Andy Peloquin

I am an artist – words are my palette

Category: My Thoughts (Page 2 of 17)

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Why is Self Improvement So Darn Hard?

Realizing we need to change or improve something in our lives or personalities is just the first step, and often the easiest one. After that comes the challenge of actually MAKING the change and keeping up with it.

But change and self-improvement is always easier said than done. It can be bloody difficult to continue making those changes to your lifestyle, speech habits, patterns of thinking, and behavior that leads to personal growth. According to one article on Psychology Today, there are a few factors that make self-improvement difficult:

Wrong motivation. When we’re motivated by negative emotions (fear, guilt, shame, regret, anxiety), it’s nearly impossible to sustain efforts to change. While these negative emotions can be the catalyst to begin the change, it’s positive emotions that lead to long-lasting results.

Too much all at once. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and you’re not going to be a totally new person overnight. Breaking down your long-term goals into short-term ones will make them more manageable. Instead of seeing things as huge, vague, overwhelming achievement, you’ll be able to tackle everything one bite at a time.

Cognitive biases. It’s easy to think “all or nothing” when it comes to change, but this cognitive bias is basically guaranteeing failure. After all, it’s nearly impossible to reach 100% success at anything. Change that way of thinking and be content with “some” success.

Too many changes at a time. Have you ever tried to change a tire while refilling brake fluid and washing the car? Sounds silly, but sadly we can approach personal growth with the same mentality of “I want to do everything at the same time”. Tackle one change at a time. Once you start seeing real progress, move on to another, but not a moment before!

Lack of commitment. Most of us WANT to change, but it’s hard to commit to lasting change over the long haul. This is where “commitment devices” come in: a plan to change, a commitment with a friend, or anything that provides a physical reminder of what we’ve determined to do.

Forgetting to plan for failure. No one wants to plan to fail, but failure is always more likely than success. The secret is using each failure to help you avoid the same mistakes each time. Plan to pick yourself up and try again when you fail the first, second, and third time.

Focusing on the end result. Self-improvement isn’t about hitting a goal and being content with an accomplishment. The real change comes during the journey, one step at a time. Don’t be so focused on the end result that you fail to see how important each step along the change process really is.

 

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Is Religion a “Safety Net”?

It’s an odd question, but one that’s been in my head for a few years thanks to this picture:

Funny, right? However, if you stop to think about it, it’s actually a bit chilling.

A 17th century philosopher named Blaise Pascal came up with “Pascal’s Wager” in which he approached religion from the standpoint of odds and outcomes:

  • If I believe in God and there is no God, I lose nothing.
  • If I don’t believe in God and there is a God, I suffer eternal damnation.

Logically speaking, everyone would believe in God just to avoid hellfire and suffering, right? Religion is a good “safety net”. We’re hedging our bets against what actually happens after we die, even if we have NO idea what happens or even if anything happens.

But is that actually a good reason to believe? Is that even true belief? Heck, from that standpoint, is there one belief that’s “safer” than others? Is Islam safer than Buddhism, or is Protestantism a better choice than Orthodoxy? Approaching it from this angle, you’re looking at a “numbers game” rather than true faith.

I wish I could have some simple, reductionist answer to this question. However, given that it’s stumped philosophers and theologians for centuries, I’m okay not having “the answer”.

Instead, I’m going to use an example that has stuck with me for decades, courtesy of C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia.

At the end of the series, one of the minor characters is in “Heaven”, but he’s freaking out because he served Tash, the antithesis of the God-esque Aslan. This is what happens:

“Then I fell at his feet and thought, Surely this is the hour of death, for the Lion (who is worthy of all honour) will know that I have served Tash all my days and not him. Nevertheless, it is better to see the Lion and die than to be Tisroc of the world and live and not to have seen him.”

“But the Glorious One bent down his golden head and touched my forehead with his tongue and said, Son, thou art welcome. But I said, Alas Lord, I am no son of thine but the servant of Tash. He answered, Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me. Then by reasons of my great desire for wisdom and understanding, I overcame my fear and questioned the Glorious One and said, Lord, is it then true, as the Ape said, that thou and Tash are one?”

“The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but his wrath was not against me) and said, It is false. Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites, I take to me the services which thou hast done to him. For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted.”

