There is a movie–I Am–by Tom Shadyac that began as a quest to understand the emptiness of his own life in the wake of a devastating bicycle accident. Tom’s recovery was a very difficult and painful process that left him laid up and very lonely.
The good news is that Tom had a lot of time on his hands to think about his circumstances. Contemplation about certain realities of his life piqued Tom’s curiosity and his desire to understand the bigger picture so he set out with a small crew and a camera to do some research.
Tom’s journey introduced him to something called HeartMath, with a fascinating scene in the lab with Rollin McCraty, Ph.D., of the HeartMath Institute. What is HeartMath?
According to the HeartMath website, “HeartMath is a unique system of rigorous scientific research, validated techniques, leading-edge products and programs and advanced technologies for people interested in personal development and improved emotional, mental and physical health. HeartMath is internationally recognized for practical solutions that can transform the stress of change and uncertainty and build people’s heart coherence and energy reserves.”
As a clinician who practices hypnosis, I’ve written elsewhere about the power of words; that words are things. Thoughts and words evoke physical changes in ourselves and in others. Words matter. What we say to ourselves and to others matters.
There is a small inexpensive portable device available for those who want to learn how to experience more positive emotions through heart coherence. My awareness and use of the portable HeartMath emWave, which I tried years ago, didn’t really grab my attention. More recently though I’ve been reintroduced to the emWave2 and became curious about whether the hypnosis I write and practice would increase heart coherence. The emWave2 produces red, blue, and green light in response to heart coherence. There are also tones associated with each level. Green = Coherence.
One service I offer clients is a personal mantra embedded in hypnosis, recorded as an MP3. I have my own, recorded mantra that I’ve listened to many times. Thus I put on my headphones and played my mantra while using the emWave2. The single subject experiment–me–revealed the green tone consistently pinged as I immersed myself in my recorded hypnosis mantra. It also revealed that being interrupted by the presence of a particular person produced red…
Hmmm. There it was in green and red. Emotions and health are inextricably connected.
September 5, 2016
Now that I’m trained to deliver HPN, this entry is resurrected from my post on the Yahoo Contributor Network (July 2014) after attending a conference in Sarasota.
Traumatic brain injury often goes undiagnosed, and football is not a sport I follow. Nor can I tell the difference between a tight end and a bookend but apparently we have something in common besides the ‘armchair quarterback’ metaphor I use in my clinical practice.
Recently I attended a seminar on the use of High Performance Neurofeedback treatment for former NFL players. As it turns out, there is a high incidence of traumatic brain injury (TBI) among football players and other athletes who sustain repetitive blows to the head.
One speaker who played professionally for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Seattle Seahawks of the NFL spoke of devastating effects he has experienced from concussions sustained on the field. He described chronic nerve pain, joint and muscle pain, flu-like symptoms, feeling faint, weak. and often flushed. The player said he’s been tested for an assortment of rare conditions and received various diagnoses including Crohn’s disease and Fibromyalgia.
Despite the player’s relatively young age, tests show his brain has decreased white matter–that of an 80 year old; pituitary shutdown; decreased testosterone; sensitivity to noises and the inability to focus or concentrate because his brain is constantly spinning. Medication has been used for chronic inflammation, neuropathy and anxiety.
Apparently the inside joke is that NFL stands for ‘not for long’. Other anecdotal information is that players are instructed to ‘follow the silver in the bench’ when they are so injured and disoriented they can barely function, as was the case of a player whose eye was literally knocked askew.
Researchers spoke of the effects of TBI: memory loss, depression, anxiety, irritability, anger, headaches, chronic pain, fatigue, sleeplessness, and autoimmune diseases. Sleeplessness alone, from the inability to quiet an overactive brain can have devastating effects on physical and mental health.
According to one expert, most NFL players experience ten or more concussions in their careers; and hockey is just as bad. The bigger picture is 1,500,000 incidents per year of TBI in all walks of life. The upshot for those with TBI is that being around friends and family can be extremely difficult due to constant physical, mental and emotional distress, which in turn can lead to isolation and sometimes even suicide.
The seminar left me thinking about the lack of treatment due to undiagnosed cases of TBI from auto accidents, falls, domestic violence and other events. Obviously being knocked unconscious or having a bleeding head is hard to ignore and will get some attention. But for those with closed-head injuries without loss of consciousness, the medical professional may not suspect a TBI. A very serious injury that is out of sight, not out of mind. Which leads me to the ‘something we have in common’… surviving a fatal auto accident 16 years ago that left me with an undiagnosed TBI, successfully treated with neurofeedback.
June 9, 2016
Media and online conversations about social and economic problems requiring effective leadership have increased my awareness of two things in short supply.
The first shortage is knowledge of Basic Scientific Principles. Many people rely heavily on endlessly jabbering pundits who will say anything to sell their point of view. Like defense attorneys, the pundit’s job is to create ‘reasonable doubt’ and redirect attention to their agenda. These talking heads will do the thinking for you.
