Self-esteem and abnormality

William James proposed that self-esteem is the ratio of successes to pretensions. By this he meant that we judge the way we feel about ourselves by whether we attain our pretensions or fail to attain them. Pretensions are just another way to express the claims we make about ourselves. We certainly do make many claims. When we can attain those claims we are happy. When we cannot, we are not feeling well about ourselves. As such, our self-esteem suffers. The key to happiness then is to set appropriate pretensions and attain them, or modify those that are too lofty.

Psychoadaptation is about adapting to one’s constraints. Each context has its own rules governing what is considered success; constraints. These constraints set the thresholds to which we strive and hope to attain. For instance, in the academic realm, attaining a college degree is now considered a normative albeit lofty achievement. Indeed, having a college degree is becoming the new minimum acceptable academic accomplishment to be considered successful. Yet, even that is actually it’s not enough. The college one attends is a measure of one’s intellectual capacity. Have you ever noticed, my reader, how individuals attending a community college respond to questions about the college attending? It’s pure shame. As such, going to prestigious institutions like Harvard, Yale, Penn, Stanford, Berkley, or some other private institution is supposed to be an indicator of supreme intelligence and ultimate success. Those individuals who matriculate to and graduate from these types of institutions, whether private or public, wear a large but false medal on their chests they strut around with, shouting out with feigned humility, “I am special”. Indeed, by our societal standards they are, for they have achieved maximum adaptation to the highest of contexts. For that, they do deserve praise, but that praise is short lived, at least I’d hope.

Life is all about adaptation, and adaptation to one’s contexts is an awesome achievement. Indeed, it’s normative. However, being normal isn’t always the highest achievement. Abnormality has its place in the universe of achievements too. I posit that it’s not only interesting, but essential to move society forward. Abnormality means seeing the flaws in the macrosystem and finding solutions that stretch the limits of our current conceptions. Self-esteem comes from esteem. Esteem comes from being esteemed by others. Without that esteem, there cannot be self-esteem. Self-esteem is built on successes in normative endeavors; endeavors that are within say two standard deviations of the mean. Okay, well, that means that 95% of all individuals would agree that what was done is awesome, as 95% of population values are within plus or minus two standard deviations of the mean. However, moving beyond the normal means being in that other 5%; being abnormal. I love being abnormal.

Abnormality is a very uncomfortable place. However, the greats have always gone there. Most avoid abnormality because they cannot handle the insult to self-esteem and all the booty that one forfeits with abnormality. Imagine the praise one receives from peers for attaining some cultural standard. People propitiate the successful person as if she were a deity. What’s worse is that the successful individual takes that praise in as if it is fully deserved. I guess it is deserved if one likes being limited, but there is so much more beyond, so much more than what is seen. Even with infinity, there is a beyond. The person living psychoadaptation senses the beyond and challenges the limitations of the normative.

I love James’s definition of self-esteem. However, too many people set their pretensions based on the zeitgeist; the spirit of the times. Our economy is built on exploiting the needy to meet societal expectations. People believe that they must attain certain goals to be successful and base their self-esteems on their success at achieving these false goals. Indeed, they subscribe to the notion that we can be great if we graduate with the right degree from the right institution or drive the right car or have the perfect body, or have the right sneakers. However, that felt love is ephemeral and as uneasy as a wooden plank 15 feet above stormy water. Tastes change like the wind changes the ripples on a pond. What remains constant is our desire to achieve a higher Self. The Healthy Self finds new challenges to pursue and adapt to. It is actually easy to find flaws in the normative constraints once one has adapted to the contextual constraints of a given contexts. Some contexts don’t change their constraints. That should make it easy to find flaws. Indeed, it does. But the participant must want to find the flaws and rebel against them. Most people don’t because mastering the constraints and the praise achieved for that mastery is just too savory. I can see why one would want to perpetually bask in the praise, but that’s not for me. I have learned to praise myself for higher achievements.

People love being esteemed. Esteem from others translates to self-esteem, for one needs a context to adapt to, and others to establish the threshold for success. People may act humbly, but their fake humility is actually pride for their achievements. The healthy Self doesn’t share when sharing isn’t accepted. Those who want others to see their achievements wear them proudly. Living psychoadaptation means not only surpassing small achievements, but setting new goals that surpass what others comprehend. Hence, abnormality. Being normal means being within a standard deviation of the mean. The mean is another word for average. Since 68% of all population values are within plus or minus one standard deviation of the mean, most people want to fall within a standard deviation of the mean. However, some people are considered special, even if normative. Every population allows for outliers. These are individuals who are generally three standard deviations above or below the mean. Three standard deviations of the mean encompasses 99.7% of all population values. So, being outside three standard deviations of the mean makes one really different. Not really though, in my view; it just makes them at the extreme of the population of normal people.

Psychoadaptation loves adaptation. However, the adaptation is supposed to be temporary, at least for the special. When one adapts, one’s pretensions and successes are equal and self-esteem is maximized. However, the truly special person sees the flaws in the system and transcends them. This is difficult as transcending flaws means refusing to accept the praises rained upon them for more than a moment. Victory isn’t sufficient for the person seeking transcendence. What is favored is progress toward the ultimate goal; wisdom. Wisdom is a spiritual state that requires transcendence of earthly norms. The person living psychoadaptation is not satisfied with earthly achievements and desires to move toward a more universal consciousness. That is something far different from adapting to one’s earthly contexts. The college one attends doesn’t help achieve it. The car one drives will not achieve it. One’s physical appearance will not achieve it. To achieve this special state of a Healthy Self and to live psychoadaptation, one must continue to progress to higher levels of adaptation, until progression is no longer possible due to age, health, or death. This is not governed by earthly states. Not college degree, money, car, clothing, or looks will attain it. Only knowledge of one’s limitations and a pursuit of a better self, acknowledging those limitations, will achieve it.

