I've recorded this brief video message to thank you and wish you a great holiday season and a fantastic New Year, filled with joy, love and prosperity.
Media multitasking is increasingly common in this day and age. If all this flow of information makes it hard for you to pay attention and stay focused, you are not alone. According to new research by EyalOphir, Clifford Nass, and Anthony D. Wagner at Stanford University, people who multitask suffer from a weaker self-control ability. The following excerpt is from the Scientific American article "Portrait of a Multitasking Mind" by Naomi Kenner and Russell Poldrack:
The researchers asked hundreds of college students fill out a survey on their use of 12 different types of media. Students reported not only the number of hours per week that they used each type of media, but also rated how often they used each type of media simultaneously with each other type of media. The researchers created a score for each person that reflected how much their lifestyle incorporated media-multitasking.
They then recruited people who had scores that were extremely high or low and asked them perform a series of tests designed to measure the ability to control one's attention, one's responses, and the contents of one's memory. They found that the high- and low- media-multitasking groups were equally able to control their responses, but that the heavy media-multitasking group had difficulties, compared to the low media-multitasking group, when asked to ignore information that was in the environment or in their recent memory. They also had greater trouble relative to their counterparts when asked to switch rapidly between two different tasks. This last finding was surprising, because psychologists know that multitasking involves switching rapidly between tasks rather than actually performing multiple tasks simultaneously.
On the positive side, heavy media multitaskers may be better at reactive control when they are quick to respond to the relevant cues from the external world. This ability can be useful in the environments where things change fast. It also helps to build habits more easily in response to common situations.
Computer screen pop-ups may slow down your work more than you think, according to new research, reported in Science Daily. While the distraction may last only for a moment, it takes more time to get back to the original task. As a result, people lose their cognitive focus and take longer than normal to complete the next step in the task they are working on. Dr. Helen Hodgetts at Cardiff University explains,
"Our findings suggest that even seemingly brief and inconsequential on-screen pop-up messages might be impacting upon our efficiency, particularly given their frequency over the working day..."
The study also reveals that having a warning for an upcoming interruption can reduce the time we lose trying to get back to the task:
A warning sound was found to be most effective because it allows us to consolidate where we are in the current task before transferring our attention to the interruption. In contrast, a flashing warning signal on the computer screen can be just as disruptive as the interruption itself.
Here are some tips from the researchers on how to deal with online distractions:
The researchers suggest that e-mail alerts and similar pop-up messages should be as small and discrete as possible and should not obscure the original activity. Better still, any visual alert should disappear after a few seconds if not responded to, so that we can be aware that there is incoming information without having to interrupt our current task.
The researchers also point out obvious practical steps that computer users can take to minimize unscheduled pop-up notifications, particularly whilst engaging in tasks that require a lot of planning or concentration:
Instant-messenger systems should be turned off or at least set to 'busy' so that colleagues are aware that unimportant interruptions are not welcome; and e-mail alerts could be turned off or only enabled for messages that the sender tags specifically as high priority.
It's this time of the year again when we look at what we have accomplished so far and start planning for the upcoming year. The unfortunate side effect of this time is that we often put too much pressure on ourselves, which is a set-up for future frustration and procrastination.
Do you ever feel overwhelmed and exhausted by all the things you need to do? And when you feel overwhelmed, do you sometimes complain, procrastinate and not take any action at all? And all this time, you are building resistance. You are not alone. Many people can relate to this experience. Resisting and complaining sap your energy. Whenever you feel the build-up of resistance, you want to stop and think about how you can move from resistance to acceptance. Stewing is worth than doing.
What causes procrastination
There may be several causes of your procrastination. Read the following common reasons why people procrastinate and check what applies to you:
Visioning and mental rehearsal
Use procrastination to envision the outcome, to brainstorm and mentally "rehearse" the project. Give yourself permission to come up with bad ideas and don't filter anything. Your unrestrained imagination may lead you to innovative solutions. You can also use this time to create a mind map of your project. Time constraints may be a good thing as they can drive creative. Those of you with a perfectionist streak may find it therapeutic to use your procrastination time to produce something fast without worrying too much about quality. Remember, it's just a rehearsal. That way, you will have something to build on and improve later.
Use procrastination to organize your thoughts and assess your progress objectively. Mentally run down the list of burning questions you must address. Here are a few favorites to get you started:
Write out your answers. Writing brings clarity, calmness and objectivity to the mind. Notice any shifts in your mental and emotional states once you have done the exercise.
SMART goal setting
Use procrastination to strategize and create a plan. Define objectives, deadlines, and milestones for your project. It's time to set SMART goals:
Try a three-tier structure for your goals: the theme, the goals to support your theme, and the steps to accomplish your goals.
Your theme can be the big reason behind the project, the main aspect of it, or the crucial learning and development point. The theme helps to unify the parts of the project, provide additional motivation and momentum to move forward.
Break your project into well-defined goals that will serve as the milestones for your work. When deciding upon goals,
Finally, divide your goals into smaller tasks or steps, giving each task a target date for completion as well. These steps will give you a clear picture of what you should be working on at any given time.
Use procrastination to motivate yourself for success. Take a walk in the park, meditate, put on your favorite CD – do whatever works for you to create a positive vision of accomplishment. Keep your eyes on the finish line. How will you feel once the project is completed? What will you do for fun to reward yourself for your great work? Think of little rewards you can give yourself when you complete each part of a longer project. Talk to people who can motivate you for action. Write down two or three positive attributes of the final product as you see it and repeat those attributes whenever you sense negative self-talk.
