Category Archives: Mind Matters

Play, Just to Play

The computerized calendar shows grey dots everyday of the week. The day starts at 7:00 am and ends sometime around 9:00 pm; perhaps with 30 minutes for lunch, an hour for dinner and sometime in between it all for commutting from one obligation to the next. Sound familiar? This over-scheduled schedule not only belongs to adults, butBusy-Calendar-2 to many children as soon as their old enough to enter a school-type program. And ending around 9:00 pm may be a conservatitve estimate, especially for middle and high-school aged students. 9:00 is when some finally arrive home to begin their homework or are continuing to work on it because despite their best efforts it stillis not done. The best efforts may even include working with one, two perhaps three different tutors in one evening. What appeared to be parents encouraging natural talents in music or sports has given rise to a hyper-focus on areas of specialization and the building of child prodigies in the arts, athletics or academics. However, very little, if any, of these budding ‘careers’ are related to the child’s school day. Perhaps the long standing problem America faces with education has as much to do with poor schooling as it does with student burn-out. A burn-out that appears to be occuring much earlier and in more extreme ways than senioritis–perhaps now an obsolete term. This critical look at the extrememly scheduled, programmed and packed days of school aged children leaves one questing begging to be asked:  What ever happened to having time to play?

In the past two decades, what began as involvement in extracurriculular activities that have shifted into activities to keep children busy, out of the house or off the streets. It it challenging for working parents to be home when children are home or trust them to be able to watch thsemvles at home. Gone are the days of the latch-key kids. However, statisitics are showing that 3 out of 4 children who were involved in sports before first grade are bored, tired of and deciding to no longer participate in sports after middle school. David Elkind of Tufts University, believes that children are not simply bored, but burned out. Dr. Alvin Rosenfeld, author of The Overscheduled Child: Avoiding the Hyper-Parenting Trap, he believes that there is a fine, yet undefined line, between having children involved in extracurricular activities and over scheduling. Rosenfeld believes children are bored not because they don’t have anything to do, but because they have never had to develop the skills to figure out to entertain themselves, given that their lives have been scheduled from waking to sleeping. Now add the conveiences and accessiblity to technology even commuting from school to soccer provides a quiet structured activity of games on an tablet or a movie playing on the backseat of the driver and passenger sides nicely crafted with headphones so everyone can be appeased.

Dr. Suniya S. Luthar believes that scheduling extracurriculars is the problem. Porblems arise when “…what parents want is over the top…When children feel that their parents disproportionately value personal successes (in today’s grades or tomorrow’s careers), far more than they value their personal decency and kindness, the children show elevated symptoms of depression and anxiety. Parents might think it’s okay to keep the pressure on because they eat dinner together and attend all their children’s athletic events and performances. But such positive gestures do not cancel out criticism.” Over-Scheduled or the New Norm?

According to kidshealth.org children may:

  • feel tired, anxious, or depressed
  • complain of headaches and stomachaches, which may be due to stress, missed meals, or lack of sleep
  • fall behind on their schoolwork, causing their grades to drop

Dr. Luthar adds substance abuse, truancy, anxiety among other internalizing behaviors to list or problems over-pressured face.

From a brain-based perspetive, these various symtpoms cause increase in cortisol or cause damage,  which impacts access to the pre-frontal cortext and the very necessary executive functioning skills that students rely on not only during their after-school activites but during their school day and in their social relationships.

All experts agree that the solution is NOT taking away all of the extracurriculuars, but finding a balance between them, school and downtime or the expectations surrouding the activiites. Children need unstrutured activity to allow their brains to not only rest, much like the necessity of sleep, but to have truly free time to play, which research shows helps develop the higher order thinking skills.

John Hamilton from NPR.org reports, “The experience of play changes the connections of the neurons at the front end of your brain,” claims Sergio Pellis, a researcher at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada. “And without play experience, those neurons aren’t changed,” he says. It is those changes in the prefrontal cortex during childhood that help wire up the brain’s executive control center, which has a critical role in regulating emotions, making plans and solving problems, Pellis says. So play, he adds, is what prepares a young brain for life, love and even schoolwork. But to produce this sort of brain development, children need to engage in plenty of so-called free play, Pellis says. No coaches, no umpires, no rule books.”

This is the same part of the brain that children are unable to access due to sleep deprivation, stress, depression. The lack of

Pressure free play

play is not only impacting the devevelopment of these essential skills, but it is preventing them from having access.  Simultaneous to this occurance is the increase in acadamic expectations and demands because adolescents are graduating from high school unprepraed for the academic standards at a collegiate level. But is it that they are not ready or simply not capable because their brains were not given the time, opportunity to develop the skills necessary to be prepared for college? Is the solution as simple as, children will be able to do more by doing less?

A shift needs to take place somewhere; because more often than not incomplete homework accompanied with a parent note detailing a child’s inabiltiy to complete it due to three hour rehearshals after school, too many other assignments or they spent

4 hours on homework and were still unable to finish it. Or even worse, when six year olds express they have too much to do. Yet the shift cannot occur in a vacumn or simply exhange extracurriculars for screen time. Perhaps part of the solution is a cultural shift. A shift in what is determined important, worthy of time and essential. Currently the focus seems to be success, financial gain, fame, a full-schedule. Maybe it is time to realize family time, play and even boredom are critical not only to prevent burn-out before the age of thirteen, but to enable the upcoming generation to be developmentally ready to take on what the current generation will ineveitably leave behind.

The Burned Out State of Mind

Let’s say you watch a movie in a theater where the protagonist is caught in what we would consider an abusive situation. Specifically, the hero is required to work through two situations: one bad, the other worse. Neither situation is a choice that will make the hero better, however there doesn’t seem to be any immediate relief aside from choosing between the two options. Because neither situation is optimal, our hero chooses the the lesser evil and proceeds to believe it’s the only option. The constant exposure to an abusive situation leads to his resignation of his fate, an uncaring despot, until the climax of the movie saves the day.

burn out

Ultimately our lives are far less condensed in drama, however the phenomenon of burnout  is more common in our modern lives than we recognize or give it credit for.

The term ‘burnout’ was initiated in the United States about 35 years ago. The psychoanalyst Freudenberger, for example, published one of the first scientific descriptions of the burnout syndrome as psychiatric and physical breakdown. According to one of the first more extensive characterizations by Susan E. Jackson  and  Christina Maslach, burnout is the result of chronic stress (at the workplace) which has not been successfully dealt with. It is characterized by exhaustion and depersonalization (negativism/cynicism) and is found predominantly in caring and social professions (e.g. social workers, teachers, nurses, doctors, dentists). A later definition based on the MBI and which is in widespread use today, describes exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced satisfaction in performance as the decisive elements of burnout syndrome.

