Battling the Insomnia Demon Pt. 2

Hi all. So, to recap, in Battling the Insomnia Demon I spoke about my efforts to curb my insomnia. Originally, I struggled with sleep onset insomnia – getting to sleep – which was resolved by taking small doses of melatonin. But then, when I would wake in the middle of the night, I would fail to get back to sleep, which is known as sleep maintenance insomnia.

I’ve since settled on Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder as a diagnosis. DSPS sufferers essentially have a “body clock” which runs longer than 24 hours. Our full waking day and sleeping night run longer than 24 hours, leaving us (when left unchecked) sleeping and waking later each day. This was the case when I was younger, and less apt to try to control my sleeping patterns.

Sleep researcher Dr. Piotr Wozniak suggests that disowning electricity aside, there are only two reasonable solutions to DSPS:

  • Free-running sleep with high productivity, good health, but schedules irreconcilable with the outside world
  • A stable 24 hour sleep cycle with god health, but decreased productivity

After my last blog post I took free-running sleep for a week-long experiment. This involved no sleep medications, good sleep hygiene*, and attempting to sleep only when tired, for as long as my brain deemed necessary. The result? Well.. I slept at most four hours per night and was awake for 24 hours+ at least twice.

*Sleep hygiene is essentially practising good habits to prepare us for a good night’s sleep. Things like: no TV before bed, avoiding caffeine, alcohol, minimizing noise light, stress, and heavy meals.

I decided to approach Piotr to discuss the subject.

“I am 99.6% confident,” he said, “that given total freedom, you can sleep like a baby. Perhaps you need just 4 hours, but your brain can excel given your [subjective, ideal sleeping time.] You need 1-2 weeks on a system to start getting consistent results.”

Adapting to any new system can take some time. We’ve trained ourselves to wake by alarm clocks, to wake at dawn. We risk breaking our ability to sleep naturally when we take sleeping medications. And despite our sleep schedules, we still retain the niggling energetic itch in our brain’s perception of daylight hours, no matter when or how little we’ve slept.

For any efforts to determine an individual’s ideal sleep phase, he writes, we need to throw away any and all interference, including sleeping medications, school schedules, clocks, parents, light, girlfriend, cat, etc. If we eliminate the chaotic elements that disrupt our sleep, a natural pattern should emerge, and from this, we can either constrain our sleep to match our life, or modify our life to optimise our sleep. Piotr encourages the latter, for overall health, productivity, and longevity, even if it puts us at odds with the machinations of society.

The rules for free-running sleep are as such:

  • Keep a meticulous log of every minute you actually spend asleep.*
  • Sleep only when you feel you will fall asleep quickly, whenever you need to, but don’t force it.
  • Eliminate all/as many sources of sleep interference as possible.
  • Avoid stress, caffeine, and alcohol, especially into the evening.
  • Don’t postpone sleep to far later than when your brain is ready for it.
  • Don’t nap beyond 7-8 hours after waking.

*A note from Piotr:

“Only true sleep should be logged. There might be some hazy points where you are not sure if you were asleep. You must decide/guess. Attempts without sleep have no place in the log.”

By following this system, we can track our sleeping hours (using software such as SleepChart), which will determine our propensity for sleep at certain hours of the day. We can determine our optimum time for sleeping, how long that comes after waking, and when we could expect to be awake on any given cycle.

After our natural sleeping cycle has been reasserted, if we wish for a ‘normal’, 24 hour sleep cycle, then we need to accept some constraints.

Piotr suggests the following:

  • Determine the length of the day. By free-running and tracking sleep we can determine the sleep we personally need, and subtract that from a 24 hour day.
  • Set a permanent bedtime, and permanent waking time, and stick to it.
  • Set a protected zone of 2-3 hours in which you avoid strenuous activity, TV, light, any real activity in the evening
  • Get strong morning light, even if it needs to be artificial
  • Eat less at night
  • Exercise in the morning

Piotr alleges that those whom have entrained themselves to this systematic procedure have resolved their sleep issues. They don’t get all the sleep they would wish to, but they are able to sleep consistently, and appropriately. Me? Until I’m in a position to trial eliminating sleep medication again, I’m going for a compromise of only trying to sleep when I feel ready to, with a little melatonin to instigate it. It’s far from perfect, but it works for now.

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Battling the Insomnia demon

I’m going to take another departure from the Charlie Eagles series tonight.

