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Archive for July, 2014

I came across this recently published article on memory and thought I would share it here.

In neuroscience, it has typically been the neurons put under the spotlight, while the glia cells, or “supporting” cells of the brain, have received relatively little attention from research.

More recently, however, more interest has been taken in the role of the glia cells, of which astrocytes are one type.

I had seen a presentation at an EEG workshop about three years ago, where the professors briefly discussed some unpublished research on the relationship between gamma oscillations and working memory. It would certainly be interesting to see if any extensive neurofeedback research is done specifically into this phenomenon.

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Recently I attended a talk on managing stress and overwhelm in life, and I decided to share a few simple suggestions here.

1. Take things in segments.

Once upon a time I stumbled upon a technique for handling confusion. The author illustrated the point with the following demonstration. Take a few handfuls of little bits of paper. (Tear up an old newspaper that you were going to put in the recycling anyhow to save wasting trees.) Throw them up in the air and watch them all flutter to the ground. It probably looked like a confusing array of floating pieces of paper, didn’t it?

Then the author suggested the following. Pick up all the pieces of paper and repeat the exercise. But this time, as they start to fall, you eyeball one of them and follow its trajectory. As you follow the path of that single scrap of paper with your eye, you find you are able to follow it relatively easily while ignoring for now the rest of the fluttering pieces of paper.

Let’s turn our attention to how to apply that principle in the real world.

Have you ever had the feeling of just “not knowing where to start”? (For what it’s worth, I think that is a major reason why people procrastinate.) There is just too much to do, or too much to study, and the sheer volume of information or tasks is highly daunting.

The key thing is to start somewhere. Even if you are unsure right now what is the most urgent and important, and don’t really feel sure how to prioritise, let’s pick one thing and take positive action now. As the series of tasks starts to unfold, you may find you have a clearer picture of what needs to take priority.

2. Take significance down – less emotional investment.

It is too easy to invest too much energy in things that do not deserve that much emotional investment from you.

Panicking about deadlines, getting in a flap about the amount of things to be done, or getting unnecessarily upset or angry about the situations around you only sap your energy and distract you from the tasks at hand. They do not help you or the task, and reduce your productivity.

You may need to take a step back and ask yourself, “Is this worth getting so emotional about?”

An exercise that I always find helpful in such circumstances is to imagine for an instant that I am looking at the entire Earth from a distance. In the grand scheme of things, where does that thing that made me so angry really rate? It helps to put things in perspective.

3. Managing empathy.

I think one of the flaws (if you can call it that) of the gifted, or of HSP’s (highly sensitive persons) is that of caring TOO much.

It is very easy to hear of injustices in the world and get all riled up on other people’s behalf.

Social concern is one thing, but it can reach a tipping point where it is not healthy.

Sometimes it may do us all some good to take a break from the news media. Watch a nature documentary instead of the news one day. Or forgo your daily newspaper and buy yourself a small treat instead. No one is asking you to bury your head in the sand regarding what is happening in the world, but to acknowledge the fact that sometimes a bit of personal “information hygiene” is healthy.

4. Be aware of the technology trap.

What did we all do back in the days before mobile phones?

It can be very tempting to be constantly checking for texts, checking your emails, checking social media, or looking for news feed updates.

But think about this – how much of the information you checked on in the last 24 hours was actually important to you, and how much time did you spend randomly browsing instead of engaging in a productive task?

Not only do many people waste too much time with their head buried in their phone, but it crosses a line in their interpersonal relationships too. I have even heard reports of people attending a job interview, and the interviewer spent the entire time checking for messages instead of paying attention!

I rely on a certain amount of technology because I am building a business, and there is a minimal expectation that a trader or company will join the 21st century. I also find the Internet an invaluable resource in terms of online textbooks and courses and other study materials.

However, there are days when I just want to go out for a change of scenery and all I take with me are my house keys, my travelcard and enough cash for a snack or drink. It’s actually liberating to go “off the radar” for a few hours.

5. Find time for practices that promote mental and emotional balance and regeneration.

Even with a busy schedule, it is important to get some regeneration time. I’ve been doing biofeedback recently for relaxation.

Some suggestions are:

  • Exercise
  • Engage in a hobby
  • Take a walk
  • Listen to some music
  • Go somewhere different
  • Catch up with an old friend
  • Spend some time with the family
  • Find a green space to enjoy
  • Learn something new
  • Take a really long soak in the tub
  • Meditate or pray
  • Do something else that makes you happy

Whatever it is, just find something that recharges the batteries whenever you need to, and take time to do it!

Feel free to share your own stress-busting and productivity tips.

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Cult expert Steven Hassan describes four general types of cults: religious, political, psychotherapy-educational, and commercial. (There is obviously some degree of overlap between the categories.)

My searches for techniques in mind development have brought me into contact with a number of organizations and movements that, if they are not an outright destructive cult, they certainly have some cult-like characteristics.

