70% Mind Wandering: Who’s in Charge?

“Researchers in the United States have investigated mind wandering….the volunteers reported mind wandering 70% of the time.”*

Scientists may refer to it as ‘stimulus independent’ or ‘default network’ thinking. Mindfulness tutors may liken the wandering mind to a bunch of drunken monkeys, or a 2-year-old who is winning and wreaking havoc all over the house. Whatever we call it, we do it a lot. In this study of simulated driving* the mind wandered a whopping 70% of the time, a lot of the time without people even realizing it. It’s like dreaming our lives away; daydreaming, as it is sometimes called.

So who’s in charge here? Shouldn’t it be us? It’s not like the mind is bad. Just needs some discipline. After all, mind wandering can be a very nice break from the stresses of the day, and can make good space for planning and creativity that more intense focus on a task cannot. In this way, some amount of daydreaming can make us more, not less, productive than we might otherwise be.

Too often, though, the mind wanders off on a fool’s errand to resolve the unresolved (unresolvable?) whatever it is…in our past, present, future. When this happens then we are worrying and wasting our time. Shoulda Woulda Coulda’s in the past. What If’s in the future. What Now’s in the present. Brain drainers. So what can we do? A few things

Is There Something To Be Done Here? When regrets about the past, worries about the future, or complaints about the present intrude, it can be useful to ask this question about the thing we are thinking: Is there something to be one here? Sometimes the answer is Yes but not by you, or not right now. Then you can make a plan to delegate whatever is needed or do it later yourself. Sometimes the answer is Yes by you right now, as in, car coming get out of the way! And sometimes the answer is a flat No, either because you or someone else has already done it, or there really was nothing to be done – so we can just let it go.  My clients have used this one well;** particularly useful for What Now complaints about a job s/he knows to be the right job for right now but maybe not forever. Is there something to be done here? Yeah, focus on the task that is before us. Do good work now, and see how much happier that can make us. And make a date with self, for a later time, to honor any discontent and plan the where to from here, if we still want one.

Make it Happen. If it’s hard to let things go even if we know there is nothing to be done, let’s say it is the right job just not as perfect as we’d hoped, then we can set aside a certain amount of time at a regular time each day dedicated to regret, worry, or complaint. What we resist persists, so some recommend letting the mind have its way like this for a period of time each day, to help ease it away (‘til it comes back anyway).

Pleasant Dreams. What if it’s not even regrets, complaints, or worries? What if it’s pleasant thoughts that take the mind away from what you are doing or supposed to be doing in the present moment. You know what to do. Same Same. Go back to #1 or #2 or something else you might devise. Distractions are distractions no matter how pleasant. There is a time and a place for everything. And there is a whole lot of productivity and real happiness in our focus on the task before us when it is the right time for that.

Practice, Practice, Practice…and See What Happens.

For help with this or something else, or to let me know what you think, Contact Me at:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:   202-617-0821

* Mind wandering is common during driving. August 31, 2017 in Medicine & Health / Psychology & Psychiatry.  https://medicalxpress.com/news/2017-08-mind-common.html

** Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.

 

 

What’s So Great About Giving?

The researchers found that brain activity associated with happiness, along with self-reported happiness, increased simply after making a commitment to be generous to others. Happiness and happiness-related brain activity also went up when actually giving, the research team found, and left givers in a happier overall state than those who acted selfishly. Interestingly, relatively small acts of giving gave rise to just as big a happiness bump as bigger acts, the investigators said.*

Have you ever noticed how incredible it can feel to give? I have…years ago when I was drilling nails to build a child’s bedroom with Habitat for Humanity, a bedroom that kid might not have otherwise had. Not sure whether these Swiss researchers looked into how long the happiness bump lasts, but I can tell you mine has been around for decades. Every time I think of it I get that rush.

So they are right about just the thought of it. It will be a few weeks before my hospice volunteer work actually begins and, here again, just the thought of giving to another that way makes me feel good all over.

The ‘feel good all over’ that goes off in the brain when we give encourages us to do more of it, just like eating and, well you know, feel good to encourage us to do more of that too. Back in the day reputation mattered. Still does. It is speculated that givers appeared more trustworthy than takers, resulting in greater control over resources (or at least access to food and safety) with which to survive and to thrive. Doing well by doing good is what we would call it today.

