Addiction, Self-determination, Flow, Mindfulness, Culture, Emotional Intelligence, and Human Bonding

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Addiction, Self-determination, Flow, Mindfulness, Culture, Emotional Intelligence, and Human Bonding

What are the components of addiction? why is addiction less desirable? and what aptitudes help us to avoid addiction?

“Let’s Turn the conversation towards Efficiency and Away from Morals”

The Psychobiological and Relational causes of undesired, addictive, and compulsory behavior:

Flow (peak experience) – Humans are most fulfilled when: Goals are clear, there is regular feedback concerning progress towards the goal, and you have the aptitudes necessary to make the challenge at the sweet spot between too hard (anxiety) and too easy (boredom).

  • Implications – Many electronic devices contain software that was developed to create a sense of flow. This creates a radical craving to engage with the software.

 

  • Solution – We need to ensure public access to ‘flow’ promoting activities that increase biological, relational, and existential wellness. Historically this includes extracurricular activities such as the arts and sport. Self-discipline with also be necessary – such as not having your cell phone at dinner or while on hikes etc.

Implicit System Conditioning – Most human emotions, thoughts, and behaviors are controlled by the implicit system. Our implicit system is evolutionarily older and significantly faster (more intelligent) then our intentional and rational explicit system. This system is adaptive – ex. you couldn’t drive a car with you explicit system.

It is very important to note that most interventions in the past have focused entirely on an explicit override of the implicit system – for example, we attempt to ‘rationalize’ away from a person’s automatic emotional response to stimuli. Unfortunately, this is not how the brain works (If I give you a rational explanation for why something ‘isn’t’ disgusting this will have no impact on your automatic disgust response).

  • Implication – Most of us have been primed to have automatic behavioral responses (towards a vice) in response to various emotions or environmental stimuli. example of stimuli that often lead to drinking: anxiety (emotion) or watching a sporting event (environmental).

 

  • Solution – We can set up our environments which allow a mindful reflection on our emotional and somatic realities so that we can our observe our desired impulses, emotions, and sensations with calm attention and without action. We then can learn to feel our feelings without reacting automatically to them. Increasing our ability to tolerate intense emotional experiences will have a positive impact on our ability to avoid the compulsory behavior.

Brain wiring and neurotransmitters – there is some overlap here with the implicit system. “What fires together wires together” Experiences that happen together can wire together – this creates predictable emotional reactions to stimuli and can create associates that are not necessarily rational. 

Neurotransmitters help to control our psychological wellness – deficits and surpluses create issues ranging from depression to mania to attention issues to psychosis etc. Adding substances to a developing mind (or a developed mind) can have unpredictable effects on our neural chemistry. Additionally, substances can impact the brain’s ability to properly uptake, release, and create neurotransmitters – which then leads to deficits or surpluses.

  • Implications – Substances such as ecstasy have been shown to dramatically impact the production of important neurotransmitters.
  • Solutions – Modeling and appropriate structure – We can ensure that we are modeling healthy relationships (including abstinence when necessary) with behaviors that can be unhealthy for our biology. We also should have regular access to nutritional items that promote a healthy biology and a sense of enjoyment.

Human Bonding and Attachment – Many vices (especially substances) impact or interact with the brain area responsible for human bonding and attachment. This means that instead of seeking out a secure relationship with another human – the substance is used (ineffectively) as the relational surrogate. This often leads to isolating behaviors – which leads to dysregulation and depression – which leads to more substance use.

  • Implications – Many people will use pot or alcohol as a means of feeling less lonely and dysregulated – though this can feel helpful in the start – the process can create a feedback loop which leads to exacerbated feelings of loneliness and dysregulation without the substance.
  • Solution – Emotionally significant/vulnerable and authentic connection. It is easier to use electronics or to engage in a substance than it is to be vulnerable enough to share your true self with another person. It is hard to remain open, empathetic and compassionate in front of a person who is suffering or who is offering their authentic self in a way that we don’t yet understand (Our impulse is generally to fix or to categorize). When we grow in our ability to stay present, honest, openminded, and compassionate, we naturally dissipate feeling of loneliness… in turn we gain a felt sense of regulation (and we, therefore, are not in need of the vice to mitigate our fears).