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve struggled with varying degrees of insomnia.

As a kid, I preferred late nights. My parents would often catch me reading books into the early morning. I always wanted to stay up late to be involved in whatever adults were doing, and it was a pleasure waiting for my Mum to get home from work at 2-4 am. School days were awful, as a result, but I didn’t enjoy my school experience enough to see the difference.

Into my late teens, I’d pull all-nighters and sleep through days, sometimes falling into something akin to DSPS (Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder.) DSPS sufferers have a circadian rhythm set to a period longer than 24 hours, leaving them rotating sleeping hours around the clock, if left unchecked.

But despite these interests in sleeping alternative hours, whenever I made a sincere effort to sleep regular hours, even when required by work or school obligations, I could never get to sleep “on time.”

After trying the majority of pills out there, I found melatonin, which resolved the problem for a little while. Melatonin is as natural as they come: it’s the body’s sleep chemical, developed in response to sunlight as received by the eyes. The caveat is next day drowsiness, especially on the typical dosage levels. I found I may as well have not slept for the effect on my brain the following day. Cutting the dose dramatically solved my sleep onset problems, to a large extent. I could guarantee at least 2-3 nights of solid sleep per week.

But recently, melatonin hasn’t been as effective. It began with my waking up in the early morning and failing to get back to sleep. It doesn’t help that I’m a university student which brings quite bit of anxiety about being incapable of effective (or sometimes any) study on the proceeding days.

The past week or so, it’s all gone to hell. I haven’t been able to sleep consistently, or for very long to the point I’ve had to request extensions and take time off in an attempt to solve it.

Having more sleep-deprived time on my hands than I’d care to, I have had the opportunity to do some further research.

First, I discovered the tale of Uberman. This is one of several alternative sleep cycles, allegedly practised by great, creative minds. On the Uberman schedule, you would sleep 30 minutes every four hours, theoretically adjusting the brain to compress sleep to just the “essential” dream sleep. Perfectly well rested and with many more hours in the day. Sounds fantastic, right?

Dr Piotr Wozniak and Professor Edward Gorzelanczyk of SuperMemo write that it’s an internet fad, especially attractive among insomniacs who see it as a potential solution to their woes, or supremely driven individuals seeking to get every productive second out of every day. In reality it may be the worst option for both, potentially destroying the brain’s capacity for REM sleep. These two state that sleep cycles can be shifted, but ultimately not altered in nature. Uberman adepts, sending in sleep  logs for research demonstrate in their inevitable accidental oversleeps a consistent adherence to a natural rhythm. It’s also apparently simply not possible to train your brain to jump straight to core sleep. Success stories are few and questionable.

Diving further into the veritable goldmine of their sleep research, I discovered an practice so simple and intelligent, you wonder why the world is so crazy as to not to be doing it.

That idea is free-running sleep. Sleep when you’re tired, whenever that is, let go of alarm clocks and set sleep times. It reminds me of how sleep might have been practiced before the modern age: in the natural way! Anyone with a working life, familial obligations etc. may struggle to adhere to such a proposal (especially if they possess a deviant sleep phase) but simply stated by Dr. Wozniak: “It is very difficult and usually very unhealthy to force your body and your body clock to do what you wish. It is far easier to do the opposite: adapt your life to your body clock.”

Consistent sleep loss literally damages your brain, and is linked to the development of chronic illness. I wonder are we so desperate as a society to achieve and keep up, only to destroy ourselves in the process? Especially those of us with creative, intellectual minds whom live by those minds. We should be protecting and fostering that intellect. Are the consequences not far greater in long-term reward?

But coming back to now. I’ve begun using the freeware SleepChart software developed by Dr. Wozniak to log my sleeping hours. Together with free-running sleep, it should help me to identify when my best quality sleep is achieved, to understand where and what is wrong in my sleeping patterns, enabling me to take an educated guess at when I should attempt to sleep, when I can expect to be awake, and to organise my life accordingly for maximum productivity. I also predict that, letting go of the anxiety on when I can sleep might contain my immediate insomnia so that I can get back to working effectively!

Fellow insomniacs with broken sleep rhythms could also use SleepChart to simply identify when the best time to go to bed is, to ensure being able to get to sleep, and then still live by an alarm. There are two caveats here: Wozniak writes that to establish a baseline you need to the flexibility to free-run sleep for a while first. Secondly, using the alarm clock will ensure that sleep deprivation, to some degree, will likely still continue.

