Social Habits And Sensitive People: The Four Tendencies

Once in a while, we come across concepts that are game changers for us as HSPs. This month, I would like to share something that has helped me in my own journey as an artistic HSP and might help you too. It comes from the work of New York Times bestselling author Gretchen Rubin, The Four Tendencies, one of several books she has written on happiness and habits.

Have you ever felt that you are hyper-aware of others’ expectations as an HSP and that it is easy for you to fulfill these outer expectations but somehow very difficult to fulfill your own inner expectations? While this can stem from many different and complex reasons (such as people pleasing), those reasons are not the whole story. It turns out that people have an innate, hardwired tendency that determines how they respond to different kinds of expectations. Learning about these can help us answer that frustrating question: Why am I so good at meeting other people’s expectations but not so good at fulfilling my own?

The Four Tendencies

In her latest book The Four Tendencies, Rubin talks about how different people respond differently to expectations. The seed of the book came in a conversation that Gretchen Rubin had with a friend. Rubin says:

“As I bit into my cheeseburger and my friend picked at her salad, she made a comment that would occupy my mind for years. In an offhand way, she mentioned, “I want to get myself in the habit of running, but I can’t, and it really bothers me.” Then she added, in a crucial observation, “When I was on the high school track team, I never missed track practice, so why can’t I go running now?”

“Why?” I echoed.

“Well, you know, it’s so hard to make time for ourselves.”

“Hmmm,” I said.”

Rubin and her friend then started talking about other things, but even after they’d said goodbye, she couldn’t stop thinking about their exchange. Why was it that it had been easy for her friend to go running in the past but that wasn’t the case anymore? Was it her age, her motivation, her family situation or something else?

Explorations About Social Habits

Although her friend had assumed that everyone had “trouble making time for themselves,” that wasn’t true for Rubin. She did not have any trouble making time for herself. So, what was the difference between them? Rubin would spend the next few years trying to answer this question.

This search led to Rubin asking some preliminary questions to readers of her website. She found, weirdly enough, that groups of people answered the same question in 4 identical ways, almost down to the words they were using. To the simple question of “How do you feel about New Year resolution?” a subset of people gave this almost identical answer: “I’ll keep a resolution if it’s useful, but I won’t start on New Year’s Day, because January 1 is an arbitrary date.” Rubin was intrigued by the use of this specific word because the arbitrariness of the January 1 date had never bothered her. But so many people gave the same answer; what did they have in common?

In a similar way, another group answered: “I don’t make New Year’s resolutions anymore because I never manage to keep them—I never make time for myself.”

Another group said: “I never make resolutions because I don’t like to bind myself.”

It was after a lot of this give and take on her blog and people naturally dividing themselves up into 4 distinct groups that Rubin had her eureka moment. She had found the key! The underlying question was: “How do you respond to expectations?” Answering this question led to her book, The Four Tendencies.

Expectations And The Four Tendencies

In fact, we all face two kinds of expectations: inner and outer. An inner expectation is something we place on ourselves, like a New Year’s resolution, while an outer expectation is something like a work deadline. Depending on how you respond to these expectations, Rubin found that people fell into one of these four types or four tendencies:

  1. Upholders respond to both outer expectations and inner expectations.
  2. Questioners question all expectations; they meet an expectation only if they believe it’s justified, so in effect, they respond only to inner expectations
  3. Obligers respond readily to outer expectations but struggle to meet inner expectations.
  4. Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike.

Guess where I fell on this framework? I was an Obliger. If something was imposed from the outside, like a work deadline, I usually met it. But for years, I could not figure out why I wasn’t able to do enough on the side (like some people I knew were able to do), to switch careers or work on my writing. It turns out that Obligers need outer accountability. So, if you have an inner expectation, you have to, in a sense, turn it into an outer expectation and then, you will likely complete it.

Looking back, I saw that I had only written consistently and been most productive when I had been part of writing workshops. Here, I was expected to write, and I did. But left on my own, time would trickle down and I wouldn’t get to doing something that I, personally, wanted to do. Instead, I was getting caught up in other people’s agendas and running around helping (or unhealthily rescuing) first this person and then another.

It was after I let myself practice this concept (instead of thinking that I “should” be able to motivate myself on my own (something that Upholders, for example, find easy to do), that I finally got a writing coach. This turned out to be one of the best decisions that I have made in a long time. I have written more, more consistently than I have ever before in my life. I have applied for a writing grant that took months of work. For the first time in my life, I have felt that I am finally on my path.