You may have noticed people can and will say anything to influence others, often using carefully crafted agendas. People who have the means, the platform, and the financial backing to influence others. Highly motivated to sell their point of view and steer you to their way of thinking. However, saying something does not make it a fact. Widely-held-accepted-as-norm statements, thoughts, beliefs and feelings are not necessarily facts. It takes more than a decisive declaration to make a fact.
The application of basic scientific principles to making decisions involves taking the time to seek credible sources, credible data, and a pattern of consistent, credible evidence in order to draw your own conclusions. (This approach would be less prejudicial in the legal system–using documented patterns and data instead of influence.)
Everything exhibits behavior. Whether it’s your spouse or an atom, there are patterns discovered through observation and measurement over time. Consistent. Patterns. These patterns of behavior are valuable sources of information upon which to make better decisions. (An aside, saynelife.com documents one corporate pattern of behavior exposed as a destructive contrivance.)
The second shortage is that of Emotional Intelligence. Being more open and accepting of ideas and information along a continuum (vs a polarity) is mentally and emotionally liberating. Mindfulness. Meditation. Both are useful but not the only ways to tap into your emotional intelligence. To become more curious and less attached to your version of reality is another way to tap into your EI. Allowing emotions to guide vs control is yet another way to become more emotionally intelligent. Cultivating and sharing positive emotions is a good way to model emotional intelligence.
Remember to consider the agendas of interminable talking heads and pundits. They don’t call it ‘programming’ for nothing.
November 4, 2015
Illusionist: ‘an entertainer who performs magic tricks’ or ‘a person who performs tricks that deceive the eye’ are two common definitions. Entertainment. Confusion. Fraud. It really depends on the goals of the illusionist. Skillfully redirecting your attention, thus shifting your expectations and perceptions.
The ‘Amazing Randi’ spent his post-illusionist-as-entertainer career debunking fraudsters whose goal was to separate people from their money, under supposedly legitimate circumstances. Likewise certain social scientists and skeptics like Michael Shermer, PhD whose ‘Skeptic’ magazine and contributions to Scientific American magazine remind us that things aren’t always as they seem. Both illuminate other perspectives, other criteria upon which to build our beliefs.
Most of us are perfectly content to believe what we believe until something intrudes upon our bubble and forces us to regroup and consider other possibilities. That is essentially the reason people seek therapy; what they are doing, thinking, believing collides with a brick wall of reality. Often the client’s goal is to fight that brick wall, and they enlist my help to do that.
Finding evidence is a good place to start with any belief yet many people will resist that too! In many ways it’s just easier to hang onto a belief that ‘feels’ true or provides comfort, or was inherited from family, gender, culture or other social institutions. Surely all those people cannot be mistaken…
Critical thinking skills that involve no attachment to the outcome, openness to observation and objective analysis of the information differ from wanting or expecting an outcome or conclusion that fits an established belief. Yet paradoxically we are basically hard-wired to seek that which supports our beliefs. There are plenty of people out there ready and willing to not only create, but also exploit those illusions-turned beliefs, for financial gain.
Examining how our beliefs have been shaped will yield valuable information, as will taking a close look at what is actually going on now. My job is to understand how and why a client clings to their bubble of belief then begin to poke some holes in it with critical thinking and objective information. This brain-changing approach requires engaging in a process that has nothing to do with that ‘chemical imbalance’ strategically crafted by master illusionists on a world stage… for exorbitant profits.
September 22, 2015
When your culture is an invalidating environment, your life feels surreal. Traumatized people experience this on a daily basis. The very social and emotional environment they need to help them heal is dancing to a completely different beat. And, the traumatized person is often perceived to be the one out of step, thus blamed or ignored or even shunned for not joining the ‘dance’ of the prevailing culture.
Traumatized people will often retreat, avoid and escape others; or conversely, push people away with aggression, anger and emotional reactivity. Many will try to pretend everything is fine and awkwardly attempt to navigate the dance floor of life by saying the ‘right’ things and doing what is expected to fit in.
On the extreme end of the trauma continuum there is exposure to some overwhelming, terrifying, horrifying or life-threatening truth (in the form of the event) that most people never personally experience–that isn’t part of the regular, normal daily dance we’ve all learned and performed. The physical, emotional, mental, economic, and social toll of trauma is very real and affects millions of people.
The truth exposed by trauma, whether it’s a natural disaster, an accident, or violence and injuries inflicted by fellow humans, creates physiological changes to accommodate the event. Our bodies try to save us from further harm. We also come to conclusions about our environment, consciously or otherwise.
The opportunity cost of trauma is truly a testament to survival skills, given the time needed for integration; to recalibrate mind, body and soul. Fortunately, research has yielded more effective treatment approaches to stabilize and empower survivors of trauma.
Human compassion is free and potentially everywhere people refuse to accept the behavior of those who inflict the injuries. For some it’s simply speaking up. For others it’s choosing to no longer collude with the dance. And–hope springs eternal–there are others who are collaborating and creating new dance steps by solving problems without violence or exclusion, allowing everyone a place on the dance floor.
