Archive for July, 2013

Mindfulness Practice: Awareness of Breathing

July 31, 2013

The following guidance is taken from the Afterword written by Dr. Susan Bauer-Wu from A Mindful Nation by Tim Ryan, which is a book that the healthymemory blog highly recommends.

“ Do this practice at a time of the day and location when you’re less likely to have interruptions or feel sleepy. It may mean that you close your office door and turn off your phone and computer in the middle of the work day, or you get up 15 minutes earlier in the morning, or in the evening you go into a separate room in your home and ask your family to not disturb you for a little while.

There is no need to have a particular goal in mind. You’re not trying to feel a certain way, do anything special, or get anything specific out of it. You’re simply being present in yourself by stilling the body, tuning in, and quieting the mind for a few minutes. The breathing practice below presents a practice you can do over and over again whenever you choose, You can find more details in the books mentioned at the beginning of the resource section (In the book by Tim Ryan).

  • Settle into a steady and comfortable sitting posture—in a chair or on a cushion on the floor. The back is relatively straight, but not rigid, allowing the breathing to be open and easy. Hands can be placed on the thighs or resting loosely on the lap. The head and neck are balanced. You may either close your eyes or just lower them in a soft gaze.

  • Bring your awareness to the sensation of your body touching the chair or cushion, your feet touching the floor, the feeling of the air in the room.

  • Gently bring awareness to the breath as it moves in and out.

  • Notice where the breath is most vivid for you. This may be at the nostrils or at the chest as it rises and falls, or maybe right at the belly as you notice the expanding and releasing.

  • You may be aware of the brief pause between the in=breath and the out-breath.

  • Notice the rhythm of your breathing, and be aware of the sensations of the air coming into and filling your body, and then releasing itself and leaving your body.

  • Stay present with the experience of breathing. Just allow yourself to breathe in a natural and comfortable way, riding the waves of in-breath and out-breath.

  • If your attention has wandered off the breath (and it will), gently escort it back to awareness of breathing. Allow thoughts or emotions to arise without pushing them away or holding on to them. Simply observe them with a very light and gentle curiosity. No need to get carried away by them, or to judge or interpret them.

  • That’s it.”

Dealing with Technology and Information Overload

July 28, 2013

Whenever I read or hear something about our being victims of technology, I become extremely upset. I’ve written blog posts on this topic (See “Commentary on Newsweek’s. Cover Story iCrazy,” and “Net Smart.”) We are not passive entities. We need to be in charge of our technology. There was a very good article on this topic in the August 2013 issue of Mindful magazine. It is titled “A User’s Guide to Screenworld,” and is written by Richard Fernandez of Google who sits down with Arturo Bejar, director of engineering at Facebook, and Irene Au, the vice president of product and design at Udacity. Here are five strategies for dealing with different components of this issue.

Information Overload. There is way too much information to deal with and we must shield ourselves from being overwhelmed. We must realize that our time is both limited and costly. So we need to be selective and choose our sources wisely. When we feel our minds tiring we should rest or move on.

Constant Distraction. Multi-tasking costs. There is a cost in performing more than one task at a time. So try to complete one task or a meaningful segment of a task before moving on to another task. Let phone calls go to voice mail. Respond to email at designated times rather than jumping to each email as it arrives.

Friends, Partners, Stuck on Their Devices. Personally I cannot stand call waiting. I don’t have it on my phone, and if someone goes to their call waiting while talking with me, they will likely find that I am not on the phone should they return. Technology is no excuse for being discourteous. Moreover, technology provides us a means for being courteous, voice mail. So unless there is an emergency lurking, there is no reason for taking the call. Clearly, when there are job demands or something really important, there are exceptions, but every effort should be extended to be courteous. When there are other people present, give them your attention, not your devices. And call it to their attention when you feel you are being ignored.

Social Media Anxiety. Try to keep your involvement with social media to a minimum. The friending business on Facebook can be quite annoying. Moreover, for the most part these friends are superficial. Remember Dunbar’s Number (See the healthymemory blog posts, ‘How Many Friends are Too Many?” “Why is Facebook So Popular?” and “Why Are Our Brains So Large?). Dunbar’s number is the maximum number of people we can keep track of at one time is 150, but the number of people that we speak with frequently is closer to 5. I would be willing to up the number of close friends a bit, but it is still small. And he says that there are about 100 people we speak to about once a year.

Children Spending Too Much Time Staring at Screens. The advice here is to express an interest in your children’s digital life. Try to share it with them and try to develop an understanding of how to deal with technology and information overload.

Let me end with a quote by Arene Au from the article, which is definitely worth quoting: “We need to get up from our desks and move. There is a strong correlation between cognition and movement. We’re more creative when we move.”