For me? The symptoms of poor sleep have cost me dearly in work, study, and life for years. Missed opportunities, being let go from jobs due to performance issues, social issues from struggling to mentally engage with the world around me. Sleeping well on a consistent basis would be invaluable. I basically look and act like the narrator from Fight Club right now. So I’m going to try free-running sleep and see what happens.

The free-running sleep algorithm, as written in Dr. Wozniak’s Good sleep, good learning, good life is as follows:

Free running sleep algorithm

  1. Start with a meticulous log in which you will record the hours in which you go to sleep and wake up in the morning. If you take a nap during the day, put it in the log as well (even if the nap takes as little as 1-3 minutes). The log will help you predict the optimum sleeping hours and improve the quality of sleep. Once your self-research phase is over, you will accumulate sufficient experience to need the log no longer; however, you will need it at the beginning to better understand your rhythms. You can use SleepChart to simplify the logging procedure and help you read your circadian preferences.
  2. Go to sleep only then when you are truly tired. You should be able to sense that your sleep latency is likely to be less than 5-10 minutes. If you do not feel confident you will fall asleep within 10-20 minutes, do not go to sleep! If this requires you to stay up until early in the morning, so be it!
  3. Be sure nothing disrupts your sleep! Do not use an alarm clock! If possible, sleep without a bed partner (at least in the self-research period). Keep yourself well isolated from sources of noise and from rapid changes in lighting.
  4. Avoid stress during the day, esp. in the evening hours. This is particularly important in the self-research period while you are still unsure how your optimum sleep patterns look. Stress hormones have a powerful impact on the timing of sleep. Stressful thoughts are also likely to keep you up at the time when you shall be falling asleep.
  5. After a couple of days, try to figure out the length of your circadian cycle. If you arrive at a number that is greater than 24 hours, your free running sleep will result in going to sleep later on each successive day. This will ultimately make you sleep during the day at times. This is why you may need a vacation to give free running sleep an honest test. Days longer than 24 hours are pretty normal, and you can stabilize your pattern with properly timed signals such as light and exercise. This can be very difficult if you are a DSPS type.
  6. Once you know how much time you spend awake on average, make a daily calculation of the expected hour at which you will go to sleep (I use the term expected bedtime and expected retirement hour to denote times of going to bed and times of falling asleep, which in free running sleep are almost the same). This calculation will help you predict the sleep onset. On some days you may feel sleepy before the expected bedtime. Do not fight sleepiness, go to sleep even if this falls 2-3 hours before your expected bedtime. Similarly, if you do not feel sleepy at the expected bedtime, stay up, keep busy and go to sleep later, even if this falls 2-4 hours after your expected bedtime.

Cardinal mistakes in free running sleep

  • do not go to sleep before you are sleepy enough – this may result in falling asleep for 10-30 minutes, and then waking up for 2-4 hours. Ultimately you can experience an artificial shift forward in the entire cycle!
  • unless for natural reasons (no sleepiness), do not go to sleep well after the expected bedtime. This will result in missing the period of maximum circadian sleepiness. Your sleep will be shorter and less refreshing. Your measurements will be less regular and you will find it harder to predict the optimum timing of sleep in following days
  • do not take a nap later than 7-8 hours from waking. Late naps are likely to affect the expected bedtime and disrupt your cycle. If you feel sleepy in the evening, you will have to wait for the moment when you believe you will be able to sleep throughout the night

So far? I went from two nights of broken 5 hours sleep to a solid 7 hours last night, with dozing for 4.  I felt like I’d regained some level of ability to think coherently today.

But tonight, I may have messed up the rules. On the basis of the idea ‘only sleep when you’re certain you will’ I believe I waited through my peak drowsiness and missed the window. I went to bed at midnight, roughly 18 hours after getting up, which seemed like a solid plan. I’m writing to you now at 3.. wait, it’s now 4 am. But let’s see what happens within the next week.

The Turtle Wars

Okay, so I’ve posted about social anxiety before, but not since it was still a major issue for me.

I spent a good chunk of my adulthood with.. to some extent, the mind, mannerisms, neuroticisms of a woman. Was I trans? No, not at all. Just markedly effeminate. As I narrated in 10 lessons from 2015, my testosterone levels were below baseline, though. No-one really took note for me, and pointed out the potential health issues and the need for it to be rectified before last year.

