Phineas Gage from Psych 101

My friend Shelly wrote in a recent comment:

We don’t prepare for old age, because when we are young we think we are immortal.

This is so true. We see this in young men under 25 and the psychologists call it “young man’s syndrome.” It is near impossible for men in this age bracket to imagine their own death. So why does our brain and mental health come into clear focus later in life? What changes? Is there a certain quota of aches and pains that have to occur before we realize we are mortal? Maybe this syndrome is a survival mechanism. Maybe it once kept us at the top of the food chain before we became domesticated creatures. Whatever the reason for it, it shows a very important point:

Our brain has a lot to do with our notion of reality.

Phineas Gage, whose skull and brain injury is a pillar of brain study, emerged from his injury virtually unaffected. The thick metal rod shot directly through his cheek and up through his brain leaving fragments of of brain and bone on it yards away. Though everyone thought he would die, he lived another 15 years. His reason and inhibitions drastically changed in those 15 years, but he did indeed live.

Four representations of Phineas Gage, from Macmillan, M. (2006). Restoring Phineas Gage: A 150th Retrospective. J. Hist. Neurosci. 9: 46-66. [Abstract]

I think we take for granted that our brain is like a knee or an elbow or any other external body part: It can get bruised, it can get scratched and upset. Birth defects are a given, but during our life, parts of our brain can be neglected, causing neuroses. It doesn’t have to be a metal rod through the skull to affect our brain chemistry. We tend to think that our brains are immortal. Just because they are there hidden and snug inside our skulls, we can trust they are feeding us a perception that is 100% “reality.” I challenge that common belief. I posit that for as many brains there are walking the Earth there are different notions of reality. We may share some of the basics, but after that brain chemistry differs and therefore so does perception.

So what does this mean to you? Do all you can to take care of your brain. The instrument is fine. The treasures you will find will be in your mind. If you are chronically upset, see a doctor. It could be a chemical problem. There are many out there untreated. Why suffer when drugs exist to bring you into balance? Short of drugs, make sure you eat right and get the vitamins you need. Sleep and rest are also crucial to mental balance. The next time you think you are upset because of “real” things, remember that your imperfect and delicate brain interprets real. Until you’ve had the decent sleep, mediation, and diet, you should never assume that your brain is qualified to judge reality. Even then, it still can be wrong.

Is your brain getting all it needs?

How to Make Acronyms for Personal Development

This post is about self help / personal development. Or, specifically, how to make acronyms and use them for self-improvement. The process of making them can be challenging, but using them is easy and rewarding. At New Year’s cusp, people always think about resolutions but shouldn’t we be thinking about them all year long? Trying to reinvent ones self once every year can have some value but ongoing changes throughout the year yields greater results. I usually make my resolutions around August because that is where my teaching work year renews itself. Continuous improvement is what I strive for and I use self-invented acronyms to make it happen.

These funny little words really work!

There are many quality online personal development courses that attest to the power of acronyms. The reason I use acronyms is because they are easy to remember. Usually all goals can be narrowed down to three words. That’s the perfect length for an acronym. The word you create becomes your personal thing and you carry it with you while traveling toward your goals. This past new year’s eve I read about a great worksheet and used it to develop some of my goal words for the year. Check it out here.

The first three goals are your creation!

At the beginning of the process, write down three words you want to focus on. You might write many and narrow them down to the three best. For example, a horse trainer might list:

patience, people, volume

Each word has a lot of idiosyncratic meaning to the horse trainer. You can imagine what these three words might mean in a horse trainer’s life in contrast to that of say, a lawyer.

Next in the process come up with a three letter word you will use as your acronym. It doesn’t matter if it’s related to the three words you just chose or not, but you should find the imagery of the word pleasing. You may find this list of three letter words intended for Scrabble players useful. This is in a way the game of your life.

To illustrate these first 2 steps, let’s say the horse trainer chooses the goals listed above and then chooses the word “ACT” as his acronym.

That leads to the most fun and rewarding step in my opinion. It’s also the step that takes the most time. The step is to come up with three words that start with the letters A,C, and T. Each word should represent one of the word-meanings you came up with when you started the process ie; patience, people, volume.

This can take a lot of trial and error until you get it right but once you are done you “own” the acronym. Take this as a possibility:

Allow (patience)
Culture (people)
Tons (volume)

The words you assign to the acronym don’t have to be exactly the same meaning as your goals but they should have enough to do with the original goal for you to remember the goal when you recall the acronym.

Now the horse trainer can go to work thinking about his meaningful acronym “ACT.” He has given his job and life a more precise focus.

I chose nouns for this example, but you can choose action verbs as well.  A resource you might find useful is this list of action verbs by letter. You can even make up a sentence like “I will Always be patient,” where Always is the A part of the acronym. This is helpful when you just can’t think of a word to match the goal.

When it comes to personal development and self-improvement, I swear by my acronyms to improve memory and other stuff. I think once you give it a try, you will too. If you are a trainer or a mentor, acronyms can assist you greatly with your time management training program. On a last note, you should check out this make an acronym engine, it is helpful.