© Douglas Griffith and, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Putting Mindfulness to Work

July 24, 2013

Putting Mindfulness to Work is the title of an article by Tara Healey of Harvard University in the August 2013 edition of Mindful (pp. 70-74). Although the article is specifically about putting mindfulness to work in the workplace, it generalizes to the application of applying mindfulness to life. People need to think of mindfulness not just with respect to meditation but to the an activity that can be applied to thinking and life. The following is taken directly from the article:

The mind contains untold resources and possibilities—for creativity , kindness, compassion, insight, and wisdom. It’s a storehouse of tremendous energy and drive. And yet it can also be a matter of annoyance, an untamed animal, or a millstone that drags us down. Sometimes we would just like to shut it off so we can get some work done or have a moment’s peace.

Yet the mind is one thing we can’t shut off. So why not make the most of it instead? Why not put it to good use? Through mindfulness we can train our minds to work better.”

Healey provides four general guidelines:

“Check Your Lenses.” Here she is referring to the deeply held views, ideas, and opinions that serve as lenses through which we perceive. In Kahneman‘s Two system View, these would be System 1 processes that run off automatically. “Check Your Lenses,” reminds us to engage our System 2 processes and try to think from a different perspective. This might enable us to understand or be more receptive to the way others do or think about things. It might even allow us to think of a more encompassing view that allows us to merge or develop new ideas.

“Put Some Space Between You and Your Reactions.” Again, this is a matter of engaging System 2 processes, thinking. One way of doing this is regarding ourselves from a third person perspective. So if it is a matter of a perceived slight or wrong done by another person, we examine the situation as a yet a third person looking at both of us and develop a narrative or storyline of the situation. This has the potential of thinking of a way of, at least, accepting or coming to grips with the situation, or, at best, of coming up with a resolution to the problem.

“Pay Attention to the Small Stuff.” Here is another quote to the article, “No action, reaction, or relationship ever feels uninteresting or unworkable if a curious mind is brought to bear on it.” If all else fails, the default activity is to focus on our breathing. That is, to disengage our System 1 processes and think about our breathing. Or we can focus on how different parts of our body feel, or on simple activities such as the way we place a phone to our ears when we hear it ring.

“Make a Habit of It.” We need to have a formal practice of mindfulness and to extend mindfulness into our everyday life. A formal practice of mindfulness means meditative practice done on a regular schedule. Many posts on meditation can be found in the healthymemory blog. Placing yourself in an uncomfortable position is not required, it could even be counterproductive. Simple practices such as simply focusing on one’s breath can be beneficial. It is hope that this current blog post has provided some ideas as to how to integrate mindfulness into everyday life.

Mindfulness is a means of training our brains, so that they function more effectively and so that we lead more satisfying lives. Mindfulness actually changes our brains and develops new synaptic connections.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Is Our Evolutionary Heritage Placing Us at Risk?

July 21, 2013

I believe it is common knowledge that one of the reasons those of us living in the developed countries tend to be overweight, or obese, is that in the earliest stages of the development of our species it was beneficial to survival to store up bodily fat when food was available. This enabled our species to survive when food was not readily available. It was also beneficial to consume foods high in calories. As food is readily available in developed countries today, and there is a tendency to favor foods high in calories. So behaviors that once were beneficial, are now no longer beneficial, and are even potentially harmful.

There is an analogous situation with respect to how we respond to stimuli and how we process information. In earlier times, there were many sources of danger both from other species and within our own species. Consequently, it was beneficial to respond quickly to potential dangers. It is our sympathetic nervous system that responds to potential danger and produces stress. Our parasympathetic nervous system has the role of counteracting our sympathetic system to reduce stress and calm ourselves. An argument can be made that our evolutionary heritage has left many of us with a predisposition in favor of the sympathetic nervous system even though, for most people and in most places, this predisposition is no longer beneficial. There are other factors in addition to a likely evolutionary predisposition that increase the problem. Given the preponderance of crime shows and violence on television and in the movies, people develop a sense of danger that is not proportionate to their actual individual risk. News reports of violent crimes, mass shootings, and terrorist acts increase the sense of danger, when the actual probability of their occurring to most individuals is extremely low. Few people are aware that about 50% of law enforcement officers retire without ever having fired their weapons in the course of their duties. Even with the vast news coverage that has been given to the Trayvon Martin case, there has been virtually no mention of the fact that if there had been no gun, no one would have been killed, and there would have been no trial. The belief that the solution to the problem of gun violence is the arming of more people is clearly false. More guns increase, not decrease, the likelihood of violence.

As has been mentioned in previous healthymemory blog posts, System 1 processes (if you don’t know what System 1 processes are, enter System 1 into the blog search box) were especially beneficial to the early survival of our species. And while System 1 processes are beneficial most of the time, they can have erroneous outputs and System 2 processes must be engaged. A very simple way of thinking about this is that System 1 is reacting, whereas System 2 is thinking. Mindfulness involves shutting down System 1 processes and allowing the flow of System 2 processing.

