The big blind leading the little blind.

There’s an expression that people use from time to time when the situation fits. It was one that I certainly heard while razzed by crewmembers during my Navy days as I started training up the new guys, “The blind leading the blind” they would say. Usually it’s said in a tone of contempt for the former in the statement. It’s used for someone who has no idea what they are doing as they are teaching/leading/supervising someone else who also has no idea what they are doing. This phrase seems to come to mind more and more lately as I start to round off my twenties and enter into the next decade of my life. It specifically comes to mind when I think of having kids since that is my next logical big step. Sounds easy enough with the opening sentences right? Everyone feels like they enter parenthood not really knowing what they are doing. If I didn’t explain why I specifically feel this way then it would make a very short and uninteresting article. So just sit tight, I’ve been known to ramble from time to time.

I first think about the things I subconsciously have buried within myself that will influence what I do, this will be my starting point; my parental base. I didn’t have a bad childhood that left me with a driving desire to overcompensate with my offspring. I had a big family with lots of gatherings around holidays and events. No regrets here. I won’t be feverishly trying to ensure they get the love I never felt. No, none of that. I don’t care what grades they make in school or what college they choose so I won’t be overbearing in the academics. It’s not the results I care about but the effort given. I won’t be pushing for music or sports or military or some direction of anything, one way or another. Whatever makes them happy I suppose. I just want to teach them what I feel is important and what I think will help them succeed in life, but what are these things?

The first part, with regards to teaching them what I feel is important, actually turned out to be more difficult than I thought the longer I actually thought about it. I know what I feel is important right now but I don’t have a baby to impart my wisdom to at the moment. When it finally comes will I still feel the same way as I do right now? In high school it was important to not get caught sneaking out of the house at night. In my early twenties it was important to always go out and never be without liquor of some kind. Obviously I won’t be teaching those specific things to the kid at any age I am at (they’ll probably figure it out on their own anyway), but it’s to make an exaggerated point of how our priorities change as we grow ourselves. In more realistic terms, I used to think education was important to do anything but now I see it as a waste of money in a lot of ways. I know bucket loads of people who graduate with tens of thousands in debt and literally unprepared for how the real world operates. I used to think just owning a house, any house, was a good way to invest but now I’m paranoid the zombie apocalypse will shut down the grid long term and I’ll be stuck in this sheetrock box completely self-reliant on our fragile infrastructure for survival . Ok that last one was a little much but you see my point. What is important now is only generated off of what I read and learn and the opinions I have thereafter. The more I learn the more my opinions change. How can my kids learn effectively when I am constantly flip-flopping on what I teach them? This goes for discipline too. To spank or not to spank, that is the question. Should I do time out or just use empathy? My opinions change from day to day so behavioral problems here I come.

Obviously that area is just too gray to answer right now, if it’s even possible to have a satisfying answer. Let’s move on to something easier so I can feel good about myself again. What will help them succeed? Well, what is success? The hippie answer is no amount of money or materialistic items have anything to do with success. Although I personally feel much better having money than being broke so will that make me a hypocrite in saying this to my little sponges of knowledge? I don’t need things to be happy I just need to feel comfortable about my future, be healthy and live a simple life. But as we know all too well, if I listen to classic rock my kids will no doubt listen to rap. What I am into or find important my kids may automatically assume it’s boring and lame and just want to go play some video games. I don’t know what they will want out of life so let me just go big picture here. What will they need to be successful in all situations?

My family history is a good example of what I am eventually trying to get at here. Being in the part of the country we were in exaggerated the changes that occurred during our multi-generational upbringing. In one generation, my grandparents had twelve kids. I don’t know their true reasons for this but they had about 200 acres of farmland in Missouri to tend to and why not do what we have done since the beginning of human civilization, have kids to help with the work. It makes sense to me. They grew different crops; they had a respectable herd of cattle and other farm animals. They did what we have collectively done for generations past. This knowledge of the land learned from the parents was important to survival and it is what my dad and his siblings grew up learning. The only really relevant changes from my grandparent’s youth to my dad’s youth were the implementation of farm equipment, agricultural practices, etc. This didn’t change the way they made a living but only enhanced the production. It made it easier.

The next generation is where I come in. I remember growing up under the roof of the same farmhouse my grandparents raised their kids in. We would adjust the antenna on our 13 inch black and white television just to get three channels. I helped chore and checked on the cows and all that comes with it during the changing seasons. I drove tractors with mowers to cut the grass that was then bailed up as hay to be stored as winter food for our herd. I played in the woods because honestly there wasn’t much else to do. I hunted and fished and did all the things that my dad had done when he was growing up there as a boy. He taught me what he knew. Sprinkled in with my being raised how my dad was raised however, was new things called a ‘compact disc player’, a VCR, color television and Nintendo. The computer showed its face but we didn’t really know what to do with it besides play games. It was just a distraction from our chores at that point. In middle school they started teaching us to use DOS and the different commands to draw pictures and patterns. Still, nobody could really tell me why I needed to learn it because they hadn’t quite figured it out themselves yet either. In high school we got introduced to ‘the Internet’. This made a little more sense. Information was no longer found in Encyclopedias or dictionaries. Online chatting became the latest thing and only shortly before pagers were still hip and we recorded songs off the radio onto cassette tapes.

With all the changes that occurred over my generation compared to the previous one, how were they to know what to get me to focus on? My dad didn’t know the internet would revolutionize absolutely everything. When we first got the computer we didn’t even know there was an internet. He couldn’t teach me the importance of paying attention to what was in the food I eat because he ate homemade meals made with what they grew or raised most his younger life and had no reason to think food needed to be questioned. Nobody talked about genetically modified food or plastics containing BPA’s. Did these things even exist back then for them to tell me to be wary? I was lucky to be raised in this transitional period between the old ways of thinking and the new ways the world would become, and was in a part of the country where the changes were more dramatic and noticeable. So what about the next generation? How will they cope with the new changes in technology and culture when they have nothing to compare it to?

