Isolation, Shame, and Guilt. And Grief. [en]

[fr] Réflexions sur la honte, la culpabilité, l'isolement et le deuil. La honte nous isole et nous laisse seuls avec nos peines et nos problèmes, nous privant de l'apport extérieur qui est souvent la clé pour avancer.

A few weeks back, I wrote a post about the professional turning-point I’m at. What allowed me to write it (and by doing that, become “unstuck” about it) was that in the course of my phone call with Deb, I realised that the situation I was in was not my fault. This freed me of the guilt and shame I was feeling, which allowed me to break my isolation. On a different scale, this is very similar to what I went through regarding childlessness.

So, a few words on how I see this relationship between guilt, shame, and isolation (and grief, too, actually).

Threatening storm and lonely tree

I’m sure I’ve talked about this before (but where, oh where): in today’s world, we are in charge of our lives. Overall, I think it is a good thing. What happens to us is our doing. We are not hapless puppets in the hands of God or Destiny.

But it is not the whole truth. There are forces in this world that are bigger than us, and to deny it is to give ourselves more power over the world, others, and ourselves than we actually have. Accidents happen, and there isn’t always somebody to blame. This is also where the difference between “things I can change, and things I can’t” comes in. The things we can’t change can be part of who we are, but they can also be bigger than us as individuals: social, political, economic contexts and the like.

Some people think they are more powerless than they are. Others feel responsible for things that are out of their reach. For the former, recognising that they are responsible for things and make choices they were blind to can be empowering. For the latter (I count myself among them), it is the opposite: feeling responsible for things you are powerless against is guilt-inducing.

Unhealthy guilt is something else again.  This occurs when we establish unreasonably high standards for ourselves with the result that we feel guilty at absolutely understandable failure to maintain these standard.  This kind of guilt is rooted in low self-esteem and can also involve a form of distorted self-importance where we assume that anything that happens is our responsibility; it may come down hard on anything perceived as a mistake in our lives and has the added anti-benefit of often applying to other people too, so that we expect too much from family and colleagues as well as ourselves.

Source (emphasis mine)

Failing at something you believe should be in your control to succeed at. This is what it’s about. Failing to find a partner. Failing to conceive a child. Failing to sustain your business.

Guilt and her sister shame step in, and with them, isolation. Shame shuts you up.

So, discovering that the dating field may very well be stacked against you, that being single doesn’t have to be your fault or a sign that you’re broken, that 1 in 4 women of your age group do not have children (not by choice for 90% of them), that other pioneering freelancers in your line of work are facing an increasingly competitive and specialised market requiring them to adjust their positioning and sales strategy, well, it kind of shifts the picture from “gosh, I’m failing everywhere” to “oh, maybe I’m not actually doing anything deeply wrong after all”.

Now, “not my fault” does not imply giving up all agency. We remain responsible of our lives — of what we do with what is given to us. I may not be able to make my ovaries any younger, but I could think about whether I want to adopt (I don’t). I can think about how involved I want to get in finding a partner (move? go through a matchmaking agency?) or if I’m actually happy enough on my own to take my chances with the opportunities life (and Tinder) might throw at me. I cannot change the market I work in, but I can work on my sales and marketing skills to make sure I communicate efficiently to my clients what value I can bring them (not my strong suit so far).

Solutions to challenging situations rarely appear spontaneously in the vacuum of isolation. They require interacting with other human beings. Often, the first step out of the isolation shame and guilt bring about is opening up to a friend. And another. And another.

Blogging and Facebook are optional 😉

A word about being “out”, however. When shame and guilt wrap themselves around something, there is often some kind of loss at stake. Even when it is something the do with our professional lives: it can be the loss of a job, of a career, or even of face, in a way, when something we believed in doesn’t work out the way we hoped.

We deal with loss through grief. Grieving requires company. And company doesn’t come knocking when you lock yourself up.

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The Danger of Backup Plans. And Choice. [en]

[fr] Avoir un plan B nous rassure, mais nous empêche aussi souvent de mettre autant d'énergie qu'il le faudrait dans notre plan A. Parfois, ne pas avoir le choix est une bonne chose.

Being rather pessimistic by nature and risk-averse, I love my backup plans. I really like knowing what I’ll do “if something goes wrong”.

The only way to go is forward.
No plan B here!
Photo by Anita Bora, taken on one of our hikes a couple of years ago.

These last ten years as a self-employed professional are no exception. In the back of my mind I’ve always “known” that, if things go awry:

  • I have savings I can dip into
  • I can borrow money
  • I can always “find a job”
  • maybe I’ll shack up with somebody who has a stable situation and there won’t be so much pressure on my income anymore.

I have always had the nagging feeling that these backup plans kept me from giving my fullest to the current one, the one I was actually living. Why struggle and work like crazy when it might not be necessary?

Like our modern western world, I like the idea that we are responsible, that the way we lead our life is through choices. We always have a choice. I’ve been brought up to believe that we always choose, even when we think we don’t. I don’t think it was drilled into me on purpose — it just reflects the ambient beliefs of our time. If you say you don’t have a choice, you’re in some ways painting yourself as a hapless victim with less agency than you actually have.

But reality is more complex than that, as all we women of the 60s and 70s who ended up not having children due to the circumstances of life rather than our desire not to have any very well know. (I hope.) Not everything that happens to you is a choice.

Looking at the future (and present) rather than the past, absence of choice can actually be a good thing. Absence of a plan B. A series of recent discussions brought that to light for me: professionally, there isn’t really a plan B for me. In the long run, I need to stay self-employed (more about this in another post at some point). And so I have to make my business more successful than in the past (not just by wishful thinking, there is a lot of work to be done, actually — more about that in another post).