That little scene blew my teenaged mind in a way no Bible verse or religious text ever had. It gave me the simple answer that I still hold onto today:

  • Good deeds are to the credit of the positive force in the universe, by whatever name you call Him/Her
  • Bad deeds are to the credit of the negative force in the universe, by whatever name you call Him/Her

Actions = consequences, good or bad. The deity/spiritual entity you’re doing them for is far less important than the fact that you’re doing them. I believe that is the “safety net” that will serve you best in the afterlife or next life. The name you use is far less important!

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Time to Get Rid of Shame!

Shame, like ALL negative emotions, have a place in life. Or at least had a place in our primitive societies.

Shame is defined as “a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.” Looking at human society from the perspective of a “pack”, shame lets us know when we’re doing something wrong so we “stay in line” to avoid being rejected by the pack. In the wild, solitude means vulnerability. Staying in a pack is the key to survival.

But now, in our modern society, shame is a negative emotion that may be doing more harm than good. We are no longer part of a pack, but we are a society made up of individuals, each with their own unique quirks and characteristics. We’re not dependent on the alphas for food and survival, but we’re able to live in our own little “pack of one”. The feelings that kept our primitive ancestors alive may no longer be necessary.

Shame stops us from doing things that could damage important social relationships, thus preventing our devaluation. But if it becomes the strongest feeling in our lives, it can stop you from doing things that could lead to healthy social relationships.

Think about it: how many people attended comic book conventions when it was seen as “dorky” or “geeky”? I’ve had so many people tell me, “Oh, I remember when San Diego Comic Con was just 1,000 people.” Now, you get numbers in the hundreds of thousands attending a single event, coming from around the world. What was once a potentially “shameful” activity is now accepted as the norm.

Shame is no longer needed to survive, so it’s time to get rid of it. We need to stop being ashamed of the things we like, love, want, need, and feel. Shame will distort our perspective on things, tell us it’s “wrong” or “bad”. Really, shame is a form of anxiety—our worries that something we do will make you undesirable or devalued.

Say no to shame! Don’t let that anxiety stop you from doing something if it makes you happy, or to be who you want to be. Understand that shame is an instinctive reaction intended to keep you alive, but don’t let it control you. Knowledge is power, so know your shame and take power over it.

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The Misshaping Effects of Childhood Trauma

Our childhood is often called “the formative years”, and for very good reason! As hundreds of studies have proven, the things we see, learn, and encounter during our childhood years often stick with us for the rest of our lives. And, the traumas we experience will play a significant role in the formation of our identities as adults.

Psychology Today posted an interesting article describing ways that developmental trauma can affect adult identities. For example:

People who say “I never really had a childhood” are often missing pieces of their childhood because their brains suppressed traumatic memories. They’ll often have vivid memories, but their recollections of their childhood will often be disjointed or lacking context.

People who tend to self-destructive relationships are often repeating the trauma they experienced in their relationship with an important figure (key caregivers) in their lives. Unconsciously, they are repeating that relationship over and over.

People who say “I’ve always felt a part of myself was missing” may have dissociated themselves from a traumatic memory or experience in order to cope with it. They may also rely heavily on one aspect of their persona, leaving other aspects underdeveloped or even ignored.

People who avoid relationships are often those who have experienced trauma involving intimate relationships during their developmental years. They isolate themselves as a method of protection from further pain.

People who say “I don’t really have strong feelings about things” often come from families where strong emotions weren’t important or didn’t belong. Emotional numbing doesn’t actually mean people don’t feel emotions; they simply don’t know how to process, predict, or manage them.

People who avoid thinking or talking about themselves are often trying to avoid recalling negative memories from their developmental years. Any reminder could bring those memories bubbling up, which is why they prefer to avoid it.

Fascinating, isn’t it? So many of us have these attitudes or perceptions, so it’s interesting to examine them critically and find out WHY we think and act this way.

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Why You Should Be Happy About Disappointment

That sounds like a bit of an oxymoron, doesn’t it? How can you possibly be happy with something that disappoints you?

Well, to answer that question, you have to delve a little deeper into what disappointment really is…

The dictionary defines it as “the feeling of sadness or displeasure caused by the nonfulfillment of one’s hopes or expectations.”  Basically, it means we’re sad/displeased because we didn’t get the thing we hoped/expected would make us happy.

Which leads to the question: what if that wasn’t really the thing that would make us happy?

