Online Radio Show -- Finding Your Oasis

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Friday, October 21, 2011

Competition, Like Chocolate, Must Be Right Type To Be Healthy

Ask the average person to describe the ideal retreat from everyday life, and she will depict a life that is stress free and non-competitive.  However, ask that same person to endure a month of living with no stress of any sort and no challenges, and that person will describe, at the end of that period, a life of boredom.  Our perfect oasis in life, then is not a safe, comfortable, unchallenging escape from the joys and distresses that constitute our lives.

One of the most banal beverages is water.  However, try to live without it!  A quarter of the world eats potatoes as a staple part of the diet, while three quarters eat rice.  Can you think of foods with less taste?  On the other hand, foods like lemon, tomatoes, dark fruits and green vegetables have sometimes harsh, other times vigorous tastes, yet we need them, in abundance, to ensure health.  The analogy is simple: vitality springs from contrast and challenge.

In life, our staple foods for emotional wellbeing are competition and stress.  Like red wine, too much can be harmful.  Like chocolate – dark versus milk – stress and competition, to be healthy, must be the correct type.  Competition, like stress, can produce positive benefits, or erode our wellbeing.

Psychologist David Lowenstein states that “healthy competition can help a child have more energy and spirit, it can stimulate better performance.”  At the same time, unhealthy competition can destroy self-esteem and decrease incentive to achieve.  Low self-esteem is one of the significant contributors to stress, as is loss of control over a situation. 

Competition, where a party to the challenge is subjected to feelings of inferiority is likely to result in long-term effects, as well.  Consider the child who is repeatedly placed in a sports environment that emphasizes winning over personal improvement.  The result often is an insecure child.

As we move through life, competition can take nasty turns.  The movie, Mean Girls, highlighted that nastiness.  Facebook has become a forum for vindictive sniping at peers in the adolescent and teenage world, and has led to numerous suicides at the hands of victims who feel denigrated because they did not “fit in.”  That type of competition is extremely detrimental.

But competition is more than an element of sports, or social pecking order for teens.  Again, look to the office setting.  In such environments, the competition to dress “to the nines” results in a stressful focus on clothes, makeup and posturing.  On the other hand, in the rural environment, such preening would be ostracized. In the work world, the competition for jobs leads to backbiting and underhanded strategies to tear down opponents.   The stress that results destroys marriages, creates huge debt crises and encourages distorted perceptions of that which is important in life.

The answer to how to segregate good stress from bad, healthy competition from unhealthy is simple: release the need to be competitive in areas over which you have little control, like appearance or fancy possessions.

However, eliminating all competitive urges leads to a society disinterested in challenges and self-betterment, while cooperative competition leads to self-improvement and awareness of the benefit of rising to the challenge of making the world a better place. 

Ask the average person, again, to describe their idyllic oasis in life, once they understand the void that eliminating all challenges and competition in their world will create, and he is likely to opt for an environment where he can choose how, where and when he competes, but is unlikely to opt for a mellow, milquetoast world of indifference.  Thus, our individual oasis in life is less about passivity and indolence, and more about enjoying and embracing the stimulation of life, on terms in which we are comfortable engaging those challenges.  In short, our oasis is a place where we have a measure of control over those stressors and challenges that we feel that we have a reasonable expectation of hurdling.  We want competition, deep within. 

Monday, October 17, 2011

Your Bad Day Rarely More Than 5% Bad!
So you think you’re having a bad day?  Perhaps, the worst in your life!  Hyperbole aside, bad days rarely are truly bad.

Think of your morning commute.  A fifteen-minute delay in traffic.  Perhaps a rude driver cuts you off.  10 seconds, at most. That’s a mere 910 seconds out of a day of 86,400 seconds. The “bad day” has consumed no more than 1% of your day.  However, the delay puts you in a foul mood for the entire forty-minute drive, and the first half-hour of your workday. In turn, you snap at a couple of coworkers, and may make a mistake or two because of your elevated stress levels.  This consumes another ten minutes to correct. You’ve added eighty minutes of “bad” to your bad day!  Not only that, you’ve helped to ruin a few moments of your coworkers’ days; perhaps even more than that.  One percent has become 6.6%, very quickly. 

Still, if your “bad day” has no more than six or seven percent negative in it, that’s far from disastrous.  93% is still okay to great, if you adjust to the circumstances.  Unfortunately, many of us let the bad moments fester, and our day goes downhill.  It is all a matter of attitude, and yours is leading to unpleasant experiences.

In 1986 (June 6, to be precise), I had a relatively bad day, that started at about 10pm.  At that time, I was heading to my house with my children.  When I arrived, I found the door locked.  A moment of stupidity followed, where I pounded on the leaded glass window of the front door.  Hard.  Very hard.  It broke.

My arm went through the glass, and then the glass went through my arm, with a sharp spear about six inches long in the bottom of the frame slicing into my forearm, precisely at the wrong point.  My instant, reflexive reaction was to pull back.  That raked the flesh, muscle, tendons, nerves, artery and vein back toward my wrist for a distance of about five inches, into a messy pile.  Blood spurted like a wildcat oil well.  My hand flopped wildly back and forward as I flinched.  That was bad.  Less than three seconds, and, including the angry moment, less than thirty.  Out of 86,400.

Now that bad day had potential to get a lot worse, with the vast amount of blood I was losing.