 

Psychoadaptation for daily living

Any therapeutic approach should be useful without the help of a therapist, well at least in the long term. Psychoadaptation is the term I coined to connote psychological adaptation. As we progress in years of life, we encounter various situations requiring adaptation. It is the ability to adapt to a changing environment that allows us to succeed as human beings.

At its root, psychological adaptation requires an understanding of the constraints of any given environment. Each environment has its rules (constraints) to which one must adapt if one is to be successful within that context. To adapt, one must let go of one’s present worldview. We each have beliefs about the world and what it takes to succeed. Yet, as we encounter the diversity that is life, we learn that our adaptations have limitations. These limitations prevent many from succeeding in life in general, as encountering novel constraints is distressing. Novelty means new constraints to which we must adapt. This also means that our present worldviews are inadequate, and this is not a savory feeling.

No person likes to be wrong. Yet, life requires us to experience being wrong often. When we are wrong, we experience disequilibrium, a negative and very distasteful feeling most people would prefer to prevent. Yet, with time and experience adapting to novel contexts, disequilibrium becomes less unsavory. For the most successful human beings, disequilibrium is not only less distasteful, but actually welcome as it reflects positive movement.

Psychoadaptation is about moving forward. The successful person will move forward, and welcome disequilibrium. To succeed, thus, one must accept change. I like to think of successful individuals having a fluid self; a self that is malleable without destroying one’s essence.  Yet, it’s not enough to just say one is malleable. One must learn to live adaptation. To do so, one can start by allowing the self to experience novel situations, experience the disequilibrium associated with novelty, accept it, and repeat the experience until adaptation has occurred.

A therapeutic approach based on Psychoadaptation was a goal of mine when imagining my worldview. However, I am not a licensed therapist. Although having a masters degree in counseling from San Diego State University, I have not conducted therapy with the exception of a practicum and some observed experiences during my studies. However, as a researcher and professor, I have read well and am able to put together what I’ve learned through reading the literature into a comprehensive worldview that I believe has heuristic appeal. Indeed, readers and students have asked me often to explain how Psychoadaptation translates into therapy. That’s what I’m doing now in writing this piece.

All therapy starts with the establishment of trust. It’s incumbent that the therapist listen intently to the client with empathy to convey to the client that the therapist is interested in a very profound way in what the client has to say. By using minimal prompts such as nodding, leaning forward with an open posture (not crossing one’s arms), the therapist conveys an intense presence.

Being present allows the therapist to establish trust. This trust opens the client to expressing deeper thoughts and emotions; the reason the client has come in for therapy. Listening is uncritical and unimpeded by judgment. This non-judgmental therapeutic style is driven by a desire to fully understand the client’s worldview and in Psychoadaptation it allows for the therapist to appropriate the client’s contexts, contextual constraints, and adaptations.

With the passage of time, whether in a single session or after several sessions, the therapist takes a less passive stance and introduces disequilibrium by challenging some of the client’s statements. A critical role of a therapist is to mirror societal norms to the client. Clients enter therapy because of faulty adaptations, or adapting to sub-cultural constraints without understanding macrosystemic constraints. To succeed in therapy, clients need to learn the mainstream social norms, judge their adaptation to these constraints, and initiate adaptation to those constraints. In this way, the therapist acts as the vehicle through which adaptation begins.

The therapist is the generalized other. George Herbert Meade proposed that individuals appropriate cultural norms during development and view all transactions through a filter he referred to as the generalized other. The generalized other is the collected mainstream person who judges a citizen’s adaptation to cultural norms. He noted that we use the generalized other in tasks as common as selecting what to wear on a given day. For instance, when I look in the mirror, I’m not judging my appearance through a personal lens. Instead, my judgment is based on the collected perception of the generalized other. That’s why I try my best to coordinate my outfits instead of wearing mismatched pants, shirts, shoes, and socks.

The generalized other does more than help us dress. It also guides how we choose to drive, where we hang out, what we eat, and the people with whom we affiliate. The therapist is the generalized other, and uses that power to evaluate and guide the client’s progress. Indeed, it is the therapist who deconstructs the client’s present worldview and scaffolds the new worldview. The therapist doesn’t provide the new worldview but rather acts as a guide to discovery, for it is imperative that the client learn to evaluate her own worldviews in relation to current social norms, and to modify them when fit is poor.

The Psychoadaptation therapeutic process is slow. However, therapy doesn’t have to last very long. Therapy must be affordable for clients and shall not be beyond the range of any human being desiring to become a better person. Thus, the therapist must teach adaptation. To evaluate adaptation, one possibility is to place the client in novel situations and observe the client’s behavior. It would be most productive to place the client in those contexts that are most frightening to the client. Of course it’s not always possible to be with the client in different contexts. However, using technology, we can recreate the context virtually and discuss the feelings (psychological and physiological) the client experiences as she navigates the context. This can also be done through guided imagery, and physiological responses can be accessed via heart rate monitors, galvanic skin response, or blood pressure. Once the client is able to navigate those contexts without negative emotional or strong physiologic responses indicative of fear, we can conclude that adaptation has occurred to that context, and the client is ready to move on to different contexts requiring adaptation.

