Superbetter

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Find your awesomeness! Let your inner light shine! Love yourself like you love your friends!

Statements that would have made me squirm not so long ago. My deeply rooted beliefs in science, objectivity and reason together with my analytical nature and Finnish pessimism have not been a fertile soil for self-love and positivity, and despite my multiple efforts of becoming happier, I didn’t seem to succeed. A year and a half ago I initiated a personal project where I implemented new positive changes into my life every week and at the time, things seemed to be moving forward and I thought I had figured out the key to my happiness-lock.

I hadn’t. Instead of actually being happy, I had created an abundance of rules to live by. I approached happiness as something I needed to execute.

Without going into details, I will say that the last year has been the toughest of my life. It has taken a lot of mental work, compassion from my friends and family and plain old time to get to the point where I am now. As cliche as it sounds, the darkest place allowed me to see the light. I have chosen the path of personal growth, maturity and most of all love and understanding to move on in life. And it is hard as hell! But, it is worth it.

This time has made a few things very clear. The most important – and most difficult – lesson has been self love. I’ve grown into thinking that I always need to strive for something better and that self improvement is an ultimate definition of being a good human being. I still believe in that but I have learned that it can be done only through positivity. I can’t guilt or punish myself to become better.

The second lesson is that I can’t let other people’s opinions and thoughts define my path. No matter what kind of choices I make in life, there will be people who disagree. I will continue to want the best even for the ones who dislike me because of my choices, but pleasing people who barely belong into my life is not a road to happiness.

The third difficult lesson has been to truly listen to others and to accept their truth. At first this seemed to contradict the previous point but I’ve found out that it really doesn’t. Being flexible and having the ability to adapt is a good quality but that does not mean changing one’s mind whenever different opinions are presented. I do not have to agree with everything, just to be respectful and considerate, to really listen and stop putting my own opinions on everyone else. Having real conversations, asking questions and challenging people’s thoughts is great but just lecturing people on how to think and hihglighting my own perspectives is not.

It is so easy to talk about positivity and the changes it takes but actually putting those things into practice is a bit more complicated than that. It takes so much strength to let go of complaining and blaming others and the environment for your own troubles. It takes even more maturity to respect people despite their mistakes and to respect oneself despite being imperfect and making mistakes. One must be strong to be able to make the choice of loving and respecting others even when you feel hurt. And most of all, focusing on self improvement and growth even when you have no guarantee that others will do the same, takes a great deal of will power and self compassion. Personally, one of the biggest challenges has been to stop hiding behind words and start living by the principles I talk about.

At the moment, I find myself being happier than in years for a very simple reason. I decided to be. I didn’t decide to try or to work on it, but to actually be.

It’s not easy. Life is full of misunderstandings, struggles, jealousy, hatred, violence… I mean, the whole planet is on the verge of war or already in war. Sometimes all the negative things just seem overwhelming and there are so many reasons not to be happy. Being happy might even seem inconsiderate. But I believe that any person willing to do good in the world needs to make the choice of being bigger than the difficulties in their own life.

Things that have helped me in this decision, have been both big and small. Partly I feel like for me it required the massive shaking of my life. Loosing something important opened my eyes to seeing how my own behavior and thoughts played a part in the process. This helped in making a conscious choice of changing my thoughts and feelings and taking concrete steps towards a new way of thinking all the time. So basically, the moment my own role in my unhappiness sank in, I had to change. If I made the choice but allowed myself to get there little by little or slowly, it would have been like an alcoholic getting sober little by little.

Now, back to where I started from. Find your awesomeness! As childish as this statement sounded at first, I find it quite handy now. I started finding my awesomeness through a game called Superbetter. I happened to notice a TED talk where the inventor of the game explained how she came up with the idea of a “happiness game”. The game gave me a joyful way of dealing with my hardships. It made becoming better fun and guilt-free. I highly recommend it to every one willing to enjoy life more. It doesn’t tell you to ignore your hardships like some overly positivity-focused people might do, but it tells you to look at your hardships as something you can fight against. It empowers you because the things you will be doing to get better, are small and easy. To learn more, go to http://www.superbetter.com.

I’m so happy to have finally allowed myself to enjoy life and to love myself. It makes dealing with the tough stuff so much easier and it makes me a better person. I’m more fun to be around, I’m more productive and most importantly, I feel better about myself and thus I am finally able to love and care about people the way they are without the need to judge everyone.

Project: 14 weeks of positive change, week 11

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This week’s step of change is about exercising. I am already in a good shape but I want to be in a better shape. I want to be fit and I want to reach my full physical capabilities. Therefore, I need to start training more hardcore!