Coming out of that to experience the world as I can only presume the typical male does, has been a huge change. It was annoying at first.. it was profoundly irritating having my eye drawn to measure the desirability of any woman with a pulse. Including my friends – of which most have always been girls! Suddenly any person gets an automatic, cursory check and if I’m intrigued, plenty of eye contact. My first response was to hate it: I always derided machismo and wanted my humanity back!

The benefits however, have been profound: If there’s a question of taking action, of speaking to somebody, I can dismiss my hesitation out of hand, much of the time. I don’t walk or run like a mouse, head down, underfoot in public. Fear isn’t relevant to some extent. But I still do have remnants of social anxiety, and I’d like to share how it affects me and hopefully prompt some ideas or suggestions to help all of us.

In my previous post, GASP! Elwick Bay I mentioned meeting a fisherman on the shores of the Derwent River. He was eager to introduce himself to anyone passing, sharing his measure of success or lack of it at the time, and explaining his reasoning for fishing from a polluted river. He admitted having Aspergers and ADHD, a sister with autism, and I lingered from intrigue and some degree of empathy and a sense of familiar territory when he mentioned a bad childhood. Issues aside, there’s something to be learned from a person who can pursue conversation and carry it effectively. (To which you may be thinking: he had Asperger’s and could communicate effectively? Well, to be honest, I didn’t accept his words as guaranteed truth, simply for his being a stranger..)

I paused on the trail home and remembered that I’d been hoping to start shooting portraits. This guy was a viable candidate: standing on scenic shoreline, rod in hand, catching fish. I could take a casual shot of him, just to capture a slice of life. After mulling over the issue, and preparing how I’d present the idea I fought off my fear of rejection and headed back to ask. He was more than happy to be in a photo. I only wish I’d taken some close-ups.

I explained social anxiety recently on social media as follows:

Anxiety: making simple shit difficult since sentient life evolved.

It’s like having a bunch of illogical, transient, sporadic, situational phobias.

Every encounter with fellow human beings becomes complicated inside your mind, an endless array of ‘What if..’ and compounding self-doubt that strip away initiative. I could never find an ‘off’ button, and fought it in frustration and self-loathing, for years.

Once, I never could have approached this guy at all, and probably would have left the initial conversation much sooner out of a simple fear of some potential negative outcome I’d imagined.

There’s a learned behaviour here you’ve probably heard of, and it’s known as catastrophizing. We envision the potential outcomes of an action before taking it, but some of us tend to come up with more negative ideas than positive, and our fear, our belief in the likelihood of those negative outcomes causes them to become reality. It’s something we can challenge.
When you notice you’re freaking out over an imagined situation: cut off your imagination, stop reacting to it, it is more or less just a dream! Now imagine that situation working out perfectly. Imagine yourself doing it right. If you can imagine it, you can do it! But you have to make a habit of this 🙂

My suggestion today would be to open your mouth and let words fall out. Voice the thoughts you’re having but filtering. Just let your brain take care of the talking! I often find that I don’t like to tender ‘incomplete’ thoughts because they lead to misunderstandings. But then, if you can just start on a subject, and there’s a misunderstanding, you only need to say: ‘That’s not what I meant’ and explain.
In a conversation, you have the bat. Take the time you need to hit the ball correctly. If your conversational partner is impatient, that really is their problem. If there is a negative reaction to something you’ve said, you aren’t beyond handling it.

On the day I met the fisherman, I’d decided to catch a bus home rather than make the return walk. Sitting in a bus mall, there was a blonde girl wearing shorts, a loose t-shirt, casual jewellery, sunglasses. I dismissed her as not ‘my type’ on first glance, but as I waited, she rose to her feet to check the bus timetable, and returned to sit closer to me than before. I thought of the fisherman and his effortless conversation with passersby. I hesitated, fearing embarrassment, feeling the awkwardness, envisioning the notion of a negative reaction before opening my mouth… and then I commented: for the most used bus stop among 8 or so, it seemed absurd that ours was the only one without a shelter. She smiled, and agreed.

Simple words. One at a time. Make it a habit to try.

I will admit, that when it came to the idea of asking her name and continuing the conversation, simply to learn more about her, I my feared interest would be taken as more serious than intended. Fear and capitulation won, and I never learned her name. That’s where overthinking gets you 😉
But if this was you, dear reader, I would be telling you to take the risk. Because so what? There’s every chance you’ll find common interests, make friends and thank yourself forever. We live with uncertainty every day, you can’t always know the outcome before you make the decision.