In a little more than fifty years, we have a generation who was born in a world of necessity to have a family of twelve to maintain 200 acres of farmland; a generation of kids coming into the world with black and white televisions but now has only flat-screen plasma TV’s as an option at most places, and a generation of babies capable of using windows operating systems before formal schooling teaches them how to count. The parent’s job is to prepare children for survival within the world they live in. The father taught the son how to hunt, mom taught daughter to sew. But now with the speed of everything moving so fast we have parents raising kids in a world they do not understand. We are allowing technology and chemicals and behavioral practices to flood the home with no knowledge of what the long term results will be. Even the long term results can’t really ever be known because the parameters of the data are changing before the long term gets here. So what do we do? Are we stuck on this ride just hoping for the best? Hoping that the world won’t destroy our kids with whatever the future holds for them?

If you have read my other posts than you should know what the answer is. We have to slow down and be more aware of our reality and our emotions. We have to regulate our emotions and teach our kids to do the same. Think about the kids who use texting as their main communication long before reaching puberty. They never took the time to figure out how to properly read body language or facial expressions or even how to react when they misinterpret them. More importantly, mom and dad text and don’t see it as an issue. They forget though that the kids need to practice this essential skill that they themselves learned before texting was even invented. How will the children as adults handle co-workers in the workplace if they have never learned how to calmly communicate to solve problems? What about when a kid gets upset and starts screaming and throwing a tantrum, is this a time-out situation? Do you yell at the kid because he or she won’t listen when you say knock it off? Did you know that a baby is born with its brain only 20% developed? The rest of the development happens over the next 20 years. The tantrum throwing kid cannot control his emotions at first because his brain doesn’t even have the wiring for such complex processing. All the kid knows is that his anger is scary and that makes him more upset. Label that emotion, comfort him by letting him know what it is that he is feeling. Show him how to recover when emotions get heavy. Will the children as adults yell and scream when they are angry or will they take a breath and step back when they feel that emotion called anger coming up to the forefront?

The world is changing too fast and I am unprepared to teach my kids what the unknown will have in store for them. What I can do is teach them to take control of themselves. We have wars over land and resources; we have arguments with those in our lives that we care about. Wouldn’t it all be a little easier if we recognized when our emotions were running us wild and relaxed before we made harsh decisions? Maybe it’s time we teach our kids these things. Maybe we can help give the blind back their site.

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Letter from the Author…

Hello readers,

It has come to that time when I decided awhile back that I wanted to cut from the usual posting style and just talk about some things here one on one. To show you where I’m coming from and tie in the theme of what I’m doing before you get too lost if you aren’t already. No fancy stories or dramatic examples to prove how right I always am or fun science facts to show how incredibly, amazingly smart I am (If you disagree with these statements, you are probably wrong), just me and you. If I was the cool teacher in high school, this is where I would turn the chair around and sit on it backwards with my arms folded on the backrest. I have five posts on here so far and have many more in the works but I thought now was a good time to have a little chat before I added any more.

Ferdinand Magellan is famously known in most countries for making the very first circumnavigation around the earth. We all know this. We were all told this in grade school, answered the question on our pop quiz and moved on without another thought. Did you know that he actually only made it half way around? He left with 5 ships carrying 270 men and only 1 ship came back with a crew of about 18. He died fighting some islanders while trying not to look weak; his ego got the better of him. I bring this random fact up because it is the story of Magellan that has led me here. It also acts as an example of how I now think about the information we get exposed to, what we do with it and how not until all the right pieces are in place within ourselves does it stick and make an impression. So scratch what I said earlier about no stories and examples, let me show you how this happened for me.

In 2008 I left the Navy, married too early and the divorce soon after left me living alone at 26 for the first time in my life. Being alone now I see as something everyone needs to go through to understand what it is in them that makes them happy. At the time though I was just disgruntled at being left in a marriage and stuck paying for a house. I ate horribly and smoked and drank too much and it started taking its toll on me physically and mentally. I noticed I also had developed a negative outlook of the world and had become a moody pain in the ass. I complained non-stop about stupid government policies, about work issues to other co-workers. I used to see this as venting but I realized that it was starting to have some effects. I started reading a lot about things that I thought would help make me more balanced, being that I was unhappy mentally and feeling worse physically as well. I read a lot on meditation and yoga and eating right. The usual self-help path most people go through after big changes. I met a nurse who is now my fiancé. She showed me the wonderful world of eating wholesome foods and limiting sugar content and just getting back to what we are supposed to eat and limiting the processed garbage that is packaged as food. I’ve felt pretty good for the first time in a long time. But I would still get frustrated and irritable and extremely moody and I knew I still needed some changes but I didn’t know what. I started slacking on my yoga and tai chi and was just losing motivation at work and life in general. I knew people told me calming practices and exercise would make me feel better but without knowing how it would make me feel better, I saw it more and more as a possible wasted effort and lost my drive to improve. The classic feeling of a downward spiral (it sounds really dramatic as I write this, I’m sure it wasn’t that bad).

A year or so ago I read a book called “Over the edge of the world”, about Magellan’s circumnavigation. A few parts in there stuck with me, mainly how the author described that at that time (1520 or so) people still believed in sea monsters and the world maps were widely inaccurate and so on. A few weeks later an article on some recent Leonardo Da Vinci artwork had popped up and when they told me the date he lived, 1452-1519, I remembered the passages from my Magellan book. It hit me how the world could be so divided to have someone as advanced in science and biology as da Vinci but still contain the ignorant terrors that filled Magellan’s crew all around the same period of time. It was also amplified with my desire at the time to go back to school and take some of the advanced classes I never had in high school. My only math I had was algebra and geometry but I was intrigued by physics and the universe. I felt behind in academics for a long time but some of the greatest thinkers in time didn’t have much formal training either. I was curious about the way things worked and I had a new drive to see how these men of science achieved so much.