September 5, 2015
“Bonding. Belonging. Believing…” Dr. Oliver Sacks, the man who normalized having a brain by exploring the mysteries and idiosyncrasies of our three-plus pounds of wonder. Educating the world about what happens to brains when exposed to something harmful, or deprived of something necessary, or damaged by accident or injury.
Having been immersed in Dr. Sacks’ book, ‘On the Move’ for the past week, I was very saddened to learn of his death. It felt like a friend just died; a friend who wrote very candidly about his life, his fears, and his own quirky, brilliant brain.
In the book, Dr. Sacks shares his many adventures in being human, driven by enormous energy and natural curiosity. Writing about writing and the need to share his fascination, his findings, beyond the scientific community and beyond the proper and expected channels for a man in his role. He speaks of Luria’s ability to tell a patient’s story thus humanizing illness through storytelling, and of discovering his own thoughts by writing.
My affinity for Sacks is in several shared interests–the brain, writing, being human, yet also being a professional responsible for healing. There is also that feeling or compulsion to share what we’ve learned by writing from the outside looking in and from the inside looking out.
Sacks’ fascination with his own brain and mind reflects insight and self-investigation as he observes and describes his own struggles with shyness, sexual orientation, family expectations, drug abuse, his brother’s psychotic episodes, and the many other personal and professional challenges he faced.
Sharing with us not only his knowledge, but also his humanity and wonderment about this journey called life: “Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.”
September 1, 2015
Another definition of Billionaire: “s/he who will positively affect the lives of a billion people.” Jason Silva on ‘Shots of Awe’ illuminates the limitless potential of the human brain to create good.
Shots of Awe clips on YouTube offer inspiration and ideas to not only unshackle ourselves from limiting ways of thinking, but to expand the possibilities for peace, cooperation, compassion, economic stability, and social inclusion. The ‘Captains of Spaceship Earth’ clip reminds us that we are all the stewards of our planet, our lives, our collective future. We are the architects of the many environments we traverse. Social. Economic. Emotional. Physical. Legal. Political. Etc.
Consider the possibility that many conventional ways of thinking and doing things are artifacts from the past, rapidly outgrown by our ability to change our environments, share ideas and connect at a rate unprecedented in human history. Thus, learning to be more flexible; to be more willing to learn something new; to be more willing to consider another perspective; to be more willing to try something else increases the likelihood of future adaptability.
Clinging to an ancient paradigm and the illusion of safety, or having an ‘either/or, right/wrong’ mindset is to not accept our ever-changing Reality. To deny Reality won’t make it go away though it may feel safer to hang on to a belief or a behavior despite all evidence to the contrary.
Here is an exercise in change: Try asking yourself, ‘what can I do to improve this situation?’ Instead of, ‘what can I do to win?’ Or, ‘what can I do to punish you?’ Or, ‘how can I prove I’m right and you’re wrong?’ Ask a different question to get a different answer.
Perhaps you’ve heard the adage, ‘where attention goes, energy flows, and that’s what grows.’ The good news is that the focus of a human brain has such incredible power to change environments. The bad news is that the focus of a human brain has such incredible power to change environments. The choice is yours.
August 8, 2015
The Quantified Self is the road to clear, unvarnished reality. Behavior Analysts of my ilk have known this for decades–it’s what we do–quantify behavior to find out what’s really going on. Then (greatly simplified) we apply empirical methods to either increase adaptive behavior or decrease maladaptive behavior, as in Behavior Therapy. There are however, many other applications of Behavior Analysis.
The ability to make informed decisions requires accurate information about behavior patterns. People can tell you anything but what are they actually doing? Our tendency to believe what we hear, or want to believe, or are taught to believe, diverts attention from what may actually be going on: Reality.
The Quantified Self movement is both promising and perplexing, as I have tried for decades to get my clients to use simple tracking sheets, with mixed success. Those who use them typically experience a light-bulb shift in perception that can be astounding.
Perhaps for others having the technology to do the tracking was the missing ingredient. Tracking behavior via the Quantified Self provides the trail of crumbs, sometimes literally as in the use of a food diary to track consumption (not calories) to get a baseline of actual behavior and what maintains it.
Some of the comments online about The Quantified Self express concern that marketers and big business will simply use the information to more accurately target their audience. That may be true and we can become more conscious of our decisions every time we click online. Knowing we are being tracked provides an opportunity to think about the behavior we are reinforcing.
One of the more subtle yet ingenious methods of exploring audience approval is the ‘skip ad’ icon on You Tube. If a person isn’t bothered by the ad or even enjoys it enough to not skip, that is valuable information to the marketer. The upside may be more entertaining or enjoyable ads…
Likewise, tracking and quantification of your own behavior is valuable information. For anyone who has ever kept a diary or journal then taken a look many years later, the recurrence of certain thoughts, beliefs, feelings, behaviors will likely become apparent. Again, valuable information!
June 2, 2015
My observation is that there are three things most responsible for a brain’s inability to cope or maintain or regain equilibrium.
Excluding disease, or damage from head injuries, the three things most likely to threaten mental health are 1) sudden or catastrophic or overwhelming loss, 2) being subjected to aggression that runs the gamut from bullying, intimidation or coercion to physical, emotional or verbal assault (the word ‘abuse’ minimizes the reality of the behavior and the consequences endured by recipients), and 3) ingestion of toxic substances or lack of proper nutrition.
