Tag brain

Milton Glaser on Why Doubt Is Better Than Confidence, How How You Live Changes Your Brain & How to Surround Yourself With People That Energize You …*

I was thrilled to discover Milton Glaser‘s essay, 10 Things I Have Learnt, which he adapted from a talk that he gave at a conference for the American professional association for design in 2011. While the lessons Glaser learned over the course of his long and immensely successful career are aimed primarily at other designers, many of his insights (which I’ve previously featured here and here), speak to all individuals compelled by the desire to live full and meaningful lives. I have selected some highlights from three of the lessons that Glaser shares, which I found particularly relevant to rethinkers * but be sure to head over to Design Indaba for the full essay, which is well worth a read in its entirety.

Enjoy

 DOUBT IS BETTER THAN CONFIDENCE

 

Everyone always talks about confidence in believing what you do. I remember once going to a yoga class where the teacher said that, spirituality speaking, if you believe you have achieved enlightenment you have merely arrived at your limitation. I think that is also true in a practical sense. Deeply held beliefs of any kind prevent you from being open to experience, which is why I find all firmly held ideological positions questionable. It makes me nervous when someone believes too deeply or too much. I think that being sceptical and questioning all deeply held beliefs is essential. Of course, we must know the difference between skepticism and cynicism because cynicism is as much a restriction of one’s openness to the world as passionate belief is. They are sort of twins.

HOW YOU LIVE CHANGES YOUR BRAIN 

The brain is the most responsive organ of the body. Actually it is the organ that is most susceptible to change and regeneration of all the organs in the body. I have a friend named Gerald Edelman who was a great scholar of brain studies and he says that the analogy of the brain to a computer is pathetic. The brain is actually more like an overgrown garden that is constantly growing and throwing off seeds, regenerating and so on. He believes that the brain is susceptible, in a way that we are not fully conscious of, to almost every experience of our life and every encounter we have.

I was fascinated by a story in a newspaper a few years ago about the search for perfect pitch. A group of scientists decided that they were going to find out why certain people have perfect pitch. You know certain people hear a note precisely and are able to replicate it at exactly the right pitch. Some people have relevant pitch; perfect pitch is rare even among musicians. The scientists discovered – I don’t know how – that among people with perfect pitch the brain was different. Certain lobes of the brain had undergone some change or deformation that was always present with those who had perfect pitch. This was interesting enough in itself. But then they discovered something even more fascinating. If you took a bunch of kids and taught them to play the violin at the age of four or five, after a couple of years some of them developed perfect pitch, and in all of those cases their brain structure had changed.

Well, what could that mean for the rest of us? We tend to believe that the mind affects the body and the body affects the mind, although we do not generally believe that everything we do affects the brain. I am convinced that if someone was to yell at me from across the street, my brain could be affected and my life might change. That is why your mother always said, “Don’t hang out with those bad kids.” Mama was right.

I also believe that drawing works in the same way. I am a great advocate of drawing, not in order to become an illustrator, but because I believe drawing changes the brain in the same way as the search to create the right note changes the brain of a violinist. Drawing also makes you attentive. It makes you pay attention to what you are looking at, which is not so easy.

SOME PEOPLE ARE TOXIC. AVOID THEM. 

In the 1960s there was a man named Fritz Perls who was a Gestalt therapist. Gestalt therapy derives from art history; it proposes you must understand the ‘whole’ before you can understand the details. What you have to look at is the entire culture, the entire family and community and so on. Perls proposed that in all relationships people could be either toxic or nourishing towards one another. It is not necessarily true that the same person will be toxic or nourishing in every relationship, but the combination of any two people in a relationship produces toxic or nourishing consequences. And the important thing that I can tell you is that there is a test to determine whether someone is toxic or nourishing in your relationship with them. Here is the test: You have spent some time with this person, either you have a drink or go for dinner or you go to a ball game. It doesn’t matter very much, but at the end of that time you observe whether you are more energised or less energised. Whether you are tired or whether you are exhilarated. If you are more tired, then you have been poisoned. If you have more energy, you have been nourished. The test is almost infallible and I suggest that you use it for the rest of your life.

