Archive - April 2014

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Setting Goals, Making Meaning
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The “Soup” & “Brew” Of The Connected Brain
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A Wider Vision Of Your Life
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Mindfulness, Feelings, & Focus

Setting Goals, Making Meaning

Wanting what we want and owning that we do can be a difficult thing to do.

There is a hesitancy to wanting what we want because we have beliefs that we are being selfish and self-centered.  Denying ourselves what we want seems to have some special virtue.  The guilt of “having” can cause us to be less than honest about what we are wanting.  Living with less can seem to be more “spiritual.”  There is the idea that if we live with less, the goods of the world will somehow magically become a more equitable distribution of good.

And so we hang back for a while, denying ourselves, before we impulsively and compulsively give ourselves what we’ve been depriving ourselves of having.

The simple truth is that you’re playing less than, you’re having less than, you’re holding back from being and having the fullness of who you are, and what you want helps no one.  Your acting like you don’t want lovely things serves no one.  Your being “less than” for the sake of some misbegotten notion of modesty and humility keeps you from entering into the wholeness of the person that you have been created to be.

Healthy patterns of attachment mean an ability or capacity to want what we want and to be able to attach to it with appreciation, full of enjoyment and a sense of ownership that is proud and grateful.  Attachment also applies to job and professions, to friends, associates, and to relationships. Attachment is a mark of mental health.

Healthy patterns of attachment are developed from childhood, and even when they are weak and not so healthy, they can grow and develop by if we learn to be honest about our wanting.

Ambivalent patterns of attachment cause low self-esteem because we are never fully able to attach, to own, to have and to hold nearly and dearly those people and things that are significant aspects of our wanting.

Avoidant wanting will express itself in individuals that fail to appreciate their own capacity to have. They not only do not know what to want, but would rather not want or have goals.  These are the people who prefer to allow their lives to unfold without goal-setting.  And they will get just what they want: a misguided, often spiritualized “unfolding” here and there with little or no direction or purpose. Not only is this not the way life works, it not the way the attracting brain works.

Avoidant personalities are reclusive from relationships and isolate from others.  Being in touch with their “wanting” means being in touch with others, with the ways and the systems that fulfilled wants come to us.  Avoidant wanting is reclusive by its very nature.

Goals are also outcomes of a high UpSpiral.  The more intact your goals are, the higher your UpSpiral.  And, likewise, the higher your UpSpiral, the more creative and the more completely are your goals an expression of the repertoire of your strengths and abilities.

Goals are like engines of energy and productivity that create a synergy that will bring into sharper and sharper awareness what the vision is for your life.  Your brain has its greatest synchrony and economy of energy when you’re clear.  Your brain knows better what to seek out and what to be receptive to in its sorting process.  The brain knows better what is being “hunted” and what the focus of attention ought to be.

With clear goals, the brain can use the limited amount of psychic energy it has each day, using that energy most wisely.

The issue that underlies the formation of goals is meaning-making.

How do we make meaning?  What are the constructs of meaning-making that provide a sense of personal significance?

These “meanings” are different at different times in our lives, so a knowledge of developmental issues is important.

We need to know how people are making meaning before we believe that their goals are real representations of something that will give them any kind of lasting value, if they, in fact, don’t just fizzle and are ever accomplished.

We especially need to know if a person is going through a life transition that is causing them to question meaning in their lives, before we agree to assist them in attempting to put great effort into pursuing goals that will be fleeting, in either accomplishing them or in feeling any sense of fulfillment in having done so.

The “Soup” & “Brew” Of The Connected Brain

The brain is about “process,” not “parts.”

Just because some research assistant has memorized a bunch of fMRI scans doesn’t mean he understands the brain or how it works.

MRI scans, PET scans, and EEG’s don’t begin to tell the whole story about the brain.

An EEG, at best, is a topical read of brain activity –a look at symptomology not etiology.  The “soup” or “brew” of the brain is more about chemistry than parts, more about proteins and neuropeptides than fixed diagrams.

