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Meditations: Session Five – On Desire

I used a new guided meditation tonight, from my favorite Meditation Guide, Paul Santisi.

It’s a neat guided meditation, and really exercises your imagination as well. You can check it out here:

I’m looking forward to repeating this.

Below are the notes taken after my meditation, per usual – and while this my most succinct set of post meditation notes to date – I still feel that I got exactly what I needed, which my meditations ALWAYS provide me.

Desire

  • Desire must outweigh fear
  • Desire must be cultivated
  • It’s a process – you have to feel it constantly – you have to engage it
  • You have to live in possession of your desire
  • Remove time from the equation. Direct your attention and your efforts

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Misc:

Last night I was mapping virtues and values and I wrote down the following:

Passion, desire, and intention come from faith.

After meditating, I went for a run on the beach, and in walking and reflecting on my desire meditation, I really got a sense of the importance of having a burning desire backed by a spiritual confidence – a strong faith that serves to counter any fears and insecurities.

Humans, Listen to Your Raccoon King: Drop Out of The Cult of Self-Esteem in Favor of Your Rational Animal Confidence

This morning I came across an entry on a blog I follow that addressed the potential harm in the pursuit of self-esteem.

I’m glad I came across this because I thought about this very topic last night as I was working on mapping my values and virtues. In fact I opted not to list self-esteem as either a mental or an emotional virtue because I think the concept of self-esteem is garbage.

Let’s look into this further.

Famed psychologist Albert Ellis – like him or not – was a vocal opponent of self-esteem. I haven’t read (nor do I feel compelled to read) his book ‘The Myth of Self-Esteem‘ -one of about 80 books he published during his lifetime – but Ellis posited that the pursuit of self-esteem was self-defeating because it reduces our worth to the sum of our accomplishments.

Another book, House of Cards, written by Robin Dawes reflects a view of self-esteem similar to Ellis’.

From an LA Times review of House of Cards:

Belief: Self-esteem is the key ingredient in well-being and achievement; low self-esteem is the main cause of drug abuse, violence and teen-age pregnancy.

Fact: Literally thousands of studies have failed to support this belief, which guided the California Task Force on Self-Esteem. As Dawes observes, the task force performed an unintended public service; it demonstrated that “the Holy Grail of pop psychology”–the belief that high self-esteem is the ticket to happiness and low self-esteem is the cause of social problems–“is nothing more then a mirage.” What research does show is that children need a sense of competence and mastery at learning new skills. Self-esteem will follow.

My personal views support this. I feel self-esteem is a concept rooted in classic American egoism that has passed its pop psychology expiration date. If there is such a thing as self-esteem, then it is the product of self-sufficiency and competence, rather than the cause of. Further, I view the concept of self-esteem in a similar light to Ellis in that I feel it is too externally rooted in achievement and accomplishment, and therefore does not provide an individual with an accurate self-assessment of his or her actual potential to achieve what he or she wishes to accomplish.

As a result, an individual’s tendency to focus on self-esteem and ‘feeling good about oneself’ causes them to base their confidence in performing specific tasks on their overall perceived worth, rather than their self-efficacy in a given area.

So if not self-esteem, what then?

As previously noted – I excluded self-esteem from my own list of mental and emotional values and virtues; however, I did include self-compassion, self-confidence, rationality, as well as optimism and a positive mindset. (This was among many others listed according to my ideal of my actualized physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, professional, social, and intellectual self).

In focusing on the above concepts, I can apply this combination of self-compassion, self-confidence, rationality, and an optimistic and positive mindset, to examine a given area of my life in a manner that enables me to provide myself with a supportive and encouraging inner-voice. Without this, I would be limited to the biased and narrow-minded viewpoint that the cult of self-esteem has doomed so many of us to.

It’s troubling to me that the cult of self-esteem places self-image and self-worth on a pedestal – for the problem is not in building lasting overconfidence, but that this inflated sense of worth (a bubble if you will) inevitably bursts once an adult faces a world devoid of the teachers, parents, and suitors who for so long held their ego up in an unsustainable light.

This video illustrates this concept perfectly:

Maybe we all need a little tough love mixed with unconditional self-acceptance in order to shake off some of the vain baggage and insecurity that self-esteem has wrought so many of us with.