Source: Milton Glaser’s “10 Things I Have Learnt”

“Empathy is feeling into someone else” – Tiffany Shlain: What We Can Do Today To Rethink Our Potential …*

"Empathy is feeling into someone else" - Tiffany Shlain: What We Can Do Today To Rethink Our Potential ...* |rethinked.org

Screen Shot from Tiffany Shlain’s TED MED Talk, Summarizing our Unique Human Strengths …*

“Let’s do a little cross-disciplinary thinking right now. I want you to sit and I want you to think of your biggest challenge–everyone in this room, we’ve all got a challenge that we’re wrestling with–think of the three people that you’ve talked to about that challenge. Now I want you to try to think of three people in completely different areas that you could talk to about that problem. What would a car mechanic say? What would a biologist say? What about an artist? What about a child? How would they approach your problem? That’s cross-disciplinary thinking and the more you do it, and the more you think that way, the more it will just naturally come. And I think that we’re all talking about multi-tasking but we need to be talking about multi-perspectiving, which is not a word–so, multi-thinking. And how do we bring that more into our everyday challenges?” – Tiffany Shlain

In this inspiring and moving TED MED talk, filmmaker and rethinked …* favorite, Tiffany Shlain, examines some of the things we can each do today to rethink our human potential and evolve ourselves. Stressing the need for cross-displinary thinking and cultivating our unique human strengths, Shlain creates a compelling and hopeful portrait of the potential of humanity to connect as we transcend the challenges of the twenty-first century.

“We are connected to billions of people’s ideas and perspectives that we can cross-disciplinary think with. And when you get that kind of collision of different perspectives, that is when breakthroughs happen. It’s also when empathy happens. And empathy is another incredible thing that distinguishes us as humans, that even the most sophisticated machines can’t experience. I loved learning this when I was researching empathy–empathy is feeling into someone else. I love that: feeling into them. And I think that when you see someone struggling, you’re feeling into them and you want to help them, you want to change their experience. So it’s interesting to think about empathy leads to compassion, leads to action. We need more empathy and action in this world, right? We definitely need that. So how are we going to do that? And the good news is that it’s through stories, through listening to people, through sharing stories, that is the way that you feel empathy. And when you hear a story it activates all these different parts of your brain and also, what it does, is it adapts your thinking. When you hear a story it can change the way you think about something. It can also synchronize your mind with someone else when you tell a story. And we think of our brains as private, as the only truly private thing we have, but we forget that our brains are incredibly public. The brain is a communal organ, it is our window on the world and it’s what allows us to connect with the world and contribute to the world.”

{ On Connection & Decision-Making } Thinking About Motivation, Empathy & Storytelling …*

{ On Connection & Decision-Making } Thinking About Motivation, Empathy & Storytelling ...* |rethinked.org - photograph: Elsa Fridman

 When researchers study the brains of people trying to predict the thoughts and feelings of others, they can actually see a difference in the brain activity depending on whether that person is trying to understand a friend versus a stranger. Even at the level of blood flowing through your brain, you treat people you know well differently than people you don’t. – Teens These Days, Always Changing Their Gray Matter

This week had me thinking about the role of connection and feelings of connectedness in decision-making processes. Some of the findings coming out of decision research, which I’ve featured below, raise some very intriguing and urgent questions about the role of empathy and the need to think more carefully about the types of narratives we craft when trying to motivate people to take action or trigger generous behaviors.

“It turns out that our engagement with a cause– it’s not about numbers, it’s not about classes of victims, it’s really about two things: First of all, it’s emotional and it’s with individuals. We have evolved, we are hardwired to feel a certain amount of empathy and connection but with one other person, whom we see, whom we can relate to, not with a hundred thousand people half a world away. The other thing is that we want to feel like we’re having an impact so we want some kind of a positive arch, we want to see a difference being made. And so when aid organizations talk about 5 million people at risk and make it sound terribly depressing, they’re precisely hitting the buttons that turn people off.”

In this Big Think video Nicholas Kristof explores the kinds of connections that link us to social and humanitarian causes and motivate us to give, participate and take action.

