Stress is a part of everyday life, the pace of everything we have to do is increasing, what is expected of us as human beings is expanding, yet we are still the same people we were yesterday. There is an expectation that we have to cope with an ever increasing level of stress, however we often do not have the tools and techniques to do so.
The first and most important thing to do is to recognise the signs of stress, feeling stressed can be accompanied by physical symptoms which can include feeling exhausted with low energy, headaches, upset stomach and chest pains.
However, stress can affect each of us differently, some people have a higher tolerance to certain types of stress, but we all have a point at which we are unable to cope. You need to recognise the point, at which you are beginning to lose control of your stress levels, as this is the stage you need to take action.
Step 1 – Find the breaking point
Only you will know what your stress triggers are. Some people will tell you that they ‘thrive on stress’, however you will find that they have other triggers. Try to become self-aware and recognise the moments when a certain stress is affecting you.
A good technique to help you is to use a ‘mood graph’
In my mood chart for today you can see that there were pressure points around the morning meeting and then a review meeting with my manager. It allows me to recognise, over time, what specifically is causing stress. Note this is a very quick scribble, you don’t need to spend ages drawing a special chart, just something that you can read!
This does not have to be complicated, what you are trying to capture is the points in your day when you became angry, upset or stressed. Be conscientious for a week and track your mood every fifteen or twenty minutes and each time you have a particular stressful moment.
If you hit a high or low point make a note as to what caused it, this will create a chart which illustrates your specific trigger points. In the next step we will look for ways to conquer these.
Step 2 – Run away!
Okay, I am not suggesting that you run from your home or office but, that you run away from whatever has triggered your stress. When you recognise what is causing your triggers and you have become stressed you need to stop and escape the moment.
Stand up and walk away from whatever is happening, if you are driving find a safe place to stop, if you are in the office use the opportunity to step to the toilet or have a coffee break. If you cannot physically step away, take a moment, close your eyes and pause for just a second.
Where you can, you are looking to create a physical space from your stress trigger and you. It is important to break the cycle when you can, as you become proficient at recognising what will trigger your stress, you can better prepare.
Stop! But I cannot run away.
If you have been in a place where you cannot escape your stress triggers, including being in retail, where you cannot step away. You need to take yourself away mentally. We will discuss meditation techniques later, but in the immediate moment when someone is yelling at you remember. This is not personal, the individual is shouting at the brand or organisation and an outburst of anger is no different to a toddler having a tantrum, stamping their feet and waving their arms. Imagine the stressor as a toddler, let them run their course and behold their foolishness.
Step 3 – Be mentally prepared
Just as you would do a workout for your body, you need to do a workout for your mind. You need to develop a mindset which will allow you to be resilient and protect yourself from the effects of stress.
Make time for you daily – first, set aside five minutes a day just for you. This is time away from your stress and only for you. During this five minute window your responsibility is to work for you.
Find your happy place – close your eyes and think back to a place where you were truly happy. It may be the beach, a forest or even your bed, visualise this place. Think of every detail (what does it feel like, what does it smell like, feel the sand beneath your toes. Embrace every sense). While you do so touch your thumbs together. This will take practice, visit your happy place in your mind often, building your feelings of where it is and how it feels. Eventually (and yes, this will take some time and practice) the act of touching your thumbs together will create this feeling in your mind.
Find a musical mantra – find your favourite piece of upbeat music (for me it is ‘Can you feel it?’ – By the Jackson Five). Listen to your mantra music before you enter a stressful environment, feel the upbeat music flow through you and feel upbeat in yourself. Again this will take practice, but with time you will find that this track will make you think of positive times and you can use it when you have a stress trigger point.
Manage your breathing – follow some simple breathing exercises. Close your eyes, breath in through your nose, hold your breath for a count of ten and the slowly breath out through your mouth. Repeat this for a minute. Take your time, concentrate on slowing down your breathing.
These techniques will build your resilience, allowing you to take a moment to escape when you cannot run away.
Step 4 – Be physically prepared
Look for opportunities to exercise, physical exercise reduces your body’s stress hormones including adrenaline and cortisol as it increases your feel good endorphins.