In my post “The Endless and Exhausting Pursuit of Happiness“, I talked about how we’re often so busy looking for something we believe will make us 100% happy that we fail to enjoy the things that hit the 50% happiness mark. And, when we never find that 100% happy thing, we feel dissatisfied.

How does this connect? Simple: disappointment can help us to evaluate our perceptions of the things that make us happy!

When we’re disappointed about something, it gives you a chance to look at WHY we feel that disappointment. There’s a very real chance the thing we’re disappointed about is something that we believed would make us happy, but in reality it won’t. We’re so fixated on something or someone that we feel that disillusionment when we fail to get it.

Next time you get that feeling, stop to examine what it is you’re disappointed about. Maybe it’s a “future hope” that brings more anxiety than is healthy, and you’ll actually be happier if you live in the present moment. Or it’s something you were 100% certain you wanted, but in reality you’re just as happy without it (once the initial disappointment passes, of course).

Disappointment is a negative feeling, but it can bring about a positive outcome. If you take the time to examine the thing that’s causing the feelings, you can discover just how wrong or right your perceptions, hopes, and expectations are. In the long run, that self-examination will lead to personal growth.

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Less Testosterone = More Civilization?

I stumbled across an article yesterday on Psychology Today titled “Did a Drop in Testosterone Civilize Modern Humans?” Basically, the article explains how the physical changes in Homo sapiens (skull and facial feature sizes and shapes) indicate a decrease in testosterone levels.

How is this possible? Studies have proven that impaired testosterone can lead to less “masculine” features among men: less prominent brows, a rounder face, etc. Higher testosterone levels lead to more masculine features, including a longer face and more prominent brows. So, the fact that the Homo sapiens’ skull and facial structure changed could very well be the result of lower testosterone levels.

But the article goes on to link these changes to an increase in civilization. Before Homo sapiens, there was little in the way of tools, language, written language, agriculture, and other early technology. Some pre-historic humans went extinct before Homo sapiens developed these things. If this correlation actually did exist, it could point to some pretty interesting things about the role of testosterone in society.

Testosterone is the hormone responsible for aggression in both men and women. One study found that increasing the levels of testosterone in the male brain led to increased reactivity of the hypothalamus, amygdala, and periaqueductal grey when confronted with angry facial expressions. The result: a higher aggression and threat-processing response. In the same test, MRI imaging revealed that men with lower testosterone levels responded less aggressively to the same stimuli.

We’ve all heard people talking about what would happen if women ruled the world, how there would be less violence and wars. Perhaps there is some truth to that! After all, women tend to have lower testosterone levels, meaning less reaction when confronted with anger or negative emotions that would trigger a threat-response or aggressive reaction in men.

This isn’t a dig against men—after all, I’m definitely fully in the “man” category of my species. But I find it an interesting look at the way our biochemistry could work against us.

As men, we have a natural reaction to respond to hostility with hostility. When we perceive someone or something as a threat, our instinct is to get aggressive and “deal with it”.

Time to stop and realize that it’s just our brains triggering that response! Once we realize that our instinctive reaction is biological instead of something that is actually thought through and analyzed, it may help us take a step back to avoid the hostility or confrontation. We could all afford to dial back the aggression a bit, so understanding the way our brains trigger this reaction gives us the power to say, “No, this is not how I actually feel, so I’m not going to react this way.”

Combat and aggression averted!

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The Origin of Bias and Prejudice

Sadly, it is human nature to be biased or prejudiced against those who are different from us. No matter how “evolved” we think we are, there will always be a subconscious reaction to the things that separate us from those around us and vice versa.

The belief that “opposites attract” is absolutely true. As humans, we are attracted to the new, unique, and novel. Our curiosity is aroused when we encounter something that is different from what we are familiar with. We have to explore it, study it, and find out as much as we can about it. The human brain has an innate desire to broaden our horizons and understandings.

Knowing that, it seems odd that we would feel bias or prejudice toward something that is different or new, right?

Well, it’s all about how our brains process new information. One new piece of information, we can absorb it no problem. Ten to twenty, sure! But when our brains are overloaded with new information, it can be too much all at once for us to handle. This triggers feelings of fear and distress—the primal instinct that protects us from danger.

When we are introduced to someone or something that is “too different” from what we know, it can bring on those feelings of fear and anxiety. The human response is aggression or avoidance of anything that causes those feelings. Thus, we are instinctively biased against the new or different because it makes us afraid.