Contrary to earlier observations regarding the epidemiology of burnout, it has been noted that the syndrome is not associated with certain workplaces, circumstances, sex or age. The occurrence of burnout syndrome has been described in diverse occupations, e.g. in social workers, advisors, teachers, nurses, laboratory workers, speech therapists, ergo therapists, doctors and dentists, police and prison officers, stewardesses, managers, and even in housewives, students and unemployed people. Psychological explanations assume that in most of these occupations the combination of caring, advising, healing or protecting, coupled with the demands of showing that one cares, is of central importance.

In the 10th revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD 10) the term ‘burnout’ was described in Problems related to life management difficulty under Z.73.0 as ‘Burnout-state of total exhaustion‘. In addition to the question of a uniform, generally accepted definition, etiological and pathogenetic aspects are the subjects of much controversy. It is generally believed today that ‘negative stress’ (distress) probably represents a key phenomenon in the etiopathogenesis of burnout. Other important pathogenetic factors are thought to be ‘being swamped by daily routine’ and ‘disappointed expectations’. Most of the theories and models for the development of burnout syndrome are published in the psychological, psychosomatic and psychiatric literature.

Burnout - Concept for Business

 A. Weber and A. Jaekel-Reinhard discuss in their paper on burnout that depending on the duration and severity of the burnout, there are often further negative social consequences. These include, from the point of view of the individual, withdrawal at the workplace (so called ‘inner resignation’) or effects on private life (partner/ sexual problems, social isolation). From the perspective of society, there is an increased risk of repeated or long periods of absence from work and early invalidity.

The Burnout Phenomenon is so prevalent that it has warranted its own branch of research. This research is being carried out in many countries around the world, so it is clear that burnout has global significance. Recently, there has been a growing interest in developing interventions to reduce burnout, from government agencies and organizations in both the public and private sectors. Without a doubt, burnout poses a major challenge for society. Given the ongoing importance of the burnout phenomenon, and the rising interest in making real progress in alleviating it, there is a need for a primary venue for the many research contributions being made.

To highlight further importance on the alarming rates of burnout, the scientific community came together in April 2015 and created the Burnout Research Journal. This is a peer-reviewed international journal aimed at presenting basic, translational and clinical high-quality research related to the phenomenon of burnout. As the first journal dedicated to understanding the causes of burnout and potential solutions to the problem, Burnout Research welcomes original research articles, review articles, case reports, and opinion pieces. The goal of the journal is to publish the top research in three major areas: Cutting-edge research that lays out new directions for the burnout field, including new research paradigms and measures, new theoretical models, and new collaborations between researchers and practitioners. Critical reviews that provide comprehensive and integrative analyses of key themes (such as cultural or occupational differences in burnout), or meta-analyses of major datasets. Translational research studies that assess promising interventions for preventing burnout and building engagement.

Burnout-cc-LINS1From an educational perspective, the days when academia was a low-stress working environment are over, with “burnout” levels now comparable with those in other service sectors, according to a 2011 study, “Burnout in university teaching staff: a systematic literature review.”  This study was published in the journal Educational Research and was led by Noelle Robertson, senior lecturer in clinical psychology at the University of Leicester, and a master’s student there, Jenny Watts. The researchers, who describe their work as the first survey of the extent of burnout among full-time, non-medical university teaching staff, report that younger staff appeared more vulnerable, suffering from greater “emotional exhaustion.”

The analysis is based on 12 peer-reviewed studies in the United States, Britain, Canada, South Africa, Spain, Turkey and the Netherlands,  and likens levels of burnout among those who teach in higher education to those of schoolteachers and health professionals. The authors also attempt to pinpoint the key factors that push some academics into a state characterized by “the depletion of emotional reserves (emotional exhaustion), an increasingly cynical and negative approach towards others (depersonalization) and a growing feeling of work-related dissatisfaction.”

These results could also be because younger staff have more contact with students, but also because more experienced colleagues have developed better coping strategies.Gender seemed to have most impact on the way burnout revealed itself, the study suggests. Male lecturers typically had higher depersonalization scores, for example, while their female peers tended to suffer more emotional exhaustion.This probably reflected, the authors suggest, the draining effect on women who were having to “juggle multiple roles at work and at home,” on the one hand, and their reluctance to adopt “a distant, indifferent professional persona” on the other.

The research indicated that “staff exposure to high numbers of students, especially tuition of postgraduates, strongly predicts the experience of burnout.” However, they suggest that lecturers with qualities that might make them particularly suited to the job suffered more than their less engaged colleagues. The quality of “openness” may “make appealing tutors, encouraging greater interaction with students,” but it also appeared to “predispose teachers to burnout,” the paper says.

In a separate analysis of professional burnout among professors in the United States, a Texas Woman’s University Ph.D. candidate found tenure track professors had more significant symptoms of workplace frustration than their tenured and non-tenure track faculty counterparts.

Janie Crosmer, who conducted the survey of more than 400 full-time faculty across the U.S. in December 2008, said she was unsurprised that the high stresses of pursuing academia’s most coveted status led to burnout. She utilized the Maslach Burnout Inventory in her survey, which measures burnout in three categories. A faculty survey found professors, on average, fell within the average burnout range. See the Inventory Table Results Below:

Emotional Exhaustion (Range 0-54)Teacher-Burnout
• < 13: Low Degree of Burnout
• 14-23: Average Degree of Burnout
• > 24: High Degree of Burnout
• Full Faculty Survey Sample: 20.1

Depersonalization (Range 0-30)
• < 2: Low Degree of Burnout
• 3-8: Average degree of burnout
• > 9: High Degree of Burnout
• Full Faculty Survey Sample: 6.3

Personal Accomplishment (Range 0-48)
• > 43: Low Degree of Burnout
• 36-42: Average Degree of Burnout
• < 35: High Degree of Burnout
• Full Faculty Survey: 35.99

Crosmer said she was struck by the candor and, at times, negativity manifested in faculty comments. Professors complained about massive red tape, inflexible mandates for holding office hours, low morale, health concerns and insufficient travel funds. And while Crosmer would still like to land a faculty position in the future, she was disheartened by what she heard.

“By reading that, you were [thinking] do I really want to teach ever? Some of the comments were, oh my goodness.”

As with just about any industry, professors also said they felt they should earn more money. One respondent opined, “We are the most highly educated people in the country and among the worst paid.”