Experiencing losses in life is inevitable yet most of us missed that memo or have not learned the skills to weather those storms. There are also many populations with an increased likelihood of experiencing a high rate of loss due to environmental circumstances such as lack of food or education or opportunities or sources of income. There may also be geographic constraints such as a history of conflict or oppression or limited available resources, etc.
Being subjected to aggression is a social problem in any culture or society that allows systemic violence against others. The most vulnerable individuals and communities bear the burden of those allowed to impose their will through violence and aggression.
Overt violence and aggression are more obvious and widely known because they are observable. You can see the hurt, damage, and death. Covert violence and aggression such as stacking the deck or rigging the outcome to favor the perpetrator is often not obvious or readily observable to others. The recipient may not be able to trace their current circumstances back to the covert acts that set their fate in motion. Either way, the recipient’s response is fear and chronic stress, the body’s attempt to survive.
The effects of chronic stress are widely known from decades of research. Surely there’s no mystery in the 21st century that pervasive negative environmental events affect those attempting to survive in such environments? For example, sleep deprivation from chronic stress impairs cognitive abilities and negatively affects mental health. Lack of sleep can crash your brain.
So, what’s the answer? One is increased awareness of the relationship between mental health, physical health and sources of chronic stress. Two is self-regulation, methods to calm down and weather adversity. Three is a continuation of increased awareness by changing the systems that perpetuate violence and aggression.
People can choose to collectively impose consequences that create constructive alternatives to naturally force the demise of unhealthy systems–any ideas?
May 26, 2015
Brains are like sponges just waiting to soak up new experiences, information and ideas; seeking patterns to discover, problems to solve.
But, who gets there first? Culture and family begin to shape us from the moment of birth, laying down our default (neural) networks as we soak it all in without filters. Children spend most of their time in a state comparable to hypnosis, which means they are highly suggestible as their brains are being programmed.
What messages are they soaking up? Who is controlling the programming? What behavior is being modeled by those with the most influence? Violence? Kindness? Rigidity? Flexibility? Control? Freedom? Coercion? Cooperation? Hatred? Love? Blame? Understanding? Coldness? Warmth? Rejection? Acceptance?
Whatever is being modeled and reinforced shapes that child’s template for ‘normal’ thoughts and behavior whether adaptive and healthy or not. Those are the rules with which life will be navigated until or unless better programming becomes available to see the world and one’s role in it, with new eyes.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders was developed long before brain plasticity was widely recognized and understood. The diagnostic categories were intended to guide treatment by listing the symptoms of so-called disorders. However, the creation of mental health diagnostic labels contributes to the stigma, the implication that you ‘have’ something, like diabetes or cancer.
Brain plasticity refers to the brain’s ability to re-wire itself through new experiences, information and ideas; the discovery of new patterns and novel solutions to problems: Learning.
Unfortunately, some brains are so badly damaged by chronic stress, ingestion of harmful substances, physical trauma, disease or malnutrition that the necessary ‘hardware’ may not be reparable.
Yet much of the damage is preventable through environment-by-responsive design, lifestyle choices, and health-enhancing practices, otherwise known as Behavior Change. And, this has been known for decades, with volumes of research to support the benefits. And, legions of professionally trained and credentialed therapists and coaches to guide the process.
So why don’t people take matters into their own hands to improve their lives? Why don’t they know that with some professional guidance they can make meaningful changes? Why should anyone who is willing to improve his or her way of being in the world be diagnosed with a mental illness–a barrier to empowerment–when there is ample evidence that changing behavior changes the brain? Who really benefits from the current system? (Hint: follow the money.)
Run for your life, Jason Silva! Your animated, exuberant immersion in your own forward-thinking brain could meet criteria for a manic-episode diagnosis…
May 17, 2015
How many light bulbs does it take to change a person?
How many people does it take to change the world?
One person who cares enough to speak up.
One person who won’t rest until others understand.
One person who will persist until something changes.
One person who will search for reasonable and humane solutions to difficult problems.
One person who wants to prevent what happened to them from happening to others.
One person who sees a better way to share the world.
One person who knows the amazing possibilities of being human.
One person who listens to the neediest, most rejected other persons.
One person who questions ‘the way it has always been done’–the status quo.
One person who will pay a kindness forward.
One person who objects to being defined by someone else.
One person who won’t settle for a life prescribed by others.
One person who cares enough to stop and think.
One person who will scrutinize the facts to find another perspective.
One person who believes there’s enough to go around.
One person who knows people can promise anything; it’s what they do that matters.
One person who is willing to risk discomfort to provide comfort.
One person who knows we’re all in this together.
One person who will show the way.
One person can change the world for the better.
May 1, 2015
Economic and environmental events significantly impact mental health, from brain development to beliefs and behavior. ‘Tattoos on the Heart’ by Greg Boyle is a must-read for those who seek a better understanding of how environment shapes us. Father Boyle, a.k.a., G-dog, is a Jesuit priest whose flock is smack-dab in the heart of gangland Los Angeles where he has ministered for over 25 years.
