Category Archives: Psychoadaptation Theory

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.

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.

Challenge the Self and all its ugliness to move forward

 

A Journey into the Self

 

Right now, we each are here and now, in our particular Selfs. The Self is unique and the product of our experience, and our adaptations to our various microsystems (i.e., our immediate face-to-face settings). For instance, a couple has its own set of rules governing successful adaptation to its microsystem, just as does a lacrosse team or a college course. Our Selfs are the sum total of all those adaptations, positive or negative.

 

Development always proceeds from the simple to the complex. Experience in our various settings provides the nourishment for us to develop into our unique Selfs. Each Self develops at its own rate and in proportion to the exposure experienced in its various settings. This of course depends upon the exposure provided by more experienced members of society (Lev Vygotsky would be happy). Thus, a wealthier individual with parents who have a propensity to travel will experience more systems than an individual growing up in poverty and with little exposure to diversity. The greater the exposure, the more contexts to which the individual must adapt. Such is Self-development; exposure is the input that allows the Self to flourish.

 

Exposure is key, and allows one to adapt to multiple contexts. The more contexts to which one is exposed, the more likely one is to feel comfortable across settings. Comfort is no more than a synonym for equilibrium. However, exposure is not enough. In the progression that is life, individuals experience a great deal. Much of this experience is positive, yet an equal if not greater amount is quite negative. When negative experiences occur, they drastically impact the path to the True Self. Negative experiences are painful and therefore are avoided to preserve the Self. Indeed, it is an unspoken rule that we should avoid pain and pursue pleasure (Seymour Epstein). Pleasure means a lack of pain.

 

Seymour Epstein articulated this best when he described the functions of the Self, one being the avoidance of pain in pursuit of pleasure. However, to attain the highest Self, one must not only welcome pain when it is encountered, but actively pursue it so that it may be conquered.

 

The conquest of pain is as old as is humanity. Thus, I claim nothing new by advocating this pursuit. Yet, in psychology, we often believe that psychic pain should be ignored, and that there are alternative more cognitive methods to improve the self. These are false and Self-defeating pursuits. The only way to improve the Self is to eliminate all roadblocks to success, not merely changing the way we articulate our feelings to ourselves from negative to positive Self statements. Thus, from the perspective of adaptation, one must not only accept anxiety but seek out and conquer those experiences that provoke anxiety. Psychoadaptation is a very active way to the True Self.

 

Anxiety

 

Anxiety is perhaps the most basic of human emotions. It’s a nexus for psyche and physiology. Anxiety is the famous Fight or Flight response. We all know it because we have all experienced it. Most often, we experience anxiety in social situations, because human beings, though social, hate being the center of attention, at least most of us do. Thus, when faced with public speaking or asking out a potential partner for a date, we tend to experience a variety of uncomfortable symptoms that make us want to curl up in bed and go to sleep. This anxiety, however, is less evil than it appears. Indeed, anxiety is a sign that something is wrong and that our Selfs need to change in order for us to progress to a higher Self. C.G. Jung labeled this latent proclivity the Transcendent Function. According to Jung, the psyche’s function is to promote psychic wholeness, a unification of the unconscious and consciousness. In this case, it means a unification of our spoken truths and our unspoken fears. Thus, anxiety isn’t an evil that must be avoided but rather a function whose aim is to right the Self and to bring about psychic balance.

 

The journey to the True Self is complicated and filled with danger. In order to emerge a new Self, one must go into the unconscious and slay one’s personal daemons. These daemons are the manifestation of those mystic dark characters portrayed so fantastically in the literature and cinema. They however don’t exist in reality but only psychically. Yet to the individual, daemons are fearful physiologic-psychic creatures. We psychologically give them a substance they do not deserve to have in reality. I ask, would you endow trash with substance? Our psychic garbage seeks to have substance. Instead of throwing it out on Thursday night for the garbage collector to dump into the back of his truck Friday morning, we endow this psychic garbage with special powers that control us. The True Self can only be achieved by allowing the trash collector to dump our psychic garbage into the waste bin in the back of the truck. Compress that garbage I say and don’t allow it to control us. Jung labeled this garbage a complex and noted that complexes have us instead of us having complexes. I also have garbage, and I can dump it Thursday evenings. I’d rather dump it than let it control me.

