Tag Archives: Thoughts

They Limped in and Danced Out: Choices and Illusions, Part 1

A few of my posts recently have been about the importance that our thoughts and beliefs can have on how we function. Coincidentally, I was asked to write a review of a book that is right in line with this thinking. The book: Choices and Illusions: How Did I Get Where I Am, and How Do I Get Where I Want to Be? by Eldon Taylor. I enjoyed reading it and if you’re unfamiliar with the idea that our thoughts can have a tangible impact on us, this book is certainly a great introduction. Over the next few days, I’ll take a closer look at some of the sections of the book. In today’s post, I’ll look at the first 6 chapters.

~

Chapter 1 was a great introduction to this idea that our thoughts can have a tangible effect on our lives. Taylor tells a clever story about an eagle that was raised as a chicken. The eagle, all its life, assumes it’s a chicken, even when an eagle comes to tell it that it’s an eagle. This chapter reminds me of many of the posts I’ve written about perspective. If you don’t know what other possibilities there are out there, it’s hard to choose something different.

In chapter 2, I was surprised to hear about someone who can draw fractals freehand! I remember a few years ago being really enthralled by fractals. In fact, there were times when I’d just watch YouTube videos of fractals for in 15-30 minute increments. If you’re interested, Jason Padgett is the fellow who can draw fractals freehand. He’s quite good! And if you don’t believe me that fractals can be encapsulating, watch this: Fractal Zoom Mandelbrot Corner.

Chapter 3 had a really fun story about a high school reunion. There were a number of people who had reached the age where they weren’t as mobile as they used to be. The DJ, not accounting for this in creating the playlist, became worried when people weren’t moving so well on the way into the event. Figuring that there wasn’t enough time to change the playlist, the DJ played it as it was. The DJ later told Taylor: “Eldon, they limped in and danced out!” How is this possible? Well, as Taylor emphasizes, our thoughts can have a powerful effect on our abilities. Many of these people were transported to their youthful days upon hearing the popular music during the time they were in high school.

Chapters 4 through 6 reminded me of the importance of the documentary Miss Representation (and it’s soon to be released companion: The Mask You Live In). The media can have such a powerful impact on the way we think about ourselves and it can often be overlooked. In particular, chapter 6 reminds us that advertising is not always the most ethical profession. With that being said, it’s important to say that not all advertisers behave in this way.

In tomorrow’s post, we’ll look at chapters 7 through 12.

(Disclosure: I was given a free copy of the book.)

More Scientific Evidence That Beliefs Affect Biology

If you’ve been following me since I started writing on the internet a couple of years ago, you know that I have a certain soft spot for the power of belief (sampling: here, here, here, and here). I understand that many folks are still leery of that phrase, but when you couch it in the context of the “placebo effect,” it’s amazing how many people begin to accept it as a thing.

Depending upon your philosophical bent, you may believe that willpower is a depletable resource. You certainly wouldn’t be alone in that thought, as President Obama seems to subscribe to this point of view. There are also those who believe that willpower is not a limited resource. So, which one is it? A simple question without a simple answer. It’s important to remember that depending upon from which point we begin, we may be less inclined to believe the other side of the story (remember the confirmation bias?) As much as possible, it’s important to try to take in new information with an open mind. With that being said, (regardless of where you stand), try to examine the following study with an objective and critical eye.

…following a demanding task, only people who view willpower as limited and easily depleted (a limited resource theory) exhibited improved self-control after sugar consumption. In contrast, people who view willpower as plentiful (a nonlimited resource theory) showed no benefits from glucose—they exhibited high levels of self-control performance with or without sugar boosts. Additionally, creating beliefs about glucose ingestion (experiment 3) did not have the same effect as ingesting glucose for those with a limited resource theory.

When I read this, my first thought was, as the title suggests, more evidence that our beliefs can affect our biology (see: Biology of Belief). Of course, I understand if some folks have a hard time jumping on board with this, so, like I said, couching it in the language of the “placebo effect” seems to make it more palatable.

~

After reading this, I’d encourage you to follow-through with application. That is, now that you have this knowledge, apply it to your own life. Test it out. See what works for you. Maybe you used to believe that willpower was a limited resource, but after reading this, think the opposite. It’s certainly worth taking a chance, right?