Various studies have explored the link between the ability to use more than one language and improved cognitive function and thinking. Now, for the first time, the research team appointed by the European Commission conducted an analysis of scientific literature, European and international, on this subject during the period of May 2008-June 2009 across all 27 EU Member States plus Norway and Turkey. The findings are described in the report "The Contribution of Multilingualism to Creativity" [PDF].
The inventory of research-based publications covered the following five hypotheses.
The Science Daily article "Brains Benefit from Multilingualism" quotes David Marsh, specialized planner at the Continuing Professional Development Centre of Jyväskylä University, who coordinated the international research team behind the study:
"The research report brings forth six main areas where multilingualism and hence the mastery of complex processes of thought seem to put people in advantage. These include learning in general, complex thinking and creativity, mental flexibility, interpersonal and communication skills, and even a possible delay in the onset of age-related mental diminishment later in life," Marsh relates.
One of the central cerebral areas highlighted in the research report is the one responsible for memory function. People rely especially on the short-term memory when thinking, learning and making decisions.
"It is obvious that enhanced memory can have a profound impact on cognitive function, says David Marsh. -- This may be one reason why the multilingual shows superior performance in handling complex and demanding problem-solving tasks when compared to monolinguals. They seem to be able to have an advantage in handling certain thinking processes," March continues.
It was assumed earlier that differences in the brain would only occur if a person is bi- or trilingual, that is with a very high command of different languages. The recently published research suggests, however, that changes in the brain's electrical activity may occur already in the beginnings of learning a new language.
Perhaps, it's time to add learning a new language to your 2010 resolutions. It seems that the benefits are there regardless of whether you learn to speak it proficiently.
Related post: "Learn a language in 2009 and improve your brain"
Meditate NYC begins on Sunday, November 8 with an afternoon of meditation instruction by Buddhist teachers from a great variety of traditions. The event is free and open to all. Meditate NYC's kick-off will be followed by a full week of free meditation instruction, November 9 – 15. People from all faiths, backgrounds, and experience are welcome at Open Houses hosted by meditation groups and dharma centers throughout the NYC area.
Ongoing scientific research confirms meditation's positive effects on body and mind. Meditate NYC offers an accessible way to find out what various approaches to meditation involve and what the benefits are. For more information, visit http://meditatenyc.org
If learning a new skill is stressful for you, don't despair. According to a new study, people who work hard at improving their competence at something may feel stressed in the moment, but experience greater happiness on a daily basis and longer term.
The study examined whether people feel happier when they fulfill certain psychological needs, specifically, the need to be competent, to feel connected to others, and to be autonomous or self-directed. ScienceDaily reports in the article "No Pain, No Gain: Mastering A Skill Makes Us Stressed In The Moment, Happy Long Term":
Contrary to previous research, the study found that people who engage in behaviors that increase competency, for example at work, school or the gym, experience decreased happiness in the moment, lower levels of enjoyment and higher levels of momentary stress. Despite the negative effects felt on an hourly basis, participants reported that these same activities made them feel happy and satisfied when they looked back on their day as a whole. This surprising find suggests that in the process of becoming proficient at something, individuals may need to endure temporary stress to reap the happiness benefits associated with increased competency.
While behaviors that increase competency were associated with decreased happiness in the moment, people who spent time on activities that met the need for autonomy or feeling connected to others experienced increased happiness both [on] an hourly and daily basis. The greatest increase in momentary happiness was experienced by participants who engaged in something that met their need for autonomy -- any behavior that a person feels they have chosen, rather than ought to do, and that helps them further their interests and goals.
According to Ryan Howell, assistant professor of psychology at San Francisco State University, these findings may have implications for workplace stress management:
Our results suggest that you can decrease the momentary stress associated with improving your skill or ability by ensuring you are also meeting the need for autonomy and connectedness, for example performing the activity alongside other people or making sure it is something you have chosen to do and is true to who you are.
How do you deal with difficult people? Are you bothered by conflicts, rejections, or negative opinions of others? Most of us are. Somehow, it's hard to stay detached and let go. Some of us spend much time reflecting on past conversations, thinking of what was said, and how it was said, and what it meant.
I notice how my 4-year-old daughter is learning her social skills. When she comes back from her playschool, she now likes to talk about who her friend is and who isn't, and who is "mad" at whom. Their friendships and preferences come and go, and their little disagreements and disappointments with one another are easily forgotten. It's all light-hearted at this point. Interestingly, it is in this tender age, before our cognition is fully developed, when we form many of our subconscious brain maps and beliefs. And as we grow, these subconscious beliefs may make it more difficult for us to forget, forgive, and move on.
The good news is that we can change our reactive patterns. We cannot control other people's behavior, so the best approach is to learn to manage our own responses. It becomes easier if we understand how our brain responds to perceived threats. Because so many of our beliefs are subconscious, as adults, we may not even be aware of what pushes our buttons and why. We may just notice that we become defensive, stressed, or self-critical. If the brain recognizes something as a threat, it activates the amygdala, which is part of the limbic system of the brain, responsible for the emotional control and memory of our emotional reactions. The limbic system can process something as a threat even before the stimulus reaches conscious awareness, triggering the "fight or flight" response. Our body is then flooded with cortisol, and the decision-making and rational parts of the brain shut down to mobilize our resourced for the attack or retreat.
In addition, the brain evolved to be sensitive to status and authority, i.e. how we look relative to someone else. As a result, we tend to worry about what others think of us.
