Your Attention “Pain Ridder” Capacitor

27 01 2016

201409_capacitor_hero1_970

Your Brain Capacitor. (Before you comment, this comes in various shades.)

I heard a really interesting Fresh Air program today on NPR. It was about pain, placebos, meditation and the intersection of all three. The person who was being interviewed, author Jo Marchant, (who had a fantastic female British accent so she automatically sounded knowledgeable), was talking about, among other things, something called “immersive virtual reality”, which is the use of virtual reality with patients to alleviate pain. 

An example she had referenced was specific to burn patients who were put into a virtual “snow land” of sorts that was demonstrated to significantly reduce pain associated with bandage removal and other situations that are so painful for these patients.

When asked to extrapolate on why this works, she explained that the brain can only have a certain capacity for attention, meaning there isn’t a whole lot for experiencing pain if something (better) is taking up most of the room.

I realize that the context of this interview was with respect to physical pain, but it did make me think about emotional pain, as well, which shouldn’t be too far off (and was also discussed in terms of stress).

Just like the most valuable time to exercise is often when you don’t feel like getting up from the couch, the best time to focus attention on less painful emotions is exactly when it feels easier to just wallow. Like so many things I have written about, this also falls into the “easier said than done” category, but what doesn’t that actually makes a difference?

There is something to be said for turning off Facebook, removing yourself from poring over old photographs and emails, not to mention thoughts, of whatever is causing you pain and forcing – yes, FORCING, yourself to do anything else (that is hopefully not destructive) – exercise, listen to music, calling a friend, going for a walk, podcasts, you name it.

There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of distractions waiting for you and unlike all the times when they are not good (ie. driving, dinner, that work conference), this is one time when they can actually help you. Go for it and fill up your attention capacitor in your brain with a good, even shallow, but positive, distraction. (FYI – the attention capacitor is somewhere between the area that only remembers to hum tunes you hate and the area responsible for you never remembering the name of that new person you just met).

Here’s to your attention capacitor – may it be filled with a lot more good stuff this year.

Until next time,

Marc

P.S. You can listen to the podcast of this episode here: http://www.npr.org/player/v2/mediaPlayer.html?action=1&t=1&islist=false&id=464372009&m=464458795

It’s well worth it!





You’re Doing Great

26 01 2016
Screen-shot-2012-04-18-at-7.06.06-AM

Sorry in advance for smudging your screen.

I had someone who knows about all the things that are going on with me right now say, “keep going, you’re doing great” and I have to say, it took me by surprise.

I have received some empathetic quips in the past but don’t remember anyone looking at me and basically making me think that maybe, just maybe, I am doing ok. It’s sort of like the blizzard we just had here on the East Coast – there’s a lot of shit that went down but it’s not representative of anything than a moment in time. (There I go with those stupid metaphors again – first bad one of 2016 which means those with resolutions can officially break them now – you’re welcome).

The strangest part about this statement wasn’t that it was said but that it struck me so profoundly. Usually, I would just pass it off with a “thanks” or something but it really stuck with me. What if I am doing ok? What if in the midst of divorce, job uncertainty, house uncertainty, and lower back pain, I really am doing ok? Jeez, is that even a possibility?

The thing is, at this moment – on January 25, 2016, I am doing great. I am with my kids. We had some amazing time together – sledding, watching movies, celebrating school cancellations and just being. My mom is feeling great. My kids are doing great. I am walking tall, listening to music  – really listening – like I am 15 again reading the inner pocket of the album. It feels so good to just feel good.

That’s it.

Today, I am doing great.

I hope you are too. 

I really do.

Until next time, 

Marc





Self Help for the Helpless

20 01 2016
selfhelpless

I couldn’t pull off that look – even now. One day though. I’m on a 6 step plan now.

I am a reticent self-helper. I am not one to take in a program and follow it to the letter of the law. I have tried a few times but it becomes too programmatic for me and too prescribed.

I need self-help for the self-helpless. 

Recently, I was forwarded a 10 day program from a friend and since it was the New Year, I figured it couldn’t hurt. I am (supposed to be) on Day 6. I have tried listening to this 10 day course by Jack Canfield. Emphasis on the word “tried”. You may know him from his Principals of Success series or more likely, the Chicken Soup for the Soul series that propelled him to international fame. His personal story is compelling but I cannot help but feel like I am being programmed when listening or viewing his videos/audio recordings. I know that if he is not hurting anyone and people are benefiting from his programs, what harm is there?

