Mental Power, Mental Health

Two years ago I wrote a blog called He’s Nuts! No, He’s A Genius! about how creative minds mimic certain mental illnesses like schizophrenia. I think you might be interested to know that more research has been forthcoming on this tantalising topic. Specifically, a new large scale study has revealed a definite link between creativity and mental illness. Medical News Today puts it like this.

“Individuals who work in creative fields are diagnosed and treated with a mental illness more frequently than the general public, showing an important link between writing and schizophrenia… Analysis provided evidence for the researchers’ prior report, that bipolar disorder is more common in all individuals with artistic or scientific jobs, including researchers, dancers, photographers, and authors. The majority of the other psychiatric diseases, such as depression, anxiety syndrome, schizophrenia, and substance abuse, were more prevalent among authors in particular. They also had a 50% higher chance of committing suicide compared to the general public.”

This story originated in the Journal of Psychiatric Research. The research paper was entitled, ‘Mental illness, suicide and creativity: 40-Year prospective total population study’. An abstract can be found and read here.

All this reminds me of three other concepts in which heightened mental power and mental health may meet.

Hypomania -Literally meaning ‘below mania’ this is the mildly elated state between lifeless apathy and crippling anxiety. People in this state are perceived as being energetic, euphoric, overflowing with new ideas, and sometimes highly confident. They might also seem immune to fear and doubt and have little social inhibition, talking to strangers easily, offer solutions to problems, and find pleasure in small activities.

Eustress – Literally Meaning ‘good stress’ this is a positive type of pressure in which we are finely balanced between distress of low arousal (‘boreout’) and the distress of too many demands (‘burnout’). Our ability to find this balance depends on whether we look at stressors as threats or challenges. When facing a challenge in the future, it can easily turn into anticipatory anxiety.

Hyperfocus – This not only means intense concentration on a narrow field of focus (somewhat similar to optimal experience or ‘flow’). It may also be related to a clinical condition in which a person finds it difficult to switch between tasks and activities.

So then, is he nuts or is he a genius? Both it seems, depending on the balance, the mood, the context. And maybe at the same time too.

You Wouldn’t Like Me When I’m Angry

A study at Harvard Medical school has discovered something interesting. Anger has a place in the workplace. As reported by the BBC, the findings include the statistic that “those who repressed frustration were three times more likely to say they had reached a glass ceiling”. Those who deny their reality of their anger defeat attempts to control it, and miss out on the focused attention that it brings. The trick is to express anger in the right way and learn to harness the power that it can bring.

This seems to contradict earlier reports that ‘those with low anger control produced higher levels of the stress’ and even slowed down our bodies ability to heal itself. So which is anger – friend or foe?

Learn How to Express Anger in the Right Way

Like most problems in life, so with anger: it ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it. Anger is inevitable. To deny it is to deny reality. But to stoke it up is to ask for trouble. The answer is to express it in the right way and turn it to our advantage. I can think of three ways to do this.

  • First, there is the skill of assertiveness, that we’ve frequently mentioned in this site. Assertiveness is the art of clear and direct communication, and a means of persuasion. But it is also way of expressing an appropriate level of anger in response to a challenge. To refuse the challenge completely (passivity) is to turn the anger inward. To interpret the challenge as a threat (aggression) is to let the outward rule you. Both are destructive. And useless.

There are two other, less known ways you might want to consider. They don’t have to do with anger directly, but with all negative energy.

  • First, there is ‘flow’, or that mental state of heightened focus we achieve when skill and challenge meet perfectly. Yes, too much challenge and too little skill leads to anxiety. But – and here’s what is not often grasped – too much skill and too little challenge is equally destructive. Conclusion? Challenge is good, even though the pressure of high challenge is often the cause of anger. Those who can transform anger to flow are the wizards of work.
  • Secondly, there is ‘eustress’ or (literally) good stress. It is the healthy pressure we feel when for example, we meet a challenge or get a promotion. So it’s wrong to say that the opposite of stress is always peace; it can be ‘distress’ too. And so, the opposite of anger is not only calm, but lethargy.

From this perspective, anger itself is a morally neutral emotion, neither good or bad. It’s what you do with it that counts. Like the Incredible Hulk, anger is a terrible force that you can use for good. As long as you remember that you have to turn back into Bruce Banner again…

If you need help with managing you or your team’s Hulk moments, or need to know how to enable Bruce to express his anger in the right way, get in touch.

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Mind Tricks and Mind Games

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Apart from their use as a double-handed thing hitter, a lightsaber and a cricket bat don’t seem to have too much in common.

But that’s where you’re wrong. For the skillful wielding of both, it is mind rather than muscle that wins the day. You will learn all about this at our Jedi Knight Training Event in October, where experts will instruct you on the proper use of the samurai sword and the flash of lightsaber duels will electrify the afternoon air.

Continue reading “Mind Tricks and Mind Games”

Star Wars Goes To Work

On December 9th (Belfast) and 10th (Dublin) I spoke at the Christmas Event of the Institute of Internal Auditors (Irish District Society). It was an exciting and challenging experience, since I’ve never done anything quite like it before. But the feedback from both events was excellent, with participants sending me emails of appreciation and request for more information.

Like the title of this blog, the presentation was called Star Wars Goes to Work. My subtitle sheds a bit more light on the content: How to Use Jedi Mind-Tricks in Your Job to Get Your Way, Become Indispensable, and Stay Sane. In it I offered tasters on topic like assertiveness and empathy at work ( how to get your way ), creativity and concentration ( how to become indispensable ), and emotional self-care and control ( how to stay sane ). Continue reading “Star Wars Goes To Work”

A Positively Brilliant Workshop

On Saturday 6th December I delivered a 1-day workshop at Queen’s University called The Psychology of Happiness: How to Grow Your Happy Skills. Its purpose was to introduce the students to the new positive psychology movement, and to the thoughts of Martin Seligman and Mih√°ly Cs√≠kszentmih√°lyi in particular. Those who read the blog will know that I’ve reviewed Seligman’s latest work Authentic Happiness before, and I’ve also captured the two of them in a fascinating conversation.

In the workshop I did four things. First, I discussed Seligman’s analysis of the three types of happy life: the Pleasant Life, the Good Life, and the Meaningful Life. Then I explored the whole notion of optimism, perhaps Seligman’s main contribution to the field of academic psychology. After lunch, it was time to check out our signature strengths. Finally, we applied all this to the area of work, that most usual and difficult source of unhappiness. Continue reading “A Positively Brilliant Workshop”

Jedi Knights – Myth and Reality

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Once the publicity for the Jedi workshop started to skyrocket (or is it skywalk?) I got asked a particular question over and over again. Even if it wasn’t asked explicity, I could see it in people’s smirking eyes, and feel it in draft left by their open mouths.

“You don’t think all this Jedi stuff is really real, do you?”

It’s not as silly a question as it first sounds. After all, there are people out there who take this Jedi thing very seriously. Some have built the beginnings of a religion around it. Others talk earnestly of trying to live out ‘the Jedi way’ and of their temptations toward ‘the dark side’. Continue reading “Jedi Knights – Myth and Reality”