Monthly Archives: June 2012

Be Yourself

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Christina Dunham | The Sociaholic: Be Yourself. Everyone else is already taken.

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Why Genius Demands Down Time

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Christina Dunham | The Sociaholic - Cat Nap

One of my favorite all-time activities – then and now – is taking a nap.

While many believe that sitting still is a luxury very few can afford, it’s exactly the kind of thing that everyone should indulge in. We live in a sleep deprived nation of over-achievers and workaholics consumed with climbing the top of Mt. Never Rest. We brag about lack of sleep and complain of long days, not realizing the stopping for a moment is exactly what’s going to help us with progressing forward.

Does genius demand down time? Inventor Thomas Alva Edison certainly thought so. He is reputed to take several cat naps during the day to help fuel his creativity. As Donald Mitchell, author of Adventures of an Optimist puts it, “lounging can be a purposeless way of being more purposeful by letting your unconscious mind come out.”

Need more convincing? Other famed practitioners of cat napping include Albert Einstein, John D. Rockefeller, Winston Churchill, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Ronald Regan. Besides its recuperative benefits, studies have shown that napping helps improve long-term memory, boosts alertness and creativity, and enhances productivity for up to 10 hours. Even our Pinoy predecessors knew the value of taking a siesta.

What’s the optimal interval for a power nap? It seems 20 to 45 minutes does the trick, when the body can benefit from the first two stages of sleep. A complete sleep cycle takes about 90-110 minutes and comprises of following stages:

Stage 1:  Falling asleep, or hypnagogia, the transition state between wakefulness and sleep

Stage 2:  Light sleep, when brain activity and heart rate slows down (about 10-20 minutes after falling asleep)

Stage 3:  Slow-wave sleep (occurs about half-way into the sleep-cycle). The feeling of grogginess and confusion occurs if woken up during this stage.

Stage 4:  Deep sleep (the regeneration stage)

Stage 5:  REM-sleep (the dream stage)

To avoid crossing over into Stage 3 sleep, Thomas Edison would hang on to a handful of ball-bearings, which dropped to the floor as he fully relaxed, thus waking him up. Other inventors have followed suit, releasing a suite of products specifically designed for power nappers. For example, there is the Sleeptracker Pro, worn like a watch, which monitors signals from your body and wakes you up at the best possible point in your sleep cycle. Then there’s the MetroNap EnergyPod, provided to employees by companies like Proctor&Gamble, a dentist-chair like lounger with a half-dome that envelopes your upper body, and a built-in timer to wake you up via a combination of light and vibration.

As Carrie Snow tells us, “No day is so bad it can’t be fixed with a nap.”  Next time you find yourself sluggish in the middle of a work-day, retreat to your desk, put up a “do not disturb” sign, and take a cue from Kindergarteners… take a nap.

The Immobile Arts

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Waking up at the crack of noon, I hesitated peeling the eye mask off my face for fear that the explosion of sunlight might trigger a sneezing fit. It was another weekend of back-to-back gigs with my band, and I decide to savor the last few moments of darkness provided by my trusty eye mask, sandwiched between my fluffy comforter and comfy pillow-top mattress.I started counting in my head… 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12… good. That means I’ve had about eight hours of sleep now.

Next on the agenda, 30 minutes of slowly rising into a sitting position to watch SpongeBob SquarePants. First up, it’s the episode where SpongeBob’s klutzy cousin Stanley S. SquarePants comes to visit. As I turn up the volume, the following conversation ensues:

SpongeBob SquarePants (character)Patrick:  Looking for your calling, huh? Hmmm. So what are you good at?

Stanley:  Nothing.

Patrick:  Nothing at all?

Stanley:  Yep.

Patrick:  Interesting. Let’s see how good you are at nothing.

SpongeBob: That’s perfect! Patrick can do nothing better than anyone! You’ll be learning from the master!

Patrick: Come with me. First, sit down on this chair. Clear your mind. Empty it of all thoughts. Until you’re doing absooooluuuuuutely nooooothiiiiiiing (Patrick hunches over with glazed eyes, drool suspended in mid-air, to the sound of a cow mooing)

Stanley sits, but no sooner, his foot starts tapping, eyes start twitching, sweat rolling down his forehead, the ticking clock pounding in his brain. Hard as he tries, he just can’t sit still.

Stanley:  I can’t do it!!!!

Patrick: You’re not worthy of instruction in the Immobile Arts! Leave my presence!!!