“Some of the research about our preference for helping individuals over classes of people comes from experiments where people were asked to contribute in some cases to this child–when it was used, was Rokia, a girl from West Africa–versus a large group of people, millions of people suffering malnutrition in Africa again. And of course, everybody wanted to contribute to Rokia, to that girl, they wanted to help that girl, they didn’t really care about the millions of people being malnourished. But what was striking is that even though we intellectually know that, “one death is a tragedy and a million deaths is a statistic,” that the point at which we begin to be numbed, is when that number, is when N equals two. The moment you added not just Rokia but had a boy next to her and said, “you can help these two hungry kids,” then people were less likely to contribute than if it was just Rokia. Likewise, people are less likely to contribute to a fund to save kids from cancer if the same amount of money is going to save not one life but eight lives. There really is this bias to help an individual. So we have to figure out, obviously the needs are vast, so we have to figure out how to open these lines of communication to move people at an emotional level to help an individual; but then use that empathy then to broaden and to serve so many other people who need help.”

Kristof’s talk had me thinking about Brene Brown’s definition of empathy and how it compares in particular to sympathy: Empathy fuels connection, sympathy drives disconnection. Since our ability to empathize with another person is so dependent on our ability to imagine what it must be like to experience a situation from that person’s point of view, I wonder if thinking about multiple people’s pain or needs makes the illusion that we can share in another’s subjective experience, that we can imagine what it feels like from their perspective, more fragile and difficult to buy into. Could it be that stories and aid campaigns that focus on a single individual drive empathy and consequently the necessary feelings of connection that trigger action while campaigns using groups of people drive sympathy and thus disconnection?

“One of the things that really struck me was there had been experiments that asked people to do some math equations, solve some math problems first, and it turns out that if you do that, that if you exercise the more rational parts of your brain, then you’re less empathetic, you’re less likely to contribute. Those of us who care about these issues, we need to figure out how to do a better job of storytelling about individuals and showing that there is a possibility of hope.”

I think Kristoff raises a very worthy challenge about the need to craft better stories. You may remember a video I shared on here last month that looked precisely at How Stories Can Change Our Behavior By Changing Our Brain Chemistry …* The short video examines the link between empathy, the narrative arc, neurochemistry and behavior by focusing on some of the findings emerging from Paul Zak‘s, a founding pioneer in the nascent field of neuroeconomics, research:

Monitoring the brain activity of hundreds of study subjects watching a video with a simple narrative, Zak found increases in the levels of the neurochemicals oxytocin and cortisol, which are associated with empathic responses. Most remarkable, however, was the discovery that this response also resulted in study subjects taking action, in this case through donating money they had just earned to a charitable cause related to the story they watched and even to fellow subjects. Zak’s conclusion that there could be a universal story structure that functions to connect us to each other might not be surprising to storytellers, but seeing it supported by neuroscience is a tale worth repeating. 

. . . *

Now for a different aspect of decision-making, on New York Magazine’s Science of Us blog, in her article 4 Steps to Making an Overwhelming Decision Easy, Melissa Dahl highlights a recent study on the best decision-making strategy to adopt when faced with multiple options that “all seem kind of okay, like when you’re choosing a health-care plan or looking for a new apartment.”

Tibor Besedes at the Georgia Institute of Technology led a study — published recently in The Review of Economics and Statistics — that pitted three decision-making strategies against each other, and the best strategy was the one that treated the process like a tournament, 
  1. Divide the options into piles of four
  2. Choose the best option from each pile
  3. Put the winners from the first round into a new finalist pile
  4. Choose the best option from winners of the earlier four selections

The Visual Case for a Growth Mindset – Striking Demonstration of How Intelligence Grows Just Like A Physical Muscle …*

The Visual Case for a Growth Mindset - Striking Demonstration of How Intelligence Grows Just Like A Physical Muscle ...*

“Your intelligence can actually be changed. What we’ve learned, what researchers have taught us, is that our brains are actually a lot like a muscle. We know that you can grow your muscles by going into the gym and doing exercise and straining your muscles. You don’t just work on things that are easy for your muscles to do, you do things that your muscles have to struggle with, that your muscles have to strain with and then they rebuild themselves and they come back stronger. By struggling, it’s a signal to your body to devote more resources to that part of the body. And we see that exact same thing with the brain. “

Growth mindset, as you likely know by now, is the belief that intelligence, personality, and any number of other cognitive or emotional capacities–think creativity, empathy, optimism, etc.– are not fixed but learnable, and growable with effort and practice over time.

