Thursday, December 29, 2016

Fred Machetanz Polar Bear Painting, 1968

Fred Machetanz

Fred Machetanz

Venting and "Rewiring the Brain for Negativity"

Research has shown that people complain once a minute during a typical conversation. Complaining is tempting because it seems to feel good, but like many other things that are enjoyable at first, complaining too often isn’t so good for you.

Why? Because your brain loves efficiency and doesn’t like to work any harder than it has to. When you repeat a behavior, such as complaining, your neurons branch out to each other to ease the flow of information. This makes it much easier to repeat that behavior in the future -- so easy, in fact, that you might not even realize you’re doing it.

You can’t blame your brain. Who’d want to build a temporary bridge every time you need to cross a river? It makes a lot more sense to construct a permanent bridge. So, your neurons grow closer together, and the connections between them strengthen to become more permanent. Scientists often describe this process with the catch-phrase, “Neurons that fire together, wire together.”

Repeated complaining "rewires your brain" to make future complaining more likely. Over time, you find it’s easier to be negative than to be positive -- regardless of what’s happening around you. Complaining becomes your "default behavior," which then can adversely change the way people perceive you.

Complaining may affect other areas of your brain as well. Research from Stanford University has shown that complaining affects the hippocampus -- an area of the brain that’s critical to problem-solving and intelligent thought. 

Complaining Can Also Be Bad for Your Health

When you complain, your body releases the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol shifts you into fight-or-flight mode, directing oxygen, blood, and energy away from everything but the systems that are essential to immediate survival. One effect of cortisol, for example, is to raise your blood pressure and blood sugar so that you’ll be prepared to either escape or defend yourself.

Extra cortisol impairs your immune system and can make you more susceptible to high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. It could even make the brain more vulnerable to strokes.

Since human beings are inherently social, our brains naturally and unconsciously mimic the moods of those around us, particularly people we spend a great deal of time with. This process is called "neuronal mirroring," and it’s the basis for our ability to feel empathy. The flip side, however, is that it makes complaining a lot like smoking -- you don’t have to do it yourself to suffer the ill effects. You need to be wary about spending time with people who complain about everything. Complainers want people to join their "pity party" so that they can feel better about themselves. Think of it this way: If a person were smoking, would you sit there all afternoon inhaling the second-hand smoke? No, you’d distance yourself, and you can do the same with complainers.

There are things to consider when you have an impulse to complain. One is to instead cultivate an attitude of gratitude. That is, when you feel like complaining, shift your attention to something that you’re grateful for. Taking time to contemplate what you’re grateful for isn’t merely the right thing to do -- studies have indicated it reduces the stress hormone cortisol. Research conducted at the University of California, Davis, found that people who worked daily to cultivate an attitude of gratitude experienced improved mood and energy and substantially less anxiety due to lower cortisol levels. Any time you experience negative or pessimistic thoughts, use this as a cue to shift gears and to think about something positive. In time, a positive attitude will become a way of life.

Another thing you can do -- and only when you have something that is truly worth complaining about is to engage in "solution-oriented complaining." Think of it as complaining with a purpose. 

"Solution-oriented complaining" hallmarks include:

Having a clear purpose. Before complaining, know what outcome you’re looking for. If you can’t identify a purpose, there’s a good chance you just want to complain for its own sake, and that’s the kind of complaining to nip in the bud.

Start with something positive. It may seem counterintuitive to start a complaint with a compliment, but starting with a positive helps keep the other person from getting defensive. For example, before launching into a complaint about poor customer service, you could say something like, “I’ve been a customer for a very long time and have always been thrilled with your service ....”

Be specific. When you’re complaining it’s not a good time to dredge up every minor annoyance from the past 20 years. Just address the current situation and be as specific as possible. Instead of saying, “Your employee was rude to me,” describe specifically what the employee did that seemed rude.