What it took was re-framing something basic about me. This is similar to the kind of re-framing we often have to do as HSPs. An Obliger wrote something to Gretchen Rubin that I resonate with:

“As a TV writer, I’ve struggled miserably with my inability to stick to any kind of personal deadline, yet I’ve always been a dutiful employee who submits scripts on time to my boss. I’ve given this tendency many names: laziness, being irresponsible, being a child in grown-up clothes, and many terms that wouldn’t get past your spam filter. By giving me a new name—Obliger—you’ve given me a way to accept myself. I can put the self-loathing aside and concentrate on devising clever ways to trick myself into doing stuff. It’s already made me more productive, but more importantly, it’s made me much happier.”  

Are You An Obliger?

Of course, as an HSP, you might not fall into the Obliger category. But considering that it is the largest category (Rubin’s study found that 41% of the sample were Obligers), I think there are many HSPs who are also Obligers. Maybe you, like me, have gone for years meeting other people’s expectations, and then suddenly, everything becomes all too much and you say a big No. Obligers are often prone to burnout and at certain points in their lives, to what Rubin calls Obliger rebellion. Suddenly, or so it seems to other people, we have had enough and we won’t take anymore. Then, we walk out, literally or metaphorically. So, learning about how we are wired and how to make that work for us can be crucial in keeping our resentment stores down.

Also, understanding the different categories can help us understand the people around us. For example: Although Upholders and Obligers both want to meet outer expectations, Obligers are much more prone to burnout because Upholders also hold themselves to their inner expectations. Upholders might also be dismissive of other tendencies who need different things than they do. Rebels (only 17% in the sample, with the fewest members) resist expectations and can get into all kinds of tussles with people who expect them to comply with outer expectations (like Upholders). A Questioner child who has to be given a reason to do every little thing might be trying for a parent who is an Upholder or Obliger. But getting a whole picture and seeing the strengths and weaknesses of each type might help us relate better to different people. It can also give us a perspective on how different social contexts might work or not work for a particular type. Rubin gives an example of how a Questioner might be highly valued in a place like Silicon Valley but get into trouble in a place like North Korea. A Rebel, if they become a rebel without a cause, might just be highly annoying. But rebels are also the ones who question existing systems and can help bring about change. As always, the context as well as the other qualities of that person matter.

Like me, you might have several “ahas”  if you read The Four Tendencies and come to see that we often see the people around us as very similar to ourselves. Sometimes, we think that they should be motivated by the same things as ourselves. We think that what works for us is what works for them. But that’s not true. Like Rubin tells us in this and other books, often diametrically different things are the keys to different people’s happiness and success. The question is: What specifically works for you as an individual? What is your own nature?

This is, of course, a bare-bones portrait of Rubin’s four tendencies. But like me, maybe figuring out your own tendency might provide as an essential missing piece for you as an HSP and help you in your own journey.   

What Time Pressure Costs Us

How do you feel about the time pressure of this impatient world we live in?

Personally, I hate it, yet I often feel that slow is “wrong”.

Slow means getting run off the road by someone faster.

Slow means “missing the boat” because you can only miss it by being slow.

The fast pace of our society has a life of its own. It feels like “reality” and when we drop out of the high speed movement of our economic culture it can seem like a form of death.

But if you look at it another way, our fast paced system can feel like a form of death as well.

It seems like a catch-22.

What Time Pressure Costs Us

When you have to work fast, in my experience you also have to focus. Focus is great, but under conditions of pressure, that focus becomes narrowed to whatever will enable us to create a quick result and move on to the next action or decision.

Essentially the demand for speed forces us to be short-sighted.

There is a paradox in this: being short-sighted and fast forces us to make a lot of changes, but it also forces us to seek solutions that are “accessible”, that in effect, keep us where we are, that are not really innovative or difficult. So the project that takes longer, the relationship that requires cultivation – these things often do not happen.

What does happen is actions, decision, and people that fit our time constraints but not necessarily our needs. This is one of the reasons we feel we are in a rat race or running fast on a treadmill going nowhere. Time pressure forces us into choices that keep us stuck.

The Bigger Loss

Time pressure costs us more than we realize. While we are getting through the day, the kinds of connections, moments and observations that come with engaging with each moment often elude us. We are too busy.