Sometimes, just understanding these "quirks" of the brain and becoming aware of what's happening to us in the moments when our buttons are pushed can be helpful. Reframing the situation to lessen the threat is also helpful. We can change the brain's processing of our usual triggers if we consciously choose a behavior different from what we tend to do. In other words, we can create new neural pathways in the brain with better responses. So, once we become aware of what's happening, it helps to switch our mind to something that produces positive emotions fast and can reward the brain with the "feel good" molecules, like dopamine. The quicker we can replace the negative reaction with a positive one and the longer we can sustain the positive, the easier it will be for the brain to rewire itself.
Next time you have to deal with negative reactions, difficult people, or explosive situations, start practicing this "reframe-switch-sustain" approach. A similar process was used by psychiatrist Jeffrey Schwartz to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder patients and described in his book "Brain Lock: Free Yourself from Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior." The consistent application of his neuroplasticity-based technique helped the patients improve their OCD symptoms and caused the corresponding physical changes in the brain, which were confirmed by brain scans. This practice can also help us with our everyday worries and anxieties.
Finally, it's good to remember that our brains are social and mirror emotional responses. We have the power to manage our own reactions and help others step out of their trigger points if we engage with love, kindness, fairness, and support.
According to Wikipedia, "[a] subliminal message is a signal or message embedded in another medium, designed to pass below the normal limits of the human mind's perception. These messages are unrecognizable by the conscious mind, but in certain situations can affect the subconscious mind and can negatively or positively influence subsequent later thoughts, behaviors, actions, attitudes, belief systems and value systems."
A new study by a UCL team led by Professor Nilli Lavie provides evidence that people are able to process emotional information from subliminal images and are better at detecting negative subliminal messages. ScienceDaily reports:
In the study, Professor Lavie and colleagues showed fifty participants a series of words on a computer screen. Each word appeared on-screen for only a fraction of second – at times only a fiftieth of a second, much too fast for the participants to consciously read the word. The words were either positive (e.g. cheerful, flower and peace), negative (e.g. agony, despair and murder) or neutral (e.g. box, ear or kettle). After each word, participants were asked to choose whether the word was neutral or 'emotional' (i.e. positive or negative), and how confident they were of their decision.
The researchers found that the participants answered most accurately when responding to negative words – even when they believed they were merely guessing the answer.
"There has been much speculation about whether people can process emotional information unconsciously, for example pictures, faces and words," says Professor Lavie. "We have shown that people can perceive the emotional value of subliminal messages and have demonstrated conclusively that people are much more attuned to negative words.
Professor Lavie explains that there are evolutionary advantages to responding quickly to subliminal negative information because those emotional messages may have helped us avoid danger.
When light hits the retina, visual information is translated into a cascade of nerve impulses sending signals deep into the brain. It is here, in the brain's visual cortex, which resides in the occipital lobe at the back of the skull, that these signals are interpreted and give rise to perception. But the visual system has limited capacity and cannot process everything that falls onto the retina. Instead, the brain relies on attention to bring details of interest into focus so it can select them out from background clutter.Scientists had known for some time that attention to visual details increased the firing of neurons that responded to those details. What they didn't realize until now is that attention also reduces background noise, improving the clarity of the signal:
The findings of the Salk researchers, published in the September 24, 2009 issue of the journal Neuron, reveal that the uptick in the firing rate is only a small part of the story. "What we found is that attention also reduces background activity," says postdoctoral researcher and first author Jude Mitchell, Ph.D. "We estimate that this noise reduction increases the fidelity of the neural signal by a factor that is as much as four times as large as the improvement caused by attention-dependent increases in firing rate. This reduction in noise may account for as much as 80% of the attention story."The study reminds us that attention is our window into the world. The results seem to support the following practical observations:
Back in the fall of 1997, I was getting ready to apply to law school. As part of the application process, I had to take the LSAT exam. All I remember about the day of the exam now is that it was beautiful and sunny, and I didn't look forward to spending most of it in a classroom full of agonizing law school applicants, like myself, trying to figure out logical patterns and compose essays. The rest is murky in my memory right now. What I also remember is that a couple of months later, I got a big yellow envelope in the mail, and I was very anxious to open it because I expected to see the results of my test. To my surprise, the envelope didn't have my LSAT score. Instead, it had a letter stating that I had an option of retaking the exam if I wished because something had happened during the test. Apparently, a car alarm went off nearby while the exam was in progress, and the noise lasted for a while and distracted a number of test-takers. They complained to the organization that administered the LSAT, which resulted in the option to retake the whole exam. Interestingly, I didn't remember hearing any car alarm during the exam. I wasn't distracted by it - it simply didn't register in my mind. Nevertheless, I had a decision to make whether to take the LSAT again, in which case it would override the score of the earlier exam, and of course, I had no idea how I did on the first test. I didn't want to take it again, so I opted out. Fortunately, I did all right the first time around, so I didn't come to regret my decision.
You may be wondering by now why I am telling you this story, and I promise, it is relevant to what I am about to share with you. The reason I was able to tune out the noise during that exam is not because I can focus so well or because I have hearing difficulties. More likely, it was because I incidentally tapped into the secret ingredient of focus power. If this ingredient is present, your ability to focus increases significantly. When it's absent, your mind may be looking for a distraction or preoccupied with worry, doubt, or anxiety.
So, would you like to know how to turn your mind into a laser beam? Getting the secret ingredient right is not always easy but well-worth a try. It was discovered by psychologist Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi and described in his book "Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience" :
Csikszentmihalyi calls this state of engagement "the flow." If you want to have a better chance to be absorbed in an activity, ask yourself the following two questions:
• Is this too easy for me?
If it is, you will likely become bored quickly and lose focus. Your brain will look for something else to attend to.
