Thoughts don’t create actions. Thoughts create emotions, emotions create actions.

The point here is that sometimes you beat yourself like “ugghh I wasn’t gonna have sugar and I bought and ate a whole tub salted caramel icecream, whyyyyy do I suck so much at this”.

And then you say “I should be kinder to myself.”

And then you say “well, no, I literally did eat a whole tub of icecream, that happened, I have to be honest about that.”

You think that if you don’t be a bit harsh with yourself when you genuinely fuck up then you’ll let yourself get away with it in future, etc, etc.

Which makes sense, if thoughts create actions. “It’s okay / I’m okay” would lead to no guilt and doing whatever you like. But they don’t (or that’s the theory I’m putting forward here).

The thought creates the emotion, “I’m shit”, and that emotion makes you do whatever coping mechanism you do when you feel shitty – probably hide in bed or eat comfort food, probably not re-vamp your resume and get out there, whoo!

The thought, “I’m okay” creates a positive feeling, and feeling positive makes you way more likely to exercise, set healthy boundaries, and generally be sweet to yourself.

(This isn’t made up, lots of evidence says that a distinguishing aspect of depression is the feeling that your actions do not particularly have any ability to influence results. If you feel like nothing you do has any effect, why bother trying to do something good? Why bother getting out of bed at all?)

So, don’t fall for the trap of “I have to let myself be mean to myself or I’ll never improve”. Don’t think that letting yourself talk that way is being a serious, responsible adult. It’s not. It’s unhelpful. The most serious, responsible thing is to do whatever lifts your mood enough to take positive steps.

Talking about general lack of discipline here, not grave ethical missteps obviously. Probably beat yourself up a little about those.

(also emotions create thoughts, no space to get into that here)

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Things to do instead of checking your phone when you have a couple of minutes to kill

Like your date’s gone to the bathroom, or your lunch is in the microwave. You probably don’t want to be so compulsive about your phone, but else are you gonna do while you wait?

Things to do instead of checking your phone when you have 5 minutes to kill:

  1. This is my favourite thing. The Poetry Foundation app has two settings, one for topic (family, death, etc) and one for mood (melancholy, nostalgic, etc). You choose and then spin and it gives you a random (curated) poem. This is so perfect for having a minute to spare. And suddenly you’re a person who’s read heaps of poems. I often don’t get them, but I only read them in my downtime, and the ones that I’ve loved easily make it worthwhile. Android // ios
  2. Write a To Do List. Either minor errands or bigger things you want to get to if you can find a free evening. Both kinds of list can be soothing.
  3. Send that one email reply you’ve been avoiding.
  4. Do a 30-second stretch, 20 calf raises, or some countertop push-ups
  5. Pay attention to your breath for 60 seconds, or do a mental bodyscan (i.e. meditate)
  6. Come up with three things you’re grateful about right now.
  7. Do a little sketch or scribble (I bet there’s an app for that, but a notebook’s probably better)
  8. Write a haiku about your surroundings, your date, or your lunch.
  9. Make a bullet-point plan for a story, blog post or letter you’ll write later.
  10. List habits you’d like to try and develop. List habits you’d like leave behind at some point. List habits you’d like to try for 30 days to see what effect they have.
  11. List 10 ideas. (‘How to become an idea machine‘)

These are pretty much off the top of my head, I’m sure you can think of others. What could you do with 5 minutes that would be better for you than social media? (List 10 things the first time you wait, do one of them next time.)

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Maybe we don’t like our friends to be richer because it’s harder to have dinner with them, not because we’re jealous

A lot of studies have shown that people aren’t made happier by any particular income, but only by having the same or a little higher income than their peers. This is used as evidence that humans care more about status than they do about wealth itself (and that’s why communism will never work blablabla).

I’ve never heard anyone consider the possibility that being poorer than your friends makes it hard to socialise, which has an effect on happiness. If all your friends are poor, you hang around at each others’ houses drinking Aldi beers. If most of them start going to bars, and you can’t afford to, suddenly it’s harder to drink with them, or every time it involves feeling a bit guilty about having to rely on them shouting you.

Your friends start going to $30 restaurants instead of $11 restaurants, and you can’t get dinner with them much anymore. Or go to festivals with them, or concerts, or whatever.

Presumably if your friends are ultra rich and you’re only super rich, they’re all helicoptering to the Bahamas while you can only afford to helicopter to the Adirondacks.