I started with the history of science. I read a lot about what took us through most of human history with alchemy and the false wizards of olden times and the ancient Greeks with their influential thinkers that carried us philosophically through the dark and middle ages. I read two biographies on Da Vinci and found it fascinating that at the time of such ignorance in the world and a lack of technology he was able to make such amazing advances in human anatomy and engineering. Granted most of these accomplishments were brought to light way after his death but it was still done before Magellan even left his home port. About a hundred-twenty years later Isaac Newton was born, my next biography. This was a man who was so driven that he not only made his own glass and constructed a new type of telescope based on his expertise of light optics, but also created a whole new form of mathematics to explain what he saw when he looked into it. I continued on and read about Joseph Priestly, ‘A brief History of Time’ by Hawking, Einstein’s relativity and a book called ‘the Empires of Light’ about Tesla, Edison, and Westinghouse which really fascinated me. The idea of electricity and magnetism had always been almost mystical to me. But out of all of what I read, in the back of my mind I could still never connect the dots from particles and energy to the inner workings of human beings. I have always had a logical and visual mind but felt a certain disconnect between the different aspects of life. I knew that everything was made of atoms and elements were made into compounds that made all things and that the body was cells and organs and chemicals. I knew all these things but they always felt like independent sciences, unconnected parts of the world even though I knew they were connected. I could mentally picture atoms and I could picture cells but I couldn’t really see the bridge from one to another. Then I found a book called ‘The Energy of Life’ written by Cambridge Professor of Molecular Biochemistry Dr. Guy Brown.

For the first time I found a book that discussed energy in terms of the basic understanding of it, including the laws of thermodynamics, and piece by piece built the bridge I was looking for into how our body was put together and how it works. It was the first time I had even heard of the electron transport chain, I had never been taught that or read it anywhere else and it all clicked into place for me. It talked about our body chemically and worked up to athlete’s limitations and Sigmund Freud and psychological motivations and stress. It worked from the atom to the cell and its components, to systems within the body to the big picture. Of all the things I had ever thought about and read and worked on, this book showed me the way it was all connected. I now saw the benefits of yoga and tai chi and meditation from a scientific standpoint. I knew what breathing and perspective was doing to our bodies and our minds and science was now proving what the ancient yogi’s and Eastern Indian and Asian philosophies have been working on for thousands of years. To be fair though, before you run out to get a copy for your own mind to be blown, the impact this book had on me was very much due to where I was at mentally in my life. I gave the book to a friend to read and I said that you may not get out of it what I did. You may think the book is hard to follow at times but if you can get the insight it gave me then you will understand how wonderful it is.

There is a lot of information out there today. When I was kid living on my Missouri farm, the only source of information I had available at home was an old encyclopedia of the letter “L” and a bible. Now it’s so overwhelming and chaotic that at times it just seems like background noise in my daily life. The amazing thing with this abundance of information is that we still may not have a good accurate picture of something no matter how many times we are exposed to it. How it is presented to you and how you plug that into what you already know or what you are feeling in life at that time actually determines if you get it or not. It creates a spark of insight. This is why I take the time to write my posts the way I do. I try to make it so many different people with different backgrounds can connect to it in as many different ways as possible. I also picked a topic that I felt is important because there are too many resources for exercise and nutrition and all that jazz. I didn’t need to be another face in the crowd. When it comes to stress, I feel it usually falls short. Sure there are yahoo articles talking about ‘7 hot new ways to beat stress’, but what I’m discussing here isn’t just stress related. It’s more about attaining a better perspective to try and fix many of our problems that we don’t even realize is initiated through us.

We are raised to think about our internal selves as being just what we are. The older generations are ‘set in their ways’ and the younger generations are ‘kids being kids’ and those of us in the middle are too busy working to really pay any attention. We know that we change over time but in the moment we don’t acknowledge that we may be causing some issues. Read my post “We all have multiple personalities….. Just not at the same time.” and you will see what I mean here. We feel we are the way we are and if something is off or we have an issue then the only remedy is to bring in something from the outside. If we have a headache, we take a Tylenol. If we fail a test it’s because the teacher didn’t cover all the material, not that we didn’t study. If FEMA takes days to get water to hurricane victims we blame the government but fail to recognize we could’ve prepared more. I have said multiple times in these posts that we cannot ever stop the external influences from affecting us but we can limit the issues we create ourselves.

That’s why I am here. I see the benefit of emotional regulation. I don’t want to live my life making my life harder than it has to be. Every person, rich or poor, gets to the end of his or her life and wishes for more time. I don’t want to waste my time clumsily stumbling through. How many ‘drama queens’ have you known to have created drama just to get that attention they need? How many people have you seen fail because they were too proud to ask for help? How many excuses have you heard from people when they are too embarrassed to admit they are wrong? Magellan died because he was trying to show the natives how powerful and godlike he was by attacking their enemy. He took unnecessary risks and paid deeply for them.

If we meditate to slow down and practice finding the true causes of our emotions we can make better decisions and have a higher success rate at whatever it is we are trying to achieve. We are running on hunter/gatherer operating systems in a world of sensory overload and internet explorer and ipads. All these things are distracting us from figuring out a better way to operate ourselves so we can better handle those distractions. This is what I am trying to achieve. This is what I am writing about but it doesn’t mean that I’m already perfect at any of it. Practice makes perfection and I have a lot of practice to catch up on.

I am not a doctor and I am not a scientist. If you find inaccuracies with some of my writing then you are focusing on the wrong parts. You are missing the message. Thanks for reading and please give me some feedback. Let’s talk. Give me topics or give me issues you may have and want another perspective on it. Let’s do this together.