More information can increase the resort to System 1 processing in an effort to try to keep up with the information overload. Nate Silver notes in his book, The Signal and the Noise, a surprising result of an earlier technological innovation that greatly increased the dissemination of information, the printing press. It produced the Protestant Reformation that plunged Europe into war. “From 1524 to 1648, there was the German’s Peasant War, the Schmalkaldic War, the Eighty Years War, the Thirty Years War, the French Wars of Religion, the Irish Confederate Wars, the Scottish Civil War, and the English Civil War…The Thirty Years War alone killed one-third of Germany’s population, and the seventeenth century was possibly the bloodiest ever, with the early twentieth staking the main rival claim.”1

One can argue that the advent of the internet has increased the dissemination of information, produced information overload, and has resulted in similar problems: terrorism, religious wars (in the 21st century if you can believe it), and political polarization, which has impeded, if not prevented, effective government.

The solution to this problem is clear, it is mindfulness. We need to try to establish contact with reality, with our bodies, and our minds. (Enter “Mindfulness” into the healthymemory blog search block to learn more about mindfulness).

1Silver, N. (2012). The Signal and the Noise. New York: The Penguin Press., p. 4.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

APS Bring the Family Address on Diverse Brains

July 17, 2013

Morton Ann Gernsbacher from the Universe of Wisconsin-Madison gave this address on Diverse Brains. She began by reviewing a long list of imaging studies of the brain that found differences between male and female brains, autism, and a variety of other topics. The problem was that the consistent replication of these findings was not found. Rather they were inconsistent and pointed to different differences. Just now I have downloaded a book to my Kindle titled Brainwashed: the Seductive Appear of Mindless Neuroscience by Sally Satel and Scott O. Lilienfeld. Although brain imaging is a valuable research tool, it has generated a lot of junk. I’ll have more posts on this topic after I’ve read the book.

The remainder of her talk centered on accepting disability as diversity. There is an acceptance of disability scale. There is a positive relationship between this scale and a positive personal state. Although it might not be surprising that one’s acceptance of a disability predicts a positive personal state, this relationship persists regardless of the severity of the disability! The stress of the parent of a disabled child depends upon the subjective judgment of the parent. For example, the stronger the agreement of the parent’s response to the item “It is important for me to accept my child’s disability from doing things that I want to do”, the lower the stress of the parent. It is a matter of reframing the situation and taking the following attitude: Life might not be the party I hoped for, but maybe as long as we’re here we should dance.

Gernsbacher also commented on how accommodations that have been made for the disabled have benefited others. For example, the multiple benefits of captions. I, for one, welcome them in noisy taverns where no one can hear. One can also watch television without bothering others. The sloping of curves, which was done to accommodate those in wheelchairs, are also beneficial to bicyclists, and people pushing strollers or other wheeled devices. Unfortunately, they have made it more difficult for the blind navigating with canes as it makes it more difficult for them to find the curb. Clothing tags, which were especially problematic for people with sensitive skin have been removed by some clothing manufacturers. This policy has been welcomed by many others who find them annoying.

Her final remarks were on neither the brain or diversity, but were addressed to her fellow teachers. This had to do with speed versus power tests. Speed tests need to be completed in a specific time. For power tests, the time is unlimited (practically speaking). She sad that the most common complaint she received from her students is the limited time for tests. Consequently, she provides unlimited time, when it is possible, or shortens the test so that it can easily be completed within the time limitation. Apparently the Stanford Achievement Tests and the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) no longer impose time limits on their tests.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Another Quiz

July 3, 2013

There will be a brief hiatus in new postings to the healthymemory blog. I believe that there are already sufficient postings (more than 400) to interest readers in the interim. Here is a quiz, should you wish to challenge yourself. Remember the search block on this blog when you are looking for topics of interest or trying to finds answers to the quiz. There is also an earlier quiz, enter “quiz” into the search block, should you want to test yourself further.

  1. What are the five supermemes that threaten the collapse of civilization according to Costa





      1. What is the importance of ikiga?

      2. What is the best means of preventing or mitigating dementia?

      3. What is crystalized intelligence?

      4. What is the distinction between System 1 and System 2 processing?

      5. What is a paraprosdokian?

      6. What is meant by mindfulness?

      7. What is hyperpartisanship and how can it be reduced?

      8. How can transactive memory aid prospective memory?

      9. What is the relationship between meditation and attention?

      10. Why is attention important?

      11. What is the One Bun Rhyme Mnemonic?

      12. How can you remember historical dates and appointments?

      13. What are the differences between Congressman Tim Ryan and Congressman Paul Ryan?

        1. Can false memories be implanted in memory?

        2. Why is speaking on a cell phone with your hands free still dangerous?

        3. What is the relationship between the average retirement age of a country and the onset of dementia?

        4. What tragedy has resulted from a failure in prospective memory?

        5. What is the Distinctiveness Heuristic?

        6. How does incubation relate to creativity?

        7. How can you boost your brain?

        8. What memory technique was developed by Pierre Herigone”