So What do You Want on Your Tombstone?

tombstoneNo this isn’t a pizza commercial. It’s a blogger way to refocus ones goals. The idea is that by imagining the end we can do better NOW. I write movie reviews here and thus I see a lot of lives on the screen. Watching the characters move toward their goals is what makes movies interesting to me. I invite you to try this as a personal growth exercise. What to you want on your tombstone? Here are two questions to ask before you decide your own epitaph:

1) What would you like to be said about you at your funeral?

2) Think of a deceased loved one – what is the one thing you’ll remember the most about him/her?

As for #1, this is an interesting question. I think it morbid to fantasize about my own death, so I’m going to try and not do that. Instead, I will imagine what I would want my kids to remember about me and then translate that into a snippet on my tombstone:

Loving dad, disciplined artist, and student of life.

(make your own tombstone)

As for #2, this one is easy. My maternal grandfather died at 85. I will remember many things about him, he had a dramatic impact on my golf game and the formation of my personality. If I had to say one thing I will remember most about him it will be this statement (You have to be a golfer to understand it’s life application):

Keep your head down, take a big back-swing, and follow through.

That’s how I try to teach, play, love, and live . . . thanks to Gramps for those early mornings at Cherry Hills. I’ll never forget that crisp cold air and the lessons I learned in his shadow all those days.

This isn’t an editorial piece but rather something to keep you thinking. When you have passed from this life, what will you leave behind? It’s psychology we all could use because it helps us define ourselves. I think George Bernard Shaw said it well when he said:

Life isn’t about finding ourselves, it’s about defining ourselves.

One final time: What do you want on your tombstone? If you have a blog, make a post on this topic. If you don’t, feel free to answer the questions in the comments.


tumblr_mk0vbzXjwD1qz6f9yo1_500You can’t win if you don’t try.
I once had a coach who told me he’d rather have a no-talent kid who tried than a gifted one who didn’t. As a teacher of 15 years I can say I feel the same way. Like the tortoise and the hair, arrogance eventually loses. So how about you? Feeling defeated, like you lack the talent, the health, the ability to make the grade? Think again. If you can take a breath you can sing a note. If you can put one foot in front of the other, you can walk across the floor. Don’t let those who are too rich define your pursuits. The same with super talented people or those who just seem lucky at whatever you’re interested in doing. Don’t study the guy who recorded an album in his parent’s garage and became a household name. Instead, be the girl or guy who kept at the craft of songwriting and after a while earned her place in the rock and roll hall of fame. Continue reading Try

Plan to Go Big

Vegas is a great place for thinkers and visionaries to go. It goes “at the speed of life” to every extent of the phrase. I was in Vegas the last 4 days and the same subject to write on was underlined everywhere I went. While in the casinos, I noticed the new ones had gigantic, multi-level parking garages. They of course aren’t filled yet but I am sure they will be soon and the new casinos will be ready. We stayed in one on the older end of the strip our first night and were barely able to find a spot. Let me remind any of you who have been on vacation with a family how much bad parking situations suck.

The newer resorts we stayed in had mega parking. They are thinking ahead. We stayed in a total of 3 resorts and in the third one, everything seemed geared on going big in the near future. The folks at the Red Rock Resort in Summerline (about 10 miles off the strip) have created a “wide-open” atmosphere. Of all the places we stayed, it allowed me to relax and open my mind to new ideas. That is exactly what I need when I go to Vegas or anywhere else for a vacation.

I got the message to “plan to go big” for my teaching, blogging, and leading my family. What good is a temporary place when you can plan to be now in the vision you have for tomorrow. Maybe the founding fathers didn’t plan big enough and now we have all this “occupy Wall Street” bullshit going on. Or, maybe they just didn’t have enough information and now we have to rewrite the constitution. Either way, They planned and here we are.

Be rad, be quality, burn baby burn … in the end we are all just melting snowflakes so plan to go big. You already know what to do if you don’t go big but what if you do? Be ready.

On my tombstone, I would have it say 2 of 3 things:

1) Here lies Damien, he planned to go big but never did.
2) Here lies Damien, he went big and planned for it.
3) Here lies Damien, he went big but didn’t plan for it.

Plan big, because epitaph 1 is better than 3.

Dr. Seuss: Quirky is Good

04_seuss37_dI’ve written about many of my heroes on my blog but none of them are quite as special to me as Dr. Seuss. Maybe it’s because he is a proponent of reading or maybe it’s because he is a bit left-of-center. Whatever the reason, I get inspired by Dr. Seuss and inspiration is the most valuable thing when you’re setting a goal for greatness. You are doing that aren’t you? Check out his life:

When Theodor Geisel was a young child, long before he would become Dr. Seuss, he used to mark in books. He had a set of books he had made his own by putting drawings and writings in. This should have been a clear indicator to his parents that one day his books would change the world. I am sure in their wildest dreams they never would have imagined what this young boy would one day do. Letting his imagination run wild was the first thing he did to set his dream in motion. These pictures made him happy. Following what made him happy would eventually make millions happy.