We all want to be seen as good, and we feel happy when we are. In my Organizational Politics workshop, virtually every participant peeled down on our 5 Why’s exercise to being fundamentally driven by a deep desire to be seen as a good person. Makes us feel good.

Yeh but…what if the giving is obviously to get. What if, let’s say, a husband is stingy with his wife where no one can see, but an uber generous big tipper, big donator out in the world where everyone can. Or what if a woman sits on a variety of non profit boards, but is rarely home for her children, and rude to her employees. More about ‘looking good’ than being and doing good we might say.

Maybe you know people like this. And maybe you don’t like them, so not sure about the happiness bump for them. In fact, one such person** told me that, despite his most generous public persona, deep down he felt like a “wretched soul.” So the self cannot be fooled for long. Even if everyone else can, no real happiness for him.

Another woman I know** said she believes people only feel like giving when they are already happy, as in cup runneth over, so why not. To this I added my own yeh but…telling her what she said makes sense too but, if the research is right on what’s so great about giving, isn’t when we are feeling down a really great time to give. Look at all the happiness we can kick into motion for ourselves and others to help make the world we live in a better place.

She thanked me for this, which brings us to gratitude. There is plenty of research linking gratitude and happiness. And what is gratitude, after all, if not a form of giving itself. Giving thanks, that is. But don’t take their word for it, nor mine. Test it out yourself and let me know what you find.

So, for example, instead of spending on yourself, spend on someone else instead to see how that feels. Just a test. And remember, it doesn’t even have to be big. Something as small as offering a smile, or holding a door…could tell you all you need to know. Or something else you might like to try. Practice, Practice, Practice…and See What Happens.

For help with this or something else, or to let me know what you think, Contact Me at:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:   202-617-0821

* Givers Really Are Happier Than Takers. MedLIne. Tuesday, August 15, 2017. https://medlineplus.gov/news/fullstory_167833.html

** Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Human Hate Continued: Knit Ourselves Together or Tear Ourselves Apart?

”Only through solidarity and cooperation within one’s own group was it possible to raise children and survive when competing against unknown and rivaling groups for scarce resources in pre-civilized times…”*

There it is, folks. This could be what we are up against when we wonder why, why, why, after all this time, in this day and age, inter-group hatred still rears its ugly head. Some would say, like it or not, we are hardwired to huddle with our own against the ones we think are not us. Us versus Them. That’s the bad news.

Here’s the good news. Two things:

  • The human brain (aka the “social brain”) got bigger and smarter over time due to living in – and allowing us to live in – larger and larger communities. The social brain is now considered flexible and therefore shaped, not just by our genes, but by the environment in which it lives as well.
  • New research suggests that xenophobia, (or fear/disgust of people who are different), can be reduced and altruism increased by oxytocin and social pressure.

So it’s not hopeless. And we are not helpless. We can change. And it appears that oxytocin + social pressure can help us to do just that. Social interaction increases Oxytocin, which then brings pleasure and trust to that interaction. Cause and Effect. So let’s just hang out – with more and more people different from the ones our primitive brain picks out for us. And let’s be sure to do it out and about to create the social pressure that interaction with people who do not look exactly like us is how it is and how it is going to be more and more over time. Period.

But I am talking to and about adults here. Because infants don’t need to be told that we are all one. As per Obama’s tweet of Mandela’s quote: “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” Maybe love is not even more natural than hate. But it is natural enough, and every single one of us can do something to help knit us together, one stitch at a time.

As only one example, one client,** a black man, told me he fought back the urge to pick someone who looked more like him to work with, and picked me instead because I am white. We have worked boldly on racial identity issues together, in ways he tells me would have been less possible and less fruitful for him had we both been black. Each and every one of us can catch it and counter it, just as he did, to choose someone different instead of too often someone who is same, for the sake of same and same alone. If this is your tendency…try something different. Try someone different. You might like it. And the world will thank you for it. Practice, Practice, Practice…and See What Happens.