 

Despite the rather simple ability to dump our trash, the battle for the True Self is the hardest battle we will ever fight. We try to ignore our inner daemons and hope that time will allow us to move on to greener pastures (for cows?). Yet, that never works. Wishing our daemons away is as efficacious as hoping some unproven treatment will save one from cancer, or that taxes due will be reversed into refunds. Instead of hoping, I believe the only option is to directly confront our daemons and to tell them to F off. It’s crude but our psyche isn’t polite. Do not, my trusty reader, believe that there is any other way of dealing with the psyche. We try to pretend we are better, but our unconscious psychological processes take us back to the crudity of life. We are nothing but mortal beings, just like the slug or spider.

 

The journey to the True Self is one of pain and release. We experience pain by challenging ourselves and our false beliefs about the Self and the world surrounding us. Doing so, we learn what is right about our Selfs and what is wrong. We learn where we have made mistakes and what we have done right, but mostly our mistakes. To emerge on the other side, out of our cocoons into our butterfly beings, we must first observe and hug and kiss our ugliness. We are the ugliness and the beauty. Most of us don’t want to accept our ugliness, no matter how light it is. Failure to do so will impede progress toward the true Self. Once though we attain the True Self, we experience reality in a way never experienced before. We experience, and not infrequently, that feeling known as the Oceanic feeling; total unity with our surroundings. This feeling, unfortunately to most, is only experienced when we allow the Self to be free, embracing all of its ugliness. I know it’s not pretty, but the Self needs to accept its ugliness as well as all the beauty it embodies. Light and dark together make the whole, just as night and daytime make the full day. Yet, the benefit of this union is a peace one can never know without it. I live for those moments of unity and wholeness, those oceanic moments when the separation between Self and not Self disappears. That is the reward for the pain and struggle of revealing the True Self. I for one think it’s worth it.

 

Psychoadaptation VIII: Cognition, not teeth and claws

Unlike other animals, the human animal is poorly equipped to defend itself against predation. In a one on one battle for survival against a wolf, mountain lion, or other deadly beast, the human animal stands little chance. Sharp teeth and claws will tear our tender flesh, ripping apart muscles, tendons, and other biologic features that otherwise allow us to move freely and work in our environments. Nature, however, is not really that cruel a mistress. She has indeed prepared us to survive our planet’s hostile environments. Not only has she allowed us to survive, she’s given us the most powerful tool ever designed by her loving hands, the cerebral cortex.

The human brain is our defense, and cognition is its venom. Through countless cycles of natural selection, the human brain has evolved to the point that it allows us to dominate the planet like no other creature. The purpose of evolution is of course to permit reproduction. Thus, so long as an organism reproduces, its life can be said to be successful, at least from an evolutionary perspective. Yet, the power of the brain and mind have allowed us to do so much more. Not only do we survive, we design and build technological tools that no other creature on this planet has ever attempted or is even capable of attempting. Certainly, other creatures are intelligent and use tools. For instance, crows and parrots use sticks to manipulate their environments. Dolphins and other whales have brains the size of humans and no doubt have mastered their environments in unique ways. Only humans, however, have taken cognition to another step, producing tools that allow us to communicate across continents instantaneously, cruise the skies to visit relatives abroad, and even explore space.

Evolution is an amazing phenomenon, using life and death as tools to craft the perfect organism by environment fit. During times of need, our brains have allowed us to master difficult situations. Selection pressures, such as floods, volcanic eruptions, and other natural disasters, including famine and plagues, forced nature to reshuffle its genetic deck until the best mutations of genes are produced; the ones that give humans the edge over environment. Yet, when selection pressure ended, and humans finally mastered their environments, there was little left for our minds to ponder. We turned, then our cognition inwards, toward solving personal issues. Although it seemed that selection pressure was over, it merely changed its battleground to person instead of people, each of us struggling to conquer our own personal demons to survive and reproduce; to produce the next generation.