I have lots of very good exercises from the time when I was still skating. We had professional physical trainers who helped us out based on our individual needs and in the process, I learnt quite a lot about different training methods, why they work and how they can be used together to strain your body in a versatile and healthy way.


DAY 1

Push ups, handstands, bridges, planking… Today’s theme was arms and static exercises. I have wanted to learn a hand stand for such a long time that now it is finally time to make it happen. And it really isn’t about anything else than just getting used to it because I am able to do it against the wall very well and sometimes stay in a real handstand for a little while too.

I think I did nearly 150 push ups – 15 of each variation. Wide, narrow, one arm, on a chair, fingers pointing in, fingers pointing out, on the balance board… I’ve never been a big fan of doing push ups so I need to try to make it interesting and fun for myself. Trying to figure out creative variations makes me forget a bit about the repetitions and I focus on the challenge of thinking instead. I even tried push ups while I was in a bridge. I ended up bumping my head to the floor a few times but it was still fun.

I get a lot of aerobic exercise while teaching and dancing (especially house dance) and that’s why I want to focus on other kinds of exercises. Dancers need power, speed and endurance just as every athlete needs them. We also need balance, flexibility and coordination. The fun thing is that you automatically work on all those things if you really train dancing. But I believe, that it is still necessary to work on them separately – especially if the lack of some quality makes it more difficult to learn something in dance. Also, developing these qualities prevents injuries and your body won’t get used to just certain type of strain.

DAY 5

I did the second hardcore exercise of the week after teaching. I’ve always been flexible but I want to be even more so and develop my ability not just to stretch but to be able to “do stuff” with my flexibility. In other words, I want to be like a gymnast or a ballerina – flexible and strong. You know the way a ballerina can just raise her leg very high without helping with the hands? That kind of stuff.

Right now, I don’t know of a better way of gaining that kind of ability but to start doing it as well as I can. This means trying to stay in the positions as long as possible. In practice: I grab my leg, take it as high as I can, find balance and, stay there. When I start feeling like I can’t anymore, I let go of my leg and try to resist it coming down. And the other way around: starting from the ground, I take my leg up as high as I can get it without helping with my hands, losing a good posture or letting my leg turn inwards. Using all the ballet exercises I know from the years of dancing it, is really good workout. So far I haven’t found anything as effective as ballet to learn to understand the outline of your body and how it works. I’m dreaming of going back to ballet classes when I have time for it.

I was quite exhausted after two hours of this kind of work out. I maintained a slow tempo and didn’t do many repetitions because the goal was to keep one position until I couldn’t anymore.

DAY 7

Today’s work out was basically dancing. The goal was to push my stamina and go beyond the point when I felt like I couldn’t continue. It was the perfect weekend for this because one of the dance schools I teach in had a camp for all the competing teams which meant hours and hours of teaching for me. On Saturday, I started at 8:30 am and finished at 7:30 pm and today I started at 9 am and the session after teaching finished at 9 pm.

When the session started, I was already on the edge. Taking the stairs up felt like mission impossible but somehow I still made it. I’m glad that music and the other dancers always help me to find whatever bits of energy I still have left in me, and so they did this time. After every run (after every time I danced on my turn) I was certain that I wouldn’t enter anymore. But then came the next great song or some one else exceeded, and I just had to jump in. I was literally dead afterwards. And I was happy. I hadn’t given up even though on some standards I had a good reason to.

This kind of mentality is extremely important. Do not give yourself an excuse. Find reasons to push your limits from anywhere and everywhere. That is the only way to make progress.

Project: 14 weeks of positive change, week 10

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For 14 weeks I keep adding new ways of behaving and thinking to my life weekly and see how they affect my well being. The goal is of course to make only positive changes that help me become the best version of myself that I can be.

I always have very high expectations of myself no matter what I do. Succeeding and coming up with solid products has in a way become a definition of who I am over the years, and not just something that I do repeatedly. This is the way I want things to be but, I have also noticed that sometimes I go over the top. Too high demands can block creativity and actually make the end product worse than it could be under a more relaxed condition.

Many of my friends have told me repeatedly that I over-achieve and lately, I’ve had so many things to do that I simply cannot pay an excess amount of attention to all of them, and therefore, week 10 is about “loosening it up”. In other words: putting things in order (first things first), deciding which things to carefully plan and execute and which just to get over with. The week is also about acceptance and leniency: I, as a human being and not a robot, must accept that I make mistakes and that I need help (I hate asking for help) and that I shouldn’t punish myself for these things. So, I’m having quite a mental week ahead of me.