If you’ve reached the end, you’re probably wondering about the title.

A turtle is a creature who lives in a shell and responds to perceived danger by hiding, because they have learned that this is the only useful and effective response in dealing with conflict. It’s a coping mechanism developed as a consequence to mistreatment by others. Today I can tell you that there’s always a yellow brick road, a positive, sensible path for you to take, the steps for which are already laid out in your head. You just need to give yourself a chance to follow it towards a better, happier life.

I believe in you.

10 lessons from 2015

Inspired by Lisa Jakub’s reflections on 2015, I thought I’d offer my own. Looking back over this year, overall I’ve been more stable and positive, and I’m achieving more than I have with my life in a long time. These are the secrets as to how.

1. Ask for help

I’ve heard it ascribed to men that we tend to find it an affront to a strong, independent ego that we need to ask for help. For me, I used to have trouble asking out of a fear of rejection or criticism at not being able to take it on myself. I feared confrontation and the assumption that I couldn’t do it for myself.

We can’t do everything alone, even the greatest leaders rely on the eyes, ears, and minds of others to help them on their way. When we ask for help we gain the opportunity to learn from the experiences of others and share our own perspective. You may make a friend, and teach them something in return.

2. Be mindful of your health

It seems like common sense, but so often we neglect the small things. For years, I’d possessed testosterone levels below the baseline for an adult male. Among other health issues, doctors had said that it never posed a cause for concern.

For years I was quite a timid man. Shy, non-confrontational, avoidant, even feminine in the way I thought about and presented myself, in my wants for relationships etc. With treatment, the change was pretty rapid. Suddenly I was a calm, confident, energetic guy who took no issue with the idea of taking on the world. All this change for AUD$10 in medication. When it comes to your health, minding even the small things is worth it.

3. Play on your strengths

We all have innate abilities. Some of these become finely tuned by what we think about and dedicate our time towards.. no matter if that’s building engines, painting, or simply communicating with others. Learning a new skill can bring a sense of accomplishment, expanding your abilities while keeping your brain on it’s feet. Playing on your strengths however, means drawing from those sources where you’re most skilful. Use your hobbies toward being more happy and comfortable in life, put them to work for you, identify opportunities to demonstrate your capabilities to others and the rewards will take care of themselves.

4.  Carpe Diem

Maybe yesterday went horribly wrong. Maybe the week has been a steaming pile, and you’re feeling that things couldn’t get any worse, especially when you didn’t sleep last night because you were tossing and turning thinking about it. Maybe you have a mountain to face at 1 pm and it’s so tempting to blow it off. No matter what you try, things never improve..

Well hey, I’m here to tell you that it’s your life and there’s a way out. Forget yesterday, and do what you can every day to make your life a more pleasant place to be. Your psyche, like your home, is yours to keep. Honestly, has responding with fear, anger, or negativity ever delivered you a happy ending? Can’t control your responses? Count to 5 and watch what you’re doing, listen to that little, smarter voice in the back of your head that knows the right path. Go and give yourself a chance.

5. Assume you have more to learn

There was a famous mind who suggested the most foolish are those who assume they’ve nothing left to learn. But let’s not take their word for it. A scientist might tell you that to study the world is to learn from it, and that the stage at which we might know everything as a species is impossible to quantify, if it’s possible at all due to the sheer immensity of what could be known.

Let’s face it, we’ve all met the ignorant butthead who was so sure of his own opinions and judgements because they’d been validated by his own experience. Sometimes that’s us. Consider that every experience and every encounter is an opportunity to learn more (and to become more capable.) If your mind is closed to the possibility however, you’ll be as good as a mobile phone without a radio transceiver. No wifi connection, no phone calls, a solid unit but one which won’t be hearing or gaining anything new from the world.

Take life as an on-going learning experience and you won’t need money to be a master of the universe.

6. Discuss your ideas

I will take a guess that 99% of the population of earth are capable of generating a new idea at least every 10 seconds. I’d wager the real number is much more frequent than that. Ideas can be exciting, and enticing, but sometimes not something we could realise directly. So why should we bother with them?

The entirety of human invention rests on the convalescence of ideas and reality. Ideas beget other ideas, and give us a chance to forge new connections with and between other people to improve the world around us.