The idea that emotional and cognitive capacities function much like physical muscles that become stronger and better developed through effort over time is a common analogy pervading the field of psychology. Numerous studies looking at a vast range of capacities support the idea that these strengths are indeed dynamic and learnable. If you want a good starting point to review some of the research, I highly recommend Carol Dweck‘s Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. But if you want a quick and very powerful way to drive home for yourself the validity of a growth mindset, watch the video from Khan Academy embedded below.

“The big takeaway from this whole area of research is you absolutely can change your intelligence, that your brain is like a muscle, the more you use it, the stronger it gets. And that the best way to grow it, isn’t to do things that are easy for you, that might help a little bit, but what really helps your brain is when you struggle with things. And actually, research shows that you grow the most not when you get a question right, but when you get a question wrong. […] research tells us: when you get something wrong, when you challenge your brain, when you review why you got it wrong, when you really process that feedback, that’s when your brain grows the most and that if you keep doing that, you’re well on your way to having a stronger more able, and I guess you could say, smarter brain.”

reframe adversity as growth & flourish …* 

Learning to Become Better Learners …*

“Whatever we learn to do, we learn by actually doing it; men come to be builders, for instance, by building, and harp players by playing the harp.” – Aristotle

I recently discovered Trevor Ragan’s “Train Uglyvideo essay series, in which he explores various aspects of the learning process.

Train Ugly is the marriage of two concrete foundations of learning: motor learning and growth mindset. We’re going to dive into the science and share these incredibly important principles with you.

Every ten days, Ragan releases a new video essay in which he attempts to disseminate the science behind a growth mindset and motor learning to help individuals become better learners. The presentation may be a bit basic for some of our readers but the videos do a great job of giving an easy and enjoyable (loved the bit where we hear from Aristotle) overview of key insights on the learning process. And as he observes in one of the videos: “”Understanding how the brain works, helps us learn better.”

l e a r n   &   r e t h i n k  …*

 A study on Praise and Mindsets – Stanford Professor, Carol Dweck looked into the effects that praise had on mindsets. The results were unreal.

Learning — And How To Do It Better – Brains, Skills, Learning & Lizards: The Definitive Guide to Becoming a Butt Kicker

 

How Our Ability to Think About Other People’s Thoughts Affects Our Moral Judgement …*

“We have a special brain system that lets us think about what other people are thinking. This system takes a long time to develop, slowly throughout the course of childhood and into early adolescence. And even in adulthood, differences in this brain region can explain differences among adults in how we think about and judge other people.” – Rebecca Saxe

Rebecca Saxe studies a region of the brain whose function is to think about other people’s thoughts, the Right Temporo-Parietal Junction (RTPJ). Saxe and her lab are doing some very interesting research into how the RTPJ develops in childhood and adolescence and how differences in activation of the RTPJ in adulthood can account for differences in moral judgment. In the talk below, Saxe explores this relationship between our capacity to think about other people’s thoughts and the moral judgments we make about others’ actions.

How We Read Each Other’s Minds – Rebecca Saxe 

{ Curiosity, Restlessness & Creativity } The Case for Wandering …*

{ Curiosity, Restlessness & Creativity } The Case for Wandering ...* | rethinked.org

I haven’t got any special religion this morning. My God is the God of Walkers. If you walk hard enough, you probably don’t need any other God. – Bruce Chatwin, In Patagonia

May is National Walking Month in the UK (it’s National Biking Month in the US) If you’ve spent any time on the Internet in the past two weeks, chances are you’ve come across some article describing a newly published Stanford study which found that creative thinking improves while a person is walking and shortly thereafter:

Stanford researchers found that walking boosts creative inspiration. They examined creativity levels of people while they walked versus while they sat. A person’s creative output increased by an average of 60 percent when walking.

Walking is experiencing somewhat of a Renaissance as the business world is embracing its value and function in promoting creative thinking and thus enabling innovation while scientists are decrying the health risks of immobility. Standing desks, treadmill desks and walking meetings are all the rage.

