Sunday, March 31, 2013

Why it's important to be nice to people (the selfish reasons)

Compassion at its finest.
No verbal appetizers for today's post, just the main course.

When you make fun of people or look down on them for having faults, you're not just setting up a roadblock for them--you're setting a roadblock up for yourself. If you don't make room for people to have mistakes then you make it impossible to look at your own self and see your own flaws. Because seeing your own flaws means you suck, and no one wants to suck.

If you can let people have their flaws, by being nice about it, by not blaming them, by understanding and having some kind of sympathy for them, then recognizing your own flaws becomes less intimidating. Why? Because it doesn't mean you suck anymore. It just means you have certain challenges.

And, recognizing your own flaws is the only way you can investigate them. Master them. If you deny them because to do otherwise would crush your self-confidence, then you remain a slave to them forever.

LOL, have a good Sunday. New post tomorrow.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Why are feelings so important? [Blog post]

We are constantly drowning in data. This is something I realized a few years ago when I was jealous of my brother's fashion sense (the younger one, not the gorilla). I was trying to figure out why he was so good at knowing how to dress himself and it occurred to me that he was sensitive to fashion, colors, and whatever else goes into having good style. (Still have no clue, as I'm still wearing my flannel shirts from 1994.)

I, on the other hand, have never been sensitive to that stuff. When I walk down the street, I notice people, their moods, and the vibes they give off. (I don't like using the word "energy" because it immediately conjures images of people who need haircuts holding magical expensive crystals.) An architect notices structures; a designer notices branding; an officer notices safety conditions. All this information is around us, but we only attend to a small sliver of it.

I wasn't always like that. For years, I spent hours organizing ideas into logical structures. I saw ideas everywhere. So it was kind of bizarre when people started talking about feelings. Now that I'm in school for psychotherapy, my teachers talk about feelings even more, as if they're both the cause and solution to everything. Cue every therapist ever asking "how does that make you feel?"

There's been a trend in psychotherapy away from feelings and towards thoughts and behavior. Cognitive-behavioral therapy has been instrumental in this shift, and so have insurance companies who demand evidence-based practices to avoid wasting money. The therapies that are supported by evidence are cognitive-behavioral (rather than emotionally-focused therapies). I can only venture a few guesses as to why this is the case. It may have to do with the fact that qualitative studies are not given merit when assessing the efficacy of a certain technique or style. I would also guess that clinical labs that producing evidence lean towards cognitive styles of therapy because most people who gravitate towards academia and research and head-strong--they may not believe feelings are that important in the grand scheme of things. Then again, maybe the other, emotionally-grounded theories and techniques just don't work as well.

So which is it?

I suspect it's both. On the one hand, some techniques in psychotherapy are based on outdated models of personality, development, and progress. A lot of theory is still locked in Freudian and post-Freudian thought, where unconscious, inner feuds drive interpersonal and intrapersonal dysfunction, and, where the therapist's only role is to evoke emotion (hence the robotic how are you feeling? questions). On the other hand, I believe that the expression of feelings is necessary, but not sufficient, for psychological progress. The reason why has to do with what causes, and ultimately soothes, psychological distress.

Think back to nearly any problem in your life or in your relationships that you've overcome. A fight with a partner, a dilemma in your career, a part of you that you hated. Now dissect it carefully. What helped you solve the problem? Ultimately, it was action or a decision, but that action and decision was preceded by a shift in your attitude, and that attitude shift was preceded by an emotional event.

Emotional events are moments where we merge with the feelings we're experiencing, rather than denying them. We let ourselves experience something even though it's intimidating. Sometimes it's the pain that you fear, other times it's the fear of losing control and the "edge" we've worked so hard to gain, even though it hasn't really helped.

Until we face our feelings, we're stuck in this state of overthinking and confusion. We're essentially trapped in a hallucination, where everyone is assigned a role in this cosmic drama: there's the victim, the perpetrator, and other satellite characters that play supporting roles. We can try and navigate that world of bullshit for years before putting it down and facing our real feelings.

That's not to say there aren't aggressors in the world. There are definitely people who are fucking up the world is very real ways. But it's impossible to see solutions as long as we fuse them with their aggressor-role, and us with our victim-role.

Facing your feelings--the sadness, the hurt, the anger--and sitting with it without any need to surpass it (that's the key) helps dissolve the role-thinking and open up new possibilities for growing and working with others.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

What does it mean when your boyfriend wants to take a break?

Dear Edahn,

My boyfriend and I have been together for 3 years. In those 3 years it was the best. We were so sure we are soul mates and we also talked about getting married and all those talks no one ever has with their boyfriends. We had the best time of our lives. We both have admitted that we are meant to be together forever. He was 14 and I was 16.

Recently he decided that we needed to go on a break for awhile which devastated me. He said he doesn't want to do it but he feels like he needs to. He said he needs to appreciate me more and that by spending time away from each other and being on a break he will be able to come back one day and make it even better. He doesn't know life without me. I guess he just wants to gain perspective and know what it is like out there. He said he wants me to wait but also have fun at the same time. Which I don't really understand.