Thank you,
Aaron

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Objection your Honor! Leading the witness…

The tension in the courtroom thickens as silence hangs in the air; it’s the prosecuting attorney’s turn to cross examine the witness. He abruptly shoots up from his chair but walks slowly over towards the witness stand, heels echoing with every step breaking the silence but not the tension. The woman on the stand swallows loudly though perceptible only to her own ears. Why should she be so nervous? She didn’t do anything wrong, she’s not on trial here. These thoughts race through her mind as the intimidating lawyer lightly stomps to a stop directly in front of her and brings her attention out from inside herself and into his own eyes. Silence persists; heart beating faster. The predator watches his prey and pounces, “Ms. Vasquez, would you tell me about the night you saw the defendant fleeing from the scene of the crime?” The defendants lawyer yells out, “Objection your Honor, leading the witness.” The prosecuting attorney jumps in before the Judge can make a decision, “I’ll rephrase my question your Honor.” Smiling to himself, he knows the damage has already been done. “Can you tell me about the night in question you saw the defendant leaving the victim’s apartment?”

I used to love courtroom dramas when I was younger. I had probably seen ‘The Client’ and ‘A Time to Kill’ more times than ‘Willow’, and don’t get me started on that movie. I had heard this statement, ‘leading the witness’ and it was always just something one lawyer said to get the other lawyer to object. I had no idea what they meant by that for most of my movie watching life. I then read a book by Neurologist Dr. Richard Restak in which he talks about memories and other cognitive functions and he used this as an example of one aspect in memory creation. If you read my post titled “The title of this post is….uh…….I don’t remember” you might recall that when we activate a memory proteins are released in the same manner as when that memory was created. It works like this because we don’t have a hard-drive in our heads like a computer, we have biological cells all squished together in a tangled clump of matter squirting chemicals (jeez that sounded kind of graphic). Every time we access a memory we have to reconsolidate the cells involved and basically create that memory again. When the prosecuting attorney asked the witness to describe the night the defendant was seen fleeing the scene of the crime, this information was present while she reactivated (reconsolidated) the memory. New proteins present and now all of a sudden the memory has been changed. When she had originally just remembered seeing the defendant walking out of the apartment looking rather calm and normal has now turned into him looking suspicious and in a hurry as he left. The functional way memories work is what in turn makes that memory stronger, or better yet, makes the retrieval and activation of those cells easier. On the flip side, it makes our memories extremely vulnerable and susceptible to influence.

What does this mean? Does it mean the next time you hear ‘objection your honor, leading the witness’, that you will sit up, gasp and say “I’ve been brainwashed!”? Probably not, although I would be lying if I said I wouldn’t be flattered if you did. If you have gathered anything from these posts of mine it is that we should not allow our emotions to take us out of the captain’s chair. This is especially true when you talk about memories that dredge up old hurtful feelings. I would like to use as an example a very close friend of mine who had a single memory cause so much pain and influenced decisions in their life for years after.

My friend was sitting in an airport about to leave to his grandma’s house in another state. He was elementary school age and upset. His mother was sending him away and he didn’t understand why. Why didn’t his mom want him anymore? Pleading with her not to make him leave, begging her to let him stay. “Listen, don’t cry ok?” the Mom said trying to calm the kid. Embarrassed that passing travelers were starting to look in their direction. “It’s not that I don’t love you, it’s just that I love your stepdad more. He gives me what you never could and we’re happy being just the two of us. Your grandma loves you so don’t cry. You’ll like it there.” She gives him a weak hug and passed my friend off to the flight attendant who escorts him down the ramp and helps him find his seat to the rest of his life.

This memory must have played millions and millions of times in my friends mind. Each time it was retrieved it brought sadness, emptiness and pain, and at the same time attaching those feelings more strongly to the memory. Each time the mom was recalled as being cold as stone and void of emotions for her child, the memory strengthened that image of her making it even more painful to remember. In another article I am writing, or posted (I don’t know yet because at this moment I am working on the two at the same time) I mentioned that I do not have the driving need to show my future children the love that I never felt. It would be all too easy for my friend to make an oath to never let another child feel the sadness that they had felt themself. The powerful and probably inaccurate memory has been a driving force in this life.

Am I saying that our memories are all lies and that we shouldn’t trust them? Am I telling you to ignore those echoed voices of the past and that they are misleading you? No, not really. I don’t know how accurate your specific memories are but if you think about it neither do you. The knowledge of the way your memory system works should be the signal for you to pull in the reins of the emotional horse you are riding. You should not let your memory be the major deciding factor in any decision you make. Remember those days in grade school when you were just starting to like girls, or like boys if you are a girl? One person in particular you had a crush on and all of a sudden something super embarrassing happened right in front of them. Maybe you farted in class. Maybe you answered an obvious question wrong and they all laughed at you. You look at your crush and you see them laughing with the rest. That image sets into your mind like quick drying cement. Every time you think about making a move from that point on all you can remember is that face. You strengthen the thought of “they will never go out with me, she thinks I’m a fool” and add it to that mentally constructed face and it erodes away your confidence at every retrieval. But aren’t accidental farts funny? Isn’t it funny when someone gets caught not paying attention in class and called out on it by the teacher? These may not have anything to do with the feeling your crush had for you but you will never know because you let a reconstructed and false version of the past steer you away from even trying. What sense does that make? Would that make you feel worse than if she said no?

To really be able to use this knowledge we have to be able to acknowledge when it starts to steer your decisions. We have to be aware of the true nature of our feelings and know when to disregard the fake ones. This, much like everything I learn about and share here with whoever reads it, takes practice to be good at. The act of meditating and being present and aware in our down time is practice for us to more easily slow down when things are heating up in the moment. When we start to get overwhelmed and misdirected by our memories we can more easily pull back and think about what is really going on. This helps us do things better and make better decisions. Let me leave you with one last example of what I mean.

The Christmas before last, my fiancé and I took a couple weeks to spend the holidays with her parents in Kansas which is about 1800 miles away from our home. We had to leave my dog Winslow in a kennel for the whole trip. When we got back and brought him home he started showing symptoms of severe stress. His bowels were bloody and pure liquid and it went on like this about every half hour, all day and night, for days after we got home. It was a real fear for us that he would dehydrate and die so we had to constantly have him eat soft food with Gatorade to keep his nutrient levels up. Those days were rough and now every time I think about putting him in the kennel it makes me feel so horrible and brings up all those emotions again.

