THE BIGGEST LEVER

archimedes-300x224At our BioChemistry course, one of the highlights was the delineation of bodily functions. One more of the macro end, certain functions were enumerated. Included in that list were functions such as breathing, hydrating, sleeping, and eating.

These were ordered in terms of how long you could go without them. Breathing was numbered first, of course. But this wasn’t the only way they were classified.

Another way to look at functions is through the lens of leverage. Which functions have more leverage over the others? Which functions change others the most?

In his book, OUTLIERS, Malcolm Gladwell highlights the unusual degree of health of the members of a community. Researchers tried to ascertain what was behind their robust health. They started with the usual suspects.

It wasn’t what they ate or didn’t eat. It wasn’t what they drank or didn’t drink. It wasn’t their work or the work they didn’t do.

It all came down to one term in the first sentence. Community. The social function was the lever behind the extraordinary health of this community…and we explain why this is the case.

There aren’t that many ways to breathe, or to meet your necessity for atmosphere, especially oxygen. There are a few more ways to drink, or to deliver water into your system. While there are phases for sleep, and all are necessary, there aren’t many variations to meet that necessity.

And when it comes to eating, in the microscopic way, you need the macronutrients of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. You also require a host of micronutrients which are usually present in nutrient rich foods. And while there are many ways to move, each musculoskeletal movement is easily enumerated and measured.

But when we look at the magnitude of social relationships, and the fact that a functional social group can number up to 150 people, and all the numerous 1 on 1 relationships as well as smaller group relationships that can form, it’s no wonder that socialization is such a protective factor…compared to the rest of our functions. In number, social functions dwarf all other functions.

It’s for that reason that our social competence and practice should be just as important if not more important than diet, exercise, and sleep. Being social is not only what keeps us alive, being social is what makes a life. A life shared with others is a life lived best.

WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?

what does it all mean - spiritual and philosophical question in vintage wooden letterpress prinitng blocks isolated on white

I have heard brains referred to as meaning making machines. They are…at least part of them. While there are redundancies across the hemispheres, there are also specializations.

One of the things the right side specializes in is forming a narrative, or making meaning out of an experience. This is what makes life worth living to many of us, the meaning of it all. Some will say that life has no meaning other than what we give it. I disagree.

In EVOLUTION, A NEW TESTAMENT, I argue that what makes life worth living are the forces that shaped us. And if you look at things that make your life worth living, it’s likely to be one, if not all of those forces. We often review these when we go through big life events.

When you’re in the midst of a big life change, it can be hard to make sense of it, much less take meaning from it. And often that change comes along with a commensurate degree of the negative. And it’s easy to become focused on what’s negative.

As an autistic, I’m particularly good at seeing what’s bad and getting looped into it. That loop leads to a spiral. That spiral is often downwards in direction.

To switch directions requires us to switch perspectives. When change comes along, it’s impossible for it to be all bad. While we lose the ability to do what we did before, it leads us to a new question.

“What can I do?” That’s the question that I advocate we ask the most often. But when we have life upending events, it calls for a refinement if that question.

“What can I do now?” Or even better, “What can I do now…that I couldn’t do before?” The answer to this questions offers us a way out.

It offers us a way out of thinking about what we can’t do. And it offers us a way out of feeling the pain of that functional loss. It not only offers us a way out, it offers us a way forward.

Life events change us, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse…but no change leaves us entirely less than before. Life changes aren’t just external changes, they’re internal, as well. That’s why it is imperative to ask, “What can I do now that I couldn’t before?”

That may require to look back at things you couldn’t do before…but wanted to. Or the answer may be things you wanted for your future. Or the answer may be something you haven’t considered yet.

What you can no longer do is no longer your direction, your way out. But what you can do that you couldn’t do before is your new direction. Do the new and you displace the pain of past loss and future lost…with the joy of the future gained.

YOU ARE NOT YOUR ENEMY

man_in_mirror

I’m a student of all things psychology oriented. The mind, the brain, and the nervous system, are all favorite topics of mine. I see each misrepresented in laypeople all the time.