All therapy, regardless of the therapist’s orientation is about adaptation. There are differences in how the therapist approaches adaptation however. In Psychoadaptation , the goal is to help the client learn to adapt to her key contexts at the micro and macrosystem level, never losing the macrosystemic perspective to the immediacy of her face-to-face contexts. In addition, a key goal of Psychoadaptation is to encourage clients to challenge themselves; to look for disequilibrium. Psychoadaptation requires the experience of disequilibrium and the ability to overcome it’s negative consequences. In essence it requires one to sit with the discomfort. For instance, to the person with a fear of public speaking, this means being able to stand in front of people on stage with all eyes upon the speaker, and being able to accept the negative feelings devouring the speaker. Adaptation to that context to someone not willing to pursue a healthier self would be to either flee the context, never volunteer to speak, or use a crutch to hide from the audience (e.g., over-reliance on slides to distract the audience). The Psychoadaptation -oriented therapist would help the client sit with the negative experiences, embrace them and speak fully allowing for the discomfort. For it is by experiencing the discomfort that the person eventually adapts fully to the context and is able to move forward to a fuller life.

Psychoadaptation is for everyone, but not everyone will be able to handle the process in the same fashion. While some people can handle much distress, others may only be able to handle small amounts at a time, or only move forward under supervision. Thus, there is no specific duration proposed for therapy. Like all therapy, how long it takes to observe progress and to believe the client is prepared to venture into the real world practicing Psychoadaptation is person-specific. However, a good therapist shouldn’t understand her role and only serve the client as a guide to living Psychoadaptation .

  1. Understand the client’s current contexts and worldview
  2. Teach the client about mainstream cultural norms, being the generalized other
  3. Evaluate the client’s fit to the mainstream cultural norms in real or virtual contexts
  4. Teach the client to sit with her disequilibrium
  5. Ensure the client understand how and is able to live Psychoadaptation in her real life outside therapy

The fifth and last part of the therapeutic process is the most complicated because it requires the therapist to be confident in her own self as a therapist. She must be able to let go of the client and allow the client to live for the client’s own self. If the therapy went well, the client shouldn’t need the therapist anymore. Only then does one know that the therapy is ready to terminate and the client is ready to go out on her own and live Psychoadaptation .

 

Self

Self proposes solutions and moves the body to action. The body, however, has its own mechanisms of effect. These mechanisms are the heart, lungs, and muscles, along with connective tissue and bones. The body wants to respond in its own fashion, but its movement without the self is no more than reflex.

The self governs the body. The self is the manager; it’s the little person sitting in the head, the cockpit. It pulls the levers and presses the  buttons that move the arms and legs and push the massive structure forward towards a goal. Yet, it’s not the body that generates the goals; it’s the mind and self.

Self is the sum total of one’s experiences, along with the appraisal of those experiences. The Self is both experience and appraiser. The Self is both the executive and the written appraisal of one’s action. The latter is what we call Self-concept.

Self leads, like the commandant leading his troops. The arms are the army. The legs are the navy. The trunk is the Marines. The head is the air force. Together, these massive bodies work in tandem to help the Self achieve its aims. These aims were generated from the data of experience. Each Self reflects upon the past to better understand the future, and plots a direction for success. Without the Self, the body and all its parts would be nothing but a conglomeration of flesh and bones moving toward a meal. The meal, though would be served to a conquistador, and our flesh would be the main course.

Self governs all. Self is the savior we await.