I’ve never had an idea that couldn’t be further developed or enabled by sharing it with others who might grant me a different perspective. Even if that perspective was negative, it still gives you information about who is going to be interested, useful and/or supportive. I used to fear my ideas being stolen if I shared them too readily with strangers, ideas I knew that were good but I wanted to keep for myself. But it’s pretty hard to develop a product alone, and a fraud, incapable of developing his own ideas, is forever at the mercy of others’ invention.  Cultivate acquaintances with those who aren’t like you – they might be able to tell you more than you expect.

7. Learn from your enemies

Returning to my point about staying open to learning from experience, don’t close your eyes to the tactics of those with whom you disagree or find repellent. I’m not suggesting to be like them, but to take note of what works for them. Why and how are they good at what they do, and do they have any expertise which you can still take advantage of, or learn from, regardless of whether you agree with them? There’s always something to learn.

8. Balance your life

One of my worst habits is to become so caught up in projects that I neglect other areas of my life (like having a social life, giving myself a change of surroundings, exercise etc.)

I think working to find a balance is necessary. I’m sure I don’t need to tout the benefits on mind and body of exercise. I find it gives me space to think and reflect, for ideas and solutions to surface. Like meditation, actively doing nothing for a while can be surprisingly useful. Make time for friends, fun, work, and yourself and the quality of each should improve.

9. Pick your battles

In the current era of click-bait, our Facebook newsfeed littered with drama and politically charged misanthropy, I’ve noticed how easy it is for myself and others to become snared in dramas, irritated by slights.. even by the comments of some faceless stranger half the world away. And for what? For those of us with strong beliefs, sometimes it’s difficult to notice when we’re being baited because the tendency is to rush in and rectify.

Alternatively, there’s some slight, some snide or unhelpful comment – malcontents sow discord and the best course of action seems to get out of their way, or let them get out of yours. Engaging or becoming emotionally engaged in every slight is a waste of your energy.

10.  Life is too short to be frustrated over the pace of your progress.

So long as you’re moving forwards, your pace is irrelevant.

Review: The Richest Man in Babylon

The Richest Man in BabylonI’ve never been a rabid fan of money. I could always catch that vague scent of hamster cage lingering about the social mores of society. It would become especially ripe and sweet about those whom would accept and/or believe in everything they were taught, without question. Money? What was that but a carrot in front of a horse..

But money is useful. In concept, as a neutral intermediary it enables a fair trade between consenting individuals. If you have carrots and I have potatoes, and both of us want to trade but we don’t have what the other wants, well, money is the solution. Ideally, it represents value.

This was the first in a series of money-oriented books recommended on Lifehack’s ‘10 Books You Should Read To Get Rich.’ Now, you might think being rich is overrated, and I’d likely concur, but I thought I would indulge my curiosity. It never hurts to add another positive goal to the pile, especially when one needs money to do anything great (admittedly, the degree to which money is needed depends on your definition of greatness.)

The Richest Man in Babylon won’t make you rich.. but I wonder if anyone believes that. There are no ‘hidden’ or mystical secrets here, and no plan is fool-proof. This book won’t help you if you believe that there is anything magical about money. In fact, in a series of parables set in ancient Babylon, Clason is working to dispel myths and assert common sense ideas for one to budget, invest, spend wisely, and grow an income. Money won’t come unearned, and it won’t stay with someone who can’t respect it, or doesn’t know how to wield it with maximum efficiency.

If you can convince them to read it, I would set this on a teenager’s bookshelf to give them a good start in life. Four out of five stars for some cute, vivid prose illustrating basic ideas while holding the reader’s attention. Well executed.

“Psycho-Cybernetics”

A plastic surgeon observes that his art (or science, to be more exact) improves the lives of many, but not all.. some patients with perceived flaws don’t regain any happiness post-surgery due to an intrinsic lack of self-esteem (or negative perceptions of the world et. al) He set out to identify why, in the interest of maintaining his goal – to improve the lives of his patients. From extensive research, anecdotes from his practice, and social experiences, Maltz outlines the idea of humans as organisms in possession of a goal-directed machine. We are designed to function at optimum, he asserts, when chasing and fulfilling positive goals. Citing extensive references and examples, he demonstrates that we really do function better when we have a goal, and belief in our ability to overcome any obstacle.

