup of coffee adds to the relationship you have with yourself, then do it without hesitation. The key is to build a good relationship with yourself — not narcissistically or obnoxiously but gently and humbly.
- Number (5) is, "People Are Going to Hate You No Matter What You Do."
I love this meme. During my uncertain past, there were times when I felt out of place in some company and my tendency was to blend in. By mimicking the general tone of the people there, I was sure not to stick out. I learned to blend in because, by getting people to like me, I felt safer. However, this was a flawed strategy. True, I did get lots of likes but I was never my true-self. I was always a replica of them, and a bad one at that. I remember thinking that I had symbolically sewn together an outfit made of chameleon skin: whenever I was in a room of red people, I turned red; whenever I was with green people, I'd turn green. However, what were my true colours and was I brave enough to nail them to the mast? I rapidly learned that the more authentically I acted and behaved, in line with my own core beliefs, the more I polarised people. There are those who despise me and there are those who love me. Those who despise me may have their opinions about me — I'm comfortable with that now. What matters most, and which has direct bearing on the previous subheading, is that I should be authentic to myself if I am to establish a beautiful, wholesome relationship with me.
- Number (6) is, "Blaming Only Makes You Weaker."
The less you take responsibility for your actions and decisions, the weaker you become mentally. Taking responsibility may come with some immediate repercussions, but over time, it builds a life founded on honesty, and it strengthens your ability to tackle challenges when they do arise. Whenever actions and decisions go awry, it causes a mental condition which psychologists labelled, 'cognitive dissonance.' You'll feel it strongly if somebody you dearly love, was convicted of a crime. Your mind would split between love and ethics. It'd be hard to reconcile these two aspects of this person? Cognitive dissonance also occurs because of your misguided actions and decisions. In all cases, there are just three methods to deal with cognitive dissonance: denial, blame and justification. Sweeping stuff under the carpet only results in a lumpy carpet. You may think that it is out of mind but it will influence you from your subconscious. The same happens with blame and justification as they try to absolve you of responsibility. Taking the punch on the chin and owning up to your blunders is difficult at first but you'll soon notice the rewards you gain in terms of self-esteem and self-confidence.
- Number (7) is, "People Don't Think of You as Much as You Think They Do."
We are all far more concerned with how others perceive us, than how we perceive them. Think of an elderly relative of yours that you love dearly and you'll readily overlook his or her frailty and struggle to live life with dignity. When we truly meet others, we tend to look into their eyes and peer into their souls, making their external quirks less important in the greater scheme of things. If you naturally and instinctively do this with others, why should they not be doing the same with you? Personal relationships tend to focus more on a person's grace than on his or her stylishness.
- And the last subheading in her listicle is number (8), "Not Even the Perfect Relationship Is Going to Complete You."
Relationships are an extension of your happiness and not the basis of it, so focus on strengthening the one with yourself and all the others will follow. In my hypnotherapy practice, I have often worked with couples who find themselves caught up in an awful relationship. Being in a troubled relationship adds a huge pile of poo that you'll have to deal with. Many couples have thought that a good holiday away together might solve their problems — but it didn't. Worst still, many have tried for kids, believing that they will shift the focus away from their troubles — it was a fallacy. The only way you will ever find inner harmony, peace, fulfilment and contentment is to seek it in yourself. Nobody and nothing external could ever offer you that which you can develop within. I have an earthenware water pitcher. It has a reservoir of filtered water and a dispensing tap. If I constantly tap off water without filling the reservoir, the pitcher would soon run dry. Trying to give to others when you are not replenishing yourself will soon lead to exhaustion. It's far better to fill the pitcher to capacity and then some, letting the abundant overflow spill into the lives of those around you. There is a meme that says, "You can't truly love another person until you fully love yourself." It's so true… Even Christ's teachings say that we should love our neighbour, as we love ourselves.
I'd be tempted to add a (9th) subheading to this listicle, "When You Find Yourself in a Hole, Stop Digging."
It's one of those memes that I refer to often. When you're trying to deal with all your stuff, make sure you aren't creating more of it. Learn to stop creating life's dramas first before you try to clean up the mess from previous failures.
The bottom line is: Move in with yourself today and start a deep, loving relationship. With awakened self-respect and self-confidence, you'll notice that you'll worry less about others' opinions of you. Take ownership and responsibility for your actions and decisions. Take prudent risks and accept challenges and opportunities that come your way. Be you, fully. Live authentically.