“Common Sense”

This week I’m in the process of researching a nonfiction book; one that has some big ideas I it that I’m currently working on how to relate. It’s funny how when I do things like this I find seemingly unrelated stuff that is really significant…

We talk about the ‘five senses’ (though there are actually more) and we talk about ‘common sense’. Would you believe these ideas actually come from the same source?

And, common sense was the actual original sixth sense.

The ‘five senses’ come from the writings of Aristotle who discussed the senses of sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste as how we explore the world around us. He also talked about the common sense.

Aristotle’s common sense was an internal thing, a thing of the mind. Instead of the nebulous ‘don’t be stupid’ sense that is thought of today Aristotle’s common sense was (and is) a coordinating and interpreting function. The ‘common’ sense was that internal system that coordinated the data we got from our five external senses into something useful and meaningful. In Aristotle’s thinking (and mine) a lack of common sense meant not using the data you have in front of you.

If anything, the ‘common’ sense is more important now than it ever has been. Modern folk are bombarded with more information than at any time in history. We need to learn to evaluate, coordinate, and utilize that information correctly.

‘Common sense’ is truly the vital sense of the twenty first century.

Of course you and I both know that it is not that simple dear reader. ‘Common sense’ is a learned skill. Actually it is a learned skill set. What that means is that we are not automatically experts at using common sense. We are born with legs but have to learn to walk. The same logic applies.

The good news is that we can learn and improve in our skills. It is not always easy, but when we put forth the effort we will improve over time. If we consciously work on our skills for evaluating and using information we will actually get better at it faster.

I’m not trying to tell you everything about common sense today dear reader (this is a blog post not a book). For now know that we all have the capacity for common sense. We all have the need for common sense. And, we all have to accept that common sense comes to us “some assembly required”.

See you next week…

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My sidekick’s a doctor!

Friday I missed posting here, but it was for a good reason.

And before I go any further, those of you who know me know that I generally describe (and see) my wife as my partner and not my sidekick… I’ve just been watching a few too many ERB videos lately…

Friday morning my wife defended her doctoral dissertation at the university here and passed with flying colors. This really is a good thing and I’m proud of her. It also means we’re one of those lucky couples to have survived a major graduate school program with our marriage intact.

In some ways my wife finishing her dissertation and getting her PHD has brought us closer together! It’s helped us to understand the trials and processes that go on in both of our lives and careers and strengthened us.

Is there more to say?

Yes, of course… But some of it is for her to say and some of it should wait until the edits on the dissertation are done. (Um… That means we’ve both got books going to the printers at the same time… Ack! Red alert! Red alert!)

Thank you for being with us through the process dear reader and see you next post!

Write That Story!

Yes, I mean that story! You know, the one in the back of your mind that you keep telling yourself. The one about the traumatic incident (if you’ve been born you have one…).

Write that story it can be really good for you.

Why?

Back in the old days, before we carried internet connections in our pockets, some of my early research in psychology was about writing and the emotional effects of writing. I sort of got away from it but like writing itself I keep coming back to this research.

This week I ran into an article titled Stepping Back to Move Forward: Expressive Writing Promotes Self-Distancing by Park, Ayduk and Cross. The article supports a thought that I’ve had for a while, and even takes it further!

As a writer I’ve always felt that writing about things could help me get perspective on things and had a definite emotional effect. Back in the nineties I demonstrated that writing on some topics made people more nervous than others. I was pretty sure writing was helpful for long term thinking about things and for helping you put things behind you. Well, Park et al demonstrate that.

What they found…

Writing is something I do. The written word is something that people find compelling. If you do it right it lets you safely look at things that can feel pretty unsafe in other parts of life. What Park et al found was that expressive writing, writing about emotional things and putting your emotion on paper, helped participants in their study gain emotional distance from the event. It helped the writer to look at things as an observer and not as someone stuck in the moment of the event.

Why is this important? Well, first off looking at things from a larger perspective (which you can do if you can back up and look at things from the perspective of an observer) gives you a broader view of things and makes things more understandable.

Incidentally (from some of my own research) just being a literate person does some of that too…

When you understand things better. You can deal with things better and find solutions.

Park et al also found that the emotional distancing was associated with a decrease in emotional reactivity. Remembering events can put you through an emotional wringer. Decreasing emotional reactivity means you can remember events and figure out how to deal with them without having to deal with as much of the emotional spikes that came with the original event. You gain protection from being retraumatized by the event.