The mind isn’t what we think it is. It isn’t running the show. You, the conscious you especially, aren’t really running much of the show.

You, the conscious you, play a part in your thoughts, feelings, and behavior. But your role is more minor than you would want it to be. And for this topic, that’s a good thing.

Your mind is not the enemy. Your brain isn’t the enemy. You are not your enemy.

Knowing and doing are two different things. This is intuitive to us. We can know what the right thing is to do and yet not do it. That’s for a good reason.

The lower, older parts of our brain that are more responsible for our feelings and our habits and have more control over our behavior than the newer parts of our brain. The new parts of our brain are more responsible for our consciousness…including thinking. Thinking (or knowing) and doing are very different in the brain, too.

And when we don’t do what what we wish we would, we can make it worse by thinking worse of ourselves. We can be ashamed ourselves…and shame makes us hide as opposed to making us try to do better. Feeling too bad about doing “bad” makes bad even worse.

When you view yourself, or some part of yourself, as an enemy, you engage in self harming behaviors. I don’t mean anything as obvious as “cutting” or issues of that ilk. Your own thoughts hurt you…literally.

The so-called negative emotions increase catabolic processes in your body. Catabolism is a necessary part of metabolism. When it runs amok, your body starts (over)eating itself.

You may hate the way think or the way you feel or the way you act…but the act of hate makes changing the way you think, feel, or act even harder. The act of hate makes the actor worse.

Hate makes the actor dumb, forgetful even. Forgetful of where the hate started. Forgetful that hate came before the actor.

It’s my belief that we over-identify with our conscious mind. And this leads to the misconception that we are our own worst enemy. “I’m thinking all of these bad thoughts right now, so I’m self sabotaging.”

That thinking would be accurate if all the self sabotaging thoughts originated with you, but that’s not how it works. We aren’t born blank slates. We only need to look at our parents or our children to see the power of genetics, of nature. And in some cases, nurture plays as big a role as nature.

I mention nature and nurture to remind you that almost of all of “you” was inherited and learned. You didn’t spontaneously harm yourself with your own language..you were first harmed with language. You’re not your own worst enemy, and if you think you are, you’ve internalized the enemy…thinking him (or her or them) to be you.

Self harm doesn’t start with the self…but for it to end, the self has to start. The conscious part of you has to wrestle with what you’ve inherited and what you’ve learned. And how you win that match requires a change in focus. It requires you to be aware of two things.

The first is how you feel. When you don’t think, feel, or act as you’d like and would like to change it, how you feel matters. You only need to feel “bad” enough about undesirable thoughts, feelings, and actions in order to want to change. But changing requires better feelings.

Whenever we feel bad, our ability to act is impeded. Think of when you’re physically sick. You can’t function as much, right? And that same goes for when you’re emotionally feeling bad.

Feeling better requires a modicum of self compassion. It requires an understanding that you simply haven’t learned to act, think, or feel as you’d like to. No one taught you yet…and so now it’s up to you to change.

And the change is hastened along if you can learn to be kind, patient, and understanding with yourself and all your shortcomings. This brings us to our second focus: action. No matter how bad you feel, and whatever you can’t do, instead of being your own worst enemy and become your best friend?

Can you help yourself find that one thing that will help you feel better? Can you continue doing so? Can you keep finding those thoughts and actions that you make you feel better until you’re convinced that you’re no longer your own worst enemy?

Pillars Of Sports Psychology

Sport PsychologyI am fascinated by Psychology. I have been for a long time. That formally started with Sports Psychology.

That’s a little strange considering my past. Historically, I haven’t been an athlete. But I’m becoming more of an athlete all the time.

Part (and just part) of what’s making me more of an athlete is the application of Sports Psychology. In this series, I want to go over the pillars of Sports Psychology and how I’m applying them. Hopefully, you’ll start applying them, too.

For me to do you, the reader, justice, I can’t just talk about sports psychology. I have to talk about it through the lens we have in THE MOVEMENT. That lens is Biofeedback, or how sensation affects action.