Fuck self-esteem. Ah, doesn’t that feel good to say. Seriously, the more you demistify the constructs of society that are designed to provide you with unsustainable and worthless pleasures, the more you can free yourself to pursue the kind of lasting fulfillment and self-worth that no one can ever deny you – least of all yourself.

I’m reminded of a zen proverb (ahem, sorry – ‘Ancient Toltec Wisdom’) from the book The Four Agreements, in which author Don Miguel Ruiz states that we should take nothing personally, in other words – someone should be able to tell us we are the best person in the world, or the worst, and either should mean nothing to us.

I’m not telling you to abandon the positive feeling of approval, but the conversation you have with yourself, is far more important than the conversation you have with others.

And as I read this morning in The Pythagorean Sentences of Demophilus, written over 2,400 years ago:

“Consider both the praise and reproach of every foolish person as ridiculous”

In short, do not derive your own worth from the appraisal of others.

Now, I task you with reading the Wikipedia entry on self-esteem and thinking for yourself as you read it – maintaining objectivity as you review the widely held notions on self-esteem, and the overwhelming societal and intellectual value of self-esteem as a whole.

It would seem to me that any rational human being with a healthy self-confidence should realize what an absurdly maladaptive practice it is to subscribe to the idea that positive self-esteem is something we should aspire to be able to posses.

It is your right – it is your duty – to feel good about who you are, to love yourself with compassion, to be rational, and to be optimistic and positive about your present and future potential.

I will leave you with the image of a raccoon. Do you think the raccoon denies himself the fulfillment of his nature, his raccoonness? Do you think the raccoon is thinking he is not worthy of being good at being a raccoon and having what he deserves and wants? Do you think the raccoon lets anyone else deny him of that? Hell no. So why the hell would you as a human do any of this? Oh that’s right, because you’re human and other humans told you that your value was dependent upon certain conditions, and that if you didn’t meet those conditions, then you weren’t good. Right now I want you to claim your value back; reclaim your innate worth that existing as a unique living being entitles you too. Don’t subscribe to the idea that someone else’s opinion of you has to become your reality. Because ultimately that’s what subscribing to the cult of self-esteem is signing you up for. If your reality doesn’t dictate the world, the world will dictate your reality – stop giving self-esteem that power over you. Internalize the rational animal confidence into your psyche, and stop following the cult of self-esteem that so many humans buy into.

Am I anti self-esteem? You betch’ur raccoon ass I am. I am rational, self-loving, confident, healthy, optimistic, and positive minded – and I would never let someone or something else decide what I am worthy of feeling, accomplishing, or possessing. That would be [thinking I need self-esteem to be worthy would be] madness for a raccoon king like me.

I'm a Raccoon King

Art credit.

 

The Big Four: How The Navy Seals Effectively Combat Fear

Someone in my Stoicism philosophy group recommended this video to me and I am LOVING what I’ve learned about how the US Navy Seals (HOOYAH GO NAVY!) have integrated four specific cognitive behavioral techniques into their training program to help trainees combat fear.

Watch from 2:47 to to 18:30 – trust me, you’ll likely enjoy it – I certainly did! (the rest of the video did bore me though, and I did not care to finish it).

The following is transcribed verbatim from the video:

The techniques that we are most interested in are what I call the Big Four:

1. Goal Setting
2. Mental Rehearsal
3. Self-Talk
4. Arousal Control

 Goal Setting

Scientists think goal-setting works by assisting the Frontal Lobes. As the brain’s supervisor, the Frontal Lobes are responsible for reasoning and planning. Concentrating on specific goals lets the brain bring structure to chaos, and keeps the Amygdala, the emotional center of the brain, in check.

Mental Rehearsal

The second technique, Mental Rehearsal, or visualization, is continually running through an activity in your mind so when you try it for real it comes more naturally.

If you practice in your mind first and rehearse and imagine how you might do in these stressful situations, the next time, in reality, you’re faced with these situations – it’s actually in effect the second time you’ve faced it, so you’ll have less of a stressful reaction.