There are many big consequences of time pressure:

  • we live in our heads. We make decisions based on what is expedient. Our bodies and hearts do not get a voice in what we are doing. The system, after all, has its prerogatives and its demands which must be honored.
  • we lose the mind-body connection which is an important foundation of living and also of our health. Everything in our lives and experience is processed in our minds AND bodies. There is no escape. So when we live in our heads, we do not process all of our feelings through our bodies and become stuck and sick. Our bodies feel dragged down and we feel that we are dragging them along with us rather than living fully from them.
  • we are unable to really connect. Do you ever wonder why ideology is so entrenched? When people live in their heads and go too fast, they do not have time for human connection. So they relate from political ideas or entertainments or recreational activities but not usually to each other.
  • we lose our creativity. A fast time-based system particularly a mechanistic one prefers continuity and consistency to creativity. Novelty and some innovation that serves the system are allowed but not the full-bodied creativity of an awake human being.
  • we lose our part and place in the universe. We are creative human beings. So when we cannot rock the boat by being creative then we lose our basic nature to a cultural and economic construct.
  • we lose our common ground because we are each of us competing cogs in a machine rather than collaborating co-creators of our world, a way of thinking that honors us better.

Letting Go Of Time Pressure

Letting go of time pressure is hard to do. Slowing down can seem like a luxury.

However, particularly for highly sensitive people it is a necessity because it is the only way we can give rein to our creative natures. It is also the only way we can minimize the stress that comes from being highly sensitive and taking in all of the stimulus that we take in.

So embrace the eternal present! Luxuriate in it and honor your creative talents for the benefit of all.

No Need To Rush: The Special Gift Of Slow

I have always been expected to operate at lightening speed.

And it has never worked for me.

I need to process…and process…and process…

I LOVE to process.

It is my idea of a good time!

What’s The Rush!

I have never understood the need to rush. In my experience, the easiest way to have problems is to rush.

However, from a very young age, I have noticed that people around me were aways in a rush for something. A rush to judgment, to get something, be somewhere or do something.

I always felt “wrong” because it always seemed so silly to me.

It also seemed to me that something terribly important was missing.

Is Anybody Home?

I felt alone in all of the rushing. Rushing felt so escapist, and I did not understand what everyone was trying to escape? I felt stupid for not really wanting to join in.

Escaping was not compelling to me. It did not attract me and still doesn’t.

All of the rushing and escaping feels sad.

It feels like we are afraid to take a chance.

It feels like we are here but no one is home.

Speed Can Be Dangerous

In school, we are rewarded for getting answers not for asking questions. So often we continue that pattern in our daily lives.

Not to have an answer os a failing, a way of losing a competitive battle for survival, a risk we are afraid of.

But answers are not necessarily simple and they can only evolve by engaging with a set of circumstances or conditions. It is through that process that answers come.

When we fail to honor the process of engagement and deliberation we are plagued with the kind of ideological substitute for problem-solving that plagues our society right now. We have packaged answers that fail to solve anything while the real problems seeking our attention remain ignored.

And so we run around each one of us with our bandaids unable to really solve our problems.

No wonder so many people feel frustrated and depressed.

They have every reason to.

Slow Is About Respect

When you approach anything in a slow careful manner you are paying a very basic kind of respect. You are paying attention to people, place and things. You are paying attention to process. You pay attention to current reality as a starting point for moving forward. You give everything the attention it deserves.

Slow is about paying attention. Fast is about escaping.

That is true both in our work and in our relationships.

I am sure how you have experienced the awful feeling when someone rushes you because they do not want to be bothered.

I am sure you have also experienced what it is like when someone takes the time to talk with you.

The rushed experience closes you down; the slower, more thoughtful interaction opens you up.

Does The World Belong To The Takers?

When people rush as their primary way of relating, all interactions become superficial and transactional. Speed does not really allow for anything else.

So when we slow down, we open the door to more give and take which is a more satisfactory arrangement for everyone, in reality. We also honor each other and the value in each other when we slow down. We honor each person’s uniqueness, gifts, and limits as part of the whole.

We can then give ourselves the opportunity to be with what is instead of demanding that everyone be something else to meet our demands and requirements.

Life Is Not Just A Shopping Trip

Too often we relate to each other as consumers looking for something pleasurable from others.

Pleasure is great but seeking or demanding it as a constant in our lives keeps us in the role of shoppers rather than creators. As a result we miss out on ourselves as much as everyone else.

Slowing down gives us not only our time back but also our friendship and respect.

It gives a more natural place in the universe. It lets us be both more humble and more creative at the same time.

Slow is a gentle place.

Slow lets us open up more.