• Is this too difficult for me?
If the activity is too hard, your brain will view it as a threat, triggering strong emotions. In this case, you lose concentration because you feel anxious, stressed or full of doubt.
The magic happens when you get it right, when you are challenged and stretched by what you are doing, but your mind perceives it as doable.
That's what probably happened during my LSAT test. I had practiced and believed I could do it, so it was a challenge that matched my skills, which helped me stay focused.
As you go about your days, ask yourself the two questions above and remember that your power to focus lies somewhere in the middle between "too easy" and "too hard."
Daniel Pink, the author of "A Whole New Mind" and the upcoming book "Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us" gave a thought-provoking talk about intrinsic and extrinsic motivation at TED conference. Current research indicates that extrinsic rewards may help us perform better in a narrow range of tasks that have a well-defined objective and a clear set of rules. According to Pink, extrinsic rewards "narrow focus and restrict possibilities." That's why they are not effective in situations that require us to think "outside the box." If we want to boost engagement and creativity at work, we need intrinsic motivation, which includes three main components:
What comes to mind if I ask you to imagine that you are at the following places:
One of your associations is likely to be the sensation of smell because all of the places above have strong aromas. Does it feel like you can almost smell them? Those aromas can quickly change your moods and emotions, and evoke memories. Why do odors play such a significant part in our emotional regulation?
The sense of smell is the only one of the five senses directly linked to the limbic system – the center of emotions in the brain. According to "Essential Oils Desk Reference," when we inhale a fragrance, the odor molecules travel up the nose where they are trapped by olfactory membranes, protected by the lining inside the nose. Each odor molecule fits into specific receptor cell sites. Each one of these hundreds of millions of nerve cells is replaced every 28 days. When this lining of nerve cells is stimulated by the odor molecules, it triggers electrical impulses to the olfactory bulb in the brain. The olfactory bulb than transmits the impulses to the gustatory center, responsible for our perception of taste, the amygdala, where emotional memories are stored, and other parts of the limbic system of the brain.
Alan Hirsch, M.D., F.A.C.P., the founder and neurological director of The Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation, explains this quick connection between odors and emotions in his interview for the medical journal Alternative & Complementary Therapies [PDF]:
As we all know, smells can also transport us into the past. In one of his studies, Dr. Hirsch discovered the number-one odor to evoke childhood memories. Can you guess what it is?
It turns out that environmental smells affect our behavior. In the same interview, Dr. Hirsch reports that people drive more aggressively on days when there is bad smell of air pollution, causing an increase in motor-vehicle accidents. Bad environmental odors tend to promote aggression, impede learning, and encourage school kids to misbehave.
I don't know about you, but I am about to diffuse some peppermint oil to improve my environment. It helps with task performance by increasing concentration, enhances athletic performance [PDF], and curbs appetite [PDF]. Smells good to me!
To learn more about essential oils: http://www.smartessentialoils.com
"If we want to simplify and deepen our lives, we must simplify and deepen our minds. When we become more centered, clear, spacious, caring, and open, there is suddenly much more room in our frenetic lives for both others and ourselves."
— Lama Surya Das
How do you start your work day? Do you jump right into your email inbox and get lost in the sea of unread messages calling for your attention? If so, before you know it, your mind is probably racing from one thought to another, to another. Unless your primary job function is to respond to email messages, email is a good example of how we give away the control of our schedule in response to other people's agendas and invite overwhelm into our day right from the start. We also lose precious moments when we can maximize brain power. How so?
When too much noise and input enters our brain, we become fuzzy thinkers. In addition, overwhelm and information overload add to our stress levels. Prolonged stress elevates cortisol, a stress hormone that appears to shrink the hippocampus, a part of the brain associated with memory and other cognitive functions.
The point is that if we want to be efficient, productive and creative at work, we need to put more thought into how we start our days. Much like we are better off taking the earliest flight if we want to leave on time because flight delays tend to snowball, we should spend our early work hours on some deep thinking because distractions snowball too.
You can come up with your own empowering morning routine that can help you maximize brain power for your most important projects:
What's your favorite mourning routine to maximize brain power?
Rubin Museum of Art in New York City will soon host "Mandala: The Perfect Circle" - a series of events dedicated to the mandala:
The programs and events that will take place between August 14, 2009 and January 11, 2010 include among other things a "collection of classic films that explore mazes, keys, and passwords as metaphors for the labyrinthine puzzles of our existence," a problem-solving scavenger hunt that "sends math enthusiasts on a tour of Chelsea inspired by the geometric construction of the mandala," and music concerts inspired by the mandala. Click here for more information.
Who would you be without your beliefs and positions? This is the questions explored in the article "Evolving Consciousness" by Kaisa Puhakka in the current issue of Shift. It discusses how we settle into our beliefs and what it takes to shed them:
As we develop fluid thinking that goes beyond the limitations of our perspectives, we become better equipped to find creative solutions to the complex challenges our world faces today. But it cannot be done without awareness:
Click here to access the current issue of Shift and read about the three modes of consciousness that explain how we relate to our beliefs.
Have you ever bought a lottery ticket or at least, been tempted to buy one? Your rational mind understands that the odds of winning are slim, but that tingling of hope inside says, "Somebody inevitably wins. What if it's me this time?" You are not alone. In fact, the odds of winning a lottery are stacked clearly against you because our brains like gambling and prompt so many to buy those lottery tickets.