Maybe I am lazy. Maybe I am having trouble overcoming my natural comedic tendency to be cynical (or parody what I am witnessing). Why is it that I have so much trouble being that guy? You know, the one that carries with him the 5 things he is working on, or the change he wants to become or equations like E+R=O (Event plus Response equals Outcome)?

I mean, I get it. I do. There are lots of nuggets of learnings in self-help books and programs and if you are one of the lucky ones where it has changed things profoundly for you or even luckier where you are able to turn these into programs worth millions of dollars, then good for you. But there is a part of me that feels a little like these are preying on people who will always be constantly searching for the wrong thing.

There is no harm in organizing thoughts, behaviors, goals and actions in a way that can make you more successful, however you may define “success” (which is a whole other issue of discussion as this is so often associated with money only). However, each individual comes into these programs from a different set point. If you are not self-aware, or somewhat confident in who you are, your strengths, weaknesses, etc. – no amount of goal setting, daily rituals, action plans and self-improvement milestones is going to account for what might be a fundamental lack of human skill sets that are required to both make progress and, more importantly, deal with failure so that you can move on.

These types of things seem to always be lightly touched upon. For example, Canfield espouses the importance of not blaming others and changing these behaviors by filling out a worksheet listing out 5 things we blame others or situations for and then what a more positive approach to those situations might be. That’s great! But, c’mon – talk about oversimplification. These are ingrained, and in many accounts, culturally institutionalized behaviors that require more than a list, a reminder and a pat on the back. I feel like this type of thing lets down many people when they do not achieve nor receive the type of response they require. 

I can’t help but wonder if a lot of this program is geared toward not only taking responsibility for one own’s life but also to provide a response to those who pay big bucks for these seminars and end up disillusioned or disappointed. I mean, let’s play this through. Someone pays a pretty penny for a 3 day seminar and a year or two year later, is no better off. One of Canfield’s lesson is that the response to the event dictates the outcomes. Is this perhaps a subtle way of saying that it is all on the attendee as his/her response was not adequate enough to elicit the sought after outcome? Perhaps. See where that comedic cynicism comes in, now?

I’m not a hater, just a truth seeker. Canfield’s programs have supposedly worked tremendously for thousands who have followed them. I am simply sensitive to the promise of motivational programs to provide us with the skills it takes to make the change we are seeking. The tools? Sure. The skills? That takes a lot more work. It’s the difference between understanding music theory and actually practicing it and for me, anyway, this nuance is sorely lacking or at a minimum, glossed over.

Then again, I am the self-helpless. Maybe I just haven’t found the right program.

Until next time,

Marc





Starman

12 01 2016

Bowie

It is a gift when you can provide meaning to so many.

I, like millions of others, was surprised and upset to learn that David Bowie passed away yesterday. I, also like millions of others, never knew him and felt a sort of relative sadness that I hadn’t felt for other celebrities with recent passings.

Maybe it’s my perception, but it seems that the conversation on social media around David Bowie has been beyond what I would have expected with so many people sharing their thoughts – even more so, than say when Robin Williams passed away. Maybe it’s because Bowie kept his illness to himself and closest confidants and in this age of “news as it’s happening”, we had a real shocked reaction to something tragic after it was too late, rather than as it was occurring.

I listened to a few interviews from the past couple of decades and it is clear that David Bowie was a true artist and non-conformist in many ways, but it is also clear that he was simply a man with love for art and work. Who really knows what he meant to his wife, children and closest family and friends? What is clear, however, is that Bowie, his music, his art or a combination therein did mean something to millions over long periods of time.

And here is where I think the collective sympathy lies on hearing of the news of Bowie’s death – the meaning. Much like recalling where we may have been during historic events both good and bad (Nixon’s resignation, Diana’s wedding and death, 9-11, or learning that a loved one was about to become a parent), David Bowie seems to be attached to great meaning – and in a very positive way – to so many people’s lives.

For me, it was just remembering listening to “old” Bowie in my first apartment after college, alone, realizing that there was so much more than his 1983 “Let’s Dance” album. I must have replayed “Hero’s” dozens of times. For others it is around a concert, a relationship, and the list goes on and on. And throughout all of this, he was David Bowie. Truthfully, little is known about Bowie beyond the artist unlike the incessant reality-driven world of today’s celebrities. That’s the way it should be because we then get to place meaning to the artist, to the music and to the time in a way that reflects and embodies what we need it to when we need it to. I can’t imagine that one will be able to say the same of the Beebs.

