Archive for the ‘attitude’ Category

A friend and I met for an afternoon chat; we saw one another in the parking lot and together headed toward our destination. We talked as we walked, slowly tracing our way to the awaiting patio. At some point along our journey, we simultaneously noticed that we had begun to drift apart. We exchanged a look and each of us gazed down, both wondering what had caused us to subconsciously choose different paths. Interestingly, she had unwittingly followed a curvy sidewalk carved into the landscaped lawn. I, on the other hand, had continued to march straight toward the destination, inadvertently pursuing the shortest distance between two points.

We giggled, as girls do, sparking a lively discussion regarding our innate differences – which, of course, resulted in an appreciation of our overall similarities. I realized the acquaintances who become my close friends mimic the phenomenon we experienced while walking: They are the people who confidently and independently follow their own path, yet arrive at the same destination. (I’m certain there’s an Ayn Rand quote in here somewhere.)

We do what we do. And we do what we want. (Caveat: What some people want is to do what they think others want them to do, or expect them to do.) But why is this? Are mere chemicals responsible for free will? What pathways give us individuality, from whence stems innate motivation (or lack thereof); can a change in chemicals change innate responses? Are our subconscious decisions predetermined? Are they dynamic in space, time, and circumstance? Can we purposely choose against them? Are we able to permanently alter our seemingly inherent characteristics?

I could go on and on with these questions; unfortunately, not I nor anyone else really has an answer. We have many clues, glimpses, hopes; but alas, nothing concrete, nothing that holds true uniformly or ubiquitously for the entire human population. Interestingly, while there are many drugs that affect personality, decision-making, and preference, these compounds are often among the least understood; in fact, the mechanisms of action for entire classes of mood-altering substances remain wholly elusive. Doctors prescribe anti-depressants based solely upon the appearance of effectiveness, with no understanding whatsoever of how or why they work. There do seem to be some consistent biochemical messengers that pop up again and again in studies of personality, attitude, choice, inclination, and other cognitive-based traits; these compounds are inevitably influenced by the drugs we find effective at eliciting responses in these areas (though, oddly, often we only notice this ex post facto).

I’m enthralled by these compounds. Not only are their direct effects (those we’ve discovered so far, anyway) amazing, but there seems no bodily pathway immune from some indirect effect of their action. They serve as a dynamic reminder that our bodies run not on a series of one-way linear biochemical reactions, but that we function as a network of interconnected, amenable reactions – and because the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, even the most innocuous compounds are vital to our optimal functioning.

Monoamine neurotransmitters appear to play an important role in linking our conscious behaviors with our subconscious existence. These include the lately in vogue compounds serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and their relatives. Just knowing which compounds are involved seems only the tip of the iceberg, however: Not only does the manufacture, quantity, location, and concentration of the chemical in question matter, but so does the characteristics of the corresponding receptor proteins as well as their ratios and interactions with seemingly unrelated pathways along the route. It seems that dopamine, in particular, has a functional role in our decision-making processes, all of which probably have a subconscious component.

Do yourself a google for the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis and read all about how our major body systems are intertwined and interdependent. I especially enjoy learning about how my gut has a mind of its own – complete with literal mood swings and impressionable responses to my bodily conditions and those substances I choose to expose my innards to.

Fascinatingly, these compounds that make us individuals also seem to play a role in social interactions and cohesion. I am currently reading The Wisdom of Crowds, given to me by a former student (and ongoing friend); I cannot help but suspect maybe culture is actually the average of our individuality, beautiful and wondrous exactly by its projection of the best of our collective biochemical tendencies, exactly capturing the perfection of our imperfections.

Click here to register and find more information: Learn about our team and cause.

Please note: You can also sponsor one of our classmates, donate directly, or become a distance team member, OR: participate through “Sleep in for the Cure”….which I’m certain many of you will appreciate 🙂


Posted: February 23, 2011 in attitude, education, philosophy

College is a difficult time, a transitional time. This applies to ALL students, regardless of background or experience, age or philosophy. Whether you are fresh out of high school and learning to exist on your own, laid off and creating new opportunities, or just plain tired of the same old thing and forging a new path – the one consistency is change.

The most important thing you can do is: COME TO CLASS. Be there. It doesn’t matter what demons you escaped, it doesn’t matter what happens outside those (crappy) wooden doors – inside our classroom you are nothing but yourself, and you are everything to me. I have never met a failure. I have yet to encounter a single student who could not do it. I have only met students who were too afraid to try. I know what this looks like because I was once that student. My reasons were probably different than yours, and yet the same. I got over it, and so will you.

Consider the amount of time you spend beating yourself up. Feeling regret, shame, embarrassment, or anxiety. I challenge you to now take HALF of that time, be it an hour or ten, and commit to volunteer that number of hours each week. Perhaps you may choose to study instead. Either way, you probably gained a significant amount of freedom during that five-second thought experiment.

Let’s do another experiment, only this one more than just thoughts (this coordinates with the new assignment I’ve posted for you in CampusCruiser…). I want you to really evaluate your daily schedule. Make to-do lists, and actually cross things off. Reward yourself for doing so. Set a consistent and reasonable daily wake-up time, study time, and bed time. Moreover, set a DAILY WORRY TIME. No joke. Maybe set two.

What am I talking about? Well, we all have issues. I remember looking that those “perfect” people when I was in high school and college and wondering, “How the heck can they be so confident, so happy? What is the secret?” And I spent years (and probably knocked years off my life) trying to figure it out. You know what I know now? Those people have problems, too. They’re just better at faking it than me. So what.

Okay. So here’s what I do. This, by the way, is hard. It’s nearly impossible at first, especially for those of us with OCD and perfectionism… I have a ten minutes scheduled at 9:00am and again at 2:00pm in which I’m allowed to worry. So if any anxieties or concerns or paranoias leap out at me during any other time, I make a note of them. Then I say, “I will worry about this at 9 or 2.” I then go about my day productively, and at my next regularly scheduled worry time, I wear myself out with concern. However, when the ten minutes are up, I MUST go back to being a productive, normal, happy self.

As ridiculous as this sounds, IT WORKS. For reals. Try it. In addition to working on its own, it often makes me laugh out loud at myself. By the way, whoever first noted that “laughter is the best medicine” was clearly a genius, for laughter absolutely is the very best anecdote to all ailments. I would hate to pay a doctor who didn’t laugh, or have a lover who couldn’t laugh. Life would be so lame.

Stop taking yourself so seriously; for goodness sakes, stop taking ME so seriously. We’re all in this together. You are so capable, so get yourself into class and study at least nine hours per week and then show me what you’re made of. That first exam was really, really hard. But by and large, you aced it. You deserved those great grades, and I cannot wait to see what you have in store for me in the future. Let yourself be proud.

¡Arriba! ¡Abajo! ¡Al centro! ¡Pa’dentro!