This seems like such a blindingly obvious thing to miss that I wonder if it actually has been addressed and factored in, but also it’s exactly the type of human element that economists *do* tend to miss, so I wouldn’t be surprised.

tl;dr humans aren’t as shitty as economists think we are

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Case moths build themselves blanket forts and then never leave

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Case moths are a native Australian moth that stays in their cocoon way past what any other moth would consider normal. So, #relateable.

They “spin their cases out of silk and most species attach leaves, twigs, sand or soil to the outside for protection and camouflage. There are a number of different species and each species builds a distinctive-looking case, using whatever materials are available to them.”

“Case moths spend most of their lives in the caterpillar phase; this part of their life cycle can last 1-2 years. As caterpillars, they never leave their cases. However, they can be very mobile, dragging their large cocoons along as they move around. They poke the front end of their bodies out the top of their case to feed, collect case decorations, and cling to surfaces as they move about.”

“As they grow, case moths expand their cases from the top (head) end, adding additional twigs as they go. They do this by cutting off appropriately-sized twigs, attaching them temporarily to the top of the case and then disappearing inside to cut a slit where they plan to attach the new stick. This is no mean feat. Case moth cocoons are incredibly tough; cutting a slit for a new stick can take over an hour!”

““If they feel threatened they can seal off the end of the cocoon, cutting a new opening once the threat has passed.”

“The females continue to live in their cases after they’ve pupated into adult moths, but the males leave their cases after pupation to fly off in search of females.”

Let us all forgive ourselves for our case moth ways.

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You cannot trust your own perceptions

Last week I asked if anyone had any burning facts they wish they could magically teleport into everyone’s brains. One reader suggested this, and they’re absolutely right about it.

“The really hard-to-internalize knowledge I wish people had is just you cannot trust your own perception. Study after study have shown that no, your memory isn’t reliable. Your anecdotal evidence doesn’t hold up. A quick google search found this, which basically summarizes the whole concept: https://markmanson.net/trust

That Black Mirror episode where everything is recorded would, contrary to whatever point they were trying to make, vastly improve the world IMO. No longer would we have those “no I swear you had the keys last” arguments, and of course there are much broader contexts also.

The issue with this stance, of course, is that there’s a percentage of the population who don’t trust their own perspective enough, which opens up a path to abuse. Alas.”

I (McKinley) went to a super-interesting lecture on forensic psychology, which deals with some of this stuff – the unreliability of memory. At the beginning, they showed us some footage of a ‘suspect’, and at the end, we had to pick him up out of a line-up. I wasn’t totally sure, but I picked the guy I thought looked the most like my memory.

And that was exactly the problem. None of the men in the line-up were the one from the footage, but the one who looked most like him got accused. They don’t do line-ups like this anymore (or they shouldn’t). You see each candidate once, and once only, and you have to say Yes or No. You can’t say “hmmm, let me get another look at number 6”. Either you recognise the guy or you don’t. And you’re not told how many people will be in the line-up, so you don’t select the last guy out of desperation.

There’s other things like – no one in the room should know who the suspect is. Even if they’re not corrupt, they won’t be able to stop their body language very slightly indicating more anticipation or interest, and the witness won’t be able to help picking up on it. The worst bit is, neither party will realise there was any influence. The witness will just think “I had a sense about that one”.

(In some ways this is a tribute to how incredibly observant humans are – we can pick up on the tiniest cues and synthesise them into what we call intuition. That intuition is not magic, it comes from real, but very subtle observations. But yeah it’s a goddamn mess when it comes to forensics.)

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If you find a coin, do you always pick it up?

I have a question for you: What makes you feel more rich / abundant?

a) finding a coin on the ground and picking it up
b) finding a coin on the ground and leaving it there

Leaving the coin makes you feel like “I am so comfortable in my riches that I can just leave that 50c be for someone else”. But on the other hand, I worry that… finding a coin is like being granted a tiny blessing by the universe, and not picking it up is like refusing that blessing, and the universe will be like “oh you don’t want luck and wealth and blessings? Fine, no more for you”. I’m an atheist in theory, but I still think this way.