Saying “I have to do this” is, again, something I’ve been taught to avoid. Because it makes one powerless to have to do something, rather than want, choose, decide. But an episode of the podcast Hidden Brain presents research that points to another phenomenon: if we have a fallback plan, our motivation or drive to make our main plan succeed diminishes.

Not having a choice can actually be an advantage!

This might be one reason I like action/thriller movies, in which characters very often have no choice but to do what they are doing. Trying to stay alive or save the world definitely gives one a sense of purpose, something I sometimes feel I am lacking in my life.

There could also be a link to my love of physical activities like skiing, sailing, judo, kitesurfing, and even cycling and driving: when you’re moving or in action, you have to do what you have to do, or you can hurt or even kill yourself. In that moment, there is no backup plan. Come to think of it, that is true of public speaking too, though there is of course no physical danger there.

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Faire preuve de courage face au deuil [fr]

[en] Being brave in grief is not hiding outward displays of pain or sadness. It is, quite on the contrary, daring to face the full extent of our pain. That is way more scary than sticking a lid on things and pretending it's ok. (Inspired to write by this article).

Quand on parle de courage dans le contexte du deuil, on entend généralement ça dans le sens d’être “fort”, à savoir ne pas montrer à l’extérieur l’étendue de sa peine ou de sa détresse.

Mais le vrai courage, face à un décès ou une perte qui bouleverse notre existence, c’est d’oser sentir combien ça fait mal, combien on souffre, combien on est triste et désespéré. D’oser sentir le trou béant de l’absence, que la vie a perdu tout son goût, qu’on ne peut pas imaginer aller de l’avant ainsi. Sans.

Neige et chalet 126 2015-01-18 17h40

Notre douleur est à la mesure de notre attachement. Et c’est uniquement en prenant la mesure de celle-ci, en seaux de larmes, qu’on peut espérer accepter cette inacceptable absence.

La tristesse, c’est en fait le signe qu’on accepte un peu plus. Le refus de faire face, le couvercle qu’on met sur nos émotions, c’est ce qu’on appelle le “déni”. C’est essayer de faire semblant qu’on ne souffre pas tant que ça. Et c’est cette attitude, justement, qui risque fort de nous empêcher de retrouver goût à la vie, voire même de laisser des séquelles.

J’entends parfois des personnes en deuil me dire qu’elles n’arrivent pas à pleurer. J’ai passé par là aussi. L’antidote est plutôt simple, en fait: il s’agit de prendre conscience que la force de notre “refus” (“je ne veux pas qu’il/elle soit mort, je ne veux pas qu’il en soit ainsi, je ne veux pas vivre avec cette absence”) est le reflet de notre peine. Dans ces moments de refus ou de rejet, on peut rentrer en contact avec sa peine simplement: “si, il va falloir…”

Le courage, c’est ça. C’est oser sentir sa tristesse, oser plonger dans ce puit sans fond qui, nous le croyons, va nous anéantir, avec la conscience que c’est à travers cette tristesse que l’on va finir par accepter l’absence que l’on refuse absolument d’accepter.

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Comprendre mon cerveau: un pas de plus [fr]

[en] One step further in understanding my flaky brain (which is much-less-flaky as of late). Our brain puts ressources where our motivation and intention is. If I'm super involved in an online community, that's where my energy will go, rather than on cooking. When we feel sucked into Facebook or incapable of focusing anymore, well, it's because we like candy.

Vous savez que ça fait un moment que mon cerveau me préoccupe. J’ai passé une année avec assez peu de “temps de repos” pour mon cerveau, et je me demandais si le foisonnement d’activités avec lesquelles je jonglais pouvait expliquer oublis, zappings, et autres difficultés à me concentrer. Etais-je en train de devenir sénile à 40 ans, de perdre la boule? Est-ce que Facebook, Google Hangouts et Ingress m’avaient grillé les neurones?

J’avais gentiment pris les décisions suivantes:

  • j’allais faire un effort conscient pour prendre des temps morts (ne pas être tout le temps en train d’écouter un truc ou de pianoter sur mon téléphone durant mes trajets et activités quotidiennes)
  • idem pour être moins “éparpillée” en travaillant, faire des efforts de concentration et ne pas passer d’un onglet à l’autre toutes les dix secondes, ou ne pas vérifier mon téléphone quand je lis un livre ou regarde un film (plus de “monotâche”)
  • mettre plus de “conscience” dans mes actes: par exemple, allumer une plaque en prenant note que j’allais devoir l’éteindre, ou faire un effort “d’impression mentale” quand je dis que je vais faire quelque chose

Avec les semaines et les mois qui passaient, j’ai senti un retour à la normale. Ouf, je n’étais pas en train de devenir sénile, et mes neurones n’étaient pas irrémédiablement grillés!

Cygne

Ma conclusion à ce stade était que, en effet, “trop” d’activités dans tous les sens avait eu un effet délétère sur ma façon de fonctionner. Mais j’ai aujourd’hui révisé cette conclusion — je ne crois pas qu’elle était tout à fait correcte.