Take the BURNOUT TEST below and see for yourself what you rate:

BurnoutTest1 BurnoutTest2

You. Don’t. Know…

It is 7:30 a.m.; you’re in your classroom, preparing the materials for the day. The classroom is quiet except for the music in the background–it’s become a routine you started a few weeks back to ground you in the day. No one ever told you teaching would be THIS hard. How does time pass by simultaneously both lightening speed and a snail’s pace? It’s your sixth week of teaching already. You glance up at the clock 7:32. Relief sweeps over you! 28 more minutes until students arrive enough time to finish what stockistockstresshelpchalkboardphotojuly2012youneed to do. You print out your lesson plans and the lay out the work for the morning periods. Another grounding staple of your day, now you know exactly what you planned to say and can see everything you planned to give. Your mind shifts to your students; will she be here today? She’s your most challenging student; feedback flashes through your mind, “Just ignore the behavior; its attention seeking.” “You’re too cold in the classroom; she’s reacting to that.” “She doesn’t like change, and you’re a new teacher.” you for her out of control behavior. What’s the right answer? None of this feedback feels reflective of your experience with this student. You’re at a loss as to what you should do. A part of you wills her to be absent today. 8:00, students walk in right on cue. You look up from the computer and see her with a big smile walk in. You remind yourself to breathe.

You don’t know what you don’t know. This idea feels almost like a theme in the field of education, administrators and educators alike–new educators in particular. It seems that the idea of not knowing or being told you don’t know is often received defensively as an offense. When in fact, it is actually more akin to a free pass for commonly made mistakes or assumptions–on made by teachers and administrators–and an invitation to learn. However, the willingness to learn means admitting to not knowing or worse: imperfection. Yet this ability to stand back and look with a critical and personal lens at the breadth of knowledge possessed and honestly admit that gaping holes exist does not come easily to many. Perhaps, because this exercise in humility requires both metacognition and mindfulness.

Metacognition according to Dr. Richard Guare and Dr. Peg Dawson is “the ability to take a birds eye view of oneself in a situation. It is the ability to observe how you problem solve. It also includes self-monitoring and self-evaluative skills  (e.g. asking: “How am I doing?” or “How did I do?”)  In order to fully be able to accept, acknowledge and understand that mind-fullyou don’t know what you don’t know you need to be able to step outside of yourself and view that self from a different perspective, yet also be able to be aware of yourself in each moment. Enter mindfulness. Dr. John Kabot-Zinn states, “mindfulness means

maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment. In order to participate in these states of being, one needs intentionality, practice and an honest self-view, which is easier said than done, especially within institutions in which normed rolls have been established.

Learning, empathy and change cannot take place when conversations are entered into with established or implied hierarchical relationships, for example, the teacher and the learner. While exceptions exist, many institutions of education have an established dichotomy of superiors and inferiors. These can found throughout the school in different capacities. Yet, rather than promote an environment for learning by sharing knowledge and openly celebrating strengths and finding others to support weaknesses; a fake it until you make it attitude emerges, defenses are on high-alert and learning fails to take place.

Imagine how a conversation between an educator and administrator would go if both parties came to the table, coming clean about their knowledge gap.

The administrator would have to own up to the fact that she has very little knowledge about what happens on a daily basis in the classroom that may be enhancing or inhibiting classroom learning. A new educator may need to admit to not knowing the difference between off-task behaviors because a child is bored versus one who simply doesn’t understand. The point is both parties would be entering into a conversation with an honest self-view and the intention to truly listen and learn from the other.

Quotation-Thomas-Gray-wise-ignorance-Meetville-Quotes-50879

This begins by admitting that you don’t know what you don’t know. People are imperfect, make mistakes, react to situations without thinking and often times hold others responsible for events they had just as much stake in. Inevitably it is easier to stay on the surface of one’s thinking, examine others but never oneself with a critical lens and turn off an awareness to oneself and the environment in which he is in. If this were not the case, “Ignorance is bliss,” would never have been excavated from Thomas Gray’s poem, “Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College,’ written in 1742 and still commonly used today.

However, through that course of thinking, much is lost: personal growth, human connection and most importantly systemic change. So stop and think. Step outside of your mind so often on autopilot. What do you see? Ask yourself, “How am I doing today?” Do not leave this answer constrained to the cursory “good” or “fine” or related to your job. Dig deep and ask yourself, “How. Am. I. Doing. Today?” Stop.

This time, don’t think. Feel. Let your body become fully aware of the sights, sounds, and smells, physical sensations that currently surround you know. Ask yourself again, “How am I doing today?” Stay outside of your mind. Breathe. Slowly. In and out. Again. In and out. Again, in and out.

Now ask yourself, “How did I do today? Could I have done better?”

What don’t you know, that you don’t know? Imagine the possibilities if you did.

 

When the Mind is Confronted with the Hardest Yes and the Easiest No

There is probably no parent in the world who tells their child not to follow their dreams. The encouragement given by a parent, as well as their approval, is what drives ambition and focus on young children even in parallel play and pretend play: occupational, dress-up games, role-playing games, and imaginary games,

Pre-School turns into School-Age and the dreams solidify into academics, socialization, and homework. Further on, there are co-curricular activities, and suddenly, more opportunities open to the maturing child. What once they thought they wanted to become and do from earlier years they may no longer want to become…from a doctor to a teacher, from a lawyer to a police offices, from an engineer to a musician.

And then there’s the climb to high school’s challenges — hormones, peers, carving of age-appropriate, stubborn independence leading to a power struggle. The senior year in itself ages a family unit by decades with these options to decide on: College? Scholarships? Hiatus? Travel?

parent-controls-1

What had begun as a sweet, idealized bonding moment picture of what the future was going to look like between a parent and a young child transforms into momenta stressors that sometimes families never recover from. Children become estranged either physically or emotionally from parents whose messages to them can either be too strongly delivered, or the exact opposite, too softly said.

And thus the parent-child dynamic evolves from a hurricane of dreams, responsibilities, and cultures. The Parental Mind is lent to the child and never lets go, unfortunately for the child. How many of us hear our parents’ positive and negative voices in our heads? That is their endowment to their children, apart from genetics and biology. Temperament in children are based off of the endowment, the complete package from the home that they subconsciously bring with them.

The Children’s Mind starts off self-centered and then self-actualizing; first to survive and second, to be heard. There is a subtle difference in generational stages according to developmental psychology as everyone ages toward the same age, and roles are mostly dependent on the modern societies that surround the research studies (mainly civilizations that have broken into the digital age). Then their minds begin a diverse, cross-cultural adventure and begin experiments that an adult, parental mind would find objectionable and abhor to, albeit forgetting that they too had some intense experimentation in their heyday.

Whatever decisions the Children’s Mind stores in its memory bank are repeated over time; whether they were borrowed from the Parental Mind or made repelling it. Their ownership of the decision becomes owned by them and molds their identity firmly with every repetition. Sometimes, these repetitive decisions lead them to the expected, structured life after school — the 9-5 job, the car, the apartment and so on. Occasionally, these decisions catapult them to extraordinary directions, from zero to one-eighty simply by creating, reacting, doing what it is that drives them.