There’s still more to study on this part, but Park et al also found a link to actual physical wellbeing and emotional distancing. It’s not a direct line, but it seems to be there. The trick is that it’s seems to be a bit of a relational chain… you write the story; you gain distance; your emotional reactivity goes down; and then your physical wellbeing improves. It’s not a direct, A causes B effect, but it’s something that can help.

What it all means…

Well it kind of means what I said at the start!

Write that story. Use your words. Use your writing to help yourself understand yourself. Use your words to help you gain a little distance from that event, thought, or situation that keeps nagging at you; and help yourself find a solution.

That’s it for today dear reader. Until next time I’d like to thank Park, Ayduk and Cross for their good research and…

Like I said write that story!

 

Citation.

Park, J., Ayduk, O., Kross, E. (2016). Stepping Back to Move Forward: Expressive Writing Promotes Self-Distancing. Emotion, 16, 3, 349-364.

Assumptions and other bad ideas…

Interesting thing happened to me shortly before I wrote this…

The hospital I ended up in a few months back (when I was diagnosed with diabetes) just tried to send me an inappropriate and uncalled for demand letter…

Problem 1: Someone over there made a decision without bothering to check their own records…

Problem 2: Someone over there made the assumption that a letter would scare me…

Problem 3: Someone over there made the assumption that I was less than intelligent and didn’t keep and check records…

Problem 4: Someone over there failed to realize this wasn’t their first mistake…

Now, I am not an overly vengeful person (some of my friends will say that I’m deliberately cranky… but they admit that that is just to amuse myself…). I do take offense when someone tries to breach a contract and punish me for their mistakes. This was all sorted out (for the moment at least) with a couple of phone calls; however, the whole thing could have been avoided if people bothered to get good information and think in the first place.

This was something that could not have been positively corrected, once it happened, if I hadn’t held up my end; kept good records; and knew what was going on. Believe me… after they learned that I had full documentation from both my side and theirs about what was going on, and that I was aware my state is a triple damages state, they straightened themselves out very quickly.

The moral(s) of this story… Educate yourself. Keep good records. Know what is going on around you. Be patient and polite where appropriate, but stand up for yourself too.

As Sun Tsu said…

If you know your enemy and yourself you need not fear the outcome of a hundred battles.

If you know yourself but not your enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.

If you know neither your enemy nor yourself you will succumb in every battle.

In my own words…

And succumbing in battle can cost you.

That’s it for today dear reader.

Hope you’ve been having a better one than I have…

A link between physical and mental fitness…

So, I’ve been out of the hospital and dealing with this diabetes thing for about two months now. About a month ago my doctor advised me that since I was done with certain other meds that were causing complications it was probably time to experiment with stepping down the insulin. This was both good, I had a goal to step down and, if possible too get off the insulin. It’s something I want to do, but it’s also scary… this is something that I’m depending on for my health and now the doctor is saying get rid of it if you can.  In the past for weeks I’ve cut the dosage of long acting insulin in half and cut out the short acting (bolus) insulin altogether (except for one day where someone really, really torqued me off and I had a major stress reaction…). Tonight I’m dropping another three units and if things go well I can see the day that I’m just on oral meds in the near future… Unfortunately the easy part of cutting down the insulin is also over… I’m at the point that I actually have to work. Specifically I have to work on losing weight and doing more exercise. Now, what does this all have to do with writing and all the other stuff I put in the tags section? Well, funny thing… When you’re increasing blood flow and operating efficiency in your body, you’re also improving conditions for your brain… Actual physical improvement of mental fitness. The overly high blood sugar (and often blood pressure…) associated with diabetes are actually toxic to your body in addition to physical (mechanical) damage they can cause. By getting more exercise you not only help your body lose weight, which cuts down on the insulin resistance associated with type two diabetes, but actually can help the cells pull in the sugar and clear it out of the system. Controlling your diet can help with the same things. In practice the exercise component doesn’t even have to be that strenuous. I’ve found that spending a half hour walking around (like a trip to Lowes or a good sporting goods store…) can drop my blood sugar by twenty points give or take. I moved my food storage around yesterday and had the same effect (not a doomsday preper, but it is nice to be able to eat when there’s a snow storm on…). It doesn’t have to be that hard, you just have to do enough and do it regularly… Improving sugar (energy) intake and reducing the damaging effects of sugar are far from the only (or even the most important) effects of diet and exercise.