It frees us from our demands and lets us join into the world rather than bearing down on it oppressively with our need for continual self-indulgence.

Slow lets us be human and humane.

Slow gives us a much-needed break and everyone else, too.

It is worth embracing.

Are You Numbing Your Sensitivity?

Are your numbing your sensitivity? I do sometimes.

As I stood in line waiting to order my cup of coffee, I reached for my phone in my purse. You know, just in case there were any new updates within the last 5 minutes since the last time I checked it.

I didn’t feel the need to check. I just did it. You might be thinking that yes, you do this, too. It’s like we are on autopilot sometimes. Or are we?

Avoiding Our Sensitivity

What if we aren’t? What if we know exactly what we are doing?

What if we are checking our phones—or eating when we’re not hungry, or watching another episode on Netflix, or {insert supposedly mindless activity here}—because feeling our sensitivity just feels like it’s too much?

Do you do this? Do you participate in little actions throughout your day to avoid your sensitive self-feeling too much, feeling life around you? You are numbing your sensitivity.

Why You Are Numbing Your Sensitivity

I get it. We HSPs know what it’s like to truly feel our way through life. It can get overwhelming. Eye contact with a stranger. Sitting too close to someone on the train. Returning a phone call we don’t want to make. Showing up to a stressful job. Meeting new people at a party. Heck, even being with our own families at a holiday gathering.

It can be a lot to handle. Because we feel life’s moments more intensely, the volume can feel like it’s turned up too high a lot of the time. Mere eye contact with a stranger can feel like it’s just too much to handle when you’ve already got an ongoing to-do list in your mind, plus you’re still dwelling on the conversation you had earlier with a friend that just didn’t sit well with you.

Because there’s already so much going on internally, numbing our sensitivity to the stimulation around us can feel like the most natural thing in the world to HSPs.

Sensitivity Does Not Have To Be A Trap

But what if that moment you’re missing is one that may change your life? What if you could have both—a lively inner world and a way to meet the stimulating present moment with courage and calm, at the same time?

It takes some heart to heart time with your intuition, regular practice, and compassion for yourself along the way, but it is possible. With practice, HSPs can slowly baby step their way out of numbing their sensitivity and begin looking at life around them with curiosity, offering it their attention even if it feels awkward. Even if it feels scary.

A nod to a stranger, a “How are you?” to your cashier at the supermarket, showing up to a networking event, not looking at your phone during time spent with a loved one—it may not seem like it, but these are all brave acts for the HSP.

They require us to feel multiple things at once. They ask us to get real with the world around us.

Checking our phones to avoid feeling the world around us is just one way we may be numbing our sensitivity. The ways are endless, and some much more destructive than others. Avoiding feeling too much by drinking alcohol, doing drugs, sleeping too much, eating too much, the list goes on.

Do you catch yourself numbing your sensitivity? If so, how do you do it? What is one small step you can take this week to connect to the world around you while still feeling safe and OK in your HSP skin?


Tyranny of the Clock

People in an economic system based on production learn to live with the tyranny of the clock.  Although people have been tracking time since the early days of humans, our relationship with time has become different.

Time used to be related to something going on in nature.  People measured the hours of sunshine, the seasons, and how long crops took to grow.  The day began when the sun came up and ended when it set. Our survival was directly related to what nature offered us and so our relationship to time was related to nature also.

Since the Industrial Revolution, we have changed our relationship to time and nature. We treat nature as something we control.  It is understandable that we sought to control nature because we felt so out of control in relation to nature: the weather was so unpredictable, the basic needs of people were not being met, and disease was rampant.  At the time, natural resources were so plentiful. So we created machines and production processes to harness natural resources to take care of our basic needs and kept on going.  Time became a factor in production costs and therefore directly affected profits.

Time And Limits

There were understandable reasons for the economic system that we have created.  Human society at the time of the Industrial Revolution was saddled with all sorts of limits that needed to be challenged. Some of these limits were based on belief systems. Some limits were geographical, others political. Even time felt limiting because we were limited by the amount that each person could accomplish which in turn limited our ability to meet our needs. Since the Industrial Revolution, the clock has been used as a tool for challenging limits through productivity measurements which evaluate how well we produce in a specific period of time.  Our educational system is organized around time.  We have a certain period of time to learn a given amount of material, whether we learn or not is often irrelevant, when time is up, time is up.