For help with this or something else, or to let me know what you think, Contact Me at:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:   202-617-0821

* Universität Bonn. “Oxytocin and social norms reduce xenophobia.” ScienceDaily, 14 August 2017, www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/08/170814162334.htm>.https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/08/170814162334.htm

** Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

Human Hate: Why We Do and What To Do About It

Similar to the “hate-watching” experience of viewing television programmes you don’t like because you enjoy mocking them, this can be seen as a mild form of “hate-reading.” Logging onto Facebook gives you the chance to be indignantly offended (or maybe just mildly piqued) by other people’s ill-informed views and idiosyncratic behaviour. And there’s a surprising amount of pleasure in that.*

Disappointing isn’t it. Not like we didn’t know. Still it’s unsettling to think about how much pleasure humans can take in feeling better than everyone else. Why all the hate? Here are two broad ideas on that:

  • Social Dominance: In animals, including humans, social dominance gives greater access to and control of life sustaining resources for the individual and kin group. Makes sense that we would be wired to take pleasure in the idea that we rank higher somehow, for how it has helped us to survive and to thrive as a species.
  • Social Bonding: Strength in numbers, i.e., individuals bonded together in a group had a better chance of overcoming natural and social threats than individuals who stood alone. Makes sense we would be wired for that to feel good too.

Short of it is that humans appear to be both competitive and cooperative and even cooperation can morph into hate. As the study suggests, people go to Facebook to bond – over 2 billion of them monthly* – but bonding is not all that’s going on there. Just as in the offline world of people, there is shunning, sneering, you name it… And some of it is pretty hateful in that ‘I’m better than you’ or ‘We’re better than you’ kind of way. My children, my social life, my vacations, my political party, my ethnic group, my gender group, my sexual preference group – better than yours. In its extreme, witness the violent protests in our streets. We are together – and better than you.

Here’s an individual example.** Let’s call him David. David, a successful attorney, has been widowed for years. Nice man. Attractive man. Pretty good catch for some good woman looking for love, as he is himself. When asked why this hasn’t happened for him, he said that he meets seemingly lovely women online, but when he tells the woman whom he voted for that’s the end of that. One woman’s family threatened to disown her if she brought him anywhere near them. How hateful is that.

Spiritual teachers tell us that these boundaries we create between ourselves and others are foolish and destructive falsehoods. From Ken Wilbur’s No Boundary: A Union of Opposites:

The war of opposites is a symptom of a boundary taken to be real, and to cure the symptoms we must go to the root of the matter itself: our illusory boundaries….When the opposites are realized to be one, discord melts into concord, battles become dances, and old enemies become lovers. We are then in a position to make friends with all of our universe, and not just one half of it.

Differences as dances. I do love that. And, if “life is what our thoughts make it” (Marcus Aurelius), why can’t we think of the world as, for the most part, a world full of many different kinds of friends with as much right to exist as we do ourselves. The more we hate, no matter how justified we feel in it, the more hate there is in the world, and the more polarized and extreme the hateful behavior becomes.

So the next time we find ourselves feeling “I’m better than you,” how about those 3 breaths, belly out on the in-breath, belly in on the out-breath…with a reminder “there goes human hate,” served us once, can hurt us now, letting it come and letting it go like a cloud in the sky, returning to love wherever, however, and as much as we can. Practice, Practice, Practice…and See What Happens.

For help with this or something else, or to let me know what you think, Contact Me at:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:   202-617-0821

* The real reason you can’t quit Facebook? Maybe it’s because you can judge your friends.July 13, 2017 by Philip Seargeant And Caroline Tagg, The Conversation https://phys.org/news/2017-07-real-facebook-friends.html#jCp

** Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

The Exerciser: Think Exercise Think

How being hunter-gatherers boosted human brainpower and taught us to love exercise….New research suggests that the link between exercise and the brain is a product of our evolutionary history and our past as hunter-gatherers, and the same parts of the brain that are taxed during complex tasks such as foraging also benefit from exercise.*

It’s called the Adaptive Capacity Model to mean that when we were hunter-gatherers, 2 million years ago, we were multitasking all the time. We used our memories to make decisions about where to go for food and how to get back home, at the same time we had to manage our bodies over challenging terrain.

If this physical/mental complexity of foraging fortified the brain then, as with any other organ – Use it or Lose it. No surprise researchers are now thinking of the aging brain’s cognitive decline as a loss in capacity (neurons and their connections) associated with diminished use.

But even more interesting than this inextricable mind/body connection is how the mind can actually think the body into the exercise that is so good for the body and mind.

Life is what our thoughts make it (Marcus Aurelius). And although it appears the brain can sometimes impact the body without moving a thing, it is good to work the body to keep the “thinking thing” (Descartes) strong enough to do all of its magic for us.

In other words, Get Moving, any way you like. I take dripping wet Latin dancing fitness classes at the gym. What gets me there, more than telling myself how good it is for me, is that my dear departed parents were Latin dancing trophy winners. It’s in the blood. Brings me, and in the way them, alive.