Self Talk

The third technique, self-talk, helps focus the trainees thoughts. The average person speaks to themselves at a rate of 300 to 1,000 words a minute – if these words are positive instead of negative, can do, instead of can’t, they help override the fear signal coming from the Amygdala.

The Frontal Lobes are always on, so it’s very easy to think about something difficult, something bad like I’m going to fail, what am I doing here, I didn’t practice enough. What you’re trying to do is you’re trying to replace those bad thoughts with good thoughts.

Arousal Control

The final technique, Arousal Control, is centered on breathing. Deliberate slow breathing helps combat some of the effects of panic. Long exhales in particular mimic the body’s relaxation process, and get more oxygen to the brain so it can perform better.

Breathing is a great focusing strategy, but you can only do it so much because in in response to fear your brain will get jacked up.

On it’s own, arousal control wouldn’t work – the Amygdala sends out such a powerful signal, it’s tough to suppress if we’re still feeling fearful – but combining the four techniques made a big difference to the trainee Seals pass rate, increasing it from a quarter to a third.


# end of verbatim transcription #

Author note: This blog is a personal blog, there is and will never be an agenda to anything I post other than my own personal desire to grow and express myself (and to benefit my family and my dear readers), and I state this, because when I come across something like this, I don’t just ‘blog it’ and forget about it – I make it a part of my life, of my mental programming, and I return to it, and I study it. I’m not sitting here typing this stuff up in an attempt to aggregate a search query from google, or to make  money. I state this because I hope that you, my reader, will not simply dismiss something you read here because of the abundance of free and purportedly helpful information available online. I know I sometimes make that mistake too, but it’s much easier for me to accept the value of something when I know there is no monetary or ulterior motive behind its production and publication. So, long story short – this is great stuff. The Navy Fucking Seals are using it with significant success. These concepts make complete sense and there is no reason why you too can’t transform your life with them. I know I plan on it.

Each of The Big Four techniques detailed above (1. Goal Setting, 2. Mental Rehearsal, 3. Self-Talk, 4. Arousal Control) has far reaching benefits beyond countering and calming the brain’s natural fear responses. These are major pillars of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and I think this is an excellent framework. It’s unfortunate there isn’t more info available on the Big Four.

Edit: I found a former Seal trainee’s account of the Big Four, which provides additional detail and perspective, and I am publishing a quote of below for posterity’s sake:

THE BIG FOUR; KEYS TO MENTAL TOUGHNESS

Goal Setting Through Segmenting: All of us have heard of goal setting. However, not all of us do it effectively. Segmenting is breaking a large task into smaller, more achievable goals. Not looking ahead all the time at everything you need to do to achieve the task but staying in the present and looking simply at what you have to do today or before each meal. It’s like the old adage “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” Master Chief told us exactly how to break up the humongous task of getting through BUDs. “One meal at a time,” was our motto. Anyone can make it to the next meal. Once you make it to lunch then you focus on making it to dinner. At the start of BUDs, I focused on working from meal to meal but I also broke it down to even smaller parts during surf torture, long, cold swims, and brutal conditioning runs. “Just get to the next minute, the next sand bar, past this section of the beach,” I thought to myself. I also focused on a slightly bigger picture and set an initial goal of just making it to the end of each week. Weekends are rest and recovery time at BUDs and students are free to do whatever they please. Segmenting sounds like such a simple idea but how many of us use it effectively? I think as triathletes we can use segmenting over the course of our season, not just in an Ironman, to keep us focused, patient, and on a path to successful racing.

External and Internal Visualization: “Worrying is praying for something you don’t want. If you worry about it enough, it will happen.” Visualization is the antidote for anxiety, nervousness, and worry. In your mind, visualize yourself successfully going through each step needed to complete the task in detail through your own eyes (Internal). Then visualize seeing yourself successfully negotiating that same task as if you were watching yourself on video. Do this over and over. Go to a quiet place if you can, close your eyes, and visualize yourself internally and externally. When I was coaching, I used to tell cyclists that were afraid to descend at high speeds to focus on where you want to go instead of all the places you don’t want to end up. At BUDs I used this when we were waiting for our turn on the Obstacle Course. We had to negotiate all nineteen obstacles in under eleven minutes. Any obstacle that took you more than three attempts was an automatic failure. Failures were sent to remediation with more physical punishment as a reward. BUDs is hard enough. Avoiding extra doses of pain could mean the difference between passing and failure in another evolution in the day. Even though I knew I could negotiate each obstacle; waiting in line and not wanting to fail could cause unwanted anxiety. Visualization was my weapon against this.