A couple weeks ago my fiancé and I were talking about our wedding night plans and what to do with our dogs. With all the people flying in we were looking to have maybe 6 or 7 dogs at the house. Too much to deal with on a wedding night of course so as we were discussing what to do with all of them the kennel came up as an idea for Winslow. All the other dogs would have another place to stay the night. We ended up getting into a little bickering session and she walked away with an “it’s so hard to talk to you when you get irritated all the time.” I realized that I was getting irritated because I had aroused emotions within myself that were associated with the memory of poor little Winslow left locked in a cage pooping himself to death (this was my mind’s exaggeration of course but you get what I’m saying). It had nothing to do with her or the argument itself but the memory had been triggered and done what it always does whenever I think about it; it made me feel like crap. Do you ever get irritable when you feel like crap? I’m sure of it. As soon as I realized where the source of my irritation was coming from I was able to instantly relax and feel good again. I was aware of what was happening to me and the tension in my body just lifted away. As soon as I realized my memory was in the captain’s chair and had control of the wheel I jumped up and said “Objection your honor, leading the witness”.

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The title of this post is…..uh….I don’t remember.

I think a lot about being mindful. Just like a piece of machinery needs to be recalibrated for optimal performance, so too does the human body. Being aware of the present and letting go of all the chaos that rules our brain, this is what I wish to achieve. To me it means more than I have expressed so far and I will get more into it in other articles, but for now it makes me wonder what you might think with only discussing the importance of staying aware and present. It’s not very realistic at first glance because we have a very real need to do just the opposite. If we don’t set our alarm clock tonight, will we wake up for work tomorrow? To do so means taking ourselves out of the present and looking ahead to what might need to be done. There seems to come then a paradox when we try two opposite ways of thinking without fully thinking it through. “You want me to live in the moment but plan for the future? What about the things I didn’t plan for tomorrow because I was living today?”

Nobody really says this to me. These are just pretend arguments I make up to get my point across. But as I was thinking about this it occurred to me that while it’s obvious that we don’t really know how to be present (all scattered across the social universe and bombarded with input overload as we are), what about looking to the future? Do we really know how to think long term or are we forever stuck in the emotionally driven present, lacking any forward thinking and constantly reacting to what happens to us? Why do some people only feel satisfied with instant gratification and others content to wait for the reward to come? Why are some people good planners and good savers while others live paycheck to paycheck their whole life? Does the short term oriented thrive on the challenge or do they truly not know any other way to live? I’m sure there are lots of reasons, answers, and excuses to these questions and I have the answers to exactly none of them, but I feel that given the fact that we are all more or less built the same, it is our development that is the difference between us. Development is all about exposure. You don’t learn something you are not exposed to, do you? So in asking myself these things and with the knowledge that something must be put out there for said someone else to collect and generate that spark of insight, I begin by breaking down what I feel the differences to be.

Think about the difference between long term and short term thinking. What does it take to think about something now as opposed to something later? What parts of our brain are we using when we are sitting here not doing anything? For the first example I will think of me sitting here on the couch (as I am writing this article) and feeling some slight nag of being hungry. My stomach compresses and squirts a sound like the last bit of water flowing down the drain and my brain yells “I’m starving!” I think about what I can eat and I activate the wiring of a memory of what I last saw in the pantry. Crackers, chips, cereal; none of those things will fill me up for long and my judgment leads me to activate other memory circuits. I do this for other parts of the kitchen until I find something I am satisfied with (I guess) and go get it. I would think about driving somewhere and all the choices and steps involved in that if I wasn’t in my pajamas already and it didn’t take so much energy that my mind tells me I don’t have.

That’s about it. Think about that for a second. If I am hungry I just have to walk ten steps and choose from a multitude of things. I don’t have to plan, I don’t have to coordinate anything, I just get my lazy ass off the couch and stuff food inside me. The world is set up for me to think short term.

One hundred fifty years ago and beyond, If I was hungry I would have to think about what to do. I would have to ration out from the very limited resources of whatever I may have had as extra food, if I even had any extra at all. Short term thinking would have led to starvation. I couldn’t think that way and survive for long. If I was to have any chance at the nagging notion of survival I would have had to think long term. I would have needed to think about what crops would have done better in the climate I was in. I would have needed to know the best time to start seedlings in the spring and the best way to tend to the growing plants and how to keep the bugs off and when to harvest. I would have needed to know how to keep the seeds for the next year so I could do the whole planning and planting all over again. That was just 50% of the whole hunter/gatherer thing. For hunting I would have needed to explore my area and find where the animals were. I would have needed to know when they migrate through the area and when the best time of day to stalk them would be. I would have needed to practice my shooting and trapping to actually get that animal I spent so much time thinking and planning on how to get.

If I was in need of clothes back then I would have had to raise sheep or grow cotton. I would have had to skin the animals I hunted for food and cleaned their hide, treated it and sewn it together in wearable fabrics. This all would have taken practice, planning, and foresight. Today we get clothes whenever American Eagle has a 20% off sale. We give just enough thought to find out what’s currently in our closet, when do I get paid next and could I just charge it and worry about payment later. If I am hungry I have a number of drive thru options, sit down restaurants, frozen meals, or snacks of unlimited variety just waiting for me to choose from. We have grown so far from the long term thinker to the immediate task at hand. From a Darwinian perspective there is no down side that forces us to think otherwise. We have vaccinations, antibiotics, federal guidelines for food safety and all sorts of methods to keep us all alive for way longer than at any point in history. If we don’t use it we lose it and it appears as though long term thinking is being lost in this case.

Before I continue on I would like to point out here that obviously we are not the human version of ostriches living only moment to moment (psst…ostriches have very short memories). We put men on the moon and that took enough foresight to calculate when and how fast to fling a tin can full of dudes in front of the moving target to land them softly on its dusty surface. There is always the exception to the rule but to be fair, you and I are not astrophysicists and we don’t need those types of skills. We only strengthen those that we do need. If the need is only to show up and be average and ingest whatever prepackaged excuse for food you can get for the lowest price then that is what some of us will amount to.