Until next time,

Marc





The Last Time

11 01 2016
PATRICIA HEATON, CHARLIE MCDERMOTT, ATTICUS SHAFFER, EDEN SHER, NEIL FLYNN

I’m looking to also downsize to a small parcel of land with just a couch.

My daughter and I were catching up on the two shows we watch together – Modern Family and The Middle, interspersed with football watching with my son and then a familial viewing of Law and Order (because nothing says bedtime on a Sunday evening like procrastinating with a good homicide).

In the episode of The Middle, the mother, Frankie, has somewhat of a meltdown when her youngest teenage son, Brick, comes back from a shopping expedition with a friend, having bought pants – all on his own. Regardless of the fact that she never enjoyed shopping with him in the first place, this incident sets off a cascade of things that she realizes she will never do with her children again. In a moment of weepitude (yes, I made up that word), she tries explaining to her husband, Mike, that if she had known of all the last times she did things with her kids, she would have paid more attention.

This is a comedy series but the point is well taken. It is so important to focus on new beginnings, big and small, but we rarely talk about the last times. I tend to think in these terms sometimes. For instance, after years and hundreds of baths with my kids, when was the last one? Was there a clear exit strategy to celebrate the movement from bath to shower? Had I known, should there have been? Or when was the last time that I really lay with my kids in bed? I used to do this all the time, for anywhere between 10 to 20 minutes at a pop. Truth is, I could probably still sneak it in every now and then rather than pray that I can even stay up as late as they do half the time at this point.

Today is the youngest you will ever be. You have probably heard that before. This is just a nicer way of saying “this is the last time you are going to be this age, have this day, live this moment, be in this present.” It’s true. There are slew of last times waiting for us, some knowingly and happily (last time I will have to pay a mortgage bill? yeah – I’ll celebrate that one) and most unknowing to us (I don’t want to think about the last time I get to eat dinner on a regular basis with the offspring).

It’s too much to live hour by hour thinking of how to be in what can be a “last time”. It’s not too much, however, to revel in the simplicity and gratitude for what is this time – this time that you sit down to dinner, this time you get to be with that long-distance friend, this time that you get to walk in ridiculously warm weather in January or this time that you get to live with what may seem mundane today but an unreachable longing tomorrow.

Be thankful that there will always be a last time, without which there would be no first times.

Until next time,

Marc





Open Heart (Surgery)

10 01 2016
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I am trying to open my heart to the fact that this is a schmaltzy image.

My mother had open heart surgery this past week. Nothing snaps you out of the self pity associated with job uncertainty, divorce, financial instability and overall restlessness like sitting 175 miles away in your home while you know the person who gave birth to you is on a ventilator while someone rewires her heart.

My kids and I just returned from visiting her (and my dad) and there were some key takeaways (sorry – that was so disgustingly corporate) – there were some important messages (that’s better) that I felt compelled to write down and share:

  1. Sometimes you have to sweat the small stuff. When I was visiting my parents with my kids just after Christmas – my sister was also there with her family and for all the articles and morning talk shows that insist upon the importance of having those “difficult conversations with your aging parents”, it never happened. Certainly, with the knowledge that my mom’s surgery was essentially a week away, that was not the best time but it wasn’t going to happen anyway. Instead, we played board games, got annoyed by incessant calls to eat more junk food and dealt with familial familiarities, good and bad, that would be of inconsequence to most people (yes, apparently it does matter who takes what food home with them and how much). This is as small as it gets but you know what? It is exactly the type of diversion that helps get through times when the gravity of the situation just seems too great to bear. That’s why I think sometimes (and only sometimes), sweating the small stuff isn’t such a bad idea.
  2. We need doctors. I, for one, have had many dealings with arrogant, self-centered, “cry me a river/claim poverty” U.S. physicians who have lost both their empathy and their perspective but…there are many, many physicians who are saving lives, every single damn day. I don’t give a shit about a single doctor who is interested in making some 50 year-old rich, entitled socialite look 30, but for every single doctor helping with cardiovascular disease, the onslaught of neurological-based diseases and children, etc. – thank you, thank you, thank you.
  3. I am a series of computer programs in dire need of software upgrades. I have written before about the scripts we carry around with us and the self-talk that we do and impacts us, either for better or for worse. As I took a shower in my childhood home, it occurred to me after cleaning it out, that there are tons of rituals I do that have been embedded in me for decades that are in need of a little mindfulness. Let me explain briefly. Since I can remember, the last person who took a shower had to clean out the tub and walls. I have always followed the same pattern: faucet, shelf, top half sides, bottom half sides, little stool, left glass door, right glass door and the shower bottom – in that order – since I ever even had a reason to take long showers (which is code for “a long time ago”).  I did it again this morning (the cleaning, not the long shower) and realized that I have tons of these rituals – some physical, some mental, that I never change. How I react after taking a shower in my parents’ house is one thing but what about how I react after being dismissed in a social situation? My thoughts follow a similar pattern every time – and it’s not good.
  4. Friendship is the #1 most vital component to a sustainable marriage. My mother can give my father a hard time. My father can selectively hear and not hear what my mother has to say. But they are friends, tried and true. It was never more apparent than during our visit this weekend. They respect and love each other in a way that transcends (or is exclusive of) romantic love and at least, in older age, seems to be the vital ingredient to a meaningful marriage (or partnership).
  5. I am so thankful for my kids. We were in the hospital for 6 hours and they never complained once. Mind you – they are on the verge of being 15 and 13. 6 hours with their dad and grandparents – in a hospital – on a Saturday – can seem like an eternity. And they were great. There were cell phones and untied shoes but there was also a tremendous respect and love. I am a lucky dude.
  6. Trump, ISIS, my job situation, Kardashians, cat videos, who got a promotion, who is headlining – they will all go away. Every single second focused on the irrelevant and stupid is a second wasted on the relevant and important. Every damned, single second.

My mother has a ways to go in her recovery. The good news is that her cardiac vitals are very good and if she can take the long-term view, I really think everything will be for the better. It is hard to see your parents age, for both the knowledge of what no one wants to talk about and the acknowledgement of one’s own aging and mortality. But it makes one so thankful for the days that do exist where we have to bite our tongue, sweat the small stuff and think about opening our own hearts a little more, which is a lot tougher sometimes than a 6 hour operation.

Until next time,

Marc





Reflections, the Serenity Prayer & 2016

4 01 2016

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2015 was about control. 2016 is about wisdom.

I have been attempting to write a blog post for the past week or so, thinking it is the right time for reflection as one year closes out and another begins. This is my third attempt and regardless of whether I feel it is worthy or not, I am going to post it, if for no other reason than to put me out of my (short-term) writing misery.

In trying to frame what I wanted to write about and what I thought might resonate with anyone reading it, I kept asking myself the question of “what have you learned this year that can be applied to not just the new year but also the way in which you structure, approach or otherwise navigate your life in general?” Pretty simple, right?

It finally occurred to me that the good old standby of the Serenity Prayer is probably the best way to organize my thoughts. You are more than likely familiar with this one. The basic gist is “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.” This is really the best advice I have ever come across.

So here it goes:

The things I cannot change (and am still learning to accept):