G-dog is not only a priest but an English major who knows the value of words in healing and motivating countless traumatized and marginalized ‘homeboys’ and ‘homegirls’ (Homies). Greg always reaches for something kind to say, knowing how to find the good in those whose formative years were so deeply scarred by chaos and abuse. His honesty and humor sometimes dumbfounds both Homies and those who vilify or exclude groups they don’t know or understand. Many a Homie has never experienced the luxury of knowing his / her life is worth something.
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” If only that were true.
We live up to or down to the negative labels and caustic judgments of others, especially during the formative years when we don’t have a strong sense of self. Our neural networks are literally becoming ‘hard-wired’ into patterns of thinking and behaving.
G-dog models kindness, acceptance, collaboration, compassion, humor and patience under some all-too-deadly circumstances. He also models problem solving by creating job opportunities–literally doing what works–to empower, educate, and stabilize a community. Not just telling people, but showing them how their lives are worth something by building on strengths and their need to belong.
Because the good news is that people will also live up to rewarding challenges, positive feedback and genuine human kindness. Changing their brains. Changing their minds. Changing their lives.
April 7, 2015
Good therapy typically involves ‘reframing’–using someone else’s more balanced, more skilled brain to pull your brain out of a ditch–then teaching your brain how to avoid the ditch in the future. The goal is to optimize brain function in order to improve relationships, improve health, improve decision-making, or self-confidence, or whatever needs improving in order to improve your life.
Contrast that with ‘mental illness’. One obvious difference is that one perspective is viewed as situational and specific while the other is viewed as global and permanent. Thus mental illness, like the color of your eyes, is just what you have. The diagnosis proves it.
Excepting brain disease or damage, I have yet to meet a client whose ‘mental illness’ was not precipitated by their brain’s attempt to cope with some overwhelming, unwanted, painfully unpleasant, emotionally unmanageable, overpowering, or even horrifying event. They have not only survived the event but are now saddled with ‘mental illness’ that may either be hidden from others, or the ‘patient’ becomes resigned to the limitations that have been imposed by having the diagnosis.
How does it feel to believe your mental status is situational and specific vs global and permanent? How powerful is belief in the life of a human? How motivating is change if you believe your mental state is global and permanent (which invariably includes the use of psychotropic meds)? BTW if you’re wondering who benefits the most from long-term use of psychotropic meds, read ‘Comfortably Numb: How Psychiatry is Medicating a Nation’ by Charles Barber.
Perception is everything and one excellent example of that is the treatment of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) in the early 1900s. Upon comparison with corpses from potters’ fields it was determined the infants’ thymus glands were too large. Radiation was used to treat the ‘problem’. The result was thyroid cancer. As it turned out the problem was not the size of the infants’ glands, which were in fact healthy. The real problem was the stress-induced thymus shrinkage of the corpses believed to be ‘normal’.
The cure for the problem that didn’t really exist caused a larger, more devastating problem.
March 28, 2015
This morning after my ‘jog’ I stopped by the store for some eggs and English muffins… after searching high and low, I could not find the muffins. So I asked a store clerk who asked me what kind of muffins? I don’t know. She was baffled, went to ask the dairy person and emerged to ask if I’m looking for English muffins. Yes. She was thinking muffin muffins and I was thinking English muffins.
Anyway, the dairy girl showed me the English muffins; located in the same area as the last time I bought them. The quizzical look she gave me snapped some neurons to attention so I gave it some thought. Realizing that my brain has always seen the muffins from the side of the box and not from above. The result was muffin blindness! I literally could not see the muffins because I was quickly scanning for the bright letters on the side of the box.
Segue to other ways we’re trained to see things and combine that with my recent preoccupation with the TV show, American Greed. Last night’s episode involved a short-selling stock scam in which the bad guy obtained insider info he knew would negatively impact certain stocks. That info was then shared in his online newsletter to create a sell-off from which he and his cronies profited handsomely. That scenario is easy enough to connect the dots. (Apparently stock and mortgage scams are popular.)
Harder to connect are the dots of certain companies–also comprised of people–who sell us sugar- or water- or chemical-filled non-nutritious ‘food’. Then try to convince us of the health benefits of the sugar, water, or chemicals we’re paying for. Or, builders who sell us stucco-covered sawdust as their business model. Then blame defects on their subs (or their buyers); ignore and intimidate their buyers, create as many barriers as possible between their buyers and complete remediation, and, routinely remove all traces of buyer complaints from the Internet to cover up the bad press.
My question is this: how is knowingly selling an unhealthy or defective product by promoting good news and squelching bad news, not inflating the company’s stock? How is that not manipulating the company’s shareholders? How is that not manipulating the market?
Like muffin blindness, it’s just harder to see.
March 20, 2015
Use the Back-Burner method… this is not a cooking suggestion.
The Back Burner method is the opposite of trying to think your way through a tough problem or dilemma. Conscious, rational, deliberate, calculated thought is very useful if you don’t get caught up in Mental Gymnastics, Armchair Quarterbacking, the Pros and Cons list, Paralysis by Analysis… examples of cognitive (thinking) behaviors that keep you stuck, frustrated, confused.
