Daily Archives: September 30, 2016

Potpourri

My thoughts are all over the map today, so this is going to be one of those posts that meander. Hope you don’t mind.

Well, I’m through with the first “first” of a year that’s going to be full of them. Our wedding anniversary was on the 27th, and it was a tough day to say the least. There are so many memories of that wondrous day that couldn’t help but squeeze through the armor I’d put on to protect myself from the worst of the pain. I wanted to drink for the first time in years. But my family was great—my son brought me coffee just as his father used to do, my son-in-law took me out to dinner, and his mother spent a good amount of the day with me. Shelley knows what this is like; she was widowed four years ago and still has her rough days.

I’ve lost 30 pounds in the past two-and-a-half months. It just keeps falling off even though I eat whatever I want; I simply get full really fast and I’ve never gone back to drinking Coke, diet or otherwise. I’ve gotten better about fixing food for myself, but I haven’t been eating much bacon and sausage and cinnamon rolls like I used to. Will always cooked breakfast for us, and those foods were at the top of his list. Strangely, I don’t miss them…I only miss the man who fixed them.

With all of this going on, I continue to marvel at the fact that I’m stable underneath the sadness. It’s hard to remember that I have a mental health diagnosis when I feel so good otherwise. Maybe I wasn’t as far off as everyone thought when I came up with the idea that my “illness” was really an existential crisis that was taking a long time to resolve. I also don’t understand how a person can be considered mentally ill when he or she is perfectly well. On one level, I know my meds are keeping the bipolar at bay and that’s why I’m doing so well; on another level I wonder why, if this really is an existential issue, it’s getting better rather than worse. After all, I’m a brand-new widow and must learn to re-define both myself and my life without my husband. I dunno…it’s all really weird and I don’t have all the answers. I somehow doubt I’m supposed to. But I’ll keep taking my meds just in case.

Then there’s the Presidential election. I can’t stand Donald Trump and think he really screwed the pooch with his poor performance in the first debate. On the other hand, I fear for the nation if Hillary Clinton gets to select the next Supreme Court justice(s), and her stances on abortion and immigration are deal breakers even if I were inclined to vote for her. I have never seen this country so divided as we are now; I think these candidates bring out the worst in everybody. It ought to be an interesting four years, no matter which one of them wins.

So go my thoughts on this last day of September. It’s only 40 days till our cruise, so I’m actually looking forward to the misery that is November. A week of pure enjoyment at sea, with a couple of days in New Orleans thrown in for extra fun. I can’t wait!

 

Dialectics in DBT

A wonderful explanation of the “what is” of DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy). A good read for anyone who is a person or who has contact with a person who is going through the DBT process.

Living with Borderline Personality Disorder

DBT stands forDialectical Behavioural Therapy. But what does this name really mean? Many of us will understand conceptually what ‘behavioural therapies’ are. But what on Earth is a ‘dialectic’?!

A dialectic occurs when multiple things – which are seemingly incompatible or opposite to one another – can both exist and be true simultaneously. For example, it is possible to be both happy and sad at the same time; to love someone and hate them at the same time; to be both scared but also willing and brave to push through that fear, at the same time.

The core dialectic in DBT is that of ‘Acceptance’ versus ‘Change’. Much of DBT is centred around balancing these two concepts. DBT aims to validate and acknowledge someone’s experiences as acceptable whilst at the same time flagging them up as potentially maladaptive and requiring change.

In many situations, dialectics can be especially difficult…

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Technical Difficulties

Sorry that I’m having technical difficulties. Some of you are not receiving notifications when there is a new post. Almost all of you are not receiving notifications when someone replies to a comment you made. I’m working with the techies over at WordPress and I anticipate the problems will be fixed this weekend. Thank you for hanging in there with…

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Why Is Basic Hygiene So Damned Difficult?

So my stupid ass committed to something last night during a period of “I’m not feeling so awful, I can do this social thing”. It’s just lunch with R, and he’s buying, but now…I don’t want to go.