Now that we know what it takes to think short term (the bare minimum), what does it take to think long term? In the short term you just activated memories of associated things and use judgment to make a decision. What restaurants are open now? Should I buy my jeans at Target or Wal-Mart? Long term requires something that many people are not good at using, their imagination. Why are they not good at it and why do we need it?

First off, when we are children brought into this world we are questioning and pretending and playing in every situation. This is how we learn at an early age. When we enter into school we are taught to follow the rules. Line up, raise your hand, time to nap, time for recess, and time for lunch. When we get into more advanced schooling we are praised at having the right answers not necessarily asking the right questions. If we daydream we do poorly in academics and if we can’t focus on what is unimportant to us then we have attention deficit issues. By the time we enter the workforce (as John Medina of ‘Brain Rules for Baby’ mentioned) we have all the creative and questioning parts beaten right out of us. We are typically more successful in our society by following the rules and learning to run within the given structure than to deviate beyond (Again, exceptions to the rule I know, just stay with me).

“So we use imagination to think long term huh? Ok I’ll play along” you say to me and wait for the answer. Since the future does not exist we have to create what we think will logically happen to generate a false future that we can then plan for. When we need to plan a birthday party we have to imagine what it will look like. We take pieces of what we have seen in the past and add it to the picture of the decorations in our mind. When we plan to have babies we think about what we were like and imagine little versions of us running around acting crazy and what we think will work to maintain control. When we picture retirement we imagine scenes we saw in magazines of warm beaches and mountain views. Do you see a pattern here? We create our imaginary future by piecing memories together. We really never create anything from scratch. Every artist has some inspiration that triggers him or her to mold that into something new. Every single imaginative thought we have is bit by bit created from something we already have inside us. Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) which detects active parts of the brain in real time has shown that when people are asked to imagine something, the same areas in the brain involved with memory are activated.

So let’s bring it back around and get to the point. You know how it feels when you can’t remember the name of that actor in that one movie? It’s on the tip of your tongue but you just can’t name him? Think about having that same computing power when planning for your retirement. Some fuzzy picture of what you want out of life before it’s over. Do you think it will be easy to accomplish those unclear (hold on, it will come to me as soon as I stop thinking about it) goals? Work on your memory by repeating all the little tasks you do. Instead of putting your keys down and forgetting where they are as soon as they leave your hand, repeat three times what you are doing. “The keys are on the table, the keys are on the table, the keys are on the table”. Memory gets strengthened by using it and you can easily do this hundreds of times a day with all your actions. Every time you activate your memory, those brain cells stimulated by the electrical pulse releases the same proteins that were used to create it. Repeating it helps make it stronger and strong memories allow us to create clearer pictures of the future in our minds.

The easier it is to picture the future, the easier it is to plan for it and prepare. If we are ready for what may come tomorrow than are we not making our lives easier on ourselves? If that’s the case then why would we not think ahead and plan things out? Can you even imagine what would happen if you don’t?

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We all have multiple personalities….Just not at the same time.

One of the most repeated and argued over notions during the years following 2008 with regards to the economic crises was the concept that the current administration was dealing with what the previous administration had left them (I promise you this is not a political article, just hang in there a few more sentences). The blue team had said something about them not creating the mess but trying to deal with what “The Other Ones” had created with their policies and legislation. The red team had said…well you know what? I don’t really remember. I usually tune out when stupid comments are being made.

The point is, is that we all know the frustration of being left a mess to clean up that was made by somebody else. In the household it’s someone not taking a pen out of their pocket and now the whole load of laundry is sitting in the washer with a blue tint to it. In the military it’s someone not cleaning the rifle that gets turned over for duty and having it jam when a firefight breaks out. In the office it’s a lazy employee known for mediocre work that is tasked on a project that you are responsible for. It’s the babysitter waiting until the night before to let you know she has jury duty. It’s the new boyfriend dealing with his girl’s emotional damage left by the abusive ex-boyfriend. You can go on and on with the examples of other people’s actions (or better yet inactions) that then leaves us footing the bill. We are never going to be able to stop these external influences from affecting us of course, but what about the messes we leave ourselves?

“Well now hold on there. I don’t leave messes for myself. I always check my pockets before putting clothes in the laundry. I always clean the gun before turnover and I always give 110% and carry my own weight when working with others. Sure we have all made mistakes in the past but today I am grown and have learned from those mistakes.” This would be my initial reaction so don’t try and pretend like it isn’t yours. It’s interesting though if you think about the way you thought about yourself as you grew up. When I was 10 years old I protested like a revolutionary freedom fighter about how important it was for me to stay up and watch a late movie on a school night. When I was 16 working my first real job I would say “I’m not ten anymore, I have a job and a car now so why do I need a curfew?” When I was 21 I would talk about how dumb and immature I was in high school. When I was 26 I thought back on how stupid it was to get hammered at the bar and make a fool of myself at 21. At every age I had ever been I looked back on my younger self and thought how clueless and how naive I was, but in that moment I was at the peak of my intellectual growth. Only to find out years later how once again I was actually not as competent as I imagined myself.

It makes sense though when you break it down. Nobody wants to think negatively about themselves because it makes us feel bad. Just read my post titled “We are all a walking chemistry lab that forgot we are the ones wearing the labcoat.” Thinking bad makes us feel bad so why don’t we look at ourselves as being responsible and the best we have ever been so that we feel good? We all like feeling good. But if we acknowledge the fact that yes, we have always seen ourselves as naïve in the past from the present then it only goes to say that we will then see the same in ourselves at the future when reflecting upon the present. This leaves me to one conclusion. We are all dumb and naïve right now.

