Do you want to be an influential communicator and captivate hearts, minds and brains in these times of short attention span and information overwhelm?
Our Quantum Leaps Mastermind Group is sponsoring a free teleseminar "The Art and Science of Influential Communication" on June 16, 2010 at 8:30pm Eastern time (you can also get the link to the recording later if you register).
Click HERE to learn more.
Distractions provide novelty and stimulation to our brains while maintaining the sense that we can never figure it all out, so the search for meaning continues.
Actually all our electronic communication devices—e-mail, Facebook feeds, texts, Twitter—are feeding the same drive as our searches. Since we're restless, easily bored creatures, our gadgets give us in abundance qualities the seeking/wanting system finds particularly exciting. Novelty is one. Panksepp says the dopamine system is activated by finding something unexpected or by the anticipation of something new. If the rewards come unpredictably—as e-mail, texts, updates do—we get even more carried away. No wonder we call it a "CrackBerry."
Studies have shown that meditation techniques can promote significant changes in brain areas associated with concentration. However, initial experiments involved well-trained meditators. For instance, in his collaboration with the Dalai Lama, Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, found much greater activation of powerful gamma waves in the trained meditating monks than in the students during meditation [PDF]. The intense gamma waves signaled higher mental activity, better concentration, learning and memory.
Now, it appears that we can get cognitive benefits associated with mindfulness without spending hours in meditation, although the practice still needs to be consistent. According to a recent study, meditation-trained participants showed a significant improvement in their critical cognitive skills after only four days of training for only 20 minutes each day:
The experiment involved 63 student volunteers, 49 of whom completed the experiment. Participants were randomly assigned in approximately equivalent numbers to one of two groups, one of which received the meditation training while the other group listened for equivalent periods of time to a book (J.R.R. Tolkein's The Hobbit) being read aloud.
Prior to and following the meditation and reading sessions, the participants were subjected to a broad battery of behavioral tests assessing mood, memory, visual attention, attention processing, and vigilance.
Both groups performed equally on all measures at the beginning of the experiment. Both groups also improved following the meditation and reading experiences in measures of mood, but only the group that received the meditation training improved significantly in the cognitive measures. The meditation group scored consistently higher averages than the reading/listening group on all the cognitive tests and as much as ten times better on one challenging test that involved sustaining the ability to focus, while holding other information in mind.
The researchers instructed the participants in this meditation training "to relax, with their eyes closed, and to simply focus on the flow of their breath occurring at the tip of their nose. If a random thought arose, they were told to passively notice and acknowledge the thought and to simply let 'it' go, by bringing the attention back to the sensations of the breath."
While these gains in concentration and other cognitive skills sound amazing after such a brief period of time, it helps to remember that the brain is like a muscle. It needs a regular workout to stay in shape.
Next time you talk to someone, watch for the following seven common listening barriers that block a good conversation flow and may cause misunderstandings:
1. We join the conversation with predetermined attitude and assumptions about the other person or the subject matter to be discussed. Good conversations have the power to create new shared meaning and understanding, but it is only possible if we are open enough to consider those new possibilities. So many people use conversations just to reiterate their own positions on issues. Little is gained with such approach. Instead, join a conversation with an open mind and desire to learn something new. Listen with curiosity and without bias.
2. We are so preoccupied with our own thoughts that we are unable to listen attentively. Maybe, we are distracted by something unrelated to the topic of the conversation, or we are busy developing our own response and miss what’s being said. It's not easy to pay focused attention to the other person's words. Our prefrontal cortex, the brain region implicated in planning complex cognitive tasks, decision making, and moderating correct social behavior, is easily overwhelmed. We can process just about seven pieces of information in our conscious mind at any given moment. It makes it impossible to attend to several things simultaneously that require our concentration. We have to train and discipline our mind to listen actively and push any other distracting thoughts aside.