  1. People judge by appearances. They just do. This doesn’t mean that their perceptions can’t be modified, and even, in some cases, relatively quickly, but take it from me, when your hair is longer, people think of you differently than when it is shorter. When you’re at the airport with jeans and a t-shirt, security looks at you differently than when you’re wearing a suit jacket.  When you’re divorced, some people treat you differently. It just is.
  2. People will have preconceived notions about you and what your capabilities are based on nothing that has to do with reality. Whether at my day job or on the comedy circuit, I have come across people who either thought their work was too complex for me to understand, the comedy business was too messed up for me to have a place in, or personally, lawyers were too “in charge” for me to challenge them. These were based on nothing other than a) what was (or was not) on my resume or what they thought I actually did or knew, b) something someone “heard” about me or c) pure ignorance. Let me repeat – almost every single time this happened, it was relayed to me on behalf of someone who barely spent any time speaking with me. I cannot control this. Maybe it’s a function of our 140 character, twitterized society or maybe it’s human nature. I don’t know. I am also no longer angry about it. I can, however, control the way in which I respond which is best when it is in the “no response” category. The best way to prove who you are is to just do it. It won’t happen in time for someone to give you that work assignment, that gig or even acknowledge that you caught a huge mistake despite their law degree…but it happens.
  3. Time will not stop or slow down – ever. The idea of capturing every moment as time moves faster and faster will not stop the fact that kids and parents grow older, not to mention ourselves. You will look back and wonder where time went. You will see a picture of yourself and think “why was I so hard on myself?” You will reflect on something and wish you did it differently. You will think about your future and wonder if you have time to do something grand. And as you do this, another minute, 5 minutes, day or even year has passed. It’s great to be organized. It’s helpful to have lists. It’s good to have a plan. But it’s even better to just do something – anything.
  4. Some people do have an easier time of it than others. Maybe it’s because of their DNA, their upbringing, a better perspective or luck. It doesn’t matter. This is not in our control. We have no control over anyone nor their situation any more than they do over us; even our children – we are simply here to guide as best we can. We can start to control the degree to which “ease” can enter our lives. Do we react or respond? Do we do the hard work of exercising and watching what we eat, at least a couple times per week or do we put it off? Do we challenge our thoughts and how we judge ourselves or keep playing the same script over and over? This is a lot harder to do than looking at the relative ease to which others seem to navigate the world compared to ourselves. But it’s the only control we really have, not to mention a lot more realistic as we never really know what someone else is going through.

The things I can change (and am finding courage to do):

  1. Relationships – with others and with myself. Disappointment is a difficult prospect for me. I enjoy helping people, being part of a team and generally, seeing people succeed. However, I have come to learn that, regardless of whether it is deliberate or not (and it usually is not), being around people who cannot keep their word is a source of profound disappointment for me. This goes for me, as well. I feel especially bummed when I have made a pact with myself to complete something, respond in a certain way or manage something positively that did not go the way I had intended. I am finding the courage to be more vocal with those that I may not have been vocal with in the past and respectfully articulate my feelings while taking responsibility for the fact that they do belong to me. This is hard for me because it may compromise friendships or prospects, but it is required. I also am trying to find the courage to both hold myself more accountable for learning when things do not go the way I had planned as well as being kinder to myself for failing, or perceiving to have failed.
  2. Moving toward minimalism. I am not joining a cult or about to embark on a process to cull my belongings down to whatever I can carry in a backpack but I am purging like never before. Throwing things out doesn’t necessarily take courage but throwing out associated feelings of the past does. This is a delicate balance in acknowledging those parts of you that maybe you are not as proud of or wish were not there but were and then saying, “it’s ok.” I have a quote that was sent to me hanging on my bathroom mirror that represents this perfectly. It is from Eric Roth, who wrote the screenplay for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. It is as follows: “For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.”
    3. FOMO – You may be familiar with this. It means “Fear Of Missing Out.” For me, I realize that social media has played into this fear a lot. I have written about my love/hate relationship with Facebook (actually, just hate) and over the past 2 weeks, I have significantly reduced my time on Facebook to maybe twice a day and for just a couple of minutes to see if I got any messages. I can absolutely control the amount of time I spend on social media AND the FOMO attitude that kept drawing me there in the first place.
    4. Where I live, at least metaphorically. I am tied to where I am living right now until my daughter graduates, which will be here sooner than it may seem. I am eager to move geographically, for many reasons, and spent a lot of time in 2015 lamenting about how if I could only move physically, I might get the fresh (or fresher) start I was longing for. I realized last year that where I reside had very little to do with where I spent my time, with family, friends or alone. Without sounding too “new agey”, there are people who live in big cities and never leave their apartments and people who live in small towns and have networks with global reaches. I know I can change the scope of my network and my capabilities by focusing less on where I live and more on what (and where) lives within me.

    Now…as for the wisdom to know the difference…that’s a big part of 2016.

    As an aside, since I keep long lists on my cell phone of books, movies, articles, music, etc. that I want to get to, I thought I’d start a “Recommendation of the Blog” section at the end of each blog that you might want to check out, also.

    So, here is the first one.
    Recommendation of the Blog – If you haven’t seen it, check out the documentary “Inside Job” about the 2008 financial crisis – by far the most clear, organized and thorough explanation of the players, dynamics and history that led up to the crisis and how it was all connected.

    I wish for you a serene 2016 and until next time,
    Marc

Thanks for reading and I hope you consider subscribing to my blog and following me on Twitter @MarcKaye1. 








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