Another woman I know** got going, not as much by telling herself how good it was for her, as by reconnecting with how much she loved and missed the fiercely competitive soccer player she once was. If there is anything to the studies above, she and I both might:

  • Visualize ourselves at it and into it, when we can’t or don’t feel like exercising.
  • Tell our minds that we are exercising, when we are.
  • Think of ourselves as Exercisers as part of who we are.
  • Remember that being able to exercise at all means in no small way that life is good.

And for those who are not yet The Exerciser our brains and bodies need us to be, you too can take a mental magic carpet ride back to a time and place when physical was fun. Then you can graft that delicious memory onto whatever form of exercise best helps you to be The Exerciser researchers believe we were all meant to be. Practice, practice, practice…and See What Happens.

For help with this or something else, or to let me know what you think, Contact Me at:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:   202-617-0821

* Borkhataria, C. “How being hunter-gatherers boosted human brainpower and taught us to love exercise.” DailyMail, June 30, 2017 http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-4655218/How-hunter-gatherers-taught-love-exercise.html#ixzz4oE8w2uzi

** Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

What is Resilience? Hero Making. Here’s how.

In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice….It is not freedom from conditions, but it is freedom to take a stand toward the conditions.  Viktor E. Frankl*

Resilience is bending but not breaking under stress, or:

…the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems or workplace and financial stressors. It means ‘bouncing back’ from difficult experiences. American Psychological Association

My family had a mantra, “It’s not Cancer,” which we used to put things in perspective to cope with whatever it was. Except sometimes it was cancer and sometimes it was worse; for example, the sudden death by stroke of my dad when I was 15 years old.

That was pretty bad but, typically, we humans do go on. The famous study on the relative happiness of lottery winners v paraplegic accident victims is pretty good evidence of that. Victims were found to experience even more pleasure in mundane daily life activities than the lottery winners, rather than the other way around.

The SEEDS of resilience include: Social networks, Exercise, Education, Diet, and Sleep. Surely we know by now (whether we do it is another matter) that taking good care of ourselves under life changing stress is a good way to help us bounce back.

But some people do more than bounce back. Some overcome their adversity to leap tall buildings in remarkable ways. JK Rowling, Oprah Winfrey, Nelson Mandela…come to mind. And, of course, psychiatrist Viktor Frankl who, after losing his entire family in the Holocaust, gave us lessons for spiritual survival that I reflect on and share with my clients practically everyday.

One woman I know,** we’ll call her Melissa, was involved in a difficult situation with a man she dearly loved. Melissa had struggled for years to accept and understand the situation from his perspective, even though she felt throughout that the situation as it was being conducted was inconsistent with her own deeply held values. What we resist persists with all its might. So, in one session this woman, who was typically kind of snarky when in pain and rarely wept, surprised herself when she finally began to cry.

When asked what her tears were trying to say, she realized who she was and what sacrifice she would need to make to be true to herself and everything she stood for down to her toes. That is, she knew in that moment that, despite her true love, she would have to give up all of her hopes and dreams about a life with this man.

In that moment, Melissa became her own hero – Joan of Arc. She did not burn at the stake, but her suffering did, as she took a stand for her values and women everywhere who may suffer corruption in similar ways. This is the meaningful sacrifice that Frankl said makes suffering not be suffering anymore.

Melissa now has fewer and fewer waves of sadness. Attachment is physiological as much as it is anything. So in the early stages of love lost we may even feel sick, until we heal and get well. She is tending to the SEEDS of resilience noted above; social supports, plenty of rest, and so on. But what has helped to up level her mood and her life more than anything else is the meaning she grafted onto this life changing adversity in love, which she would no longer deny nor avoid.

The miracle for Melissa was in the meaning – meaning that could not be given to her, nor imposed on her – but rather meaning that had to spring from deep within her, from the depths of her soul about the woman she was.

So here is another favorite Frankl quote: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Practice, Practice, Practice…and see what happens.

