Thursday, April 24, 2014

HSPs: Creativity and Anxiety

When it comes to increasing our happiness, there are so many things that we can do. We all know the theories. But how do we choose among all the areas that we can possibly work on? Where do we begin? In my search for a directed way, I pick up The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky and leaf through its pages, guessing which happiness activities would be recommended for me to start with. 

I am pretty sure letting go of over-thinking - what Lyubomirsky calls rumination - will be one of the top ones. My mind seems locked in one place, playing its never-ending loop. 

But the test reveals that this is not an area I should focus on right now. Among other things, the right happiness fit for me is working to increase "flow" experiences. These are the kind of experiences where you would get so absorbed in an activity that hours could pass by without you noticing. 

As I think about this, it occurs to me that what I've been asked to work on is something that would also alleviate my over-thinking. But there's a subtle distinction in emphasis. Over-thinking is a by-product of a vacuum. 

Not being engaged creates dissatisfaction and breeds the damp environment where thoughts fly like mosquitoes.  

So how do we get into this flow, instead of stagnating? Lyubomirsky says that finding such experiences is essentially about finding the right space between boredom and anxiety. If an activity is not challenging enough, we will get bored. 

If it is beyond our level of expertise, it will cause overwhelm and anxiety. But if we have enough skill to practice it, we can engage and learn. The practice itself is the goal. It is intrinsically rewarding. We love doing it.  

One way to get into a flow state is to focus our attention. Lyubomirsky quotes William James who once wrote, "My experience is what I agree to attend to." Lyubomirsky says: "This is a revolutionary thought. What you notice and what you pay attention to is your experience; it is your life. There's only so much attention that you have to go around, so where and how you choose to invest it is critical. To enter the state of flow, attention needs to be directed fully to the task at hand." 

So, when you are intensely absorbed in something, you are basically directing your attention to the task (for example: Painting). You are not thinking about any moment in the future - what you want to have for dinner, the meeting you have next week. You belong to the moment.        

Lyubomirsky asks us to learn for ourselves what brings flow and engagement to our lives. Like many adults, you might think that you would always prefer leisure over work. But Lyubomirsky points out that for many of us, work brings an experience of efficacy and self-mastery while undirected leisure activities, like watching T.V., can cause boredom after a certain point. 

So, when we are thinking about flow, we need to question our level of awareness. It could be true that our work provides us with few opportunities for flow. But it could also be true that the kind of play we are engaging in does not create good feelings. 

Once we have understood what activities help us flow, we can start asking other questions. If you are an HSP who is prone to anxiety and over-thinking, some experimentation might be in order. What is the root cause of your over-thinking? 

Could it be an absence of a creative outlet? Is your empty mind filling up with unneeded thoughts. Could you direct your attention elsewhere? 

For those of us struggling to channel our sensitivity into the world, maybe we've got cause and effect mixed up. Maybe we are not "not creating" because we are anxious. Maybe the truth is that we are anxious because we are not practicing our creativity. 

Listen to this post!