I rushed into the house, to my dresser (or, more precisely, to the last drawer in the dresser that did not contain my wife’s clothes.  Ripping open the drawer, I grabbed one of my cotton tee shirts to use as a tourniquet, wrapping it tightly around my forearm, and slowing the flow.

I thought it was my tee shirt.  My wife, unknown to me, had commandeered my last drawer, and I had used one of her white tops.  I heard about it from her.

This still had potential to be horribly bad.  I needed to get to the hospital, quickly.  And my wife was screaming at me for ruining her $15 top!  That was when the fun started, as I saw it.  It even seemed grotesquely funny at that moment!

My wife had been home, but was disinclined to unlock the door for me.  The good luck was that she was in the company of a friend, who saw the urgency, quickly got me back into my car and drove me toward the hospital.  On the way, we intercepted a police car, heading for, of all places, a snack shop.

Local police generally are not supposed to transport emergency victims to the hospital.  They are to stabilize the patient, while summoning the ambulance.  I was not going to wait.  I was able to get out of my car, and made my way to the cruiser, opening the rear door myself.  The police re-entered the car and looked at me.  Didn’t put the car in drive, didn’t look to help this profusely bleeding individual.  Just looked at me, one by turning around, the other in the rear view mirror.  I knew my colour was pale.  But when I fell against the side of the door in weakness, the male cop turned more white that I could ever have been.

“Drive, drive, drive,” he screamed at the female cruiser pilot.  She drove.  That, too, was funny.

Within eight minutes, we were at the hospital emergency entrance.  However, neither cop seemed to have the strength or will to get out of the vehicle and assist me.  Both, now, turned to stare, terrified, at me.  I was trapped in the rear, bleeding to death.  I could feel the air conditioning start at my feet and well up my legs.  I could not release my grip on my left forearm, largely because I could no longer feel my hands.  The top of my head felt air-conditioned.  I knew what was happening, and, somehow at that moment, the absurdity of the situation was not particularly funny.  It was, in retrospect, but not at the moment. 

My good luck was that the cops had forewarned the hospital that I was arriving.  An orderly was waiting at the entrance, and, after a minute, stepped forward to let me out of the car.  The cops sat there, and as I looked back at them, they were staring in revulsion at the bloody mess that I had left behind on the rear seat.  I found that slightly amusing.

As I was wheeled to the intake desk of this newly renovated emergency area, I took note of the bright carpet in the area.  So did the intake nurse.  She gasped, when she noticed the blood that I was dripping onto the carpet, and quickly wheeled me onto a linoleum-covered area.  That, I confess, was morbidly funny, and I pondered why any sane  administrator would put down carpet in an emergency entrance.

The rest of the night was a mix of bizarre, tedium and graveside comedy.  The only doctor-in-residence on shift that night came in an hour after I had been wheeled into a quiet area, a compression bandage applied, and painkiller offered.  I had declined, because I absolutely was terrified of needles.  The doctor entered, lifted the compression bandage briefly, shuddered, uttered “ugh,” and left.  I never saw him again!  That was both absurd and somewhat frightening. Ten hours later, at 8 am, my plastic surgeon arrived to begin the reconstruction.  He was introduced as Dr. Robert Grafton.  What a marvellous name for a reconstructive surgeon!

Nine hours later, I saw him again, as I emerged from the anaesthesia.

“What kind of job did you do?” I asked him.

“Not as good as you,” he replied.  It was intended as humour, and I laughed.

The next day, I met my roommate, who had been asleep when I had usurped his territory on the ward the previous late afternoon.  He was a marvellous character, who had had his left elbow shattered by a baseball bat when he went to the assistance of a young man who was being beaten by several attackers.  From his left ear to the tips of his left fingers, he was a beautiful, translucent purple, with the skin so swollen that it looked like the balloon that was his arm would pop any second.  He spent a great deal of time on Demerol.  Anyone who calls the centre of nerves at the back of the elbow a “funny bone” should discuss that choice of words with my roommate at the hospital.  I felt pain just looking at the injury!

That was Sunday morning.  The entire weekend had been a Monty Python marathon on television.  We both, it turned out, loved Monty Python, and we both devoured episode after episode all day, well into early morning.  Neither of us bothered with any painkillers, from early Sunday afternoon, until the next morning.  We laughed so hard, so long, so loud that the nurses frequently came into the room to threaten to evict us from the hospital. It was not that other patients were being disturbed, as our door was shut.  It was merely that the staff wanted to be part of the experience of these two patients, supposedly in extreme pain, enjoying the night so fully and vivaciously.  That day was one of the best that I had had in years, throughout my crumbling marriage.

I learned from that accident that I can do a great deal with only one hand, and practised for months at improving those skills.  Prior to the accident, I loathed sales.  Because I could not return to my old occupation for many months, I took training in sales, and became a very successful salesperson. 

I found, most of all, that bad days – even as supposedly terrible as June 6, 1986 – most often are not bad.  I had less that 2% of my day that could be categorized as “bad.”  I saw a lot of unique situations, and even enjoyed a lot of laughs along the way.

The day would have been bad, if I had not reacted to staunch the negative flow.  By interacting with positive experiences, my bad day became a great one (albeit mightily inconvenient), and I grew, as a person, as a result of what was supposed to be a bad moment.

Before you let that jerk who cut you off ruin your day, and the days of those around you, think.  How many seconds really have been ruined?  Then get on with enjoying the rest of your day, even with its few not-so-great moments.  Have a great day!