And there are those stuck in the middle of the two worlds. Parental Minds often label these states as lazy, discontented, underperforming, and the common underachieving the potential. Children’s Minds have the flexibility of potential and possibility however when the message from the overarching, stronger parental voice, the rigidity is easily adapted and the confusion is clear in work, play and with their personal relationships. Confusion can be released as violence, oftentimes it can be cyclothymic mood swings. Those of us outside this dual mindset can only interpret from the objectivity of a third-party: maybe it’s just the child’s nature to be reactive than proactive and they need to learn to control themselves. Period.Hard Yes and Easy No

As observers however, we too have as much responsibility as the Parental Mind to take care with what messages we tend to impart with our body language, our emotional responses, our words, and our unintended non-verbal insinuations. There is a tendency for judgment to be drawn in the sand line with our interactions with them, and no matter what the age the Child is, the mind remembers everything even when language has no access to the memory. We all have been there…a name, a place, an unsettling situation once experienced is brought up from years ago.  Suddenly, this transports us to the familiar pangs of what could only be described as an uncomfortable, painful embarrassment that feeling is still around. The point of aging and moving through the stages of development is mainly TO DEVELOP, however we seem to be masters of reaching back in repression due to our own Child’s Mind and repetition of formative (toxic or otherwise) decisions.

Part of the decision-making cycle from Parent to Child is the reminder of responsibility, often to the point of being afraid to create a life. Ever wondered why it is easier for some to switch careers cold turkey while it is paralyzing for others? Citing the experts, the preschool exposure to multiple failing situations and allowing children to emancipate themselves from such situations lead to resilience in the attitude toward failure. Parenting the parent by reminding them of how they were once children requires practice and a humility in declaring that they do not know  everything, and that is more than ok.

pgWhat of the Child to Parent Mind? That is the abyss. The Child’s Mind remind the Parental Mind of their accomplishments and their inadequacies. They show which of the previous two is driving the voice of the Parental Mind:  the overachiever or the Passing the Inadequacy Torch (AKA Live my dreams for me because you can). With just enough checked boxes in their driver’s seat, balancing the driving shifts is not just challenging. It can be plain impossible. Using the digital age as the backdrop of this scenario, the Parental Mind is also juggling with financial, marital and social expectations that have certain ceilings. Anything placed on top of that, a nuclear explosion from within will reverberate past the Children’s Mind —  to immediate communities and societies as far as the digital age can reach.

Only then is reflection and quiet made mandatory, in hindsight, instead of while there is time for the mind to shift consciousness when confronted with the hardest YES and the Easiest NO.

An Anti-Prescription to Learned Helplessness

“The defining characteristic of pessimists is that they tend to believe that bad events will last a long time, will undermine everything they do, and are their own fault. The optimists, who are confronted with the same hard knocks of this world, think about misfortune in the opposite way. They tend to believe that defeat is just a temporary setback or a challenge, that its causes are just confined to this one case.” – Martin Seligman, Learned Optimism, 1991.

So true. But even before one becomes a pessimist, or an optimist for that matter, there is that tiny voice at the back of everyone’s consciousness reminding them of how imperfect they are. The incessant reminder that the laundry list of things to do is so far and wide, and that urgency is of utmost priority or else the consequences will be disastrous. It is the inevitable consistent pundit making Twitter-type remarks even when things are going well….the what-to-do-if-this-happens voice so preoccupied by what hasn’t or may not happen in the first place.

This is the sense of what we will coin here as negative classical conditioning, as part of an already established habit loop of past experiences and trauma that have turned into inadvertent never agains. Some of the conditioning may be so severe that one exposure to the stimuli would be enough for permanent negative response. For example, someone who had experienced drowning in open water one time in their life may prevent them from swimming in any similar context. Or one who has been bitten by a dog unexpectedly may not only choose not to own a dog but also possibly freeze when confronted with one on the street.

The Professionals LH Excuses

And there are those of course who are flooded by certain aspects of negative classical conditioning all day at either at home or at work that what had started as a tiny voice inside the head balloons into a faux déjà vu: a repetition of servitude behavior because the only option available seems to be submission. A horrible boss who reminds you of how slow or inefficient you are to be worth the use of company resources, or a teacher at every meeting being reminded constantly about all the things they do wrong and never acknowledged for the things that have been accomplished correctly.

Let’s just say for argument’s sake that there is an ‘out’ of the negative classical conditioning that is happening, what do you think would happen? If an escape was made possible and created clearly and sincerely so one would not have to ever be subjected to the consequences again, would they take it?

Chances are, probably not. After a multitude of exposures to such conditions, a person’s mindset will end up adapting and not resisting what was unnatural to their make-up or to their consciousness. They would have crossed over to the level of Learned Helplessness.

Learned helplessness occurs when a person is repeatedly subjected to an aversive stimulus that he/she cannot escape. Eventually, the person will stop trying to avoid or negotiate the stimulus and behave in a manner that is utterly helpless to change their situation. When people feel that they have no control over their situation, they may also begin to behave in a helpless manner. This inaction can lead people to overlook opportunities for relief or change. Even when opportunities to escape are presented, this learned helplessness will prevent any further action or reaction.

Societal Learned Helplessness

The concept of learned helplessness was discovered fortuitously by psychologists Martin Seligman and Steven F. Maier. Initially, they had observed helpless behavior in dogs that were classically conditioned to expect an electrical shock after hearing a tone. Later on in their experiment, the dogs were placed in a shuttlebox that contained two chambers separated by a low barrier. The floor was electrified on one side, and not on the other. The dogs previously subjected to the classical conditioning made no attempts to escape, even though avoiding the shock simply involved jumping over a low barrier.

In order to further investigate this phenomenon, the researchers then did a follow up to the first experiment. They utilized three groups of dogs instead of just one. In group one, the dogs were strapped into harnesses for a period of time and then released. The dogs in the second group were placed in the same harnesses, however were subjected to electrical shocks that could be stopped by pressing a panel with their noses. The third group received the same shocks as those in group two, except that those in this group were not able to control the duration of the shock. It seemed for those dogs in the third group, the shocks were completely random and outside of their control.

Later on, the dogs were then placed in a shuttlebox from the first experiment. Dogs from the first and second group quickly learned that jumping the barrier eliminated the shock. Those from the third group, however, made no attempts to get away from the shocks in spite seeing the low barrier. The researchers concluded from both experiments that due to their previous experience, the dogs from the third group had developed a cognitive expectation that nothing they did would prevent or eliminate the shocks. (Seligman & Maier, 1967).