Im having trouble accepting the fact that he chose to leave instead of working it out with me, together. Its has only been a week and Im' falling apart because I don't know if he's out there enjoying himself single while I'm brokenhearted. What should I do?


I THINK YOU'RE HAVING trouble because he sent you mixed messages. His words said: "I love you I want to be with you indefinitely" while his actions said "I'm not really sure I love you, I don't want to be with you." So here you are with these two different stories that don't fit...unless you consider the possibility that either his feelings changed or (and this is the hard part) that they weren't as strong as he led you to believe. I don't know which one it is, and it's possible that even he doesn't know. But maybe it doesn't really matter that much because either way, he's moved on and doesn't have the same feelings for you that he had before.

That's not easy for anyone to accept, especially when they have so many strong feelings and especially when their partner told them the opposite. But that's the truth.

So where does that leave you? I'm sure you're in a lot of pain. All I can say is that in a few months, you're not going to feel this bad. You're going to move on and feel whole again and you're going to feel excited about making progress in your life, your education, your purpose, goals, and whatever else you choose. For now, you have to try and work with your feelings, instead of working against them. By that I mean, rather than ignoring them or giving them too much attention (both mistakes), you can try listening to how you feel and finding a way to let that feeling come out in a way that makes sense.

For example, when I'm feeling sad, I sometimes take a pad of paper, sit outside a Starbucks and draw. I'm a horrible drawer (like, HORRIBLE), but it's a way for me to get in touch with that feeling. It guides me and my art. Other times I might listen to some music and pretend I know Tai Chi and move around my room in slow motion. (Yes, it looks really weird.) Just about everything I do when I'm sad looks really weird, but hey, it feels right and it pulls me together. I discovered these things by accident by just letting the feelings flow through me and direct my actions.

So what types of weird things can you do?

Got a question? Email AskEdahn@Gmail.com.

Friday, March 8, 2013

How can I stop fighting with my boyfriend?

Edahn,

My boyfriend and I have been together for almost a year, our anniversary is next month. He is my first serious boyfriend and I am his first serious girlfriend. We had been fine together until my boyfriend switched to night shift a month and a half ago. He has become what I see as a completely different person. Up until that point I have respected and loved him because not only does he have great character and motivation in his life, but he showed me his appreciation and desire to be with me constantly. He only has a handful of friends and I have even less than him.

After he started night shift, I began to miss connecting to him. He says he's tired, dehydrated, has a stomachache, headache, or something, and he is always stressed about not being able to do the things he wants. He has always been a gym rat and he has lost a lot of motivation, relinquishing his life to playing video games and watching TV all night long. I have on a couple occasions been able to break into his thick barriers and he has admitted feeling frustrated and depressed to me.

I feel constantly angry, so angry that I want to break things and cry and I feel that the whole world would explode if I could let out my anger. My boyfriend and I not only argue every day, but we argue heatedly, and I raise my voice because I feel so desperate. I feel that he will not listen, and is always defending himself, when all I want is for him to look at the situation and realize he is not here for me. He is not making an ounce of effort in my direction, and honestly I feel used, abused, alone and angry. I do not want to leave him, I want to get him back, but I don't know how.

I CAN SEE HOW exhausted and tired you must be from all the conflict and inability to connect. It must be sad to think about the relationship you one had and what it deteriorated into. It's like your relationship died, or even like your partner died.

I think one difficult question you have to ask yourself is whether the relationship has fallen apart because of the change in work, or whether that just triggered something that was lying underneath. The healthiest relationships that I've seen started smoothly and with romance, but both partners were still able to maintain their independence. They continued to keep their friends and their personal interests, rather than getting too wrapped up in the other person. The relationships that start off really intense--like yours--can often falter later on, because one or both of the partners never learned how to be themselves within the relationship. Instead, they become a reflection of who they are, what their partner expects, and what others expect. Without a connection to themselves, they start to feel depressed and resentful, and often turn that resentment on their partner.

I'm not saying that's the case for you, since I'm not privy to all the details of your relationship. But if it rings true, maybe it's worth thinking about and having a conversation about. If it fits, there's no easy answer, but I'd suggest that both of you rise above the bickering and take time to study yourselves, what you're feeling and why, and learn how to communicate that to your partner in a way that doesn't turn them off or make them defensive. Communication is really an art that requires attention to words, attention to tone, and attention to timing. Just saying how you feel let down is not going to cut it. You have time find the right way to package that, especially given where you guys are, where there's so much bitterness and frustration that's being tapped whenever something goes wrong.

Every relationship is a learning experience even if it doesn't work out.

Got a question? Email AskEdahn@Gmail.com. All questions welcomed.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Tips for Designing with Prezi

Hi, I really LOVED your Prezi on Elizabeth Gilbert's TED talk on genius - I found it through the Prezi TED finalist section. I wondered if you would share (via email or on your blog) how you found your own inspiration for Prezi, how you learned to use the tool, anything that would help me conquer my own Prezi presentation that I'm trying to design. I'm finding it awkward to translate PowerPoint slides into a Prezi (but I'm building something for a client from an existing presentation they have). I'm completely new to Prezi and just wanting to find more inspiration about how to build and conceptualize the presentation as a whole. I can use the tools themselves but of course that's only part of the process!

