Thrill Seeking

Here is an interview I just did for Iowa Public Radio on Sensation Seeking! It was great to inform the conversation around sensation seeking because the trait is simultaneously a great gift, if managed well, and a great curse, if allowed to run wild. Being a highly sensitive person, at the same time, provides many of us who are HSS/HSPs the cautionary pause we need to assess whether we should do whatever it is we are contemplating doing. The two traits combined are a dynamic duo of creativity, deep thinking, deep feeling, and moxy that can also be a great gift or great curse, depending on how they are balanced and managed. Thanks to the producer, Rick Brewer, for seeking me and providing the platform!

PLEASE share this one widely! Thank you!

drtracycooper.com

Thrill: The High Sensation Seeking Highly Sensitive Person

 

https://www.iowapublicradio.org/post/thrill-seeking-why-do-we-do-it

Why You Should Strive for a Meaningful Life, Not a happy One

Striving to be ourselves, it’s not just an ambiguous notion for many highly sensitive people and high sensation seeking highly sensitive people. The need to find meaning in life is one of the most significant aspects that HSPs and HSS/HSPs have communicated to me over the years.

The sensitive sensation seeker is one who thrives in an optimal range of stimulation where boredom is kept at bay, novelty and new experiences provide fresh stimulation, and where we choose it autonomously, even if it goes against the norms of society. Sensitive sensation seekers are a creative group who do best in short-term situations: projects with a definite ending date, situations that we know have a finite life, and where new stimulation will always be on the horizon. Now, you might say that boredom is a sign of laziness or weakness and that one simply needs to “get busy” and there will be things to do, hence alleviating boredom, but if you are a sensitive sensation seeker you know that boredom is more than a mere annoyance; for many it has been described as a “worst enemy.”

Boredom susceptibility is one of the four key aspects of the personality trait known as Sensation Seeking, a trait described and delineated by research psychologist Marvin Zuckerman in the late 1960s. Since that time, sensation seeking has been researched and applied to the treatment of addictions and other risky behaviors, to the gifted population, and to the well-functioning of those who are able to express the trait in a more moderate sense. Moderate expression of any trait is more advantageous than extreme expression. For example, a truly high sensation seeker might take poorly conceived risks that end in his death or jail time, simply because he is an expression of the trait at the extreme high end. This brings us to the interplay between Sensation Seeking and Sensory Processing Sensitivity.

Sensory Processing Sensitivity is a complex personalty trait with four key dimensions:

Depth of processing of all stimulation and experience, meaning we spend more time in reflection and consideration of what something may mean or in rumination over events.

Overstimulation, in some highly individual circumstances. No two highly sensitive people are alike but may experience issues with strong smells, loud noises, temperature swings, scratchy fabrics, or other sensory irritations. Many may also have Misophonia, which is a strong aversion to repetitive noises like chewing, clicking, tapping, or other unexpected sharp noises. Such instances can cause a rather visceral and strong reaction of anger (even rage) that is out of proportion to the stimuli. Lest you think that highly sensitive people are fragile, weak, or simply complainers, consider for a moment that many are quite successful in their chosen fields and have attained high educational status and reputation. Many HSPs learn to manage their tendencies toward overstimulation, in time.

Emotional responsiveness and high Empathy. HSPs have a wider possible range of emotional expression than those without the trait, simply meaning they might experience not only the joy in an event but the sadness and everything in-between, all at once. HSPs might also be highly empathetic and have a deep capacity to enter the realities of other people, even if they do not wish to. No, they are not psychics or anything paranormal but HSPs may find that empathy leads to compassion and apply that orientation to solving real-world problems that affect real people. Many HSPs are employed in the “helping” professions and derive great meaning from their work. Others strive continually to manage how much they feel from other people and what to do about it.

Sensitivity to subtle stimuli. HSPs are exquisitely finely tuned and may notice subtle smells, noises, or visual cues that others overlook entirely. This sensitivity can be a great advantage, though it is a costly in terms of time and energy. Many HSPs find it quite necessary to recharge in quiet after a day of too much stimulation or that they must arrange their lives to work in sync with their natural bodily rhythms and needs more than conventional situations.

The highly sensitive person, then, is one who thinks and feels more deeply than others, may need to withdraw to recharge or avoid becoming unpleasantly overstimulated, notices subtleties others miss, and who innately have a capacity to assess the emotional and affective states of other people.