3. We are completing the other person’s thoughts and jumping to conclusions. How often do we hear something and say to ourselves: "Oh, I know where she is going with it." We attribute ideas, motivation, and intentions to others that they may not have. This leads to misunderstandings. This is especially true if we have known the conversation participants for a long time. We feel like we know what they will say. Patience pays off in conversations. Let the others finish their thoughts and don’t assume you already know what they are going to say.
4. We engage in selective listening. It occurs when we listen only to what we want to hear. We like to be right, and our minds like consistency. We don’t feel comfortable when something upsets our belief system. It's easier to ignore that information. The downside is that we can't learn from others or collaborate effectively. To overcome the habit of selective listening, paraphrase or mirror back what you hear to ensure you understand other points of view. Engage in conversations with people who you know will disagree with you and learn to discuss your disagreements respectfully. Encourage different opinions with the intention of considering them thoroughly and learning from them.
5. We feel too tired, anxious, or angry to listen actively. Our brains run on glucose. The glucose levels drop when we are tired, so we no longer have the energy to think clearly. When we experience strong negative emotions, as when we are angry or under stress, the glucose goes from the prefrontal cortex to the amygdala in the limbic system of the brain, responsible for the emotional control and memory of our emotional reactions. The amygdala triggers the "fight or flight" mode. As a result, our mind "freezes," and we either launch verbal attacks or withdraw from the dialogue. Strong feelings and emotions affect our listening, reasoning and judgment. If the parties feel overwhelmed, a better strategy is to take a break from the conversation.
6. We don't pay enough attention to body language and supersegmentals, such as intonation, rate of speech, emphasis, or tone. We can focus not only on what's being said, but also on what's not being said. The supersegmentals and body language give away clues about people’s emotions, feelings, stress levels that provide additional information that may not be expressed in words. To be an active listener, you have to be a good observer too.
7. We are in a hurry. We don't have time to listen and can't wait for the other people to finish their thoughts so that we could get on with our business. People will sense that you don't really want to listen to them. If you find yourself always trying to control the pace of conversations, talk too fast, or urge others to get to the point, try to consciously slow yourself down. Find a better time to talk. A conversation is not a race to the finish line.
As you read the following remarkable examples of neuroplasticity in action, consider how much power you actually have to shape your brain and your life. It's never too late to change and build new good habits.
1. The adult human brain has approximately 100 billion neurons. Education increases the number of branches among neurons, increasing the volume and thickness of the brain. Brain is like a muscle that needs mental work-outs. Learning and brain exercises slow age-related mental decline and even improve brain function.
2. Physical exercise promotes creation of new neurons in the brain, the process known as neurogenesis. It also stimulates sensory and motor cortices and helps the brain’s balance system.
3. As we age, we tend to shift cognitive activities from one lobe in the brain to another. There is also an indication that we use both hemispheres as we age for the tasks that used to take place in just one hemisphere. Perhaps, the brain optimizes itself to compensate for any weaknesses.
4. Specifically designed brain exercises have been shown to strengthen weak brain functions in children and adults with learning disabilities. For example, rote memorization can help the auditory memory. Handwriting strengthens motor capacities, and adds speed and fluency to reading.
5. Stroke patients recover some lost abilities when the brain reorganizes itself to move functions from the damages location to a new one.6. Because the brain physically changes its state as we think, it is possible to measure the changes electronically. As a result, there's technology that allows completely paralyzed people move objects with their thoughts and interact with computers.
7. V.S. Ramachandran, Director of the Center for Brain and Cognition and Professor with the Psychology Department and Neurosciences Program at the University of California, San Diego, uses imagination and illusion to restructure brain maps and help people manage their phantom pain and some forms of chronic pain, which he believes to be a construct of the brain that is projected on to the body. For example, his invention of the mirror box helped many amputees get rid of the pain in the phantom limb. The brain is tricked into believing that the phantom limb is moving when the patient sees a mirror reflection of the moving good limb in the mirror box.
8. People can improve performance through visualizations because action and imagination often activate the same parts of the brain. When we need to learn a physical skill, mental practice of this skill can produce the same physical changes in the motor system as the physical practice. This effect has been achieved in experiments that involved people learning to play the piano, as well as athletes in training.
