Optimization Through Emotional Mastery?

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The terms emotion, feeling and affect are often used interchangeably and there seems to be some confusion as to their meaning. Each is distinct and at the same time associated with each other. To discuss this in terms of optimization, one has to decide from which viewpoint these terms will be explored: Psychological, philosophical, neurobiological or even psychoevolutionally ! Here, and for the purposes of understanding these concepts and their role in optimization, I focus on the psychology and neurobiology of emotion.

Optimization through emotional mastery shows up as self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management, all elements of a healthy balanced person. Our brains are the foundation for our ability to interact successfully with others and emotional mastery is a skill that can be strengthened and expanded. How to acquire or improve upon this mastery is discussed below.

Emotion

…the mental states by which we understand how important things are to us. They expand our sense of connectedness, love, intimacy and define our experiences so that we can understand the world. They act as a guide as to future action to take, and once they are understood and under control, they give mental flexibility and resilience to stress and best of all, an understanding of ourselves and others. They are socially oriented as we broadcast emotion to the world; sometimes this proclamation is an expression of our internal state and at other times it is invented in order to fulfill social expectations. These states include the 8 primary emotions that I’ve taken from Plutchik’s psychoevolutionary theory of emotion.  plutchik They are: anger, fear, sadness, disgust, surprise, anticipation, trust, and joy. These ‘basic’ emotions are thought to have evolved in order to increase our reproductive capacity. Plutchik argued that these emotions trigger behavior with high survival value, such as the way fear inspires the fight-or-flight response or protection or joy inspires reproduction or contact. Plutchik first proposed his cone-shaped model (3D) and the wheel model (2D) in 1980 to describe how emotions were related. The eight primary complimentary emotions include:

  • Joy vs. Sadness
  • Anger vs. Fear
  • Trust vs. Disgust
  • Surprise vs. Anticipation

Additionally, his wheel model makes connections between the idea of an emotion circle and a color wheel. Like colors, Plutchik asserted that primary emotions can be expressed at different intensities and can mix with one another to form different emotions. Quite interesting as it serves as a nice metaphor to take into account the full range of human emotion.

Feeling

…a sensation that has been checked against previous experiences and labeled or named. It is personal as every person has a distinct set of previous sensations from which to draw when interpreting and identifying their feelings. Feelings detect what you sense and include:

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Feelings allow you to determine what is going on out in the world around you as it feeds data into your nervous system. Feeling integrates many streams of neural processing – thinking, sensing, impulse motivation and action. Our feelings inform us what to pay attention to, how to pay attention to it and help us evaluate what we pay attention to.

*The feeling of the 6th sense is in a category by itself – see my post on intuition.

Affectdav04-davinci-drawing

…an outward, observable manifestation of a person’s expressed feelings or emotions. Affect is composed of a coordinated set of responses involving facial muscles, internal organs, the respiratory system, the skeleton, autonomic blood flow changes, vocal responses and gestural behavior. Together, they produce a match to the particular intensity of stimulation experienced by the person. Remember the last time you blushed? This is affect in action.

Affect seems to be necessary for normal conscious experience, language fluency, and memory.

How Emotion and Feeling are associated

An emotion is the projection or display of a feeling. They define what feelings mean. They are often short in duration and always subjective as they are influenced by personal experience, beliefs and memories. We can say that they are actually ‘physical’ as they can be objectively measured by blood flow, brain activity, facial expressions and body language. For example, if my stomach feels tense and in trying to understand this, I might be able to label the emotion behind this as apprehension or fear.

In other words, feelings happen as we begin to integrate an emotion, and react to it through our mental associations. It is a byproduct of our brain perceiving and assigning meaning to an emotion.  Feelings are what happens after having an emotion. In the English language it becomes a bit tricky as, the word “feel” is used for both physical and emotional sensations — we can say we physically feel pressure, but we can also emotionally feel pressured.  As such, feelings are something we sense.  Feelings are often powered by a mix of emotions and last longer than emotions.

But why is this important?