But walking isn’t just a fashion or a means to an end, it’s an innate human drive according to Bruce Chatwin, whose birthday is today. Chatwin argues that:

in becoming human, man had acquired, together with his straight legs and striding walk, a migratory ‘drive’ or instinct to walk long distances through the seasons; that this ‘drive’ was inseparable from his central nervous system; and that, when warped in conditions of settlement it found outlets in violence, greed, status-seeking or a mania for the new. This would explain why mobile societies such as the gypsies were egalitarian, thing-free and resistant to change; also why, to re-establish the harmony of the First State, all the great teachers–Buddha, Lao-tse, St. Francis–had set the perpetual pilgrimage at the heart of their message and told their disciples, literally, to follow The Way.” – I Have Always Wanted To Go To Patagonia, 1983

This notion of our migratory drive appears again and again throughout Chatwin’s work, who professed to having, “caught a case of what Baudelaire calls “La Grande Maladie, Horreur du domicile.” Chatwin spent his short life giving in to his restlessness, trying to make sense of it and to harness it as a creative force. To celebrate his birthday and walking month, I’ve gathered some of my favorite quotes of his on restlessness, wandering, journeys and the importance of walking. Enjoy! And while you’re at it, go for a walk. You never know what creative brilliance may strike you on the way as you walk yourself into a state of relaxed attention, better known to scientists as transient hypofrontality.

wander & rethink

*

“I stayed at the Estacion de Biologia Marina with a party of scientists who dug enthusiastically for sandworms and squabbled about the Latin names of seaweed. The resident ornithologist, a severe young man, was studying the migration of the Jackass Penguin. We talked late into the night, arguing whether or not we, too, have journeys mapped out in our central nervous systems; it seemed the only way to account for our insane restlessness.” – from In Patagonia, 1977

*

“And there are those, like myself, who are paralyzed by ‘home,’ for whom home is synonymous with the proverbial writer’s block, and who believe naively that all would be well if only they were somewhere else.”  – from A Tower In Tuscany, 1987

*

“What is this neurotic restlessness, the gadfly that tormented the Greeks? Wandering may settle some of my natural curiosity and my urge to explore, but then I am tugged back by a longing for home. I have a compulsion to wander and a compulsion to return–a homing instinct like a migrating bird. True nomads have no fixed homes as such; they compensate for this by following unalterable paths of migration.” – from The Nomadic Alternative, 1970

*

“In one of his gloomier moments Pascal said that all man’s unhappiness stemmed from a single cause, his inability to remain quietly in a room. ‘Notre nature,’ he wrote, ‘est dans le mouvement…la seule chose qui nous console de nos misères est le divertissement.’ Diversion. Distraction. Fantasy. Change of fashion, food, love and landscape. We need them as the air we breathe. Without change our brains and bodies rot. The man who sits quietly in a shuttered room is likely to be mad, tortured by hallucinations and introspection.” – from It’s A Nomad Nomad World, 1970

*

“Some American brain specialists took encephalograph readings of travelers. They found that changes of scenery and awareness of the passage of seasons through the year stimulated the rhythms of the brain, contributing to a sense of well-being and an active purpose in life. Monotonous surroundings and tedious regular activities wove patterns which produced fatigue, nervous disorders, apathy, self-disgust and violent reactions. Hardly surprising, then, that a generation cushioned from the cold by central heating, from the heat by air-conditioning, carted in aseptic transports from one identical house or hotel to another, should feel the need for journeys of mind or body, for pep pills or tranquilizers, or for the cathartic journeys of sex, music and dance. We spend far too much time in shuttered rooms.” – from It’s A Nomad Nomad World, 1970

*

“I prefer the cosmopolitan skepticism of Montaigne. He saw travel as a ‘profitable exercise; the mind is constantly stimulated by observing new and unknown things…no propositions astonish me, no belief offends me, however much opposed to my own…The savages who roast and eat the bodies of their dead do not scandalize me so much as those who persecute the living.” Custom, he said, and set attitudes of mind, dulled the sense and hid the true nature of things. Man is naturally curious.” – from It’s A Nomad Nomad World, 1970

“He who does not travel does not know the value of men,” said Ib’n Battuta, the indefatigable Arab wanderer who strolled from Tangier to China and back for the sake of it. But travel does not merely broaden the mind. It makes the mind.” – from It’s A Nomad Nomad World, 1970