Sensation and action are coupled. Physiologically, they are coupled in the sensorimotor loop. Anatomically, they’re coupled in the neurovascular bundle. It sounds complicated…but it’s not.

Let’s say you have the sensation of hunger. That sensation is telling you to eat. Once you eat (especially the right thing), that sensation goes away.

When we overlay sensation and action over Sports Psychology, we get some clarity. We get clarity as to why Sports Psychology works and how it works. Most importantly, we understand why Sports Psychology doesn’t work…and how to make it work better.

The first pillar of Sports Psychology is Goal Setting. For our purposes, we’ll define goal setting as an explicit intent to improve. Let’s look at it through our lens.

Would goal setting be more of sensation or action? The act, of course, of goal setting is an action but the desire itself to improve falls more under the category of sensation. What does this tell us about the efficacy of goal setting?

If goal setting, or a focus on the sensation, doesn’t directly lead to improved performance, we don’t have to necessarily focus the motor side of the equation, but we do have to look at the other pillars of sports psychology. Some are more sensory focused while others are more motor focused. Perhaps one will have the answer.

The second pillar of Sports Psychology is Mental Rehearsal. You may have heard it referred to as Visualization. That’s too narrow a description.

We don’t just rehearse visually, we may hear things…even feel things. And there are multiple points of view to rehearse from. How do we “look” at visualization through the lens of BioFeedback?

The act of visualization is more of an action. And that action, like all actions, provoke a sensation. But we’ll save that line of thought for the conclusion.

The third pillar of Sports Psychology is self talk. This is typically used when an athlete is engaged in negative self talk. “You’re not good enough. This always happens. You’re never going to make it.”

Sports Psychologists try to help their athletes to take action. They teach them to self talk in a more supportive way to themselves. It is meant to bolster confidence, esteem even.

Psychologists wouldn’t describe self talk as “BioFeedback,” but the mechanisms can be described as such. Self talk is the action, confidence is the “sensation.” Self Talk works because an action can be taken that resolves a negative sensation.

The Fourth Pillar of Sports Psychology is perhaps on the most important. What makes it important is how effective it is. If one fails at anything, it is because one didn’t prepare specifically enough. Simulation is all about specificity.

Simulation is about simulating the competitive elements within training. “Make training more like competition and competition more like training.” When training is sufficiently specific to competition, how we train will be how we compete.

When we simulate competition, we have to make sure the sensations an athlete takes in will be simulated in training. We may need a similar level of lights and sound. And the most difficult thing to simulate is the internal state of athlete. Can we simulate what levels of arousal and emotion they’ll be feeling? And, of course, the game actions need to be simulated in training.

The last pillar of Sports Psychology used to be referred to as “Relaxation.” This was appropriate for athletes with performance anxiety. They would essentially “psych” themselves out.

But there are many ways in which an athlete’s psychology can negatively impact performance. One way is being too tense. Another is not being “tense” enough.

When I compete, I sometimes feel like I want to fall asleep before a match. I don’t need to be more relaxed, I’m too relaxed. I need to be “activated.”

Sports Psychology has expanded to incorporate both relaxation and activation, manipulating SNS tone, called Arousal Regulation. This usually requires some action. Relaxation usually prompts a change in breathing. Activation usually entails a change in full body motion. Both are actions meant to bring about a change in how one feels, or sensation.

The pillars of Sports Psychology are Goal Setting, Mental Rehearsal, Simulation, Self Talk, and Arousal Regulation. All of them are actions that Sports Psychologists get their athletes to take when their sports performance suffers. But they can be made better when viewed through the lens of BioFeedback.

Our sensations and actions are both anatomically and physiologically coupled. How we feel affects what we do…and vice versa. And this effect is instant.

But many psychologists, sports psychologists included, ignore this relationship. I recommend you don’t. When a Sports Psychologist “prescribes” a particular practice, that professional should be looking for an immediate positive response. If no such response occurs, it’s no fault of the athlete, it’s the wrong tool for the job.

And when we’re looking for the right tool from sports psychology, we have to tune in to our responses, as well. If we don’t get the response we want, it’s time to move on to the next tool, even if that tool is outside the realm of sports psychology. Sports Psychology can be somewhat of a superficial approach.