What is important are the PROCESSES of how the brain works.  The brain is not just a collection of parts that do this thing or that thing.  The brain is one total organism that works in sync and in relationship to is so-called “parts.”  That’s why neuroplasticity is so amazing.

There are many routes to many things – and creativity is about those routes around any given thing.  Our neurobiology and our epigenetic associations are busy showing us how flexible we are and how much we are evolving.

The vast potential of the brain is in its associations (internal and external) –one neuron getting to know its neighbor and long nerve strands associating new and old impulses for a new way to see and know reality.  We are on the threshold of just the beginning of understanding how all of this transmission works.

This is the new frontier, and even a functional MRI only shows pieces and parts of these totally amazing processes.  Right now we only understand a piece of what we see there.  Even fMRI scans do not tell the whole story, by any means.

Areas of the brain do seem to be responsible for certain general functions. However, they are joined to the brain as a whole, and all the parts affect every other part while the right hemisphere is managing the picture and function of the whole.

Dysfunction in one part of the brain may well be related to chemical processes in a whole other part of the brain’s overall functioning.   In the not too distant future, a medication that is ingested to be awash in the whole brain will be obsolete in favor of some manner of isolating smaller and smaller parts of the landscape of the brain, not firing properly and instead affecting those smaller sites with a more exacting intervention.

So don’t buy into “Simple Simon” explanations of this or that part of the brain doing this or that thing.

When Gabby Gifford was shot in the brain, her therapists resurrected the music she sang and played as a child, and then sang the lyrics to arouse the right hemisphere memories that were stored in ways we don’t yet even really begin to understand.

But just consider this for a start.  It is not that the right hemisphere does just this and the left hemisphere does just that.  Everything works with everything else.  You are not more “right or left hemisphere” oriented.  You couldn’t draw without the left hemisphere, and you couldn’t do math without your right hemisphere involved.  This is what we call lateralization in the brain, and it is a fundamental process in the brain.  However, I should add that, in the case of a hemispherectomy (the loss of a brain hemisphere) there can be enormous compensation by the other hemisphere.  Infants who have lost the right hemisphere of the brain have learned language with the left.  The brain, nor are we, are as fixed as we might like to believe.

Consider this path of learning in the brain.  Data is taken in through an initial sort by the right frontal lobe (the first piece of the ADD mystery).  It is then transferred to the left frontal lobe, which manages routinization and novelty. That means the second “sort” starts to file new information in new places and send old information to other parts of the brain to which it relates –always, always more than one place.

While information is going to the left hemisphere, the right hemisphere is always taking a kind of picture of what is going on –it is the “NSA of the brain,” and more vast than any computer that we can imagine.

While all of this happens, if there is new learning, a hemisphere will give a squirt of dopamine to reinforce that new learning.

The “soup” or “brew” of the brain, which is chemical in nature, is something like an unimaginable hard drive storing bits of information about the same thing, with a million associations to other things to enable thought and reasoning.

There are areas of the brain that seem to be about this or that, but there are a thousand connections and associations to them.

So what is the take-away?  Don’t believe any claims that you can solve any problem in a day or two.  You can’t.  The brain doesn’t work like that.  WHAT YOU CAN DO is learn to PLAY THE PROCESS and that is this:

Every thought you think and every feeling you feel is building your brain, which is unfolding new structures of reasoning.  We do know that the brain runs best and most healthily on neuropositivity, in an UpSpiral.  Your brain is made to create, to reason, to solve, to grow, to discover, to invent, and to delight in what draws it more and more into its activity.

Let’s review this in a world that believes in affirmations.  Every thought and every feeling is an affirmation building the nature of your brain.

This began as an infant, when you were building the neuropathways that would manage your mother’s breast for food, and you were learning to breathe at the same time (the core of your vagal tone.)

Just think, you were already, even when you were breast feeding, learning to do something like “chew bubble gum and walk at the same time.”

