Brain Downtime [en]

[fr] On a besoin de débrancher son cerveau -- avez-vous assez l'occasion de le faire?

My brain needs downtime. So does yours.

We’ve managed to make our lives so efficient that we’ve removed all the downtime that used to be part of them. We can work on the train, listen to podcasts while we clean and cook, why, we even read on our iPhones as we walk through town.

Sleeping just doesn’t cut it. Of course, we need sleep (that’s also body-downtime), but we need awake-downtime.

What’s your downtime?

For me, reading fiction and watching TV series qualify as brain downtime. My conscious mind is immersed in fiction, though I’m sure a lot is going on in the background. Sailing and judo qualify to, as does riding my exercise bike if I’m listening to music rather than a podcast.

When I’m on the bus and reading FML or flicking idly through my Twitter stream, is that brain downtime?

When I’m walking in the mountains, drinking a cup of tea on my balcony, watching the sun set, taking a bath, or meditating, that’s definitely brain downtime.

Do you get enough brain downtime?

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L'effet chat [fr]

[en] I write a weekly column for Les Quotidiennes, which I republish here on CTTS for safekeeping.

Chroniques du monde connecté: cet article a été initialement publié dans Les Quotidiennes (voir l’original).

Une chose toute simple relevant pour moi du bon sens mais qui n’est pas évidente aux yeux de tous est ce que j’ai nommé “l’effet chat”, à défaut d’un meilleur mot.

Derrière l’écran, sans présence physique, les défenses psychologiques et l’anxiété sociale tombent. On ose plus, on est désinhibé. Sur le versant positif, on se livre plus, parlant de choses parfois trop difficiles pour le face-à-face ou le téléphone, expérimentant des choses nouvelles (oser dire “non” par exemple) que l’on pourra par la suite, petit à petit, transférer dans nos relations hors ligne.

Le revers de la médaille, c’est l’agressivité exacerbée, les escalades d’insultes, la malhonnêteté — qui profitent de s’infiltrer dans la brèche ouverte par l’écran protecteur. On n’a pas besoin de prononcer les mots non plus: les écrire les rend plus faciles.

Dans l’ensemble je vois l’effet chat comme quelque chose de positif. Un peu comme dans un espace protégé (groupe de partage confidentiel par exemple) les timides en nous osent un peu plus être eux sans tant de peurs qui les encombrent. Beaucoup de gens un peu mal à l’aise socialement (et ça ne se voit pas toujours!) apprécient les échanges en ligne, qui leur permettent de se sentir plus eux-mêmes, plus authentiques.

L’effet chat mène aussi à un sentiment d’intimité avec l’autre qui s’installe souvent très rapidement (d’où d’ailleurs la facilité de tomber amoureux en ligne, aussi étonnant que cela puisse paraître à celui ou celle qui n’en a jamais fait l’expérience). Le problème, c’est que ce sentiment d’intimité est dû en bonne partie au moyen de communication plutôt qu’à la personne en face. D’où certaines douches froides, surtout chez les chatteurs inexpérimentés, lors de la première rencontre en chair et en os.

Heureusement, avec l’expérience et le temps viennent la sagesse, et on apprend à rendre au chat ce qui est au chat, et au chatteur ce qui est au chatteur. Les rencontres humaines peuvent être belles, qu’elles se fassent au travers d’un clavier ou autour d’un café.

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Less Extrovert Than I Thought [en]

[fr] J'ai réalisé qu'en fait je n'étais pas aussi extravertie que je l'imaginais. Cette "méconnaissance de moi", si je puis dire, m'amène à me surcharger un peu côté vie sociale (et vie professionnelle "avec gens"). En fait, j'ai aussi pas mal besoin de temps pour moi. Je vais être plus vigilante à l'avenir avec ça!

A couple of weeks back I found an MBTI questionnaire and took it. The result itself is not that surprising (ENTJ) — but what did catch my attention was that the test only evaluated me to be “slightly extrovert”.

I’ve long known that I do need alone time and can become over-socialized, but this test result has suddenly made me realize that I’m just probably not as extrovert as I viewed myself to be. I always thought that I was very extrovert, but come to think of it, it’s just not true.

I love being around people, but I do need a healthy dose of alone time if I’m going to keep my balance.

Now that I’ve put my finger on it, I’m going to pay more attention to making sure I have enough time to myself.