Because it means basic hygiene is in order.

Now, I have been doing better with the showering thing (which is so hard during depressive bouts) but I am still struggling with the will to bother with truly grooming to appear in public.

I try to make sure my clothes are clean, I wear deodorant, and my hair is brushed out or at least in a messy updo with a clip…Beyond this…For almost two years now, I’ve not given a fuck. Seriously.

On the rare day I feel “up to it”, I admit, wearing some make up and perfume, nicer clothes, it does feel good.

What feels shitty is that NO ONE ever comments on me taking the time to give a damn. It’s not even that I care what they think or that I need their validation.

It just pisses me off that these people have zero problem ragging on me redundantly for “letting myself go” or “looking rough”.

Guess what? Depression is a “wasting away” disorder. It affects your appearance, your skin tone, your posture, your facial expressions. You go so long feeling so downtrodden and exhausted…It takes a toll and you look defeated. Fake smiles and societal pressure to feign laughs (which further drains you)…You feel defeated, too. Like depression is mopping the floor with your soul as the mop head.

It does not matter how fierce you are. It does not matter if you have a rebellious “fuck you” personality.

It doesn’t even matter if your current med regime is “half ass working”.

Because…

DEPRESSION.

I’ve hit my seasonal onset with the rapid shift to cold weather and days of damp gloom and now…I see dirt under my nails. I know my hair needs washed, my legs need shaved. But I can’t begin to process this because the simple task of digging out clothing seems daunting. I don’t wanna. No one cares except to insult me, so why should I exhaust myself with basic hygiene when I could use those limited resources to battle anxiety or whatever.

Am I just pessimistic? Lazy? Have a bad attitude?

Could be.

Doubtful, though. The cycles remain the same no matter how much therapy or mindfulness I engage in. It’s a pretty predictable cycle, too. Bipolar cycle. And every year around August I start reminding my doctor of how quick it comes on, the seasonal depression, and maybe the meds should be increased ahead of time to ward it off. Instead, every doctor tells me we’ll discuss it in October once fall comes, and by then, the descent has already begun. They just don’t listen. They think it’s all about that sunlight bullshit when that’s but a smidge of seasonal depression.

I am flustrated (yes, FLUSTRATED, it’s a hybrid of flustered and frustrated) with all this crap.

On the plus side, Spook is staying at my mom’s tonight so my brain can rest.

On the negative side, I am probably going to be so exhausted I will accomplish fuck all then feel shitty about it.

No matter how many changes I make or how much progress I make…It all goes back to the cycle of bipolar.

I will go to lunch simply because I do so love the chicken strips and white gravy at Dairy Queen, and I can use the drive thru rather than sit inside with dish dwellers.

I don’t want to, though. It requires too much work and effort and it’s exhausting. I am tired of being tired.

Awhile back I made a comment about being psychologically exhausted and R tossed out, “I work ten hours a day, what the hell do you do all day?”

It took everything I had in me to bite my tongue and not unleash my pent up fury. No one feels shittier than me that I can’t hold down a job. No one feels shittier than me that no matter how much I bully myself, I can’t break the cycle of bipolar depression and anxiety. Battling that shit day in and day out feels like a JOB. One without pay or benefits or even a pat on the back.

Clean clothes, deodorant, a brush through the hair and that’s it. I’ll be out of bed and dressed. If more is expected of me…

Fuck ’em and feed ’em to the fish.


Where is the Welcome Mat?