Psychoadaptation in skiing

As a ski instructor, my greatest joy comes when I see an absolute beginner complete a straight run down a gentle grade in our learning area. At my home mountain, we start our beginner lessons by having our students make straight runs. A straight run is a brief run without turning, and with the skis parallel pointing straight downhill. We instructors complete the straight runs first to demonstrate the correct stance and to assure our students that they will come to a complete stop without crashing into some obstacle.
A straight run is the first of a series of tasks we have students complete before we take them to the magic carpet (moving walkway but for skis) and our perfect slope. Students vary in their ability to progress, though. At times this variation is due to physical limitations. However, for most of my students, the biggest problem I have noticed is fear.
Fear is a major barrier to learning to ski well. I recently concluded that one cannot learn to ski until one knows how to ski. This is a play on the saying that one cannot make money unless one has money. The latter means that to enrich oneself financially, one must have money to invest. With respect to skiing, this means that one cannot truly begin to master the sport until one can ski freely, free of fear that is.
Mastering fear is a long and slow process. Perhaps the main provoker of fear is steepness. Some people are extremely afraid of steeps. A second is terrain, including trees and moguls. A third is snow conditions, varying from icy to slushy. To master these different situations requires exposure and a change in how one conceives of the self as a skier; psychological adaptation or psychoadaptation.
Psychoadaptation in skiing requires a change in how conceives of the self with respect to the fear-provoking factors. With respect to steepness, as one progresses from relatively flat terrain to higher levels of steepness, one must manage one’s psycho-physiologic response to steeps. While the danger of hurting oneself is real, what differentiates a skier who can dive into the steeps freely from one who wedges herself down is confidence in one’s technique and the belief that one can control the self, including one’s skis.
In skiing, one’s skis become a part of the self. Imagine being able to remove a part of your Self at any time you need and put it back on as necessary. Perhaps this is why I feel so strongly about how people handle their skis. For instance, one of the first lessons I teach is how to carry one’s skis. Indeed, it hurts me in a seemingly personal fashion, when I see people holding their skis upside down, tips on the ground. Skiing has become a part of who I am, so damaging equipment is like hurting me personally.
I treat myself well, because I care for myself. Therefore, I treat my skis and skiing with respect because the skis and the sport have become a part of my self. Moving up the steepness ladder required me to become comfortable with skis and technique. This required me experiencing a great deal of disequilibrium. I started skiing seriously seven years ago. At the time, I was afraid of the easiest green trails. My son, however, a fourth grader at the time, would dive headlong into increasingly harder terrain. To keep him motivated about skiing, I decided that I would not allow him to witness my fears. So, if he ever showed any fear of terrain, I’d do the run first even when I was seriously scared. Thus, I had to dive into steeper terrain so that he could dive into steeper terrain. I experienced tremendous disequilibrium indeed. However, I didn’t want him to see it, so I suppressed it.
Interestingly, with time, my son has become an outstanding skier. As such, he is now pushing me to ski steeper terrain everywhere we go. Now, I have very little fear of steepness. It is this lack of fear of terrain and speed, which comes with steepness, that has allowed me to start learning to ski for real.
Learning to ski requires knowing how to ski. Once my beginners make their straight runs, I have them learn to turn. Some manage this task well, whereas others fail completely. Those who fail keep going straight, unable to comprehend what it means to manage one’s skis. The reason for this in my view is a failure to maintain the appropriate stance. The reason for failing to maintain stance is inability to trust one’s Self on skis. When skiers feel comfortable, their shins are tight against the tongue of their boots with ankles flexed, their hips are forward with femurs vertical, their arms are in front of their torsos, and eyes forward. Afraid skiers sit back on their skis and lack control.
Sitting back on one’s skis is what differentiates the good skier from the not so good skier. I fall in the latter class. Despite being a good teacher for beginners, once I get on steeper slopes or am skiing in conditions I haven’t mastered yet, I experience tremendous disequilibrium which precludes my ability to dive into the slope. This has been my biggest task for this year. I’m working hard on mastering position. The results are starting to come in. First, whenever I am not skiing steeps, I go to a mild trail and work on my stance. I work hard to push my pelvis forward. I work on skiing on my outside ski during turns, lifting the rear of my inside ski off the snow. I work on not overly rotating my upper body. This I am hoping will translate to better positioning on steeps and slushy snow.
I also train to race. Sometimes ski racing is easy, when the terrain is gentle, and the snow is nice. More often, though, the terrain is steep and there are ruts that to me look like Everest. Those conditions frighten me. Frankly I prefer icy conditions on steeper race slopes than slush. Consequently, when those conditions occur, I tend to sit back on my skis which throws of entirely my ability to control my skis well especially during turns. This year, thanks to my motivation and lots of helpers, I have started to master skiing into the slope on steeps using the appropriate stance; it’s a long and slow process.
Allowing one’s Self to improve requires a commitment to modify the Self. It requires a loosening of one’s control of the Self (not self-control). This is consistent with psychoadaptation, which requires a fluid sense of Self. Once I loosened my grip on my Self, I asked others to evaluate me. This is difficult for those whom place too much value on maintaining self-esteem. William James wrote that self-esteem is the ratio of successes to pretensions. To improve one’s self-esteem, he hypothesized, one must lower one’s pretensions in areas one cannot succeed in at the time. This means having a fluid sense of Self. For me, instead of making claims such as I am a good skier, I had to allow others to evaluate me fairly, and I had to allow myself to experience the concomitant disequilibrium, no matter how much it hurt. I had to conclude, I am not a good skier.
I have met so many great people on my skiing adventure. Teachers and fellow students, competitors, and strangers have all given me advice. For instance, to keep my body forward down the slope on steeper terrain, one fellow ski racer taught me these side slipping drills in which the torso faces down the fall line while the skis are across the hill. Flattening the skis allows for the side slipping. When I first tried this, I realized that despite my ability to ski steep terrain without much fear, I was afraid. I thought I was able to ski steeper terrain without fear, but I wasn’t. Thus, to improve the way I view my Self, I had to re-calculate that pretension. This indeed was James’s prescription for improving self-esteem; eliminate faulty pretensions and higher self-esteem will follow.
The drills have been very helpful. My fear manifested when I had a hard time flattening my skis. To do that I’d have to shift my weight over the downhill ski. I guess I was afraid of doing that; I didn’t want to be out of control. Digging my edges into the snow felt comfortable, whereas flattening my skis was frightening. I’ve been working hard on that on steeper terrain and now I am starting to side slip well. I am even moving my uphill ski forward, rotating my hip correctly to be in the correct position with my coat zipper facing downhill. Disequilibrium resulted in a need to reevaluate my self-conceptions of me as a skier. This resulted in my seeking advice from more advanced skiers and teachers; I allowed my Self to be vulnerable. I then took that advice and practiced hard and continue to practice hard. Although I don’t see myself as a good skier yet, I am feeling more confident about my ability each time I’m out on the slopes.
Allowing one’s self to progress toward higher levels requires accepting vulnerability. People don’t like to feel vulnerable. For that reason, few progress to higher levels of competence in sport, academics, their careers, interpersonal relationships, and other endeavors. Having a fluid sense of self is key to adapting to novel constraints. In psychoadaptation, there is an acknowledgement of the importance of experiencing disequilibrium by allowing for vulnerability as one approaches and adapts to novel constraints. Constraints, the rules governing adaptation, change constantly, whether one moves to a different endeavor or progresses in a current skill. For the beginner in skiing, vulnerability has been accepted to some degree. One cannot feel but vulnerable the first time one tries something new. Anyone seeking to learn something has accepted this pact with a fluid Self. However, keeping the Self fluid beyond day one is what differentiates the individual committed to success from the pretender.
In skiing, psychoadaptation occurs when one allows one’s self to be vulnerable. One can certainly challenge the Self by pushing one’s Self to steeper terrain. Lots of people do that in their first few trips. That’s not a good idea, but it keeps ski patrol busy and emergency rooms in business I suppose. A better way to challenge the Self is to make a date with vulnerability by allowing experts to manage one’s progress in a rational and well developed way. The fluid Self is the Self that has mastered vulnerability by allowing for vulnerability to be an intricate part of the Self.
My last lesson went really well. Three of my five students were progressing quickly up our beginner terrain. Two of the students had a harder time. One of the five fell quite a few times going down our banked turns. His problem was that he didn’t know how to handle speed. Each time a turn is initiated, speed increases momentarily as the skis are pointed downhill, until one completes the turn and the skis are either pointed across the hill or even slightly uphill. As expected, the moment the speed increased, his stance shifted backwards to his seat. He lost control of his skis and fell. Often when I leave such students after a lesson and return an hour or so later, they are skiing well down the terrain they believed they couldn’t handle earlier. This is a sign of adaptation. They have allowed themselves to experience the vulnerability of the fluid Self. They listened to the instructors and practiced the skills taught, and they practiced even more after that. As a result, the next time I see them they are not only skiing, but they’ve achieved a higher conception of Self; a Self that can ski. It remains to be seen what will happen next, but they are firmly on their path to becoming a skier.
Training is fun. I love training. I enjoy it as much as others enjoy skiing casually down a nicely groomed slope. Sometimes I wish I could be ignorantly progressing through life without challenging myself as most people do. Then I try for a while and hate it. I love learning and improving myself. The challenges I undertake, whether in skiing, statistics, tennis, or giving presentations, have made every moment of my life a joy to live. Yes, I have experienced much disequilibrium doing so. However, my life is all about having a fluid sense of self, allowing myself to experience vulnerability and disequilibrium. The beauty of this life is that I am starting to be able to adapt to a greater variety of situation but experiencing less disequilibrium than before. In fact, I experience the oceanic feeling quite frequently; the feeling that one has lost the boundary between the Self and the non-Self. I’ll write about that more some other time.