Chapter 4 – Corporate-Owned Life Insurance and Placebos: What Money Can[‘t] Buy, Part 4

It’s been more than a month since I last completed a post in this series. To refresh your memory: we were looking at the chapters in Michael Sandel‘s book, What Money Can’t Buy. In the first chapter, we looked at things like when it’s okay to jump the line. In the second chapter, we looked at the difference between fines and fees. In the third chapter, we looked at fairness and inequality. In today’s post, the fourth chapter, we’ll look at the markets in life and death.

As with previous chapters, I’ve learned something that I didn’t even know existed. In this chapter, I learned about something called “janitors insurance.” This is another way of saying corporate-owned life insurance. Meaning, a company takes out a life insurance policy on its workers. Now, you may have already assumed (or thought) that companies might take out a life insurance policy on the CEO, as the time and energy that would need to go into finding a new CEO should the current one die suddenly, but would you have considered that some companies take out life insurance policies on workers much lower on the organizational chart?

I’m a little uneasy with this idea and I’m not sure which side I’d come down on if forced to choose. It’s certainly a delicate subject.

This chapter also talked about people being able to sell their life insurance policies. Let’s say a man (or woman) is the breadwinner in the family and takes out life insurance when he’s (or she’s) in his (or her) early 30s. The life insurance is really *only* important to the family through the breadwinner’s working years. So, when the person turns 65 (or when they retire), they feel that they no longer need that insurance — and sell it. Do you think that’s ethical? Is it unethical to prevent someone from selling it?

Again, I’m really not sure what’s right in this situation. For some reason, it feels a little more ethical that the people are willingly selling the life insurance that they had previously bought rather than if someone took out life insurance without their knowledge. Though, I’m aware that this may just be the contrast effect at play.

There were other variations on this theme throughout the chapter, but the one thing that I kept thinking about in response to this idea is the variations on the placebo effect that I’ve written about before. We know how powerful our own thoughts can be for ourselves (example) and how powerful our thoughts can be for others (example) — don’t you think that someone buying life insurance (i.e. buying stock in our eventual death) is a bit like sending negative thoughts to a person? Maybe that’s a little extreme.

Your Beliefs Matter for Others, Too

In reflecting on yesterday’s post, I remembered another anecdote that you may find quite powerful. This comes from a story that a friend of mine who taught high school (not sure if she still does). And the more that I think about yesterday’s post and the post I’m about to write now, yesterday’s matches really well with the the first post I wrote about words being important and today’s matches really well with the second post I wrote about words being important to others.

The story begins with the teacher, let’s call her Laura to make this easier, asking the class to stand in a circle. After the class is standing in the circle, she asks for one volunteer to step into the center of the circle with her. Someone enters the center of the circle — let’s call him John. Now, before I go on, I should say that John was one of the taller people in the class (taller than Laura). These were high school students and some of them had surpassed Laura’s height, which is natural because Laura wasn’t very tall. Alright, so Laura pushes down on John’s arm and nothing happens — obviously. He’s much stronger than her.

Then, Laura asks John to go out into the hallway for a few minutes. After the door is closed, Laura then tells the class what she’s about to do. She also explains that she wants everyone to send/think negative thoughts to John. Thoughts like, “I hate you,” and “You suck,” and lots of other negative things that they can probably imagine because they’re in high school. They’re not to say any of these out loud, though. Once she’s certain everyone gets it, she goes out into the hall to get John.

After John’s back in the circle, she explains to everyone (and John, this time) that she’s going to have John extend his right arm out in front of him. Next, she’s going to ask him to hold it steady (i.e. resist) as she begins to push down on it. What John doesn’t know is that when his arm is extended, the rest of the class will be sending/thinking negative thoughts.

John extends his right arm. The class starts sending negative thoughts. Laura pushes down on John’s arm… it falls like limp spaghetti. The look on John’s face, Laura tells me, is remarkable. He’s astounded that Laura can simply push his arm down with ease. He asks her to do it again — and he tries harder to hold his arm up. The same thing happens.

She thanks John and asks him to go out into the hallway one more time. When he gets there, she then tells the class that she wants everyone to do the opposite this time. She’s going to have John repeat the process, but she wants the class to send/think positive thoughts of John. Things like, “I love you,” and “You’re awesome.”