Non-mechanical performance declines in sport (or life) is often related to something deeper. But no matter how deep it is, one thing remains the same: the relationship between sensation and action. This is the root of every issue and informs every approach.

Every (nonorganic) issue stems from an incorrect action being taken in response to a sensation. That usually starts with how a parent or caregiver responds to a child’s emotions. And when we’re no longer children, we have to learn how to better respond to our emotions, and all other sensations.

Sports is a microcosm of life. When (I sense that) my opponent does this, I do that. Sensation -> Action.

If we want the highest performance in sports and life, we have to use this approach on ourselves. Each correct action we take leads to a correction within us. The correction is in the question: I feel this -> can I do this (that helps me feel better)?

EXTREME STRESS

stress-largerI’ve been in extreme stress lately. Not really the acute type. More the cumulative type.

A big part of the stress is that I had lost my coping strategies. When I was feeling distressed before, I would cope. But now, I can no longer use those strategies.

I’m in a new situation. I can’t do my same old things. I have to do something new…or suffer the consequences.

It when we’re at our lowest that two things can happen. We can go all the down to the absolute bottom (death, how dramatic). Or we can change directions.

We can go up. We can bounce back. The further the fall, the harder the crash…or the higher the bounce.

But in order to go back up, we have to go back up a different path. That path may be external, like a new job, or a new relationship. Or, that path may be internal.

We are not called to evolve when things are easy. We’re called to evolve when things are bad, really bad. They’re so bad we can’t solve them as we are…we have to become something different.

This isn’t how evolution works most of the time. The overwhelming majority of the time those who win, or even survive the game are those who are born to do so. It’s Darwinian.

But it’s when things are at their worst when evolution can be Lamarckian. Lamarckian evolution happens under extreme stress. This extreme stress makes us into mutants.

Under this extreme stress, implicated genes start to mutate in as many ways as possible. If one of those ways can solve the stress, the organism rewrites its genetic code in the structure of the solution. I think this is analogous to life lived at our magnification.

Whenever we’re under extreme stress, we’ll try everything we know to do. When that doesn’t work, we’ll try…whatever. We have to solve the problem before the problem becomes a problem we cannot solve.

And if we do solve the problem, we are forever changed by the solution we find. Extreme stress leads us in two directions: extinction or evolution. So if you find yourself at the bottom, know that if you can make it long enough, you can come out the other side evolved, better, and more…than you ever were before.

Fan Or Follower?

fan-or-followerFollowing has a bad connotation. It makes you a follower. Who wants to be a follower?

Consider this. You follow people on social media. You’re their follower.

When they call for your attention, you give it. And we spend a lot of time on social media (the internet). Thus, we spend a lot of time following.

But what are we following? Are we following politics? Fail videos? Cute cats?

If we’re following them, where are they leading us? Are they leading us towards better? Or are they leading us to worse?

By better, I mean feeling, thinking, and acting. After you follow whomever, when you go their direction, does it lead you in a better direction? Having followed them, do you think, feel, and act better?

I’m currently dealing with a host of stressors. Many of these stressors I have little to no influence over. When I ponder them, I tend to spiral down.

And when I can get a respite from my stressors and my stress (myself), it helps. That respite may take the form of music, a podcast, social media, or an interaction. But those same methods of relief can be methods of procrastination.

I can find myself behind on my output and toggling between these methods. That, in and of itself, isn’t a problem. The problem is it’s then when they don’t make me feel better or act better. I’m following…but I’m not liking where I’m going.

When I find myself in a place where I don’t want to be, I know at least one thing. I need to change who or what I’m following. And who I need to follow is always the same.

Whenever our attention is outward for too long, we can be attentive to ourselves. We can’t be following ourselves. That’s when it’s time to tune in and turn in.

As long as I like where I’m at, what I’m doing, and how I’m feeling, it’s a good bet I’m doing a good job of following myself. But the second one those things change. My attention has to change. I have to stop following others, and start following myself. And that kind of following is the best kind of leading.