My definition of Mental Gymnastics is swinging back and forth; or leaping from one conclusion to another; or contorting yourself into some irrational rationale. Armchair Quarterbacking is playing it all out in your head without actually being in the game where you would benefit from reality. The Pros and Cons list is the attempt to carefully weigh the perceived choices. Paralysis by Analysis is the tendency to think of yet another angle you hadn’t considered; or, the possibility that your Pros and Cons list keeps adding up to equal. You can probably think of other ways to get stuck–most of us are masterful at these or other mental traps. Thinking can become very time consuming, even debilitating.
Consider the Back-Burner method as a form of meditation in which you are in a relaxed state with eyes closed to minimize distractions. For some people, focusing all their attention on one thing e.g., mantra or image, allows everything else to simmer on the back burner.
For others, a complete lack of focus allows their attention to just wander around without grabbing any particular thought or having a focal point. Another method is to use a flow activity such as jogging or working on a project or hobby so absorbing that everything else just naturally ends up on the back burner.
These are ways to use your brain differently by allowing your mind to engage in networks that are overridden by conscious, analytical thinking, thus creating a more global pitching-in approach to address the situation.
During my days of community mental health (indentured servitude), another clinician pointed out that people who are too emotional need to be more rational and that people who are too rational need to be more emotional. The upshot is a more balanced brain to optimize functioning.
That simmering aroma wafting up from the back burner is new insights and ideas.
March 11, 2015
National Geographic’s ‘Brain Games’ is a challenging, educational and entertaining show about how our own brains frequently deceive us.
Recently, the topic of Expert Intuition grabbed my attention… posing the question, ‘what makes experts different from the rest of us?’ That question has been the focus of a range of studies on human cognition, perception, memory; and the neurology and psychology of intelligence.
The topic of Expert Intuition jogged my memory about an article I read online in which the author stated that any experience beyond one year is just one year of experience repeated the number of years a person has been in that field or endeavor. Such remarks remind me to ask my clients for the scientific source of the articles they read online (and want me to believe as the basis of the beliefs to which they subscribe). As Brain Games so regularly demonstrates, popular belief is not necessarily accurate or healthy.
While science isn’t flawless–after all it involves humans–it does seek to answer questions in a systematic and repeatable way by conducting experiments involving validity and reliability. Basically, does the experiment measure what it is intended to measure and are the results stable and consistent when the experiment is repeated? On the other hand, there are plenty of things we don’t know exist or don’t yet have the technology to measure, just as in the days before electron microscopes and high-powered telescopes. And faith is all you have to guide you.
As it turns out, technological advances using fMRI studies have compared the brains of experts to those of amateurs and discovered experts can quickly perceive patterns and generate solutions without conscious thought. Thus, if ‘neurons that fire together wire together’ then brain efficiency would be one obvious outcome. Apparently the brain has a mind of its own.
BTW, the whole notion of brain vs mind has finally been explained to my satisfaction: the physical brain is what you’re born with and the mind is what your brain becomes through learning, environment, practice, intuition.
March 9, 2015
Compulsive talking can damage relationships. My observation of compulsive talkers is that they will often dominate the conversation in frequency, duration, and/or intensity.
Frequency refers to initiating conversations that probably don’t need to be initiated or revisited.
Duration refers to the length of the ‘discussion’ often persisting to some pre-determined expectation or desired outcome (of the compulsive talker).
Intensity refers to escalation of the conversation that didn’t need to be initiated, or has not reached the desired outcome and has thus refueled the compulsive talker’s resolve to get what they are seeking from the conversation. The compulsive talker will often repeat their position, beliefs, and conclusions in an apparent attempt to get the listener to buy their version of reality.
The compulsive part is behavior that involves negative and positive reinforcement. There is a pay off for compulsive talking–validation, attention, connection–positive reinforcement. There is also escape or avoidance–getting some relief from anxiety or unpleasant feelings–negative reinforcement. Those are some of the functions of compulsive talking though there can be others, such as getting out of doing something, or pay back for some real or perceived slight, etc.
The problem with compulsive talking is that the listener often feels mowed down by the verbal barrage of the compulsive talker. The lack of give and take in the conversation will not allow for growth or reflection or other possible ways of viewing a situation. Passively participating as the listener can feel exhausting, invalidating and generally unpleasant. And, interrupting as the only means of being heard does not create a collaborative or rewarding relationship.
What is your conversational style? Do you allow for give and take by pausing, listening, and reflecting? Do you give your full attention to the other person? Do you invite the participation of the listener?
March 6, 2015
Yesterday I had the pleasure of a phone session with a former client who moved away a few years ago. Periodically, clients check back in for booster sessions and to let me know how they’re doing. I love hearing from them! This client’s journey is noteworthy for several reasons.
Environmental events involving cruelty and abuse by her alcoholic husband overwhelmed and nearly killed her. Thus, she became ‘mentally ill’ complete with pathologizing diagnosis. As per the usual course, she was overmedicated. Felt helpless and suicidal. Believed she was defective. Gave up living to just barely exist.