Ah, yes. The Immobile Arts. The art of doing absolutely nothing. Now how many of you actually practice this? We are a society of super-achievers and wonder-women, multi-taskers with over-booked calendars. While I am guilty of pushing the limits of endurance and sanity, there is one thing I have learned to do quite well – nothing.

Several years ago, while attending a professional business women’s conference inSan Francisco, I sat in on a talk by a woman who espoused “mastering the tyrant within.” One of the messages that really stuck was that “sometimes, good enough is good enough.” Caught up in a perfection-obsessed world, this was news to me. Growing up, my adult role-models always encouraged me to “do better, do more” and so it was a never-ending quest to get to the top of Mt.Never-Rest.

After that conference, I took inventory of everything I did, and carefully determined which activities demanded perfection, and which didn’t. Super-squeaky clean floors? I can live with dust-bunnies here and there. Community involvement? Only as a volunteer for select events and fundraisers. Corporate ladder?  I like the flexibility of working from home. I don’t need to run the world. As I slowly re-organized my life and re-arranged my priorities, my me-time increased and my stress level dropped significantly.

I then decided that the one activity requiring perfection was the art of doing nothing, which I discovered, was a critical part of doing everything else well.

Summer Blockbuster

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I can’t stand chick flicks.

Christina Dunham | Summer BlockbusterFor me, movies like Beaches or The Notebook are simply antidotes for lingering insomnia. Too many chick flicks go over the same thread worn plot over and over again, reassuring womankind that chivalry is not dead and that broken hearts will be mended by a knight in shining armor.

Being jerked to tears is absolutely draining. Seriously. Try watching Titanic ten times in a row and see how deeply you can dig yourself into misery. It’s a fact: what we see, hear and experience affect our emotional and physical state, stimulating happiness, anger, fear and sadness. And there’s already too much drama going on in the real world that I don’t have any energy left over to invest in fictional characters.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that there isn’t any value in embracing deep, purging emotions. And occasionally, I do enjoy cheering on a forlorn woman besieged by a romantic quandary, especially if it involves Tina Fey, Kristin Wiig or Anna Faris.

But give me movies with elements of action, adventure or comedy. That’s a different story. Startling explosions and catastrophic calamities, incredible stunts and fight scenes, dizzying car chases and narrow escapes, high-tech gadgets and awe-inspiring special effects, swashbuckling heroes and heroines. The non-stop-edge-of-your-seat-action just gets my adrenaline going. Give me a combo action/adventure/comedy movie and I’m in seventh heaven.

This is precisely why I always look forward to the Summer Blockbuster season.

Take Summer 2012, for example. Hitting the box office are:

  • The Avengers
  • Men in Black III
  • Prometheus
  • The Amazing Spiderman
  • The Dark Knight Rises
  • Total Recall
  • Snow White and the Huntsman

Oh my! Just thinking about it makes me giddy like a 6-year old. Who cares that, predictably, the heroes always prevail over the evil villains – it’s fun finding out how they get out of their disastrous predicaments.

According to an article in BusinessWeek.com, “the birth of what we know now as the summer blockbuster season was in June 1975, when Jaws was released. The thriller about a giant man-eating shark is not only credited as the first-ever summer blockbuster, it also set the tone for summer movies for years to come.” At that time, movie ticket prices were only $2.00 each. You can’t even buy a soda with that today.

As far as I can remember, I’ve always enjoyed action flicks. Perhaps because growing up with three brothers, I didn’t have much of a choice with what movies were rented for our trusty Betamax. From Bruce Lee to Jackie Chan to James Bond, it seems we watched every single kung fu, ninja and action movies produced in the 70s and 80s. I even fancied myself a Ninja at times, silently tiptoeing up the stairs to launch a surprise attack on my Yaya (Nanny) or throwing flying sidekicks at my neighbor’s son. Because he deserved it.

Truly well-made action/adventure films simply stand the test of time. Like the James Bond series. It’s listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most profitable and the longest running English language film series of all time. With his flawless fashion sense, fast cars, and clever gadgets, James Bond’s character is an often imitated hero. Even my father, Greg Macabenta, wrote, directed and produced a James Bond-type television series when I was growing up – Target: Agent 69 (which of course I was never allowed to see as a young girl. I can’t tell you to this day if I’ve ever even seen an episode).

My husband tells me that perhaps the reason I enjoy action flicks so much is because I like characters that rescue themselves. I just can’t identify with the damsel in distress who dawdles in her ivory tower, waiting for prince charming to arrive. Romantic, yes. Rational, no.

