Red Dragon Lessons
As always, when I’m when I’m in the process of bringing a new creation to life, my latest arrival teaches me a great deal about myself. My Red Dragon is no exception.
As you may have gathered from my previous posts, my Red Dragon is a warrior. He is prepared to deal with whatever comes his way in life.
As I’ve worked on him this week, I have made a couple of minor errors. I noticed that I had made his second wing shoulder joint bigger than the first, so spent time unpicking and reshaping it. Then I realised I had used the wrong thread to embroider his scales on the first shoulder. The resulting delays to his progress has been frustrating.
He has been incredibly quiet though, patiently waiting for me to correct the mistakes.
My previous creations would have been chatting away to me, urging me on, getting impatient and even criticising where appropriate. I’m not used to this quiet acceptance. It’s a little unnerving. So this morning I asked him about it.
“Thank you for being so patient this week. I’m curious as to why you’ve not been at all critical of my mistakes?”
He smiled a slow wise smile.
”Have you ever noticed how much humans tend to dwell on negative events far more than positive ones?”
I was able to relate immediately. I have been on the receiving end of criticism at work this week. It has effected my mood dreadfully. On one day in particular I was dreadfully upset and ruminating over events really badly. I had tried all day to use my cloud watching technique to detach my emotions from the events. I wasn’t able to break the cycle until the following day. I was out of practice.
This disturbed me a great deal, as I also realised my anti-depression toolkit was flawed. If I had experienced more criticism I know my mood would have plummeted.
My Red Dragon interrupted my thought process.
”See? All I did was mentioning negative events and you are reliving the past weeks events in detail again.”
How interesting. My curiosity rose.
“Why is that?”
“It’s not just humans that are effected this way you know. Animals are too. Even me.”
He went on to explain that our brains handle positive and negative emotions in different ways. Negative emotions involve more thinking, and the information is processed more thoroughly than positive ones. So we tend to ruminate more about unpleasant events than happy ones.
“I am a result of the evolutionary process. As a warrior, my very survival is dependant on my urgent attention to threat. My ancestors were acutely attuned to threat and bad outcomes, so they survived and passed their survival genes to me.
Put simply, my survival requires my urgent attention to possible bad outcomes but less urgent to good ones.
You don’t face daily threats in the way that your ancient ancestors did, but your brain and emotions still function in the same way.
A great day for you, one that ignites that spark of joy in your soul, engages you and fuels your creativity, involves making progress on a meaningful project. I am your current meaningful project.
Yes you’ve made a couple of minor mistakes, but my criticism would cause you a setback. A setback would cause you to feel blocked from making progress on me and would remain highlighted in your memory as a bad day.”
A big mistake or a major problem, involving deep criticism of you or your work, will stand out as one of the worst experiences of your life.”
The negative effect of this type of setback on your happiness is more than twice as strong as any positive effect of a good event or good progress. And the level of frustration you feel at a setback is over three times as strong as the power of progress to decrease your frustration.”
I had watched a news report earlier this week on the positive impacts of parents praising young children in a controlled and constructive way. I began to understand the links to what my Red Dragon was explaining and responded.
“So the answer, then, is not to heap meaningless praise on our others but to criticize constructively and sparingly?”
“Yes, but it’s important to remember that most people can only take in one critical comment at a time. That’s why you’ve had a bad week. You’ve made mistakes and received criticisms at work. This has hampered your ability to make progress and impacted on your happiness. Hence the mistakes you’ve made on me.
My adding to the load would only make matters worse. I know you are rectifying the minor problems you’ve noticed and that I will be finished in a reasonable timeframe. I will look and feel splendid, so there’s nothing to be gained from my added criticism is there?”
I found this conversation strangely reassuring. It’s not just me. I don’t need to beat myself up because I seem to fret excessively when things go wrong.
“What you need is a kudos file, said my dragon. It’s the missing part of your anti-depression toolkit.
Create a file or scrapbook to keep the praise you’ve received, thank you cards and messages, copies of rewards, anything that make you feel particularly good. Good events can overcome the psychological effects of a bad one at a ratio of about five goods for every one bad.”
I’m reminded of last weekends acts of kindness that helped me to bounce back to my normal self and more rational thinking.
“Yes”, says my Red Dragon, “we all need to engage in more acts of kindness, toward others and ourselves, to balance out the world.”
Excuse me now, I’m off to create my kudos file. Of course, if you would like to add to it, feel free 😉