The uncertainty of the reward is what keeps the brain interested. When the brain is busy predicting if we win or lose, it produces more of the neuromodulator dopamine, which is responsible for focused attention and more pleasurable experience. That explains how people can spend hours pulling a lever of a slot machine. Imagine what would happen if you were to get a regular salary for pulling the same lever but no chance of a random win. You'd be bored to death very soon. Random rewards keep the excitement alive but can also lead to gambling addictions.
Finance professor Peter Tufano of Harvard Business School used this behavior of dopamine neurons for the force of good when he created a pilot program called "Save to Win." Michigan residents now can invest as little as $25 into a one-year Save to Win Certificate of Deposit for a chance to win an annual grand prize of $100,000, plus monthly cash prizes varying up to $400. The goal, of course, is to encourage more people to save.
Here's something even more exciting. Our brains interpret near misses as wins, causing us to keep playing longer. In a recent fMRI study conducted by Luke Clark of the University of Cambridge, near misses activated the reward system of the volunteers who were playing a computerized slot machine in the same way as wins. The researchers saw a lot of activity in the striatum and the insula - areas involved in reinforcing behavior with positive feedback. Since people are generally not happy when they feel they were so close to winning but didn't, you may wonder about the reason for this odd behavior of the brain. The answer may be that such positive reinforcement after near misses encourages learning. The brain wants us to keep practicing the skill until we get better.
How could you use this reward system of the brain to help you build good habits faster? Here are a few things you can do:
Create a reward jar and fill it with pieces of paper with the descriptions of things you'd enjoy doing (your rewards), mixed with some blank papers. If you stay on track with your new habit, let's say, for a week, pull a piece of paper from the jar to see if you've got your lucky reward. Sometimes, you will, other times, you won't (if you get a blank paper), but that's exactly the point. If you brain knows that the reward is coming, it feels nice, for sure, but not so exciting after a while.
If you want to help others improve and grow, do random acts of kindness to encourage paying it forward, give unexpected gifts to celebrate accomplishments, express your gratitude by sending a thank-you note by snail mail (it is so rare these days that it would seem like a win to the recipient).
And remember that near misses are your opportunity to become better. Our dog trainer taught us to give our dog a treat every time the dog got a bit closer to the desired behavior. It's not just dogs that can learn new tricks with positive reinforcement. Encouragement goes a long way for people too.
This article is written by Kat Sanders, who regularly blogs on the topic of court reporter school online at her blog Court Reporter Schools. She welcomes your comments and questions at her email address: email@example.com.
Technology is relatively a baby when we take into account that there wasn't much of it around 25 years ago. But, its growth has been explosive, especially over the last decade. Technology has advanced in rapid leaps and bounds and has overtaken most of us; even the ones who were fast enough to have kept up are constantly buried in an avalanche of innovations and inventions, each more sophisticated than its predecessor.
We now live in a world of gadgets; we live virtually inside the Internet; and we are so dependent on technology that most of us have forgotten the world that existed before the machines took over. Legal offices, especially the ones that were established more than 30 years ago and are still plodding along with respectability and pride in their heritage, are at times hesitant to embrace technology with open arms. In fact, while some firms take to it like a fish to water, others are wary and tread water carefully before being assured that they can manage the new gizmos and software.
But there's the third kind that sticks to their roots and tries to just ignore technology and sweep it under the carpet. If you're an attorney and find yourself technologically challenged, here's why you must effect some positive changes at your firm:
"Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication."
~ Leonardo da Vinci
I was reading my Sunday paper last weekend and saw a cartoon depicting two birds sitting on a wire. They were watching the third bird that was about to fall down and was struggling to hold on to the wire. The caption read "You're overthinking this, Phil."
Do you sometimes complicate things excessively? I am guilty of it, I'll admit. Here's a related belief that comes up in coaching: we distrust simple solutions. If something is too easy, it can't be the answer. Are you familiar with that kind of thinking? Yet, simple practices can be very effective in producing remarkable results.
Take an example of recent neuroscience discoveries in the area of brain health. A few weeks ago, I was at a workshop conducted by Mark Robert Waldman, co-author of "How God Changes Your Brain: Breakthrough Findings from a Leading Neuroscientist." The topic was "Imagination, Reality, and Maintaining a Healthy Brain." When it comes to maintaining a healthy brain, the strategies are simple and effective when done consistently. The authors list eight ways to exercise your brain to enhance your physical, mental and spiritual health. The easiest two may surprise you.
Do you know, for example, that a simple act of yawning improves alertness and concentration, optimizes brain metabolism, lowers stress, and increases memory recall among other things? Now, that's what I call brain efficiency. So, yawn on purpose. In fact, do it right now. Take a deep breath and get yourself into the yawning mood. If you have people around, that's even better because yawning is contagious. It can even improve group cohesiveness because it helps people synchronize their behavior with others.
If you are tired of yawning, smile. Smiling stimulates brain circuits that strengthen empathy and a positive outlook on life. Even if you don't feel like smiling, try it anyway. You'll give a signal to your subconscious that you are happy, and it can improve your mood.
Yawn, smile, and simplify! That's today's lesson.
What would the law school of the future look like? Paul Lippe shares his insights in the article "Welcome to the Future: Time for Law School 4.0" in The AmLaw Daily. He discusses the challenges of the current system of legal education and suggests directions for improvement. (Hat tip to Idealawg).
Jane Hart, the founder of the Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies, created this excellent presentation of the most popular learning tools in 25 categories, as selected by learning professionals worldwide.
In his thought-provoking Edge piece "The Impending Demise of the University," Don Tapscott explores that future of learning and the function of universities in a networked society:
Knowing how to work with information becomes more important than mastering subject matter content:
Click here to read the full article.