You don’t have to go to the gym necessarily, a good brisk walk or some exercises in your home will help you. The action of making time for yourself and moving your body will make you feel better.
Step 5 – Manage your pressure points
When you know what causes you to feel stress look for ways to overcome them. ‘Easier said than done!’ You may say, however this is your life and you need to manage what is making you ill. It may require a drastic change such as a new job but sometimes such change is necessary.
You should find that, when you recognise your stress triggers and have an improved mental and physical resilience, you will be better placed to cope with your stress.
Step 6 – Get help
If none of this improves your situation you need to look for help. This is not a failure on your part and there is nothing wrong in seeking professional advice. If you have followed the steps you should find that you have a better idea of your stress and a professional will be better able to help you.
Above all you are not alone, your friends and family are there to support you, failing this, there are professionals who will help you.
In order to bring forth knowledge, we must learn to think. If we follow the advice of Derek and Laura Cabrera, we find that Information X Thinking = Knowledge.
So, how do we construct knowledge? Let’s examine an analogy for knowledge construction offered by Steve Stockdale in Here’s Something About General Semantics: A Primer for Making Sense of Your World. Stockdale compares the “Building Block” Analogy vs. the “Spiral” Analogy in knowledge construction:
Building Blocks Analogy
“Typically, we grow up with a view of learning using the building blocks analogy.”
We learn our alphabet as a block of stacked letters.
We learn our numbers as a block of numbers.
We learn to spell by visualizing blocks of letters.
“However, if we apply what we ‘know’ about what goes on around us, we can choose to use a more appropriate analogy: we tend to learn in more of a spiral pattern than simple building blocks.”
Stockdale describes the spiral nature of learning as follows:
Just as the spiral expands from the center, our learning is continual and never-ending.
As we learn about one thing, we enable ourselves to learn more about something else, from a different perspective.
What we learn relates to what we’ve already learned, and what we’ve yet to learn, just as the spiral connects, or relates, one region to another.
The spiral more appropriately implies the continually-changing and more complex nature of ourselves and the world around us.
Moreover, to further answer this question, and to deepen our understanding of the topic, we will examine the philosophy known as General Semantics. From there, we will learn how to eliminate confusion and barriers to learning.
You might not agree with the philosophical beliefs of some of the philosophers, for which I am not asking you to become a follower of, but I am asking you to keep an open mind regarding the ideas discussed here (the ideas, not the person)
As you learn more about the philosophy, pay attention to how your level of understanding deepens and expands. Your level of understanding on any topic progresses from an intuitive understanding, to a systematic level, then to a scholarly level of understanding.
In The Logical Structure of Objectivism (“Beta” Version) by William Thomas and David Kelley, we are provided with the following example of Levels of Understanding:
Intuitive – non-reflexive acceptance of a principle, based on the subconscious integration of a mass of accumulated information and experience.
Example: Physics – common-sense experiences of gravity.
Systematic – ability to formulate principles explicitly and relate them logically to other principles and data.
Example: Ability to state the law of gravity and its relation to other laws.
Scholarly – issues pertaining to the formulation and validation of the principles.
Example: Physicist’s knowledge of gravitational theory.
As you read, I encourage you to think about your level of understanding as you learn more about a concept. You will find that as you learn more, you will increase both your breadth and depth on any concept.
Learning the Whole Picture
“A person does what he does because he sees the world as he sees it.” – Alfred Korzybiski
When an event happens, what portions of reality do we select to attend to and what portions do we leave out? Is it possible that we might miss certain things by simply attempting to label and explain them?
The answer is yes and General Semantics was developed to help us answer this question.
Alfred Korzybiski developed the theory of time-binding, which later evolved into General Semantics as scientific orientation toward language behavior. Bruce and Susan Kodish define it as a,
“General theory of evaluation. One that is concerned with understanding how we evaluate, with the non-verbal, inner life of each individual, with how each of us experiences and makes sense of our experiences, including how we use language and how language ‘uses’ us.”