DAY 2

The day had an early start as I went to a meeting at 7 am. After that I had a few lectures and then after studying for some hours I substituted three dance classes in the evening. Many of my days are like this but still I try to obey my own advice and hold on to the new habits that I’m trying to form in this project.

Today, I came to the conclusion that I must allow myself some leeway with respect to my steps of change. Holding on slavishly to all the new activities is, to be honest, a bit stressful in itself. Change is always stressful. But since the goal is to be happy – not perfect – part of the process is to determine how much change do I want and how fast. 10 new ways of life is a lot and there’s still 4 to come.

DAY 4

Today started well – I got an email from the student bureau, saying that my bachelor’s thesis has been accepted with the highest possible grade. I’m really happy! But, this also made me think about what makes me happy. Shouldn’t there be more to be happy about than just a high grade?

I have always liked getting good grades and I’ve always been proud of it. But, at the same time, being “the best” student has interfered with other very human things and that has made me sad at times. So, in a way I have traded sociability to academic success and maybe lost some of my happiness in the trade. That’s why instead of focusing on the achievement, I try to focus on the process: I am now involved in dance therapy research and that allows me to combine two of the things I’m passionate about. I get to work with great, intelligent people and create something that might help dancers and dance teachers speak for their art and its importance.

DAY 6

I was quite torn between things today. The first half of the day I spent on my computer doing statistics homework (deadline tomorrow) and then I had to choose whether to go to a small dance event or not and after that we had a family dinner. The over-achiever in me kept saying that I should skip the jam and just keep doing the homework, then quickly go to my parents’ house and continue to work after. But after listening more carefully to what I really wanted to do, I went to the jam, had a great time dancing and sweating, then went to my parents’ house, ate great food and stayed for a few extra hours just to talk with them.

Why was this the right decision for me? It made me happy. Will I score perfectly on the homework? Most likely not. Does it matter? Not really. Spending time with your loved ones isn’t comparable with spending time on your computer with SPSS.

DAY 7

I had to compensate for yesterday’s decision of not finishing my homework. That meant that I skipped one hour of practice and worked while others were dancing. I must say it was quite a good incentive to just get it done to hear good music and people cheering.

Overall, knowing myself, it is very important to know what am I going after. What do I want from this project? I do it for myself – not for anyone else. Sharing it here, shouldn’t be a reason to do this but just a small incentive to stay consistent. Still, choosing not to do something every day is OK as long as I’m happy with that decision.

It is interesting how the train of thought can lead to a somewhere where you weren’t planning to go to. Starting from the thought that I’m allowed to skip some of the steps of change that I have defined myself, I ended up thinking a lot about why I do things and what do I want. And this lead to thinking that doing things just because I want to do them, is completely natural. Some things can be driven by deeper reasons, but I tend to let myself only do those things as if just wanting something isn’t good enough.

Lots of thinking. This was some bits while most of it got onto the pages of my diary (week 6!). These thoughts will definitely keep maturing but one thing is for sure. It feels good to breathe. It feels good to get things done but also to be able to do something fun in the between. Life shouldn’t be all about duties.

Project: 14 weeks of positive change, week 7

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Outdoor activities have many positive health implications; they enhance your mood, reduce negative feelings, improve your ability to focus, might speed up recovery from sickness, lower your blood pressure and if nothing else, give you temporary joy. My step of change for week 7 is to spend more time outdoors.


DAY 2

Today was a long day at school. Tuesday is the only day during the week free of dance teaching and that’s why I usually try to study as much as I can. I haven’t slept very well for a few nights because I’ve been working late and waking up early for lectures. So, I was quite tired but still I wanted to get things done.

I decided to have a break always after 1,5 hours of working. First lunch break and then the next breaks I spent outside, walking for ten minutes. Fresh air did its thing and I was able to focus despite the tiredness.

DAY 7

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During the week I’ve tried to add to my time spent outdoors by getting out of a bus or tram a few stops before my usual stop, walking to school and back and sometimes going a bit further away instead of the nearest grocery store to buy food.

This weekend I was in Amsterdam to enter a dance competition called House Dance Forever. One of the good things about traveling is that you always walk a lot – and so I did this time too. It is also the time of the year when even Finland starts to get glimpses of the sun again and that makes walking a lot more fun. Fresh air really is a miraculous thing and usually even a few minutes is enough to shake off most of the tiredness, at least for some time. So definitely adding short walks here and there makes a very big positive difference in my vitality and alertness.