When we are in a positive mood, our visual cortex takes in more information, while negative moods result in tunnel vision, according to a recent University of Toronto study.
In my previous post on "Positivity," I wrote about Barbara Fredrickson's research indicating that positive emotions tend to broaden our focus, enabling us to discover more tools and solutions to life's challenges and ultimately making us more resourceful.
Now, the University of Toronto study shows that good moods also create such broad focus for our perceptual experience. In the article "People Who Wear Rose-colored Glasses See More, Study Shows," ScienceDaily reports:
The researchers suggest that good moods help us see more in our environment, but the downside is that the broad focus can distract us from critical tasks that require narrow focus, such as operating dangerous machinery. In contrast, bad moods limit our ability to integrate information that is outside our immediate attention.
Have you ever been caught daydreaming or doodling in class, during a lecture or at a business meeting? While others could interpret it as a sign that your mind was meandering aimlessly instead of paying attention, neuroscientists now provide us with the evidence to the contrary. It turns out that the daydreaming mind continues to solve problems, and doodling actually helps remember things better. The advice to 'sleep on it' isn't a bad idea either.
According to a recent University of British Columbia study, activity in numerous brain regions increases when our minds wander. Daydreaming activates both the brain's "default network," which is linked to easy, routine mental activity and the "executive network" - the brain areas associated with high-level, complex problem-solving. The findings support the notion that daydreaming, which can occupy as much as one third of our waking lives, allows us to shift our attention from routine tasks to work through more important problems in our lives. You may not be able to accomplish an immediate goal if you daydream, but you can come up with a creative solution to a life challenge.
If you feel the urge to daydream during a boring presentation and want to improve your concentration, try doodling. It may seem contradictory to the common perceptions, but doodling while listening can keep you on track with a boring task and help you remember details better. In a recently published study, subjects given a doodling task while listening to a dull phone message had a 29% improved recall compared to their non-doodling counterparts.
In addition, nighttime dreams can also help you solve problems. A study conducted by the University of Alberta and the University of Montreal of 470 psychology students revealed that dreams that occurred six to seven days after the remembered event often reflected "interpersonal interactions, problem resolution and positive emotions." These findings suggest that people continue to work through personal difficulties in dreams.
Sleep psychologists claim we have about six dreams each night during rapid eye movement sleep (REM sleep). We often forget our dreams, but there are things we can do to recall dreams better and capture any creative ideas that emerged in the dream state:
Finally, if you want your dreams to be more positive, try smelling something pleasant while you sleep. German researchers used specific volatile odorants with a negative or a positive smell ("rotten eggs" versus "roses") to stimulate subjects during sleep. When the unpleasant odor was used, the subjects reported that the emotional coloration of the dream was predominantly negative. When they smelled the pleasant odor, their dreams had a positive coloration.
Related post: Take a nap
Directed movements of the body can, outside of conscious awareness, guide higher-order cognitive processing, according to a new study, conduced by University of Illinois psychology professor Alejandro Lleras with Vanderbilt University postdoctoral researcher Laura Thomas. PhysOrg reports:
Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio said, "The mind is embodied, not just embrained." This study demonstrates once again the important link between our mind and body, or "embodied cognition."
You can think on your feet quite literally. So, next time you feel stuck trying to solve a problem, start moving. Your body may guide your brain to an unexpected solution.
This study is described in the article "Swinging Into Thought: Directed Movement Guides Insight in Problem Solving" by Alejandro Lleras and Laura Thomas, appearing in an upcoming issue of Psychonomic Bulletin & Review. To read the full report and watch the videos of the problem-solving and exercise sessions, click here.
Life can feel like a roller coaster - the highs and the lows, the fear and the exhilaration - all coming in rapid succession. Life can also be like an airplane - always self-correcting to stay on course. To Albert Einstein, "Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving."
What would be a good metaphor for you to describe the way you experience life right now?
When we think in metaphors, we directly compare unrelated or dissimilar objects and situations. Metaphorical thinking has benefits beyond the poetic and aesthetic value of metaphors. Metaphors can improve our understanding and help us solve problems.
Metaphors expand meaning by transcending the literal and structural interpretation. The whole meaning is greater than, and often different from, the sum of its parts. According to research led by V. S. Ramachandran, director of the Center for Brain and Cognition at the University of California, San Diego, a region of the brain known as the angular gyrus is at least partly responsible for the human ability to understand metaphors. The angular gyrus is strategically located at the crossroads of areas specialized for processing touch, hearing and vision.
Metaphors reveal subtle patterns that can otherwise fall beyond our perceptive powers. But beware: because of their ambiguous, emotive and nonlinear nature, metaphors can confuse as well as illuminate. Be patient with yourself and the process. The idea is to probe and peel the layers and be open to what you may find.
To experience the creative power of metaphors, do the following exercise, adapted from the book "Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative-Thinking Techniques" by Michael Michalko:
1. Think of a challenge or a choice you are facing.
2. Instead of describing it in words, browse some old magazines, newspapers or catalogs and cut out images that symbolize your challenge or choice.
3. Move your pictures around, exploring different patterns and associations. Continue until they form a collage.
4. Look at your collage and search for clues, insights and new ideas related to your challenge or choice. Ask yourself the following questions:
a. What is my challenge/choice like?
b. What does it remind me of?
c. What aspects of my challenge/choice are revealed through the collage?
d. What can I learn from this?
[UPDATE] Yesterday, I had the pleasure of interviewing Frank Felberbaum, the memory expert and author of "The Business of Memory: How to Maximize Your Brain Power and Fast Track Your Career," with Rachel Kranz.