Deux éléments ont fait évoluer ma réflexion:

  1. La lecture d’un article expliquant (neurosciences) que se plaindre à répétition crée des connexions qui facilitent par la suite la “génération” d’idées négatives. C’est très logique, en fait, on met en place par nos actions et mouvements de pensée des connexions neurales qui rendent plus facile la répétition de ces mêmes mouvements.
    Et je connais bien ce phénomène dans sa version positive, que je pratique sous forme de l’exercice des “trois bonnes choses” quotidiennes. On peut entrainer son cerveau à être plus optimiste/positif, comme on peut l’entraîner à être négatif. J’avais d’ailleurs rencontré cette idée pour la première fois il y a plus de 15 ans maintenant, en lisant le livre “L’intelligence émotionnelle” — quand on est dans un certain état émotionnel, on va naturellement chercher autour de soi ce qui le confirme et l’entretient.
  2. A l’occasion d’une journée pédagogique où j’étais invitée à intervenir, j’ai eu la chance de parler un peu avec le pédopsychiatre Philippe Stephan, qui venait de donner une excellente et très instructive conférence sur le cerveau des adolescents, et ce que son développement nous apprenait par rapport à la relation des ados au monde numérique.
    On parlait du “non-danger” des écrans (le problème est l’absence de limites plutôt que l’écran lui-même — un défaut de cadre plus qu’une activité néfaste), et je faisais part tout de même de mes doutes, me basant sur ma propre expérience récente et des articles comme celui-ci, qui semblaient mettre en rapport temps d’écran et troubles d’attention chez les enfants. Je ne sais plus exactement comment il a formulé ça, mais j’ai retenu l’idée suivante: c’est une question d’investissement/de motivation plus que, de nouveau, la nature de l’activité.
    Si je suis très investie dans ma “vie Facebook”, par exemple, ou ma “vie Ingress”, mon cerveau va “délaisser” en quelque sorte les autres pans de ma vie. On met l’énergie là où “c’est important”, du point de vue de notre motivation. Et là où c’est délicat, c’est que Facebook et cie sont faits pour nous plaire et nous stimuler.

Pour moi ça fait complètement sens. Si on passe beaucoup de temps à faire quelque chose, qu’on y est investi émotionnellement, qu’on a envie de le faire, c’est là que va aller notre attention. On peut bien sûr se remettre sur le droit chemin à coup d’astuces comportementaux, ou aussi simplement en mettant de l’énergie à autre chose (ce qui revient probablement au même). Ça explique aussi pourquoi un changement de rythme de vie (vacances, chalet) nous permet souvent de prendre du recul ou de “décrocher”: on se réinvestit dans d’autres choses.

(En relisant ce que j’ai écrit en conclusion, je me demande s’il n’y a pas un petit bout qui m’échappe encore, parce que ça me paraît un peu “plat” comme conclusion en comparaison avec la “grande illumination cérébrale” que j’ai eue pendant la discussion.)

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Faire les choses pour soi [fr]

[en] With less anxiety in my life in general, and at a professional crossroads which asks for work on projects which delay gratification more than I am used to (which is not much), I find myself struggling to make progress. I love doing things for others, but find it hard to put as much energy into things for myself.

Dans cette période “entre-mandats” où je suis en train de réfléchir à réorienter la façon dont je présente mes activités professionnelles (et probablement par la même occasion les recadrer), je me retrouve aux prises avec un des “challenges de ma vie”: avancer, faire, sans que ce soit directement pour quelqu’un d’autre ou un objectif gratifiant immédiat.

Heavy Load

Je m’appelle Stephanie, j’ai 41 ans, et je suis encore accro à la satisfaction immédiate.

Je me suis déjà cassé le nez sur ce problème de fonctionnement à l’époque où j’écrivais mon mémoire (enfin, où je ne l’écrivais pas, surtout). Depuis, j’ai fait beaucoup de chemin, et c’est clair que 10 ans d’indépendance professionnelle m’ont obligés à trouver des stratégies. Mais quand même.

J’écris volontiers sur impulsion (pour ce blog principalement), mais beaucoup plus difficilement sur commande.
Je fais volontiers quelque chose qui a un effet visible rapidement (ce qui fait de moi une “faiseuse” — allez, hop, trêve de blablas, passons à l’action!), mais je traîne les pieds pour les choses importantes et invisibles (bonjour, compta).
J’aime passer du temps “dans le moment”, à parler avec des gens, mais je me décourage vite lorsqu’il s’agit de travail de longue haleine.

Certes, je suis capable de persévérer, ce n’est pas le désastre total, sinon je n’aurais jamais survécu professionnellement ni personnellement. Mais je paie le prix par le stress de dernière minute (faire les choses dans l’urgence — relative) et les opportunités non poursuivies (le fameux livre, ça vous rappelle quelque chose?

Mon moteur principal pour faire les choses est, il me semble, faire plaisir ou rendre service aux autres. J’aime être utile. J’ai dû apprendre à dire “non”, d’abord aux autres, puis à moi-même, et je prends donc mes engagements de façon plus maîtrisée et réaliste, mais mon premier élan est toujours de me porter volontaire, d’aider autrui, de dépanner. Beaucoup de mes rapports aux autres reposent sur ça, d’ailleurs. En gros, pour dire les choses de façon un peu triviale, je veux qu’on m’aime. Et dans mon monde, on est apprécié parce qu’on est utile. (Oui, je sais, je sais…)

Corollaire, l’angoisse-moteur. A la base, je suis suis quelqu’un qui fonctionne à l’angoisse. Quand j’ai le couteau sous la gorge, que le délai me chauffe les talons, que je sais que je vais m’attirer des ennuis si “je le fais pas”, je fais. Vous aurez fait le lien: si je ne rends pas service, on ne va pas m’aimer, donc je veux rendre service. La peur n’apparaît pas en surface dans ce cas de figure (j’ai vraiment envie de rendre service), mais qu’on ne se leurre pas, elle est là, dessous, tapie.

Il y des degrés aussi chez les spécialistes de la dernière minute: je n’ai jamais fait de nuit blanche pour rendre un séminaire d’uni le lendemain à 8h que j’aurais fini de taper à 7h10. Par contre, je me suis retrouvée plus d’une fois à faire mon impression finale à 1h du matin. Idem avec les impôts et la compta: toujours en retard, toujours à la bourre, mais jamais vraiment dans les ennuis. Et pas de nuits blanches non plus. Je tire sur la corde, mais pas jusqu’à ce qu’elle casse.