Tennis fitness

In all sport, fitness is critical. I actually developed a new term for a s specific shot I like in tennis. Nothing new, and good athletes do it all the time, but only because they can.

Today, I was practicing hitting targets while serving. For this specific serve, I aimed at my opponent’s back hand. I was serving to the ad side of the tennis court. Whenever I serve there, my opponent has a harder time returning the ball with his one hand backhand, and returns it a bit short. Knowing this, I rushed the net and was positioned to the right of the ball’s landing spot, in perfect location for a backhand down the line. Instead, though, liking my topspin forehand better just for the feel of the shot, I carefully moved around the ball, took my back swing, and drove the ball to the open court for a clear winner.

This is quite a routine shot for me. I prefer my forehand over my backhand, although I do spend a lot of time practicing my forehand. Yet, I started to think about what it takes to actually execute this shot. It really takes a lot, of fitness that is. Not only is the ball clearly on my backhand side, and I’d have to actually do little from my left side to drive the ball to the open court, but I have to move myself around the ball’s runaway to get to the right spot to hit the shot well. “Wow”, I thought to myself, “this is a real fitness shot”.

We all have different levels of fitness. I spend a lot of time on the exercise bicycle developing my endurance. I play hard and chase after balls on the tennis court too, so that I can be the fittest possible for my age. At 53, lots of my peers spend their entire days eating and drinking their way to Type II diabetes or heart disease. Although playing tennis, cycling, and skiing are no guarantees that I will be healthy and live a long life, they sure do keep me fit enough to have fun on and off the court. So, the next time you play tennis, try out the fitness shot and see if you can run around a ball and hit it to your target.

Tennis Reflections: November 22

Well, it’s been another week. I got to play three times this week. I am still improving, but I’ve embarked on yet another change to my game, which makes life tough again.

Each time I make a change, I take a step backwards. However, to move forward one must take steps backwards to destroy old habits. For me, this is my serve. I’ve made massive changes to my serve, but am still lacking. I have the worst aim, and am now addressing it. I had a mixed day. Although I served well in practice today, the first round, I had plenty of double faults the second time around. This was aided by harsh winds and the outdoor nets being lowered. To compensate, we used these sticks to raise the nets to proper height. However, we couldn’t do it perfectly and therefore the net was a bit high.

Sounds like a lot, no? Well, that’s the life of older tennis players like myself. We strive to improve and we play despite obvious circumstances. We are the backbone of the sport. It’s interesting, while we are not the best players, it’s guys like me who run the sport. Without us, tennis instructors wouldn’t have income. Without us, the racket manufacturers wouldn’t have people to buy their products. Without us, the tennis clubs wouldn’t survive. We aren’t as talented as the Division One players, the semi-pros and pros, but those folks do little to maintain the sport. Heck, they get their equipment and training for free. It’s guys like me who provide jobs for the tennis instructors who were not good enough themselves to be pros.

This week I learned a lot about my game. I learned my strengths. I am a faster old guy. I was never fast as a young person, but for a 52 year old, I can run fast. Indeed, I get pretty much every ball and am there in enough time to make the play. I’m also getting good at my service returns. However, I need to do a better job finishing my follow through on service returns, especially when I play against a hard server. I tend to hit quickly, without a good follow through. Other than that, the week was quite good.

This coming week, I have one training session with my coach, and then it’s off to the mountains. Ski season is upon us, and it’s time to focus on Giant Slalom. I’ll still play tennis weekly, as I love the progress I’ve made over the past year. However, it’s my mind that will turn to the slopes, not my motivation to play. Till next Sunday…

Meditations at the tennis court

It had rained yesterday, and the court had that peculiar smell to it after a good soaking. I sat stretching, my knees almost touching the ground as I stretched out my hips. This to me is the hardest stretch to do. I am extremely flexible except for my hips. So, that’s where I spend the most work.