This becomes quite important when we realize that up to 95% of our thoughts, emotions and learning occur without our conscious awareness according to Harvard marketing Professor and author Gerald Zaltman (How Customers Think, 2003). Apparently the 95% rule is used by many neuroscientists to estimate subconscious brain activity. Since the vast majority of behaviors are determined subconsciously we need to ensure we have some control in order to define our lives instead of having them defined by outside influences.

“Emotions are the means in which we understand how important things are to us, and whether they serve us or not”

Brain Correlates to Emotion

Emotional processing, expression and control use much of our brain resources and there is a definite link between brain and behavior. Your body responds to the way you think, feel and act. As such, there is a mind/body connection when we talk about emotions.emotional-brain-areas To better understand how the brain correlates to emotion, the image here is a nice one from emotionalresearcher.com in which a conglomeration of images is shown that relates to the processing of emotion in the brain.The areas implicated and responsible for emotion include:

  • the amygdala
    • which plays a role in emotional arousal, the fight or flight part of the brain which is important for anxiety, fear and stress.  Memories encoded with emotion can be much stronger and longer-lasting that those without emotional encoding.
  • posterior cingulate
    • which is involved in mind wandering, and self relevance.
  • left hippocampus
    • which assists in learning, cognition, memory and emotional regulation

These are all located within the Limbic system which is a subcortical inner area of the brain (just underneath the top portion of your brain or cortex).

  • The prefronal cortex (just behind the forehead) that is responsible for regulating behavior. This includes mediating conflicting thoughts, making choices between right and wrong, and predicting the probable outcomes of actions or events. This brain area also governs social control, such as suppressing emotional or sexual urges. The prefrontal cortex is neurally connected to take in data through the body’s senses and is strongly implicated in qualities like consciousness, general intelligence, and personality.
  • The temporo-parietal junction, or TPJ, (behind and back from your ear) which is associated with perspective taking, empathy and compassion and an understand between self and another.

 

How to optimize for emotional mastery

  • Recognition of your own feelings– this is an important first step. Taking responsibility and ownership of your own response or reaction to outside events is important in emotional control and regulation.
  • Mindfulness or meditation – An interesting study by Sara Lazar (Neuroreport, 2005 nov 28: 16(17): 1893-1897) showed that an ongoing and regular meditation practice is one viable means of optimizing your emotions! She was the first to show how long-term meditation practice correlates nicely with the above listed brain areas.
  • Gratitude– the act of showing appreciation is good for your physical health,  psychological well-being and your relationships with others. Richard Emmons a specialist on gratitude has a nice article on this. Asking yourself and your family to  name 5 things daily you are grateful for is a nice ritual to improve your emotional control through positive thinking.
  • Forgiveness -forgiveness plays a crucial role in life as it offers both freedom and peace of mind. Studies have shown that people who forgive are happier and healthier than those who hold resentments.  They also have less number of health problems. Forgiveness is actually an important process towards self-mastery and  relationship management by finding peace and providing closure to any difficult situation. People who forgive tend to be less angry, feel less hurt, and are more optimistic. They become more compassionate and self-confident. These are requirements for emotional mastery.
  • Positive Psychology – freeing yourself from the ideas that no longer serve you puts the locus of control back to you. One method of doing this is to ask yourself what is “positive and helpful” in any negatively charged emotional situation.
  • Social network development – a set of friends and social engagement in society is important in emotional regulation. Meaningful connection is important for us to understand our place in society, execute change, garner support and provide structure to future generations. Groups like Meet-ups, social networks like Facebook and religious groups all help people to develop their personal networks.

True brain optimization occurs when your brain’s functionality, through your emotional, psychological, intuitive and cognitive processes are all working to the best of their ability in order for you to thrive in your environment. Thriving in your environment enables you to succeed in life.