Alors, aujourd’hui?

Aujourd’hui il se passe deux choses:

  • d’une part, mon moteur “angoisse” est moins actif — je suis simplement moins angoissée dans ma vie (c’est bien!), mais du coup j’ai “perdu” ce bénéfice, cette force (pas très saine) qui me poussait en avant
  • d’autre part, comme déjà évoqué plus haut, je suis à ce carrefour professionnel où je n’ai pas de gros mandats immédiats en cours, et où j’ai justement l’opportunité d’investir du temps pour faire des choses comme présenter mon activité autrement, mettre sur pied des produits, réaliser (enfin) ces fameux cours en ligne auxquels je pense depuis 5 ans, etc.

Par rapport à la perte du “moteur angoisse”: beaucoup de gens fonctionnent avec ce moteur. C’est très courant. Ce n’est pas idéal, mais c’est comme ça. Dans mon cas, ma “désangoisse” est quelque chose auquel j’aspire (et travaille) depuis de longues années. Ça porte ses fruits. Je vis mieux mon quotidien. Je me sens bien, dans l’ensemble. Bref, je ne suis plus si angoissée. Je me sens plus en paix avec ma vie, j’ai moins peur des gens, j’ai des rapports sociaux plus chaleureux au quotidien.

Mais le revers de la médaille, c’est que je n’ai plus “mon moteur”, et que je n’ai pas encore réussi à le remplacer par un autre. Idéalement, on s’investirait au quotidien dans les projets et activités qui ont un sens par rapport à ce qu’on veut faire de notre vie. Que désire-t-on accomplir, faire, ou comment désire-t-on vivre, pour pouvoir, à l’heure de notre dernier souffle, quitter ce monde sans trop de regrets? Quel est le sens de notre vie, quelles sont nos valeurs, quelle est notre mission? Ça peut être faire la fête, hein, ça n’a pas besoin d’être sauver le monde.

C’est là que je bats un peu de l’aile. Je peine à me projeter, je peine à savoir quel est mon sens. Je peine à accrocher ma charrue à mes désirs à long terme, à faire aujourd’hui ce qui m’apportera des fruits dans le futur — la fameuse gratification différée.

Et de retour de quatre semaines de vacances où j’ai pu vivre comme un petit papillon, sans obligations, portée par les envies de l’instant, je suppose que c’est d’autant plus dur.

J’aimerais être capable de mettre autant d’énergie avec aussi peu d’effort dans ce que je fais pour moi que dans ce que je fais pour les autres.

Si vous avez ce profil papillon-procrastinateur et que vous êtes parvenus à le surmonter pour mettre votre énergie dans des projets ou activités à long terme, j’avoue que je suis curieuse d’entendre votre histoire.

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Du judo à la vie [fr]

[en] Understanding how 20 years on the judo mats wondering how I can make somebody want to put their foot here instead of there, and why I I put my foot there instead of here, might have something to do with my interest in UX, and more importantly, the subtext of a lot of my professional activities: always asking why somebody would do what we expect or want them to do (e.g. sign up for a blogger outreach activity), making sure they have a real interest in doing so, and also, putting myself in the shoes of users or readers.

Je suis en train de reprendre l’entrainement après de longs mois d’interruption pour cause de divers bobos. C’est marrant, car durant mon “arrêt” je n’ai pas eu le sentiment que le judo m’avait manqué des masses, mais en reprenant, qu’est-ce que j’ai eu du plaisir à pratiquer à nouveau!

Et peut-être grâce à ces mois de recul ou de distanciation, j’ai mis le doigt sur un lien judo-vie qui m’avait complètement échappé jusqu’ici. Parce qu’il y a toujours cette réflexion, au fond: mis à part me “défouler” et me faire transpirer, qu’est-ce que j’apprends ou intègre sur les tapis que je mets ensuite en pratique à l’extérieur du dojo?

Portes ouvertes au Reighikan Dojo

On entraînait des entrées. Le timing. Etre réceptif à l’autre. Et là, d’un coup, j’ai fait un lien tellement évident que je ne comprends pas pourquoi je ne l’ai jamais vu avant. Enfin si, je comprends pourquoi. Mais ça fait plaisir de mettre le doigt dessus.

Dans mon activité professionnelle, une compétence que j’exerce beaucoup c’est de me mettre à la place de l’autre. On aurait tendance à appeler ça de l’empathie, mais c’est un peu différent. C’est plus: pourquoi l’autre ferait-il ce qu’on attend de lui? Quelle est sa motivation? Vu les circonstances, comment va-t-il agir? J’ai aussi un intérêt marqué pour l’UX (l’expérience utilisateur), sans en être une spécialiste.

Mais quand je travaille avec des clients pour réfléchir à comment ils pourraient utiliser les médias sociaux, avec qui ils cherchent à entrer en relation, je ne perds jamais cette question de vue: qu’est-ce que notre “setup” va encourager l’autre à faire? Que pouvons-nous changer pour l’inviter à agir autrement?

C’est du judo.

Quand on fait du judo, on passe notre temps à essayer de faire en sorte que l’autre avance le pied ici, recule le pied là, se place ainsi ou au contraire comme ça, nous donne un bras plutôt que l’autre, afin de pouvoir entrer les techniques qui nous réussissent le mieux. On n’a cesse de “tendre des pièges”, en quelque sorte, pour contrôler sans en avoir l’air le comportement de l’autre. Je n’aime pas les mots que je viens d’utiliser, je précise, parce que si on sort ça du contexte du judo, ça a des relents de sinistre manipulation.

