Stumbling on Creativity
CHAD MORRIS, Ph.D., Director
After planning for six months, our long anticipated summer vacation is finally here. Family has flown in, and having crammed food, clothing, kayaks, kids, and electronics into every available square inch of the car, we are off to the mountains for a week.
It is time to switch gears from the work world. A great deal of thought has gone into this trip, but I try not to let the details involved in getting to our destination overshadow the experience of being there. With no deadlines looming, I can temper expectation with spontaneity.
The seven of us quickly begin to create a daily rhythm. Something that is not always easy for a gathering of strong willed personalities. But having traveled together before, we are getting fairly good at the compromise inherent to any outing with a group this size. Each morning, we create a simple blueprint for the day, often determined by when the rain will fall. Finally, out the door, it is incredibly special to share the surrounding beauty with others.
While not often stated, I gain a great deal personally from sharing the week with my family. It is a time to get reacquainted with my wife, children, family, and self. And it is the moments I relinquish control that offer the most nourishing memories. Like letting the children jump off the rocks into bone-chilling water. Or a family trek above timberline in a hail storm. Memories that neither they nor I will forget.
CINDY WANG MORRIS, Psy.D., Clinical Director
The other day, I sat in our conference room watching team members trickle in for our weekly team meeting. As each person entered in their unique way, finding their place and settling in. I enjoyed savoring the pleasure of knowing each person, aware of their strengths, style, and quirks.
There are times when we are all in the flow. Our ideas pop like the fireworks on the fourth of July. People have their good days. Then there are the days where we all hope that the next day is a good day. We are colleagues. And we are friends. Although we all have our separate social networks, this one is particularly meaningful. It’s not just that we spend a lot of time together. It’s that we create together. We have a shared vision. And we give generously to each other—pulling together when we have a deadline, doing whatever needs to get done. All the time knowing that we’ve got each other’s back.
So I want to take a moment to appreciate the team we have all built together—person by person—savoring our community of passion, drive, and creativity. Thank you for being all that you are and more.
CHRISTINE GARVER-APGAR, Ph.D., Research Associate
I have felt stretched rather thin at work over the past several weeks. We have been transitioning from projects nearing completion to those we are just beginning. Temporarily, old and new projects overlap, and I find myself juggling twice as many as usual. My compulsion to complete tasks with military-like determination lingers long after I leave the office, creating a similar sense of urgency to accomplish tasks at home. Suddenly, my inoperable kitchen faucet is an unacceptable nuisance requiring immediate attention. I am starting to feel anxious because I haven’t figured out how to put turquoise streaks in my daughter’s hair – something I promised we would do this summer (during a complete lapse of parental sense, no doubt!).
It is easy to forget that I am, for better or worse, an integral part of my family’s social environment. My endless resolve to cross things off a ‘to do’ list creeps into my home life and becomes a part of my family’s dynamic. (Sorry – no time for fun!) Given the near absence of levity from my current demeanor, I realize a need for back-up support – a ‘fun facilitator’ for my family.
Enter my mother. Happily, she and my stepdad are spending the summer in Colorado, making this the first time since graduating college that I have had family living in the same state. Yesterday, my mom and older daughter spent the day making a dog-friendly “Adoption Day” cake for our dog, Bob Barker. We’ve had Bob for two years, yet finding time to plan a party for him (complete with four-legged party guests recruited from the neighborhood) had not made it to the top of my priority list.
My mom and stepdad are here only for the rest of the summer, so I can’t rely on them to balance out my ‘fun deficit’ for too much longer. When work-related demands increase, I must find a way to let unfinished tasks lie, to be in the moment with my family, to slow down the pace of my thoughts long enough to fully engage the people I care about. The truth is, I don’t have to maintain constant vigilance over my mental ‘to do’ list. The house of cards at my desk, 30 miles away, will not come tumbling down if I choose to forget about it for an evening or a weekend. I can muzzle the nagging voice in my mind compelling me to get things done. In short, I can be more present for my family. After all, I can’t expect my mom to facilitate all our fun. She has her limits, and I’m quite sure one of them might be putting turquoise streaks in my daughter’s hair…
Made to Move
JAMIE PFAHL, B.A., Community Liaison
After months of griping that I never see my friends anymore, I am suddenly squeezing in impromptu happy hours, movie nights, hikes, and dinner parties into a calendar already bursting at the seams with weddings, weekend excursions, and my own personal to-do list. Perhaps it’s something about the immediacy of summer, or the stage of life many of my friends and I are in. Whatever it is, it is both incredibly fun and incredibly tiring.