When the clock controls how much attention we give to something or someone, we relinquish control over our lives because we are not really engaging with life and the realities around us.  If it takes two years to learn a subject but you only have six months, then essentially your learning is controlled by the demand for speed. If it takes 2 hours to accomplish a task well and one hour is all that is allowed, again you relinquish control over the quality you are able to bring to the work by the demand for speed.  If it takes a year to grieve the loss of a friend, and the people around you demand that you grieve quicker, then your life is diminished by the demand for speed and your health may be negatively affected.

Speed And Sensitive People

The demand for speed is a serious issue for highly sensitive people since creativity, deep listening, and serious problem solving do not lend themselves to time pressure. HSP’s inevitably suffer from distracting and unhelpful conflicts when they are expected to work under artificial, and unnecessarily restrictive time schedules. To the highly sensitive person production is not the end and be all of one’s work life. Qualitative considerations are more important than quantitative ones – within reason of course.

Being sensitive means that we notice the cost of our highly competitive and highly demanding capitalistic system. We notice the stress in ourselves and others, the loss of time for connection and the kind of deep teamwork that is satisfying and inclusive. We see the loss of our cherished natural environment and all the cost to animals and humans. I suspect that to most HSPs the cost-benefit analysis does not read the way it does to an accountant. As a result, how we use time will also be different.

Time And Quality Of Engagement

The tyranny of the clock does not allow for the freely engaged way of relating to living and problem solving that results in deep satisfaction. It does a lot of damage and creates more problems than it solves. There is such a need for healing caused by the destructive shortsightedness of a high-pressure economy.  As a result, it is bound to be unsatisfying to highly sensitive people.

Time is precious. A high-pressure system is not very appealing to highly sensitive people who will treat time as they treat other things with regard and diligence. Finding a way to live true to your sensitive self and still contribute to your culture is a central challenge of sensitive people everywhere.

Get The Monkey Off Your Back!


You know the feeling…

You are bone weary. You are not sure that you can move. You look at your limbs like they do not belong to you and they have no interest in doing what you want.Your energy is on strike and you can not afford it.

We have all felt this way. It has a cause and it has a cure.

The Burden You Are Carrying

It is easy enough to write off the symptoms of fatigue to bad diet and too much work. If only it were that simple. It is easy enough to fault the individual for some weakness that causes them to not be “strong” enough or responsible enough or whatever enough. It is easy enough to blame bad genes or the weather or some other factor outside of our control.

The reality is that we are living in an unusual time in human history and understanding context is key to making your life more manageable. There has never been this number of human beings on this planet that has grown so complex that no one can manage it any more. Our world is out of control in more ways than one, and you are feeling the effects.

It is not your fault.  But you still need solutions.

Short-term Solutions Make It Worse

Most short term solutions for fatigue are nothing more than one form of stimulant or another:

  • stimulants like coffee and sugar snacks do a number on your body by upping the sugar that sets you on the road to metabolic disorder and diabetes. It’s a high price to pay for a temporary boost that depletes us later.  It’s a kind of deficit spending for the body.
  • working harder is another often used approach. We have all heard the expression that there are not enough hours in the day. One Ayurvedic doctor told me that working six hours a day was considered far superior for health and more natural for us than our current culture of long hours and 24/7 availability.
  • distraction can help us pump ourselves up.   Loud music and entertainment can create a high of sorts which is not actually restful and may negatively affect the nervous systems of highly sensitive people.
  • reaching for food is actually a rational instinct since food supports our health and ability to function.  Unfortunately one of the challenges extremely busy people have is that much of our food supply is processed and full of all sorts of chemicals as well as corn syrup and other ingredients that increase weight and act as stimulants to the body.  Because processed food is so high in calories and low in nutrition it can cause people to want to eat more to meet their nutritional needs and when they are tired their nutritional needs rise.  Fatigue can therefore contribute to weight issues.

Fatigue is important information that needs to be listened to.  It provides valuable information about how to manage ourselves and our work that can support long term effectiveness. It can help us learn how to pace ourselves. All of the unhealthy ways we have of handling fatigue in the short term affect our perseverance and staying power in the long term, because they take a weakened state of being tired fatigue, and make it worse.  Over a long period of time, inevitable chronic problems will develop.

Highly sensitive people are very conscientious which can make them more easily tired. By taking poor fatigue handling strategies off the table and working with the body’s nature, HSP’s start to level the playing field on fatigue management.

How To Take The Monkey Off Your Back

Getting the monkey off your back is not a quick fix.