End on a positive. If you end your complaint with, “I’m never shopping here again,” the person who’s listening has no motivation to act on your complaint. In that case, you’re just "venting," or complaining with no purpose other than to complain. Instead, restate your purpose, as well as your hope that the desired result can be achieved, for example, “I’d like to work this out so that we can keep our business relationship intact.”

Bringing It All Together

Just like smoking, drinking too much or lying on the couch watching TV all day, constant complaining can be bad for you. Put the above tips to use, and experience the physical, mental, and performance benefits that come with a more "positive frame of mind."

Illustrator Robert Weaver

Robert Weaver

Robert Weaver

Robert Weaver

Robert Weaver

Robert Weaver

Robert Weaver

Beginning in the 1950s, Robert Weaver (1924-1994) epitomized a socially engaged approach to commercial illustration, drawing the human drama from the immediacy of life. By integrating formal and conceptual currents from fine art practices, he altered the practice’s methodologies, thus dramatically expanding its possibilities.
After studying at the Carnegie Institute, the Art Student’s League in New York, and the Accademia delle Belle Arti in Venice, Weaver began his career in New York in 1952 and over the next three decades, his work appeared in Esquire, Fortune, Life, Look, Playboy, Seventeen, Sports Illustrated, and TV Guide, among many other publications.
In addition to his magazine work, Weaver illustrated numerous books and advertising campaigns. He was the recipient of many awards from The Society of Illustrators (which elected him into their Hall of Fame in 1985) and the Art Director’s Clubs of New York and Philadelphia, and his work was the subject of the posthumous retrospective, “Seeing is Not Believing: The Art of Robert Weaver” at the Norman Rockwell Museum in 1997. Weaver was a visiting faculty member at Syracuse University and taught at the School of Visual Arts in New York for more than thirty years, co-creating their Illustration as Visual Essay program.
His teaching legacy was such that a 1997 issue of drawing / sva was devoted to his memory, giving his former students the opportunity to reflect on his profound influence as an educator. Paul Davis, Editor of the publication, described Weaver’s view of illustration, “as a vital instrument of modern communication, not an afterthought, not a decoration, but a powerful and complete statement, illustration that does not depend on a text but is in fact its own text and its own story.”
With his bold line dominant and a focus on urban landscape, Weaver left the process visible, reflecting his commitment to manifesting on the page the changing cultural climate. He stressed the importance of drawing life, from life, guided by a political conscience and incorporating collage elements that literally brought the physical world into his charged psychological space. In 1986, Weaver edited a graduate student publication titled Unframed, stating his goals on the cover, “To put illustrators to work doing the thing they do best...showing us what the world looks like.”
M. Todd Hignite
Modern Graphic History Curator, Washington University in St. Louis

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Top Ten Songs Judged to Reduce Anxiety

Scientists Found One Song That Reduces Anxiety And Stress By Up To 65%
By Mark Pygas
The positive effects that music can have on our brains are well documented, as are the negative effects that stress and anxiety can have. That's why Dr. David Lewis-Hodgson of Mindlab International, decided to conduct research to find the songs that you should be listening to when stressed and anxious.
The study was conducted on participants who were attempting to solve difficult puzzles as quickly as possible. The puzzles were designed to induce stress, and participants were made to listen to a variety of songs to see how they helped calm down heart rate, blood pressure, and rate of breathing.
One song — Weightless by Marconi Union reduced levels of stress and anxiety by a massive 65% and produced such a state of euphoria that Lewis-Hodgson advised against listening to it while driving because it made some participants drowsy. 
The top ten in reverse order:
10. "We Can Fly," by Rue du Soleil (Café Del Mar)
9. "Canzonetta Sull'aria," by Mozart
8. "Someone Like You," by Adele
7. "Pure Shores," by All Saints
6. "Please Don't Go," by Barcelona
5. "Strawberry Swing," by Coldplay
4. "Watermark," by Enya
3. "Mellomaniac (Chill Out Mix)," by DJ Shah
2. "Electra," by Airstream
1. "Weightless," by Marconi Union
I made a public playlist.

A Coral Navajo Ring

Michael Pollan Books

I've been reading these fine Michael Pollan books on food and eating. If you haven't already read them, I highly recommend them.

