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The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psychohumorist (tm)

Dear Readers. By popular demand, here is your gumbo of the sublime, the spicy and the ridiculous: a tasty mix of my writings along with humor jokes, lists and other sparkling entities that have descended from cyberspace.

If you know others who would like to receive "The Stress Doc Newsletter," please pass their names along. (AOL subscription link <A HREF="aol://1391:43-61027">form driven mail</A> .) And, if you wish not to receive the newsletter, just email me with, "unsubscribe." ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

As we all approach the eve of Christmas and the end of the New Year (especially those of us residing in Washington, DC) anything that inspires some good will and extricates us from the national dilemma of "the irresistible force and the removable (I mean immovable) object" would be a blessing. Since so many of our representative players seem to be caught up in a particularly self-defeating behavior pattern, let me reprise an inspiring, two-part Stress Doc classic: "Breaking a Habit." This week's edition features, "Achieving Your Emancipation Procrastination." Next week, "Top Ten Habit Transformers."

But first a prologue. Many have asked, knowing my residence, why I'm not helping those in The White House and in The Capitol, "Practice Safe Stress." Ah, grandiose narcissists are always the last ones to know they need help. Take my word for it! ;-) Anyway, to get us in the spirit of change, feel free to share one of my "Shrink Raps" with your favorite egomaniac...the Stress Doc's "The Song of Safe Stress."

In these uncertain times you're more careful with sex You don't go through partners like you go through Brand X. But now please be honest, when under duress Do you still engage in much casual stress?

I mean, when battling for position you won't stop Cause you know your place, you're always on top. Or if you just withdraw from the fighting and fuss You're still using conflictus interrruptus.

So you lash out at others with a righteous scream Now you give oral stress like a Monica Queen. Some words from the Stress Doc may be just what you need To get some control of frenzy, fear or greed.

If you often erupt with volcanic rage No one will dismiss it as just a phase. So better put hot fury back on the shelf Unless you want to make an ash of yourself.

Now I'm not gonna list all of the dangers Just try to resist having stress with strangers. And another reason for becoming humbler Safe stress will keep you from six feet under.

So do know your limits; don't limit your "No"s. The "Law of Safe Stress" applies to friends and to foes. Burnout, remember isn't failure, per se Frankly, more likely, you gave yourself away!

(C) Mark Gorkin 1992 Shrink Rap Productions ------------------------------------------------------------------------------ -----------------

Breaking a Habit Part I: Achieving Your Emancipation Procrastination

by Mark Gorkin, The Stress Doc AOL's "Online Psychohumorist"

With the New Year on the horizon, let me pose a traditional question: how do you break a self-defeating habit and build a self-affirming and strengthening one? Notice I didn't start in the plural, that is, focusing on all your bad habits. If you're like me, there aren't enough life times to change all our nasty and naughty ways. And besides, not just variety, but a little deviancy, adds spice to a life. Still there are some habits which enslave us, especially those consuming demons - like smoking, uncontrolled eating, drinking and gambling, or mindless and endless latenight boob tubing, for example, watching reruns of Gilligan's Island or WWI footage for the twenty- third time. For such fixations, liberation needs to be the objective.

Perceiving the Problem

Often when exploring a subject, I like to begin with my old Roget's Thesaurus. Looking up "habit," one discovers such synonyms as "addiction," "custom," "mannerism," and "nature." There was one choice which momentarily threw me - "clothing." But when I realized how many people are addicted to shopping, it made perfect sense.

The spectrum of synonyms is instructive. Some habits or rituals are quite useful. They establish a tradition or routine, thereby providing a measure of order, efficiency and meaning to a life. Alas, some habits can also lock you into inflexible mind-body patterns and inhibit your openness to change. For example, for years I resisted using computers; I knew I was meant to write with pen and paper. Actually, this close-minded resistance had more to do with my own technophobia. (Interestingly, I still compose original material by hand and right-brain, though now I love transferring a written draft onto a computer screen for tight left-brained rewriting.) Such personal resistances or rigidities often reflect or may defensively regress into phobias, obsessions, compulsions and/or dysfunctional cravings.

Out of One's Mind

I suppose the mindless nature of habit makes it a true double-edged sword. When a person isn't self-conscious, and has the routine down, he or she cuts through extraneous steps, preserves energy, and becomes highly efficient. Peak performance requires well-rehearsed, automatic responding; it also demands we bring a multi-faceted self - experience, skills, emotions, focus, spontaneity, risk-taking, etc. - into the arena. Top performers in any sport or art practice endlessly to achieve this integration of fullness and economy or elegant simplicity. And when this synthesis becomes automatic and unconscious, high performance athletes say they are "in the zone."