Frank Felberbaum is president of Memory Training Systems, a division of The Felberbaum Consulting Group, Inc., a global company specializing in memory development and brain-power performance strategies. Formerly founder and director of The Memory Training Institute in Geneva, Switzerland, he has implemented his unique memory systems at more than 175 major corporations.
In 1995, Frank Felberbaum represented the United States at the World Memory Olympics in London and was awarded a special medal. From 1997 to the present, he has trained and coached many of the mental athletes who compete at the U.S. Memory Championship held in New York City.
Now, you can listen to his interview and learn how to tap your full memory potential and put your career on the fast track to success.
Most of us forget 85 percent of what we learn within 72 hours. Frank Felberbaum has taught thousands of business people throughout the world, including employees and executives at dozens of Fortune 500® companies how to become more efficient, effective, and powerful on the job by mastering the three basic mental functions behind memory:
• Paying attention: How to be a better observer and stay focused in the era of multitasking.
• Visualizing: How to create mental movies that help retain information by telling stories.
• Associating: How to link newly acquired information to familiar experiences, which are easily recalled.
You can listen to the interview via web at:
To download the audio recording of the interview:
How much of what you do is in response to things that are happening around you, your immediate environment? A couple of days ago, I was putting together a collage of colorful images of fruits, vegetables, and herbs for my Ultimate Mind-Body Makeover coaching class. One of the images was a picture of mint plants forming a bright green carpet. Later, when I went to get some tea for myself, guess what kind of tea I chose… That's right, I chose mint tea. So, how does our environment influence our daily actions and decisions?
Studies on habit formation reveal that as much as 45 percent of what we do every day is habitual, that is, we act almost without thinking usually because of subtle cues in our environment, such as "a specific location or time of day, a certain series of actions, particular moods, or the company of specific people." For example, you may experience the urge to check your e-mail if you feel stuck in your current task. Similarly, you may want to grab a cookie if you feel upset or bored.
On occasion, those cues in our environment can trick our minds into behaving in a way that is inconsistent with our goals and we may not even realize it. Here are a few examples of mind illusions related to the issue of portion control.
You may have heard that it is helpful to use smaller plates if you want to eat less. The following experiment illustrates this point. If you cut a sandwich into two same-size portions and you put one half of the sandwich on a small plate and the other half on a large plate, you will create an optical illusion. People will perceive the half-sandwich on the small plate as bigger than the half-sandwich on the large plate. Moreover, if they eat the half-sandwich on the small plate, they will feel fuller compared to eating the sandwich on the large plate. Thus, physical objects around you can affect your appetite.
The second example explains why all-you-can-eat buffets cause people to eat more. Researchers investigated how variety influenced consumers' quantity perceptions. "Does a bowl with both red and blue candies seem to have more or less than a bowl with only one color candy?" they asked. It turns out that we tend to underestimate portions if there is greater variety. People poured larger portions when there was variety of food without realizing it.
You don't even need to go to a magic show to experience the power of mind illusions in your daily life.
What triggers hide in your immediate environment? How can you eliminate or minimize those that sabotage your goals?
Music can entertain, shift our mood, relieve stress, promote cognitive development, make us better at recognizing emotion in sound, and now scientists search for evidence that music can heal, according to The New York Times article "Composing Concertos in the Key of Rx" by Matthew Gurewitsch:
Click here to read the full article.
A recent study into the neural mechanisms through which external information, such as professional advice, is integrated into financial decision making may shed light on how Bernard Madoff was able to deceive so many people. ScienceDaily reports:
The lesson is... don't outsource your critical thinking, especially when you talk to an expert.
Click here to read the full article.
Sally Kempton wrote a beautiful piece titled "What Is Love?" for Yoga Journal. Here's an excerpt on the practice of love:
Sally Kempton offers several practices to reconnect to the source of love:
Click here to read the full article.
March 16 – March 22 is Brain Awareness Week. Here are some interesting resources I like to use to raise my brain awareness:
The Dana Foundation is a gateway to lots of brain information on the web.
Your Brain at Work: "This site shows you how you learn, and gives you tips for learning better."
Scientific American Mind Magazine. The current issue features an interview with Howard Gardner, a professor of cognition and education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, titled "Building the 21st-Century Mind." Also, you may want to check out "Six Ways to Boost Brainpower."
Bodies in Space from The George Greenstein Institute: "coaching bodies, brains and minds."
Brains on Purpose, the Neuroscience and conflict resolution blog by Stephanie West Allen, JD in collaboration with Jeffrey M. Schwartz, MD.
Brain Science Podcast with Ginger Campbell, MD
Finally, I'll be hosting a free teleclass this Friday on the brain, learning and change. Click here to get more information.
What do you do to keep your brain healthy and vibrant?
Last Sunday, I attended the discussion between neuro-psychologist Barbara Fredrickson and meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg as part of the Brainwave series at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York City. The topic was how positive thinking influenced the mind. Specifically, they talked about the effects of lovingkindness meditation practice on positive emotions and about the results of Dr. Fredrickson's research, described in her new book "Positivity: Groundbreaking Research Reveals How to Embrace the Hidden Strength of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity, and Thrive."
The conversation began with the question about the roles of positive and negative emotions. Psychologists have known for a long time that negative emotions are so salient and effective in seizing our attention because our survival has depended on them. The fear of a tiger, the disgust at the sight of rotten food - those negative emotions have been there to protect us. But why do we need positive emotions and how can we experience them more often? This is the inquiry of the positive psychology.
