Chapter 4. CHANGING: We increase our ability to change
Being able to change promotes good health. In my practice I see a connec- tion – the greater the resistance towards change, the sicker people are. The ones who fight the hardest against it do not change even after they have to. The healthiest people change immediately the moment they are aware of the need to do so. Even I changed only after circumstances for- ced me to. When I was 45 I realised that a decline in my health had occur- red while I was occupied elsewhere. I had to change. I had to lose weight and get into shape. Besides, I had developed a need to communicate that forced me to dare to become more visible, to hold speeches and allow myself to be interviewed. I had to be nicer, more colorful and to contri- bute to the well-being of others. I realized that the person I was would not be able to accomplish what I needed to do. I had to totally change my being, mentally and physically.
Why had I avoided making changes? I had trusted that the people who said that change was difficult were right until I discovered that it was a lie and a dangerous one. It is easy to change as long as we know how to do it. I began to read books about change and found that the advice in them worked in practice. The books described the same mentality I had used to change myself as a photographer and therefore I only needed to transfer the lessons there to another area.
As a new doctor, I had thought that the people who struggle, are frustrated, depressed and so tired of not succeeding were going to be extra open towards change. I took it for granted that they would welcome change with open arms. But they didn’t. They lacked the belief that they themselves could possess the key to a better existence and that the effort required was relatively simple. They had gotten used to failing and actu- ally preferred it to the scary, uncertain idea that they could succeed if they worked a little for it.
The key word of Theme 4 is change. We must be able to make a change before we have to. Even after a heart attack, the strongest of warnings, only ten percent of people change their lifestyles. The people who change most readily are the healthiest people. Photographers are used to change. They change their subjects, the way they express themselves and their style so naturally that they don’t even think about it. This transfers over to their general ability to change.
We do not change until the pain of being in the position we are in becomes greater than the discomfort of making a change. The pain is a signal that there is something wrong and that it must be changed. The mental pain resulting from dealing with life can be felt just as strongly as physical pain, including giving birth and kidney stones, and that’s why morphine in its different varieties works as effectively and addictively also against psychological pain.
Many people come to my doctor’s office with the expectation they will get a pill that can ease their pain. The problem is that the pain has been triggered by an unacceptable situation. As photographers it is relatively painful to take bad pictures. If we are dissatisfied with the pictures we take and want to get better at it, there are no pills that can diminish the pain. If it did exist, the effects of it would hinder us from growing. We have to change ourselves, make other choices, perhaps become braver, hunt for new subjects and find new teachers. These techniques for greater mastery and joy are in principle the same here as in life.
It has struck me that many people need to change who they are listening to. Instead of receiving well-intentioned support from people who only show comfort and compassion, without suggesting any changes in the way they live their lives. They should rather listen to people who can help by giving advice on how to change. These people often disagree with us and therefore it is more of a challenge to listen to them.
In practice, well-intentioned support can betray us in the worst way. It makes it harder to progress. Instinctively people unfortunately turn away from the people who have critical input, those who stand on dry land and know the way out of the mud.
Instead people turn towards others who are stuck in the mud and show a common understanding and agree with them. It is natural to think in this way, but it is seldom the smartest thing to do.
In photographic circles we learn to deal with feedback that is more critical than what we would prefer to hear. For example, at most photo festivals we show our portfolios. We show 20-50 pictures of our current project in order to get feedback and no one is gentle in giving it.
We pay gallery owners, editors, photo agencies and talent scouts to be relentless in their evaluations. If the pictures are slaughtered, stress and an increase in cortisol are natural reactions to it. After all, these are our darlings. Still, I have experienced, after participating in hundreds of ses- sions like these, that the people who are the most critical to my pictures usually also have the most useful input. I have experienced that what helps me progress is mercilessly honest, constructive feedback.
Of course, it also feels good to get a pat on our backs sometimes. But this is not as instructive. Many artists, authors and photographers have stagnated through getting praise. Now I hope that The Camera Cure® can inspire you to dare to tell people things that they really don’t want to hear but that they have a lot to gain by doing so. This also applies to dealing with our states of health.
Many believe that we are born with a certain capacity and a certain talent that can hardly be trained. However, research shows something else. We can all learn to have a growth mindset which involves learning to change and develop through dealing with challenges, step by step, as long as we have the will to do and learn from our own mistakes and the ones of others. The American psychologist Carol Dweck has researched the difference between a growth mindset and a fixed one.
In the illustration on the left on the next page, you can see what she is pointing out as the most important difference between these two mind- sets. They have a great significance for the power to change, mastery and health.
How easy is it to like you? My role as a workshop leader has taught me that the people who are the easiest to like often get the best pictures. It is also that way at my office. The patients who are the easiest to like live better lives. The doctors who are disliked get more complaints. As a doctor, part of my «insurance» is to get the patients to like me.
While I was studying, I worked at a school for children with significant behavioral problems. One of the most important tasks I had was to get them to be likeable since they were very often disliked by other children and adults. Children won’t play with others who aren’t fun to play with.
Children who aren’t liked end up being lonely as adults. Since no one plays with them, they develop fewer social skills. Also, as adults we have to be responsible for our part when working together with others by being eas- ier to like and more fun to be around. As photographers this leads to more and better photo opportunities. In workshops we say «you must get them to like you». It is easier to say yes to a likeable photographer.