I hear them laughing
Whispering
connecting
Sharing
It could be stories
Secrets
Dreams
Fears
Where once I felt
I belonged
Could take part
Mattered
Now
So far removed
Alone
Broken
Unworthy
They carry on
Without me

I have been feeling this overwhelmingly painful sense of loneliness. Like the veil of darkness has wrapped itself around me so tight I cannot see the love or the light in my life. I don’t believe its actually there, but others tell me it is. Yesterday was a perfect metaphor for how I’m feeling. I was at a work event, more like a fair, when vendors have booths showcasing the accomplishments of their agency. As i walked around and saw comrarderie among people, laughing, touching, w genuine like for one another, it struck me I no longer have that. I’m the girl who gets asked to take the group photo. I’m on the outside capturing memories for others. I’m not in the memories, in the circle of laughter, in the circle at all. I am the lone aloof individual on the outside. So unsure of myself. I just feel unwelcome in this world right now. Its only getting darker.


Leaves Like Shoppers – a Poetic Blog

Al, close up & personal (& in a tree)

Al, close up & personal (& in a tree)

All the tree knew was that it thrilled with life” – Edgar Lee Masters, Spoon River Anthology

The picture above was taken earlier today. I happened to be taking photos of the garden when Al – aka the Cat Who Came to Dinner – went up the elder tree, and after a bird. As well as successfully coaxing him down by appealing to his stomach, I managed to get this shot of him.

This is the chap who got away:

A lucky robin

A lucky robin

My mood is as changeable as the weather, not helped by the fact that I’m officially a Crumbly. Thank you, “slightly reduced bone density”. Whether this is due to radiotherapy, medication, or my age, is a coin toss. So is whether my moodiness is down to my bipolar, meds, or circumstances.

Add to this, I’ve not been spending much time outside. My excuse has been I have a lot of writing to do: true, but not helpful when I piss about on the internet instead.

Sometimes, the walk to and from work – especially from, if I’m not too tired – helps fill my green spaces gap. It can also provide food for writing. I’m fortune that my commute includes this:

Foggy Donny, autumn 2015

Foggy Donny, autumn 2015

I love autumn, but it doesn’t always love me. Once again, I’m struggling to get to folk club, and to the monthly “Spoken Word” events. Which is sad, because I enjoy them, even if my writing is too weird, and / or not right on enough for most tastes. The wine, beer, and company are excellent, however. It’s worth going to folk club just on the off chance that Mick and Angie will play and sing “McCafferty“. The link is to the Dubliners. To imagine Mick and Angie’s version, change the accent from Irish to Yorkshire, and the instruments to guitar, and harmonica.

With National Poetry Day just a week away, it seemed a good time for a poetic blog.

With Leaves like Shoppers

Yesterday, I was okay
with autumn
with the damp grass
which tags along,
on boot, and cuff,
the dark bird which pops
over, and hops
to check its mate’s
breakfast, a miniature,
single-toned penguin,
waddling up
this muddy path.

Later, a chill
sweeps through
pink pirate scarf,
and purple uni sweatshirt,
as leaves rush past
like busy shoppers,
impatient for Christmastime.

I hope you enjoy the autumn, and its beautiful light. This is a summer song, but it seems apt.

Autumnal sky, 30 Sept 2016

Autumnal sky, 30 Sept 2016

Tagged: autumn, bipolar, birds, Cancer, cats, folk, Kate Bush, mood disorder, National Poetry Day, nature, poetry, spoken word, the Dubliners, trees, writing

Downward…Spiral…Deviation

Let me preface this post by saying…I am not a “by the rules” person.

Is a semblance of routine important for those who suffer from bipolar/depression/anxiety? To an extent, yes.

At the same time…my personality rebels against the constraints of monotonous routine and schedule.

What this translates to is…

If told I have to be up at 6:48 a.m. … I will purposely sleep until 7 a.m. If told I have to be up at 7:02 a.m. …my brain dictates that I get up at 6:54 a.m.

I MUST rebel. I MUST have variety, variation, deviation.

At the same time in a contradictory fashion…IF things do not unfold in an orderly fashion (supper is chicken and taters, kid gets out of school at 2:30, mail comes at 3:20 p.m.)…I spazz out and melt down.

It is a paradox but then, isn’t that bipolar described pretty accurately?