Highly sensitive people are about 30% of the overall population, according to the latest research, which postulates that sensitivity is inherent in the human species as a general personality trait, just in varying amounts. The range of highly sensitive would likely contain a variety of people along a continuum with proportionally fewer at the extreme high end, again, because extreme expressions of traits tends to not be advantageous to the species. Some 30% of the highly sensitive population are also high in sensation seeking, which might seem completely the opposite of sensitivity (and it is), but let’s consider how they seem to interact and overlap.

Boredom susceptibility seems to be an issue with the highly sensitive and the sensation seekers. In that way, they overlap, but in other ways, they tend to be quite different. For example, seeking physical thrills would not be descriptive of the highly sensitive person, but in those who are both sensitive and sensation seekers, thrill and adventure seeking may be present. One way that sensitivity mitigates high sensation seeking is in the pause to reflect aspect where one stops to think or gather more information prior to taking an action. You might just consider that the risks are simply too great and not jump out of that plane!

Similarly, the sensitive sensation seeker may be a highly creative individual who has a real and pressing need for continual reinvention. Such a person moves from career to career, likely never staying at any one point for too long before the need for novelty and new stimulation become too great. This restlessness can be a defining issue of life for sensitive sensation seekers but it can also be one that propels us to great heights.

In the person who needs to feel a sense of meaning in life, especially the sensitive sensation seeker, happiness is indeed a fleeting moment, a mental illusion that one feels as a transient state, and, as articulated in this video, is less satisfying than simply seeking meaning in life. A meaningful life, what does that mean? It may mean seeking meaning through career for many, but meaningfulness in career is not always possible, due to a variety of factors within and not within our control. Meaning, then, may take the form of finding ways of engaging with ourselves and the world that bring our capacities to bear on challenging tasks with the possibility of growth and development. Such experiences are called Flow experiences~

Striving to be who we already are is a bit of a fool’s task, yet we engage in it because we come of age largely having no idea who we truly are. Our superficial and shallow culture promotes a generic vision of identity at any given age we may simply “wear” like a ready-made suit, only changing every ten years or so. Many people also do not know how to think well; many do not understand how to think rationally or creatively, yet both are integral to effective thinking and doing in the world. The Zen Buddhists take the approach of moving us toward an ever-elusive goal only to learn that the reward was always within us the entire time, that we are already whole and complete as we are, that, even if we somehow were able to attain spiritual enlightenment and find absolute serenity and contentment, we would still be just as we are right now in this moment. There is only the present moment and only that opportunity to choose how we will live, what we will do each day, and how that contributes to feeling as if we are experiencing a meaningful life.

Bear in mind that what is meaningful to one person may be less so to another person, yet both are equally as valid since we all come from very different life narratives. For example, that graduate who stands and is recognized as a first generation college graduate may not seem unusual, but you may not know the incredible improbability of that person being where they are at that moment having achieved something no one may have expected or thought possible. We never know what is meaningful for another person but we do know, or can learn, what is truly meaningful for us, but it does take some experimentation and a willingness to take risks, and possibly to fail.

You are the universe personified and experiencing itself through your very eyes. You are the universal creative force that created the galaxies, stars, the planets, and all life that exists throughout the expanse of space and time. You are a partial expression of a complete idea that only comes into focus when we think of life as a whole. You are neither above or beneath nature; you are nature… As such, you are whole and capable of many inborn instincts and actions, as well as some you may choose yourself. There is no imperative to seek happiness, as we have learned, yet so many are under the illusion that if we only reach X, Y, or Z we will finally be “happy.”

Happiness and meaning go together, hand in hand and one for the other. Feeling as if our life has real meaning, that we engage our often significant capacities while growing from the experience, is happiness! It’s the striving of the process that is the real enjoyment of life, as well as the small moments when we pause to reflect on how far we’ve come.

Seeking meaning in life my friends, not happiness…

Please share!

drtracycooper.com

Thrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and Career

Thrill: The High Sensation Seeking Highly Sensitive Person

 

Self-Care Is Not An Indulgence. It’s A Discipline.

Self-care was never about indulgence, pampering, or occasional moments of attending to our needs; it was always about the discipline of taking care of the issues that keep us going on a day-to-day basis. In that regard, yes, it is boring but quite necessary, especially for highly sensitive people as we seek to manage our daily energy budget.

