Your Attention “Pain Ridder” Capacitor

27 01 2016

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Your Brain Capacitor. (Before you comment, this comes in various shades.)

I heard a really interesting Fresh Air program today on NPR. It was about pain, placebos, meditation and the intersection of all three. The person who was being interviewed, author Jo Marchant, (who had a fantastic female British accent so she automatically sounded knowledgeable), was talking about, among other things, something called “immersive virtual reality”, which is the use of virtual reality with patients to alleviate pain. 

An example she had referenced was specific to burn patients who were put into a virtual “snow land” of sorts that was demonstrated to significantly reduce pain associated with bandage removal and other situations that are so painful for these patients.

When asked to extrapolate on why this works, she explained that the brain can only have a certain capacity for attention, meaning there isn’t a whole lot for experiencing pain if something (better) is taking up most of the room.

I realize that the context of this interview was with respect to physical pain, but it did make me think about emotional pain, as well, which shouldn’t be too far off (and was also discussed in terms of stress).

Just like the most valuable time to exercise is often when you don’t feel like getting up from the couch, the best time to focus attention on less painful emotions is exactly when it feels easier to just wallow. Like so many things I have written about, this also falls into the “easier said than done” category, but what doesn’t that actually makes a difference?

There is something to be said for turning off Facebook, removing yourself from poring over old photographs and emails, not to mention thoughts, of whatever is causing you pain and forcing – yes, FORCING, yourself to do anything else (that is hopefully not destructive) – exercise, listen to music, calling a friend, going for a walk, podcasts, you name it.

There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of distractions waiting for you and unlike all the times when they are not good (ie. driving, dinner, that work conference), this is one time when they can actually help you. Go for it and fill up your attention capacitor in your brain with a good, even shallow, but positive, distraction. (FYI – the attention capacitor is somewhere between the area that only remembers to hum tunes you hate and the area responsible for you never remembering the name of that new person you just met).

Here’s to your attention capacitor – may it be filled with a lot more good stuff this year.

Until next time,

Marc

P.S. You can listen to the podcast of this episode here: http://www.npr.org/player/v2/mediaPlayer.html?action=1&t=1&islist=false&id=464372009&m=464458795

It’s well worth it!





Fear of Flying

18 01 2015

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I’m big on metaphors – to the dismay a lot of times of my kids, colleagues and generally anyone with a pulse. I think it’s because it is one of the ways in which I can process things that are meaningful to me objectively. If the metaphor literally has nothing to do with my topic but the meaning does, (hence the purpose of a metaphor), it’s just more clear cut to me. I don’t know; I’m weird.

I was listening to an NPR Fresh Air Podcast with Terri Gross with author Jessica Lamb-Shapiro, daughter of  self-help author who, herself, is a skeptic of self help. She happened to talk about her own personal fear of flying, which luckily is not something I have. As she was describing her fear and those of others in a “self-help” class she took, I kept thinking: “why am I not more afraid of flying”? It’s simple. I came to the conclusion a long time ago that things, more than likely, will work out. The plane will take off and it will land and everything including and between those two moments are completely out of my control (even if I get to sit in the exit row). Basically, I allowed my rationale thoughts to take on a bit more importance than my irrational thoughts.

It just so happens that I was listening to this podcast this morning on my way home from NYC on the train. Every single moment from last night through getting back to my house was a potential cause of anxiety: trying new material out at the comedy show, figuring out the subway from Brooklyn to Union to Penn to NJ Transit while slipping on Montrose to the subway station and navigating driving on roads from the train station back home that were to be icy.

As I listened to this podcast and thought about flying, it just hit me that if I could learn to apply the same mental state I have to flying to my life, that would probably not be a bad thing. It is really the same. For the most part, there is very little we really have control over.

This concept has served me well every time I have applied it – every single time. I just have not applied it very often. It is not something that comes naturally to me at all.

A friend and well known comedian gave me some great advice late last year as I am always looking to get better. He said what is holding me back is just myself and that if I could trust the process once I am doing stand-up, it will free me up and take me to the next level. It has. I had to (and still have to) give up the fear, relinquish control and trust that things will, one way or the other, work out.  I tried this again last night and it was great and freeing. Some stuff hit, some didn’t. Most of it was awkward and a bit uncomfortable but 100% true and liberating.

And it wasn’t all about the performance either. But more on that in a future blog.

If you’re “afraid to fly”, remember there are a lot more people in place to catch you than you might have thought.

Until next time,

Marc








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