9. If you were to wear blindfolds for two days, your visual cortex would reorganize itself to process sound and touch. Once you take the blindfolds off, the visual cortex will stop responding to tactile or auditory signals within twelve or twenty-four hours.
10. The Sea Gypsies, Nomadic people who live in a cluster of tropical islands in the Burmese archipelago and spend most of their lives in boats on the open sea, can see clearly under water at great depths because they learn to control the shape of their lenses and the side of their pupils, constricting them 22%. Most of us can’t do that, and pupil adjustment has been considered to be affixed, innate reflex. However, in one study, Swedish children were able to learn the trick, and their brains responded to the training.
11. London taxi drivers have a larger hippocampus compared to bus drivers. It's because this region of the hippocampus is specialized in acquiring and using complex spatial information in order to navigate efficiently. Taxi drivers have to navigate around London whereas bus drivers follow a limited set of routes.
12. Collaboration between Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Dalai Lama explored the effects of meditation on the brain. The researchers compared the trained minds of the monks and those of the volunteers. The results showed much greater activation of powerful gamma waves in the monks than in the students during meditation. Moreover, even when the participants were not meditating, the trained meditators' brains showed a large increase in the gamma signal. In previous studies, mental activities such as focus, memory, learning and consciousness were associated with the kind of enhanced neural coordination found in the meditators. The intense gamma waves signaled higher mental activity and heightened awareness.
13. Plastic changes also occur in musicians' brains compared to non-musicians. Research shows that gray matter (cortex) volume is highest in professional musicians, intermediate in amateur musicians, and lowest in non-musicians in several brain areas involved in playing music: motor regions, anterior superior parietal areas and inferior temporal areas. There is also a dark side to neuroplasticity in musicians. When a musician frequently uses two fingers together while playing the instrument, the brain maps for the two fingers sometimes fuse in such a way that the musician can't move one finger without the other. This is a condition called "focal dystonia." To play again, the musician's brain maps have to be separated through special training.
14. Learning to juggle can increase gray matter in the occipito-temporal cortex as early as after 7 days of training.
15. Extensive learning of abstract information can also trigger some plastic changes in the brain. Brains of medical students showed learning-induced changes in the parietal cortex and the posterior hippocampus - brain regions involved in memory retrieval and learning.
Begley, Sharon. 2007. Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain: How a New Science Reveals Our Extraordinary Potential to Transform Ourselves. Ballantine Books.
Doidge, N. 2007. The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science. New York:Viking.
Davidson, R. J., J. Kabat-Zinn, J. Schumacher, M. Rosenkranz, D. Muller, S.F. Santorelli, F. Urbanowski, A. Harrington, K. Bonus, and J.F. Sheridan. 2003. Alterations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditation. Psychosomatic Medicine. 65 (4):564–570.
Draganski, B., C. Gaser, G. Kempermann, H.G. Kuhn, J. Winkler, C. Buchel, and A. May. 2006. Temporal and spatial dynamics of brain structure changes during extensive learning. Journal of Neuroscience. 26:6314–6317.
Gaser, C. and G. Schlaug. 2003. Brain Structures Differ between Musicians and Non-Musicians. Journal of Neuroscience. 23:9240 - 9245.
Maguire, E.A., K. Woolett and H.J. Spiers. 2006. London taxi drivers and bus drivers: A structural MRI and neuropsychological analysis. Hippocampus. 16:1091-1101.
Schwartz, J.M. and S. Begley. 2002. The Mind and the Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force. New York: Harper Collins.
Attorney Sergei Lemberg, who specializes in fair debt collection law is sitting in the guest blogger’s chair today. Lemberg is the head of Lemberg & Associates, LLC, a team of attorneys located in several states across the country who specialize in collection law and lemon law.