The Educator-Learner LH Cycle
The Educator-Learner LH Cycle

Thus it would be safe to say in education, this happens on both sides of the fence — on the educator side and on the learner side. The student who has had a negative condition from previous Math testing experiences will think, “No matter how hard I study for this test, I’ll always get a bad grade. Or a teacher who feels that there’s always struggles with the ability to enhance positive behaviors in the class he or she is assigned to be with during a transition would say, “Here it is again, the transition of this class, which I am never able to do right!” For either case, the thoughts are loud and constant that there is no escaping their destructive spiral; into anxiety, panic, cortisol, and the increase in the ACh neurotransmitter firing that ‘active’ thinking is now abandoned to reflexive autopiloting.

It is alarming, this phenomenon. While the educational system continues to evolve in whatever direction the wind blows, there are people who get so overwhelmed by the basic, the core tenets of connecting a teacher and a student via an education that the destination from the first day to the last day of school is daily battleground of repetitive mantra — usually leaning toward what is always being done wrong. Simultaneous to this interaction, there is an attempt at instruction geared at driving the students, no better yet, herding them towards the standards even as they may have needs for scaffolding, modified instruction, and/or a slew of other accommodations that may or may not warrant an Individualized Education Plan.

Is there then a solution?

Many have offered suggestions in the small victories and positive classical conditioning to reinforce the opposite of learned helplessness. This requires however a systemic change in the way of thinking from the internal classroom, to a hallway, to a school campus, to community school campuses, to city-wide school campuses and so on. Like anything else, it starts with ONE. ONE thought, and ONE person to power back up and participate in their own decision making processes again.

This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell, my blessing season this in thee!

William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Love with the Brain, the Mind and the Body

Sitting at a table at Tillie’s, my favorite, independent Brooklyn café, I find myself easily distracted. The people are much more interesting to watch than my work is to complete. A guy of about 23 years walks in. He’s nearly 6 feet tall, very thing, longer, thick wavy dark hair—in a word attractive. I decide to watch him. What is his story? Does he go to school? He orders a large Raspberry Iced-Tea…or I assume that’s what he’s ordered because it looks exactly like mine, and that is what I ordered. He takes out his phone and fiddles with it. Boring. I got back to my work. About thirty minutes later, a girl walks in. Tall, dark olive skin, black long straight hair, very thin—in a word attractive. She is carrying a medium size white bag, most likely with food in it. He looks up and tries very hard to hide the smile the smile that is growing inside of him at the sight of HER, her walking through the door weaving among the chairs toward HIM. She hands him the bag and sits down in one swift smooth motion, maybe she’s a dancer, She, too, cannot hide the smile. The bag is more than a bag, perhaps an expression of love. She leaves to get something to drink. He immediately opens the bag and pulls out a small note—filled front and back—about the size of post-it—the smile trying so hard to stay hidden returns. He reads the note, more in lover with her than ever.

Love. Almost as essential as breathing. Why? Because love is ubiquitous. People love with their entire self: their brains, their minds, their bodies; No one loves with just their hearts.

According to Helen Fisher at Rutgers University, there are 3 stages; lust, attraction, and attachment. Robert Sternberg proposes a similar idea: the love triangle. The love triad includes: intimacy, commitment and passion, which Sternberg demonstrates is found in the seven different types of love determined by the power of each point of the triad:

1. Consummate: highest level of level, equal presence of intimacy, commitment and passion

2. Infatuated: Includes only passion

3. Fatuous: Includes equal amounts of passion and commitment

4. Empty: Includes only commitment

5. Companionate: Includes intimacy and commitment

6. Romantic: Includes intimacy and passion

7. Liking/friendship: Includes only intimacy

However, each researcher’s theory on love show the impact of love on they brain, the mind and the body.

The Brain on Love

Love literally changes our brain.

The brain on love is akin to the brain on drugs given the release of hormones that occur especially in Helen Fisher’s second stage of love: Attraction. In this is stage, greater than normal levels of dopamine are released in the brain. Dopamine release triggers the reward and pleasure center in the brain; the same chemical released when using cocaine. In addition, to dopamine, many other neurotransmitters and/or hormones are released: cortisol, serotonin, norepinephrine, oxytocin, and vasopressin. The release of these neurotransmitters are literally changing the wiring and firing of the neurons. Therein, changing the brain, which changes the mind and the body. In Sternberg’s love triad, commitment, the active decision to stay in the relationship, represents the brain. A connection to people’s evolved pre-frontal cortex and executive function skills such as goal-directed  or task-directed persistence. Loving only with the mind would be considered empty love according to Sternberg.

The Mind on Love

The mind on love leads to sharing, trust, and intimacy.
The mind on love leads to sharing, trust, and intimacy.

The mind on love is a result of the release of serotonin. Helen Fisher found that serotonin is responsible for the inability of one to stop thinking about his or her partner and the rose-colored glasses effect. The ability to see the object of affection as more desirable and the relationship as more unique than others. This can be equated to intimacy on Sternberg’s love triangle. Dr. Arthur Aron demonstrated the ability to create intimacy even within a lab setting when complete strangers were paired with one another and given approximately 45 minutes to discuss 36 questions. After the discussion participants were asked to look into each other’s eyes for 4 minutes without speaking. Two participants after this experiment ended up married. According to Sternberg, intimacy is critical in many types of love including: consummate, companionate, romantic and liking/friendship. Intimacy represents the mind on love because it has the ability to occur despite the absence of an end-goal or physical attraction.

The Body on Love

The Body on love is felt by the heart.
The Body on love is felt by the heart.

This is the most common reference to love because people associate love with their hearts. Indeed, loving another person involves a change in heart-rate. However, this due to the release of cortisol and norepinephrine. Yet, the bodily changes, which cue people to the fact that they are experiencing a strong and separate emotion from those on a daily basis is the most easily identifiable because it involves the body. According to Helen Fisher, body love is the first stage of love: lust. It leads to the other stages taking place. Dr. Aron, found that it takes only 90 seconds to determine if someone finds another attractive. The body on love associated with romantic love or what is perceived to be romantic love, but may in fact include: consummate, infatuated or fatuous types of love.

One does not fall ‘in’ or ‘out’ of love One grows in love. ~ Leo buscaglia

 

Regardless of how love is categorized, labeled, or defined, the experience of love, regardless of type is unique to very. Love is universally acknowledge, felt and expressed. The great equalizer so to speak; given the uncontrollable impact it has on the brain it can make the most eloquent speaker a mumbling mess or turn the introverted intellect into a dashing diva. Fall…leap…sneak…grow love in whatever form. Love is meant to be experienced with the brain, the body and the mind…not just the heart.

Celebrate. Love. Everyday.