How much overstimulation can you take? You know that answer and how long it will take you to recharge and it probably has nothing to do with spa treatments or anything other than simple peace and quiet. In that sense, do we have the discipline to step away from all the distractions today and find a peaceful moment, just for ourselves? That part does take discipline…

I’ve referred to self-care in the past as akin to a spiritual practice but that term may not have the intended effect as many people today are unable to differentiate spirituality with religion. A spiritual practice is aimed at your growth and development as a whole person in this moment. Similarly, the discipline of self-care should be engaged in with a serious attitude knowing that it has real significance and value to your well-functioning as a highly sensitive person.

Whether you practice self-care as a discipline at the level of spiritual practice or relate to it in some other way, please appreciate that your body needs rest, it needs hydration, and it needs appropriate fuel to function well. Your mind need stimulation as well with some level of socialization with others, preferably agreeable others whose company you enjoy. Your mind also requires that you learn to think in a disciplined way in order to manage the relationship between feelings, thoughts, and actions. Too often, anxiety finds its way in to our minds and clouds our thinking beyond a level where it is useful. Training the mind takes time and real effort and it will not happen in a spa center or luxuriating in comfort; it’s real work requiring resilience and discipline over time.

Never chastise yourself for what you’re not doing now, though, just work on incrementally taking better care of yourself on a daily basis. The boring stuff, in the end, is what adds up to overall well-being.

drtracycooper.com

Thrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and Career

Thrill: The High Sensation Seeking Highly Sensitive Person

Link to article (click here)

To Accomplish Big Things: Think Big but Act Small

Highly sensitive people enjoy accomplishing the big tasks where we are able to find application for our deep-thinking abilities and conscientiousness. To get to those goals, it’s often a matter of structuring how we approach work to reflect several tenants outlined in this article: minimize distractions, do intense, consistent work, and establish important priorities.

Distractions are plentiful today as our smart phones beckon constantly with an endless freedom to distract, entertain, inform, and just waste time. Similarly, where we work can be crucial to getting any meaningful work done. For some of us who are sensitive sensation seekers, we need to, at times, work in an environment with others for the synergy; alone at other times. For highly sensitive people, the preference may be simply to find a quiet space and a block of time to think deeply and begin to concretize our thinking. Thinking doesn’t become real to us until we concretize it by setting it down on paper (or screen as the case may be).

Feeling distracted can also come in the form of hunger, sleepiness, or anxiety about some issue. All may intrude on our working space and distract us from focusing on what we really need to. Focusing intensely on a subject by simply shutting the outside world out will allow you to enter the state of flow where time is suspended, your skills and abilities are well-matched to the task (but not over or undermatched), you receive immediate feedback on your work, and you will be intensely focused and conscientious about remaining so for a period of time.

Part of focusing in on a task is to set priorities. That doesn’t mean multitasking and doing ten things at once (all poorly); rather, it means we consciously choose the most important tasks then begin to work on those in a very structured way. Consistency of applied effort will get you much further than spurts or bursts of frenzied work with the added benefit of time to reflect and consider the quality of your work. There is a necessary pause to reflect instinct built into HSPs that serves to check our work (or the work of others). This propensity makes us very good planners, teachers, thinkers, writers, leaders, and designers.

Why does all of this matter to you? Because in today’s world, it is becoming increasingly difficult to do intense, focused work or to find others who we can communicate with about such work. Ironically, it comes back to those of us who spent much time in the libraries looking up books and reading them quietly while everyone else did whatever it is they do. The quiet people know the value of being free from distractions and engaging the mind’s capacities. We know how deep thinking works and how to bring it to bear on a complex set of issues. In our shallow, superficial world, we may be among the few left who know anymore how to use our rational and creative thinking capacities and use them for other than selfish egocentric or sociocentric purposes.

It is diminishing, of course, to generalize about highly sensitive people (all one billion plus of us) because we are all very different from each other and work in different ways. The common threads being a need for quiet, a need for focus and consistency, and a prioritizing of our how we invest our energies on meaningful projects.

Highly sensitive people are in ALL professions; there is no one best profession or career for a highly sensitive person! Do what works for you knowing that life is always a journey that requires you to experiment along the way with what may work in your case. That’s not the easy answer but I’m not interested in providing you with easy answers; I’m interested in helping you live your fullest and best life.

What works for you in accomplishing BIG things?

Please share!

drtracycooper.com

Thrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and Career

Thrill: The High Sensation Seeking Highly Sensitive Person

Link to article (click here)

9 women executives on what they hope to teach their daughters

Highly sensitive moms, what do you hope your daughters learn from the way you are managing your career? The examples in the article offer some profound bits of philosophical reflection but HSPs are different in that we value all of these things but to a deeper level. For example, “trust your instincts,” “work is your own thing,” and “perfection is boring” are all keyed into our deeply intuitive nature, our deep conscientiousness (the only factor positively associated with work performance by the way), and our reflective capacity to learn from risks we may have taken.