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Face Blindness [en]

[fr] Un épisode de Radiolab qui parle de "face blindness", littéralement "être aveugle aux visages". J'ai un peu de ça (je ne reconnais pas les gens, mais je me souviens d'eux immédiatement quand ils me donnent leur nom). Episode intéressant à écouter.

I wrote some time ago about being bad with faces. I remember people, I just have trouble with faces. I’ve been paying more attention to this recently, and realized that I actually do “recognize” people — I know that I know them — but cannot “place” them or “identify” them based on their face alone.

This morning I listened to the Radiolab podcast “Strangers in the Mirror“, about face blindness (I love Radiolab).

Oliver Sacks, the famous neuroscientist and author, can’t recognize faces. Neither can Chuck Close, the great artist known for his enormous paintings of … that’s right, faces.

Oliver and Chuck–both born with the condition known as Face Blindness–have spent their lives decoding who is saying hello to them. You can sit down with either man, talk to him for an hour, and if he sees you again just fifteen minutes later, he will have no idea who you are. (Unless you have a very squeaky voice or happen to be wearing the same odd purple hat.)

Go and listen to it.

Like everything, face blindness is not all-or-nothing. I guess I have some degree of it (not as bad as Chuck or Oliver, though). My strategy is to tell people upfront. I’m also very good with names, so that helps compensate. I find myself using some of the strategies they talk about: looking for some distinctive feature in the face, making a mental note of eye colour or eyebrow shape, teeth. Some detail I can hang onto.

I’ve realized that I can in fact “recognize” or place people based on their faces, but it takes me a lot of time and energy and concentration to do so. Sometimes hours or days after I’ve seen the person. I’ll bump into somebody at the supermarket, I know I know the person, we say hi, but I have no clue who the person is. I’ll keep thinking about it, try and visualise the person (face, voice, movement, expressions) and see what context appears in my mind.

When watching movies, I’m often crap at differentiating actors that look similar. “Is this somebody we already know, or is it a new character?” Or if I see an actor in another movie/series, it can take me a long time to be certain I’ve recognized them. For example, Lisa Edelstein (who plays Dr. Cuddy in House) was playing the role of a doctor (!) in an episode of Without a Trace that I was watching a week or two ago. It took me a good 10-15 minutes to be sure this character was not the same as the in-house FBI psychiatrist (also a woman roughly the same age with long dark hair), another 10-15 to be certain I’d seen her before and realize she was Cuddy.

So, is my “problem” in the face blindness range or is it in the “link the face with the person” one? I wonder if there are any tests available for this kind of thing. I’m curious.

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Apprendre à se dire non [fr]

[en] Saying no to others (when you don't want to do something) is one thing (it requires dealing with one's fear of displeasing the other), but saying no to yourself is another (which requires learning to deal with frustration). I'm not too bad at the first one, and on the way there with the second.

Dire non, ça se divise pour moi en deux catégories:

  • savoir résister à la pression d’autrui qui désire nous faire accepter quelque chose que l’on n’a pas particulièrement envie de faire (consciemment ou non)
  • savoir résister à ses propres élans de se lancer dans des choses nouvelles, que ce soit en réponse à la demande d’autrui ou par désir d’entreprendre (ses propres projets).

Il y a une limite un peu floue entre les deux (comme quand on veut rendre service — quoique), mais grosso modo, cette distinction permet d’appréhender le problème intelligemment.

En effet, dans le premier cas de figure, ce qui nous retient est la peur de déplaire à l’autre. Dans le deuxième cas, c’est la difficulté à se frustrer.

En ce qui me concerne, je n’ai maintenant plus trop de peine à dire non quand je veux dire non (premier cas de figure). Je crois qu’un pas important sur le chemin a été de refuser de donner une réponse “à chaud”, et de dire quelque chose comme “laissez-moi regarder ça, et je vous donne réponse dans 24h” ou bien “a priori je te dépanne volontiers, mais laisse-moi te dire demain si c’est vraiment possible pour moi ou non”. Vous voyez l’idée.

Par contre, me dire non à moi, c’est beaucoup plus difficile. Je suis d’ailleurs en plein dedans, là. J’ai toujours plein d’idées de choses à faire, la vie est pleine de choses fascinantes à entreprendre, et régulièrement, j’ai les yeux plus gros que le ventre de mon agenda.