The zone is a mind-body mix of automatic responding, full presence and relaxed attention, along with total immersion in a task. But not just any task. The task must be a hard and desired stretch; neither a severe strain nor an underwhelming or lightweight challenge. The synergistic result is "flow" -- an unselfconscious experience, as well as an altered state of consciousness, where time and effort fade away to graceful intensity and self-absorption. A flexibly structured habit infused with flow allows you to deviate from an established baseline. It's easier to improvise and innovate knowing there's a familiar, experience-based internal safety net.

But before you run out to your corner personal trainer or shrink to buy a habit, remember, habit does not just culminate in lightness of being and creating; it also has a truly dark side that can destructively turn against oneself. This habitual state of unconsciousness and mindless routine seeks to numb and dull emotions and self-awareness; it prefers inertia or frenetic and distracting, even addictive, activity, and tunes out or ignores situational demands. Denial, avoidance, putting things off and taking flight take precedence over engagement and flow.

Motivating Procrastination

To illustrate negative mindlessness or aversive habit, let's examine a familiar topic - procrastination. It's a problem many of us are quick to acknowledge and, of course, slow to do something about. I'll define procrastination as the sequence of events that ultimately enables or compels us to avoid thinking and feeling about a disagreeable task, making it easier to postpone taking necessary action. Why do we procrastinate? Reasons can range from the logical to the psycho-logical. Consider these ten disengaging stressors: 1) not having the necessary resources, tools and data; lacking the support, for example, from management, to do the job right; also, doubting the value and purpose of the task, 2) juggling too many projects; you no longer believe there can be life after deadlines; first comes exhaustion, next "brain strain," and, then, one just gives up, 3) grandiose expectations and rigid perfectionism, our own or others, along with anticipation of being harshly judged, can make it difficult to begin, sustain or complete a project, 4) impatience and impulsivity; as a recent slogan in Humor From the Edge proclaimed, "Hard work has a future payoff. Laziness pays off NOW!"; of course, there are many folks, not just Californians, for whom instant gratification takes way too long, 5) an underlying fear of failure; one is ashamed of being found out as incompetent, unworthy or an impostor; one tries to run from "The Intimate FOE: FEAR OF EXPOSURE," 6) anger at having to do a problematic task, especially a task seen as an unfair demand, like having to get up in the morning, 7) you don't want to acknowledge publicly your uncertainty, vulnerability or anger and risk creating a shameful experience or conflict situation; that is, one doesn't want to be labeled as "slow" or "not a team player," 8) to get even with someone, e.g., "Oh, I'm sorry. I guess this is the third time this week you asked for that report," 9) to preserve an illusion that the issue is simply one of effort and attitude not aptitude or ability, and 10) fear of success, that is, if we are successful this time, what might people ask, expect or demand on the next project; a fear of being misused, overused or exposed often lurks in the shadow of success.

A Personal Perspective

My interest in procrastination is well-earned. In the past, I've struggled with this issue, especially in the areas of new learning, the freedom to be curious and school performance. As a child I had absorbed the tension both swirling around my household - an extended menagerie of mood disorders - and was agitated from the taunting and bullying of peers. I shut down my rage and put on a mask - the unreal, "good" boy. This contributed to my difficulty in focusing, concentrating, processing information and remembering. When combined with bright, ambitious parents who could also be quite impatient, anxious or judgmental and classmates who were high achievers, not surprisingly, I feared that my efforts would be inadequate.

Eventually, my self-doubt and avoidance resulted in a self-generating and self-fulfilling pattern. I would shy away from tackling mental challenges, like turning down the opportunity to play an instrument, giving up on art lessons or glazing over when discussing math and science. My esteem, confidence and cognitive-emotional muscles were atrophying. Addictive television watching, schoolyard sports overkill, mindless solitaire and card playing were staples of survival. Along with all the hair growing on my palms from so much masturbation, I was becoming a werewolf. At the least, I was divided from my real self. I was "safely" trapped in an avoidance and addiction cage, first, of my family's making and, eventually, of my own design.

Clearly, underlying the power of many of these kinds of aversive, yet, seemingly self-protective, avoidance elements are long-standing social- psychological, biochemical and perceptual factors. These may range from emotional states of loneliness, abandonment, learned helplessness, unworthiness, anxiety, panic and rage to mood disorders, attention deficit disorders, as well as learning and physical disability issues. Such challenging bio-psycho-social factors have roots in painful childhood experiences, genetic predisposition, maturational deprivation and traumatic encounters throughout the life cycle.

How did I escape from bondage? Here's the very condensed version.. Pushed by my father's desperate, yet focused, determination, my parents finally started therapy. Three years later, in my early twenties, I had the courage to follow his lead. With counseling under my psyche, my social work education and training could be truly instructive, not just academic. What I learned is that I had to face my family of origin and generational family history, along with my individual essence. I had to wrestle with the fearful inner demons and long repressed yet, smoldering, hurts and passions. I had to embrace the natural gifts and genetic vulnerabilities to be my fullest - most caring and powerful, most truly alive - self. And it can take decades to resurrect and sort all that buried bio-psycho-social treasure.