Today, the child support check was supposed to be in the mail. It did not come, as it has, on Thursday, for 5 straight weeks. If I had savings or other means, no biggie. BUT if you count on this influx of income…That single deviation is devastating to the mind.

Shit happens, get over it and grow up!

I know, right?

On this one…I cannot win. If I count on “routine” and “schedule” then it doesn’t happen accordingly…I come undone. Anger leads to agitation which heightens anxiety and causes me to be depressed, surly, and snappish.

YET if I go “pessimistic” and assume nothing will work right, well, then I am just letting my disorder get the best of me.

OMFG. I can count on it or I can’t, is that too much to fucking ask?

Apparently, it is.

NEVER MIND I had a nightmare last night about the check not being in the mail.

NEVER MIND that I spent hours today trying to talk myself out of “pessimism” and assuming the worst only to get hit with SPLAT and the downward spiral because all did not go according to routine.

WHY am I expected by all to be consistent in spite of my inconsistent condition while the world around me is allowed to “make mistakes” or “work at its own pace”?????

That ONE deviation sent me spiraling downward. I was depressed, deflated, anxious, pissed off. Snappy, sarcastic, jumpy.

FUCK, don’t tell me the donor purposely lost his job to avoid paying for his kid!

DAMNIT, don’t tell me this different letter carrier decided to flake off and deliver my check tomorrow instead!

Round and round, scumbag brain goes.

Setting the tone for my entire afternoon. I wanted a pizza for supper. I had to wait until I broke and told Spook her social life needed to take a backseat long enough for a trip into the dish. Aldi was packed. I had a near meltdown in the parking lot, terrified my inability to focus and take in all the surroundings would cause a car accident.

I freaked out in Thursday night traffic. I saw cop cars everywhere (no, not hallucinating, it is homecoming weekend for the local high school and the cops are out in force) and that sent my mind reeling into what minor infraction I might inadvertently be committing, because face it…It’s not difficult to forget your seatbelt or not know a tail light is out…

The ONE saving grace of the day was that upon our return to our safe space…I started to calm down.

I just cannot handle deviation from certain “dedicated” routines. I cannot stomach all the traffic and responsibility from driving. I used to LOVE driving. Now it is one more terror I cannot seem to handle.

I’ve often wondered if my inability to tolerate change, even minor ones, is a sign of mild Asperger’s or autism.

Apparently, though, if you were in advanced (old school term “gifted”) classes…You are NOT operating at a mental deficit.

So what’s the fucking deal? Is this inability to deal with deviation a symptom of bipolar, of depression, of anxiety, of panic attacks?

What. The. Actual.Fuck.

Because I would really like to know. I don’t choose to be this way. I don’t want to have a mood crash into despair simply because I was told spaghetti was for supper only to have it changed to fish filets. WTF?

I am so tired of trying so damned hard and getting nowhere.

Maybe it’s a personality glitch exclusive to me.

Though I remain unconvinced of this as I have read other bipolar blogs and it seems pretty common in *some* of us to be super sensitive to schedule changes and deviations.

Why can’t the professionals figure this out?

I lose faith, daily, not only in humanity, but in the ability of the professionals, to ever truly help me.

And ultimately this leads back to self loathing and guilt because obviously, if I weren’t such a pessimistic, picky trainwreck, I could talk my brain into getting its shit together.

If only it were that bloody simple.


