Anxiety can help

Oh, thank god. You can’t believe how anxious I get about events: the sole thing I’ve found can stop me worrying about a forthcoming gig is to have another gig to worry about it first. But 99U claims that anxiety can be good for you. Obviously within limits, neither they nor I want to encourage you to do anything that could get us sued, but.

Calming yourself down is often the wrong thing to do. Research by Alison Wood Brooks at Harvard Business School found that when participants interpreted their nerves as excitement (for example, by saying to themselves “I’m excited!”), they gave better public presentations than those who tried to relax.

If you’re not anxious at all about an upcoming test, it probably means you don’t care. It’s only when anxiety becomes excessive and out of control that it starts to harm your performance. Psychologists have known about this anxiety “sweet spot” for decades…

The Unexpected Benefits of Anxiety – Christian Jarrett, 99U (undated, probably 22 June 2015)

Read the full piece for links to the research and a graph of that anxiety sweet spot thing.

How to fall asleep in seconds

Look, if this works for you then that’s great. I offer that exercises to make you sleep sooner at night have more of a chance of working if you’re ahead on your work and aren’t worried about your mortgage.

But there’s this doctor, see, who doesn’t agree:

You simply breathe in through your nose for four seconds, hold your breath for seven seconds, and exhale through your mouth for eight seconds.

When you feel stressed or anxious, adrenaline courses through your veins, your heart beats at a rapid rate, and your breathing becomes quick and shallow…. [The] effect of the breathing technique feels almost like a sedative drug, because in order to hold your breath for seven seconds and then to exhale for eight—when your breath is so shallow and short—your body is forced to slow your heart rate. It has no choice. Holding your breath, and then slowly, deliberately exhaling for eight seconds, causes a chain reaction. It feels like going from a mad-dash sprint to a finish line to a slow, leisurely, calming stroll through the park.

How to Fall Asleep In Less Than 1 Minute – 99U

Read the full piece on the 99U website for more.

Yes, I use technology a lot, but…

I’m going to be circumspect here because I don’t want someone to know that I’m worrying about them quite this much. I’m certain sure they’ll be fine, I just worry because I wonder.

This is someone who does not use technology.

Now, that might be true of you too, except that of course if it is then hello, welcome to your first use of technology. There is no reason you should be in to this stuff, just as there is no reason in the world I should ever be interested in football.

Except that I guess that’s a lie. There is reason to use tech.

I don’t like that. If I told this person that there were reasons, they would all be about work. I run my business through my iPhone and iPad, I am not short of reasons why this stuff is great. But automatically putting it that way feels like automatically saying you should use it. It feels like saying you should forget what you like and don’t like, you should – you must – use technology. That’s not me, that’s not the way I want to be.

Listen, I have a friend who owns an Android phone.

I don’t phone her, but.

You can’t really urge someone to use this stuff by saying they have to. It’s like saying you must buy this computer instead of that because its backside cache is better. It might be true for all I know, but it’s no actual use to for making the decision. It’s no use to you at all.

This particular person does tend to use what I’d call Stone Age computers and I have the impression that doing anything on them is a chore. If that were me, I wouldn’t bother doing it and I think I’d soon conclude that anyone who did is a bit of a geek. Unless you like computers, you wouldn’t put yourself through this alchemy.

So I do get why she might not be drawn to technology. I do. I just think she sees it as something geeks use. I think she sees it all as a toy. That it’s happy for you if you want to play in your sandbox, that it’s not for her.

It is for her.

It is very for her.

She’s joining the legal profession: technology is made for her.

I imagine whatever firm she ends up with is perhaps likely to issue her with a phone but I know for certain sure that the firm she ends up with will be built on technology. She’ll have to use it, so she’ll have to learn it, and I think that makes all this a slog.

You just want to say that of course you wouldn’t miss that appointment change if you could read your emails on the way like all your rivals. You just want to say that Evernote would fix that problem. OmniFocus would completely remove that worry.

You want to say that your rivals will be the ones in court with the ability to find and cite page 112 before you’ve got the book out.

But you don’t. So instead you write a blog post about it and hope that by the end you’ve formed your thoughts into some kind of order, said William writing on his iPad and posting to the web via a WordPress app. Technology much? Doesn’t seem like it here, this seems straightforwardly, boringly obvious.

Don’t worry, be whatever

Oh, give me a break. There’s a site that has collected quotes about worry. And it’s called The Sunshine and Apples Inky-Poo Positivity Site. Okay, I made that up. But puh-leese. Can we just get on with things and not start quoting each other? T’is a slippery slde from that to armed insurrection.


“If you want to test your memory, try to recall what you were worrying about one year ago today.”
– E. Joseph Cossman, quoted on The Positivity Blog (Undated by believed to be 16 July 2014)

Okay, I’ll give them that. Can’t argue with that.

And actually, I can’t argue with most of the quotes on the site. Curses.

Go ahead, worry some more

A friend used to write for Z Cars, back when it was done live, and he told me once that they used to place buckets in between the sets. For the actors to throw up in as they ran between scenes. I once had a pitch meeting where I was so scared I arrived early, opened the car door in the carpark and vomited.

I then went into the pitch meeting and did it again, more metaphorically.

So clearly vomit is key. But if you go through this, you also go through the circle of worrying why you worry, you wonder if you’re inadequate. And then if you’re ever a little bit okay about something, you worry why you aren’t worrying. You worry if you’re now less adequate still. And of course you wonder why you went into this stupid career or how you ever thought you could this stupid thing.

But that might be okay.

New research from East Asia provides a solution for this apparent paradox. It finds that, for certain people, worry can actually enhance creativity.

Call it the Woody Allen effect.

“The emotions that benefit creativity may not be the same for all individuals,” concludes a research team led by psychologist Angela Leung of Singapore Management University.

If worry is your default state, intensifying it slightly may actually prompt more flexible thinking.
Its study finds that, when the pressure is on, worry appears to be a motivating force for neurotic people. “Higher levels of intrinsic motivation in turn predict greater flexibility in idea generation,” the researchers add in the journal Emotion.

Leung and her colleagues describe three experiments that provide evidence for their thesis. One of them featured 274 Taiwanese university students, who began by filling out a questionnaire designed to measure intrinsic neuroticism. They were then asked to recall a happy, worrisome, or neutral experience.

Half were then instructed to memorize an eight-digit number, which they would later be asked to recall. This placed them in a stressful, high-cognitive-load state. The others memorized a two-digit number, a far easier task.

At that point, all were instructed to come up with “as many uses for a brick as possible.” After doing so, they recorded whether they found the experience interesting and fun.

The result: Under the heavy cognitive load, neurotic people displayed more flexible thinking after recalling worrisome events. This was in contrast to people low on the neuroticism scale, who displayed the most mental flexibility after recalling neutral events.

For Some, Worry Inspires Creativity – Tom Jacobs, Pacific Standard: the Science of Society (26 June 2014)

I don’t like the Woody Allen peg, that feels like an excuse for a stock photo when they’ve got nothing else to use. But at least it gives me an excuse for an apposite quote from him:

More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.

My Speech to the Graduates – Woody Allen, included in Complete Prose (Amazon UK, Amazon US (originally written 1979)

via 99u