Today it’s sunny. My sunshine returned after a day hiding behind the clouds. I know it’s not her fault that I couldn’t see her yesterday, but I missed her so much, and am really glad she’s back to light up my existence.

Today I was feeling quite down. I had a dream, and since dreams are not real, the realization of its futility sent me into a bit of a funk. Darkness is light’s friend, as it’s a reservoir for those facets of our self that are in need of altering or repair.

I moped around all morning as the clouds fought with each other to see who could get out of town the fastest. Clouds are like that; they can’t stay in any one place too long before getting bored and moving on. They must have a form of ADHD.

Unlike the clouds, Sunshine is always here. Even when hidden behind these massive pillows of cloudiness, she is still there, sending out her rays in many different and loving ways. When I feel her touch, I am like a child receiving a gift on my birthday. With my Sunshine, everyday is like my birthday.

Today, she came down, riding a ray of light and into my arms. I just held her so that she would know how much I missed her. I said not a word for a whole three moments while the two of us just felt the warmth of our bodies and our love caressing each other. It was nothing sexual; just pure affection.

It’s interesting how important touch is to people. Some people, though, cannot provide it or cannot experience it, or at least they think they cannot. Perhaps it is out of some pain or who knows what, but when they finally do, it brings out a stream of emotions that is hard to stop. For me, it is peace and universal love between two people, even when one is a powerful sun being.

Sunshine felt the warmth of my love for her. It’s a different kind of warmth than the warmth one feels when his tan skin is baked by the sun. My warmth was a mix of subtlety and omniscient. It was something my Sunshine needed, and it was something that I was proud to be able to give her whenever we had the chance to meet and embrace.  I too her chin in my hand and looked directly into her eyes and told her, “Sunshine, no words can express how much I love you except to say those three words over and over again. They are like the mantra I chant to bring me peace when under stress. You are my one and only love Sunshine.” I kissed her on the top of her head like I love to do. She took my hand in hers and just held it. Then, without another word, she rose back toward the sky, leaving me lost in reverie in little shape to play tennis. I did, and life goes forward. Love does that to a man.

Human Development: The Oceanic Feeling

I’ve already written about the Oceanic Feeling on several occasions. Indeed, I have mentioned how it is the ideal psychological state. It is nirvana. It is the zone. It is flow. It is all the supreme states that enlightened individuals strive to attain.

The Oceanic Feeling is not only for the enlightened, however. It can happen to anyone at any moment, but most often when there is perfect adaptation to one’s context. This sounds reasonable, except that it is also possible for adaptation to occur to maladaptive states, and therefore one can adapt perfectly to an extremely negative context. Psychoadaptation posits adaptation to contexts is necessary for equilibrium; it says nothing about the nature of the contexts.

Now, in an earlier chapter, I discussed how the mesosystem is the collection of one’s microsystems. Further, I noted how consistency in values amongst one’s microsystems is necessary for the individual to avoid stress. Yet, one can also imagine a mesosystem that is so far removed from mainstream cultural norms that one never encounters disequilibrium. For, in order to experience disequilibrium, one must be confronted with the failings of one’s behaviors and conceptions. If one is not confronted with one’s failures, there can be no disequilibrium. Let’s look at some examples.

Gang members belong to gangs. The gang is a microsystem. If all of a gang member’s microsystems embrace the gang lifestyle, it is very unlikely for the gang member to experience much disequilibrium, other than that which is related to gang failures. Microsystems the gang member could belong to besides the gang are the family, drug dealers and other criminal enterprises, along with addicts. It is highly likely that within this context that the gang member experiences nearly constant equilibrium, as there is likely much support for gang-related criminal behavior. Experiencing equilibrium, the gang member can also experience the Oceanic Feeling, as the Self’s behaviors and cognitions are completely aligned with the contextual constraints. Thus, despite the gang lifestyle being far outside mainstream social norms within the United States (the extreme tails of the normal distribution), there is ample opportunity to avoid disequilibrium and even experience this ultimate psychological state.

A second example is the addict. Cigarette smokers are addicted to nicotine. Cigarette smokers tend to spend much time with other cigarette smokers. They also tend to come from lower socioeconomic status neighborhoods, shop in the same stores where they purchase their tobacco, drink alcohol and coffee, and work in similar jobs. Let’s imagine a smoker who is a man in his 40s, and works as a contractor. His fellow contractors are smokers, as are his wife and son, his parents and his in-laws. For this individual, the majority of his microsystems and his resulting mesosystem involve smoking. Thus, he rarely experiences disequilibrium. Like the gang member, he is likely to have much equilibrium and is therefore apt to experience the Oceanic Feeling.

The savvy reader is likely to point to this counter intuitive result as a flaw in psychoadaptation theory. For, how is it possible for a theory of health to allow for such negative developmental outcomes to be associated with an amazing psychological state that is the Oceanic Feeling. The truth, though, is that this theory was designed to explain behavior, whether positive or negative, or something in between. Psychoadaptation is not about ideals alone. Used appropriately, it can help explain and even promote epic developmental states. However, it also permits for explaining why individuals fail to achieve such epic states. Adaptation is adaptation, and it requires exposure to the mainstream to permit one the chance to develop appropriately. If one has little exposure to mainstream cultural norms, one is likely to be influenced by sub cultural norms, whether those norms are positive or negative.