In Here’s Something About General Semantics: A Primer for Making Sense of Your World, Steve Stockdale defines it as,
“General Semantics deals with the process of how we perceive, construct, evaluate, and respond to our life experiences. Our language-behaviors represent one aspect of these responses.”
To understand General Semantics at a deeper level, we need to possess an understanding of the map-territory analogy and the abstraction process.
The Map is Not the Territory
Mary P. Lahman provides the following premises for General Semantics in Awareness and Action: A General Semantics Approach to Effective Language Behavior:
The map is not the “territory,” so there is no not territory.
A map covers not all the territory, so any map is only part of the territory.
Maps refer to parts of the territory becoming reflexive to other parts at different levels of abstraction.
To understand this map-territory analogy, let’s first examine how the words “map” and “territory” are being used.
Map = Language
Territory = Reality
Korzybski proposed a map-territory analogy to encourage exploration of verbal maps (language or words), noting that they (maps) do not accurately describe what is happening in the territory (reality). Korzybski found that when the territory (reality) changes, we must update our maps (language).
Stockdale argues that,
“Just as a well-drawn map depicts, represents, illustrates, symbolizes, etc., an actual geographic area, so should our language properly reflect that which it refers to – that which is NOT language. However, we often confuse the words we use with those ‘things’ the words refer to. We confuse the word with the thing; we mistake the map as the territory.”
Process of Abstraction
Let’s try a quick thought experiment to demonstrate this point. In Awareness and Action: A General Semantics Approach to Effective Language Behavior, Mary P. Lahman asks us to do the following:
Close your eyes to help you experience a world without words.
What are you doing right now? As you hear these words let yourself become aware of how you are sitting or lying down or standing.
How can you allow yourself to feel the support of what holds you up?
Where do you feel unnecessary tensions? Do you feel tension in your jaw? In your face?
Where do you feel ease? How clearly do you feel yourself breathing?
Lahman states that, “Many events are occurring inside and outside your skin right now.” She asks, “Can you allow yourself non-verbally to experience these activities?” She found, along with practitioners of General Semantics, that the answer is no. By attempting to label and explain things, we simply leave out information.
Alfred Korzybski found that we leave out information through the process of abstracting. He developed a model called the Structural Differential as a means to visualize this process. Let’s briefly examine this model.
Abstracting or the process of abstraction is typically defined as the process of concept formation and the recognition of common features. In philosophy, you typically find abstraction and concretization, where we classify a concept by distinct categories and referents.
For example, you could classify living organisms and then further breakdown the concept to rational thinking and non-rational thinking to differentiate a human from an animal. If you were to classify dogs, you could use referents to make an even more concrete distinction by listing different types of dogs, or different colors of dogs, etc.
Korzybski took a slightly different approach to abstracting with his creation of General Semantics and the Structural Differential. According to experts at ThisIsNotThat.com, Korzybski originally developed this as a three-dimensional (free-standing) model, where you imagine a colander (or a strainer) in place of the ragged parabola in the actual model.
They posit in Explaining the Structural Differential, that we move from an event (something happens), to object (I partially sense what happens), to description (I describe what I sense), to inference (I make meanings, inferences, beliefs, theories, etc.).
Turning Imagination into Reality
“We don’t get meaning, we respond with meaning.” – Charles Sanders Peirce
Let’s examine a practical example of the abstraction process and the Structural Differential. An idea took root in the back of my mind after watching a TED Talk – Turning children’s imagination into reality. Artist and designer Dominic Wilcox explained his mission: to inspire the world’s children to become the creative thinkers of our future by connecting their amazing ideas with skilled makers.
Here’s the TED Talk video:
Children are the most creative people in the world. They possess the unique ability to think to the furthest reaches of their imagination. Whereas adults have a barrier to creativity, children do not.
I followed Dominic’s advice and asked,
“What if I take my daughter’s wild imagination seriously?”
This question brought about something truly creative and imaginative.
One day, while I was working in my basement, my four-year-old daughter, Ella Schwandt, created a story on my whiteboard. With Dominic’s idea firmly planted in the back of my mind, I asked my daughter to explain her story to me.