Mais ça va plus loin: si mon partenaire/adversaire “sent” que je veux lui faire avancer le pied, il ne le fera pas. Je dois être subtile. Inviter plutôt que contraindre. En fait, créer une situation telle qu’il ait envie d’avancer le pied.

Dans le contexte du combat, on fait tout ça pour pouvoir faire tomber l’autre, “gagner”. Dans la vie et dans mon travail, je ne vois pas les choses comme ça. Il s’agit plutôt d’être sensible à leurs intérêts. Il y a un jeu d’équilibrisme, là. Pourquoi est-ce que quelqu’un s’abonnerait à ma newsletter? Quel intérêt aurait-il à participer à ce que je mets en place? Pourquoi aurait-il envie de s’inscrire?

Ces questions me paraissent triviales, elles me viennent naturellement. Mais j’ai réalisé que ce n’était pas le cas pour tout le monde. Et là, réalisant que ça fait 20 ans que j’applique ça sur les tapis, je me dis que ce n’est peut-être pas pour rien.

J’ai fait un deuxième constat hier soir. C’était le premier, en fait. C’est le corollaire de ce que je viens d’expliquer.

Quand on apprend le judo, et qu’on pratique contre plus “fort” que soi, on tombe. On tombe beaucoup. Au début on ne comprend pas ce qui nous arrive. On ne voit rien. Puis, avec le temps, on commence à se voir tomber. On ne peut pas plus éviter la chute, mais au moins on sait sur quelle technique on est tombé. Puis on prend conscience de “l’erreur” qu’on a faite qui a permis l’entrée de l’autre, sans pour autant pouvoir l’éviter. Mais bon sang, pourquoi j’ai avancé encore ce fichu pied?

On passe beaucoup de temps à analyser ses actions, à se demander pourquoi on a fait ceci plutôt que cela. Ce qui nous a incité à le faire. En somme, on applique à nous-mêmes ce que je décris plus haut.

Dans ma vie professionnelle, je crois que c’est la même compétence que celle qui me permet de donner du feedback “éclairé” sur les services que j’utilise. Je sais à la fois m’observer “agir naturellement” et analyser pourquoi je le fais. Hier ou avant-hier, je testais un nouveau service développé par une connaissance. A un moment donné, je me suis retrouvée gênée par le comportement de l’application. J’ai eu un sentiment interne de rejet, et je me suis demandé pourquoi. Et j’ai trouvé: un pop-up qui ne disparaissait pas comme “je m’y attendais”, et qui de plus recouvrait l’endroit où je désirais ensuite cliquer. Je ne rentre pas plus dans les détails, mais c’est le même état d’esprit que “m’enfin, pourquoi j’ai avancé le pied?” C’est aussi le même état d’esprit que l’analyse de texte, que j’ai aussi énormément pratiquée durant mes études (au point que je dis aux gens que j’ai le module “analyse de texte” activé en permanence): pourquoi ce texte suscite-t-il en moi telle émotion, telle réaction? Comment cela s’explique-t-il au niveau mécanique, narration, linguistique?

Je pense que nos compétences sont un mélange de prédisposition (inné) et de répétition (acquis). J’ai déjà fait souvent des liens entre mes études (histoire et sciences des religions, philo, français) et mes compétences professionnelles, mais je ne l’avais jusqu’ici pas vraiment fait pour le judo. Mais c’est clair qu’il doit y en avoir. On ne passe pas 20 ans sur des tatamis, plusieurs heures par semaine, sans que ça contribue à nous faire qui nous sommes.

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A Patchwork Post From The Chalet [en]

[fr] Plein de choses en vrac. Y'a des liens qui mènent vers des trucs en français.

I keep falling into this trap. I don’t blog about something because there is something else, more important, that I should blog about before and haven’t got around to writing.

In this case, it’s the fact that just over a week ago, I finally got to see Joan Baez live on stage. I’ve been listening to her since I was seven or so. I know most of her songs. I’ve always listened to her. And a few years ago I decided that I should really go and see her live soon, because, you know, she’s not getting any younger, and at some point people who spend their lives touring and singing on stage might decide that they want to stay at home and paint instead.

Joan Baez at Paléo

And she was coming to Paléo, in Nyon, just next door. I think I cried during the whole show — not from sadness, just from too much emotion. I was glad to be there that evening, because it was the evening to witness, with Patti Smith and Robert Plant, too. Isn’t it strange how somebody can be such an important part of your life (the soundtrack of many of my years, like Chris de Burgh) — and yet they have no idea you exist?

If you’ve never listened to Joan Baez, just dive into YouTube.

During the drive to the chalet a story came up on the podcast I was listening to which is exactly about that. The Living Room, a story from the podcast Love + Radio, which I’m going to add to my listening list as soon as I have a good enough data connection.

I finished reading “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed” by Jon Ronson, after devouring “The Psychopath Test” these last weeks. It’s a great book. Anybody spending time online should read it. It’s important. With great power comes great responsibility, but we the people on Twitter and Facebook are not aware of the power we wield. The power to destroy lives. To get the gist of it, use 17 minutes of your life to watch Jon’s TED Talk.

My reading of this book coincides with the unleashing of online fury over the killing of Cecil the Lion. It has disturbed me deeply. I feel an urge to dig through my archives and see what my reactions to Jonah Lehrer and Justine Sacco were, because I remember the stories. I’m worried of what I may find. I will be watching myself closely in future.