Cecilia Garrec

 

Article excerpt from: Optimal Mental Functioning: Total Brain Access, all rights reserved

 

Neuroplasticity: The Golden Ticket

neuroplasticity

Neuroplasticity comes about as an extremely important discovery as it serves as a happy alternative to the erroneous idea that brains are fixed in their anatomical and structural  function. In fact, brain plasticity refers to lasting change to the brain throughout the lifespan.  This is the golden ticket to optimization as it is the intrinsic property of the brain to enable itself to escape its genetic limitations by being able to adapt to environmental pressures, physiological changes and negati thoughts! The term became popular in the 60’s after the work of Livingston (Livingston R.B. 1966 “Brain mechanisms in conditioning and learning”. Neurosciences Research Program Bulletin4 (3): 349–354). He showed that many aspects of the brain remain changeable (or “plastic”) even into adulthood. This work challenged the previous scientific consensus that the brain develops during a critical period in early childhood, then remains relatively unchangeable (or “static”).

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One thing that changes the brain, all the time and everytime is  LEARNING. However, not all learning changes the brain permanently….

Short-term learning or memory is when brain cells or neurons signal between themselves via chemicals. These are rapid but easily degraded. This comes into play when you have to learn a 10 digit phone number, for example. Most people will retain this long enough to make a call or write it down and then promptly forget it. Long-term learning or memory, on the other hand, is when the connections between neurons physically change and strengthen and this happens OVER TIME AND WITH REPETITION. This is where lasting learning occurs because firing patterns of the neurons change and in fact these patterns become easier to activate with increased and repeated experience….whole networks of brain regions shift and change to accomodate learning but this take time and effort!

To demonstrate the permanent nature of  long-term learning, studies have shown that musicians, who play stringed instruments, have larger areas of their brains (motor cortex) dedicated to their active hands. Even brain scans of London taxi drivers have revealed that the more years a driver has on the job correlates to a larger portion of their brain (parietal lobe) being recruited to store spatial information.

 “Increased connectivity between neurons is associated with greater ability.”

Reprogramming your thoughts

The demonstration of neuroplasticity is proof that we have a great deal of control over the behavior of our brains and thus consequently the output of our minds. The ability to reroute thought patterns, even those acquired in childhood, at the cellular level is a quite literally life-changing skill — and one that can be taught and learned.

Our thought patterns influence our lives at multiple levels — in fact, for many people, their thoughts are the only things holding them back from their dreams. By harnessing the knowledge we have gained in neuroscience and pairing that with psychology and tools such as mediation and brainwave training we can take change our thoughts and induce better patterns of neuron wiring.

These findings demonstrate that Hebb’s law: Neurons that fire together wire together and neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to change its physical structure and function based on repeated experience, behavior, and thoughts, are the innate properties we have to better optimize our mental functioning.

But What About Brain Damage?

Most neurons, outside the hippocampus, are amitotic — meaning they do not reproduce and divide like most other cells in our bodies. As such, neuroscientists believed that the amitotic nature of neurons meant that any sustained brain damage was permanent; after all, if you can’t grow a new neuron to replace a damaged neuron, then how can any  damage be repaired? The answer is through neuroplasticity. The connection/messengersynapses_web space between neurons — known as synapses — can reroute to new, undamaged areas of the brain, and those new areas can “take over” tasks that were previously assigned to the damaged area. This regularly happens in those who are blinded. Their brain naturally reroutes to accommodate an increase in their hearing efficacy.

Neuroplasticity happens through proper stimulation in the form of doing things that are hard and challenging, leading a healthy lifestyle, engaging in purposeful thought recognition and change and finally having a diet that promotes a healthy brain.

Brains are highly variable and one size cannot fit all and as such optimization requires a personalized approach, as the one available via the OMF program.

See Lara Boyd’s enriching talk on neuroplasticity!

 

Article excerpt from: Optimal Mental Functioning: Total Brain Access, all rights reserved

Using 100% of Your Brain, but what about your mind?