For help with this or something else, Contact Me at:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:   202-617-0821

* Viktor E. Frankl. Man’s Search For Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy. Washington Square Press (1959). https://www.amazon.com/Search-Meaning-Introduction-Logotherapy

** Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.

 

 

The Truth about Lying

 

“Lying, it turns out, is something that most of us are very adept at. We lie with ease, in ways big and small, to strangers, co-workers, friends, and loved ones….Being deceitful is woven into our very fabric, so much so that it would be truthful to say that to lie is human.”*

Good grief. My daddy always said, “Honesty is the best policy.” I believed him, have lived my life accordingly, and been proud of it. Now we hear that everybody’s doin’ it, even those of us who say we’re not. One study found that  92%  of people who said they didn’t lie admitted they had when asked if they had lied in the past week.

I’m sorry, to the best of my knowledge, I still don’t think I do. I did swear to god about something important once and later on changed my mind. But I meant what I said when I said it, so I don’t think it counts as a lie. Open to the idea that I am lying to myself  about lying somehow, I took a test to determine what kind of liar I am, only in none of the sample situations would I have ever resorted to lying in the first place, not at all necessary, other skills to use, if we can even consider lying a skill.

Researchers actually do. They consider it part of emotional and intellectual development when a child learns how to lie:

From about age 4 on, children lie for many of the same reasons adults do: to avoid punishment, to gain an advantage, to protect against an unwanted consequence, and even to boost self-esteem….to demonstrate power, to maintain privacy, or to protect a friend…. recent research has shown that lying plays a positive role in normal development. Essential human skills — independence, perspective taking, and emotional control — are the same skills that enable children to lie.

Most kids eventually learn that others may stop giving them what they want, or want to be with them at all, if they tell so many lies that lying goes from something they do to something they are: Liar. So they develop other kinds of skills, conflict resolution and negotiation skills, let’s say, before even knowing that’s what they are. And then there are those who just get better and better at lying.

Look, would I lie to save the life of someone I loved. You bet I would. And my heart goes out to people I know** in situations begging for some tampering with the truth, e.g., parents waiting for the right time in a child’s life to tell the child the truth that they are going to part. Our need for truth and trust is just as human as the human ability to lie. Unfortunately, the more we lie, the easier it gets for the brain (amygdala), then the more we lie and there goes any trust that might have been possible had we found another way.

So, if you find yourself with someone whose primary life strategy is lying, since all that lying can drive us crazy, if it is possible for you to do so, rather than lose your sanity, you can run for the hills. And, if and when you may feel tempted to lie a little yourself, take a deep breathe and ask yourself if, in that circumstance and with that person, lying really is your best and only shot. This you can Practice, Practice, Practice…and see what happens.

For help with this or something else, Contact Me at:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:   202-617-0821

* “Why We Lie: The Science Behind Our Deceptive Ways Yudhijit Bhattacharjee, National Geographic, June, 2017 http://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2017/06/lying-hoax-false-fibs-science/

** Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.

 

Expletives for Pain. What fun.

“Swearing has been shown to relieve physical pain when it comes to banging your toe or slamming a finger in a door. Now, a new psychology study shows we shouldn’t be coy about cursing when suffering from an aching heart or hurt feelings.”*

Expletives for pain. Well, maybe this is why they let us say whatever we want when we’re in labor. It’s been over 30 years and I can still see the ‘it’s okay honey’ look on the faces of the nurses who just didn’t seem to get that, unusual as it would be, this particular baby was definitely going to come out of the wrong part of a woman’s body. Based on how it felt, I was sure of it, but they didn’t get it, which affected my language. I would have said that I invented a whole new natural childbirth language but something tells me that others before me had spoken the very same words. They’d heard it before, were completely unfazed by it, and knew before the science even told them so that foul language can help with pain. But how?

researchers speculate that brain circuitry linked to emotion is involved. Earlier studies have shown that unlike normal language, which relies on the outer few millimeters in the left hemisphere of the brain, expletives hinge on evolutionarily ancient structures buried deep inside the right half. One such structure is the amygdala, an almond-shaped group of neurons that can trigger a fight-or-flight response in which our heart rate climbs and we become less sensitive to pain.”

So the cursing may trigger a physiological response that lessens our pain, but not just our physical pain. A previous blog post, “Got REJECTION. Take TYLENOL,” addressed the neural circuitry connection between physical and emotional pain, such that what affects the one could similarly affect the other. This is known as “Pain Overlap Theory”* Hence, Tylenol for social/emotional pain; for example, rejection. In this post, we are not talking about something we take by mouth, Tylenol; but rather something that comes out of the mouth, profanity, as a treatment for pain.

I know, your mother told you not to. So did mine, but now it seems there really is a time and a place for just about everything, including cursing for pain. Now we learn that, while cursing is likely not the treatment of choice for deep grief, and that while unbridled cursing like road rage can cause serious harm – cursing can be good for when you stub your toe, break your arm, have a baby, wreck your car, or when you find out you got left out of the party or meeting that you wanted to attend. All of that stuff hurts, and studies now suggest that foul language can help.

Not all the time though. Has to be used sparingly or, like anything else, too much of a good thing. We humans habituate, we get used to things, which then lose their impact. So just for special occasions, okay. Pick and choose – what, where, when and with whom to curse – and then just let it rip. Have to say I wonder if this applies to taboos of verbal meanness that may not even include profanity per se. This would be a separate study but seems to me there could be a similar effect (heart rate up, pain down) when we dare to speak the unspeakable to the jerk who hurt our feelings, dirty words or not. I’m experimenting with this myself and, here again, all in good measure, so one does not habituate into a mean person to the detriment of all, including oneself. Reminds me of this Ghandi quote:

“Your beliefs become your thoughts, Your thoughts become your words, Your words become your actions, Your actions become your habits, Your habits become your values, Your values become your destiny.”

Also reminds me of Mark Manson’s, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life, in which the author does use the ‘F’ word a lot, at the same time he also tells us we have to pick and choose carefully what to even give an ‘F’ about. But we also have to be careful not to overthink the thing because, for the swearing to work its pain reduction magic, seems it has to come from the flight or fight (not the higher order thinking) part of the brain. So…not too much, not too little, but just right. You’ll figure it out. Practice, practice, practice…and see what happens.

For help with this or something else, Contact Me at:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:   202-617-0821

* “Swearing relieves both physical and social pain, study finds (2017, June 1) Massey University https://medicalxpress.com/news/2017-06-relieves-physical-social-pain.html More information: Michael C. Philipp et al. “Hurt feelings and four letter words: Swearing alleviates the pain of social distress,” European Journal of Social Psychology (2017). DOI: 10.1002/ejsp.2264

** Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.

Everybody’s Got A Story. What’s Yours?

“ [P] erception includes a multitude of assumptions….For instance, confirmation bias — noticing evidence that affirms one’s world view, but disregarding contradictory evidence….contributes to preconceived ideas that keep us locked into a narrow perspective on our personal and social reality.”*

Wait, so the truth is that we don’t (actually can’t) tell, nor even know, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Meaning that most if not all of what we think of as truth is no more than the sum total of the stories we create and tell. The above quote is from a story in Nature about stories in Deviate, a new book about the stories we tell ourselves that we live in as if they are true. Here’s some more:

“…neural networks that make sense of what we ‘see’ are fed by a relatively small stream of information from the eyes. About 90% comes from other parts of the brain, allowing us to recognize faces, identify danger or read a sentence such as ‘W at ar ou rea in ?’ despite the omitted letters. That you probably didn’t read that as ‘What are you dreaming?’ is the result of priming your attention to a context of reading. What enters the eye is often an insignificant part of the story.”*

This idea that the brain tells itself and us stories about most of what it ‘sees’ reminds me of the story about the Ten Blind Chinese Men asked to say what an elephant is. As more than an aside, I’ve seen this story as the 3 men, the 6 men, the 10 men, the 7 men, and sometimes but not always the men are Chinese. Stories morph over time, a point to which we will return, but you can click here for a nicely illustrated version of 6 blind Indian men and an elephant. In it, the blind man holding the trunk says an elephant is a pillar. The blind man holding the ear says an elephant is like a big fan. Each perceiving only what he can perceive is 100% certain that he is right and the other is wrong. And each is telling the truth and right that what is perceived is like a pillar or a fan – but inaccurate and incorrect in describing an elephant as either one. Perception is everything and can be grossly untrue.

Another famous example of how faulty human perception can be is the Harvard Gorilla Experiment. Participants are asked to watch a video of 3 people in white shirts and 3 people in black shirts passing a ball, and to keep track of how many passes the white shirts made. What gets completely missed by half of the participants is that a gorilla-costumed person enters the scene, looks right at the camera, thumps his chest, and after 9 seconds leaves. Participants said, and I’m sure believed to be true, that they would never miss anything like that, only to find out that, lo and behold, half of them did! The experimenters concluded that we are not only missing a lot of truth but have no idea how true for us it is that we are living more in our stories than in what we think of as truth.