Anthropological Importance of Inclusion – We are a tribal animal. Our cortex developed to its’ current sophisticated state in response to the need to track an ever-increasing amount of social information (currently we max out at about 200 people). Exclusion from the group generally resulted in death for the vast majority of human existence – we tracked information to ensure inclusion (and to track ‘unsafe’ people). This reality has created a substantial fear response related to exclusion – this fear will propel us to make poor decisions to mitigate our fear.

  • Implications – We will often compromise our beliefs, emotional needs, intuition, and ration in order to protect ourselves from the fear associated with exclusion – this can mean that it feels terrifying to be without social media or to ‘just say no’ when the dominant group is engaging in unsafe behavior.

 

  • Solutions – Create emotionally intelligent communities that promote acceptance of differences and encourage open-minded and vulnerable communication. Through a compassionate dialogue, we can create a sense of culture which is best suited to the needs of the individual and the collective. Within this space of openness and acceptance, we reduce judgment and make it safe to express differences (therefore the culture will be inclusive of people who avoid behaviors that are harmful, though ‘normal’.

Faced paced society with ever increasing stimuli, social dynamics, and expectations with a corresponding reduction of health-promoting options – Currently, our society is not set up to be optimal for our psychological health. We are over inundated with stimuli, we lack sleep, we are responsible for monitoring more social dynamics than is possible, we lack access to nature, there is less access to arts and athletics, we are constantly encouraged to think about the future as opposed to the present moment, and we are often held to unrealistic expectations (such as the average workweek for an adult).

  • Implications – Often it can feel like the only way to ‘deal’ with our life is to disassociate from it, avoid it, repress it, or escape from it. Many electronics help us to completely leave (disassociate) from our current reality. Many substances produce a feeling similar to a state of mindfulness – you are absorbed in the present moment and free from the suffering found by attending to the past or the future. Lastly, many substances give us the permission to be who we want to be – inhibition. Both electronics and substances help us to deal with our anxiety resulting from feelings overstimulated, unrested, unfulfilled, and over-extended.
  • Solution – Intentionality and authentic prioritizing our life choices and values. We can enact intentionality and discipline so as to live within a set of values that promote our well-being.  health diet, appropriate boundaries, authentic expression, secure relationships, exercise, and access to nature are vital for our psychological well-being – these should not be compromised if we have the privilege to not be oppressed from accessing them (many, if not most, people in our world are oppressed from access to these variables).

Variables Impacted by Addiction

Freedom and Self-Determination. Reduced Intentionality – Increased automaticity

  • Remember Pavlov and the salivating dog (rang a bell every time the dog was fed – led to the dog salivating by the bell – even when no food was present)? As humans, we are constantly conditioned to have predictable and automatic responses to certain stimuli (this is adaptive). We can, therefore, develop automatic (and often unconscious) emotional, biological, cognitive and behavioral responses to substances, electronics, and other vices.
  • Conditioning Targets the implicit system to create unconscious associations with the vice (drugs, electronics, alcohol, shopping etc).

Experience: you have a huge problem and there is nothing that you can do about it in the moment – what vice do you want?(sibling lost all their money and they are on their way to your house to live with you)

  • Anxiety = conditioned to have a strong desire (sensation and emotion) for vice – often followed by an automatic behavior to engage in vice
  • The teenage brain is already in a state of re-structuring – pre-frontal cortex (executive control center) is less integrated into brain functioning. (this is an important time for the development of intentionality and good habits).
  • Solutions –
    • Mindfulness – focused attention on the present moment. The ability to notice without judgment and without automatic reaction. With mindfulness, we can observe the stimulus and our mind and body’s desired reaction to the stimulus. With practice, the pre-frontal cortex can override the automatic behavior (though the automatic emotion will likely stay mostly the same).
    • Willpower to engage in life intentionally despite a strong impulse to avoid or otherwise retract from discomfort. (without self-determination we are controlled by the external world and our urges)

Emotions and Body Awareness. reduction of sensory and emotional experience along with a reduced ability to tolerate emotions or sensory experiences.