About Trees by Katie Holten

Friday, December 9, 2016

Two Marvin D. Mangus Paintings

Marvin D. Mangus

Marvin D. Mangus

"Risk Savvy" Book Review

"Risk Savvy" by Gerd Gigerenzer shows why most people make dumb decisions -- We were never trained how to interpret risk. Here are some things to be learned from this book. 

Risk is a language most of us don't speak:

Literacy—the ability to read and write—is the lifeblood of an informed citizenship in a democracy. But knowing how to read and write isn't enough. Risk literacy is the basic knowledge required to deal with a modern technological society. The breakneck speed of technological innovation will make risk literacy as indispensable in the twenty-first century as reading and writing were in previous centuries. Without it, you jeopardize your health and money, or may be manipulated into unrealistic fears and hopes. One might think that the basics of risk literacy are already being taught. Yet you will look in vain for it in most high schools, law schools, medical schools, and beyond. As a result, most of us are risk illiterate ...

People aren't stupid. The problem is that our educational system has an amazing blind spot concerning risk literacy. We teach our children the mathematics of certainty—geometry and trigonometry—but not the mathematics of uncertainty, statistical thinking.

And we teach our children biology but not the psychology that shapes their fears and desires. Even experts, shockingly , are not trained how to communicate risks to the public in an understandable way. And there can be positive interest in scaring people: to get an article on the front page , to persuade people to relinquish civil rights, or to sell a product. All these outside causes contribute to the problem.

The more complex a risk is, the simpler a solution we need to find

When we face a complex problem, we look for a complex solution. And when it doesn't work, we seek an even more complex one. In an uncertain world, that's a big error. Complex problems do not always require complex solutions. Overly complicated systems, from financial derivatives to tax systems, are difficult to comprehend, easy to exploit, and possibly dangerous. And they do not increase the trust of the people. Simple rules, in contrast, can make us smart and create a safer world.

Technology and sophistication increases our confidence in predictions faster than the accuracy of those predictions

Many of us ask for certainty from our bankers, our doctors, and our political leaders. What they deliver in response is the illusion of certainty, the belief that something is certain even when it isn't. Every year we support a multibillion-dollar industry that calculates future predictions, mostly erroneous, from market tips to global flu pandemics. Many of us smile at old-fashioned fortune-tellers. But when the soothsayers work with computer algorithms rather than tarot cards, we take their predictions seriously and are prepared to pay for them. The most astounding part is our collective amnesia: Most of us are still anxious to see stock market predictions even if they have been consistently wrong year after year.

Good decision-making requires multiple ways of thinking:

In an uncertain world, it is impossible to determine the optimal course of action by calculating the exact risks. We have to deal with "unknown unknowns." Surprises happen. Even when calculation does not provide a clear answer, however, we have to make decisions. Thankfully we can do much better than frantically clinging to and tumbling off Fortuna's wheel. Fortuna and Sapientia had a second brainchild alongside mathematical probability, which is often passed over: rules of thumb, known in scientific language as heuristics. When making decisions, the two sets of mental tools are required:

RISK: If risks are known, good decisions require logic and statistical thinking.

UNCERTAINTY: If some risks are unknown, good decisions also require intuition and smart rules of thumb.

Most of the time, a combination of both is needed. Some things can be calculated, others not, and what can be calculated is often only a crude estimate.

Rules of thumb are really powerful: 

Because those who took part in the experiment were German, we came up with questions about the population of German cities (which we assumed would be easy) and U.S. cities (hard ).

We chose the seventy-five largest cities in each country. For instance, "Which city has a larger population: Detroit or Milwaukee?" "Which city has a larger population: Bielefeld or Hanover?"

The result blew our minds. Germans didn't do best on questions about German cities, about which they knew lots, but slightly better on American cities, about which they knew little. We'd made an error in assuming that knowing more always leads to better inferences. The experiment was ruined. 