Prejudice is defined as “preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience”, while the definition of bias is “prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair.”

Notice how prejudice is “not based on reason or actual experience”? It’s just our brains responding to an overwhelming amount of new information that it isn’t equipped to handle. When we see someone of a different color, facial structure, sexual or gender identity, or hair color or hear an idea that is too far outside our normal way of thinking, our innate reaction is fear, disgust, and avoidance or rejection.

Understanding this is the key to overcoming bias and prejudice. Once we realize that bias is OUR fault—the fault of our brains being overloaded, really—it puts things into perspective. It’s on us to help our brain adapt to the new information (however long it takes) so that we can once again experience the wonder and joy of exploring the unknown.

 

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What is Grit? 

One of the things I’ve realized about most of the protagonists I’ve written (in The Last Bucelarii, Queen of Thieves, and my short stories) is that they all tend to be very gritty, determined people. When faced with an obstacle or challenge, they “buckle down and get on with it”. Even after the initial hesitation or trepidation, they rise to the challenge.

I like to think of myself of a gritty person. No, not that I am sandy or pebbly, but that I have the resolve to take on daunting challenges.

I found an interesting article on Psychology Today that looks at the four traits of a gritty person:

Interest – In order to succeed, there has to be something you’re interested in. But more than that, you need to be passionate about it. The passion is what helps you to keep pushing forward when your motivation fails. Your love for something is often the only thing that stops you from giving up.

Purpose – This is sort of a companion to interest or passion. We all have a reason for doing something; not just the immediate, short-term benefits, but the long-term payoff. By understanding how our present efforts will benefit us (and possibly others) in the long run, it’s easier to have something to cling to when the going gets tough.

Practice – Gritty people are always practicing, but not only to keep doing the same thing day in and out. They are conscious of what they’re doing and trying to improve every day. This helps them to capitalize on their existing skills, develop new skills, and combine the two to become a master at their craft.

Hope – This is an abstract concept, but it’s possibly the most important one of the four. They say, “You’re only beat when you don’t get back up.” We keep getting back up because we hope things will get better with time, or that our efforts will improve our or someone else’s life. Without that hope, grit fails. Hope can carry us through the greatest hardships.

 

 

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Why I Keep My Writing Area Clean

No, this isn’t a “look at me, I’m so good” post. It’s actually something I wanted to share because it has helped me to improve my productivity significantly.

A few months ago, as I was checking out Psychology Today for interesting articles to blog about, I found an old post about the importance of getting rid of clutter. The post was aimed at people with ADD, but I took the advice to heart and decided to unclutter my desk.

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Where the magic happens

 

Or, at least the part of my desk that was directly in my field of vision. Since doing so, I’ve been much more productive and far less prone to distractions. By keeping my devices (phone, iPad) and other necessary items out of my direct line of sight, it was easier to forget about them and focus only on what I was doing.

Yesterday, I found another interesting article on Psychology Today titled, “5 Reasons to Streamline Your Life“. Basically, it gives five simple reasons why it’s important to unclutter your spaces:

  1. Clutter stops your home from feeling like a “retreat”. Your home (or work space, for me) should be your place of peace, but clutter actually stops you from identifying the space as “home”. Instead, it feels more like something else that needs cleaning.
  2. Clutter creates stress and decreases mental wellbeing. A 2017 study found that a clean, uncluttered environment helped to improve “mental hygiene”, leading to better workplace satisfaction.
  3. Clutter leads to poor food choices. Say what? An Australian study found that people who lived in chaotic environments were more prone to poor food choices (snacking).
  4. Clutter impedes efficient thinking. Your eyes are always processing information, so anything in your direct field of vision is taking up “mental real estate”. That means less real estate is available for processing other, more important information.
  5. Clutter prevents effective visual processing. More visual stimuli can “dilute” your attention, making it harder for your brain to process information. The more cluttered the background, the harder it is to interpret emotional expressions on others’ faces.

Fascinating, isn’t it? A bit of clutter really can make a huge (negative) difference in productivity. I’m going to keep doing my best to unclutter my desk and maintain a distraction-free field of vision. It’s worked wonders so far, and will continue to free up mental real estate for all the important tasks I need to accomplish throughout the day.