Powered-Up Probe ID’s Schizophrenia Genes That Stunt Brain Development

A massive study involving pharmaceutical companies, universities, brain banks and a foundation brought together the largest largest collection of schizophrenia postmortem brain tissue ever assembled to boost statistical power and the odds of detecting weak genetic signals. They looked at RNA from from a schizophrenia-implicated area of the brain’s executive hub, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, in postmortem tissue from 258 people who had schizophrenia and 279 controls. Five genes were found that altered the expression of only one gene. Experimental manipulation of three of those five genes altered brain development in model systems.

http://www.nimh.nih.gov/news/science-news/2016/powered-up-probe-ids-schizophrenia-genes-that-stunt-brain-development.shtml

Public-Private Psychiatric Data Consortium Debuts Gene Expression Resource

September 27, 2016 • Science Update

Scientists have pinpointed several schizophrenia-related gene variants that alter expression of other genes in illness-implicated circuitry of the human brain. Under-expression of a few of them stunted brain development in model systems in this largest study of its kind.

The study is the first from the CommonMind Consortium (CMC) , a public-private psychiatric research data source co-founded and co-funded by NIMH.  The collaboration involving pharmaceutical companies, brain banks, a foundation, and universities brought to bear the largest collection of schizophrenia postmortem brain tissue ever assembled to boost statistical power and the odds of detecting weak genetic signals.

Schizophrenia, which affects nearly one percent of the population, is known to be as much as 80-90 percent heritable, but little is known about its underlying illness processes. Genome-wide studies based on blood samples have linked genetic variation at more than 100 chromosomal sites to the illness, yet each of these confers only a small effect on risk, leaving much of schizophrenia still a mystery.

“As we move from gene discovery – which for risk genes can be done in any tissue – to the human brain, we are able to explore changes in the molecular machinery of the cell, such as gene expression and epigenetic mechanisms, that are impacted by these genetic risk factors,” explained Thomas Lehner, Ph.D., director of the NIMH Office of Genomics Research Coordination, which helped to build the Consortium and fund the project.

A team of 56 researchers, supported by 15 NIMH grants, report on their findings September 26, 2016 in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

Their study characterized genome-wide genetic variation and sequenced an indicator of gene expression, RNA , from a schizophrenia-implicated area of the brain’s executive hub, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, in postmortem tissue from 258 people who had schizophrenia and 279 controls. This sample dwarfed those of earlier such studies based on postmortem tissue.

Out of 108 genome sites earlier linked to the illness – schizophrenia’s “skyline” of risk loci – genetic variation at 20 sites was found to potentially regulate the expression of genes.  Of those 20, five gene variants were each found to alter expression of only one gene. Experimental manipulation of three of those five genes altered brain development in model systems.

For example, depleting a protein called furin stunted head growth in zebrafish by nearly a fourth. Knocking down the FURIN gene decreased migration of human neurons derived from induced pluripotent stem cells in culture – perhaps suggesting a possible mechanism by which schizophrenia might disrupt the developing brain.

The study also found “subtle but broad disruption in transcription” of genes in schizophrenia, which the researchers say is consistent with the prevailing model of many genes contributing to risk. They also identified a sub-network of about 1,400 genes – including many in genomic sites linked to the illness – coding for components involved in communications between neurons that are “significantly perturbed” in schizophrenia.

Since its sample size was about 10-fold larger than any previous study of its kind, the new study’s much higher statistical power raises questions about  some earlier findings. It suggests that some earlier studies based on small samples over-estimated the differential expression of schizophrenia risk genes. Models based on the new data estimate that to ensure enough statistical power to confidently discern differential expression of a suspect schizophrenia risk gene between cases and controls would require, on average, a huge, currently unattainable, sample size of about 28,500.

“This need for more statistical power underscores the importance of expanding resources for collections and public education about the importance of making tissue donations,” noted Lehner.

RNA molecules
RNA molecules 
Source: National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), National Institutes of Health

Among the brain banks participating in CMC is NIMH’s intramuralHuman Brain Collection Core and its director Barbara Lipska, Ph.D., is a co-author of the article. All results can be accessed via the CommonMind Knowledge Portal (CMC, www.synapse.org/cmc ).