I also find myself shy in speaking up against those piling on against Cecil’s killer. Oh, he has done wrong. And I have no love for hunters, and no love for hunters of big cats. But what is missing here is proportionality. And I am scared that by speaking up I will find myself faced with a wall of “you’re either with us or against us”, ie, if you don’t join the mob then you’re defending the killing of lions. Just the way last year I was accused of “encouraging pedophiles” and whatnot because I was opposed to a stupid piece of “anti-pedophile” legislation. To some extent, I feel like I have let myself be silenced. Parallels to be drawn with the harassment episode I went through earlier this year (more on that, someday, probably).

This interview of Jon Ronson for On The Media also gives a very good summary of his book.

(My only gripe with Jon Ronson and his book is that a blog is not a post, dammit!)

Two local newspaper articles made me react today on Facebook (they’re in French). One about “the ideal age to conceive” for women, and one about a carer who got bitten by a Komodo dragon at the Lausanne Vivarium.

The first made me jump up because alongside statistics saying “if you want three kids you should get to work at this age” we find things like “you still have a 40% chance of conceiving at 40” and “don’t worry, it’s still quite possible to have children after 37”. Well, at 40 your chances of success through IVF are more around 10-15% — I’m curious where that “40%” comes from, and what it’s supposed to mean. Certainly not “4 attempts to conceive out of 10 succeed” but more “4 women out of 10 who are ‘trying’ (define that) succeed”. Another topic that’s keeping me from blogging about other stuff, because I have so much more to write about not having children. Well, you’ll get it in tidbits, it seems.

As for the second, well, I was expecting a “scare” piece. “Look, the dangerous animal.” Or “look, another negative story for the Vivarium” (which was running out of funding a couple of years ago). To my surprise the article was really good (edit: wow! they seem to have changed the title!), with the carer explaining how she was actually responsible for how the animal had reacted, and that showed how affectionate she was towards it despite the bite. I realised that reading the title had prepared me for “bad journalism”. But going back to it, the title was quite neutral: “Vivarium carer bitten by komodo dragon”. And so I wonder: how could the title have been better? Tricky.

Up in the mountains, in my chalet with almost no data connection, it’s easy to slow down and “do nothing”. A couple of weeks ago I decided I was going to consciously try and do less things in parallel, both on a micro and a macro level. Monotask more, multitask less. Try and keep my number of “open projects” under control. My podcast-hopping brought me to the “Bored and Brilliant Boot Camp” episode the other day. It really drove home the fact that my brain needs downtime. Bored time. And probably a holiday (I haven’t had a “real holiday” (= with no work to do) in much too long, and I’m starting to feel it. How did that happen? I thought I was over that.) So now, I’m paying more attention to where my phone is, and trying to keep it more in my bag and less in my hand, more in the other room and less just next to me.

That’s it for today, folks. My plan is to write again tomorrow. Or the day after. Let’s see if it materialises.

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The Right to Grieve — And That Means Being Sad [en]

[fr] Avez-vous remarqué comme personne ne veut qu'on soit triste? La tristesse est néanmoins une émotion nécessaire, celle qui nous permet d'accepter une perte, d'en faire le deuil, et de pouvoir continuer à avancer à travers et au-delà de la peine.

Have you noticed how nobody wants you to be sad? Tell people around you that you’re sad, and immediately they’ll want to cheer you up.

Sadness is not bad. Sadness is necessary. It is through being sad that we are able to accept our losses and move on. That is what grieving is.

Our friends don’t want us to feel sad, because they don’t want us to suffer. But refusing to be sad and to grieve brings along a lot of suffering — certainly more, in the long run, than the pain of sadness.

Sadness is not depression. Unprocessed grief can lead to depression, though.

Sadness is the feeling of loss.

A person who is experiencing loss needs the courage to feel sad, and in a world which wants to shove sad under the carpet at the first opportunity, that can be far from easy.

What is valued is staying strong in the face of loss, grief, catastrophe. Not collapsing. Not showing how much pain we’re in.

But what we need when we’re sad and in pain, most of the time, is support so we can dare to feel all this. A safe place to be heard, recognised, and not judged. Love and acceptance that does not desperately want to save us from our emotions, but on the contrary, regard them as part of ourselves and our journey through life.

To grieve and to move on from all the various losses in our lives, all the nevermores, we need to be able to be sad. It is a good thing.

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The Zeigarnik Effect and Open Loops [en]

[fr] L'effet Zeigarnik, c'est ce qui nous fait finir quelque chose dans lequel on est lancé, ou qui fait qu'on repense à ce qu'on a interrompu pour y revenir. A mon avis, cet effet joue un rôle clé dans ce qui nous attire encore et encore à retourner sur Facebook ou autre: en prenant part dans des communautés et réseaux en ligne, on met en marche toutes sortes de choses dont on veut voir l'aboutissement. J'ai posté un lien, la chaîne d'actions logique est ensuite que des gens vont liker, commenter et partager. Il y aura peut-être une réponse à donner, ou tout du moins, je veux "suivre" pour savoir comment ça fini. Les conversations en ligne, idem: il y a toujours quelque chose qui se passe dans un chat, la discussion ne se termine jamais.

A few months ago, I stumbled upon the Zeigarnik Effect. It is the effect that prevents us from interrupting our teeth-brushing in the middle. Once we’ve started, we feel a need to keep going. It’s really useful.

For me, it was a missing piece of the puzzle that fitted nicely alongside the idea of GTD’s “open loops”. If you have to interrupt something before you’re done with it or the task is completely, the Zeigarnik Effect will make sure your brain nags you about it.

It explains why it’s important to “just get started” or “just do something”. It also explains why having a lot of ongoing stuff in parallel is stressful.

While I’ve been writing this post, I’ve given myself a wonderful demonstration of the Zeigarnik Effect in action. You see, I couldn’t remember exactly where I’d heard about it. I’m pretty sure it’s in one of James Clear‘s posts, because it’s definitely the kind of thing that he writes about, but I’m not 100% certain.