A couple weeks went by. My daughter was outside playing with chalk on our driveway. I asked her to recall the story she drew on my whiteboard. I then drew six boxes in the form of a storyboard and had her go through the story again, yet this time we simplified it.
This ultimately led to a self-published children’s book authored by my daughter – Ella Katherine Schwandt. I identified myself as the translator and my wife, Tomi Schwandt, as the editor. We were able to bring my daughter’s vivid imagination into reality. And this is the book published on July 15, 2019: Charlotte Emmy & The Rainbow Dimension: A book by a four-year-old girl!
What was fascinating to witness was watching my daughter go through the process of abstraction, where she was able to describe her ideas from something extremely abstract to something more concrete. Essentially, she was able to place her wild imagination into this world. And she’s four!
Recall the discussion of the Structural Differential. The closer to the top (event level – shape of a parabola) the more abstract, where the closer to the bottom, ideas and concepts become more concrete.
For example, my daughter held abstract ideas in her head about rainbows and different characters. By drawing the images, she took those ideas (not all) and abstracted them. She then described the images and applied meaning to them.
Lahman found that,
“Language shapes the questions that we ask, which then affects what we observe, and, consequently, how we report findings.”
Thus, my daughter’s map, or her view of reality, is not true reality. It’s a mental model (a continuously evolving mental model) overlaid over the territory (reality). Whereas, as a child, my mental model would have overlaid the same territory, but my map would have been completely different.
Let’s take a loot at how my daughter moved through the process of abstraction to create her story:
Event (Reality): My daughter starts to form ideas based on her map (language) of the territory (reality).
Object (Senses): She starts connecting dots (or strings); however, it is impossible to connect everything, so certain things were left out. She was able to use her senses to start capturing some of the ideas.
Description (Verbal Awareness): She verbally describes her story for the first time. This is the difficult part. Imagine you are asked to close your eyes and describe what is going through your mind at that moment. It is difficult and things will get left out. However, this is where my daughter described her abstract characters and creations, such as Charlotte Emmy, a ham-et (vehicle for riding rainbows) and Hanny P’Tanny (location within the Rainbow Dimension).
Infer (Generate Meaning): She started to generate meaning for each creation after describing them. For example, the character, Charlotte Emmy, is on a journey to find her fifth birthday present (my daughter loves her birthday!) Along the journey, she finds a fat and soft house where you are both inside and outside at the same time. She then explains that her birthday present is inside a box, which is also inside a cloud. Inside the box is her thoughts, emotions, and feelings. She even described her thoughts, emotions, and feelings.
Using Science as a Method
“Always and never are two words you should always remember never to use.” – Wendell Johnson
One of the more controversial figures in recent times, L. Ron Hubbard, founder of Dianetics and Scientology, was familiar with Korzybiski’s work. In Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief, Lawrence Wright discussed how Hubbard used Korzybski’s work as he saw the need for creating a special vocabulary. Wright remarked,
“Hubbard saw the need for creating a special vocabulary, which would allow him to define old thoughts in new ways (the soul becomes a thetan, for instance).”
Another example of this is Hubbard’s creation of a clear, which is defined in Scientology as the name or a state achieved through auditing and describes a being who no longer has his or her own reactive mind. Or as Andrew O’Hehir remarked when comparing the smart drug movie Limitless to a clear, “It’s like Scientology in a pharmaceutical form.”
Just to be clear (pun intended), I am not a Scientologist, nor am I asking you to become a believer in Scientology. However, I am asking you to keep an open mind as the following ideas for eliminating confusion and barriers to learning are extremely valuable.
Confusion and Stable Datum
“Confusion is the basic cause of stupidity.” – L. Ron Hubbard
In Tools for the Workplace, based on the works of Hubbard, confusion is defined as any set of factors or circumstances which do not seem to have any immediate solution. It is more broadly defined as random motion.
Furthermore, a datum can be defined as a piece of knowledge or something know (plural is data). Hubbard provides the following example,
“If you were to stand in heavy traffic, you would be likely to feel confused by all the motion whizzing around you. If you were to stand in a heavy storm, with leaves and papers flying by, you would be likely to be confused.”