In essence, there are two sides to psychoadaptation; science and the clinical. From the scientific point of view, the goal is to explain behavior. In my own research, I study the subjective importance of smoking to the smoker. Because I accept that smokers adapt to their contexts, and do their best to avoid disequilibrium by eschewing mainstream settings, they tend to give cigarettes an almost spiritual significance. Studying the subjective importance of smoking from the psychoadaptation perspective is in no way an acceptance of smoking as an alternative lifestyle, or a capitulation to smokers. Actually, by understanding smoking from a psychoadaptation perspective, we gather the necessary information to generate appropriate interventions to help smokers quit, or at least help prevent the intergenerational transmission of smoking.

Clinically, once we understand smoking’s subjective importance to the smoker, we can tailor interventions to meet the needs of today’s smoker. Smokers tend to be lower socioeconomic status individuals who affiliate with other smokers. As smoking is normative in the smoker’s contexts, and most of a smoker’s peers smoke, we must identify ways to help smokers quit smoking while acknowledging that quitting will most likely result in a loss of the smoker’s social support structure.

Imagine for a moment, my trusty reader, that you are a smoker and that most of your friends are smokers. Imagine now that you have decided to quit. Perhaps you attended a counseling session for smokers interested in quitting, or your doctor told you that you should quit. Whatever be the motivation, you have decided to quit. Now, imagine that you still live in the same neighborhood, surrounded by the same smoking cues (triggers for smoking), and the same peers, most of whom smoke. Your peers are not all going to support your effort to quit, particularly since support would be an indictment of their own smoking behavior. Thus, as a former smoker, your task is to now find new friends who don’t smoke. Imagine what an impact that would have on you psychologically. Essentially, you are abandoning your best friends. Who I ask will be considered the bad person here from you peers’ perspective, you or your peers? I will bet that in the eyes of your peers, it is you whom will be considered the bad person here.

For me as a researcher, psychoadaptation permits me to understand this and to tailor intervention strategies around the negative implications of quitting for the new former smoker. This is an extremely difficult state filled with vulnerability. Former smokers will be ostracized by their peers and left with little social support. As a researcher whose research aims at curbing smoking and its negative consequences, my suggestion is for the creation of a new social group (microsystem) that will help the new non-smoker adapt to the loss of her social support structure. Perhaps we can create a clique of former smokers, with t-shirts and all 🙂

In addition to the loss of her former peers, the new former-smoker will now be encouraged to engage in novel contexts, contexts that do not involve smoking. An interesting consequence is that these novel contexts would not only preclude smoking but would also be inhabited by individuals of higher socioeconomic status, who although share many similarities, are very different from lower socioeconomic status individuals. Thus the former smoker is not only asked to abandon her former smoking peers, but join an alien world that is extremely different from her on many levels besides smoking. Is it any wonder I ask, that many former smokers go back to smoking? It’s not the nicotine that drives them back in my belief; it’s the loneliness and the constant disequilibrium faced that’s exhausting.

Returning to the Oceanic Feeling. Imagine living different lives. In one’s present context, one can experience the Oceanic Feeling from time to time. Although the cost is avoiding a better life in general by eschewing disequilibrium, the Oceanic Feeling is the Oceanic Feeling, whether it’s experienced after smoking or after hiking a mountain path. Psychoadaptation can explain both scenarios. However, there is an important qualitative difference in the two, one that is often not perceptible. For the person avoiding disequilibrium, the Oceanic Feeling only occurs in very specific situations, whereas for the true seeker (the person committed to psychoadaptation) the Oceanic Feeling can occur at any moment, even when writing about the Oceanic Feeling, or while reading about it on some beautiful beach in Southern California.

I live psychoadaptation. In the vernacular of this science, living psychoadaptation means seeking disequilibrium and overcoming it. As such, when I experience the Oceanic Feeling I actually earn it. The Oceanic Feeling experienced by those avoiding disequilibrium is certainly real, but in my view it is not as intense as that felt by one who challenges her status quo. I may not be correct as I’ve never lived the life of the non-seeker, the one who eschews challenge. Yet, I will purse an avenue to initiate all of those willing to join me into this lifestyle, for I ask you my beloved reader, is it only for me to enjoy. I think not.

Human Development: A Psychoadaptation perspective

Development is an interesting process. It begins with conception and ends when the individual’s last breath is taken, and the heart beats for the last time. Although there are many theories of development, each is wrought with flaws. For it is impossible for one to answer the ultimate question regarding causation. The constant tussle between science and ethics will not allow it. Thus, it is up to reason and experience to fill in the gaps. That, my reader, is what I will do here.

Development is a never ending process. Through development, one progresses from a poorly differentiated state to a highly differentiated state; a state in which each facet of the individual is clearly outlined and well defined. We will explore many examples in the coming chapters, but let’s take something I am familiar, mathematical competence.

Mathematics is not everyone’s favorite subject. Indeed, most people would rather eat raw sewage than learn how to calculate the variance of variable, or explore the nature of a slope. However, with practice, one slowly begins to appreciate mathematics, and as one conquers each progressively higher step in the process, one’s mathematical competence increases. This, my reader, is the essence of development; there is constant forward motion.

In addition to forward motion, there is differentiation, at least that’s what I promised, no? Well, there is. Let’s look again at mathematics. Some of us are more gifted than others, yet not all of us are gifted enough to master every skill in mathematics. Thus, there is differentiation in our abilities, and our competence beliefs. For instance, one may feel far more confident with statistics at the formulaic level than at calculus, which is the foundation of most statistical analysis. Thus, one may have a well developed statistics competence but a poorly developed calculus competence. This is differentiation.