Most books, websites and documentaries that I have seen on cults tend to define the organization as a cult in terms of the actions of the leader or management of such groups, how the group is organized, and how it manages its followers. It is also very worthwhile looking at the characteristics of the followers.

In fact, it has been the behaviour of the followers that, more than once, has alerted me to the cult-like nature of the group.

The following are some general observations I have made over the years while studying the self-development techniques of various organizations.

1. The group is very precious about “their” material, even when similar information and techniques can readily be found elsewhere.

One international quasi-religious organization in particular is highly litigious, and it uses copyright and trade mark law not merely to protect its own material in a reasonable manner, but to attempt to prevent use of the techniques contained therein by anyone else. While a work can be copyrighted and a brand or company name can be trade marked, no single person or group can hold a monopoly over an idea. Yet that is precisely what the group leadership or the main guru wants, even when “their” material is a reworking or repackaging of already publicly available information.

I have also seen similar tactics used by a number of other groups.

2. Policing the Internet or elsewhere for open discussions. The guru or group officials dislike any discussion of their materials, techniques or business model anywhere on the Internet.

One self-development guru I knew about used Google Alerts to flag up any discussion of him or his organization. This person went to unusual lengths (threats and coercion) to keep the Internet free of any dissent.

Recently, European legislation was passed making it possible to request that material that is embarrassing to the individual is not included in Google searches. Upon Googling for this person’s name, the following notice appeared: “Some results may have been removed under data protection law in Europe.” I find it entirely believable that this person would have jumped at the chance to make such a request as soon as the law was passed.

Another self-styled guru, a former stage entertainer, does not tolerate any open discussion, product review or short fair usage quotes being posted up anywhere, and makes liberal use of DMCA take down notices.

If members of the public are interested enough in someone’s work to write reviews or opinions about it, then surely the intelligent thing to do would be to handle them a little better. I feel this person has a lot to learn about maintaining friendly relations with the public and not creating antagonism.

Many of these gurus and groups do not need to police the Internet themselves, because they have armies of doting hangers-on with too much time on their hands and too much to say, who are eager to do it for them.

3. Criticizing the competition.

While it is a known cultish technique to criticize the competition and encourage adherents to ditch what they previously learned from other groups, of particular interest to me are organizations where it is the followers themselves who take this to a whole new level.

Case in point on the memory training scene. Even respected names in the field come under heavy fire on forums, while Guru X is presented as the one purveyor of truth on the scene. Very little actual investigation and comparison of all the available techniques is done by many of the most vocal followers. The guru doesn’t have to make unreasonable criticisms of his competitors because these folks will happily do it for him.

As my grandmother used to say, there are none so blind as those who see.

4. Highlighting flaws and weaknesses in the system, or that the same information is available elsewhere, or that a better system is available, is not tolerated.

Anyone who asks too many searching questions, expresses concerns, or whose view of how the group conducts its business is less than flattering, is automatically characterized as a hater or critic. Genuine concerns are never addressed head on, and criticism is never met with counter-arguments and evidence, only volleys of immature ad-homs.

5. When someone finds out something the group’s leadership would prefer they hadn’t, or he thinks they might be about to, the person is rapidly excommunicated.

In some cases, criticism or persecution of the former member follows. Particularly where the guru feels threatened by the former member, or has some other axe to grind.

6. The program or technique is often very aggressively promoted by the group.

What do I mean by “aggressively promoted”? Every Google search, every YouTube search, every forum or social networking site post generates sponsored ads for the organization.

The leader of one particular brain training business, in a bizarre twist, even has what at first blush looks like a critical exposé type of video of him and his company appear at the top of the list on YouTube. It is only once you actually get into the video you realize it is actually an advertisement for their techniques.

7. Too many skeletons in the closet.

I’m not saying every cult-like group has something to hide, but in my personal observations to date, rather too many do.

I have seen at least two leaders turn out to have a colourful past or criminal connections.

Dodgy business models, rip-offs, lack of adherence to own refund policy, and harrassment of unhappy customers who complain, seems to be the rule rather than the exception.

8. Using distractionary tactics to avoid the customer finding something better.

The last thing the guru or group leadership want is for the customer to find something more effective, simpler to use or understand, something that will give them more discernment or judgement in the future, or something based in more modern research.

 

None of the above should be construed to mean that I think all self-development leaders and groups are cults. Far from it.

Does any of this mean that I regret looking in strange places for techniques that work, or that I will stop looking? Absolutely not! I have learned a great deal, and found all sorts of things in the most surprising places that are not exactly reproduced elsewhere.

Bear in mind that just because some information is juicy, or a technique works well, does not automatically mean that the group or individual who lays claim to it is all good. Similarly, just because the group or individual is unpleasant does not mean that everything they put out is bad. It has long been my aim to create a distinction between the two.

I will continue searching for workable development techniques and writing about what I have explored – good, bad, or a mixture.

I do not expect that everyone will share my opinions about my findings, but the one thing I won’t do is compromise my integrity regarding how I express my own experiences and observations of them.

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