I used to be much more neurotic about correctly interpreting and responding to the messages of the universe. I would walk straight-backed and tall when I got caught in the rain, never hunching or holding a newspaper over my head, because I didn’t want to insult the universe by showing that I hated the rain it was giving me. If any poles or trees inadvertently formed an archway, I had to walk under it. Because if imagine if that was the gate to Narnia and you missed it? Worth going a metre out of your way on the off-chance.

I’m better now. I’m still superstitious in ways my brain makes up as I’m walking, but now I twist everything to be a good omen. Pretty much every ‘sign can be interpreted both ways – lucky or unlucky – so it’s not so hard to choose lucky. I recommend this! It’s the best of both worlds: the delight of being surrounded by tiny messages and omens, with none of the fear and worry of believing in bad luck and evil eyes. Look out for lucky omens on your walk into work tomorrow! At the very least you might see a coin on the ground.

 

Why do we throw coins in fountains?


I had always just thought ‘to make wishes’, but this article says, and it makes sense, that it’s more about sense of connection to other people. You know that each coin in the fountain represents another person who’s stood here, and you take your coin, and watch it transform from something that’s small and represents you, to a part of a larger pattern that represents the community of people who’ve been there.

I think it also ties you to the place – especially if it’s somewhere you wouldn’t ordinarily go. Leaving a coin in a fountain in Rome creates a connection between you and the city. The article mentions contagious magic – the coin has been close to you, in your wallet, or pocket, and so it carries a bit of your essence (see ‘Other People’s Clothes‘ from last week’s Whippet).

Contagious magic is a really common element of folk magic — using a bit of a person’s blood or hair to get control over them, for example. This also reminds me of training hunting money in Hoodoo traditions. You would write your name on a bill, then ‘train’ it by rubbing its corners with whiskey, leave it under a magnet, burn a green candle over it, read Psalm 23 (“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want”), etc., prosperity stuff, and then you spend it on something relevant to success — a work blazer, a guitar pick, anything tax-deductible I guess. You train the money and then send it out into the world to hunt down more for you. So goes the theory.

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“The problem isn’t that we have desires, but that our desires are too small.”

This week I came across the exact same concept expressed by a Buddhist and a Christian thinker, which was startling enough to seem worth exploring.

Tara Brach: “The problem isn’t that we have desires, but that our desires are too small.” She says that we wish to connect with, say, our ex-boyfriend, when we should be wishing for the much deeper, more whole connection to Buddha-nature, the quiet, vast expanse that lies inside us.

C.S. Lewis: “If we consider the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

I think this is super insightful and you don’t need to be religious to apply it to your life. I’ve been thinking of examples all week.

‘I want a flat stomach’ vs. ‘I want to feel like I belong in my body and it’s okay to be here’.

‘I want my kids to get me Christmas presents’ vs ‘I want to know my family loves me and thinks of me’.

‘I want to move in together’ vs ‘I want to know that you’re serious about this relationship’.
(I don’t live with my partner and prefer it that way, but not having that milestone of seriousness meant I had to explicitly seek reassurance of it. Separating out what I wanted symbolically and what I wanted literally, physically, for my life to be like, has been really tricky at times.)

For the next week, when you really want something, try and see if you can want something bigger. You don’t have to tell anyone – I think there’s nothing more terrifying than saying what you want. “I’m poor” = no big deal. “I want to be rich” = terrifying, can you imagine really saying that to someone, and meaning it earnestly with your open heart? “I want to be famous.” “I want more friends.” I’m cringeing just typing these things and they’re not even my own personal deep wishes.

But at least if you know yourself, you can go more directly to the source, and be more strategic in pursuing the secondary things you hope will lead to it.

(I have another example: We don’t need more employment, we need certain tasks to be done, and we need food, shelter, etc. etc. Employment is one way of getting those tasks done and distributing those resources, but it’s not the only way, and if we look at it as a problem of unemployment instead of a problem of tasks and resources, then we’re a step abstracted and unnecessarily limiting ourselves. So that’s what I’m trying to avoid in my personal life.)

A lot of studies have shown that people aren’t made happier by any particular income, but only by having the same or a little higher income than their peers. This is used as evidence that humans care more about status than they do about wealth itself (and that’s why communism will never work blablabla).

I’ve never heard anyone consider the possibility that being poorer than your friends makes it hard to socialise, which has an effect on happiness. If all your friends are poor, you hang around at each others’ houses drinking Aldi beers. If most of them start going to bars, and you can’t afford to, suddenly it’s harder to drink with them, or every time it involves feeling a bit guilty about having to rely on them shouting you.