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Author Spotlight: Joshua Robertson

Instead of my usual Monday blog post, I’m going to do something a bit different. I’m going to talk about an author who has done a lot to help me in the recent past—an author whose work I believe deserves attention.

Joshua Robertson is a fellow dark fantasy author, one I met through one of the many Facebook groups I’m a part of. He released his first book (Anaerfell) around the same time I released Blade of the Destroyer, and our marketing/promotion/writing efforts have run along a similar vein. Joshua also started his own press (Crimson Edge), which has gone on to publish some pretty amazing books.

I’ve also enjoyed reading his books, as you can see by the reviews I posted:

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His Short Stories

Throughout the last year or so, I’ve found myself asking Joshua for advice on all sorts of topics related to publishing, marketing, and building an author brand in general. For example, he was the one who advised me to release my short stories as a collection (coming October 2017!) rather than posting them individually on Amazon. He’s also given me A TON of excellent advice that has helped me to improve my author brand in general.

I’m sharing this with you today (not my usual Book Review Wednesday) is because Joshua is running a special promotion on Anaerfell that ends today. I figured it was a small way I could say “Thank you” for everything he’s done to help me in the past.

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Drast and Tyran might be considered a bit black-hearted, or even immoral. Drast is cunning but reckless, hunting for admiration. Tyran is calculating but tactless, searching for affection. When the two brothers set aside their ambitions to fulfill their father’s desire for immortality, they readily discover many opportunities for redemption.

Now, while wielding a powerful magic that drains their life, Drast and Tyran will embark on a maddening quest, facing skin-switchers, dragons, and the God of the Dead.

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Find the Book at $0.99 on Amazon (60% Discount)

Here’s a Taste:

The room still whirled from last night. He tried to close his eyes to keep his stomach from doing the same, but closing his eyes actually made it worse. Drast was somewhat surprised that the drink was still affecting him like this. He had been having more than his fill for—he did not know how long. How long ago did Tyran leave? His mind was too foggy to remember. And Walstan was gone, too.

Vaguely, Drast saw that the sky was just turning blue with the rising sun. At least, he was fairly certain it was sunrise. None of the hues of sunset had begun to color the sky.

“Ser Drast?”

He turned his head to the entrance into his chambers and pulled himself more upright to lean against the nightstand beside his bed. One of the serving women stood just inside of his room. “What?”

“The Arkhon wishes to speak with you.”

He was not certain what string of curses came from his lips, but the maid blanched and her face grew pink, almost to the color of her hair. The room swirled again while she spoke.

“What?” he asked again.

“I said, Ser Drast, the Arkhon instructed me to remain with you until you came to meet with him.” Her voice quivered.

She was right to fear him. Her voice was fuzzy, just like everything. But, he knew he had not been particularly kind to any of the servants of late. He had managed to avoid his father by effectively frightening the servants. Their fear, combined with late nights, ale, and sleeping until the sun set, had allowed him to avoid talking with anyone who did not enjoy a mug or two.

A few of the servants had initially joined him in drinking. He loosely recalled this maid among them. Ura? Mura? Lura?

“Kura,” he finally muttered. He had been a little too handsy and she had since avoided him like—he could not clearly comprise a simile. Like. Like? Like the moon avoided the sun? Good enough.

“Yes, Kura,” she murmured.

Drast spat at the chamber pot. He was fairly certain he missed. “Well, come on in, Kura.” He belched. “I know how we can pass the time.”

About the Authors:

Joshua Robertson was born in Kingman, Kansas on May 23, 1984. A graduate of Norwich High School, Robertson attended Wichita State University where he received his Masters in Social Work with minors in Psychology and Sociology. His bestselling novel, Melkorka, the first in The Kaelandur Series, was released in 2015. Known most for his Thrice Nine Legends Saga, Robertson enjoys an ever-expanding and extremely loyal following of readers. He counts R.A. Salvatore and J.R.R. Tolkien among his literary influences.

Website: www.robertsonwrites.com/
Twitter: @robertsonwrites

J.C. lives in the Midwest with his wife and two dogs. He recently earned his MA in English Literature and is working on his debut novel for his own fantasy world. Despite growing up with Dungeons & Dragons, Lord of the Rings, and a collection of both Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms novels, J.C. has an abiding love of classics and spends his free time reading anything he can get his hands on.

Website: www.crimsonedgepress.com

Twitter: @jcboyd_author

 

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