The Rollercoaster Ride That is Tolerance (Including Frustration)

The act of being able to tolerate, or imbibe tolerance historically has never been easy to carry over. Either it be willingness to accept feelings, habits, or beliefs that are different from your own definition or the the ability to accept, experience, or survive something harmful or unpleasant definition, there are no guarantees of progressive thoughts of tolerance making formulaic and consistent headway (however having laws in place to guide tolerance in society does help).

Dr. WIlliam Glasser, MD posited ten axioms on human behavior called Choice Theory. The axioms are:

  1. The only person whose behavior we can control is our own.
  2. All we can give another person is information.
  3. All long-lasting psychological problems are relationship problems.
  4. The problem relationship is always part of our present life.
  5. What happened in the past has everything to do with what we are today, but we can only satisfy our basic needs right now and plan to continue satisfying them in the future.
  6. We can only satisfy our needs by satisfying the pictures in our Quality World.
  7. All we do is behave.
  8. All behavior is Total Behavior and is made up of four components: acting, thinking, feeling and physiology.
  9. All Total Behavior is chosen, but we only have direct control over the acting and thinking components. We can only control our feeling and physiology indirectly through how we choose to act and think.
  10. All Total Behavior is designated by verbs and named by the part that is the most recognizable.
What the Daily Grind Can Look Like
What the Daily Grind Can Look Like

Based on these, there is then no cookie-cutter, logical explanation to the rise in overall intra and interpersonal disharmony due to intolerance…unless we consider tracing the frustration explosion phenomena to axiom number 3: ALL LONG-LASTING PSYCHOLOGICAL PROBLEMS ARE RELATIONSHIP PROBLEMS. The inability to communicate one’s thoughts and be heard, the ability to differentiate between being assertive and aggressive, and to tie one’s rights over other’s personal space all blurring the lines of the collective unconscious which is present a form of the unconscious (part of the mind Dr.Carl Jung proposed contained memories and impulses of which the individual is not aware) common to mankind and originating in the inherited structure of the brain.

What then if the collective unconscious has been relegated to crevices of mini mental villages and worlds as the highly technological world is creating biological changes in the apportions of appendages (e.g. functions of the thumb due to device usage) and dysregulated exposure to speed and graphics?

Choice Theory also says in axiom 7: All we do is behave. Behavior is situation and environmentally dependent, a thrive and strive response with surviving as the initial aim and contributing as the end goal. If one is not equipped with the tools to compete in the circles that are surrounding him or her, there is the tendency to withdraw, the flight, fight and freeze phenomenon courtesy of the cerebral Acetylcholine (Ach) all to preserve one’s sanity and self. Behavior is an output, both genuine and malicious. If however there is an aberration of brain function, behavior will also mirror the bizarre processes; the anticipation of learned helplessness via anger or hurt habituates the brain into assuming this is the ‘normal’ state of being.

We don’t need to go to extremes however to be in learned helplessness — being in a job that is meaningless, a relationship that is not working, difficulties with parents or with children — all daily, common struggles experienced by us which push and pull stressors in one’s coping mechanisms. And our eventual responses can range from being on the high frustration tolerance (HFT) or low frustration tolerance (LFT), as per Dr. Windy Dryden, a leading Cognitive Behavior Therapist (CBT) in the United Kingdom.

He says that high frustration tolerance beliefs are rational in that they are again primarily flexible and not grossly exaggerated. These beliefs are expressed in their full form, thus: ‘Failing my college exam would be difficult to tolerate, but I could stand it’. The stronger a person’s unmet preference, the more difficult it would be for her to tolerate this situation, but if the person holds an HFT belief it would still be tolerable. That would mean an HFT belief is consistent with reality, and is logical since it again makes sense in the context of the person’s preference. It is like a preference and an anti-awfulizing belief. Overall, it is constructive since it will help the person take effective action if the negative event that is being faced can be changed and it will encourage the person to make a healthy adjustment if the situation cannot be changed. HFT displays often are celebrated in Olympians, in academicians, or in service above and beyond required expectations of job descriptions.

Low frustration tolerance beliefs, on the other hand, are irrational in the sense that they are first and foremost grossly exaggerated. They are couched in such statements as ‘I can’t stand it. ‘I can’t bear it., ‘It’s intolerable. When a person has a low frustration tolerance belief, it means one of two things: (i) the person will disintegrate or (ii) the person will never experience any happiness again. Since these two statements are obviously untrue, an LFT belief is inconsistent with reality.

Even Dogs Do It....
Even Dogs Do It….

It is also illogical since it is a nonsensical conclusion from the person’s implicit rational belief (e.g. ‘Because it would be very bad if I failed my college exam, I couldn’t stand it if I did fail’). Finally, like musts and awfulizing beliefs, it is unconstructive since it will interfere with the person taking effective action if the negative event that the person is facing can be changed and it will stop the person from making a healthy adjustment if the situation cannot be changed. Extreme examples of LFT displays end up in news headlines: aggression by the bullied, the angry, the fundamentalists.

If we brought these concepts of frustration to Education, we would refer to a recent graduate study by April Vian in 2012 from Kaplan University that looked at,  “Teacher Frustration Tolerance and Disruptive Behavior of Special Education Students.” Teachers completed the Munich Personality Test with its measure of general frustration tolerance and a survey designed for this study of frustration tolerance for special education students. Results demonstrated negative correlations between teachers’ general frustration tolerance and numbers of student discipline incidents among both general and special education children. Results also indicated that teachers found specific disabilities to be more frustrating than others and that frustration tolerance of certain disabilities may predict numbers of discipline incidents for these children.

Ultimately, the direction of the correlation was the inverse, with teachers having the greatest frustration tolerance for special education students also evidencing the greatest numbers of discipline incidents among these students. Among several explanations considered by the researcher, it was suggested that the school administrator in the facility where this study occurred was aware of teachers’ with high levels of frustration tolerance for special education students and thus assigned the most difficult students to these teachers. These lead teachers to have the greatest number of associated discipline incidents among special education students.

Knowing how neurotransmitters are affected by bodily and emotional processes, it is then no surprise that levels of frustration can be influenced by these as well. As the focus in brain training is on strengthening the Pre-Frontal Cortex and Executive Functioning Skills, there also needs to be a heightened awareness for the environmental expectations to not demand more than what the developmental brain can muster, including in ourselves. Irrational beliefs usually stem from irrational or negative emotions that have been learned over time, over habitual exposure to situations that an individual deems impossible to control or comprehend, natural or society-caused.

Humor Always Helps
Humor Always Helps

The Mental Ability to Always Hope: Priceless

As there is the promise still of a new beginning,  a do-over in the resetting of the previous year, that uplifting feeling and positivity can collectively be described as Hope. Hope is not necessarily the same for everyone; however, at some point every person in the world has experienced the internal dialogue and introspection and pushed the positive thoughts out into the universe hoping on hope. And maybe a mantra some of us call prayer.