 

One lasting neurological myth involves the percentage of brain matteds00266_ds00810_im03440_bn7_lobesthu_jpgr that humans actually “use.” A commonly cited “fact” is that humans only use 10 to 20 % of their brains. In fact, every part of the brain is responsible for a different thought or life-maintenance mechanism. We might only use a certain part of our brain for movement or critical thinking, but there is activity throughout an entire (healthy) brain during a typical day. Not so long ago when people suffered brain damage to areas such as the frontal or parietal lobes, and still were shown to be functional, it was erroneously assumed that these areas where not needed and hence the idea (myth) that we only use a small portion of our brains was born. Using technology such as magnetoencephalography or  fMRI, scans show activity coursing through the entire brain all the time, even at rest and during sleep. Not all 100 billion neurons are firing at once (this would be akin to an electrical storm and not at all functional and in fact, similar to an epileptic seizure). But neurons do exist in a constant state of resting potential, that is, potentially ready to propagate their information to the next neuron. In fact, it has been estimated that between 1-16% of our brain cells are active at any given moment, as this is the lower limit to sustain consciousness (see Tononi et al., 2005).

As John Henley, a neurologist at the Mayo Clinic explained in Scientific America, Do People Only Use 10% Of Their Brains, “Even in sleep, areas such as the frontal cortex, which controls things like higher level thinking and self-awareness, or the somatosensory areas, which help people sense their surroundings, are active, …we use virtually every part of the brain, and that [most of] the brain is active almost all the time’

Another point that should further put the 10% myth to rest is to consider the amount of energy our brain uses just to keep the neurons at their resting potential. Humans use an astonishing 10% their daily energy intake (whether that be in the form of glucose of ketone bodies- more on that later) just to keep 1,5 kilograms ready to function. This percentage goes up dramatically as the brain, through the mind, is engaged. If we only used a small portion of our brain, there would be no necessity to use all that energy.

We are already using 100% of our brain and thus, the more intriguing question to explore is tapping into the vast reserves of the potentiality of our minds.

See Richard Cytowic’s very engaging video on using 100% of our brain.

 

Article excerpt from: Optimal Mental Functioning: Total Brain Access, all rights reserved

About Optimization

Optimal mental functioning…it’s the ultimate frontier that looks to harness and expand your mind’s functionality through the synergistic interaction of its emotional, psychological, intuitive and cognitive processes, in short form, your EPIC mind. In order to begin to understand this intricate and complex topic, brain imaging, neurofeedback, clever brain games, psychology and the fascinating world of nootropics are well on their way to expanding our understanding on how the mind expands it’s functionality and under what circumstances. Fully understanding how these processes are under our control, how they work together and the tools that are available for their interaction gives us the possibility to attain new levels of well-being, satisfaction and mastery! Read further to discover more about my upcoming book on total mind mastery.

The baseline measure

Before we can talk about enhancing, improving or augmenting our mental capacities, we first need to first understand what’s normal, what’s the baseline function of our own mental capacity. We seem to intuitively know what is normal for the general population, but are we sure what it means on an individual level?

As it stands, we as a group, can be nicely represented on a simple graph, the Gaussian curve, named after the mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss. I’m using this graph to represent us from a mental functioning perspective. It turns out to be quite useful to describe not only mathematically but also visually how we are “distributed” in society.  Statistically, we see that most of us, as a group, fall somewhere into the distinctive bell shape of this curve (99.74%).

normal

We seem to function relatively well. By this, I propose that our baseline is that we are mostly able to engage in productive activities, adapt to change, cope with challenges, understand the spoken word, act upon our thoughts, engage in future planning and socially interact with others.

In essence, we function in such a way as to live independent lives. This in itself would seem to be sufficient as these abilities lead to having a relatively normal life. However, as you see, in the graph above, there is a significant variation from the middle of the graph to its ends and that it changes rather quickly. The area from the center line to the left-handed side of the graph, gradually represents a diminished baseline mental function (as I define it above) while the area from the center line to the right-handed side of the graph gradually represents an enhanced or optimized mental function.

This is important to consider, as I will argue, you can very directly influence, change and enhance your mental function as it relates to this curve. But before we go into the how’s, we need to first address some fundamental questions when we consider optimizing our mental functioning.

  • Why bother?
  • What needs to improve?
  • What are the gains? 

Having the possibility to function at capacities that were not previously realized, that is, above our own baseline normal, is what will be explored.

 

Article excerpt from: Optimal Mental Functioning: Total Brain Access, all rights reserved