Et alors il faut faire le tri. Accepter que je dois renconcer à faire certaines choses que j’aimerais beaucoup faire, pour pouvoir faire celles auxquelles je tiens encore plus. Cela demande d’être au clair de ses priorités. Si on refuse de hiérarchiser, on finit par vouloir le beurre et l’argent du beurre (sans mentionner le désormais incontournable fils de la crémière).

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Warning Signals [en]

With the years, I’m getting better and better at identifying early warning signs. Human beings (I’m no exception) have this tendancy to dig themselves into holes now and again, but not realise they’re digging them or even inside them until the waters are closing on over their heads.

For the past month I’ve been looking at my calendar with increasing dread. I’ve barely been blogging. Things haven’t been spinning out of control, though, but I’ve been tired and more stressed than I like and kind of thinking “gosh, how am I going to manage all this”. At the same time, I’ve been refusing to make some hard choices regarding the things I want to do. Dropping one or the other was not an option.

I’m talking mainly about non-work things here. And things I do for me (as I might have mentioned somewhere before, I’ve become reasonably competent at not saying yes when I want to say no to other people, so I don’t end up with commitments I’d like to wriggle out of as often as I did a few years ago).

Yesterday, I realised that I was setting myself up for a couple of inhuman weeks before the end of the year, but that I was refusing to consider that I might have to let go of something. This is the cousin of “I really need a break now but there’s no way I can manage to take one“.

Something clicked. I realised that I was wanting to do everything. That clearly there was too much on my plate, that I was not Superwoman, but that I was refusing to set priorities between all these different things I wanted to do. So, I knew what I had to do: accept that I have to sit down and decide what is most important for me, and what is less important. I did that, decided to let go of something, and though it really saddens and frustrates me not to be able to do it (in addition to the umpteen other things I’m already doing), I feel better.

The important point here is the warning signals. If I look back at the journey of these last years, one constant for me has been to learn to spot warning signals that I’m leading myself somewhere I don’t want to go, and spot them earlier and earlier. And figure out what to do when I spot them.

And I’m happy to say I’m getting pretty good at it!

What about you? How good are you at recognizing your warning signals? When you recognize them, do you know what to do to keep things from going further downhill?

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Carotte et créativité ne font pas bon ménage [fr]

[en] I write a weekly column for Les Quotidiennes, which I republish here on CTTS for safekeeping.

Chroniques du monde connecté: cet article a été initialement publié dans Les Quotidiennes (voir l’original).

Plutôt que de vous parler de la nouvelle boulette (je suis gentille) de Facebook au sujet de nos vies privées (le sujet me sort par les oreilles, pour être honnête), je vais faire une petite digression pour vous parler de motivation.

Le monde connecté, ce n’est pas que la technologie (j’espère ne pas vous avoir donné l’impression que c’était le cas). C’est aussi le hasard des rencontres qui n’auraient jamais eu lieu sans cette technologie. C’est les réseaux et les communautés, dopés par ce qu’on appelle aujourd’hui les médias sociaux (rassurez-vous, demain on aura trouvé un autre nom). C’est les choses intéressantes qui vous tombent entre les mains d’on-ne-sait-où, sans qu’on les ait cherchées. Le réseau qui vous les offre en cadeau.

J’écris cette chronique de Lisbonne. J’ai bravé le nuage de cendres pour aller donner une poignée de conseils pour indépendants lors de la conférence SWITCH à Coimbra — conférence mise sur pied par Ricardo Sousa, 17 ans, et son équipe à peine plus âgée. A SWITCH, j’ai fait quelques rencontres marquantes, dont , sur le blog duquel j’ai fait un saut en début d’après-midi après avoir retrouvé mon wifi lisbonnais.

Et c’est là que je tombe sur cette vidéo, que Zé nous dit de regarder et regarder à nouveau. Elle est en anglais — je vous encourage à braver la barrière linguistique durant 10 minutes, et à revenir ensuite ici. Je ne bouge pas.

Dan Pink, l’orateur que vous entendez dans la vidéo, nous apprend qu’il a été scientifiquement démontré (je pèse mes mots) que les récompenses monétaires élevées ont un effet néfaste sur le travail lorsque celui-ci fait appel un tant soit peu à nos forces créatives. Les meilleurs motivateurs sont intrinsèques: l’autonomie, la maîtrise, et le sens. Quand on réalise que le monde du business fonctionne en grande partie sur des principes que la science a démontré comme erronés…

A mon avis, on peut appliquer tout ceci à l’utilisation des médias sociaux en entreprise, et surtout à la volonté hypertrophiée de tout mesurer — parfois à tort et à travers — afin de savoir si on en retire réellement quelque chose. Mais c’est pour un autre jour!