And what about science altogether, thought by so many to be the epitome of truth. Not even counting the more conscious and deliberate fudge factoring to make data fit a scientist’s hypothesis, one need only consider the discoveries of Copernicus, Newton, and Einstein to know that what we hold true can become untrue over time. Seems that the best we can do is to tell ourselves stories that morph into new stories once new perceptions render the old stories unhelpful and false. This is why it is said that eyewitness testimony is not as truthful as we would like to think. Studies show that the story morphs over time. So, for example, if there is a weapon at the scene of the crime, the eyewitness may be more likely to focus so much on the weapon (like the white shirts in Gorilla Experiment) that other relevant and important details of the crime are forgotten, distorted, or missed at the time. It was also found that an eyewitness story could be altered simply by the modification of a single world in the interviewer’s question. Once again, more about the stories created and told than what we like to think of as truth.

Why, why, why? What is the point of all this illusion, deception, revision, and incomplete information in perception. Why hasn’t evolution or god or the universe or someone fixed this problem? Maybe because it helps us. We cannot possibly process all the stimuli in and around us. It’s too much. You already know what overload feels like. Can you even imagine life without the Selective Attention we use in the moment to help control the flow of information and keep us sane. And can you even imagine having to remember every single detail of everything that ever happened to you in the past exactly as it happened to you. Einstein said we should never have anything in our heads that doesn’t need to be there. It appears that what does need to be there is the right amount and kind of information to arrange into a story with enough meaning to help us move forward in our lives in the best possible way.

Do the stories we live in (star in) always help us to move forward in our lives in the best possible way? No they do not. Sometimes they restrict and ruin everything. Take the women** who tell me their stories that there is something wrong with them or, worse, that they are nothing without a man. This faulty perception is not their fault exactly. Evolutionary psychology might say that women are more and less wired for it. In the Origins of Virtue, Matt Ridley tells us that meat is the currency the alpha male chimps pays his allies to keep him in power, sharing the meat not just with male allies, but with his mother and girlfriends too. To the extent we may have behaved similarly, way back when our brains were forming, it’s conceivable that females competed for men to provide meat (iron) to help make and feed their babies, and for protection of themselves and their babies too. That’s one story.

Another story is found in Geoffrey Miller’s, The Mating Mind. Miller tells us that ancestral females would have been much safer in a group of a sisters, aunts, and female friends than with a single male in a nuclear family. He believes that female humans were large and strong as primates, and did not need to rely for safety on males only 10% taller than they were themselves. He adds that many hunter-gatherer women today, when asked, will say many men eat too much, require too much care, and are basically more trouble than they area worth. Okay, that’s a bit of a different story. Which one is true? Doesn’t matter. Look, times have changed. Women can feed themselves and their babies, not all women are even going to have babies, we are no longer on the savannah, and the ways in which people can now live purposeful and fulfilling appear limitless to me – and more dependent on the stories we tell ourselves, and how much we believe them and live in them, than anything else.

Take the people who live in a story that other people have it better, in work, in life. FOMO (fear of missing out), more stories (based on other peoples stories) that can be revised. To revise and improve the story in which we live we have to mess with the mind. But heck, the mind messes with us all the time, so why not. Go ahead and rewrite the beginning, the middle, the end, in whatever ways you like, to bring a smile to your life. For sure, we all have something for which to be grateful, if only that we live and breathe to fight another day – even better to enjoy it. Practice, practice, practice…and see what happens.

For help with this or something else, Contact Me at:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:   202-617-0821

* “Our Useful Inability to See Reality,” Douwe Draaisma, April 20, 2017. http://www.nature.com.edgesuite.net/nature/journal/v544/n7650/full/544296a.html

** Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.

 

Managing Mismatch: You vs. You.

Mismatch Hypothesis: According to evolutionary biology and evolutionary psychology, humans evolved to survive in the African Pleistocene savanna. However, today’s environment is very different from that ancestral environment. This mismatch between our evolved psychological traits and today’s environment is detrimental to our well-being (Fitzgerald & Danner, 2012).”* 

Evolutionary Psychology’s Mismatch Hypothesis that behavior traits formed in the Environment of Evolutionary Adaptation (EEA) about 125,000 years ago do not always serve us well – is not without its critique. Arguments against, most notably from the late paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, center on the difficulty in disentangling biology and culture, particularly given the paucity of direct observational data on which the assumptions of the hypothesis are based, and the abundance of studies on American college students as somehow representative of Homo Sapiens all.