Luckily her family of origin and her young child were the glimmer of hope that got her out of bed to meet with me. Love–the best medicine on the planet–saved her.
Then the process of shifting her paradigm from a life not worth living, to what she does have control over, began to change her thinking and behavior; literally rewiring her brain and allowing herself moments of enjoyment with those who cared. Increasingly these events elevated her natural feel-good brain chemistry, as did physical activity and regular self-care.
Redirecting her focus and efforts using cognitive and dialectical behavior therapy skills empowered her to prevail and to become her best self.
Hearing how she has not only regained equilibrium but also flourishes, how she has grown personally and professionally is gratifying. But what is really thrilling is to find out she has been paying it forward by teaching the skills to so many young children–her own clients.
March 5, 2015
My house is now a conditioned stimulus for intrusive negative thoughts and memories… see saynelife.com for the backstory.
I’ve been hearing similar stories from my neighbors who describe feelings of dread or upset when approaching our rebuilt community; or, a higher-than-usual incidence of health problems and accidents. Classical conditioning explains the phenomenon: our homes are now paired with distressing sympathetic nervous system arousal due to the events of the preceding couple of years. Events that evoked fear, panic, anger, sadness, resentment and even helplessness in those who were forced to remain here under health-damaging conditions.
In my case, the moment the screen on my second floor deck was reinstalled on April 3, 2014, I slept outdoors. It was still chilly but much better than awakening in a panic from feeling trapped. Sleep deprivation impacts mental health in many ways: focus, attention, decision making, alertness, memory consolidation, physical reaction time, mood and overall mental and physical health. The most noticeable physical consequence for me was a craving for ice cream, frozen yogurt and gelato–none of which I’ve ever craved before.
My adrenal glands were working overtime, so my body–in all its wisdom!–directed me to load up on something that was sugary, filling, and provided more fluids. Hence the frequent visits to the frozen dessert section of the grocery store. And, the daily jogs at the park…
During high activation/stressful events the body releases high quantities of sugar to convert to energy to cope with the situation. Cortisol steroids are released by the adrenal glands during extreme stress, which leads to the release of the immune system’s Natural Killer cells throughout the body. This response is enormously helpful during short bouts of stress.
The problem is that prolonged steroid levels increase blood sugar, elevate blood pressure and suppress the immune system. Also, once the hormonal stress signals cease, the number and activity of these immune soldiers begin to significantly drop in the bloodstream thinning our immune defenses and leaving us more vulnerable to illness.
Interestingly, during high activation/stressful events the body releases endorphins to allow us to endure the event, which can increase creativity and other out-of-the-box adaptive solutions. My preference though is to experience the endorphins of eustress and not distress. And, to have been able to save my sweet affectionate Oxytocin-generating cat.
February 21, 2015
The patient / doctor dichotomy is shifting according to Dr Eric Topol, in ‘The Patient Will See You Now,’ due to the increasing availability of self-monitoring apps. The upshot is that patients will become clients with whom doctors and other professionals will be collaborating vs being the passive recipients of the doctor’s orders.
Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Hypnosis and certain other forms of holistic treatment have always viewed ‘patients’ as clients with whom we collaborate to empower the client through education, transparency, shared rationale and goals, and non-pharmaceutical interventions.
Empowerment is tapping into and expanding the wisdom of the brain / body, through more holistic, noninvasive modalities. These are treatment modalities that are far less stigmatizing, costly, confusing and convoluted than traditional barrier-laden methods to obtaining care. At the end of the day, nobody has more invested in your health than you do yet culture has taught people to be passive patients who hand over their health and wellness to experts.
Some good news that ‘evens the playing field’ is that telemedicine has been growing rapidly due to the following reasons, according to americantelemed.org:
- Improved Access – For over 40 years, telemedicine has been used to bring healthcare services to patients in distant locations. Not only does telemedicine improve access to patients but it also allows physicians and health facilities to expand their reach, beyond their own offices. Given the provider shortages throughout the world–in both rural and urban areas–telemedicine has a unique capacity to increase service to millions of new patients (clients!).
- Cost Efficiencies – Reducing or containing the cost of healthcare is one of the most important reasons for funding and adopting telehealth technologies. Telemedicine has been shown to reduce the cost of healthcare and increase efficiency through better management of chronic diseases, shared health professional staffing, reduced travel times, and fewer or shorter hospital stays.
- Improved Quality – Studies have consistently shown that the quality of healthcare services delivered via telemedicine are as good those given in traditional in-person consultations. In some specialties, particularly in mental health… telemedicine delivers a superior product, with greater outcomes and patient satisfaction.
- Patient Demand – Consumers want telemedicine. The greatest impact of telemedicine is on the patient, their family and their community. Using telemedicine technologies reduces travel time and related stresses for the patient. Over the past 15 years study after study has documented patient satisfaction and support for telemedical services. Such services offer patients the access to providers that might not be available otherwise, as well as medical services without the need to travel long distances.