This article focuses on successful executives but, of course, there are many levels of success that go beyond money and prestige. That seems to be a uniting factor in these stories: do something that feels authentic, meaningful, and self-actualizing.

What do you hope to communicate to your daughters, moms?

drtracycooper.com

Thrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and Career

Thrill: The High Sensation Seeking Highly Sensitive Person

 

Link to article (click here)

Dr. Tracy Cooper Interview on Sensory Processing Sensitivity

Here is a very recent audio interview I did for Tina Gilbertson. Tina is a psychotherapist in Denver, Colorado specializing in therapy for parents with estranged adult children, and training for organizations.

The interview covered the basics of Sensory Processing Sensitivity, but also many crucial aspects concerning life as an HSP. Enjoy!

Please share widely!

drtracycooper.com

Thrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and Career

Thrill: The High Sensation Seeking Highly Sensitive Person

What’s the Quality of Your Feedback?

Do you provide feedback to others based on what they’re doing right or what they’re doing wrong? Research shows that we learn along the lines we are already strong in. This article does a great job of discussing how we can provide better feedback that actually encourages others to grow in their strengths rather than focusing on remediating weak areas.

Sensitive people process positive and negative stimulation more deeply than in those without the trait. Feedback for HSPs should always be strengths-oriented and focus on what we do well, while seeking to provide us with growth opportunities where we may branch out on those strengths. Deficiency-oriented feedback, for HSPs, would set off a cascade of overthinking, overfeeling, and, ultimately, prove more detrimental than beneficial.

Highly sensitive people are already likely the most conscientious workers in the workplace and we know from research that conscientiousness is the only trait proven to relate positively to workplace success. If you want to provide useful feedback to an HSP, the best way would be to focus on points of excellence as they occur.

drtracycooper.com

Thrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and Career

Thrill: The High Sensation Seeking Highly Sensitive Person

Further reading on feedback at this terrific article!

Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction for HSPs?

Do highly sensitive people benefit from Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction practices? Yes, we do! In a Dutch study from 2010, 47 HSPs were recruited to participate in an 8 loving-kindnessweek MBSR program to determine if there would be an effect apart from those without the trait and to investigate whether any longer lasting effects continued at least 4 weeks after the initial test period. The results? Highly sensitive people did benefit more from MBSR techniques than did those without the trait and it seemed to endure after the 8 week period. This seems to follow our propensity for benefiting more from any source of positive stimulation than others due to our deeper processing of all experiences.

It is well-known that HSPs may fare much worse than others in negatively stimulating environments, or better in positively stimulating ones. We know that HSPs who experienced abusive, neglectful, or traumatic childhoods experience more anxiety, depression, and emotional disorders of all types throughout life, unless they are able to sincerely address healing. We also know that HSPs from supportive, nurturing, and loving environments do much better on all measures than the previously mentioned group. When one comes from a loving, supportive background there is confidence in taking risks, in exploring the world, and in developing one’s talents and abilities because there is less anxiety about failure or self-doubt.

Similarly with MBSR techniques, when HSPs actually are able to focus on self-care the results can be quite positive and especially rewarding for the sensitive person. Who doesn’t like to feel good about taking of themselves?

The study points out that it isn’t clear which aspect of the program the participants underwent that contributed to the effects but it is likely that it was simply the overall positive nature of the program that had the largest effect. What can we learn from this?

Highly sensitive people need to practice self-care as an essential part of our daily lives. Self-care needs to be viewed as being similar to a spiritual practice with time set aside for this vital recharging and balancing time. True, in our hectic, rushed, and overscheduled world there is little time for sleep, let alone meaningful self-care but the results of such practices are of clear benefit to HSPs.

Mindfulness has become a buzz word that is becoming viewed as a passing fad but if practicing mindfulness based stress reduction techniques reduces your stress, anxiety, depression, and allows you to function better let them call it a fad or whatever they like. We will just go on practicing what we know works long after the naysayers have moved on to the next topic they wish to deride.

There is even a free online 8-week course in MBSR that you can begin practicing right now, at your own pace. If you’d like to learn more check out their website (totally free):

https://palousemindfulness.com/

Please share! ALL HSPs need to hear about this! All billion and a half or more

Thrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and Career

Thrill: The High Sensation Seeking Highly Sensitive Person

drtracycooper.com