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A Review of 3 Brain Books

March is Brain Awareness Month so the bookstore was overflowing with intriguing selections for me to take on vacation.   I have a lifelong passion for brains.  How do they work? What happens when they are broken? How do you get the most out of your brain?  For instance, I am intrigued by the notion that many of the behavioral observations that have been made about the brain, behavior, cognition, and personality over the course of thousands of years can now be confirmed through imaging techniques such as the fMRI or the PET scan.  Indeed, there is no better time than now to learn about the brain, appreciate individual differences, and to be wowed by it’s wonders.

The first book I read was The Edison Gene/ADHD and the Gift of the Hunter Child by Thon Hartmann (By clicking the link, you can also read the American Psychiatric Institute’s review  of the book).  There is ongoing controversy as to whether ADHD is a real disorder or if it is the gift of creativity and adaptability in it’s highest form.  Thomas Edison, left school after only 3 months of formal education and was labeled, “a problem child, stupid and difficult” by his teachers.  He set his father’s barn on fire to see what would happen.  He laid on goose eggs to see if he could hatch them.  His mother had to move his laboratory into the basement for fear that he would blow up the house.  Of course, without Thomas Edison, there would be no light bulbs, no phonographs, and no motion pictures among other critical inventions.   The author makes the case that medicating or trying to “break”  the highly creative types like Edison, our society would not move forward.    As I read the book, I imagined the Thomas Edison types to be intuitive- thinking-perceiving types  ( ENTP  and the INTP) using the Myers-Briggs terminology.  Another parallel terms would be right brain thinking (holistic, random, intuitive and a “could be” focus) versus left brain thinking (linear, sequential, concrete,and a “what is” focus).

I agree with the author’s assertion that people are wired differently and are therefore more adept at various tasks.   Some individuals tend to remain open to changes in incoming data and adapt accordingly while others prefer structure, organization and consistency. Neither style of thinking is superior to the other. 

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The Process of Reinventing Yourself

Recently, I resigned from my job as a speech pathologist in a hospital, a position I had held for 24 years.  What's more, I now have no hospital affiliation whatsoever for the first time since 1980.  My position at this…

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Awareness, Acceptance, Action

Cognitive blind spots present a significant roadblock to the full realization of individual human potential.  There are many kinds of blind spots including those that are common to all humans  such as the  Bandwagon Effect , where individuals become attracted to popular trends, or the Restraint Bias where individuals overestimate their capacity to resist temptation.    There are also other types of blind spots that are common to individuals who have suffered neurological damage.   The term reduced deficit awareness refers to an individual’s lack of awareness of a cognitive problem and it’s impact on his functional capabilities.  For example, a patient may be certain he can drive despite deep paralysis and a visual field cut!   Even our normal dominant psychological preferences for sensing versus intuition and thinking versus feeling as defined by our MBTI personality type set the stage for cognitive blind spots and biases.

Interestingly, the process to overcome these challenges is  similar.. First there is an awareness that our personal effectiveness is limited in some way. Next  is an acceptance that  a mindset or an existing way of approaching a problem is the reason we are coming up short of our goals.   Finally,  an action plan is generated to bring about change.

For instance, in neurological rehabilitation, one of the most important indicators for significant recovery after a stroke or brain injury is awareness of deficits. Realistically, how can improvements be made if one is blind to the need for change?  Moreover, there are several levels of awareness that must be achieved in order to change:

7 Levels of  Self- Awareness That Can Lead to Change:

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About This Website

Most of us are using only using a fraction of our talents and gifts.   In addition, we are frequently dissatisfied with with home life, career choices, and relationships but do no know why.  This can lead to burn-out and…

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The Stoic Norwegian is On the Way!

On January 28th, my husband will go to Haiti for 10 days to perform surgery on the victims of the recent earthquake in that country.  It is impossible to imagine what he will encounter when he gets there.  Haiti was…

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Figuring Out What Works For You

I have a very poor sense of direction.  I have driven down roads that have turned into pastureland.  I have taken routes that I thought were correct  only to find myself miles away from my intended destination.   I have ridden on the wrong subway or hopped on the wrong bus so often that I am usually surprised when I get it right.   I have been lost so many times that I  usually don’t say, “I’m lost”. Instead I say, “This is not the most efficient route, I know, I know…”  One of the roadblocks that I frequently encounter is that I usually don’t know where I am in the first place!  Where is Point A in relation to Point B?    Poor topographical orientation (the cognitive scientist’s way of saying, “You don’t know where the hell you are!”),  is an effective analogy to describe how many of us feel at during our lives. Where am I? Where am I going?  How do I get there?

