How have you been? How are you feeling?
For the past few months, I've been working on improving habits such as remembering to have a few mindful moments every day. I think these habits are good for mending the mental "wounds" I acquire throughout the day from negative emotions, i.e. ninja stars (if you do not know what I mean by the ninja stars analogy, check out the "Kittens and Ninja Stars" post or even better yet, go to the source and watch the video). About a month ago, I decided that it is the appropriate time for me to figure out if there is a way to dodge some of the ninja stars so that I don't get wounded in the first place. In stress management I think they call them "triggering events" or something but I'm using the ninja stars terminology because I don't get to use the word ninja star that often, and I personally feel like the word "trigger" is a word that is too strong for me to use in this context.
This post is LONG, and will cover the following:
WHO throws the ninja stars?
Currently, I am in a fortunate situation where I don’t have anyone near me who is a ninja star source. In the past, I used to be in situations where I had to interact with “ninjas” throughout the day nearly every day, and that dreadful feeling (a ninja star in itself) really stuck with me for the past several years. The act of dreading is difficult to unlearn - it will likely take a few more years for me to get back to normal again.
Ninja stars still reach me though. There are ninja stars that come through two channels. One channel is the organization that I work for. For example, I run a program in a university and due to the COVID-19 pandemic the university HAD to make a lot of very important decisions very quickly. And every time the leadership of the university determines something (e.g. “we’re offering courses online!”), the making-important-decisions-rapidly phenomenon cascades down to all the Faculties/Schools and then all the Departments/Programs. The ninja star here is the act of having to make high-stakes decisions quickly. It comes through the organization and hits me.
Ninja stars also come through the people my organization serves, i.e. students. In addition to running a program, I am also a program advisor for >400 students (if I include prospective students, >500). Realistically speaking, not everyone is having a good day at a given time, and sometimes I get scorched by the embers that are hitting them.
WHAT is a ninja star? WHY does it hurt?
I like planning well in advance (to make sure that I can produce high quality work) and then sticking to the plan (and then producing high quality work, as I had promised). If I do not have enough time to make a good plan that I can stick to, that’s a ninja star. If I make a good plan but circumstances do not allow me to stick to it, that is also a ninja star. When I am given an unreasonable deadline to perform high quality work and if I am forced to sacrifice one (going past the deadline) or the other (producing crappy work), that is the point where I start throwing ninja stars because I am LIVID haha.
Where and when do the ninja stars come from?
I have acute and gradual ninja stars.
Nearly all of my acute ninja stars come from my email inbox (in the form of surprises or other frustration-inducing things). Since I check my inbox in the morning for work, I experience a spike in stress levels in the first couple hundred milliseconds when my gaze lands on how many unread messages there are when I check my email first thing in the morning. Then I read the content and calm down a bit.
My gradual ninja stars (dread) come a bit earlier. Sunday evenings~nights are pretty bad. Monday morning arrives, things are actually fine, and oftentimes I feel okay at the end of my work day, but I still do get the gradual ninja stars. I also get the gradual ninja stars whenever a deadline is approaching; not a deadline where I need to do something, but a deadline where I am: 1) either waiting for input from somebody and I need that input in order to act before the deadline, 2) or I have to close the gate once the deadline passes and can’t allow anyone to enter afterwards.
So how does one come up with a way to dodge ninja stars?
I thought identification was a good first step, so you have clarity on what you’re trying to dodge. The next step is probably detection, so you can pay attention to when the ninja stars are about to appear (and hopefully you have enough time to dodge them). I found that although I identified a bunch of ninja stars, it’s hard to detect them because I forget what shows up when. So I made a list so it’s easier to refer to them:
Ninja-star dodging strategy #1: How would I react if it wasn't me experiencing these emotions?
Ninja-star dodging strategy #2: Change the labels into positive ones
The stress response is physiological, and the label comes afterwards (so the brain might be confabulating!). Someone who is anxious and someone who is excited could have very similar chemical stuff going on in the brain. The unrest / dread / self-doubt / frustration / anger comes from the desire to do very well and caring about getting things right the first time because the work is important. The negative emotions experienced may actually be just... care, combined with the physiological stress response.
Ninja-star dodging strategy #3: Making oneself accountable for dodging a ninja-star
“I will not let that bother me” is a phrase that my husband uttered one day when he ran into an issue that was mildly annoying/inconvenient. That sounded like a good, effective phrase so I will attempt to make a point of using it every time I run into a mildly annoying/inconvenient situation.
I *think* I am starting to feel better overall after identifying the sources and trying to deploy the aforementioned strategies whenever I remember to. So I consider this project a successful one.
I'm Candice and I doodle with the intensity of the doomguy.