Liberation from Habituation

A long and uncertain hunt for treasure always begins with a first step. So let's return to our opening question: How do you break one self-defeating habit and replace it with a pattern of cognition and behavior that strengthens your skill level and self-concept?

The above conceptual framework will be the launching platform. Examining procrastination's relationship to self-defeating habit convinces me that numbing routine and rigid ritual is often dysfunctionally analogous to fearful avoidance and denial. Each of these defensive maneuvers deadens the spirit along with the potential for awareness and change. With a greater understanding of procrastination, you have the tools to mine your personal raw material. And with some coaching and practice, over time, you can transform self-defeating, mind-body patterns into new learning, emotional growth, skill development and some well-earned pride (maybe even experience a little creative flow). All this can be the outcome of a polished new habit.

And next time, the Stress Doc's "Top Ten" skills, strategies and commandments for "Breaking a Habit or Achieving Your Emancipation Procrastination." Until then, of course...Practice Safe Stress!"

And for all, a graceful and joyful holiday! ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Stress Doc Newsletter The Higher Power of Humor Section...

The second section will consist of humor material that filters down from cyberspace. Speaking of the psychologically-challenged, a couple of friends sent the first piece, a diagnostic primer for the holidays. The second joke reaffirms why we need a season for undoing misinformation and prejudices and building understanding.

Christmas Songs for the Psychiatrically-Challenged From: SWells1845, cberlin@wave.tcs.tulane.edu

SCHIZOPHRENIA- Do You Hear What I Hear? MULTIPLE PERSONALITY- We Three Queens Disoriented Are. NARCISSISTIC- Hark The Herald Angels Sing (About Me) MANIA- Deck the Halls and Walls and House and Lawn ...or Deck the Halls and Spare No Expense. BORDERLINE PERSONALITY- Thoughts of Roasting in an Open Fire. PARANOIA- Santa Claus is Coming To Get Me. PERSONALITY DISORDER- You Better Watch Out, I'm Gonna Cry, I'm Gonna Pout, then MAYBE I'll tell you why. DEPRESSION- Silent anhedonia, Holy anhedonia. All is calm, All is pretty lonely. OBSESSIVE COMPULSIVE- Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell Rock, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell Rock, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell Rock, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell Rock,Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell Rock, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell Rock,Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell Rock, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell Rock, Jingle Bell... PASSIVE AGGRESSIVE- On the First Day of Christmas My Mother Gave to Me (and then took it all away).

Don'tcha just love the holidays? ----------------------------------------------------------------

The Pilots From: Bogie 361

An airplane takes off from the airport. The captain is Jewish and the first officer is Taiwan Chinese. It's the first time they've flown together and it's obvious by the silence that they don't get along. After thirty minutes, the Jewish Captain speaks, "I don't like Chinese."The First Officer replies, " Ooooh, no like Chinese? Why ees that?" The Captain says, "You bombed Pearl Harbor. That's why I don't like Chinese."

The F.O. says, "Nooooo, noooo....... Chinese not bomb Pearl Harbah. That Japanese, not Chinese. And the Captain answers, "Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese.. it doesn't matter, they're all alike."

Another thirty minutes of silence. Finally the F.O. says, "No like Jew." The Captain replies, "Why not? Why don't you like Jews?" F.O. says, "Jews sink Titanic." The Captain tries to correct him, "No, no. The Jews didn't sink the Titanic. It was an iceberg." The F.O. replies,"Iceberg, Goldberg, Rosenberg, no mattah.. All same."

Seek the higher power of humor...May the Farce Be with You!

And, of course...Practice Safe Stress! ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Mark Gorkin, LICSW, the Stress Doc, a psychotherapist and nationally recognized speaker, trainer, consultant and author, is also known as AOL's and the internet's "Online Psychohumorist" ™. Check out his USA Today Online "Hot Site" website - www.stressdoc.com or <A HREF="www.stressdoc.com">STRESSDOC HOMEPAGE</A> and his page on AOL/Online Psych, Keyword: Stress Doc or <A HREF="aol://4344:972.doc.1264535.556723207">The Stress Doc @ Online Psych </A>.

** Catch the Doc's "Shrink Rap and Group Chat" on AOL/Digital City, Tuesdays, 9-10:30pm EDT -- <A HREF="aol://4344:1097.tuechat.25384394.563747919">Tuesday Chats</A> and <A HREF="aol://4344:363.gorkin.5732839.568857121">Dig City Promo - Stress Doc</A> .

** For his free newsletter, Notes from the Online Psychohumorist ™ or for info on the Stress Doc's Online Coaching program, email stressdoc@aol.com .

(c) Mark Gorkin 1998 Shrink Rap Productions