Keep up the great work!


FIRST OFF, THANKS FOR the kind words. It's really cool to be a finalist! I'll try to weave some advice into the story of how I created that presentation.

A. THE CREATIVE PROCESS

1. Colors, Fonts, and Tone. Any time I create something, I devote at least 5 hours (sometimes 20) just to creative exploration. In that time, I'm looking through different sites, google images, and doing research on similar projects that were executed well. I'm looking for something beautiful that resonates with the project. Something about designer furniture would have a different color palette, different fonts, and different visual elements than something about punk rock. 

2. Layout. Once I've found visual elements that work, I start to think about layout. The interesting thing about Prezi is that because you're zooming in and out, you have multiple levels of layout, and your layout is more flexible in a lot of ways. My first draft of the presentation was more like an infographic, but I felt like I wanted one unifying visual to tie everything together, so I used the picture of Elizabeth speaking at the TED talk. I was pretty lucky to find that image. I dropped it into Photoshop to add the title of the presentation to the visual.

4. Telling a Story, rather than PowerPointing. Once you have an idea of the visual direction you want to go in, it's time to create the story. For me, this is the part that really separated the top presentations from the rest: the narrative. As a presentation designer, the thing I hate more than anything is something that reminds me of PowerPoint, because it's boring and looks unprofessional. Anything with a title and bullet points reminds me of PowerPoint. Breaking away from that is a challenge, because it means you have to reconceptualize how you're going to explain your idea. The PowerPoint format encourages people to explain ideas in terms of heading and bullet points, or topic and supporting point. 

But that's not really how people talk and convey ideas. Generally speaking, they move from one idea to the next, making sure that each one follows from the previous one. It's kind of like a stone skipping on the water, rather than having 3 huge boulders spread throughout a lake. Eventually, I'll develop a voice for the presentation, and then the narrative just kind of moves itself along. It'll probably be uncomfortable to move away from the PowerPoint slide format, but I think you should try it and see what happens. You may be surprised.

B. TECHNICAL EXECUTION

1. Zooming with Intention. Here's where you really can take advantage of Prezi's zooming feature. You can use the zooming feature to help communicate ideas by having thing zoom in when elaborating on a certain idea. For example, if you have a question that you pose, you can answer it by zooming in. Or, if you're talking about the benefits of the product, you can zoom into some aspect of the product. In that case, the viewer associates zooming in with moving deeper into a topic. You can also zoom out to show context or show a new surprising idea. In my presentation, the transition from slide 24 to 25 uses that effect on a small scale. For legibility, it's probably a good idea to zoom in on areas that contain single colors (like a letter or a shape) rather than a picture, but not always.

2. PROTIP: Photoshopping Images. Most people who are using Prezi probably aren't Photoshop savvy, but  Photoshop can make a big difference, especially when it comes to images. Two things come to mind. One is cutting out the backgrounds of images to make them a little more interesting and then saving them as PNGs. The other is colorizing pictures using effects, adjustment layers, and blending layers (e.g., setting the layer style to color, multiply, etc.). You can achieve interesting effects that way, but more importantly, reduce some of the visual noise so (1) you can focus on typography and (2) your presentation is more visually coherent. In my presentation, I experimented with a few adjustment layers (particularly, Threshold) but decided to use a pink layer set to Multiply on top of all my images.

C. EDITING

A piece of the original Prezi design
1. Don't be Afraid to Start Over. When I do anything creative, including writing this blog post, I usually go through a few different versions before I find something that feels good. I'll create a draft, then realize something new about the problem or topic, and find a better way to explain it. The same thing happens at least 2-3 more times. Then I throw everything out and just create something that feels personal and natural. That last draft actually comes together very quickly compared to the first few. In this Prezi, I did the original draft in Photoshop, which was just a big infographic (see picture). I didn't like that it didn't have order behind it, so I created another version using some imagery (not a complete version, just a mock up). Then I found that image of Elizabeth and rewrote the entire presentation. It was based on the infographic, but also pretty different, and it didn't have Billy Mays in it. (Yes, Billy frikkin' Mays.)

2. Don't Overdo It. If you're making a Prezi for a client, I think it's important to find a balance between overusing the zooming feature and using it enough to create interest. Like PowerPoint, those animations can be really distracting and take the focus off the message, so be careful. On the other hand...it's awesome.

D. MISCELLANEOUS TIPS

1. Find a few pieces of visual inspiration to start with.
2. Watch some cool Prezis and improve on what they did.
3. Use interesting photography, not just stock photography or, god forbid, clip art.
4. Get to know the software, it's not that tough.
5. Don't import your PowerPoint slides, you cheater. ;)
6. Play with typography.
7. Explore different layouts.
8. Be different.
9. Find your voice.
10. Lose your voice.
11. Find your genius.

Hope this helps. You can leave a comment in the comments section if you'd like! 
Edahn