Friday, March 18, 2016

Finding the sweet spot

Albert Einstein is said to have said--but probably didn't-- “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
It’s quite a catchy phrase. And I was all set to make a cute little connection between my hair-growth cycle and that particular quote.
You see, every fall I start to grow my hair long. And every spring I cut it back off.
The thought process goes like this: “Self,” I say, “you’re getting older. And you probably can’t wear your hair long when you are old. So you should grow it out now while you can.”
So I set to watching it grow.
Through the winter I think, “Wow...it’s getting so long! Way to go, self!”

Taken in February after Miss G's 2nd grade program. (She made those flowers, by the way!)
It gets longer and longer. And then one day, I look in the mirror and I no longer look fair. I look tired and worn. It’s like the added length accentuates dark under-eye circles and wrinkles. It pulls my face so far south that my naturally narrow, oval face shape becomes a line. The longer my hair gets, the more tired I look.
So, by spring I start browsing Pinterest for short, curly haircuts. I text examples to my mom and sisters. I ask friends for advice...should I, or shouldn’t I? To cut or not to cut?
All the while, I tell myself I don’t know what I will do. Keep it long and add layers? Go with a middle length? Chop it to the chin? Maybe some rainbow highlights?
OK, chop it to the chin.
Tuesday I made the cut. Again.
And I don’t regret it. Not really. Because my head is 10 pounds lighter, and my face lost some of its long horse-like and exhausted look.
Taken over spring break at a bath house in Hot Springs, Arkansas
I go through the same cycle (which I plan to break this year by keeping my hair at its sweet spot mid-neck to shoulder) every year, expecting the result to be different. And that’s where I wanted to tie in the little quote. But then I found an article on psychologytoday.com that explained the simplicity of this quote. And where the brain is concerned, I’m learning that it’s never good to be simple-minded.
Ryan Howes, the author of the article, “The Definition of Insanity is…Perseverance vs. Perseveration”, says that insanity is primarily a legal term. “Insanity is a concept discussed in court to help distinguish guilt from innocence...there’s no ‘insane’ diagnosis,” Howes said.
So taking a cute saying at face value can be dangerous. For instance, Howes said he hears clients use the insanity quote as a means of avoidance...basically as an excuse...not to do something beneficial.
As I’ve journeyed out of long-seeded depression, I’ve had to work hard. I’ve been privileged to experience genuine perseverance in the last few years, as opposed to grit-your-teeth-and-bear-it disguised as the real thing. It’s a cheap imitation at best.
“Bearing it” doesn’t solve anything.
Perseverance does. And, it produces character, which in turn produces hope.
“Perseverance feels like striving toward a noble goal, and whether or not it’s reached, there is virtue in the effort,” Howes said.  
However, pulling up the ole’ boot straps fits within Howes’ description of perseveration. Perseveration “feels compulsive, hopeless, helpless, automatic and unsatisfying. There is a desire to stop, but stopping doesn’t feel like an option.”
Oh, how I know what that is like!
But after almost two years of going to a counselor and working hard (spiritually, mentally, relationally), I am changing. I’m nearing graduation. I can hardly believe it, and yet, I’m almost there!
My faith has deepened. My trust has grown. And as the cherry on top, I’m learning how to capture thoughts and renew my thinking.
The brain was created to be a gift. As Christian cognitive neuroscientist Caroline Leaf explains in her book “Switch on Your Brain,” biblical principles like “bringing all thoughts into captivity,” “renewing your mind,” “casting all your cares” and “being anxious for nothing” become less difficult when we realize “God has given us the equipment to do these things.”
According to Leaf, wrong choices cause brain damage. Right choices enhance brain function.
I choose enhancing function! And the more I learn, the more I want to know. And that is my perfect sweet spot.

(An edited version appeared in the 3.16.16 edition of the Hillsboro Free Press)

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