I can remember the context: for a given task, there is a kind of “tipping point” where the Zeigarnik Effect kicks in, and you finish what you’ve started. Knowing where that point is comes in really handy for getting things done rather than just thinking about how we’re not doing them. I remember the example clearly: for flossing, the “tipping point” or “trigger” in question was when he’d torn the piece of floss off the roll.

I’ve just spent… oh, I don’t even dare tell you… way too much time trying to find that article so I could link to it. I found plenty about flossing and the Zeigarnik effect. The worst is that I already spent way too much time trying to dig out that source when preparing a mini-workshop on “time/task management” I gave two months back. And didn’t find it.

You know the irony? I just stumbled upon the article in question! It wasn’t James Clear after all. And you know the funny bit? I thought I’d add a link to a Google search in the above paragraph. Just to show you how much stuff about Zeigarnik and floss I had waded through. To my surprise, many of the links there were not those I had been wading through an hour ago. Maybe I only searched in specific places where I thought the article was, like Clear’s blog. Anyway. I have it! Incredible!

The reason I went down that rabbit-hole was because it was an “unfinished task”. And the more time I spent trying to “finish” it, the stronger my urge to keep going became. Typical, right?

And here we go again: while looking up some old articles of mine, I remembered that the markdown plugin wasn’t working on the new server. I had to hold myself back from downloading and installing it. It would have meant interrupting the writing of this blog post, though, so I guess that is what just saved me. But now I have this nagging “open loop” in a corner of my mind.

(Bear with me while I add it to my running list of things that need to be done so I can stop thinking about it.)

(Oops, while I was there, I quickly checked a spreadsheet to see if there were any new sign-ups for my next workshop. There weren’t. Do I leave the form open or close it now?)

As you can see, there is a clear link here to multitasking, procrastination, and the general feeling of “not enough brain space” that I have a times. It also makes me think about how when I start something, I have a lot of trouble stopping. Hypertrophied Zeigarnik Effect?

Today — and this is what prompted this post — I suddenly realised that the Zeigarnik Effect played an important part in dragging me back to my computer, or my phone (home to Facebook and Google Plus). By participating in online communities and networks (sounds better than “social media” doesn’t it? more human?) I set things in motion that do not end.

An online conversation is never-ending. There are always people in the chatroom. I post a link, it will be interesting to see who likes, comments, or shares it. I stumble upon interesting articles that need to be read.

My time on my phone or my computer is spent creating innumerable open loops that I am then desperate to close, while at the same time opening yet others that will also have to be closed. Whack-a-mole.

It feels like my “tipping point” for feeling the urge to finish something (or at least dive in) is ridiculously early. Am I mixing two things up here? Do we still speak of the Zeigarnik Effect when a task has not actually been started? Is thinking about doing it sufficient in some cases to “initiate” it?

So here’s my next mission: taming my open loops. I can’t remove them, but I can learn to live with them better.

(This was originally the title to this post, but given I’m not sure how I’m going to do that it seemed a little misleading.)

Before writing this post, I googled for “open loops social media” and other related searches, and I now have about a dozen articles to read about “compulsion loops” and the inevitable “social media addiction” (disclaimer: I’m not convinced it is correct to speak about “addiction” in this context). I’ll probably have more to write on the topic… if I manage to get around to reading them. 😉

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Our Relationship To Technology: Is Your Smartphone In Charge, Or You? [en]

[fr] Une réflexion sur notre relation à la technologie. C'est pas aussi simple que "addiction! addiction! au secours!".

Today’s post, again, brought to you by an article of Loïc Le Meur’s: Why are we checking our smartphones 150x a day? (Remember when Loïc was a blogger?) He links to a video with the catchy title “After I saw this, I put down my phone and didn’t pick it up for the rest of the day”.

I have mixed feelings about this kind of discussion.

  • On the one hand, I think we need to strive to be those in charge of our use of devices, and not victims of the operant conditioning of modern technology.
  • On the other hand, I think that framing the issue of our relationship with technology as addiction is counter-productive, as it puts the blame on technology and removes responsibility from users.

It’s also not a new conversation, and it pops up every now and again as “today’s big problem”. Hey, I was afraid I had “internet addiction” back in 1998. I read Silicon Snake Oil and The Psychology of Cyberspace, headed off to my chalet for a week, and stopped worrying.

As far as I’m concerned, I’m online a lot, both on my computer and on my phone, but I still perceive being on your phone when in human company as “impolite”. I try not to do it too much. So, usually, when I’m with other people, I won’t be on my phone, unless:

  • we’re playing with our phones: taking photos, looking at stuff together, etc.
  • there is something I need to attend to (I apologize and try and be quick)
  • I’m looking something up to help us solve a problem or get information we need
  • we’re spending quite some time together and are both having “phone-time”

I’m aware this doesn’t mean much: with the same description I could be glued to my phone all the time. How do you define “something I need to attend to”?

So, some context.

My phone is in silent mode, and I have very few notifications set (same on my computer). It usually lives at the bottom of my bag. When I’m working, there are chances it’s next to me on my desk. It’s often charging or abandoned in another room when I’m at home.

I’ll check it somewhat compulsively when I’m on the bus, or when I’m using it “as a computer” to hang out online. If I’m with other people, as I said, I don’t take it out too much (though they’ll be the best judges about how much — I do take it out).

I suffer from FOMO like almost everyone who is connected today, I guess. But I don’t feel that I’m a slave to it. I read The Paradox of Choice many years ago and it really opened my eyes: today’s world is so full of possibilities. If you don’t want to succumb to the anxiety of too much choice and too many options, you need to be aware of what’s going on, and accept you’ll miss out. I try to be selective. I still struggle, but I know I’m going to miss out and it’s not the end of the world. (It’s in my social media survival kit, by the way.)