Grants

MH093725, MH066392, MH097276, MH075916, MH09689, MH084053, MH057881, MH057881S, MH085542, MH096296, MH066392, MH101454, MH109677, MH094268, MH074313

Reference

Gene expression elucidates functional impact of polygenic risk for schizophrenia. 
Fromer M, Roussos P, Sieberts SK, Johnson JS, Kavanagh DH, Perumal TM, Ruderfer DM, Oh EC, Topol A, Shah HR, Klei LL, Kramer R, Pinto D, Gümüş ZH, Cicek AE, Dang KK, Browne A, Lu C, Xie L, Readhead B, Stahl EA, Xiao J, Parvizi M, Hamamsy T, Fullard JF, Wang YC, Mahajan MC, Derry JM, Dudley JT, Hemby SE, Logsdon BA, Talbot K, Raj T, Bennett DA, De Jager PL, Zhu J, Zhang B, Sullivan PF, Chess A, Purcell SM, Shinobu LA, Mangravite LM, Toyoshiba H, Gur RE, Hahn CG, Lewis DA, Haroutunian V, Peters MA, Lipska BK, Buxbaum JD, Schadt EE, Hirai K, Roeder K, Brennand KJ, Katsanis N, Domenici E, Devlin B, Sklar P. Nat Neurosci. 2016 Sep 26. doi: 10.1038/nn.4399. [Epub ahead of print] PMID: 27668389

 


How to Be an Optimal Human

http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/beautiful-minds/how-to-be-an-optimal-human/#What does it take to be an optimal human being?
Throughout history there has been much speculation. For Aristotle, the highest human good was eudaimonia. For Carl Rogers, it was the “fully functioning person”. For Abraham Maslow, it was “self-actualization”. For Erik Erickson, it was wisdom and integrity. For Erich Fromm, it was about having a “being” orientation (in which you value personal growth and love) instead of a “doing” orientation ( in which you value material possessions and status).

But are these theories right? Over the past 30 years or so, a number of contemporary psychologists have experimentally tested various aspects of these theories, and we are starting to get a clearer picture of those who seem to be well-integrated, thriving human beings.* Here I will offer some science-informed prescriptions, in the hopes that it helps you in your own journey toward greater health, growth, and happiness.

1. Strive to balance your basic needs

It turns out that Abraham Maslow was pretty spot on with his proposed list of basic needs (although he did miss a few). A large number of studies have confirmed that humans across cultures have a need for autonomy, competence, relatedness, security, and self-esteem.

Those with high autonomy feel as though they are authors of their own lives, and feel able to freely express their values and develop their identity, talents and interests. Those high in competence and self-esteem feel as though they are making good progress toward their goals, and are receiving positive regard from others. Those high in relatedness and security feel socially connected to others and feel as though they are part of a safe community.

The key prescription here is to strive to balance these basic needs. Without balance, it will be difficult to achieve optimal functioning. For instance, think of the workaholic who is high in autonomy, security, competence, and self-esteem, but has very little social connection with others. Despite high achievement, this person will most likely be prone to feelings of alienation, sadness, and loneliness. As Sheldon notes, “obtaining much need satisfaction may be a shorthand route to optimal human being.”

2. Set and make efficient progress toward self-concordant goals

On the path toward optimal functioning, you will want to set and pursue goals as effectively as possible. It’s important that you feel as though your self is constantly in steady forward motion.

But here’s the thing: this alone will not suffice. Mindlessly setting and efficiently achieving goals will not, by itself, make you happy, healthy, or fulfilled (see here). It’s important that the goals that you set have high “self-concordance”. People with high self-concordant goals have identified goals that are consistent with their identity, basic needs, personality, and talents.

In one study, pursuing goals for self-concordant reasons (because one enjoys and fully identifies with the goals) predicted greater need satisfaction and well-being than pursuing goals for non-concordant reasons (because of environmental pressures and/or internal compulsions). Therefore, for optimal functioning, behavior must be both effective and consistent with inherent basic needs and growth tendencies.