Si je vous ai donné envie d’écouter Dan Pink mais que votre anglais pédale un peu dans la choucroute, vous pouvez voir ici sa conférence TED sur la motivation, avec sous-titres français. C’est beau le web, non?

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C'est si superficiel [fr]

[en] I write a weekly column for Les Quotidiennes, which I republish here on CTTS for safekeeping.

Chroniques du monde connecté: cet article a été initialement publié dans Les Quotidiennes (voir l’original).

Une critique souvent faite à l’encontre des médias sociaux, c’est la superficialité des contenus qui y transitent ou y sont publiés. Twitter, Facebook, et même les blogs sont montrés du doigt comme autant d’exemples de la vacuité des propos de l’être humain moyen.

On oublie que les médias sociaux, à la différence des mass-médias, visent moins à diffuser des informations qu’à créer des relations.

C’est pour ça que la métaphore de la machine à café pour décrire ces espaces numériques est si juste. La plupart des discussions autour de la machine à café sont banales — mais ce sont elles qui créent les liens entre les gens. Le tissu des relations humaines, c’est justement ces petits échanges anodins, sur le temps qu’il fait, le film qu’on a vu, ou les plantes à rempoter.

Qu’on bavarde de ce genre de chose au téléphone, dans le bus, entre deux réunions, ou même par SMS, cela n’émeut personne. Mais qu’on fasse la même chose en ligne, où règne l’écrit, réservé traditionnellement aux seules expressions de notre culture dignes d’être imprimées, et l’on s’empresse de brandir ce mot chargé de jugement moral: “superficiel”.

C’est faire preuve d’une grande méconnaissance de la nature profonde des relations humaines.

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Tips For the Stressed and Anxious [en]

[fr] Une série de conseils (basés sur mon expérience personnelle!) pour les stressés et anxieux. Top de la liste: s'assurer qu'on dort, mange, et bouge assez (c'est la base). Boire des tisanes de fleur d'oranger. Prendre un bain chaud. Méditer.

Twice a month I write up an article chosen by my readers. This is the second. Vote for the next one!

After years of learning to deal with my stressed and anxious self, here are a few ideas and tips I’ve found help me get through those moments. It won’t replace therapy of course, but it can help!

  • Make sure you have your basics covered (this is your top priority): enough sleep, enough food (preferably more or less balanced), and physical exercise (go for a walk!) — regular hours if possible.
  • Drink orange blossom infusions (“fleur d’oranger”). It’s a relaxing infusion — 4-5 cups a day, and one 30 minutes before going to bed if you have trouble sleeping. I’m a fan ever since drinking those saved one of my exam sessions.
  • Take a warm bath.
  • Lie down, close your eyes, and concentrate on your breathing for 10-20 minutes, without falling asleep, and without starting to think about stuff. When thoughts show up, just let them fly by as you concentrate on your breathing. (This is kind of basic meditation.) Once or twice a day.
  • When stressed, identify the main stressor (if it’s procrastination-related stress) and get it done with. Things usually get better after that.
  • If anxious/down, go for stuff that makes you laugh (it helps the brain switch gears): lolcats, comedy movie, fun friends, comics — whatever does it for you.
  • Sometimes (specially if you’re more down than anxious), watching a scary movie / thriller can do the trick. Anxiety is often something we do to ourselves (need that adrenalin-drug!) so getting a shot through artifical means (the movie) can actually help relax about other stuff.
  • Head out to the countryside/lake/mountains. Look at nature around you — it helps regain a sense of proportion.
  • Watch the Eight Irresistable Principles of Fun video (a few minutes).

Of course, these are very general tips. They are not magic recipes, either: sometimes we’re stressed or anxious for very good reasons, and it’s normal to be uncomfortable. But these ideas might help make things a little bit better or bearable when it’s rough.

Got any tips that work for you when you’re stressed or anxious, and that you’d like to share? The comments are yours.

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My Journey Out of Procrastination: Perfectionism, Starting, and Stopping [en]

In addition to the five principles I described in my earlier post, two more really important things to understand regarding procrastination are:

  • how perfectionism ties in with it
  • how having trouble starting and trouble stopping are two sides of the same problem.

