How to stop sweating the small stuff… once you’ve already started

angry womanTragedy, like blame and Brunelleschi, is so often a matter of perspective. Ever wonder why it’s so hard to be rational about stuck lids, traffic jams, and computer crashes? These paradigm dependent annoyances are essentially arbitrary; it’s the timeless universals triggered deep in our limbic brains that cause all the huffing and puffing. So how can we tame our reptilian responses and learn to follow Miranda Kerr’s (who better than a supermodel to guide us plebs) most recent life advice and stop sweating the small stuff?

Let’s take a classic example – wish it was hypothetical. Two days ago I turned on my office computer and discovered that an entire chapter of my work-in-progress novel had vanished into thin… into… if I knew where, even metaphorically, I’d be ahead of the game. Instantly, I felt my whole body reacting: sweaty palms, nausea, teeth gnashing rage… the works. My prefrontal cortex couldn’t get a word in edgewise. I knew my only hope of regaining perspective on this paradigm pitfall was to engage with my system as a whole.

Exercise in Engagement: How to stop sweating the small stuff… once you’ve already started

1) (Optional) Begin to loosen paradigm associations/restrictions by performing a quick sense scroll mindfulness meditation – preferably, but not necessarily, in paradigm neutral territory (aka nature).

2) Identify the universal human theme that has been triggered. Since I was already blasting my way through the 5 stages, it was easy to identify ‘loss’ as my emotional theme.

3) Since our brains already process our lives through story, it’s only logical to make use of storytelling as a practical psychological tool. Determine the historical/geographical/situational paradigm that best fits your body/brain’s current system state reaction. My reptilian brain tends to be a bit of drama queen, so my go-to paradigm for almost any piss-off is medieval London during the plague years – not exactly the swingin’ sixties. Story a situation that truly reflects your emotional state, thereby acknowledging your initial reaction with respect and permission. What are the sights, sounds, smells? Characters? Dialogues? Really push it.

4) Take your universal theme into an entirely different paradigm and a story that would warrant an emotional reaction on the opposite end of the spectrum. Play around. Journey your piss-off through time and space to find multiple comparables. Someone stepping on a clay pot I just made in a Roman pottery kiln. Losing my latest obsidian spear point… and finding it again. Change the ending. This is your story. The purpose is to flood your brain with conflicting sets of information to clear the stage for conscious re-framing of your initial circumstance.

5) Return to your own paradigm and decide how big of a deal this really is. I do mean decide. By respecting your initial reaction, and giving it the neural space to temper through alternative storytelling, your thinking will be directed towards a more neutral, rational objectiveness. Any novel necessitates rewrites, so this is just an inevitable part of the process – plus, I’ve still got the handwritten draft. Also, because you’ve loosened your associations, certain paradigm privileges will start to peek through. My office’s air conditioning for one!

This entire process can be performed in under 5 minutes and can save, not just your composure, but your whole day, not to mention more than a few marriages. By some sweet miracle of storytelling come to life, the next morning I found a hidden typed hard copy of my lost chapter in a place I swear I’d already double-checked. But something tells me I’ll be storying new troubles back to the ol’ Thames before the week is out. Must be a human or something… sigh.

Inside the process of how story and math change our world

historical geniusesHeisenberg’s uncertainty principle applies equally to particles, parabolas, and prose. To describe – which is the common goal of any story or mathematical formula – is to influence the object of observation. Our reflection of reality becomes our measure of the world. isaac newton caricatureBut while Heisenberg’s electrons were thrown off course by photons, the change in our reality is essentially rooted in perception. And because perception is our brain’s only way of interacting with the universe, a change in perception equals a change in our world.

Truth is variable according to our experiences. Our experience of ideas, concepts, and proofs come together to pattern our perception of the truth of our reality. ernest hemingway caricatureWhen not individualized through direct sensory exposure, this ‘experience’ is communicated to our neural networks through a language of symbol: story through words, math through numbers. Both math and literature humanize a universe fraught with chaos by translating it into patterns of information compatible with the structure and function of our brains.

The only difference between story and math is the path of emotional access. Both words and numbers are symbols loaded with meaning and expectation of pattern of connection (eg. sentence structure/ B.E.D.M.A.S.). albert einstein caricatureHowever, words have broader associations and are linked with emotions that, when activated, open and extend our logic parameters to create new suspended realities. We can choose to incorporate these new worlds into our own (The Globe and Mail, religion, this post) or simple abandon them when we get to the last page (fiction, Calgary Sun). Mathematical symbols have a much stricter pattern of expectation that, upon entering the brain, must first be vetted by the logic system in our prefrontal cortex before giving us an emotional response/release in the form of soothing contentment (eg. simple beauty of E=mc2), or that sick feeling you get in your stomach when a formula turns out to be bullshit (eg. string theory… don’t get me started!).

virginia woolf caricatureInterchangeable except for path of emotional access, every story and mathematical formula use a shared humanized language of symbol to communicate novel patterns of perception that, if adopted as truth, change our world.