Thursday, May 31, 2007

Why don’t we do what we know works better?

I mull frequently about an issue that I’m sure readers of this blog are familiar with. Having assembled a fairly extensive toolkit of techniques to maintain personal poise, sanity, vitality, etc. (tools of the sort mentioned in the essay on my website titled “Mindstuff: a guide for the curious user.”), how is it that I don’t use them more religiously to maintain those desired qualities? Well…. there are some limits intrinsic to the fact that they are constructions of my adult mind, mainly over the past 15—20 years. They require attention and energy for their maintenance, unlike the pandora’s box of less useful older habits and ways-to-be-in-the-world that formed in my youth, and are more hard wired into place. During periods of inattention or low energy, I don’t notice the these older autopilots and temperaments slipping back into place to resume their residency. This, I suppose, is why practitioners of various healthy mind regimes (schools of meditation, cognitive therapies, or whatever) keep saying: “How do you get to Carneige Hall? Practice, practice, practice!”

Joseph LeDoux perhaps puts it better in some recent comments:

One of the things I've learned about the brain is that anxiety and stress breed anxiety and stress. So, it makes sense that we should do things to reduce anxiety and stress in our daily lives, like the sorts of breathing exercises that are used in meditation. These are effective in part because they push the autonomic nervous system toward its parasympathetic side, slowing the driving force of the sympathetic system and reducing the arousal level of the body and the brain. Do I do these exercises? Not as often or as effectively as I probably should. But cardiologists probably don't always eat the right things or exercise as much as they should, either. It's one thing to know what to do, and another to do it. (If we could figure out that discordance, we'd really know something.)

1 comment:

Craig Overend said...

I like the old saying of you can't teach an old dog new tricks. He doesn't have the attention or energy.
It's probably very expensive to learn new patterns and the reward/response to certain pathways likely helps the pre-existing habits persist. Nature had a recent podcast on dopamine and inhibitory/excitatory neurons. I'm still trying to memorise "Lateral habenula" after listening to that. I've dubbed it the habit nebula so as to do so. :)
Nature Podcast

Along with habit nebula, I think about all that material required to create and patch one neuron to another, the distance axons have to travel and obstacles to avoid in the adult brain means things might take longer. I feel better knowing that now as I grow older and become more repetative in my daily life. I also feel worse because of all the bad habits I know I've formed through incessant practice, practice, practices. Especially the stress and anxiety related endevours.

With that, I think you have to be careful when it comes to calling mind regimes healthy for that reason. Practice, when it's singularly focused potentially builds obsessively bad habits. What's taught and the healthy associations made when learning are for me what encompasses healthy learning.
One of my problem solving habits is the mantra that; "There are at least six sides to any story."
I picture the problem in a box and look at it from all sides. Or the common saying of "think outside the box."
It's these kinds of associations I find help me form new habits best. Associating the new with the super-highways of the old.

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