When we take cautious steps in a new direction, we should be nice towards ourselves. If no one else pats us on the backs, we have to do it ourselves. Making a false step is completely normal and it can often be a sign that you are actually on a new path making new tracks. Our brains have gotten accustomed to the way we are and resist us as we change our habits and personality. Many years of doing the same routines has paved a highway in our neural pathways. Now we have to create new paths in unchartered territory, new connections in our brain.
Changing oneself is like sailing. You can certainly learn the basics in a week even if you have never touched a rope or navigated between rocks. However, in order to become a good sailor – or be good at changing yourself – you have to go through some difficult challenges. You have to learn to accept every storm and frustration like it is a gift for learning and progress. Calm winds can be nice every once in a while, but they won’t get you anywhere.
Even if we have held on fast to a way of thinking our whole lives, we can change it in a moment. Again, like in sailing, to adjust the sails and shift the rudder to a new destination is done in an instant, even if the journey to the new port is a long one. It wasn’t until I was in middle age that I found out that difficulties are opportunities for growth if I only would take 100% responsibility for them. Everything changed from that day to the next one. Of course, it was irritating that I hadn’t realized it before, but there was little I could do about that. It takes a long time to get to where you are going, but changing direction is done in a moment. In the following tasks we are going to practice making a change before we must do it.
People who are good at change live longer and healthier than other people. They react less with stress towards the curveballs that life throws at them. And if you can’t change the world, such as Gandhi did, then at least you can change your world. .
BOOK SUGGESTION: How to Survive Change You Didn’t Ask For by M. J. Ryan
I recently got a new Exxon fuel credit card with a 10 cent discount. Now I have to reorganize information in my head. After 20 years and 300,000 kilometers on Norwegian roads with a Circle K fuel credit card and a 5 cent discount, I know the location of probably fifty stations along the E18, E6 and E39 motorways, as well as various national roads. When the fuel gage is getting close to empty, I always know where the next Circle K station is. I have never had to store where the Exxon stations were in my memory – not until now that is. It is time to establish new neural pathways and then I can save a few dollars a year. However, in order to program in the Exxon stations and erase the Circle-K stations, I have to make an effort. Perhaps the pull towards driving into Circle-K stations will always be there, but that doesn’t matter as long as I turn into the Exxon stations instead. We have to do a similar effort if we have other habits to change.
Changing oneself is an exciting activity! It is difficult, but not as diffi- cult as not changing. Patience is the keyword here. In order to be able to change habits and personality traits that we have had for many years, we have to be patient with ourselves. These habits have attached themselves to our neural pathways and are as solid as highways. It takes 30-40 days before your nervous system has incorporated a new habit and misses it if it is not there. This is like making a new forest path with your own steps. Instead of creating a new habit, you should now work on changing the ones you already have. In isolation, we are only talking about small chan- ges, but over time they can make a considerable difference. The goal here is to have a longer and healthier life and thereby increase the possibility for taking more good pictures.
The following habits are easy to do every day as well as easy to drop: Avoid taking an elevator or going up an escalator. Instead, use the opportunity to go up the stairs. This is one of the healthiest things there are that we can do, not least when you get older. The regular, brief exercise that going up stairs provides is extremely efficient. If possible, take two steps at a time. That way you can give your heart and muscles a slightly larger load. When you watch TV, do some exercises in the commercial breaks.
When you are outside walking, do a few intervals at a quick gait. Incre- ase your tempo for one minute at a time, get your pulse up and you will get to where you are going more quickly. Act as if you are hurrying to catch a bus. If you see an uphill climb, go for it!
When you put on socks and shoes, try to do it standing on one foot. In that way you are training your balance. Your balance won’t become more stable if you only do this 10 or 20 times, but after doing it 10 times a day for 30 years you will have done it 100,000 times. This means everything for your balance. While other people fall and suffer factures, you will be able to move on and take more good pictures.
When you are slightly hungry and crave chocolate or something else with sugar in it, buy fruit and nuts instead. Drink water instead of juice or a soft drink. That way you are providing nutritional building blocks for your inner organs instead of only giving them energy. Each day seven per- cent of our bodies are replaced, which is equivalent to an arm, and over a period of ten years almost all of the cells in our bodies will be recircula- ted. You need these nutritional building blocks to make sure this takes place without becoming sick. We are not talking about big changes to our diets in the short-term, but instead these tiny choices can have a decisive impact over a long period of time.
Many people have a degree of social phobia and feel that other people are studying them. They feel discomfort being in public. My experience tells me that what is most important is not how others look at me, but how I look at them. The brain has trouble keeping to thoughts simultaneously. So when our brains focus on how we look at others, our brains cannot focus on how they look at us. Try to smile and show interest and support. If you feel down, cheering up others with small everyday acts can help. As a bonus you will be cheered up yourself. Turn the ‘camera’ that is looking at you towards other people.
The sum of these exercises is that you will get better stamina and balance, provide your body with nutritional building blocks and spread more joy every day.
BOOK SUGGESTION: The Daily Stoic by Hanselman/Holiday