Self Talk: Self talk is self affirmation. “Belief in yourself is the number one thing that will get your through BUDs. Believe in the program, training and where it will take you,” said Master Chief. Action (event), Belief (experience, prejudices, biases, stereotypes), Consequences (possible outcomes). Every task we encounter has these factors surrounding it. “Beliefs” are improved by self talk which equals a better consequence. All of us that compete have had a bad experience one time or another. A bike crash, being unable to finish a workout, bonking, gastric distress, cramps, equipment problems, or battling through an injury. These prior experiences can have a negative influence on a future consequence whether we realize it or not. Talking to yourself, believing in your training, your equipment, and trusting yourself to know what to do in the event things don’t go your way can mean the difference between success and failure. Every morning at BUDs, during the run to chow I would talk to myself as well as talk to God. I’d remind myself how hard I’ve worked to get to this point and that this day would soon pass. I would talk to myself during those cold two mile ocean swims and the dark four mile timed runs along the beach. “Just get to that buoy, just get to those rocks on the beach, you’re not cold” were things I said to myself.

Arousal Control; 4 x 4 x 4 breathing: People can react to a stressor in different ways. For instance, if an individual perceives the stressor as a challenge to his/her control of a situation, norepinephrine, the “fight ” hormone is predominantly released. And, if the stress arousal increases and a possible loss of control is felt by the individual, then epinephrine, another “flight/anxiety” hormone is released. When the stress is prolonged and seen as hopeless, the individual becomes more distressed and feels defeated. This activates the hypothalamus in the brain. What follows is a cascade of hormonal pathways resulting in the final release of cortisol from the adrenal cortex (of the kidney). The HPA Axis (Hypothalmus Pituitary Adrenal Axis) is a term describing the connection between your brain, pituitary, adrenal gland in relation to stress. During times of stress, the pituitary gland releases cortisol and the balance of cortisol in comparison to other hormones (DHEA, Testosterone, and Estrogen) is high. An increase in cortisol naturally occurs during the day and is highest in the morning and later afternoons as well as in times of stress. In a healthy person, the balance of hormones fluctuates naturally throughout the day. During normal, healthy sleep levels of cortisol are low allowing the body to repair and rebuild itself. High levels of cortisol as a result of stress or over training inhibit this process. In addition to affecting recovery, high or prolonged amounts of cortisol reduces blood flow to the muscles as well as limit the amount of glucose that the body is able to use. It affects athletic performance negatively as in the flight or defeat response.

To combat this, Master Chief Guile introduced us to 4 x 4 x 4 breathing in which you inhale for four seconds, exhale for four seconds, and continue to perform this rhythmic breathing for four minutes. This pattern mimics REM sleep patterns, controls arousal, and keeps the cortisol balance in check. I found this extremely effective while waiting to do the obstacle course and before “drown proofing” or knot tying. It allowed me to keep my heart rate down, kept anxiety in check, and helped me go into a stressful situation calm, relaxed, and confident.

Before a race, time trial, or for those with the fear of open water swimming 4 x 4 x 4 breathing is an invaluable tool to combat an increased amount of cortisol. It works just as well for a speech, an interview, or presentation.

These tools are the basics of mental toughness and how aspiring Navy SEALs learning early on what it takes to be the best at what they do. Whether you are gearing up for an Ironman, an important presentation, or simply trying to get through a stressful day give these tactics a try.”

Edit 2: Also found a great presentation on the topic that provides additional details, here

also, here: The Big Four Mental Toughness.

Future Reading: one of the things that is covered in the self-talk technique, is the concept of ABC (Activator / Adversity, Belief, Consequence), by Albert Ellis, who helped originate Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Here is a great document on the ABC approach to stress reduction, which I plan on writing about soon.

P.S. Anyone else like how the Seals refer to visualization as mental rehearsal…. quite a paradigm shift for those using ‘visualization’ to set goals.