I’m still on a very tight schedule overall so I will write more after a few weeks. I can tell that right now I’m on a critical point in my progress – the novelty of things is fading and often I feel like taking the easy road to spare time and energy. But knowing that all these things contribute to my well being and giving up would definitely make me feel bad, I’m trying hard to stay on the right path. I’m holding on to the thought that even though some of these things (extra stretching, walks, writing a diary etc) take more of my time, they also help me to work more efficiently and in that way to save time.

Project: 14 weeks of positive change, week 5

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Men are disturbed, not by things, but by the principles and notions which they form concerning things –Epictetus

For my whole life, I have been an outsider and not many people understood me well. I have been lonely, misunderstood and unappreciated. People have used me and my willingness to do good and I never get what I deserve. I have failed compared to what I could have been by now.

Or have I?

I used to have that kind of thoughts running wild in my brain when I was younger. I honestly believed that nobody liked me and that I was never good enough for anything. Without going much further to the dynamics and origins of these thoughts, I’ll say that I’m much more lenient on myself nowadays than back then and I have learnt to appreciate myself more. I’m not nearly as dependent on what other people think of me as I used to be which allows me to be and breathe more freely.

In the uni, we have studied different therapy forms and one step in my project is to start applying principles of what we call “solution centered therapy”  and just positive thinking in general into my own life. I’m not trying to be my own therapist but I believe that by practicing positive thinking, I can improve my life quality since I’m not in a clinical condition and my meta-cognitive skills are good.

The quote in the beginning of this post refers to the idea that many things are not harmful if our perception and thoughts about them aren’t – and vice versa, harmless things can turn harmful if we think of them as such.


DAY 3

Many negative thoughts I have, have something to do with hurry. I often feel like I have too much going on and that I can’t cope. Then again, I have time and time again proved that I can – regardless of my doubts and the ridiculous amount of tasks. This week too, as I looked at my calendar, I felt desperate. But, I decided to shift my approach a bit.

One of the basic ideas of solution based therapy is that people already know the answer to their problems – they just don’t know that they know. Applying this to my problem, instead of focusing on how much I have to do in how little time, I try to concentrate purely on what has to be done and how could I do it best.

DAY 5

Today we had the first practice of a new training group. There are many very talented dancers in the group and I’m excited about getting to dance and train hardcore with them. At the practice though, I noticed feelings of inferiority. I kept thinking that all the others were doing better than me and that I must have looked stupid.

Forcing myself to focus on the positive aspects of the situation, wasn’t easy. Even when there were so many good things! I have wanted to train hard with other dancers for a long time, and now I was doing it instead of being alone and just filming my dance. I got to exchange with some of the best hip hop dancers in Finland and being in the group means that I am considered one, too. The thought that helped me most was that I don’t need anyone’s approval of my dance – I do it for me and I have the right to be happy about it.

In general, it has always been hard to make genuinely positive appraisals about myself. I know I am good at things but I don’t find myself good. Trying to change this isn’t a completely new idea but it is actually an ultimate goal – to feel good about myself on all levels. I think I am making progress and that’s creating a positive cycle so that it becomes easier and easier to think positively.

DAY 7

A positive way of thinking, just like stress control, will probably come with time. For now, I need to concentrate hard whereas I’d love it to become automatic. I feel like it is the right thing to do and even though at times I have found it frustrating (the moments when I’d usually just vent), the I’ve already noticed that it is extremely relieving not to sink into negativity. Feeling annoyed, irritated, disappointed, angry or hurt takes a lot of energy from feeling happy and satisfied and I don’t want to let little things take me down like that anymore. The negative feelings and thoughts can do so much damage without you even realizing it.

For instance, I could keep thinking that I have too many responsibilities and too much to do and absolutely no time for anything fun. This way of thinking would most likely make me see my whole life as a burden. The truth is that I do have many responsibilities but I should be proud of that. People trust me with all kinds of things. My work is fun. The fact that I get paid for doing what I love to do, is quite a blessing. Instead of working to be able to spend the money on dancing, I dance and use my creativity to get paid.

Some of the thought chains are very private and I really do need to work on them. I say this because I don’t want to give the idea that it is possible to switch the way of your thinking just like that. Your own decision of doing that is huge – and there will be no change without it, but it’s not easy. Good things come to those who are patient, work hard and try to reach for the good things.

Project: 14 weeks of positive change, week 4

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Here we are, back in the normal life with its tight schedules and deadlines, running around in three to six different places within a day. I have so much to do that sometimes it scares myself, but at the same time I’m really interested in everything I do and I like all my projects. I jut need to create a way to be able to do everything I’m supposed to do and I want to do.

I knew already in advance that the beginning of my daily routines would be a tough point in my project – I need to focus hard not to fall back to my old habits. That’s why this week’s theme is stress control and active relaxation.