Why do we end up compulsively checking our phones and stuff? I think there are many reasons, and that’s why saying it’s an “addiction” is a way to frame the problem in a way that makes it difficult to address.

  • FOMO: with the internet, we have access to everything that is going on, all the time, everywhere. If we want to be “part of it”, hang out with the cool kids, or share the video that’ll get us 20 likes, we feel a pressure to “not miss” what is going on in the real-time stream. So we overload ourselves on the input side. We think we need to consume everything.
  • Operant conditioning: I’m clicker-training one of my cats, Tounsi. He knows that a click means a reward is coming. When I’m reinforcing a behaviour, I use an intermittent reinforcement schedule: he doesn’t get a reward with each click.
    See how this fits with digital interfaces, and even more strongly, social media? I think Kevin Marks is the first one who first pointed out this phenomenon to me, when I was having trouble taking breaks from my computer even though I had bad RSI.
    Suw Charman-Anderson wrote about how it applies to e-mail back in 2008. We check our mail, there might be some candy in there. We check Facebook, there might be a like or a comment. Nothing? It only makes the urge to check again more compelling: the next time could be rewarded!
    Yeah, dopamine plays a role in there. Understand how your brain works so you’re not a slave to your hormones and neurotransmitters.
  • Validation: we want to be loved and appreciated, and some of what we’re looking for online is just that. Oh, somebody responded to my post. Oh, somebody sent me a nice e-mail. Ooh. But people who thinks that this is the only thing in play round down our issue with technology to an “ego problem” (very fashionable). It doesn’t help. But yeah, if you feel that your drive for franticly checking your phone when you’re having dinner with a friend is just that, maybe it’s worth addressing.
  • Work: the other time when I ran off to my chalet to find some peace was in 2008, and it was not to escape technology. It was to escape work. Our relationships to work and technology are very much entwined. Often, when people say they’re “addicted to their email”, and you take the trouble to dig a bit, you realise the problem is not “email” but “work”. They can’t pull away from work. They work during the week-ends, the evenings, their holidays. This is, I believe, a bigger issue than technology. Our relationship to work, as a society, is unhealthy. (And: Americans, you have a way bigger problem here than us Swissies.)
  • Not engaging: people often look at “not engaging” as a consequence of excessive use of technology. It’s the message conveyed by the video Loïc linked to in his post. I think that’s missing the point that “not engaging” can be the objective here. Relationships are difficult. Being present is difficult. Being with oneself is difficult. Being present to life is difficult. We do many things to avoid doing all this. We veg’ in front of the TV. We talk about unimportant stuff to avoid dealing with what matters in our relationship. And, increasingly, we dive into our phones.
    In the past, I used my camera a lot to “find my place” in social gatherings that would otherwise make me feel awkward. If I’m the person taking photos, I have a place. I have a pretext for interacting with others. I can remove myself from what is going on to be the observer snapping pics. It’s much more difficult to find my place and be with others if I’m just me, with no escape.
    So when we look at somebody who has his nose in his phone during a dinner party, I’d also ask “what is he avoiding by not being present?”

I think I have a reasonably healthy relationship to technology — and work. I have my drinking completely under control 😉

So, a wrap-up:

  • I check my phone in the evening before going to bed, and it sleeps on my bedside table, on but mute, and it never wakes me up (except when I ask Siri to do so).
  • I generally keep my phone muted and in my bag and my notifications off (also on my computer!)
  • I understand how FOMO and operant conditioning work, I’m aware of my need for validation and how I react to the infinity of choices in the world around me.
  • I stop working at the end of the day, and on week-ends, and I take holidays. Real holidays, not work-holidays.
  • I “switch off” a couple of times a year, taking a week or a few days off somewhere with no internet, where I don’t work and use my computer mainly for writing and having fun with my photos. This helps me remember what it is like to live more slowly, and makes me want to bring some of that back into my “normal” life.
  • I try and give priority of my attention to the people I’m with offline, without being religious about it. If I do need to attend to my phone or online stuff when in company, I try not to “disconnect” from the person I’m with offline.
  • I consider that I am the one in charge of my relationship with technology, and strive for a healthy balance between my ability to spend time totally immersed and connected and multitasking, and my ability to be completely (as completely as possible) present to the “offline”, be it a book, a person, an activity, or myself.
  • Like so many things in life, it’s about having healthy boundaries.

When I shared Loïc’s post on Facebook, he commented that we seemed to have similar points of interest these days. For some time, I’ve found what Loïc is writing about much more interesting to me. It’s more personal. Less about business, more about life. Life has always been the thing that interests me the most. My interest for the internet and social media comes from my interest in how people connect and relate to each other.

Interestingly, this is also the kind of stuff I’ve decided to shift my work focus to. Labelling myself as a “social media” person doesn’t fit with what I really do and want to do, specially in the Swiss context where “social media = digital marketing”, something I have very little interest in and want to stay the hell away of. So I’m moving towards “I help you use technology better”. Helping people have a healthy relationship with tech, use it to do their work or whatever it is they need to get done better. Some of social media fits in there too, of course. But also stuff like (yes, still in 2013), learning to use and manage email properly. (I’m actually preparing a training proposal for a client on just that these very days.)

So, how’s your relationship to technology? Who is in charge, you or the compulsion to check if there is something more exciting going on?

Note: I wrote this article in one sitting, getting up once to go to the loo (!) and checking my phone’s lock screen on the way back (it’s charging in another room) to see if I had a message from my neighbour, as we had been exchanging messages earlier and made a vague plan yesterday to maybe hang out together and look at cat photos this morning.

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