When John comes back into the circle this time, he’s expecting that Laura will, again, be able to easily push down on his arm. However, when she pushes down — nothing happens. So, Laura then tries using both of her hands to push down. Nothing. John’s arm wouldn’t budge. Again, Laura tells me, John’s reaction is priceless. She thanks John and explains to the class what’s just happened, who by the way, are also pretty shocked to see John’s arm collapse for negative thoughts and hold steady for positive thoughts.

~

The thoughts we think are powerful. This used to be something that was “fringe,” and relegated to certain aisles in the bookstores. When you see publications like Scientific American reviewing studies that confirm things like this, you know that it’s striking a mainstream cord.

If you’re looking for more information about topics like this, I suggest looking for academic studies on the Placebo Effect. It’s quite amazing the kinds of effects that can occur that are attributable simply to the person believing that they’re going to be better.

Belief Matters More Than You Think

I came across an article in Scientific American last week that reminded me of a story of mine that I haven’t yet told. When I was a PhD candidate at Sofia University, one of the classes that we were required to take was aikido. I really enjoyed learning this martial art having had past experiences with taekwondo and karate — specifically, Gōjū-ryū. (In fact, I did some googling and even found the dojo where I spent a great deal of my youth!)

Anyway, while at Sofia University and learning  aikido, I remember one of the classes quite vividly. In this class, we were learning about the five elements, as they related to aikido. In particular, we were learning about earth. The Sensei (teacher) asked one of the smallest women in the class to come to the front and then he asked me to come to the front, too. He asked her to stand normally and then asked me to lift her off the ground from under her arms. I did it easily. Next, he asked her to imagine that she was the earth element — planting roots deep into the ground. After a few dozen seconds, he then asked me to try lifting her again (in the same way I lifted her before) — nothing. I bent my knees a bit more and put some more force behind my lift — nothing.

I was amazed.

It was quite clear from the first half of this exercise that I could lift her off of the ground, but when she was imagining that she was the earth element, I was — so it seems — helpless. I’ve written before about the importance that our words/thoughts can have on ourselves (and on each other!), but this is a tangible example of how someone’s beliefs are actually effecting reality in a very tangible way. Is there something you’re believing about yourself that may be limiting your ability to lift yourself off of the ground?

~

I realize that my story is anecdotal, so I thought I’d also include one of the many examples from the Scientific American article:

Psychologists Ulrich Weger and Stephen Loughnan recently asked two groups of people to answer questions. People in one group were told that before each question, the answer would be briefly flashed on their screens — too quickly to consciously perceive, but slow enough for their unconscious to take it in. The other group was told that the flashes simply signaled the next question. In fact, for both groups, a random string of letters, not the answers, was flashed. But, remarkably, the people who thought the answers were flashed did better on the test. Expecting to know the answers made people more likely to get the answers right.

~

Editor’s Note: As an aside, I’m in the process of moving from Washington, DC, to Ottawa, Canada (the Glebe!), so my posts may become a bit sparser over the next few weeks. I’ll still do my best, but if you don’t see anything for a couple of days, it’s probably because I’m busy with planning/arranging the move.

Quick Thoughts on Will Smith’s “After Earth”

Have you seen Will Smith’s new sci-fi flick, After Earth? The box office indicates that you probably haven’t as it came in 3rd this weekend with just under $30 million domestically. If you happen to read movie reviews online, you’ll know that there’s almost been what looks like a one-upmanship contest to see who can give a more scathing review of After Earth. One of the most striking reviews is the attempts to connect Will Smith to Scientology. I may be wrong, but from what I’ve heard of Will Smith on the subject of spirituality, these claims seem to be a bit far-fetched.

I had the chance to see the movie over the last couple of days and let me tell you… I don’t think it’s nearly as bad as the reviews would have you believe. In fact, there was a pretty good post about the movie from io9 that serves as an FAQ/review with spoilers. As I’ve gone back and read some of the reviews, there certainly seem to be some valid points. Although, I wouldn’t consider myself a film critic by any stretch of the imagination nor a film expert. While I’ve seen many movies, I don’t know what to look for the same way that someone who’s studied film would.