February 7, 2015
Marketers are like crack dealers actively seeking to hook you on your drug of choice. Name-Brand Shoes? Fairy-Tale Love? Luxury Car? Big Home? Social Acceptance? Emotional Security? Stainless-Steel Appliances? Physical ‘Perfection’? Being ‘Normal’? All the crack marketers have to do is convince you of your need for what they’re selling by eliciting a positive emotional response or scaring the crap out of you.
Crack marketing has been extremely effective on me. Especially when I purchased a little red Nissan pickup truck. The 1990’s ad included a small cream-colored dog, remarkably similar to mine at the time, thus pairing their product with (the) love (of a dog). Tapping into my pleasant, feel-good emotional circuits and bathing my brain in dopamine at the mere thought of driving that little red king-cab pickup truck with my dog tucked safely inside.
Even though I have a secondary concentration approximate to an undergrad minor in business; earned an ‘A’ in marketing and have two psych degrees, my Emotion Brain basically overrode my Rational Brain to put me behind the wheel of that little red truck… which in an odd twist of fate helped save my life. Luckily for me, it was a very solid product!
People do need stuff to navigate life–food, clothing, shelter, transportation, entertainment, etc. Given the prevalence of stress-related financial consequences for many people, there are some important questions to ask yourself. How much do you need? Why? Are you consciously aware of the forces working on you when making any financial decision? Do the short-term benefits really outweigh the long-term costs? Is there a less costly or more creative method of meeting the need? What is your motivation? How reputable is the company or product?
February 1, 2015
Effective alternatives lag behind conventional ‘wisdom’ when it comes to getting the word out–convincing people there are less costly, less invasive, more holistic approaches to self-care and brain health that do not rely on the pathologizing, stigmatizing mental health system.
From where I’m sitting, conventional ‘wisdom’ becomes entrenched by conventional ways of thinking and behaving supported by conventional institutions and the relentless marketing to support the profits of those who benefit the most. We just pay for it with out money, our health, and our lives.
If every penny spent is considered to be a moment of your life, exchanged for that bauble or pill, do the costs outweigh the benefits?
How we think and what we believe–or, are told to believe–has enormous impact on behavior. For example, in the book, America’s Bitter Pill, a former politician, turned lobbyist subscribes to the belief that ‘if you aren’t at the table, you’re on the menu’… a mindset that gives him the rationale, the license to engage in predatory, self-serving behavior at the expense of others. Unfortunately this mindset is all too common.
The me-or-you dichotomy reflects one of the most common thinking errors and facilitates a win-or-lose culture in which there are only two options to any problem or situation. Not exactly ‘thinking outside the box’ to not be able to see the continuum of possibilities between one extreme and the other. Learning to see the possibilities between (or beyond) the perceived extremes is one of the most useful, brain-liberating, holistic approaches to health and wellness imaginable.
Dichotomous thinking is invariably present in those clients who feel stuck. My observation is that the thinking when there are only two perceived options and neither one fits is that there’s nothing left. Alternative therapies–EMDR, Yoga, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Neurofeedback, Entrainment–are very effective non-pathologizing, non-pharmaceutical ways to loosen up the brain and allow for other possibilities and options to emerge. Something as simple as getting outdoors for a walk or playtime can shift thinking. So… I did precisely that…
As it turns out there are a lot of CEOs who are dialectical thinkers–detached and focused problem solvers who do what works. The question is whether their core beliefs involve being at the table or on the menu. Those who believe in the greater good, not stuck in the me-or-you dichotomy seem more likely to create mutual benefit for their company, their employees and society.
Whose behavior are you reinforcing with your time, your money, your life?
January 18, 2015
‘Paralyzed by perfection’ is a theme that keeps popping into my head… Thus, I write my way through it so I can free up some space and think about something else.
There is such a discrepancy between what people want and need as humans and what we’re told we want and need by institutions, marketers, culture, gender… constantly being told how we should look and think and feel. 24/7.
Lo and behold, the speaker this morning on NPR’s ‘On Being’ was Brene Brown whose Ted talk, The Power of Vulnerability, has over 18 million hits. Not bad for a self-proclaimed perfectionist who is compelled to share her research with the world despite initial resistance, discomfort, and a whole lot of fear.
Perhaps you’ve heard the adage, ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ or more likely, ‘have no fear’… good luck with that. Fear is a normal natural part of being alive. Learning how to use fear to enrich your life is a better use of that energy because fear, like anger, anxiety, or any other unwanted ‘unpleasant’ emotion has a purpose.
Perfectionism is an extreme attempt to avoid negative judgment, criticism or rejection by others. While the function is self-preservation and acceptance, the reality is a soul-numbing existence of self-denial, people pleasing and withholding your contribution to this thing called life.
Vulnerability is showing up–warts and all–with no guarantees of any expected outcome. Literally having no attachment to the outcome because whatever happens is just valuable information that will inform and direct the next step in your journey. Judgment is not applied to the equation. The good/bad, right/wrong dichotomy is absent when judgment is removed.
Remove judgment–try it for one day with your observations of others and with yourself. What do you become more aware of?
January 9, 2015
More here: sayNelife