When Theodore got older and graduated college, he decided he wanted to write children’s books. He spent a lot of time and energy making his first book, an ABC book. No one published it. He felt rejected. He did not write another book for four years. This is identical to the experience of another great artist I have written on, Charles Schulz. Neither gave up altogether though. Both rose to great acceptance after a major rejection. I think this is very important for us to note. Have you been rejected at something? How many years will you let pass you by before trying again. While we’re at it, can you imagine how cool it would be to have a copy of that ABC book that got rejected? Something to remember when people reject your work.

In 1936, Dr. Seuss was on a boat to Tudor. He heard the engines “talking to him” in the sounds they made. Standing there at the engine he “heard” the idea for another book attempt. This is probably one of the most quirky stories I have ever heard. That’s why I love it so much. I am like that. I hear my car creak and talk to me, I hear lots of strange sources of inspiration every day. I am also quirky. Are you? Don’t look at it as a bad thing.

The quirky book that was borne out of the engine sounds was And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street. Now 50 years later it is one of Dr. Seuss’ most favorited book by children all over the world. After that is time in a blender history. Dr. Seuss has published hundreds of books since then, as you likely already know.

Theodor Geisel had a goal: he wanted to write books that were easy to read. As he worked for that goal he brought millions of people happiness and taught millions to read: including me as a young child!

Currently set for release is Horton Hears a Who. A major motion picture created from another Dr. Seuss masterpiece. When millions watch it they will be seeing a product of a quirky writer who had a vision and kept at it. The message of this book is that even the smallest person can make a difference. What a message!!! We all wish he could have given us more. He is a lesson to me to never stop giving. Read one of his books and start making your crazy dream happen!

Strength in the face of adversity . . .

Columbia, SC: Kershaw Co. man cuts off own arm

I read this story and was so inspired. Not because I’d like to cut my arm off, but it shows the capacity we have as humans to do what we have to do, however horrific, to survive. This article is truly an example of a possibility thinker in action.

KERSHAW COUNTY, SC (WIS) – A Kershaw County man is sharing his story of survival. He faced a life or death decision when his hand got stuck in a piece of farm equipment, and then a fire broke out around him. What he did next might shock you, and we have to warn you that some of the details might be disturbing.

Make it Happen Let it Happen

tumblr_n8us58Y0Bk1qzr04eo1_500The age old debate of free will vs destiny still rages on today. I believe both have their place. You can’t sit around waiting for someone or something to show you the way. You’ll be sitting too long and when the lines start appearing on your face they’ll have no stories apart from the laziness that made up your life. On the other hand, I don’t believe you can push your hand too aggressively and get the natural results you dream about. Success takes time and premature success can be an ugly albatross around your neck. Balance is the secret to happiness in life. When your dreams don’t materialize right away, you need to be string enough to sleep and keep plugging away another day. You must do this for as long as it takes if you want to achieve your dreams. Continue reading Make it Happen Let it Happen

How to Process a Punch in the Stomach

fight_stomach_punch2_00-quick-e-mail-view1I just got some news tonight that felt like a punch in the stomach. It’s fine, I’m fine so don’t worry friends and loved ones. It concerns the current state of affairs with my school district. What do you do when your employer says something about your union that is a bold-faced LIE? Answer is … throw a party! Life’s not worth getting so embroiled in the web of people in power that you miss out on the sweet pleasures of being alive. I’ve suggested to the union that we have a party and with a little luck, and my powers of persuasion, that will happen. I don’t have to get stupid to have fun. Just point the way to the carbs table and I’ll be good to go. When life punches you in the stomach, learn to divert your attention away from the fist. In due time, after some rest and relaxation, you can process it better and get things taken care of. I guess this is why teachers strike. I’ve never been part of a strike but I am an organizer and I’m starting to see the worth of it. It all gets back to that staple I always write about: relaxation. If you are relaxed, you are better, period. Don’t fixate on working all the time and avoiding the label of “lazy.” Sometimes that laziness is what solves problems. Take a break after to get punched in the stomach. Rested and relaxed, you may be able to deliver a much stronger reciprocal blow. Continue reading How to Process a Punch in the Stomach

All You Get

1228491.largeJust got back from the a.m. portion of my dentist appointment. As usual, I was uncomfortable. Having said that, I was lighthearted for a change which felt better. I usually see the dentist once a year to keep my benefit at 100%. Actually the past 7 years I have been there over the holidays to get my cleanings and fillings and whatever else they decide I need. At some point I matured that way. I’m still not one to do things out of obligation. When you’re a kid you think your teeth are going to last forever. The dentist is just someone your parents force you to see. At my age now, I see the dentist as a way to keep the things I have now. I recognize that after all is all you get. I found out I am grinding into the backs of my front teeth. Using his tiny mirror tool with a large one I held, he showed me a ditch I have begun to chisel into them. He recommended a mouthpiece for sleeping but it was $300 so I may wait on that. I have a deep cleaning to go back for as well as 4 cavities. I don’t get sad about it though, I am on top of this! The teeth in my mouth are all I get, I’m going to make them last. Continue reading All You Get