This may be a bit out of left field, but I wonder if the reaction to the movie has more to do with the philosophy it espouses than the “poor acting.” I remember Cloud Atlas wasn’t received with open arms, but there were some folks who did still give it positive reviews. There was certainly a philosophical bent to Cloud Atlas, though different from the one in After Earth.

The philosophy from After Earth reminded me a lot of what you might find if you read some of Byron Katie’s writings. In fact, the mini-monologue that Will’s character gives to Jaden’s character seemed like it might be something that Katie could have said herself!

The “Secret” to a Happy Life: Psst, It’s not really a Secret at All

I’m still fairly young by most standards, but I’ve had quite a (both formal and informal). In that time, I have learned (at least I’d like to think so) a thing or two about myself and other humans (by way of my time in psychology). Sometimes, I like to sit in a coffee shop on a busy street corner and just watch “us” interact with “us.” It can be quite entertaining — I recommend doing it at least once.

As I watch these people about, I’m struck by the constant string of perplexed faces. More than that, there are a number of folks who don’t look happy. There could be any number of reasons for that, so I won’t speculate, but I will group them together. Meaning, the expression on their face, I would gather, has to do with something they are thinking. This thing that they are thinking causing this uncomfortable expression, more than likely, is unpleasant. Some would even say that .

So we’ve got the group of folks thinking things that are causing unpleasant feelings. I pan to the right and I see a couple arguing on the street. Relationships can be fickle, so who knows what the surface argument is about. The underlying argument, more than likely, has to do with something that one person is thinking. It’s a similar situation to those who are walking down the street with strange looks on their faces, only in this instance, we have the people expressing themselves (outwardly) in an intentional (or sometimes, not-so-intentional) manner.

There’s the folks thinking and walking and then there’s the arguing folks. There are other examples I could bring up, but let’s stick with these two for now.

I’d like you to imagine these interactions, these people walking and thinking or the couple arguing, if both parties (or the singular party) didn’t assume anything. How would the interaction look different if the rule was to “assume nothing.” Seriously now, take a second to imagine the scenario in your head — (I’ll wait). Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Hey, welcome back. What did you notice? Did the interaction take place differently? I bet it did. Let’s take a closer look.

With the people who are walking and thinking, the looks on their faces are evidence of the thoughts they are having. These thoughts are likely about someone (or something) that isn’t going the way they hoped it would. What’s the underlying cause: assumptions. These people are assuming that what has happened wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) happen. If we eliminate this preliminary step of assumption, the reality that exists is no longer at odds. It just is. There’s nothing to be disdainful about. (It’s pretty hard to be angry with reality.)

Let’s move on over to the couple. Let’s say the are arguing about the cost of parking. One person wants to park on the street, while the other wants to look for more inexpensive parking. The one who wants to look for more inexpensive parking may be operating under the assumption that a) there will be less expensive parking somewhere else, and/or b) we don’t have the money to afford this much for parking. Part b) of that sentence assumes that there won’t be more money coming in from (anywhere or more specifically, an unexpected source). Maybe, when they are hanging their coats up at home, a $20 bill falls out of the pocket — boom! Paid for parking.

Or how about another example that I bet most of us can relate to. You’re driving down the highway in the “fast lane” when all of a sudden, you start to come up really fast on someone causing you to slam on your brakes. How dare they make you have to slam on your brakes. Who do they think they are? You may begin to tailgate (I hope not!) or you may slow down or you may try to pass them on the right (again, I hope not!) But what’s the underlying cause for your anger? You may say that it’s because that person shouldn’t be driving slow in the fast lane or maybe you think (as part of the first half of this sentence), they should move over if someone quickly approaches from behind. I went to driving school when I was a teenager and I don’t remember hearing those “laws.” So, what are they? These are assumptions we carry about driving on the highway and we think that people are supposed to abide by our assumptions.

My purpose in writing this is not to make you feel bad about yourself (or your assumptions), but simply to shed light on the idea that there may be some assumptions that are contributing (maybe even causing) you to feel the things you think you are justified in feeling. And in the moment, you probably feel infinitely justified. However, once the emotion has passed, I would encourage you to look back and see if you can identify an “assumption” that you may have been operating under during that time of distress.