You can imagine a situation in which a highly smart and capable person is forced to go into a field (e.g., medicine) by his parents, but he doesn’t get a sense of autonomy because of the long work hours, and misses his friends. So this isn’t the optimal condition for him in his life. Or consider the person who has the clear talent for something as a child (e.g., playing violin), but never really enjoys what she is doing and never really views it as part of her identity. This, too, will not lead to optimal health, growth, and happiness.

Which is why it’s very important to…

3. Choose your goals and social roles wisely

What kind of goals are more likely to lead to optimal functioning? The research suggests that Fromm was right. Setting extrinsic goals (such as money, beauty and status) tend to make you less happy, whereas attaining intrinsic goals (such as intimacy, community, and personal growth) tend to lead to enhanced well-being. It’s also important to choose social roles that best fit your unique personality. 

Often we have multiple goals, however. Which is why we should…

4. Strive toward personality integration

Many of the great humanistic psychologists, such as Rogers and Maslow (but also William James and Carl Jung), frequently talked about the importance of achieving personality integration. The latest psychology of goals confirms these seminal thinkers were right.

In one study, Ken Sheldon and Tim Kasser measured personality integration by seeing how much people’s goals were congruent with each other and with basic needs, and how much the goals were chosen freely and were expressive of intrinsic values such as as growth, intimacy, and community. They found that the extent to which people’s goals were integrated, the more they felt as though their strivings originated from their own interests and choices, and the more they felt engaged in meaningful activities such as helping others or pondering the future. Integrated people also reported higher levels of self-esteem, openness to new experiences, vitality, satisfaction with life, self-actualization, positive moods, and fewer negative moods. Integrated people also felt more positive about their different life roles and felt all of these roles were in harmony with one another.

Clearly, having an integrated personality brings with it a whole nexus of positive, adaptive outcomes. However, sometimes you (or others) might keep getting in the way of adaptive integration. Which is why you often will want to…

5. Work toward modifying problematic aspects of yourself or your world

There’s a lot of advice out there to just “be yourself”, or be “true to yourself”. But this advice is really quite misguided. Not all of our potentialities will help us make progress toward our self-concordant goals. Some aspects of our personality, like anxiety or disagreeableness, can downright get in the way of making progress toward becoming an optimal human. So the advice here is to not mindlessly accommodate your entire nature, but work on bringing out the character strengths and virtues that will best help you achieve your self-concordant goals. This may require learning self-regulation strategies (see here, here, and here) and learning more about your character strengths (you can find out your top character strengths here). 

To be clear: Even though your personality is influenced by your genes, this does not mean that personality change isn’t possible. In this review, the researchers make a good case that substantial changes in personality and happiness are indeed possible through changes in activities and behaviors. Such changes that can cause substantial changes in personality and happiness include setting and pursuing self-concordant goals, adopting positive strategies for coping with stress, adopting positive mindsets and attitudes, and adopting behaviors specifically known to increase happiness.

Sometimes you don’t just want to work on modifying your personality, however. Sometimes you also want to modify your culture. As Sheldon notes, “be prepared to go against the cultural grain when necessary.” Sometimes being an iconoclast may be beneficial to optimal functioning. Some of the most important revolutionaries derived great meaning (but not necessarily happiness) by rebelling against the status quo of their culture (see here, here, here, and here).

Ultimately though, you need to own yourself and your decisions. Why is why it’s important to…

6. Take responsibility for your goals and choices

A common theme of the great existential philosophers, such as Jean-Paul Sartre, is that we must take responsibility for our choices. Similarly, Sheldon argues that optimal humans take an “intentional attitude” toward life, by consciously aligning their sense of self with their life choices. Sheldon argues for the importance of taking ownership of your self-concordant goals, as only you can truly alter yourself and your life, and follow-through on your initiatives with good faith. 

After making a decision about which goal you wish to adopt, embrace the goal with all of your being, and consciously align your identity with the goal (it’s the difference between “I like writing science fiction” and “I am a science fiction writer”).