He also suggests that we possesss the capacity to develop any skill, only slowing to a halt in life when we own our failures instead of realising they’re simply a step on a greater path. Additionally, as our nervous system reacts identically to a dream or vivid imagination as to reality, so too can we practice a task by imagination and retain our positive attempts just as if they were actual learning experiences. Maltz cites evidence that the creative imagination or mental practice of tasks can improve our skill at any task dramatically, without having to practice that task once in reality.

I was sold. The reflections, research, and ideas in this book have been a positive addition to my life, and elements have served as useful tools in pursuit of my own goals.

Personally, this book seemed like the inception of principles within cognitive behavioural therapy, though that branch of psychology wasn’t established until 20 years later. I don’t really know enough about the history of psychotherapy to comment, but perhaps Maltz additions to the field became a precursor. He certainly claims that his studies led to great interest from academics.

I gave this four out of five stars only because some of the research and Maltz reflections upon contemporary scientific understanding are now dated. And he presupposes readers are Christian and relates the occasional Biblical allusion – it’s my perspective that readers unfamiliar with these asides may be a little lost. His faith-based commentary and suspension of disbelief is curious to see, sitting so comfortably beside the exacting objective analysis. Yet the book rests on the conclusion: belief and ability are symbiotic brothers. For Maltz it appears believing that God is on his side has helped his endeavours. This doesn’t detract from the majority of the content, however.

Psycho-Cybernetics: A New Way to Get More Living Out of Life

Interested in seeing more reviews? Let me know, and friend or follow me on Goodreads.

The psychology of boredom, and your minute attention span (Part 1)

How long is your attention span? 5 seconds? 20 seconds? 2 minutes? How long can you focus on something?

Does it depend on whether that something is interesting? If the subject of your attention bores you, does your attention span drop dramatically?

When I was 11, a primary school teacher had caught me often “lost in thought”, daydreaming, I often wouldn’t respond to prompts. ADHD was just coming out as the catch-all for adolescent attentional and adjustment disorders. She managed to push for a full suite of tests to be conducted by a child psychologist. The results of that test were that, rather than being dull, I was in fact beyond the intelligence scale for children. The explanation for my distraction was that I was simply bored.

I never really lost that flight to fantasy. If my brain responds to reality with an idea, whether that’s invoked by my own thoughts, by what I’m looking at or something I’m watching, by what people are saying to me, my attention is literally stolen by my inner world. And frankly, it’s frustrating. Fantastic for introspection, but damning for anything requiring long periods of sustained focus on reality.

So I decided to take a look at some articles to see if I might find a solution. Surely, I figure, I’m not the only person struggling with being distracted.

According to Jonathan D. Cohen, it happens to everyone to some degree. Theories as to the cause and purpose of our involuntary shifts of attention have been generated for decades. He also seeks answers, suggesting that surely it serves some purpose.

His first suggestion is that perhaps it’s a protection mechanism: we daydream to shield our minds from monotony. We have many other involuntary practices to protect us from static stimulation: our eyes tremor, we miss words often repeated in a written sentence, our attention to information is as selective as it is subjective, primed for deriving the greatest utility from each passing moment.

Perhaps it’s simply a part of our internal infrastructure for maintaining sense of our perceptions.

John Eastwood and colleagues presented a meta-analysis on the origin and purpose of boredom. In the article The Unengaged Mind: Defining Boredom in Terms of Attention (2012), they relate that while boredom had been a topic for discussion for centuries, the underlying causes and psychological processes had never been identified, so for the purpose of further studies, and to identify and factor boredom into psychological analysis, a foundation was required.

Reviewing many previous studies, they identify some positive correlations:
• that boredom with a task might be alleviated by distraction
• A non-boring task may become boring if one is distracted
• Becoming distracted by pleasant, unrelated, imaginary scenarios may, by contrast, make the current task boring
• By using the imagination, one can manipulate a dull task into a positive experience.

Furthermore, anything that is not within the scope of attention is placed within a negative context. So, regardless of the relative importance of that task you should be doing, it will have negative connotations for you while you have something more interesting available to focus on.

References
COHEN, J. D. & SCHOOLER, J. W. 2014. Scientific Approaches to Consciousness [electronic resource], Hoboken : Taylor and Francis, 2014.
EASTWOOD, J. D., FRISCHEN, A., FENSKE, M. J. & SMILEK, D. 2012. The Unengaged Mind: Defining Boredom in Terms of Attention. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 7, 482-495.