  • What sensations are experienced in an elevator with a stranger (what does it feel like in your body)What emotions do you have as a result? What behaviors are we likely to engage in?
    • Now imagine all the experiences that a teen is going through – Away from home, love interests, making friends, meeting expectations, and figuring out who they are
  • After you have looked at a screen for 5 minutes where is your consciousness?
    •       What effect might this have on emotional aptitudes such as empathy?
    • Electronics and substances often disassociate us from our body (and relationships).
  • We must learn to continually be aware of and to tolerate our emotional and somatic experiences to achieve our ambitions – substances and electronics can rob us of the ability to develop this capacity.

What normal aspects of everyday life require a high level of emotional awareness and tolerance? Public Speaking 😉 Creating an emotionally intimate relationship.

Attachment and inter-regulation through Human bonding

  • New research is finding that substances and electronics target the same area of our brain used for human attachment and bonding (bonding is a primary need like water (orphanage example & cast away example)— the pull is extreme)
  • We are a social animal, and through millions of years of evolution we have developed a very sophisticated system of bonding with other humans that radically improves our ability to survive – Human connection is the #1 predictor of happiness (slope of a hill appears less steep, reduced amygdala activation in FMRIs when shocked)
  • We need to help our teens to bond with each other, with us, with the community
  • Electronics and substances mimic the feeling we get from positive human connection BUT they do not lead to lasting happiness and they do no facilitate regulation (human bonding is the cure for stress).

Conclusion – Our goal is to mentor our community towards becoming Self-determined, Emotionally intelligent, and Relationally able people. This doesn’t need to be a moral argument – Drugs and Electronics are not intrinsically bad or good… Instead, let’s change the discussion to efficiency – what are the most efficient means of developing the above Aptitudes?

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

The Science behind Emotional Intelligence: literature review

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Quick overview: The studies I reviewed were basically trying to find a consistent definition of emotional intelligence so that the topic could be scientifically investigated. The researches end up concluding that emotional intelligence became so ‘trendy’ so quickly that the theory was never able to ground itself with a consistent definition… in all the definition that the authors found, there was not a definition that lent itself to research. The definitions of emotional intelligence were too broad and the topic could not be broken down into observable and measurable variables. The studies that I investigated suggest that it is important to teach people skills that help people to be more empathetic, self regulating, thoughtful and compassionate etc…       they were not arguing the validity of the importance of what society has come to define as ‘emotional intelligence,’ instead they were suggesting that emotional intelligence lacks a consistent definition…The authors maintain that it is hard to say what the value of emotional intelligence is to society when there is no way of cleary articulating what emotional intelligence is.

 

The authors suggested that emotional intelligence (like an IQ) is a measure of one’s capacity to attain skills and knowledge related to social and emotional skills… it is not the skills or the knowledge itself… it is the capacity to attain the knowledge.

 

How do you measure this capacity?

 

My review – I found an article which investigated the science surrounding emotional intelligence. The Article titled Educational Policy on Emotional Intelligence: Does It Make Sense? By John D. Mayer and Casey D. Cobb looked at the history of emotional intelligence and the impact of the concept on education and culture. The study cautioned that it might be possible that more research needs to be done before emotional intelligence is integrated on a large scale. To justify the hesitation, the study reminded us of California’s effort to promote self esteem in their school system in the 80’s. Self-esteem did not end up having a significant positive effect on either social of academic variables, and lots of money was spent on the fruitless venture.

The authors’ first critique was that they could not find a consistent definition of emotional intelligence in much of the early literature.