  • you need to accept how out-of-control the world is and accept that you probably will not fix it.
  • you need to put your health ahead of saving the world.
  • you are not responsible for other people’s expectations including their expectations of a perfect world.

Once you have accepted these things you are ready to work on your life. You must start by making a list of priorities putting health at the top of your list. Getting on a health maintenance plan that supports your highest functioning will help you handle work better and help you feel better at the same time.

MAPI, the Ayurvedic website,  recommends strategies based on the type of fatigue you are experiencing: mental, emotional or physical. Their article,  Wiping Away Fatigue, and offers some tips and case histories of how some individuals were able to recover from fatigue. (You can check your dosha type below.) Next you need to get serious about simplifying your life.

  • what do you take on that is unnecessary?
  • when do you help others when they should be helping themselves? You do not want to deprive others of empowerment opportunities!
  • what do you do that pleases others but is totally draining to you?
  • is your home and office cluttered?

See if you can reduce one “obligation” or source of clutter a day.  Decluttering your life takes time, which is a good thing because freedom takes time to get used to.

But it is worth it and you are worth it. And by the way, when someone brings you a monkey, say no!


The Problems You Have To Have…

If you are having the problems you don’t have to have, you are not having the problems that you have to have.

It’s a saying I have to remind myself that cluttering up my life with problems that are unnecessary is a great way to not get to the “problems” of growing and creating that I really need.

Having the problems I do not have to have is a great way to avoid putting myself out there and it does not feel very good.

The Problems Of HSP’s And Their Hidden Advantage

Highly sensitive people have a particular set of issues which show up in physical, emotional, mental and spiritual challenges that require mindful attention. HSPs experience a higher level of intensity which requires different life strategies. It can be difficult to handle all the intensity but learning to do so is very rewarding.

  • Every aspect of life for highly sensitive people demands more of them and as a result, HSPs bring more attention to most things they do. That can become an asset.
  • Because of the HSP tendency to sensory overstimulation, they need to manage their lives in such a way that they minimize stress overload. All aspects of life: work, social, family, and management of daily life require careful consideration. This challenge means that a sensitive person can develop greater focus and mindfulness about what they do.
  • Highly sensitive people need to monitor the build up of stresses in their lives. We live in a culture where people are expected to put up with significant amounts of stress, which is often perceived as normal. For HSPs, “normal” stress is a non starter. Unfortunately, HSPs may be treated with disrespect and be perceived as weak because of their need to minimize stress in their lives. This challenge can lead to a need to develop better time management skills and optimize one’s health.
  • Many HSPs have decided to develop simple ways of living in order to keep unnecessary complexity out of their lives including keeping their diets simple. Simple living can be life saving and freeing for HSPs. HSPs as a result can develop an eagle eye for what is necessary and what isn’t.
  • Herbal remedies and health practices like meditation can help to minimize the chance of disease and illness which plague many highly sensitive people. Improved health is a considerable advantage in all aspects of life.

Highly sensitive people are often creative and have the potential to achieve great things. Many are geniuses with special talents. By getting a handle on their daily lives, physical problems and stress issues, they have a chance to have the wonderful “problem” of developing their considerable gifts.

Managing The Stress Epidemic

Do you ever feel like stress is conquering you?

Do you ever feel hounded by one stressful situation after another?

Does stress take over your life and make you feel out of control?

Does managing stress seem impossible?

Unfortunately, this is the situation for most of us most of the time. We can conquer this problem but we have to understand the conditions that create it.

What Are The Causes Of Stress?

There are several causes of stress:

  1. the environment we live in.  This type of stress includes weather, daily life challenges and relationships.
  2. the cultural conditions we live in and the expectations we are expected to meet, realistic or not.
  3. our own minds and how we process our environmental issues and cultural challenges.
  4. how we feel about ourselves by how well we are able to handle and cope with the above.
So basically when we want to find the source of stress, it can be in our physical environment, our cultural environment and our position within it and a combination of all of them.

What Causes The Causes Of Stress?

This is the million dollar question:

  • there is the metaphysical answer, that our sense of ourselves as separate creates a lot of our pain and it is true. however, no matter how aware you are of the metaphysical truth, you still need to deal with the realities of daily life.
  • there is the evolutional answer. We evolved from an animal past where survival was fragile and uncertain and so we learned to see the world and others as a threat, which in many ways was true. Our brain and memories bear the marks of our past.
  • there is the cultural answer. As we evolved the prefrontal cortex of our brains developed and with it more complex reasoning and social structures.  Unfortunately those social structures have often been power and status driven rather than well-being driven.  They have created class and economic structures that have resulted in many people not having their basic needs met.