Effects that even non diabetics can enjoy!

One of today’s projects was working on fixing up a cheap used bike I picked up. In spite of a few inventive four letter words, I do count this as a benefit of working on the exercise thing, and one that a lot of people can enjoy. Working on the bike provides me something I can do that provides me with a goal I can accomplish that is also a break from actively (directly) working on writing). It can lead to a sense of accomplishment which (as I’ve said before) can help to speed you into accomplishing other, harder seeming, goals. Working on a different project (that’s a clean break from my regular work) also lets my subconscious mind solve problems without my conscious mind getting in the way. This is the same thing that happens when people get good ideas in the shower…). Working on a different project also creates an opportunity to find thoughts that you might not have had otherwise; like this next one…

Back to the physiological stuff…

Today while working on the bike I realized that exercise can increase blood flow to the brain. That means that doing physical exercise can actually improve my writing and researching by giving my brain more air and fuel to work with!

Exercising causes physical stress. This is actually a benefit… it is different physical stress from what is usually happening in the work I do. Essentially causing one kind of stress gives the body a chance to relieve other kinds of physical and mental stress. And, after you exercise you can relieve the exercise stress… Stress relief is well known to be a physical and mental good thing. Relieving stress  (or managing your stress) can help you be healthier, and think better. Yes, my work and my major interests are about words, ideas, and the human mind. Yes, those are all things that can be explored without a daily five mile run (for which I am grateful!!!), but the reality I’m learning is that taking a little time out to do some physical exercise, and change my perspective, actually helps me to write and research better. It doesn’t have to be about who can do the most pushups and you don’t have to be an expert in (insert sport here); if you get out and do something that gets the blood flowing and the energy burning for your body you are also helping your brain.

Getting out to do some physical exercise can have very real physical and mental benefits that actually do make a difference. So, go ahead: Learn, create, discover and write good stuff! And take care of your body too. It really will help.

That’s it for today dear reader. Until next time… where did I put that !@@$@#$@$@!!! pedal wrench?

Why I quit playing Lord of the Rings Online

I initially started playing Lord of the Rings Online (Lotro) a few years ago because I was researching video/online game addiction and figured I should play some to really understand the subject. Well, I finished the research and created a continuing education class which I even got payed for presenting (more than once!), and kept playing Lotro.

For a while the game was rewarding. I Felt like I was achieving things, the graphics were cool and I was having fun. But, it was a time suck and was getting in the way of other things. I stuck with it because I like fantasy and it was fun, for a while.

Then, as usual, life happened. Events came up and I stopped playing for a week. When the week was over I realized I was less willing to go back than I had been. Sure, I was achieving things in game, but a lot of that was me saying “I want to do this”, creating a goal and then achieving it.  I had reminded myself that I can do that off line too (and when I do it with real world stuff I get less flack from my wife!).

The bigger issue however, wasn’t the in-game goals versus real world goals, or even the time suck… I realized what I had liked most was stories. I realized that I was just using the game system as a recording system for where a character was. I tended to push the bounds of what the system could do in that I was creating my own goals and stories about my characters rather than following established quest lines. “HEY! I’m trying to tell my own stories, even in this game!” and that realization was the moment Lotro quit being fun. I realized that I was just plain more interested in telling my own stories than in trying to “live” the story lines some game writer had created.

The reality is, any online game has inherent limits in what you can do. I’m not meaning to bag on game designers here, it’s just reality that they can’t foresee everything that another creative person will want to do. Even if they could, the computers just can’t handle it, you’d need a live game master (as in, like, old school face to face role playing…). The more I thought about it, the more I realized (or remembered) that, to me, role play has always been about making stories. If I’m going to make stories, I might as well make my own.

This is not to say that Lotro has bad stories, only that it is limited in it’s story interaction/creation ability and that I’d really rather make my own stories. So there it is, for me it’s the story. The game isn’t bad, it’s just that I’d rather tell my own story.

Games can be a good break from other things, but when they get in the way (like when they keep me from telling my own stories) they can be a problem. Choose what’s best for yourself and go that way dear reader.

Well, that’s it for this post. Till next time, Live your own story!