  • The one measurable definition they found defined emotional intelligence as ‘the capacity to process emotional information accurately and efficiently, including the capacity to perceive, assimilate, understand, and manage emotion’ (Mayer, Salovey, and Caruso, 2000).

 

Second, the authors were unsatisfied with the abbreviation EQ as the acronym already had many other meaning and was never accurate… it should have been E IQ.

  • They found that it was Time magazine which perpetuated the misleading acronym.

 

The author quickly defined the current parameters of emotional intelligence being:”perception, integration, understanding, and management of emotion” (Mayer and Cobb, 2000) Mayer and Salovey’s 1990 articles described an emotionally intelligent character: a well-adjusted, genuine, warm, persistent, and optimistic person.

The history of Socio-emotional learning and character education traditions were examined in relation to historical patterns of implementing character building skills into school curriculum. Both were found to be helpful and effective.

The article became very interesting in that it found that as soon as journalism made emotional intelligence the latest trend the definition changed to include many variables which had never truly been studied (Mayer and Cobb, 2000).

  • The journals also sited correlations between emotional intelligence and desirable social behaviors that had never been studied (Mayer and Cobb, 2000).
  • The authors concluded that public knowledge about emotional intelligence is based on a bunch of articles citing a journalist instead of the scientific literature (Mayer and Cobb, 2000).
  • The authors found that the public seems to view emotional intelligence as describing a wide range of traits involved in positive and empathetic social contact.

 

For emotional intelligence to be a justified personality trait it must exist as a unitary entity (it must be measurable and separate from other constructs) (Mayer and Cobb, 2000).

  • The authors found that Emotional intelligence likely does exist given the measurable definition offered above by Mayer, Salovey, and Caruso.

 

In relation to success, the authors found that Goleman’s book, which is seen as the impetus of the movement, used such a broad and immeasurable definition (with inherent contradicting traits) that the findings related to increasing emotional intelligence were not surprisingly correlated with success (Mayer and Cobb, 2000). In other words if you define emotional intelligence with all the terms associated with success it is not surprising that your made up term will be correlated with success.  the authors maintain that many of the inflated numbers that the have been published in relation to success and emotional intelligence come from Goleman’s fallacious reasoning that if intelligence accounts for 20% of the predictability than 80% must be up to something else, which he concludes in emotional intelligence. In truth the remaining 80 percent in related to a vast array of personality traits and chance (Mayer and Cobb, 2000).

The authors then remind us that intelligence is a capacity to learn; they suggest that emotional intelligence, like IQ, is relatively unaffected by education.

  • It seems as though emotional IQ has come to be synonymous with social and emotional knowledge. Social and emotional knowledge will likely be beneficial to our community and we must recognize that it is in fact far different from emotional IQ.
  • to be most specific, the authors were suggesting that emotional intelligence is a measure of a person’s capacity to attain social and emotional knowledge… it is not the knowledge itself… it is the capacity to attain that knowledge.

 

The authors finish by pointing our social tendency to become fixated on the trendy personality trait of a time when we should be taking a broader approach to maximize the development of many socially beneficial personality traits.

Mayer John D. and Cobb Casey D (2000). Educational Policy on Emotional
Intelligence: Does It Make Sense? Educational Psychology Review, Vol. 12, No. 2

Mayer, J. D., Caruso, D. R., and Salovey, P. (1999). Emotional intelligence meets standards for a traditional intelligence. Intelligence 27: 267–298.

Mayer, J. D., Caruso, D. R., Salovey, P. Formica, S., and Woolery, A. (1999). Validity studies of the Multifactor Emotional Intelligence Scales [Unpublished raw data].

Mayer, J. D., DiPaolo, M. T., and Salovey, P. (1990). Perceiving affective content in ambiguous visual stimuli: A component of emotional intelligence. J. Person. Assess. 54: 772-781.

Mayer, J. D., and Geher, G. (1996). Emotional intelligence and the identification of emotion.

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.