When people get behind in their bills, they receive past due notices from creditors. If those notices go unheeded, typically what happens next is that the phone rings and there's a debt collector on the line. While most consumers aren't surprised for the call, they're unaware of what to do when that call comes in. Here are five survival tips:
1. Don't avoid the call. No one wants to answer a call from a debt collector. But, as tempting as it might be to avoid a collection call, that will just fan the flames and lead to harassment, threats, or worse.
2. Keep good records. Most bill collection agencies – especially those who have purchased large quantities of old debt for a song – try and get around the law or even break the law. If you're receiving calls or letters from a debt collector, keep a record of the date and time of each call or the date you received the letter. For phone calls, jot down the debt collector's name, the time of the call, and what was said. The federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act has strict requirements about debt collection calls. If you choose to sue the debt collector for harassment, your written record will provide key evidence.
3. Watch for a letter. According to the FDCPA, a bill collection agency must, within 5 days of calling, send you a written notice. The letter must include specific information, such as the name of the creditor, the amount owed, and that you have 30 days to dispute the debt or it will be assumed that you agree that you owe the money. If no letter arrives, the debt collector has violated the FDCPA. Often, bill collection agencies count on consumers not knowing that they have 30 days to dispute, and let the clock run out before upping the ante.
4. Dispute the debt. Unless you have the money to pay off the debt, dispute the debt within 30 days. Even if you owe the money, forcing the debt collector to substantiate the debt gives you some time to put together a plan. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act says that a bill collector cannot continue to collect on the debt until it's verified. If they continue to try and collect while the debt is in dispute, they're violating the law.
5. Contact a fair debt attorney. The FDCPA says that, if you have a lawyer, a debt collection agency must stop contacting you, and that all communication must go through your lawyer. If you've been the victim of debt collector harassment, an attorney should represent you free of charge. That's because the law says that, if a debt collector violates the law, the debt collection agency must pay for your attorney fees.
Do you consider yourself a "control freak"? If so, you may have trouble managing your personalRunners energy and tend to burn out faster, according to a study by Dr. Danit Ein-Gar of Tel Aviv University's Recanati Graduate School of Business Administration:
Dr. Ein-Gar suggests that shifting the mindset can help the self-identified "control freaks" keep their energy tanks full. The idea is to think like a marathon runner: start slow and pace yourself. Having an advance warning of upcoming challenges also helps to transition into the marathon mindset. Therefore, managers should prepare employees for a particularly difficult workload to help them better manage their energy and prevent burnout.
In new experiments and surveys, Dr. Ein-Gar found that people who define themselves as high in self-control are in fact the least able to manage their own internal resources in situations which are very important to them. They burn out quickly when flooded with unexpected challenges.
Are you tired of hearing the same story told by the same person over and over again? Chances are you also repeat yourself and may not even know it. Dr. Nigel Gopie and Dr. Colin MacLeod of the University of Waterloo, in Ontario study destination memory - remembering who we have told things to. It turns out that our destination memory is weaker than our source memory—remembering the person from whom we have received information. That's why we repeat our stories to the same audience.
The researchers explain that our poor destination memory may be due to the fact that we focus more attention on ourselves and the delivery of the message than our audience.
The New York Times article "Story? Unforgettable. The Audience? Often Not" by Benedict Carey discusses the findings of their experiments:
In one experiment, they had 60 University of Waterloo students associate 50 random facts (a shrimp’s heart is in its head; 8 percent of men are color blind) with the faces of 50 famous people, like Madonna, Wayne Gretzky and Oprah Winfrey. Half of the students "told" each fact to one of the faces, reading it aloud when the celebrity’s picture appeared on a computer screen. The other half read each fact silently and saw a different celebrity moments afterward.
The students then took a memory test. They chose from face-fact pairs: those which they remembered from learning a fact, and those they remembered from reading facts out loud in the first phase of the study. The students who simulated telling the facts did 16 percent worse on the test than the students who were fed the facts while seeing celebrity faces.
Understandably, our destination memory becomes even worse when we tell intricate and detailed stories that require more focus. However, if we want to improve the accuracy of our destination memory, we can remind ourselves whom we are addressing by saying the recipient's name.