Psychoadaptation deals well with the issue of development and competence beliefs. Interestingly, it is competence beliefs that are at the heart of all development. The more competent we feel, the more likely we are to approach challenge. The less competent we are, the more likely we are to eschew novel situations, particularly those that may result in failure. People hate failure, and will do everything possible to avoid it. Thus, if one doesn’t feel competent, she is less likely to approach potential failure than if one feels competent, thereby reducing the likelihood of development.

Competence beliefs are key to psychoadaptation. Psychoadaptation posits the existence of barriers in the path to development. Barriers are no more than mere hindrances that can curtail development. If one is ready to move forward in her development, regardless of domain, one will transcend the barriers. If, on the other hand, one is not ready to develop because the disequilibrium associated with moving forward is too profound, these barriers will become massive and covered with barbed wire. Nobody willingly places one’s self on the path to sure destruction.

Development from a psychoadaptation perspective is a violent act, destroying the old and replacing it with the new. In this book, my goal is to teach you about the nature of adaptation. Incorporating the perspectives of many of the foremost scholars in psychology, psychoadaptation is a creative synthesis. The ultimate aim, though, is to provide a practical theory that will allow those working in the field to help clients achieve a coherent and powerful sense of self.

Self is indeed the aim of this process. Self is the sum total of all of one’s competencies and self-identifications. A coherent self accepts all of one’s experiences, negative and positive. A powerful self is able to facilitate change, both in the self and in others. Although it is certainly important to change others at time, no change is possible unless one changes the self first. Thus, having a sense of self that is fluid and malleable is critical.

Human development thankfully is a life long process. We begin developing once we are conceived, when the sperm meets the ovum. From that point on, development takes off. Psychological development begins once the individual sees light for the first time. This development, however, depends on the individual’s environment, and its conduciveness to change. The more conducive to change, the more likely one is to develop in a positive sense. However, this propensity depends on one’s earliest systems, such as the home environment and daycare center. If these systems encourage development, it is likely to take place. If on the other hand they eschew development or even encourage the status quo, development will not take place. Thus, a very effective environment is one that actually provides the complexity needed to encourage and facilitate development.

A complex environment is key. Complex environments challenge the developing person’s beliefs. The worst possible situation is an individual who never encounters complexity and as a result believes that her premature perspective is well developed. Society provides ample opportunities for development. So long as one is exposed to them, the opportunity is there. If the developing individual agrees to challenge the self, the opportunity for development exists. If on the other hand the individual eschews such opportunities, development is likely to fail, for development requires transcending barriers. An absence of barriers, whether perceived or real is enough to derail development.

Each of us is born into a series of contexts. These contexts either encourage or limit development. However, even in limiting contexts, we continue to develop. Development is a natural process that is boundless. It is boundless, however, only if parents provide endless opportunities for development. If parents fail to do so, development will also fail.

This first chapter is an introduction into psychoadaptation. In the rest of this book we will discuss what it takes for an individual to move forward from the current sense of self to a higher self, one that will allow the individual to experience the highest form of development, what I like to call the oceanic feeling.

Throughout the rest of this book I will provide important lessons in self development. Equipped with years of research, theoretical knowledge, and practical experience, I will guide you through the self journey from the current self to the highest possible self. I hope, my reader, that you will not only move forward in your self-understanding but also actually move forward to a more profound sense of self, a sense of self that you deserve and void of pretensions.

Strap on your seat belt and let’s go for a ride!

Random thoughts of the day: July 14

Yes, it’s Bastille day. I know we are not French, but it is a holiday nevertheless, and it’s good to celebrate holidays. OK, so I was playing tennis today with my friend and coach Dan. We were at a high school in the Philadelphia suburbs. Football practice was going on behind us. I was hitting my serves and forehands really well, although I was and am still struggling with my two-hand backhand. Making the transition has not been easy, but I am seeing progress.

After working on serve and volleying, I proceeded to end the session with a game of 10 points. Either Dan or I would start the rally and one had to win the point. I was hitting well but starting to get tired. I guess that’s nothing extraordinary for a 51 year old man when playing with a 21 year old. I missed a couple of balls long, and this obese dude walking around the courts laughed at me out loud. Not once, but twice did he laugh. I was about to say something to him, but never got the opportunity. Honestly, all I wanted to say was that he should pay me for the entertainment.

Learning new skills is difficult, particularly when one is older and wishes to perform at a high level. I work hard to play my best all the time, and exercise intensely to achieve the fitness I need to withstand the pounding of a tennis session with a Division I athlete. I have fun playing tennis, and it’s my fantasy to play at a high level. As a youngster, my family couldn’t afford to give me the training I needed, not in tennis, martial arts, or anything for that matter. I had to work on my own to earn my lessons.

Today, as an older man with a teenage son, I actually work hard to afford the lessons necessary for my son to achieve skills in tennis, flying, and skiing. He is good enough at skiing to start teaching this year. He is good enough at flying to earn his private pilot’s license when he is of age. It’s tennis that requires some work with him. I am confident that within one year he will be well prepared to play high school tennis. I want him to be fit for a lifetime, just as I am. I may not have ever been good enough to achieve D1 status in sports, but at nearly 52, I’m in pretty damn good shape.

I guess that’s all I wanted to convey on this Tuesday evening. I love sport and exercise, and have incorporated it into my life. I think we should all do the same. I know it’s hard to go from sitting on one’s butt to moving like one really means it, but if you try hard enough you can achieve it. Trust me on this one 🙂

physical and mental health, sport and exercise psychology, and parenting