Skeptics of the Mismatch Hypothesis talk about evolutionary psychology’s explanations on why we are the way we are as “Just So” stories, from Rudyard Kipling’s seductively simplistic ‘Just So” stories or myths about, for example, how the leopard got its spots. But seduce they do for many of us, including yours truly and a long list of evolutionary psychologists, many of whose work I know and have really enjoyed. As a lot, they are smart and very funny on how ridiculous we as humans can sometimes be and behave.

It’s not all funny though. Indeed, the ‘mismatch’ idea is that our biological priming to respond to an environment that no longer exists can really hurt us, if we let it. Maybe you’ve already heard about our famine related preferences for sugar and fat. Once upon a time, we had no idea where our next meal would come from. Now sugar and fat are everywhere, too much of a good thing, but tell that to the anxious brain primed to store up as much sugar and fat as possible because, well, you never know. Here’s another example: Way back when, we were all nomads with bodies accustomed to being on the go. Look at us now, with our Sitting Disease, and associated heart disease, diabetes, blood clots, and other inactivity related ailments. And another: In the ancestral environment, we were never far from kin. Now we are, on purpose, spread all over the place, away from our biological kin, with little to no consideration of the deleterious effects to our mental health.

The “Mismatch Hypothesis” holds that we were not built for these demands on our minds and bodies built at an earlier time for other things. Mismatches are everywhere. Even at, especially at, work. In “Evolution in the Office: How Evolutionary Psychology Can Increase Employee Health, Happiness, and Productivity,” the authors talk about how dramatically different our modern day office environment is from the savannah type environment for which our brains may be adapted. Their premise is that the modern day office causes “biophilia – an appreciation and longing for our natural environment.” So, for example, they recommend windows for sunlight, actual greenery, or images of greenery, napping times and places, and both exercise and socialization opportunities.

Now some would say, oh please…those office windows have nothing at all to do with our love of and yearning for sunlight. It’s cultural not biological. An office with a window is all about prestige. Well, guess what, some would say that prestige, or status seeking, is biologically programmed into who we are too. Let’s hear from one of my favorites, Robert Wright, who taught evolutionary psychology at Princeton, and wrote the book I cut my teeth on after hearing him speak at a small seminar I attended back in the 90’s. From his book, The Moral Animal: Why We Are the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology:

“The stakes are very real. Resources are allotted in rough accordance with status….The genes may work by instilling drives that, in humans, get labeled “ambition” or “competitiveness”; or by instilling feelings such as “shame” (along with an aversion to it and a tendency to feel it after conspicuous failure); or “pride” (along with an attraction to it and a tendency to feel it after doing impressive things. But whatever the exact feelings, if they raise fitness, they will become part of the species’ psychology….Whether we know it or not, we tend naturally to rank one another, and we signify that rank through patterns of attention, agreement, and deference – whom we pay attention to, whom we agree with, whose jokes we laugh at, whose suggestions we take (pp. 245, 257).”

Status matters, more than we think it should, and my clients tell the tale.** Otherwise wonderfully attractive and talented men and women, restricted in work and love, by their own condemnation of the very human nature Wright just described. Whether we know it or not, whether we think we like it or not, the best of us can experience ambition, competitiveness, shame, pride, envy, jealously… These are human qualities that may have helped us to survive and to thrive as a species, why they are here, even if they are at times overblown, overdone, overused in our present day environment.

So no, if someone else appears to have more status than we do ourselves, we will not be deprived of food and drink and left to die. And it is a serious case of “mismatch” to respond as if we will. We may be programmed to feel crummy if we have tried in work or love and missed our mark. We are wired for this, from a long, long, time ago when the stakes were a whole lot higher than in reality they currently are. Okay fine, we may even want to lay low for a limited period of time so no further shame nor harm will come our way until we feel better enough to try again, but we will not die. And breathing – in through the nose count of 6, out through the nose count of 6, belly out on the in breath, belly in on the out breath – is the best and most immediate way I know to calm the anxious mind when the mismatches come crashing in to bring us down. Practice, practice, practice…and see what happens.

For help with this or something else, Contact Me at:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:   202-617-0821

* A Critique of Evolutionary Psychology, Kirk Honda, Psy.D., LMFT, October 7, 2014. https://psychologyinseattle.squarespace.com/a-critique-of-evolutionary-psychology/

** Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.