But this error led us to discover something new, which we called the recognition heuristic: If you recognize the name of one city but not that of the other, then infer that the recognized city has the larger population. Many Germans had never heard of Milwaukee, and so they correctly concluded that Detroit has the larger population. Because they were familiar with both Bielefeld and Hanover, however, the rule of thumb didn't work for this question.

An American who has never heard of Bielefeld will correctly infer that Hanover has more inhabitants, but Germans have a hard time. Similarly, in another study, only 60 percent of Americans correctly answered that Detroit is larger than Milwaukee, while some 90 percent of Germans got it right. The recognition heuristic takes advantage of the wisdom in semi-ignorance.

This is really important stuff:

If we spent the same amount of money on developing a health literacy program to make children risk savvy as on developing new cancer drugs, I wager that the health literacy program would save many more lives from cancer.

We may not save every child from an unhealthy lifestyle, but if we save as few as 10 to 20 percent of the next generation, we will be more successful than further research on new drugs in the fight against cancer. We would also see more teenagers without obesity, smoking, and alcohol problems, as well as more healthy adults in general. We do not have to wait until the children grow old to see if it's successful. The efficacy of such a health literacy program can already be measured when the children are adolescents , by the number of those who smoke, get drunk, are obese, or have other health problems. And the skills children learn cannot only increase health in general but also help to lead a more self-controlled life.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Narcissistic Personality Disorder: A Few Key Points

Here are some key points to keep in mind when dealing with people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder:

 It’s not curable and it’s barely treatable. He/she is who he/she is. There is no getting better, or learning, or adapting. He/she’s not going to “rise to the occasion” for more than maybe a couple hours. So just put that out of your mind.

He/she will say whatever feels most comfortable or good to him/her at any given time. He/she will lie a lot, and say totally different things to different people. Stop being surprised by this. He/she won’t care. So if you’re trying to reconcile or analyze his/her words, don’t. It’s 100% not worth your time. Only pay attention to and address his/her actions.

3) You can influence him/her by making him/her feel good. 

4) Entitlement is a key aspect of the disorder. He/she will likely not observe boundaries. 

5) We should expect that he/she only cares about himself/herself and those he/she views as extensions of himself/herself, like his/her children. (People with NPD often can’t understand others as fully human or distinct.) He/she will have no qualms at all about stealing everything he/she can, and he/she’ll be happy to help others do so, if they make him/her feel good. He/she won’t view it as stealing but rather as something he/she’s entitled to do. 

6) It’s very, very confusing for non-disordered people to experience a disordered person with NPD. While often intelligent, charismatic, and charming, they do not reliably observe social conventions or demonstrate basic human empathy. It’s very common for non-disordered people to lower their own expectations and try to normalize the behavior. Do not do this and do not allow others to do this. If you start to feel foggy or unclear about why, step away until you recalibrate.

7) People with NPD often recruit helpers. These are referred to as “enablers” in the literature when they allow or cover for bad behavior, and “flying monkeys” when they perpetrate bad behavior on behalf of the narcissist. Although it’s easiest to prey on malicious people, good and vulnerable people can be unwittingly recruited. It will be important to support the good people around him/her if and when they attempt to stay clear or break away.

8) People with NPD often foster competition in people they control. Expect lots of chaos, firings, and recriminations. He/she will probably behave worst toward those closest to him/her, but that doesn’t mean (obviously) that his/her actions won’t have consequences for the rest of us. He/she will punish enemies. He/she may start out with a confusing combination of punishment and reward, which is a classic abuse tactic for control. If you seen others cooperating or facilitating this behavior in order to favor rewards, call them on it.

9) Gaslighting (where someone tries to convince you that the reality you’ve experienced isn’t true) is real and torturous. He/she will gaslight, his/her followers will gaslight. Learn the signs and find ways to stay focused on what you know to be true. Note: it is typically not helpful to argue with people who are attempting to gaslight. You will only confuse yourself. Just walk away.

10) Whenever possible, do not focus on the narcissist or give him/her attention. Focus on what you can change and how you can resist, where you are.