From a brain perspective,  hope  is activated and is influenced from the  neurotransmitter Dopamine.

The two specific receptors we will focus on here are D1 and D2 receptors. These receptors assist in the faciitation of the sense of well-being, which we label as hope. These have been implicated, along with oxytocin receptors, in both the maintenance and formation of social pair bonds, respectively. The density of these receptors in an area of the brain called the nucleus accumbens plays an important role in both mating and social bonds. The D2 type receptor is necessary to initially form the pair bond between two monogamous animals.

Hope then based on this study is not only a singular experience,  or a personal experience.  Rather, it’s a  collective biological, mindful collective unconscious that connects from the youngest child to the oldest human.

A study that supports the social aspect of hope was one on primates conducted by Morgan et. al., 2002, Nature Neuroscience. They had singly housed monkey brains scanned for D2 binding capacity (n = 20). Then,  the primates were allowed out of their individual cages for the first time so all the animals were now together, which meant there was an opportunity to create a social hierarchy.

After a stable hierarchy was formed the researchers re-scanned the primates brains. The high ranking animals D2 binding capacity increased by approximately 20% (the authors believe based on rat studies that singly housed animals have a lower than normal D2 levels at baseline, and therefore suggests that falling lower in the social hierarchy would cause a reduction in D2 levels if the animals start at a ‘normal’ baseline), however D2 levels in the low ranking individuals did not change.

In order too see if the changes in D2 levels had a functional effect in these animals, they  offered the addictive drug cocaine to the animals.

The high ranking animals with high D2 levels were resistant to addiction while the low ranking animals with low D2 levels were more  susceptible to addiction. These results are consistent with a large body of additional research that find low D2 levels is related with higher addiction rate.

Can one then be addicted to the feeling of hope or the idea of it?  Can it be strong enough to actually influence the consciousness of one’s mind?

Not directly seems to be the response from the scientific community. Without an external supplement to the dopamine such as cocaine, maintaining the sense of hope to a point of addiction is controlled by the D1-D2 synaptic dance.  The brains ability of course to regulate and maintain biological boundaries.

Efforts to investigate dopamine’s role in addiction and normal biological processes have been complicated by the fact that the nervous system contains multiple kinds of receptor molecules for dopamine as well as different types of nerve cells that use dopamine.

“Research in humans and other species has shown that increased vulnerability to drug addiction correlates with reduced availability of D2 dopamine receptors in a brain region called the striatum,” explains David M. Lovinger, Ph.D., chief of NIAAA’s Laboratory for Integrative Neuroscience. “Furthermore, healthy non-drug-abusing humans that have low levels of the D2 dopamine receptor report more pleasant experiences when taking drugs of abuse.”

On another front,  Quantum mechanics has determined that if you think it, it is.  The thought of hope and the end product of hope are one and the same.

Quantum physics specifically states in the act of observing an object (events, conditions and circumstances) the cause for the thought to be there and the outcome is based only on how we observe it. An object or thought cannot and does not exist independently of its observer.

The Quantum Field is an “Infinite” field of potential. Anything and everything that has, does or will exist, begins as a wave in this field and is transformed into the physical realm, limited only by what can be conceived as truth by the observer.

Following this line of thinking,  one can only hope for an experience that is being craved or an object that has not yet been retrieved.  All within the realm of the subjective experience of what hope looks like to one person: from positive to hope-imagenegative hopes. Antithetical as this may sound,  there’s a reality out there for negative hopes.

That would be best explained with a philosophy of thought called the Theory of Mind.

This theory has roots in philosophy, particularly in the groundwork for a science of the mind laid down by René Descartes (1596–1650). The Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget (1896– 1980) suggested that before the age of 3 or 4 egocentrism prevents children from understanding that other people’s thoughts and viewpoints may differ from their own. And in 1978 Nicholas Humphrey proposed that introspective consciousness has a specific function as it enables social animals to predict each other’s behavior.

Theory of mind is a theory as it is believed one’s mind is not directly observable. The presumption that others have a mind is because each human can only intuit the existence of his/her own mind through introspection, and no one has direct access to the mind of another. It is typically assumed that others have minds by analogy with one’s own, and this assumption is based on the reciprocal nature of social interaction, as observed in joint attention, the functional use of language, and understanding of others’ emotions and actions. Having a theory of mind allows one to attribute thoughts, desires, and intentions to others, to predict or explain their actions, and to posit their intentions.

Without a mind, one would either have negative or no hopes. Someone with a theory of mind (ToM) impairment would be someone having difficulty with perspective taking. This is also sometimes referred to as mind-blindness. This means that individuals with a ToM impairment would have a hard time seeing things from any other perspective than their own. Individuals who experience a theory of mind deficit have difficulty determining the intentions of others, lack understanding of how their behavior affects others, and have a difficult time with social reciprocity.

In the end,  no matter which of these you adhere to, the ability to hope is a truly human faculty. Hopefully if will be one hopeful year for those of you with priceless hope.

Change Your Brain; Change your Life and Keep Your New Year’s Resolution

Is your new year a blank canvas…

With the end of 2014 looming near, and 2015 appearing like a beautiful blank canvas, or dark vacuous black hole, regardless of perspective, resolutions for the new year always emerge. It may be to brush them off and refuse to make even one or to enter the new year with a list of 10 fully intent on keeping every one. Even with the best of intentions, resolutions are difficult to keep because change is hard. It may help to understand why change is so difficult, then steps can be taken in order to counter the brain’s resistance to change and perhaps the realistic resolutions on that list of 10 can be kept.

or a black hole?

It’s now common knowledge that  brains are plastic and have the ability to change. This change is called neuroplasticity Dr. Doidge explains in his book The Brain that Changes Itself that scientists began seeing “if certain ‘parts’ [of the brain] failed, then other parts could sometimes take over.” However, neuroplasticity not only plays a role when areas in the brain are damaged. It is essentially the basis of all hardwired habits: good and bad. The common phrase reads: neurons that fire together wire together. That wiring together forms the near unconscious behavior that often leads to self admonishment or accolades: the mindless hand movement to eat one more fry, even after feeling full, the compulsory turning off the alarm clock to sleep for 9 more minutes, the turning to go to the gym, even after a 10 hour work day, or the grabbing a bottle of water instead of soda when thirst calls.   Therefore, unwiring or unlearning the bad habits and rewiring the good habits will be the ticket to the annual question: How long before the New Year’s Resolution is broken?  A day? A week? Two weeks?  Use the principles of neuroplasticity, and the Charles Duhigg’s Habit Loop and the response may be 12 months, 2 years, forever.

Charles Dughigg’s Habit Loop

Step 1. Identify a craving; this is essentially the reward.