Hubbard posited that we can understand confusion, but we must first understand its anatomy. He remarked,
“a confusion is only a confusion so long as all particles are in motion. A confusion is only a confusion so long as no factor is clearly defined or understood.”
Let’s examine one more example of the stable datum (it is not linked to Hubbard, nor Scientology). Chris McChesney, Sean Covey, and Jim Huling write about this idea using an air traffic controller as an example in The 4 Disciplines of Execution,
“Right now more than a hundred airplanes might be approaching, taking off, or taxiing around, and all of them are very important, especially if you happen to be on one of them. But for the Air Traffic Controller, only one airplane is important right now – the one that’s landing at this moment. The Controller is aware of all the other planes on the radar. She is keeping track of them, but right now all her talent and expertise is solely focused on one flight. If she doesn’t get that flight on the ground safely and with total excellence, then nothing else she might achieve is really going to matter much.”
How to Apply the Idea of a Stable Datum
Jim Westergren answers this in Theory on How to Become a Genius. Westergren posits,
“For a person to become more smart he has to recognize which data are of value for him. What is valuable for him also depends on what his purpose is. He has to develop a skill to see which data are important for him in the ocean of data that he is operating in.”
Westergren provides an example, similar to the abstraction process mentioned earlier, where we can view data in four specific fields.
Field 1 – Vital Data. Data in the field of true philosophy. Covers such things as understanding of life and how it operates, reason for existence, Metaphysics, etc. In short – the greatest truths.
Field 2 – Valuable Data. Data concerning how to do things and which helps you in your life. Data which help you understand things and how it works.
Field 3 – Useless Data. Data that does not help you and has no value. Most data from TV, newspapers, school education and talking between people unfortunately falls under this field.
Field 4 – Destructive Data. False data, data which makes you unhappy, data intended to bring about destruction. Unfortunately more than you believe.
Overcoming Barriers to Learning
“Trying to live in a high-speed world with low-speed people is not very safe.” – L. Ron Hubbard
Based on the works of Hubbard, in The Technology of Study, we are provided with three barriers to learning. Here are my interpretation of the three, along with an example and practical application.
1. Absence of Mass: Theory + Application = Practical Knowledge
Flying an airplane. If you were to study an airplane, you could read about it in textbooks. You could read how to operate it, learn about its controls, and read about how to fly an airplane. But you would have to actually fly an airplane to learn how to fly an airplane.
Hubbard stated, “There is a rule which goes if you cannot demonstrate something in two dimensions, you have it wrong.” Outside of putting hands on the actual thing, sketch a two-dimensional representation of it and all its parts.
2. Too Steep a Gradient: Process Knowledge
Learning to read. You can’t learn to read without first knowing the alphabet, then the formation of words, then the formation of sentences followed by paragraphs, etc. We must understand the process of a task prior to successfully completing a task.
Do a process map of the task you are confused on. Then pinpoint where you became confused in the process. From there go back and relearn the previous steps.
We have all had the experience of reading a book only to finish the book without knowing what we have actually read. The confusion was our inability to grasp something after we came across a confusing word.
Every time you read something (a book, magazine, blog, etc.) and you come across a word you don’t know or fully understand, take the time to look up the definition and application of the word. If you find yourself reading and you have no idea what you are reading, start over and pinpoint where the confusion began. Lookup that word, apply it in a different context, then go back to your reading.
The Bottom Line
Attaining cognitive learning benefits is like storing information on a computer’s hard drive (your brain). Then, improving the brain’s ability to provide quick access to the information stored on it. The hard drive stores the information, but to connect and speed up your processing power, you need to insert thinking. Thus, Information X Thinking = Knowledge.
By understanding how you think and learn, you can improve your level of understanding on any concept. This includes an understanding of the abstraction process, the elimination of confusion and eliminating barriers to learning.
Just as you should not use a map from 1940 to navigate across a country – you should not use a dated mental map to improve your learning capacity. You must possess a more accurate map of the territory to navigate successfully.