DAY 1

Four hours of school, a dance class and teaching – not too bad at all. I still wanted to apply my first and foremost method of relieving stress: time management. I marked into my calendar everything I know is coming during the spring. Lectures, dance classes, events, meetings… If a tight schedule, I even looked for the public transportation schedules and wrote down the bus numbers and stops.

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This week

So, for instance, this week looks like in the picture. It is quite calming to see both how busy you are and how many hours you have free (to be used in studying etc.).

I’m also a believer in to do lists. I have a notebook for writing down everything I need to do, even the smallest of things. If some tasks have deadlines, I write them down too, and every time I get something done, I rule it out. Because of the project and my goal of relieving stress, I try to rule out at least one thing a day and more, if possible. It gives me a sense of accomplishment and helps not to feel like everything is just piling up.

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To do

Compared to the fall, I have more time for studying because most of the choreographies of competing teams are done and I don’t need to plan new choreo. It takes surprisingly much time and effort. This is a welcome change because I have a few really arduous courses going on at the moment.

DAY 4

I’m not very good at relaxing. I have always a bit of something going on and my mind is working on several things at the same time. I like having a lot to do but I also realize that it is important to be able to let go every now and then.

As active relaxation methods, I have tried listening to soothing music as I go to bed and tension-release. This means that I first flex a certain muscle group for 5 seconds and then release – and this is done to the whole body. It helps to become conscious of the body and its sensations.

DAY 7

I’m not completely sure how my stress control works. I had an extremely busy weekend because I organized workshops for Kapela (a really good French house dancer) and on top of that, I had my regular classes and I tried to do homework. So, no matter how well I had planned the schedule and made sure about every little detail, it was still very stressful. Bu probably careful planning did help and I don’t even want to know what it would have been like if I didn’t plan as well as I did.

Because of situations like these, another way of reducing stress and managing time is to say no. It has always been difficult for me to decline anything people ask for, whether it’s an event invitation or helping out a friend. Now I’m trying to remember to make a realistic evaluation of each request and decline if it seems like en extra stress factor.

Probably this step of change requires a lot of patience. Some habits are hard to get rid of and right now it is hard to even try to change my schedules because most things in my agenda are fixed until may.

Conclusion: marking everything possible to the calendar and using the to do notebook actively are definitely effective ways of managing time and thus relieving stress. As relaxation methods, stretching and listening to calm music work very well for me. One surprisingly good way to relax the mind for a moment, has been to watch an episode of a TV series or to do house work like ironing or dusting. Overall, like Nike says, “just do it” seems to be the most effective way of coping with stress.

Project: 14 weeks of positive change, week 3

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As a dancer and dance teacher, it is part of my profession to physically take care of myself. I know that compared to the average person, I’m probably in a really good shape, but compared to how things could be, I have a lot to work on.

A big reason for my whole project is my aim to take my dancing to the next level. To be able to do this, I naturally have to push my physique and pay attention to recovery, flexibility, muscle balance etc. The third week’s focus is on body conditioning because next week, my holiday is over and I will be back to teaching almost every day.


DAY 4

During the first part of the week, I have added morning stretching into my daily routine. Every day I start with a 15-minute dynamic stretching session. So, I don’t just relax into the stretch but I actively work on correct alignments and especially core control.

I’ve had a sharp pain in my lower back for a few days. That’s why it is extremely important to work on the deep core muscles. I can’t say I’m happy I once had a stress fracture in my back, but I did learn a lot back then. One of the most important lessons was the importance of having mobile hips, stretching your thighs and buttocks and always working on your posture and core strength. So now I know not to stretch my back when it hurts but to stretch my legs and work on the deep back and abdominal muscles.

DAY 7

The pain in my back is gone and my neck and shoulders aren’t as tense as in the beginning of the week. Aside of stretching, I have been using my foam roller and massage balls (the spiky ones) very actively.

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A balance board, foam roller and massage balls.

I also own a balance board which is extremely useful in core training and activating small muscles that don’t otherwise get so much attention. To challenge myself, I do some of my stretches and slow yoga-like movements on the balance board.

This kind of training makes me feel really good. I love the feeling of not having any tensions or stiffness and to be able to move freely. This definitely has also allowed me to try new things at dance practices

At this point of my project I have started to notice a big difference in my energy levels. I have almost too much energy! I don’t get tired too early, I need less sleep than before, I don’t snooze while trying to study… One night I went out, danced the whole night until the club closed, slept 5 hours and was good to go the next day. So, I am really happy to have started this because it makes all the difference in the world.