Step 2. Create or uncover a cue, which will lead to Step 3.

Step 3. Establish or change or a routine so the craving/reward is met.

Charles Duhigg calls this The Habit Loop: Cue, Routine, Reward.  When completed consistently over time, neuroplasticity is the result. The neurons firing together during this three-step process, become wired together and the ‘habit’ becomes automatic. The length of time for a new habit to become just that is dependent upon the source. Decades ago, people misinterpreted Dr. Maltz’s 21 days, which has become the most common number, others say repeat a behavior like working out 10 days in a row and it will become a habit. Charles Duhigg stated that his new habit took a few weeks; however he took many weeks to identify the source, test out new routines and so on. Overall, these numbers are a bit liberal. Phillippa Lally at the University of College London, found that it took anywhere from 18 days to 254 days to form a new habit. The average length of time was 66 days for the behavior to become automatic.  Additionally, it was noted that missing a day or two throughout did not negatively impact the formation of a new behavior. What did affect the time to habituate a behavior was the complexity of the behavior, the behavior of the person and additional environmental circumstances.

Going back to New Year’s Resolutions, begin by identifying the bad habits to kick this year or the good habits to begin. That bad habit or good habit is the routine. In order to change that routine, the reward needs to be identified. For example, smoking is a routine; the reward could be socializing with coworkers during a cigarette break,

New Year’s Resolutions are habits in disguise.

taking a break from the job, relaxing. According to Charles Duhigg, it may take some experimenting in order to identify the reward, pick 2-3 possibilities to try. Next find the cue. When does the habit kick in? Is it a specific time? Event? Person? After the cue is identified replace new routines that address the hypothesized reason for the ‘bad habit.’ Afterward, determine if the reward or craving achieved by the bad habit has been achieved with the good one. If so, keep trying it out for a few weeks; if not, try another new routine until the reward has been met.

Once the new routine is ready; a new habit can be formed and the 66, 18 or 254 days or some number in between can begin. Remember, a few missed days here and there does not equate with failure or having to start over.  The brain is plastic and just as neurons take time to wire together, they take time to unwire. Given this information, Charles Duhigg’s few weeks is in fact possible, just not common.

Keeping your New Year’s Resolutions is changing your brain, which can change your life. Deciding to change and taking that first step is the most challenging. People often pick the first day of the New Year to begin, but it is never too early or too late to change. The brain is after all plastic and will change at anytime when the effort is put in. Hopefully that cliché has a little more clarity and the first step will lead to 65 more.

What brain changes will you make this year?

Happy 2015! Here’s to a New Year and a New You.

Really Siri(us) Consciousness

With the invention of instantaneous answers through the swipe of a finger, a press of a button and a question, “Hey Siri… or “Hey Cortana… Who was the the little kid actor in The Never Ending Story?” or “What is happiness?” The act of thinking seems to take a backseat to the final destination of an answer. During this digital age, delayed gratification or the desire to experience the satisfaction of recollection has essentially been lost. While quickly seeking answers to simple questions may not be the beginning of the end, it seems plausible that electronic ‘personal assistants’ who refer to their owners as BFFs (yet can’t define it) will be answering questions like “What is the meaning of life?” or “What is the difference between right and wrong?” in a non-ironic way.

mind vs phone
What can the human mind do that a smartphone can’t?

Examples of consciousness happen nearly everyday, from the person who holds the door open for a stranger or gives up their seat on a crowded train to the thousands of people who protest for justice. The brain is an organ that can be worked out like a muscle and retrained to fall out of unhealthy habits like going to bed too late and into new ones like waking up early to work out. But what is consciousness?  To date, neuroscientists are still seeking to answer this question with little definitive results. Can it be programmed?

No, not yet anyway. Abstract thought coupled with spontaneous, altruistic action still belong to those with a beating heart and a conscious mind. But perhaps it is time to put down the phone, still the fingers and stop and think or ask a friend, rather then Siri, Google or Cortana, for the best restaurant in the city or the name of the song that played at the end of Princess Bride. Perhaps a few seconds or minutes will be lost waiting for an answer, but  connection–with another conscious–will be gained. Because, even though Siri often says it’s not about her. It’s not because she is being a BFF; it’s because there is no ‘conscious’ her. The conscious are the quiet girl at the coffee shop; the happy go lucky child on the swing, the misunderstood homeless man on the subway train or the real BFF who sometimes needs it to be about her as much as it isn’t. It is time for people to look up, open their mouths and speak. It may even be surprising what consciousness has to say.

Sustaining Holiday-esque Happiness Day After Day

The momentum to the last few days the end of the year can only be described as lightning speed. The quick high from lights and decorations everywhere you turn, reasons to be giving and forgiving (including to one’s self), and the songs overplayed and remixed in ways they shouldn’t be are all reminders that the end of the year is going to be here before you know it.

There are those of us who dread the end of the year for the excess, the commercialism, the lack of potentially peaceful relative gatherings, or worse, the dreaded office holiday party with several colleagues one is challenged tolerating every work day.  On a darker note, there are those who are in the constant state of loneliness throughout the year and this bright, loud, and extra hustled time of year pushes their fragile states even further inward, to a place of no physical return in some cases.

The recognizable flicker of your consciousness is about to commence...
The recognizable flicker of your consciousness is about to commence…

Now, stop. Just pause, and stop. There is silence if you don’t try too hard to listen for it. The world can move quickly and hurriedly around you but you are STILL. Just for 2 seconds, then 4, then 8…count up in two’s till you get to 12 and then, exhale to a smile.

You just gave yourself enough mind time to release whatever minuscule irritation, immaterial worry, or insane task load  that was pushing your brain to the brink of emotional amygdala detachment. Do you need another one? Repeat…stop, just pause and stop. Be still for 2 seconds, then 4, then 8…count up in two’s till you get to 12 and then, exhale to a smile.

Be personal to yourself. Make mental notes to yourself as you lift your own consciousness from the recesses of living. Write yourself an air note of happy holidays and great next years, and have resolutions that resolve in minutes and not months. You’d be surprised how much more realistic these promises to yourself as your own person can be.

Branch the material with the immaterial…how did you get here to the end of the year in the first place? Flashback key moments of the year, happy, sad, angry, moments of triumph and heartbreak — those pathways lead you to the very place you are standing in right now.

Reach in, dive in. You aren’t done yet, many compartments of your consciousness are resurfacing. Just because you haven’t seen them before or are seeing them again for the first time in a long time doesn’t make them non-existent. Set them free, 2 seconds at a time, 4, 6, till you get to 12.

Happy holidays have just planted themselves in your consciousness…you took time for yourself just now. Thank you to you. Now resume life a little bit lighter than when you began.