The Stress Management Challenge

All of the human living models to date have been short-sighted and survival oriented based on our knowledge and needs. The human race is a work in progress.

Survival thinking still dominates our cultural systems and is a frequent subject in our social space. Our current societal models have often forced people to survive at the expense of someone else.  Living in an environment where people succeed at the expense of others is stressful and threatening. The more aggressive the environment the more stress you will experience.

Managing Stress Better

I do not believe in formulas for managing stress. I think the trick to managing stress better is to come to terms with current human ways of life and combine it with a more humane approach.

It looks like this:

  1. embrace your limitations. The ego is insatiable, not only yours but everyone else’s as well. You can give up satisfying it and gain not only a measure of freedom but also feel more kindly toward your fellow humans when you do not have to please other egos.
  2. identify your real needs.  Knowing what you really need rather than your egos needs which are not the same will help you get control over your life.
  3. identify your important necessary commitments and let go of all others. When you do this you are able not only to take better care of yourself but also give more to your commitments which creates improvements in your life.
  4. start taking very good care of yourself. Great self care is a wonderful way to improve your mood and enjoy life more.
  5. be as gracious as you can to others suffering from stress without doing unnecessary harm to yourself.
  6. take time to discover what is really important to you. When you spend time on what you really care about you are naturally happier and more giving.  Everyone benefits. It is not good to prop yourself up with all sorts of material rewards because you are living in a way that does not suit you.  You are just piling stress upon stress.
  7. make gradual changes in the direction of your greatest happiness.

The more you get a handle on your necessities and real obligations the more you will be able to reduce stress in your life.

The world will be here when we are gone. Enjoy it more while you are here.

Time Issues For Highly Sensitive People

Hurry up!  Hurry up!

Do you ever feel that many people around you are too quick and too impatient?

I know that I do.

It’s a weird problem, because as slow as HSPs may seem to non-HSPs, non-HSPs seem superficial to HSPs.

It can be a challenge to handle it.

Time Issues: A Conflict For HSPs

Non-HSPs tend to operate at a faster speed than HSPs.

Non-HSPs are usually extroverted and have a more competitive orientation. If you are going to be a successful competitor, you need to be fast.

HSPs have a holistic orientation. They take in everything and sort out the information they receive before making decisions and taking action. HSPs tend to have an organic approach to life which creates different relating and problem-solving approaches.

Put an HSP and non-HSP in the room and it will be difficult for them to work together unless they create a way to do so. Their interests, values and working approaches will be very different.

How HSP Biology Creates Time Issues

Highly sensitive people are born with nervous systems that soak up all sensory information around them.  HSPs are like sensory sponges.

Because highly sensitive people are also holistic they need to process the information they take in before choosing how to direct their energy. Having a holistic orientation complicates things because

  • you have to consider all of the factors that are relevant to any task at hand
  • you do not have the excuse that you are not aware when you take in so much information
  • you take in information that includes factors from the past, present, and future.

The reality is that highly sensitive people have a complex mental processing problem on their hands, that is not shared by non-HSPs. As valuable as HSPs are, non-HSPs may not appreciate the awareness that sensitive people bring to the table and become impatient with us.

Getting A Handle On Time Issues

The first thing that highly sensitive people need to do is accept that they will not change non-HSPs nor do we have to take care of their impatience.

At the same time, you cannot simply conform to a competitive world which often does not suit your values.  Compromises need to be made, however, it is better if they are not with your values.

It may sound like a simple time management problem but it is really more important that that. Competition is a serious factor in social respect. People who are gentle are often not well regarded. Therefore, finding a way to come into your own value and take care of your own needs in a world that may not appreciate your strengths is a challenge.

Start by identifying where in your life you are having the greatest difficulty. To get a handle on time issues, start with an assessment:

  1. family life: am I the only HSP or are there others in the family?  Am I supported in being different and having different needs and going at a slower pace?
  2. work life: am I in a competitive or collaborative environment?  Do I feel good about going to work or do I dread each day?
  3. friends and social life: do I experience friendship and acceptance from the people around me or do I often find myself bullied and put-down and expected to keep up with everyone else?
  4. health: how is my health?  how much stress can I withstand before I become debilitated or ill?
Once you have the big picture it is easier to make some intelligent adjustments in your daily life and do some planning.
  • are there places that offer you comfort and joy?  Can you expand them?
  • are there places where the interpersonal situation is extremely unpleasant for you?  Can you reduce it?
  • can you work for yourself in order to create a more satisfactory life for yourself?
As Peter Messerschmidt, popular HSP blogger writes: “Unfortunately, many HSPs struggle with planning, as it tends to be a rather “left brain” (analytical) type of thinking process, where most HSPs prefer “right brain” (intuitive/subjective) thinking. However, in the interest of self-preservation, planning is one of those areas where we are well served by stepping outside our comfort zones.”

Steps For Planning

Consider taking some steps to do more planning by answering the questions above to give yourself a picture of where you are in you life. Depending on your situation it may be easier to start small with one life area and make improvements before moving on to other challenges.
Here are some small planning steps you can take:
  • conduct an assessment
  • identify the areas you want to change
  • pick a place to start
  • identify what you need to make the change: support, information, tools etc.
  • pick some ideas for making changes and pick a strategy that suits you
  • make changes and notice the results
  • journal about your progress.  It is a good way to think things through as well as release frustration safely.
Planning can help you will put yourself on a path to a more satisfactory life. If you take it one step at a time, and make small changes, you will be able to combine the left brained planning functions with your intuitive sense and gain a new life skill that can serve you well.

Is The Quick Fix Killing Us?


Is the quick fix killing us?

Until the capitalistic system emerged which harnessed nature to satisfy unmet human needs, the history of the human race had been a history of poverty and misery. Our current economic system came into being to solve the problem of poverty and now it seems to be returning us to poverty.  It is worth understanding why.

At the risk of stating the obvious, our environmental condition is dire, and our institutions, infrastructure, educational system and social system all need serious overhaul.  We have less than 40-80 years of topsoil left.  How are we going to feed ourselves, let alone the rest of the world? The side effects of relying on unrestrained markets for our economic well-being are destroying us.

The primary value of capitalism is growth, not health. So tradeoffs are made compromising our health in order to promote growth. This compromise occurs in all areas of life: health, infrastructure, social safety nets, environment etc. Capitalism is a short-sighted system.

Take health for example. Although we have health care in the United States, health is not a value that we promote.  Many of us work ridiculous hours under exceptionally stressful conditions never knowing when we will lose our jobs and homes, hanging on by a thread hoping to survive.  We eat too much processed food that is a prescription for illness. We medicate ourselves to keep going because often we are afraid not to or don’t know what else to do. Taking care of our health is hopping on a treadmill, popping vitamins and supplements.  If it isn’t a quick fix it’s probably not on our agenda.

The Quick Fix Is Pervasive

Unfortunately our society handles everything this way.  Where in our society do we approach our lives in a way to support our long-term health and well-being? Where do we or can we opt for something other than the quick fix? We are so used to the pendulum of crisis and the quick fix that we are often stuck and unable to find other options. We have become a society living off one quick fix after another, without the ability to stop and question the wisdom or consequences of this approach. Our society is like a runaway train.

The quick fix problem did not happen overnight.  In fairness, when capitalism came into being the human lifespan was short: 30-40 years.  Needs were dire, and natural resources plentiful compared to the number of people on the planet. Wikipedia estimates that the human population around 1805, close to the beginning of capitalism, was 1 billion and reached 2 billion in 1920. It took another 20 years to reach 3 billion and since then the human population has exploded.

So there are legitimate reasons for the quick fix problems we are facing.  It is difficult to keep up in a world of 7 billion people.  Dealing with the needs of 7 billion people does not leave a lot of time for long term strategy.  At an individual level it is a little bit easier, but at a systemic level, it is more challenging because one crisis after another will consume time and other resources. In the end, it sucks us all in at one time or another. Over time, all parts of our cultural ecology start to see wear and tear due to the depletion of resources and lack of maintenance.

It does not help that our capitalistic system in its race for the sale demands that everything occurs at breakneck speed.  If you are not fast, you are toast!  No wonder so many people are stressed, exhausted and depressed. Speed is not known for creating wise decisions or long-term thinking.

Since we support this system that creates solutions for our needs, we have been opting to sacrifice many resources to sustain it: our health, families, communities, and environment. We have sacrificed so much that the entire human and natural ecology is at the point of collapse.

There is a way out of this quick fix mess, a way to get off the runaway train, but it will take a new way of thinking.  It will take a holistic perspective, long-term strategies and a willingness to give up the short term quick fix for the long term benefit of all. HSPs are perfectly suited for this new way of being and will have a lot to do with leading us to a new way of life.