However, this doesn’t mean you must be rigid in maintaining your self-concordant goals at all costs. Sometimes we take ownership over goals that end up working against our ever evolving identity, personality, talents, and basic needs. Which leads us to #7…

7. Listen to your “organismic valuing process” and be prepared to change your goals if it seems necessary

Central to Carl Rogers’ notion of the fully functioning person was getting in touch with your “organismic valuing process” (OVP). According to Rogers, the path toward becoming a fully functioning person requires developing increasing trust in your own ability to know what is important to you, and what is essential for you to live a more fulfilling life. Rogers believed that the OVP evolved to help us evaluate our experiences and actions and to determine whether they are leading us toward self-actualization. As Sheldon notes, all of us have experienced that “nagging sense that something isn’t right”. Optimal humans listen to that nagging.

Research suggests that Rogers was right. Sheldon and colleagues assessed changes in people’s goals and values over time. They found that people tend to move toward intrinsic goals (e.g., emotional intimacy, personal growth, societal contribution) and/or away from extrinsic goals (e.g., material possessions, physical attractiveness, social popularity) over an extended period of time. They also found that decisions regarding extrinsic goals took longer, suggesting that the OVP causes people to pay particular attention when growth-relevant decisions have to be made. The researchers conclude: “People really do have some idea about what kind of goals are most likely to be beneficial for their subjective well-being, presumably because they possess an OVP.”

Bottom line: trust yourself to abandon a goal if it is no longer appropriate for your growth. Constantly consult your OVP when making choices about which goals to adopt. You, and you alone, have the power to revise your goals as a result of new information. When the self-concordant goals you’ve adopted become inappropriate to your evolving self, personality, or basic needs, make a change.

It should be noted that Rogers believed that the OVP doesn’t only motivate self-enhancement but can also motivate more prosocial motivations, given supportive conditions. In support of this idea, research has indeed found that a strong intrinsic goal pursuit is associated with prosocial behavors such as helping others in our everyday lives.

Which leads us to the last suggestion for becoming an optimal human…

8. Transcend your self

In Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl notes that
“Being human always points, and is directed, to something or someone, other than oneself–be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter. The more one forgets himself–by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love–the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself. What is called self-actualization is not an attainable aim at all, for the simple reason that the more one would strive for it, the more he would miss it. In other words, self-actualization is possible only as a side-effect of self-transcendence.”

Likewise, during the very end of his life, Maslow proposed a new need right above self-actualization: self-transcendence. He realized that many of his self-actualizers weren’t self-transcenders, and even some of his self-transcenders weren’t even self-actualizers. (Unfortunately, most introductorily psychology textbooks don’t mention Maslow’s updated theory).

Sheldon suggests that becoming an optimal human can be facilitated by striving toward higher-level goals that allow you to serve something beyond yourself. In addition to personality integration, try integrating yourself into the larger social systems in which you are embedded. Don’t just search for things that are useful to you, but be useful to others. 

What do you get when these are all aligned? 

This is by no means an exhaustive list of suggestions for how to be an optimal human being, but it’s a good start. In sum:

Try to balance your basic needs for autonomy, competence, relatedness, security, and self-esteem.

Choose a goal that is in line with these needs, as well as your deepest self and talents, and that helps the larger community or world.

Learn self-regulatory strategies and cultivate your character strengths to make efficient progress toward your goals.

Constantly listen to your organismic valuing process, and modify your goals and personality as necessary.

Work toward all of this, and you will be well on your way to becoming the person you are capable of becoming.

© 2016 Scott Barry Kaufman, All Rights Reserved

Easy Livin in the South Bay

Not too long ago I participated in a special project by Jason over at Harsh Reality. It was called Project H, for Project Home. The purpose of it was to allow bloggers around the world to share a bit about their home. I participated with a post about living in the Los Angeles South Bay.  Jason reposted it today so…

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