I like to think of there being multiple versions of ourselves (I used the word personalities in the title, but that was just for dramatic effect). In a literal sense, there are physically different versions of you throughout your life. You eat food which is made up of molecules that gets absorbed into your blood stream and you breathe oxygen in to allow the chemical reaction that burns those molecules for energy and to make new molecules, and proteins, and cells. Your skin cells multiply, grow and then die; flake off while being replaced by new ones. Your hair grows and gets cut and more is made again. Your skin gets cut open and bleeds and then you make more blood cells to replace those lost. You are physically not made up of what you were years before. In a psychological sense, there is a past version of you who you look back on with sympathy, knowing that he or she has no idea what he or she is doing. There is the present version of you which only lasts a fraction of a second technically but which to our perception is continuous our whole lives. The future version of you is really a mystery since they haven’t been created yet but it is the ‘present you’ who is that creator. The ‘future you’ must live with the choices ‘present you’ has made today. The ‘past you’ who thinks it’s a good idea to take that 3rd shot of the night; makes the ‘present you’ hung over the next day. The ‘present you’ who thought it was a good idea to join the army after watching a bunch of Rambo movies; then leaves the ‘future you’ running mile after mile in boot camp.

There is no way for us to know what the ‘future you’ will want. This is impossible and is definitely not what I am saying here. What I mean is that the ‘future you’ must live with your present choices so why not set them up good? Why not give them as many opportunities as you can? Convicts spending life behind bars regret being stuck in prison due to the mistakes made by their younger selves. Moments of passion leading to foolish actions by someone who thought they knew it all. Most people make foolish choices driven by ego or shame and the reluctance to say “I need help” or “I can’t do it by myself”. That same person some years later realizes that it’s okay to need someone, but by then it is almost always too late. Our reluctance to realize we may not be as developed and capable as we think we are often limits our opportunities in the future. It limits what we will have to work with when our present self gets there.

So since we know that some time down the road we are going to look back on today and realize that we didn’t have it all figured out then why don’t we just skip all that other stuff and do it right the first time? Instead of wishing for a time machine to go back and make the right decisions why don’t we just make the right decisions now? Sounds easy but I know how much harder it is to just ‘do it’. There are, however, ways to make sure that while in the moment we make good logical decisions instead of riding our emotional train to whatever station it takes us. We need to control our emotions. When we have disagreements with that coworker, instead of allowing our anger to drive us to more and more arguments, let’s just let that anger go and work together. Instead of running from a problem that we are too embarrassed to resolve, let’s just let that humiliation go and get it over with. Instead of coming up with excuses when we mess up, let’s just let it go and say we’re sorry. When we regulate the emotions that are driving us, by our awareness of the fact that we are young and naïve and not as perfect as we think we are, then we handle all situations better. This is how we set up our future selves with a world of opportunities. We have more people in our lives willing to help us. We have more experience to work past issues in the future. We have fewer messes for someone else to clean up.

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We are all a walking chemistry lab that forgot we are the ones wearing the labcoat…

Have you ever had a bad day and felt great about it? Have you ever gotten a promotion at work and thought “My life is really going down the toilet”? I don’t think so. What is it about good situations that make us feel great and bad situations that make us feel bad? Why do our attitudes change with whats going on in the world around us?

I know, it must be the situation itself. Every event must give off particles of positive and negative energy right? Good events radiate happitrons that collide with our brains and release stored amounts of Serotonin and we feel a flood of good feelings all day long. Bad events in this reasoning must then give off depressitrons that do the opposite effect. No wait, I forgot about wave-particle duality. Its waves of happiness and depression that are at just the right frequency to disrupt our brain waves and make us feel both….

No, no, no. This is all wrong. Events in our life don’t do any of those things. They are just random coincidences of actions and movement that sometimes affect us in a direct way, an indirect way or not at all. A car crash somewhere in the world doesn’t make us feel good or bad. Maybe if we read about it in the newspaper and its a particularly tragic collision, say a drunk driver and you have a personal history of this, we might pause and think about it. You might have empathy for those innocent victims involved but you move on rather quickly compared to those said innocents would. If every event in our lives effected us then that would go to say that every event in the world effects us (with the whole happitron/depressitron theory). But we know this is not the case because with all the billions of lives and trillions of events daily, we wouldn’t have enough brain capacity to get out of bed let alone live our own eventful lives. So what is it?

It all starts with us. In a previous post I noted the difference in your body when a gunman points his weapon at you in view. When the gunman is behind you and therefore out of sight, we don’t see any of the stress responses that had occurred when we knew he was there. It all depends on our perspective of the situation and this is the same for every event that occurs to us. Let’s take two diffent paths and discuss what I mean by this.

First the good:

A man lives alone. He goes to work at a job he hates and comes home to an empty house and eats food that he gets zero nutition from. He stays up late watching depressing documentaries and after a few hours sleep repeats the cycle. One day he is walking up the flight of stairs into his office building and notices his breathing is extremely difficult and when he finally reaches the top steps he is light headed. He makes his way to his office just barely and as soon as he turns to close the door his world goes black.
The man wakes up in the hospital and is told he suffered a minor heart attack. The doctor very straight forwardly tells him if he does not change his life he will die. A day later he is discharged. He goes home and writes out his plan. His diet needs changed, he needs to exercise more and he needs to avoid stress. Easy enough. He starts by buying some cookbooks and buying only whole produce and meats. He learns to cook with natural foods and limits the sugars, complex carbohydrates, and oils from his food. He cancels his cable and decides to take up yoga and buy some weights. He stretches and works out multiple times a week and is actually sleeping more soundly and for longer than he ever has before. After a few weeks he notices some changes. The stairs are easier to walk up. His skin is looking better and more colorful. He wakes up more refreshed and has more energy to get in the good breakfast he has been neglecting his whole life. He even notices that his work isn’t so bad anymore and that the old irritations seem rather petty in this light. He feels better and he sees his future as doing nothing but improving. He is ready to go. He is more driven to work harder and in turn feels better about what lies ahead. This gives him more confidence and more energy and general happiness. It turns into a cycle that feeds itself. The more he improves the better his outlook on the future becomes and the better he feels. Happily ever after, The End…

Now the bad:

The man wakes up in the hospital and is told he suffered from a minor heart attack. The doctor very straight forwardly tells him if he does not change his life he will die. A day later he is discharged. The man goes home and thinks about all the work he missed out on. He doesn’t know how he is going to catch up. Even if he does he thinks to himself “The boss will probably just give me grief about leaving him hanging for a couple days”. Making it sound like a joke while not caring about how he is doing after the heart attack. The man feels the company doesn’t do anything for him. Take Take Take until you drop dead. Which he almost did. He is too upset to eat so he goes to bed hungry but doesn’t sleep. He is too busy working himself up over the fact that he has no one who would have missed him if he were gone. He wakes up sluggishly and with his Folders coffee and a microwavable breakfast burrito containing nothing of nutritional value, makes the irritating morning commute to the dead end job he hates more than life itself. The life he now sees as running short with his heart attack. He feels he missed his opportunities and that it is too late to do anything about it now. All he can do is sit in his office with the buzzing fluorescent lights causing a slight twitch in his right eye. “Maybe I should’ve just of stayed dead” he says to himself. At least he would have gotten some good sleep finally…

We are creatures of momentum. When we start feeling good about what’s up ahead we get excited. That vacation we have planned energizes us whenever we think about it. On the flip side however, that public speaking conference you have to do for work becomes a knot of anxiety in your stomach every time you think about. Our feelings of the future directly affect our current energy levels and our current energy levels affect our outlook on the future. When we have energy in the present and a friend asks us to help them move we are more likely to say “sure, I’ll help you move Saturday.” Then the next day after a long grueling daily grind we are more “oh why did I say I would help him move Saturday, I am exhausted.” Neither thoughts nor days have any bearing on what our energy levels and happiness with be on Saturday, but one looks at the future event with a positive outlook and the other looks at it with dread. Each outlook then feeds the current feeling.

Our feelings are nothing more than chemicals being released in the brain and the brains changes in response. We look positively on future events and our brain releases good chemicals and we feel content. When we look negatively on future events our brain releases bad chemicals and we feel anxiety and worry and depressed. Good and bad chemicals have no meaning of their moral compass, chemicals are not good and bad by nature. This is just my way of explaining the emotions that those particular neurotransmitters are associated with.

So we now know that our outlooks change the way we feel and the way we feel changes our outlook. The wonderful cycle of emotional momentum. The best news of all is that we are in control of this chemistry experiment. Events have no effect on us emotionally. There are no happitrons and depressitrons. Our emotions change based on how we feel about those events. It may take practice to do the old saying of “stay positive” but with practice comes proficiency. We are all a walking chemistry lab and we are wearing the labcoats. Let’s see what can make today…

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The right perspective is just an insight away.

Imagine you are walking down a crowded sidewalk on a sunny day. Some downtown picturesque type place that has little shops and a buzz of human activity. People walking in and out of stores, looking into store front windows and walking both in front and behind you, surrounding you in a river type current of people walking down the street. You notice everyone and no one at the same time. The man walking a few feet in front of you suddenly stops, turns around, and points a gun in your face…

This world stops. The sensory input being received and processed in your brain now determines this situation to be a threat. The hypothalamus in your brain sets off a chemical alert response, telling your body to prepare for the worst. Your adrenal glands located on top of your kidneys receive this chemical order through the nervous system and in response pumps out adrenaline. Your heart starts pumping faster, pumping these hormones faster throughout the body. Your stomach gets butterflies as the blood is drained from those now considered unimportant organs and redirected to the brain and muscles. Your brain, accepting more glucose and oxygenated blood, now works faster and faster, slowing down your perception of time. All this work being done is also generating massive amounts of heat. Your body starts sweating to cool itself off. All this happens in fractions of seconds and mean while you still need to decide “Should I lunge towards my attacker?” “Should I run?”

Now imagine the same street with the same stores and the same crowd of people. The same busy buzz of activity on a sunny day but the now the man is walking behind you. He pulls the gun out and points it at the back of your head. What happens?

Absolutely nothing. The same gun is in the hand of the same man in that same crowd of people. The only thing that has changed is your perspective on the situation. With this seemly simple yet powerful peice of logical reasoning, we now have a powerful tool to help us with every situation throughout our entire life. Of course, things in our world happen and there is no stopping that. From an indirect way; the universe is expanding, energy is being transformed and plants are creating oxygen out of carbon dioxide. From a direct way; hurricanes are causing flooding, earthquakes are knocking down buildings and your boss is still asking you to do more with less. There are a lot of things that can impact you and make your life more difficult or worse off, end it. So how does having the right perspective prevent all those things?

It doesn’t. Its not knowing you need the right perspective, its knowing when to change it. The present time is the ONLY time you can do anything. You reflect on your past to help handle situations in the future but the present is the only time you can physically do anything. When you hear about the hurricane you plan for it. You find shelter at a relatives house in another state, or you board up your windows and stock up on supplies. Whatever you plan to do, you do it and then you wait. Stop thinking about what might happened because you can’t do anything until the hurricane (the future) gets here (the present). All that worrying does is trigger your brain to start the stress response and shut down parts of your body that you need to make you strong enough and healthy enough to handle what that hurricane does when it gets there.

A good way to stop thinking about the future is to think about the present. This is called Mindfullness. Do something for me. Where ever you are right now, I want you to think about what is going on there. Can you hear the tick of the clock on the wall? Maybe the kids are watching t.v in the other room. Is it cold or is it warm? Are you hungry? Is your back starting to ache from sitting in the hard chair too long? Take a moment and think about everything around you. Be present. Be aware.

When you do this you are forcing your brain to work on paying attention to your surroundings. The clock is no threat. The sound of the tv from the other room will not pull a gun out and attack you. The hard chair is not telling you to work late on your birthday. Your brain is interpreting the situation as normal and is allowing your body to relax. In times of distress or action, do what needs to be done. Work on getting that report done for school or work. Work out a plan for the stormy weather. Think forward and have a plan for if situations change. Once you do this, come back to the present. The present is where you live.

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