Your friends start going to $30 restaurants instead of $11 restaurants, and you can’t get dinner with them much anymore. Or go to festivals with them, or concerts, or whatever.

Presumably if your friends are ultra rich and you’re only super rich, they’re all helicoptering to the Bahamas while you can only afford to helicopter to the Adirondacks.

This seems like such a blindingly obvious thing to miss that I wonder if it actually has been addressed and factored in, but also it’s exactly the type of human element that economists *do* tend to miss, so I wouldn’t be surprised.

tl;dr humans aren’t as shitty as economists think we are.

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Your ability to focus declines after 30 (it’s not just because smartphones)

This uncharacteristically warm weather feels more like LA than NY, and this trendy trekker is definitely bringing the heat. A simple black t-shirt and jeans hasn’t looked this good since Hank Moody. Forget the beautiful weather outside, all I care...

There are two totally separate systems that govern attention:

  • your ability to maintain focus on the thing (‘enhancement’)
  • your ability to tune out other things (‘suppression’).

“These processes are so separate, in fact, there are different networks of brain structures that carry out their respective functions, each of which is critical for attention.”

Although it may seem counterintuitive, we now appreciate that focusing and ignoring are not two sides of the same coin […] it is not necessarily true that when you focus more on something, you automatically ignore everything else better.

By understanding these as separate systems, rather than seeing an inability to suppress distractions as just a side-effect of not having focused well enough, you’ll be better equipped to try and improve the situation.

This article says that it’s the suppression aspect, our ability to tune out distracting stimuli, that declines with age. That’s a huge relief, because as a kid I used to read in the playground and not notice stuff like a basketball hitting the wall next to my head (generally thrown by a kid who was annoyed that I spent all my lunchtimes reading.) But I can’t do that anymore, and I assumed it was just smartphones and stuff, the Age of Distraction, and I’d let that skill deteriorate through my own fault. But it probably isn’t, not totally.

So, just like if you needed reading glasses you’d just buy them and wear them, maybe now you need to remove external distractions to read a book properly, and you should go ahead and do that instead of just CONCENTRATING… HARDER…

It also probably means older people are genuinely more sensitive to a cluttered room or desk than young people (rather than young people just being too lazy to tidy or whatever the prevailing theory is).

Also you already know this, but meditating will help you improve since it’s literally practising focusing, go on, take your damn medicine.

Image taken from hotdudesreading.tumblr.com

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“What should I do about my broken heart?”

“It’s been broken for a few weeks now and no sign of abating.” — reader question from Anonymous.

Aw geez. Oh man. That’s… that’s WELL outside my remit. But you know that right? So it’s probably okay to answer. Also literally no one has ever figured out how to be cool about having a broken heart so you can’t possible actually expect me to fix things. Okay. Phew.
I’m gonna start by giving the answer of Emily Nagoski, sex and relationships researcher:

There’s nothing to “do” exactly; like there’s nothing to “do” about having a stomach bug. You can drink ginger beer and eat saltines, but it’s just going to suck horribly for a while, until your body works through it. Go for the ride, let it suck. Your brain will flail around looking for something to DO about the injury, the way a soldier in battle looks for the next enemy to attack, but there is no enemy here, just rage and hurt and grief and fear. Lots of feelings, all revved up with nowhere to go. So you journal and cry and scream and wait for the cycle to complete itself.” Full blog post

Now my answer:

  1. Ugggghhhh that sucks
  2. A few weeks is not so long that I think you’re fucked. I think that’s a pretty normal amount to be devastated for. So I don’t think it’s evidence that you won’t get better.
  3. I have never known how to fix it, the only thing I know how to do is survive until it gets better on its own. It can be helpful to remind yourself of that.
  4. “I don’t have to feel okay, I just have to make it through.”
  5. Constant, I mean constant distraction. Just binge watch everything. Can’t feel if your brains filled up with images and sounds! Nice friends can come over for half an hour and watch Season 4, Episode 11 of Charmed with you. It’s really okay to ask them to do that and refuse to talk to them.
  6. When it’s really bad, like can’t breathe, maybe gonna die, panic attack bad, it helps to concentrate 100% on the present moment and what you are seeing, hearing, feeling. So not “she left me” or “I want them” but a litany of neutral observations of the present moment. “I am in my bedroom. My doona cover is yellow. There is a sharp pain in my lungs. I can hear a truck. My face is wet. My throat hurts. My cupboard door is open. The door handle is white and chipped.” And so on. Focusing on the sensations rather than what the sensations mean can get you through.
  7. Sometimes I think of myself as dead? Not permanently, not suicidally, it’s just like… setting your baseline expectation for your life to zero. So in this time period, you are not gonna do anything or achieve anything or feel anything good, if you just think of this period as not existing, it can help. Because you’re not beating yourself up for not feeling better, or trying, or something. (I do this when I have an astronomical amount of work to do as well, so I don’t get FOMO when I can’t go to things or be happy, I’m just like “I’m dead right now, that’s how it is.” I actually have a name for me when I’m dead, a totally unrelated girl’s name. I’m aware this is a bit creepy but everyone has their own creepy habits they don’t talk about. (IMPORTANT: the nature of ‘thinking of myself as dead’ that I’m talking about here is temporary, which makes it nothing like real death whatsoever. If you’re feeling tempted by the idea of suicide, tell a close friend and/or chat to Lifeline (link to their online chat) literally this actual second.
  8. Related to the above, sometimes doing shit stuff that will help alive-you, the you of the future, can help. Or rather, it doesn’t help but you’re miserable anyway so you might as well be miserable while getting some money or whatever. Push-ups so that alive, future-you is stronger, personal admin, selling stuff on ebay, etc. Being dead can be kind of an advantage here.
  9. Here’s Emily Nagoski’s talk on the science of relationships, attachment theory, break-ups etc. Understanding stuff helps me feel better, even if it doesn’t help help.

 Ask me a question on any topic except contemporary politics by commenting here or emailing thewhippet (at) mckinleyvalentine.com  make sure to include how/if you want to be named/linked.

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Let’s talk about house clothes

That is, the clothes you only ever wear at home. I just bought my fifth robe / dressing gown so I am extremely qualified to talk about this. People tend to wear pretty ugly house clothes – I don’t mean that I find them ugly, which, why would you care, I mean that people wear house clothes they themselves find ugly.

You go out of your way to buy nice outdoors clothes, but indoors you just sort of where whatever. This isn’t some Coco Chanel thing about keeping up standards, I just think you theorise that it doesn’t matter but you end up feeling frumpy and sleepy and ineffective, and unspecial, like, you dress pretty to see other people but not for yourself?

Esp if you’re mental health is not good, feeling like you look awesome when you’re bumming around at home really helps. And then when you get changed into them when you get home, it’s a reward to yourself for having bravely left the house.

Pretty much you have to take the nice fabrics route, I think, because you still want to be gloriously comfortable, and exactly the right warmth. And obviously don’t wear an underwire bra, obviously.

Also about house clothes: they can be costumes, they can be the clothes you kinda wish you would wear outside but won’t (the most recent robe is a rainbow space galaxy with sweeping sleeves and a watercolour unicorn on the back). I mean, you can buy Hogwarts house robes online. Pyjamas come in way cuter patterns than jeans. You can go from naked to amazingly dressed in two seconds. They are blankets you can walk around in!

Esp for men who are kind of expected to wear the most dour shit as their day to day wear, you can wear just any kind of colours and cuteness, or like, leggings printed with chainmail armour.

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“Have you ever cried during a movie?”

Reader question from Peter.

A: Yes, loads, I hardly ever watch movies but when I do I am 100% on board with having my emotions cheaply manipulated. I always cry at the bits you’re sposed to cry at. You feel like you can breathe easier afterwards. And if you’re really not coping, it fills up your emotional capacity with different, ‘fake’ emotions that are much more manageable, so there’s no space left for your own unbearable ones – not a long-term solution but a useful stopgap measure.

When I really feel like crying I watch YouTube clips of What Would You Do? It’s like candid camera, except instead of pranks, a homophobic waitress refuses to serve a family with two mums, or someone can’t afford to buy groceries, and then they film it to see how bystanders will respond (spoiler: HEARTWARMINGLY).

Ask me a question on literally any topic except contemporary politics (doesn’t have to be about crying) by commenting or emailing thewhippet (at) mckinleyvalentine.com  make sure to include how/if you want to be named/linked.

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