Take this scene from Shrek 3: all the princesses are imprisoned in the castle dungeon and Princess Fiona demands, “We have to do something!!!” Snow White then prompts the girls to “assume the position!” So Sleeping Beauty passes out, Rapunzel primps her long hair, Snow White sits pretty, and Cinderella starts scrubbing the floor.

My hero is Jack Sparrow, not Mia Farrow. Forget Mr. Knight in Shining Armor – I’ll slay the dragon myself.

The X Factor

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Derick MacabentaLast week, my nephew Derick joined the ranks of the estimated 1.78 million students that graduated from college in the U.S. If there’s one piece of advice I could give him now, along with the rest of the class of 2012, it would be this: the most valuable lesson you’ll need to become successful was NOT part of your college curriculum.

Back in 1984, Mark McCormack, founder of International Management Group (IMG) and touted by Sports Illustrated Magazine as “The Most Powerful Man in Sport”, authored What they don’t teach at Harvard Business School. McCormack himself is well-educated – a graduate of Yale Law School – as well as a frequent lecturer at Stanford and Duke. But he is the first to admit that “what they don’t teach you [in business school] is what they can’t teach you.”

Without a doubt, education and training contribute to one’s success. But raw knowledge is useless unless put to practical use. McCormack calls it street smarts, “the ability to make active positive use of your instincts, insights and perceptions.” Some refer to it as “soft skills,” a nebulous set of attributes that you either have or you don’t. Period.

I dub it the X Factor, an amalgam of positive attitude, people skills, and extraordinary flexibility.

Don’t Ever Tell Me You Can’t
When Celia Ruiz-Tomlinson moved to the U.S.in 1968, she had $300 in her pocket and a degree in Civil Engineering from Mapua Institute of Technology in Manila. Although she grew up in impoverished conditions, living in a 10×10 fish market stall that doubled as the family’s home, she managed to rise from abject poverty, overcoming one roadblock after another in pursuit of her dream. She is now President and CEO of Rhombus, PA, a successful civil engineering consulting firm in New Mexico. In 2002, she received the Asian Women in Business Entrepreneurial Leadership National Award, and in 2004, was recognized for her entrepreneurial acumen at the Filipinas Magazine Achievement Awards. She wrote a book about her exploits, aptly entitled Don’t Ever Tell Me You Can’t.

Positive attitude – the belief that no matter what, things can be done – is so critical that it is the first item on the checklist for AirForce Survival Training and Military Bootcamp. Laurence Gonzales, author of Deep Survival and contributing editor for National Geographic, says that in a crisis situation, Positive Mental Attitude (PMA) is the biggest determining factor for who survives and who dies. Perhaps Mahatma Gandhi put it best. He says that, “If I believe I cannot do something, it makes me incapable of doing it. But when I believe I can, then I acquire the ability to do it, even if I did not have the ability in the beginning.”

Win Friends and Influence People
There’s an often quoted story of a young woman who dined with William Gladstone one evening, and with Benjamin Disraeli the next. They were prominent British statesmen of the 19th century, both serving as Prime Ministers at one point. They were also bitter rivals. Asked her impression of these two powerful men, the young woman replied, “After sitting next to Mr. Gladstone, I thought he was the cleverest man inEngland. But after sitting next to Mr. Disraeli, I thought I was the cleverest woman inEngland.”

Personal magnetism, it seems, has more to do with being genuinely interested in other people rather than being “interesting.” Dale Carnegie, who wrote the grandfather of all people-skills book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, says that to succeed in life, you have to “Try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view.” First published in 1937, Dale Carnegie’s flagship book continues to rank in the New York Times Best-Selling Business Books of all time. Carnegie says that success is due 15 percent to professional knowledge and 85 percent to people skills. His training organization, founded in 1912, has a 12-week program revolving around 30 principles that focus on how to become a friendlier person, win people to your way of thinking, and be a leader.

Dance with the Winds of Change
The Bible tells the Parable of the Reed and the Oak. The Mighty Oak Tree, with its deep roots and firm standing, refused to dance with the wind, while the Lowly Reed bent this way and that, even with the slightest of breeze. Ultimately, the Oak Tree was toppled in a storm because of its refusal to compromise,

Even IBM has found flexibility to be the key to success, especially in the rapidly changing automotive industry. Responsiveness to change and adaptability to evolving situations allows big automotive companies and small mom-and-pop businesses survive and succeed – to dance with the winds of change. As Elbert Hubbard says, “The world is moving so fast these days that the man who says it can’t be done is generally interrupted by someone doing it.”

So, to my nephew and the rest of the Class of 2012 – Good luck. And here’s to finding your own brand of X.