Dr. Fredrickson's research points out that positive emotions tend to broaden our focus, enabling us to discover more tools and solutions to life's challenges and ultimately making us more resourceful. When we experience negative emotions, our focus is narrow. This tunnel vision precludes us from switching perspectives and seeing creative solutions. Positive emotions let our minds open, or "bloom." In Dr. Fredrickson's study, the lovingkindness meditation practice has been shown to increase the frequency of positive emotions. In the lovingkindness mediation, you gather your attention around words and phrases of love and peace that you repeat rhythmically and direct to yourself and others. Those participants who saw a bigger increase in positivity from the start of the program also showed more benefits after three months of practice. In the long term, positive emotions result in more resilience and life satisfaction.
All emotions are transient. The point is not to try to be positive all the time, but rather to increase the frequency of positive emotions. Dr. Fredrickson discovered that experiencing positive emotions in a 3-to-1 ratio with negative ones makes people more resilient and creative in meeting life’s challenges and achieving their goals. You can find out your ratio and get other online tools at Dr. Fredrickson's website http://www.positivityratio.com. As Sharon Salzberg beautifully said, what counts is the willingness "to begin again," to redirect the mind towards more positive alternatives.
An interesting question was raised during the Q&A about the cross-cultural variance with regard to positivity. Culture influences what we consider a positive experience. For example, in cultures where individualism is praised, people feel positive when they stand out and accomplish something on their own. In collective cultures, feeling connected to a group, fitting in, may be more important to increase positive emotions. Reflecting on my own cross-cultural experiences, I wonder if the broad focus also facilitates cultural adjustment. It would be interesting to see studies on this.
I came across this Zen parable in the Yoga Journal article "Living on the Edge" by Ezra Bayda:
The wisdom of this Zen parable seems to apply to so many life questions:
How am I doing in my business? How am I doing in my relationships? How am I doing as a parent? Our reactions are often the first indicators of how things really are.
The March Issue of The Complete Lawyer focuses on "The Critical Importance Of Coaching And Mentoring For Today's Lawyer." I couldn't agree more, and yes, it is a self-serving statement, coming from a coach. Here are some of the great offerings:
Between February 21 and April 23, 2009, The Rubin Museum of Art will host its second annual Brainwave, which "explores the intersection of mind and matter with nearly fifty different events, including discussions with some of the world's premier artists and neuroscientists." Here are just some of the offerings:
Click here to read the full list of "Meetings of the Minds." I plan to attend and blog about at least some of these events.
I recently did an interview for Julia Hays of LawBound, "a blog for students and those in the workworld considering a career or education in the field of law." It is about my "journey from Russia to the United States and from law to life coaching" and the lessons and experiences I gained in the process. Click here to read the interview.
Our Ultimate Mind-Body Makeover team hears it all the time here --
"Things are crazy."
"I am so insecure I keep eating."
Tonight, our three coaches are offering a freebie call on new technologies of human performance enhancement to help you connect with your Best body and your Best future.
Click HERE to learn more.
SharpBrains offers a thought-provoking interview with Joshua Waitzkin, a champion in chess and martial arts and the author of "The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance." A passionate learner, Waitzkin fuses philosophy, psychology, meditation with his personal experiences in mastering chess and tai chi to create a unique blend of principles for learning, self-improvement, and mastery:
Click to read the full interview with Joshua Waitzkin at SharpBrains.
Do you notice the stories you are telling yourself? How do they make you feel and act? Do they leave you inspired, joyful, clear, and confident? Or do they generate negativity, doubt, or resistance? Many of us take whatever our mind conjures up as the truth and don't challenge our thinking even when it is not working for us. What would you need to tell yourself to feel joy and happiness?
In the Yoga Journal article "Joy Story," Sally Kempton is describing a practice of happiness that can help us cultivate the inner states of joy and content that are often missing in our busy, hectic lives.
If you want to learn about the four meanings of happiness, read the rest of "Joy Story."
I came across this quotation today from Krishnamurti's "The Function of Education" in Think on These Things and felt compelled to share:
As a linguist by training, I have always liked learning new languages. In fact, English is not my native language, Russian is. I started truly learning English when I was in high school and added a few more languages later while studying linguistics. After reading "The Bilingual Brain" in the Society for Neuroscience Brain Briefings, I am considering adding a new language to my 2009 resolutions:
Those who start learning languages at an early age benefit the most.
I am glad I am raising my daughter bilingual (English and Russian), and we'll be adding Spanish soon.
Adults benefit from learning languages as well. There are many misconceptions surrounding adult language learning, especially about the "critical period" hypothesis that argues that the brain is too rigid to learn after puberty, making second language acquisition more difficult for adults. Current neuroscience research into the competitive nature of brain plasticity offers a different explanation. The skills we practice compete for our brain map space. In his book "The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science," Norman Doidge writes:
This can also explain why learning a language as an adult is quite possible and much easier if you immerse yourself in the environment where that language is spoken, or if you otherwise have a strong need or desire to learn it, for example, when your close friends, your spouse, or your co-workers speak a different language. If you put enough attention into it, it will happen. It is, to a large extent, an issue of priorities, time, and motivation.
What language are you learning this year?
Jonah Lehrer, the author of "How We Decide," discusses the perils and benefits of city life as they relate to the brain in his article "How the city hurts your brain ...And what you can do about it" in The Boston Globe:
But the urban environment has its positive sides too, including creativity and innovation:
One of the ways to mitigate the negative effects of city living is to spend more time in natural settings that can restore and replenish our mental energy. Click here to read the full article.
And check out the Urban Mindfulnes blog for tips on how to stay mindful in the city.