Forming and maintaining good relationships can take a lot of time and energy. Yet, I’m fairly sure that a good social life is supposed to make you feel supported and energized, and not like you’re shortchanging other elements of your life. In the last week, I have excused myself early from social engagements twice so I could get at least 7 hours of sleep before waking early to go for a run. I found myself apologizing about being a tired old lady and complaining that marathon training is “ruining my life.” At the same time I’m hitting peak training mileage, I keep RSVPing “yes” to social events. It’s starting to stress me out. If I don’t show up, people will think I am not invested in our friendship. What if I don’t make new friends to take the place of those who move away or grow apart? Obviously, I’ll end up lonely and surrounded by cats. So here I am, frantically filling my summer with girls’ nights, game nights, camping trips, and happy hours.
It’s funny to realize that in my enthusiasm to improve my social life, I am not being genuine. I am trying too hard to keep social wellness a priority, when – at least for a few more weeks – it really shouldn’t be. Right now, squeezing in scheduled social events into my life feels more like checking off boxes than actually developing the deep and fulfilling relationships I am looking for.
At the end of the day, I have to take care of myself first and my friends will understand. In focusing on the things I enjoy doing, I will continue to attract people with similar interests and values. Instead of strategically scheduling get-togethers to keep people in my life, I need to trust that people who want to spend time with me will show up. And finally, I need to set boundaries and stop apologizing about needing time and space for myself. A little self-care will go a long way toward making those happy hours even happier!
SARA MUMBY, B.A., Program Administrator
My life has been a bit of whirlwind these last months. One of my nearest and dearest friends embarked on a unique two-year adventure in the northwest Pacific Ocean. I am unbelievably proud of her, but her departure tore a hole in the fabric of my social blanket.
Our weekly girls’ night meals, weekend cookouts in her backyard, and monthly dining experiences at the newest restaurants of Denver have ceased to exist. Her friendship provided me a nonjudgmental outlet to try that recipe on Pinterest I’ve been obsessing over. She happily accompanied me to that new hip bar downtown and would split plates so we could try everything on the menu. But now I’ve lost my partner in crime. My social life was centered on food, and, trust me, this is in no way a complaint. But it is an acknowledgment that maybe I need to expand my horizons beyond the dinner table.
So I joined a weekly trivia group. We go to a bar. We test our trivial knowledge. And believe it or not, sometimes we don’t eat a thing. I voluntarily suggested we go hiking. I have plans to play volleyball at the park. Two months ago, these activities wouldn’t have been something I would agree to. But I’m being more open to other people’s interest instead of focusing only on my own.
I’m adjusting to the fact that I’m at a time in my life where friends are moving on and moving away. And to keep myself socially engaged, I need to move beyond my own interests and be open to new ideas. That’s not to say I don’t have people who will moon over dishes with me or come to my home for a meal, but – let me be ridiculous with a food idiom – it’s not the bread and butter of my social life anymore.
JIM PAVLIK, B.A., Program and Policy Analyst
I wrote, I think, 15 posts for this month’s theme, “social wellness.” I wrote about how I used board games to teach kids about anger management and conflict resolution. I wrote about the importance of joining clubs and how that helps us make friends and supports both our intellectual wellness and emotional balance. I wrote about my own struggles as one of the four shades of introvert.
You think that “social wellness” is where a segment dedicated to playing would shine. But, I threw them all away.
I had a client once struggling with a lack of social bonds after he moved from a traditional school environment to an online model. Even when he was in a physical classroom, he had only a few special people he considered “friends.” Once in the online module he found those friendships fading. Even when he physically reconnected with him, they had made new memories and inside jokes without him. So when he was with them, he wasn’t with them.
I tried various interventions as a means of “prescribing” social wellness with varying degrees of success. A lesson in the mall where he greeted random strangers and told them curious things about himself; a summer module learning how to design video games; an art club.
Of all the issues that client wanted to work on, the social piece was the most critical, the one we focused our efforts on, and the one where we saw the least progress. I don’t think this is rare. To some degree all of my clients in those days were dealing with social imbalances.
And even as I respect and tout the power of play, I also recognize that the skills and habits that are instilled through playing take a very long time to develop into something that a person can leverage into a friendship. I firmly believe in the idea of Home ludens (“the playing Man”). At our core, however, we are, as Aristotle noted, social animals. Playing is one way to express and develop this social heart. And while we can play alone, it is essential we play together—and to do that, we need someone to play with. You can’t prescribe a friend.
I don’t mean to sound pessimistic. There are several approaches to help people “win friends and influence people,” so to speak. You can develop confidence. You can help people become interested and therefore be interesting. You can throw people into social situations and teach them “the rules” of social interaction. But teaching people how to be social is different than teaching someone how to make a meaningful connection and that’s not always up to our clients alone. I think that deserves more consideration than it is often given.
The mission of the Behavioral Health and Wellness Program is to improve quality of life by facilitating evidence-based health behavior change for communities, organizations, and individuals.
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