So, perfectionism. I think the link between procrastination and perfectionism is perceived by most people, but it remains a superficial understanding. Like procrastination, perfectionism is not something you get rid of by just “accepting you’re not perfect” or “lowering your standards”. It’s not that simple.

Perfectionism is often rooted in deep-seated fears of the sky falling on your head if somebody says something negative about you or what you’ve done. Just willing away this emotional component will sadly not be enough to free oneself, in most cases. So, just like procrastination, one’s tendancy to go for perfection perfection perfection needs to be treated gently and with understanding. Where does it come from? Do I really believe that people can love me and appreciate what I do even if it’s (I’m) not perfect? (Don’t answer that question too quickly… The answer is often “no” if you’re really honest with yourself.) What small experiences can I do to show and teach myself that the sky will **not** fall on my head if I don’t do things perfectly?

It’s also important to understand that one of the things perfectionism does is make mountains out of molehills: if your standards for what you want to accomplish are very high, it’s discouraging. You think about decorating your flat to make it the perfectly decorated place of your dreams, and before you’ve even finished imagining it you’re already discouraged and don’t have any energy to even get started. This is where tricks like breaking up big projects (or aspirations) into smaller pieces can come in handy. (For example, I’ll accept that my flat isn’t decorated, and take the small step of putting up one picture on the wall, even though that won’t make it “perfectly decorated”.)

When I was a teenager, I understood rather quickly that my desire to do things “well” was getting in the way of my simply doing them. In a way, I’d say I’m a reformed perfectionist: I’ve long ago decided that I’d rather do things imperfectly than not do them (I have a “just do it even if it’s crap” mode). I also learned that what I considered “crap” was often considered by others to be “great” — like that time when I wrote a quick and dirty page on what I’d done at a job, mainly for myself, and sent it off to my brother who was working at the same company, who then (to my horror) forwarded it to the manager, manager who then (to my utmost disbelief) got back to me praising the professionalism of my crappy document.

In some cases, you might discover that perfectionism is not the real problem, but a “constructed” problem designed to achieve a goal like help you procrastinate. It might sound a bit crazy, but sometimes causality doesn’t really go in the direction we imagine.

Starting and stopping are a good example of this. Almost all people who procrastinate will at some point say something like “Oh, my problem is just starting — once I’ve started, then there’s no stopping me, I’ll do what I set out to do. I just really need to find a way to get started.” I said the exact same thing. Then one day I realised (I had a little help for that) that the real problem I faced was not that I couldn’t start things, but that once I was started, I just couldn’t stop.

I’m a little obsessive, and once I’m doing something, I get completely absorbed in it, don’t see time go by, forget to eat, forget to feel, forget to breathe (!), lose myself. It’s clearly one of the things that helped me develop RSI all those years ago, but that’s not the only problem. It’s that although I’m being productive, I’m “not there”, I’m out of touch with myself, and I’m not really enjoying it, except in a kind of manic, compulsive way. This is not flow, by the way — it’s something else and it’s not healthy.

So in a way, I have a very good reason not to want to start things. I have a very good reason for procrastinating — it’s my healthy reaction against behaviour that makes me lose myself.

The way out, therefore, is to learn to stop. If you know you can stop, then you are free to start. FlyLady understood this very well, and this is why the “you can do anything for 15 minutes” mantra works so well. Trust me, learning to stop is not easy. Once you’re finally doing something and getting into it, stopping after 30 minutes (or whatever time you’ve set) is going to feel very counterproductive. But remember where the real problem is here: if you don’t make the effort to stop, you’re cheating yourself (specially if you coaxed yourself into starting because there was a clear time limit to how much time you’d spend on the task) and it will make it even more difficult to start next time. I find the way FlyLady puts it in her “How to Declutter” page pretty inspiring:

Decide how often you are going to declutter a zone. Do a little every day – use a timer. But be warned – this can become compulsive! Once you get started you will want to clean like a banshee! Don’t burn yourself out! Only do small amount at a time. The house did not get dirty overnight and it will not get clean overnight. When you set the timer you can only do two sessions at a time. This goal may seem unattainable right now, but you can do it in little pieces. In a couple of months, the whole house will be decluttered.

So, concentrate on stopping things, rather than on starting them. Set time limits. Flip the problem on its head, and you should soon see things changing.

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