Thursday, February 9, 2012

Meditating at Work: A New Approach to Managing Overload


Today's employees and managers are deluged with an unprecedented amount of information and distraction. If it's not emails, texts, and instant messaging, then it's phone calls, coworkers, and constantly changing demands and deadlines. Basex research found that 50 percent of a knowledge worker's day is spent "managing information" and that an excess of information results in "a loss of ability to make decisions, process information, and prioritize tasks." In fact, research shows that constant information overload sends the brain into the fight-or-flight stress response, originally designed to protect us from man-eating tigers and other threats.

According to Dr. Edward Hallowell, the prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain responsible for executive functions such as decision making, problem solving, and planning) cannot execute properly when it is in stress mode. Instead, the "lower part" of the brain, which is responsible for dealing with survival, takes over. The prefrontal cortex then waits for a signal from the lower brain that the stressor has disappeared. Until then, the prefrontal cortex still functions, but poorly. Intelligence declines, and flexibility is minimal.1The result of this information and distraction overload is wreaking havoc with both employees' and managers' mental and physical health, as well as with productivity. As Jonathan Spira notes in Overload! How Too Much Information Is Hazardous to Your Organization, this problem has been estimated to cost the U.S. economy $900 billion per year in "lowered employee productivity and reduced innovation."2 This figure also includes recovery time, which can be ten to twenty times greater than the time lost from the interruption itself.

While organizations have addressed these challenges with a variety of stress-management solutions, until recently meditation was not among them. It still had a reputation for being flaky and unfit for corporate consumption. However, scientific studies that have proven the value of meditation in changing the brain point to meditation's practical application in the workplace. Meditation is now gaining acceptance and being used in established American companies such as General Mills, Google, and Prentice Hall.

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No Matter What the Problem, There Are Only Four Things You Can Do


When faced with a difficult problem, you might find yourself paralyzed over deciding what to do. Emotionally sensitive people often have difficulty making decisions, tend to ruminate about issues and can become increasing upset as a result of thinking about the issue over and over.

Searching and searching for the right solution, perhaps one that won't upset others or cause pain or loss, adds to anxiety and upset. How can someone find just the right solution and know what the right solution is?

Marsha Linehan, the creator of Dialectical Behavior Therapy, outlined strategies for any problem that you face. Remembering these options can help decrease the struggle of not knowing what to do. The four options are Solve the Problem, Change Your Perception of the Problem, Radically Accept the Situation, or Stay Miserable.

Choice 1: Solve the Problem.

There are many problem solving strategies but most use the same steps. First, define the problem. Be as specific as possible. Use numbers whenever possible. For example "I've been overspending my budget every other month by $315."

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The Neuroscience Of Music



Why does music make us feel? On the one hand, music is a purely abstract art form, devoid of language or explicit ideas. The stories it tells are all subtlety and subtext. And yet, even though music says little, it still manages to touch us deep, to tickle some universal nerves. When listening to our favorite songs, our body betrays all the symptoms of emotional arousal. The pupils in our eyes dilate, our pulse and blood pressure rise, the electrical conductance of our skin is lowered, and the cerebellum, a brain region associated with bodily movement, becomes strangely active. Blood is even re-directed to the muscles in our legs. (Some speculate that this is why we begin tapping our feet.) In other words, sound stirs us at our biological roots. As Schopenhauer wrote, "It is we ourselves who are tortured by the strings."

We can now begin to understand where these feelings come from, why a mass of vibrating air hurtling through space can trigger such intense states of excitement. A brand newpaper in Nature Neuroscienceby a team of Montreal researchers marks an important step in revealing the precise underpinnings of "the potent pleasurable stimulus" that is music. Although the study involves plenty of fancy technology, including fMRI and ligand-based positron emission tomography (PET) scanning, the experiment itself was rather straightforward. After screening 217 individuals who responded to advertisements requesting people that experience "chills to instrumental music," the scientists narrowed down the subject pool to ten. (These were the lucky few who most reliably got chills.) The scientists then asked the subjects to bring in their playlist of favorite songs – virtually every genre was represented, from techno to tango – and played them the music while their brain activity was monitored.

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Can Passion and Security Coexist? Reflections on Cronenberg’s “A Dangerous Method”



In the new David Cronenberg film, A Dangerous Method, a tortured Carl Jung struggles with these very questions. He has met Sabina Spielrein, a fiercely writhing, twitching, hysterical patient who seems literally possessed by violence, her body stretched so taut that at times you half expect her to pounce. It's Jung's job to unearth the forces roiling within her that have her wound so tight, and that he does, with the help of a miraculous new "talking cure," fashioned by one Sigmund Freud, his elder mentor, who aims to shake the medical community (and the world) out of their complacent view that the human race has evolved as far beyond animal instincts as they'd like to believe.

With Freud's help, Jung uncovers the source of Sabina's troubles–traumatic, sexual memories, of course (no spoiler there)–and on she goes, almost completely cured, to become a doctor, herself. But the bond between her and Dr. Jung begins to grow during his visits to her at the University. And Jung's fascination with Spielrein's erotic energy–she still loves a good, humiliating spanking–brings the two together in sometimes frightening ways.

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