In a manner of speaking, your sense of balance and coordination, even how you would be social, was developing from the start of your earliest perceptions of safety and threat, inherently present in just learning to eat and breathe at the same time.

And all the while the processes of your developing brain are unfolding. And they are processes, not static functions of discrete brain parts.

All of that early development is still developing, though.  You have a spectacular ability for attention and focus. Grow it by realizing that you can manage what you think and what you feel.  These neuropathways grow and develop until you die.

The brain is always unfolding and always renewing, if we simply will let it.

We start people in our Emotional Gym, five ways the brain works best. Gratitude, peace, love, joy, and hope are “states of mind” that allow for greater integrity and tell the brain: be curious, be interested, connect to the world around you.

If the brain could talk to us about using it, it would say, “I am yours to use for goodness and in the pursuit of your goodness, most in line with the nature of your real values. I can unfold in structures of knowing and perceiving that will give you greater and greater satisfaction.”

A Wider Vision Of Your Life

In an age when depression is at an all time high and on the increase, we have to consider what increases our “yes” to life and “yes” to diversity and the multiple ways that what we want can be found. Living in an UpSpiral can make you rethink, re-feel, and redo your whole world, especially if you are spending more time in a DownSpiral than an UpSpiral.  Perhaps worse is to “yo-yo” back and forth.

It will, for sure, introduce chaos and differentiation, perhaps like never before. “Chaos” here is the potential to allow novelty, newness, or differentness.  It is the capacity to tolerate and allow “otherness” and diversity in our lives.

Matisse and Picasso and many great artists have painted over their canvases time and time again, to begin again, not in the same place, but in a new place that would unfold from their openness to the creative process, as it unfolded in the next painting, and the next and the next.  These are artists that never stop painting, and we are artists that never stop living the art of life.  Painting over one way of knowing life for new ways of knowing life describes this openness to diversity and novelty.

Those who refuse to paint over the canvas and start a new painting at the significant times in their lives for doing so give themselves away in precisely this dimension.  Their lives lack a sense of meaning and they have a shallow sense of personal significance.  A sense of personal significance is not enhanced by “sameness,” but rather by novelty and diversity.

We do not make meaning by becoming narrower, when life requires greater and greater openness and broadness of vision, so that differentiating and seeing the differences are unencumbered by prejudice, and hardening of the heart and the arteries.

What seems to come out of the blue is not so much come “out of the blue” as it is coming from an open life that is always willing to increase three dimensions of the human experience: wanting, believing, and openness to how it will all come.

If you stay in an UpSpiral and if you use your strengths, this is exciting and experienced as new life.  From a DownSpiral, this kind of growth looks like you are letting go of your old foundations without the new ones being firmly established.  And there is a tendency to want to go back, to revert to old ways of being negative and critical of yourself and others.  However, in doing that, you just become miserable, and the contrast with the way you are growing with the way you were is just too difficult. You know you have begun a course that you can’t change.  Once you have experienced an UpSpiral and once you have experienced “feeling good,” there is no going back into negativity and mediocrity, at least not for long.

Many today would rather do anything that face novelty or differentiation, and the transitions that life demands.  They hold on tightly to what they already know and navigate the same waters they have navigated all of their lives.  There is little wanting, less believing, and no openness to anything other than their tight and narrow demands on what life must deliver to them.  There is less and less a sense of personal meaning and personal significance.

The more positivity you experience, the more you are going to be open to novelty (as chaos) and to diversity (as differentiation).  You are going to change your perceptions, your beliefs, and your ideas about yourself and others.  In an UpSpiral, we are just freer for things to come to us “out of the blue.”

It is likely that already some things have come to you “out of this blue.”  What are they?  How have you responded?  If they haven’t they will, because of your increased openness and flow in your life.

Differentiation to the ways that life can deliver its goods creates the greater capacity for vision, for seeing the whole picture, because we are more comfortable and familiar with seemingly chaotic and differentiated parts that have come to make a greater and greater whole.  This greater whole is characterized by a greater and greater integration of the brain and the mind, which can hold both novelty and difference.