*

“Children need paths to explore, to take bearings on the earth in which they live, as a navigator takes bearings on familiar landmarks. If we excavate the memories of childhood, we remember the paths first, things and people second–paths down the garden, the way to school, the way round the house, corridors through the bracken or long grass.” – from It’s A Nomad Nomad World, 1970

*

“Travel must be adventurous. ‘The great affair is to move,’ wrote Robert Louis Stevenson in Travels with a Donkey, “to feel the needs and hitches of life more nearly; to come down off this feather bed of civilization, and find the globe granite underfoot, and strewn with cutting flints.’ The bumps are vital. They keep the adrenalin pumping round.” – from It’s A Nomad Nomad World, 1970

“The best thing is to walk. We should follow the Chinese poet Li Po in ‘the hardships of travel and the many branchings of the way.’ For life is a journey through a wilderness. This concept, universal to the point of banality, could not have survived unless it were biologically true.” – from It’s A Nomad Nomad World, 1970

*

“All our activities are linked to the idea of journeys. And I like to think that our brains have an information system giving us our orders for the road, and that here lie the mainsprings of our restlessness.” – from It’s A Nomad Nomad World, 1970

*

What are some of your favorite Chatwin books and quotes?

Carol Dweck On The Power Of Mindset To Help Children (& Adults) Reach Their Potential …*

Carol Dweck On The Power Of Mindset To Help Children (& Adults) Reach Their Potential ...* | rethinked.org

 

If you haven’t yet had time to read Carol Dweck‘s brilliant book on the power of mindsets to shape students’ motivation and learning, or if you have read it and just can’t get enough–I highly recommend the video below. In a lecture given at the RSA in September 2013, Dweck summarizes the key findings from her work on mindsets and gives some practical tips for translating those insights into impact.

How To Help Every Child Fulfill Their Potential – Carol Dweck via The RSA, published September 18, 2013

Play As A Serious Solution To the Challenge of Fostering Vital Skills In Children & Preparing Them For Today’s World

Play As A Serious Solution To the Challenge of Fostering Vital Skills In Children & Preparing Them For Today’s World | rethinked.org

 

” [ Play is ] one of our brain’s favorite ways to learn. When children are active participants in their education, they gain more from the experience, are more engaged in the learning process, and do better in school. Play allows us to test our capabilities, as all forms of learning should. It stimulates children’s learning abilities by fostering creativity, building critical thinking, sparking intellectual curiosity, and facilitating learning by doing. Learning by doing deepens our engagement and understanding significantly, and strengthens the most important pathways our brains use to learn and develop.

The way we see it at LEGO Foundation is that play is not a luxury; it’s the way to support brain development and our children’s potential. This is why we see play as a serious solution to the challenge of fostering vital skills in our children, and preparing them to navigate today´s world.” – Dr. Randa Grob-Zakhary, CEO of the LEGO Foundation

Head over to Forbes.com to read the rest of the interview with Dr. Grob-Zakhary: The Transformative Power of Play And Its Link To Creativity, published January 25, 2014.

Free Webinar Series On Harnessing the Power of Neuroplasticity for Greater Happiness, Stronger Resilience & Peak Performance …*

Free Webinar Series On Harnessing the Power of Neuroplasticity for Greater Happiness, Stronger Resilience & Peak Performance ...* | rethinked.org

It starts in the brain: harness the power of neuroplasticity for greater happiness, stronger resilience, and peak performance. Learn the most effective strategies to change your brain, and transform your life. 

 

From the National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine comes the free 2014 Brain Science Webinar Series. Featuring the likes of Daniel Goleman and Kelly McGonigal, the six week seminar will explore topics such as:

  • Happiness and Neuroplasticity: Simple Strategies for Rewiring Your Brain
  • Focus: Why Concentration Can Make Your Brain More Powerful
  • Epigenetics: What Really Controls Our Genes and Why We Don’t Have to Be Victims of Our DNA
  • The Neurobiology of the Teenage Brain: A New Way of Looking at Adolescent Behavior

A new webinar title will be released each Wednesday at 5:00 pm EST, from January 22 (tomorrow!) to February 26, and will be followed up by a “TalkBack” segment– a panel discussion between Kelly McGonigal, Ruth Buczynski, and Ronald Siegel which will focus your attention on how to apply what you’ve just heard to your life.

learn & rethink …* 

%d bloggers like this: