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Overarousal and Focus...or Lack thereof... - The Motive Center
May 1st, 2005
09:57 pm

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Overarousal and Focus...or Lack thereof...
A bit of discussion, a bit of speculation...in earlier posts I've talked about the phenomenon of overarousal--when your emotional energy is pumped beyond your ability to manage it. In other words, when one or more of your motives are strongly aroused. Yerkes and Dodson discovered in 1908 that when your emotions are high, your performance is low--that a moderate amount of arousal produces the most effective performance.

All well and good, but what if you don't have a choice? Your environment arouses your motives--and in fact having a given motive relatively strong means you are more sensitive to those signals. For example, if you have a lot of Affiliation motive, then you are going to be really sensitive to troubles with a friend, or get hit really hard by a problem in the family.

I'm got two thoughts here: one is how to handle overarousal, and the other is my purely speculative thoughts on Attention Deficit Disorder. Let's start with the first, and see how far I can go.

As I noted, your life experiences have a strong impact on your motives. Not coincidentally, stressful experiences particularly. It is getting more widely known that any stressful experience, positive or negative, adds to your stress. That is, even if you are looking forward to it, it can still be a strain! Thus people immediately before a big wedding start going berserk, for example, or trying to move, or starting a new job--all potentially good things, but your emotions are highly aroused and it is a strain! In fact, a while ago people started studying stress with a "hassles scale" because you could basically just add 'em all up: minor stresses and major stresses added together give you a reasonable approximation of total stress.

What most people don't know is that stress can be categorized by motive. So you can have a high motive, which makes you more sensitive to stresses, and stresses that are specific to that motive!

Many major events are actually linked to multiple motives. Getting fired, for example, could be a Power stress (duh), an Achievement stress (failing of goal), and/or an Affiliative stress ("I thought they liked me" coupled with "I have to leave people I liked at work.") In a sense, that's why they are major events--they hammer on all your buttons at once! To take a more positive example, like a wedding: definitely Affiliation plus Power. Not Power, you say? Well, if you're having a big wedding where you want everything to go right--aren't you thinking about influence and impact?

So how do you handle these stresses? One is to be aware of them, so then you can try to channel them appropriately. Of course, as we know, when you are overaroused, your ability to hold onto your emotions goes down. Warn people! I'm not suggesting just going nuts and making everyone else deal with it, but at least try to prepare people. Also, if there is anything you do that tends to remove that kind of stress, do it. Some people read or see something emotionally powerful to cleanse themselves (catharsis, as Aristotle put it), or get involved in someone else's problems, because they distract you from your own. One reason people went to disaster movies or for that matter to horror movies, is to see people MUCH worse off than you!

One frequent approach is comfort food, which can work against you sometimes. Everyone knows about chocolate and phenylethylamines at this point, which connect with Affiliative stress, of course. Exercise works much better, and certain kinds of exercise (ahem, ahem) work better than others.

So the main approaches are: 1) Distract by helping someone else, 2) Catharsis through a powerful story that takes you through a range of emotions, 3) Channel the emotion into another related path (e.g., affiliative stress => see a friend), 4) Release the emotion somehow (exercise, primal screams, writing).

It is interesting to me that J. K. Rowling created her massive, complex world as a way to get away from the world she was living in--living in poverty, divorced, and trying to take care of a family. I know another writer who was in an abusive marriage with a daughter and wrote stories where abusive men were horribly punished. Did very well, too--until she got enough money to leave the husband, after which she found the desire to write had left her. Was the motivation entirely extrinsic, and therefore gone? Or did she identify her stories with that bad times and subconsciously left them behind? Hard to say.

Next time, let's talk about attention...

Current Music: Borderline

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From:kamenkyote
Date:May 1st, 2005 07:21 pm (UTC)
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Interesting stuff as always, Steve. I can definitely see patterns in myself here, especially when feeling REALLY artistic and how failure at that time seems to hit worse than other times. "I'm really in the mood, WHY can't I perform?" I wonder if there's a correlation between pre-game meditation and an athelete's performance in a game.

Ahem ahem indeed. :"D
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From:stevekelner
Date:May 2nd, 2005 06:45 pm (UTC)

Pre-Game meditation

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Could be--if it's about managing the anxiety down to useful levels. I've had the same feeling about feeling like writing and not knowing where to begin, incidentally.
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From:rei_c
Date:May 1st, 2005 07:29 pm (UTC)
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4) Release the emotion somehow (exercise, primal screams, writing).

I like this one--I tend to get a bit mad when I get stressed (mad as in crazy, not mad as in angry. Well, that sort of mad as well) and nothing relieves the stress like punching a pillow or scrubbing floors, or cooking up things that require pummeling, like bread, for instance.

Mum used to get a bit upset when I'd slam doors and things, so I've learned to channel and release in 'healthier' ways. Tell that to the pillows.
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From:stevekelner
Date:May 2nd, 2005 06:48 pm (UTC)

Better pillows than people!

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Hadn't thought about pummeling bread--interesting idea. Too bad I'm on a low-carb diet...but I could tenderize meat, I suppose.

Whichever way, you are still definitely controlling where the energy goes, and doing it in a way that doesn't bother other people. Nothing wrong with that!
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From:stevekelner
Date:May 2nd, 2005 06:48 pm (UTC)

Toni

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I've always thought so. Ahem, ahem.
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