We are not growing toward less or toward decline as we get older, but to a wider and wider vision of more divergent parts, that for the one who has lived life in a narrowing DownSpiral, surely seems like the endurance of real chaos.

Novelty means an openness to “newness.”  Just how open are you to newness, to new thinking, to new ideas, to new ways of doing things, to new people?  How well do you tolerate differences as opposed to seeing how everything is really alike?  A greater and greater sense of oneness and integration emerges from a greater allowing of differences and novelty.

Deep within us what is being challenged is how much of a “yes” we are saying to life versus how much of a “no.”

There is a place where we put the skids on life and say, a little less or no more for me!  We begin to blame it on many things like aging, illness, stubbornness or regret, whatever the external reason.

There seems to be a big “no” to more of the novelty of life.

Many think they are just too tired, but those who tire and those who have not opened themselves sufficiently to diversity are those who fear “chaos.”

A deeper yes to life always happens in positive people, those individuals who are living in some form of “positivity being,” who want to experience more and whose strengths are engaged for the experience.  There is a welcome and openness to the diverse and multiple ways that what we want can be delivered.

Mindfulness, Feelings, & Focus

How do you focus?

What is your focus?

We can actually stop and become aware of how we are being aware. As we tune into how we focus and how we manage our attention, we learn a great deal about what real intelligence is. It is certainly not just a number; it is the application of knowledge to a challenge that requires focus and attention. If you can’t focus and you can’t attend to a task over a period of time necessary to reach the solution, you dart from thing to thing and task to task.

Focus is not talking on the phone. It is dangerously not texting and driving and thinking you can. and it is definitely not multi-tasking. Focus comes from knowing your strengths and being able to apply them in the unique way that is your own. You really have to know what your strengths are, and very few people do without being scientifically tested to identify them.

We think nothing of tests that tell us what’s wrong with us, but miss taking those measures that tell us who we really are. Everyone, yes everyone, takes his or her strengths for granted. They are often the last things we learn to focus upon, yet they are the very things that will reveal our intelligence and our genius.

And most importantly,  the use of our real strengths, honed with attention and focus, is the core of our level of happiness and satisfaction in life.

The danger is that the only thing that begins to hold our attention is what we observe, what we watch on television or on a smartphone screen.

Our attention span and focus begin to be directed by the message, rather than by our own inner ability to focus and attend to a task.

What is often overlooked is how much FOCUS is dependent upon feeling state. Our feelings are where we live, and we focus from our feeling state or in reaction to it. Regardless of how the brain functions and handles the physiological process, we are FOCUSING from feelings.

FOCUS and FEELINGS could very nearly be the same thing.

Oftentimes we are so much on automatic pilot that we don’t know what we’re feeling. What are you feeling right now? Can you tell me in words that really describe to me where you are in such a way that I could feel it with you?

You are not your feelings until you can decide which ones you want to have and direct your FOCUS to have them.

What your right frontal lobe attaches to and takes in is largely dependent upon two things: your awareness of your feelings and your emotional muscle.

Even when I am intending to focus on something I want to learn or know, the power of that focus rests in what I am feeling, and how that feeling is coloring my experience.

Try an experiment. Look around you and see what you see. Then take a deep breath. Breathe deeply and feel peace. See how deeply and completely you can relax and feel peace. Close your eyes while you do it. Then open your eyes and look around. Now what do you see? Take some time and look. Notice any differences?

FOCUS is a choice if we make it a choice. But always the power of that focus is largely defined by what we are feeling. Before you label yourself ADD, consider what you are feeling. Before you decide that you can’t focus on something, consider what you are feeling.

Mindfulness of FEELING STATES enhances FOCUS.

What takes up your attention?

How have you learned to tune-in and stay tuned-in on a task you have to complete?

Attention and focus are learned, and they affect the application of every strength you have.

Copyright © 2015 The Applied Neuroscience Institute