June 13th, 2012

Books!

Do-it-yourself Psychology!

This was another good Dollar Store find … showing that you never know what will filter through that strange retail channel (as I've noted here previously, I've been told that they buy bulk “shelf turn-over” from the big discount stores, so frequently the books are just last month's “titles du jour” at those limited-item departments). The Next Ten Minutes: 51 Absurdly Simple Ways to Seize the Moment by Andrew Peterson, EdD is a bit of an odd thing to have been out there anyway, being various exercises to change how you approach things in your life. The book is “dedicated to two propositions”: 1st - “Big changes in our lives start with small shifts in our state of mind.” and 2nd - “The seeds of change are embedded within the most ordinary activities of daily life.”. And, as one might surmise from the title, the (51) exercises in it are designed to be able to be worked through in about 10 minutes. I showed this to a therapist friend of mine, who was quite impressed, saying that he could run a whole weekend retreat off of the stuff in here, which I take to be pretty high praise.

There is a lot of humor involved here too … in fact, most of the exercises are pretty ridiculous on their surface … to pick a few for illustration: “Go into Another Room”, “Stare at the Wall”, “Do Something”, “Misuse an Object”, “Pose a Threat”, “Plug Your Ears”, “Retrace Your Steps”, “Stand Up”, and (the final one) “Do Nothing”. Many of these are almost as odd as they sound. Another interesting feature of the book are its two appendices, “How Are You Feeling” and “How Would You Like To Feel”, which list a few dozen feelings and make suggestions as to which exercises to try for them.

Generally speaking, the exercises in this book are ways to mindfully, consciously, do things that one might do anyway (such as “Stand Up”), or might do if one was so inclined (like “Plug Your Ears”). In these Peterson coaches for things to look for in one's thoughts and physical reactions, both directly, and in variations. I found the following alternative (from the first, ironically placed, “Procrastinate” exercise) particularly interesting:

Do it, but only halfheartedly. A final way to vary this exercise involved harnessing your capacity for passive-aggressive behavior. Don't procrastinate, but don't do the task well either. We all do this at times, but usually we do it more or less unconsciously. Try bringing full awareness to a task while you're doing a half-assed job on it. Can you stay focused on your refusal to do the task well even as you are doing it?
This is the sort of mental “stretching” that's all through the book, along with other “I did not know that” (kudos to the late Johnny Carson) tidbits like “you can't speak while inhaling”.

Frankly, my reactions varied widely to the exercises in The Next Ten Minutes, from “oh, cool – I'll have to try that” to “puh-leese”, but they all seemed to have pretty worthwhile psychological ends for which they're designed. Speaking of psychology … I felt like I just had to share the following digression from the “Dig In Your Heels” (#44) exercise:

Prescribing the Symptom
      I know I'm going to get in trouble for this, but I'm going to do it anyway. I'm going to give away one of the most important secret behind this entire book. So be forewarned. If you read the rest of this section, you might not need this book (or your therapist) anymore. You might be albe to do it all on your own.
      It's called paradoxical intervention, or “prescribing the symptom”.
      That's a fancy way of saying that you get put into a double blind. Here's an example: Say you go to a therapist for help in managing your fear of speaking in public. You describe to the doctor how you get paralyzed with anxiety whenever you have to talk in front of groups. You just can't seem to get it under control. At the end of the session, the therapist tells you that it's very important for the treatment that over the next week you continue to feel your fear of speaking in public. In fact, you should try to worry about it even more, to intensify your fear.
      You leave the session in a state of confusion, wondering if your therapist is completely out of her mind. But whether or not she is sane, you still have to figure out what to do next. If you follow her instructions, you can't help but acknowledge that you have control over how you experience your symptoms, and thus that you have the ability to improve them. On the other hand, the only way to not follow her instructions is to worry less. This is the bind. So even if you do nothing, you have already altered your state of mind. You shift from being the person who is afraid to being the person observing the fear. Either way, something has changed.
It is this “something has changed” result that these little 10-minute exercises are attempting to get at … small shifts that end up making huge differences (and, in another story here, he had triggered a major change in one patient simply by suggesting that they sleep on the opposite side of the bed than they were used to … which is almost getting into Edgar Cayce territory!).

Anyway, The Next Ten Minutes is a very interesting read, if only to see what sorts of things could bring on major shifts in one's perceptions. It's still available out there (the on-line big boys even still have it at very near its cover price), but the new/used guys on the web have new copies for as little as 1¢, though you'd still do better if you could find a dollar store copy rather than one you had to pay shipping on!


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