Environments differ across our planet. Humans have divided themselves into countries to protect land and culture. Some countries have been more successful at protecting their citizens than other countries. In the most successful countries, people have a great amount of leisure time, as there are few difficulties to conquer. With ample food and shelter, attention turned to recreation. Our powerful minds, however, seek things to do, and therefore we began to create modes of entertainment that are so magnificent that it would have been hard for a genius even a generation ago to imagine. These inventions, though, have costs. Even the mere acquisition of technology is expensive, and individuals have found themselves in terrible debt due to their desire to possess the best technological advances.

Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget once said that desirability is disequilibrium. He was right; the more we desire, the more we create distressful conditions that trigger our fight or flight responses the way our ancestors felt when faced with a predator or a tough enemy in war. For Piaget, disequilibrium was but one consequence of the human-environment interaction. Disequilibrium occurs when cognition is not adequate to assimilate experience. In former times, when facing a predator, our ancestors experienced disequilibrium because they faced death. It was only when they solved the situation, freeing themselves from possible death that their disequilibrium disappeared, but only until the very next dangerous encounter came their way. With our powerful brains, and our abilities to review our past performances, and our forethought to plan for the future, our ancestors came up with amazing plans and designed weapons that would allow us to escape predation. Using tools, they designed homes that reduced the risk of predation. They mastered fire for both cooking and as a defense against predators. They designed ballistic weapons that distanced themselves from direct contact with enemies. With each advance, humans found ways to decrease disequilibrium and return the body to equilibrium. Disequilibrium is a very distasteful physical as well as psychological state. To understand it, my reader, one must only think back to any single personal experience in which the Self encountered a difficult situation that seemed beyond the Self’s ability to escape, physically or mentally. If that situation resulted in physiologic symptoms consistent with the fear response, one experienced disequilibrium.

This fight or flight response is nature’s way of preparing the organism for action and potential harm. Blood is diverted to important muscles, and diverted from less useful processes such as digestion which are not necessary for fighting. Pupils dilate to permit better access to light. The heart races to ensure adequate oxygen delivery to muscles. All of these processes are defensive in nature and expensive. As such, disequilibrium is a response to threat. Thus, of course, when there is no possible bodily harm, we should not have to experience the fight or flight response, yet we too often do. If one has ever had to prepare for a presentation (public speaking), particularly one involving evaluation, one knows that the fight or flight response can occur in situations not involving potential for bodily harm, unless of course one is not a good speaker and the audience may throw fruit at the speaker, but I digress there! Thus, although the body has been designed by evolution quite well to fight an enemy or flee predation, this biologic preparedness is not always useful, with many negative consequences for health if triggered too often.

In the modern world, particularly in well-developed and wealthy nations, there are fewer life and death situations for most. It is important to note that this is not the case for everyone, for even in a country as rich and powerful as the United States, many individuals living in poverty struggle with issues of safety every day, and in those cases we are thankful for the fight or flight response and its physiologic consequences. Yet, as our nation seeks to improve the welfare of all its citizens, many of these dangers have begun to diminish, leaving the fight or flight response to respond to different threats, namely those threats to the self. The self is a latent construction that we can only know by its objective indicators. For instance, I know who I am through my physical characteristics such as my height, skin complexion, eye color, and foot size. I also know my Self through my accomplishments, such as my academic degrees, sport skills, and the products of my research. I know my Self from my possessions, including my car, skis, and computer, and my clothing. I know my Self from having a family. All of these indicators have helped me become who I am, as well as all of my opinions on various matters, from politics and religion, to my views on development and even the self. As these concrete and abstract phenomena constitute my Self, they are part of me, and therefore my possessions.

Unlike my skis and other material possessions, though, which can be replaced, we humans hold on to our beliefs about who we are and what we can do with a strong grip, a grip that we refuse to release. As human beings, the definition of the Self is so important to us, that we will defend it against any force that seeks to contradict it. Thus, we strive to ensure our Selfs can assimilate as much experience as possible, even if the information contradicts our views of ourselves or our worldviews. Every threat to the Self causes a strong response, just as when we were faced with predators or cataclysmic events. In response, we defend. We cannot stand disequilibrium, and therefore will do whatever it takes to defend the Self from insult, that is at least until we find a way to either assimilate the experience or have the mental strength to change our views to accommodate the new experiences. It is that capacity to adapt our views that differentiates the successful human being from the less successful. Unlike prior times, however, when failure to adapt was a genetic failure that resulted in the extinction of a given genetic line, human beings survive despite their willingness to adapt. Thus, our world is filled with individuals with different levels of Self health. The healthier Selfs are those who are willing to adapt and change their Selfs to accommodate the data of experience, having what I like to call a liquid self. This liquid self means the individual is not tied to any one definition of the self, understanding though, the true nature of the Self from a historical perspective. Thus, the healthy Self knows from where the Self came, including culture, country, and parents, and this does not change. The healthy Self knows its history of accomplishments and failures and uses this as motivation for the future. Yet the healthy self is able to change the Self’s Self-definition to accommodate different environments, for the healthy Self understand that life is an ever changing process, like the point in the river on which one focuses the Self’s gaze; water flows through that point, ever changing but ever being the same.

Psychoadaptation VI: Walking

What’s your favorite activity? I like to do so many things! If you were to ask me what my favorite activity is, though, I’d say it’s walking. Each of us has a favorite, and it’s our job to find it. How will you know? You know it when you can’t live without it. I can live without many things, but walking isn’t one of them. Everyone walks every day, but for me walking is more special. When I walk I see the world. I can walk for hours without stopping. Each step is an adventure talking me closer to the unknown. I love feeling lost, feeling new, and walking lets me feel lost and new at the same time. Today I walked the cliff walk in Newport, RI again, perhaps for the last time before leaving the Ocean State. It was a glorious walk, as all of my weekly walks have been for the last 18 months. Today I saw birds surfing. They were close to First Beach, riding waves. I wandered to myself, do they have to be there or do they actually enjoy going up and down those waves, particularly the ones about to break. Looked like fun to me!

Walking provides lots of adventures, and no two are exactly the same. I love walking more than any other activity. It started when I was a child in Washington, DC, and I’d walk from my apartment in McLean Gardens to the public pool in Georgetown. As I got older, I increased the length of my walks, walking home from my job at Pier 1 Imports in Georgetown to my home in North Arlington, quite a distance; I’m not talking about Rosslyn friends. I’d walk for an hour plus. It was fun. From that point, I increased the length of my walks, going all over DC. One, two, three hours was nothing for me. Even at my older age, I still walked long distances. For instance, every time I visit a new city, I find the longest possible safe walk and do it. Walking gives me time to think. It also gives me a supreme workout, and it’s free. I see the beauty of each city I visit. Whether Paris, Santiago, Salta, or Portland, I get to know the city intimately. There is no other way to know a place well than to know it one step at a time!

As a public health professional, I am interested in promoting health. These days, the leading causes of death and disease are preventable. Thankfully, we’ve eradicated most contagious diseases. However, it’s the lifestyle diseases that are our next challenge. I walk, and that helps me. Perhaps others would like walking too. Others may however prefer more vigorous activities. I spoke to a friend today about my son. I thanked him for always being good to Alex, especially when Alex lacked motivation or was sad or angry. My friend told me, “I just want him to find something he loves to do.” I love to walk. As my friend suggested, each of us must find something we love to do, something we’d do rather than eat, sleep, or virtually anything else. I have mine. I also like skiing, playing tennis, and practicing martial arts. What’s your passion? Find it and you will find peace, mental health, and physical well being.

Psychoadaptation VII: Walking and Thinking

Every week I walk part of the Cliff Walk in Newport,RI while my son plays tennis. The walk goes along the ocean starting just above First Beach and winds its way quite a bit around the coast to end of Bellevue Avenue. I get off at Narragansett Avenue, as I only have a limited amount of time to get back to tennis and watching my son play. Yet, I use this short time to reflect upon all the issues that burst into consciousness at the time. The psyche is efficient and makes use of every moment it’s afforded.

Thoughts have a way of making themselves known and violating one’s peace. The most persistent violators are the thoughts associated with current dilemmas, or old unsolved issues. For instance, when money is at issue, finances flood my consciousness. When the issue is health, thoughts of illness and mortality make their presence known. We cannot escape our problems, we have to deal with them, and consciousness has a way of alerting us to our current issues, or perhaps it’s the unconscious.

I am an advocate of psychoadaptation, as my faithful reader knows. Psychoadaptation is about psychological adaptation. Psychoadaptation necessitates adapting to our environments. Once one commits to psychoadaptation, one starts to learn about one’s environment in profound detail, and then seeks to adapt one’s self (including conceptions) to the environment’s constraints in order to achieve equilibrium and perceived success. Knowing the context’s constraints forces one to judge the self in relation to the constraints, turning one’s mind’s eye inward. Once this occurs, it is difficult to not start judging one’s self. However, instead of this being a sign of pathology as self-judgment is often portrayed, this self-scrutiny is a key step towards mental health. One starts identifying gaps between the real and ideal, and seeks to fill said gaps with behaviors and cognitions appropriate to one’s current position.

Walking is a great opportunity to assess one’s standing in relation to the environment and it’s constraints, and the gaps. It’s an escape from reality, literally, as one “walks” away from trouble. However, in freeing one’s self (or one’s conscious mind) from commitments, at least temporarily, the unconscious mind starts exerting it’s influence. Issues unresolved come to the forefront, and we have to deal with them. This is where psychoadaptation differs from meditation and Eastern religion. Instead of chasing away thoughts like birds from a clothes line, we invite them in, and then have the audacity to fire them! This process, what I like to call “The American Zen”, is the Western equivalent of Eastern passivity.  In the West, we are active rather than passive. Instead of moving around barriers, we crush them with a tank. I am an American and I advocate this practice. When we see barriers in our path to happiness, we destroy them; I destroy them when they barricade me from my future. Ironically, in the end we (the Buddhists and practitioners of psychoadaptation) achieve similar aims. The Buddhist achieve happiness because the Buddhist eschews all reality. It is difficult to have worldly concerns when one lives (cognitively speaking) outside of the real world. For the Westerner, reality is, well, reality. We are not able to escape it, so we must confront it. If one confronts one’s walls, and knocks them down, there is nothing left to worry about and one has mental peace.
Psychoadaptation works by identifying one’s barriers through listening intently to the self (mindfulness), and then destroying those barriers. Barriers keep appearing when one chooses to actively live in the real world. Walking is a perfect way to identify them. That’s why I walk. The longer the walk the better!

Psychoadaptation V: Is real peace of mind possible?

I noted previously in my series of publications introducing the principles of psychoadaptation the rather perpetual fluctuation between equilibrium and disequilibrium, and how every time we think we’ve achieved peace, it evaporates as quickly as a bottle of soda left open. Indeed, it is said frequently by people all over the world that there is nothing constant but change. This applies well to the psyche. As soon as we have adapted our conceptions to the constraints of our environment, soon new demands appear and our equilibrium ends. We feel the pressure to adapt again. For some of us, this is sheer pleasure. I love adaptation. I enjoy challenge and really enjoy conquering challenge. To do so, one must place one self in difficult and unfamiliar contexts; the contexts requiring adaptation. I drop myself into these contexts, as if falling into a box with slippery walls in which escape is not possible. However, given time, my mind and self work together to turn those slippery walls into steps, and I climb casually out as if I had been there and done that so many times before.

Although the cycle of equilibrium and disequilibrium repeats itself over and again, by continuing to seek challenge, we eventually come to see the commonalities among different contexts. With time these commonalities become so evident that situations start blending. It’s like creating a smoothie. Although the strawberries are red and the blueberries blue, when blended together one no longer distinguishes the two but tastes a wonderful concoction with the right blend of sweet and sour.

Psychoadaptation is like blending different fruit and preparing a tasty smoothie. Instead of fruit we deal with situations. Instead of a smoothie, we drink life. Thus, the fourth principle of psychoadaptation is that as adaptation increases, the need to adapt decreases.

Imagine that you have lived a full life. As a young person, each day you sought to try something new, challenging your fears. Say you suffer from social anxiety and dealing with people face-to-face is uncomfortable. For one not living psychoadaptation, one would maintain equilibrium by eschewing challenge. This would mean staying within safe zones, zones in which one wouldn’t face others. However, inside that self could reside an outstanding orator for instance. Public speaking and social anxiety don’t mix well, one would think, and if one prescribes to a need to maintain equilibrium, that person is right. Yet, if one negates such nonsense, one would seek to challenge the self by forcing the self into discomfort and disequilibrium. This would entail, for instance, taking a course in which one must present work, volunteering for jobs that require greater face-to-face contact. This would be extremely uncomfortable. I can imagine the heart racing faster than Danica Patrick at the Indianapolis 500, and the intestines tightening up. Lips and facial muscles would twitch and the person may even feel faint. HOWEVER, once the individual adapts to the situation once, the self would find adapting to a similar situation a second time more simple. Then the third and the fourth times would be even simpler, and so on and on.

Each time we master one context we experience perfect equilibrium and that context is stored in our mental schema (framework for understanding) so that the next time we encounter that situation or a like situation, we will feel confident in our ability to adapt. Contexts are never the same, yet they are quite similar. For instance, as a professor/instructor, I have taught many hundreds of lectures. Although no two lecture is the same, even if covering the exact same content, and students differ, each time I taught a lecture I became more and more familiar with that context. I eventually reached the point where little that students asked or did phases me. I didn’t adapt to all of those contexts, but I had adapted to teaching and teaching underlies every lecture I ever deliver. Although I still have to adapt to each individual situation, adaptation becomes easier each time I adapt. As such, teaching, which once was a very frightening situation for me became simple and rather comfortable.

To attain happiness one must attain peace. To paraphrase Piaget, desire is disequilibrium. When we stop desiring, we no longer experience disequilibrium and we live in a perpetual state of peace. Although we may not experience the oceanic feeling each moment of each minute of each day, we feel quite satisfied with whom we are and what we have done. By coming to see life’s commonalities, we realize that there isn’t much left to desire, and that’s quite fine. We come to be content and we stop chasing false hope. It’s only then that we experience peace. There’s a saying that it’s better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all. That saying encapsulates psychoadaptation perfectly. One lives and experiences, and even though not every experience ends happily, one is better for having had the experiences, and comes to realize quite happily that to have lived is enough.

I still have goals in life. I pursue them vigorously. Yet I am content. In discussing Erik Erikson’s psychosocial stages of development, I often tear up when delivering stage 8. According to Erikson, in that last stage when we are nearing the end of our physical presence on earth, we are confronted with a major question; did we live the best life we could have lived, and are we content? I have said that we don’t have to be old and grey to answer that question. Nor do we have to have achieved much. Indeed, if the grim reaper came to my doorstep right now, I should be able to answer that question with a resounding yes. Yes, I did live my life the best I could, for I sought to challenge myself always and to always better myself and how I relate to others. Although I haven’t accomplished every goal I desire, I am working on them and being on the road toward accomplishment in my book is the same as having accomplished the ends. I never stop. Then, I compose myself in front of my students and say. I hope you can say to yourselves right now, if your time to pass is here, that you have lived the best life you could have lived and that you are truly content. I feel sorry for those who cannot.

Living a life of adaptation, psychological adaptation that is, will ensure that in the end you pass without regrets. You will come to love challenge and embrace discomfort, as discomfort becomes comfort. Your world will turn upside down but in a good way. Imagine, attaining peace and doing so by living a full life instead of hiding in some temple and meditating normality away. This is psychoadaptation.