The answer to the question, “How do I GET there?” in life is as varied as the maps and gadgets that are available to help us reach a physical destination.  Deciding what tool provides the most effective guidance is really dependent on several factors including how familiar we are with the area, our general sense of direction, or whether we want a map or written directions. For that matter, we may have a preference for north-south/east-west directions versus  left-right/”turn at the Target store on the corner” type directions.   I have found the GPS system to be most helpful but believe it or not, I had to learn to actually listen to it before it was of much use to me.  The point is, what we use to navigate our surroundings is a matter of personal choice.  One must seek the most understandable and the most effective option.

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INFJ: A Potentially Brilliant Diamond

The Mysterious INFJ has been one of the most visited posts on this website (I know this because a writer can access this information on Google Analytics).  I have received many emails from readers who share this personality type or believe that they may share the INFJ preferences (Introverted Intuition/Extraverted Feeling) but have not verified it yet.  Usually an MBTI assessment and a dialogue with a certified practitioner will settle the matter.   I asked a client of  mine   to share a few reflections on what it’s like to be an INFJ and he graciously offered these reflections (although in true INFJ style, he felt he could have done a better job!):

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Lockdown: Two Procrastinators Join Forces to Slay the Snapping Alligators

Everyone procrastinates; some do so rarely and others battle it all of the time.  For some MBTI personality types, particularly the ENTP and ENFP types, procrastination is omnipresent.  For these types, there always seems to be a monkey on the back or an alligator snapping at the knees waiting to be addressed.  That is because these two types have   extraverted intuition as the dominant cognitive process. The ENTP and the ENFP are always scanning the external environment for something more interesting, amusing or new.   The brain is literally lit up when a new experience is present and conversely, it is lulled to sleep when an old task has to be completed or is excessively repetitive.    People procrastinate because they can’t find the focus to do what needs to be done.  In the world of a dominant extraverted intuitive, possibilities present themselves almost constantly with procrastination being a natural byproduct of these distractions.

Now what happens when an ENTP type and an ENFP type, two professional procrastinators get together to get work done? Here is the amazing story of Lockdown 2010.   I am an ENFP and I had work that had been hanging over my head for 6 weeks.  My friend, an ENTP,  had a project that had hung over her head for much longer than that.  We both knew that we would feel the sense of accomplishment once it was done.  However recall,  taking something off the “TO DO” list isn’t necessarily the driving force that spurs a dominant extraverted intuitive into action.  It’s the newness. The fun. We can start off with the best of intentions but easily get sidetracked by something interesting to read,  lunch with a fascinating companion, a new project.   Anything is better than dotting the “i’s” or crossing the “t’s”.   We knew we had to make it fun.

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Spontaneity and It’s Evil Twin Impulsivity

prefrontal cortex

If you were to look in a thesaurus, you would probably find the words spontaneity and impulsivity listed as synonyms for each other.  Both states are unplanned,unconstrained, and governed by natural impulses.  To be impulsive or spontaneous is to be flexible, able to bend in a new direction at a moment’s notice.  However, they really aren’t the same when examined more closely.  Impulsivity is actually the evil twin of spontanaeity.

It’s a sunny day and your best friend calls you in the morning to see if you can take the day off to go on a picnic.  If you’re spontaneous, you consider the offer, take stock of what work is mission critical, and decide if your co-workers can cover for you.  If all of these variables check out, then you clear it with your boss and you enjoy the day.  On the other hand, if you are impulsive,  you say “yes” immediately, call in sick, and head off for  a day of fun giving no consideration to the long range consequences or who is affected by your actions, including yourself.

Impulsivity is seldom a good thing. It is one of the variables that lead people toward high risk behavior. It sabotages follow-through and leaves good ideas unfinished.  It is rash, erratic, and unpredictable.  It is frequently present in individuals who have had damage to the pre-frontal cortex area of the brain by way of head injury or stroke.  However even without a neurological event,  impulsivity is commonly seen in children, adolescents and many adults.  There are impulsive  shoppers (compulsive shoppers are driven by a different psychological force), people who say whatever comes to mind,  or those who find it difficult to stay on task when a new possibility presents itself . Just because one has reached a certain age does not guarantee that impulse control has been mastered.  Impulse control takes physical maturity, self-awareness, and often strategies to bring it under control.   The brain develops in response to the demands one places upon it. For some, this is requires great effort but the pay-off is well worth it.

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