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.

Stopping unwanted thoughts and daydreams

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SONY DSCQuick summary: you have quite a large degree of control over where you keep your attention but often there is an exceedingly appealing reward for keeping our attention on the thoughts and imaginary scenarios, which are the source of our dis-ease and stress.

The other day in Colorado I had three hours to myself to go on a wonderful 7 mile run through an epically beautiful open field. It was over 60 degrees in late November and the field was glowing against a soft radiating blue sky… the dark green of the sparse juniper trees created a magical contrast against the yellow wind dancing grass.

My mind kept on going back to one of three different stressful work situations (in addition to being a therapist I am also an executive director of a non-profit = the stress was not client related): one involved an “unethical liar”, one involved “a selfish oblivious person”, and one involved “inadequacy and hypocrisy.”

Thoughts that tend to have the power to ruminate in your mind commonly have a consistent theme… they involve a moral judgment about the external word.

We use our moral judgments to create a consistent sense of self (the person who we tell ourselves that we are). So on my run my mind was attending to those unpleasant thoughts as a means of validating and defending that that those people are _______________ and, given my unaccepting moral judgment of those people, I am an ethical, selfless, adequate and consistent person.

This fallacious conclusion strokes my ego which reinforces the urge to ruminate on the negative thoughts.

The Problem is that our emotional disposition is directly related to our thoughts. If my attention is on an imaginary scenario at work then I am no longer really in a beautiful field with perfect weather and no problems. I essentially create a stressful reality and choose to live in it by allowing my attention to stay in the fictitious space as opposed to in the reality of the present moment.

Let me offer another example: let’s say you are driving down the road to a very important event such as a football game and there is an excessive amount of traffic to get to the parking lot. There is a man in a nice sports car who decides to cut around the traffic by speeding forward in the breakdown lane. The entire football game (or ballet or movie – whatever event you enjoy) you find yourself ruminating about the incident with thoughts such as, “that guy is entitled, that man doesn’t have any care for others, that guy is cheating our social rules, that guy is a pompous narcissist etc.”

Why would one choose to place their attention on this stranger as opposed to on the enjoyable event? It would stand to reason that you would get more enjoyment if you could keep your attention on the event (the present).

The answer is the ego (sense of permanent identity… the ego is all the answers to the “I am ________” statement). By ruminating on that man you are giving your ego the opportunity to validate its characteristics – you are giving yourself the opportunity to define who you are.

So this is one reason why we would do this, but can we do anything about it?

Can we control where we place our attention?

I have many posts concerning mindfulness that would be relevant here as mindfulness practice is essentially a means of training your ability to direct your attention. Just like exercise, you can increase your ability with regular practice.

That being said, I happened to be relatively out of practice and therefor I was not in a mental space which allowed my attention to stay present without rather significant willpower.

Instead I had to Label and externalize the unwanted thoughts … validate my strong desire to attend to those thoughts… and gently give myself the assignment of focusing intently on one of my senses.

This is how the process looks inside my head:

1.) “That is a work related thought and I notice that my chest tightens to this subject.”

2.)”I really want to keep my attention on this work thought as there is a pleasant feeling which comes from labeling moral deficiency while problem solving… and… I have agreed to keep my attention in the present.”

3.) let me look at the scenery in front of me so intently that I would be able to write a poem that could paint a vivid picture of what I see to a person with their eyes closed (or “let me attend to my sense of smell until even the dull scent of the ground in available” or “let me find the rhythm of my heart beat without touching an artery”)

Note: it is best to tell yourself what to attend to as opposed to telling yourself what NOT to attend to = If I say “don’t think of a penguin” your mind will picture a penguin. What is worse is that a feedback loop is then created as your mind will then continually check in on your assigned task. Your mind will ask itself “am I not thinking about a penguin”? And when it repeats “penguin” your mind will again picture a penguin.

If instead I tell my mind “attend to the contrast of that tree and the grass,” I can avoid creating both issues.

To my surprise this actually ended up working after about twenty five minutes of using this intervention 25 times on myself.

I then did enter into the bliss of the present moments and enjoyed two 15 minute periods of sitting mindfully, and another 30 minutes of running, with my attention in the present. The Present was a 60 degree day with a subtle breeze and a delicate cumulus scattered sky holding the light of a warmly glowing sun… yes, I was very happy to find my attention in that space.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Mind won’t stop ruminating? Take your shoes off to encourage a state of mindfulness

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A state of mindfulness is when you are entirely in the present moment… this means that 100% of your attention is on your sensory, cognitive, and emotional ‘unconditionally accepting’ observations of the moment that is happening (as opposed to being distracted by focusing your attention on the past or the future). To encourage a state of mindfulness I often try and remove anything that would be an obstacle or a distraction from the present… sometimes my shoes are such a distraction… so I remove them and free my feet to observe the present moment.

When I take my shoes off I must focus on my present surrounding so as to not avoid injury… there is intention to my steps… patients. If I am to get too caught up on my destination I will surely be left with blisters… and so with my shoes off I pay attention to the tactile wonder of walking…

I find myself walking in the environment… instead of simply walking through the environment.

The path gains intrinsic value… I take interest in each step

Sometimes it will be uncomfortable on your feet… walk slower… learn to appreciate the fact that you are able to feel a diversity of sensations.

 I never hike with cell phones, music players, work etc… many have asked if I think that it is dangerous to not have a cell phone… I believe that it is quite dangerous to always be with one… it is a buzzer that can force you away from your current setting at any point… stress is dangerous… peace and mindfulness is healing and wonderful.

I hiked my first 13er barefoot this year (I brought boots just in case).

I was so much more in tune with the mountain.

Life slows down… happiness replaces ruminations…

My feet are free… my mind is free

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

Changing unhelpful beliefs – “If ____________ then I will be happy”

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Quick summary: there is a common belief that many of us hold which is based on what I will call the “if – then -” philosophy. Many of us believe that happiness is something to be found in the future. In order to reach this goal of happiness (or relaxation or whatever the emotional goal might be) we create a belief system which quantifies what we need in order to be happy. We tell our selves “If __________ (the blank is an occurrence that has not happened yet) then I will be __________ (the blank is whatever the emotional goal is. Example: at peace, relaxed, happy, ready, confident etc). The problem that arises is that this belief is rarely ever true, and even when it hold a degree of truth we rarely pause long enough to actually enjoy the positivity which was to be acquired at meeting the goal. The point that I am trying to make is that many of us have reached the goals that we set countless times, and yet we still find the emotional reward that was to accompany that goal to be elusive. I am not suggesting to stop setting goals, instead I am suggesting for you to allow yourself gratitude for what you already have and for what you have already accomplished. Happiness is something that you innately and infinitely possess sometimes the most difficult thing to do is to stop your never-ending wants so that you can enjoy the happiness and wonder of this very moment.

Happiness is all around you… you need but to pull your attention back from the ‘wanting’ thoughts of your mind to enjoy it.

Sit now and remember the goals that you have carried through your life… you wanted to get your drivers license… you wanted to have your own residence… you wanted to learn how to do something… you wanted to meet someone… you wanted to travel somewhere… you wanted to say something to someone… you wanted a family… you wanted an education

Your mind might first trick you into focusing on everything that you did not accomplish… notice this trick of the mind and allow your attention back to what you did accomplish.

Whether an accomplishment was big or small is both relative and subjective…

Allow yourself to feel the positivity of what you hold and what you have accomplished…

Perhaps now we can change this unhelpful belief to:

I hold gratitude for _____________ and I am allowing myself to feel ___________

“When will the gifts of our work come about? When we open our eyes and look all around” – WHB

 

“You will experience what you wish to feel when you allow yourself to feel that way.” -WHB

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

Mindfulness – Why it is helpful and what ‘being in the present moment’ means

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Quick summary – Mindfulness is a state of existence in which 100% of your consciousness is on the present moment (as opposed to the past or the future). It is characterized as being a state which is free from judgment in which you engage your environment with a childlike curiosity and innocents – you see the world as novel. The benefits include a greater awareness of the mind-body-spirit connection, reduction in suffering, reducation of stress and anxiety (which tend to be the result of the mind’s fixation on the future or the past) and an ability to experience the present moment with the full richness of your senses. Many would suggest that a state of perpetual mindfulness is the gift of enlightenment.

The observer – who or what is being mindful? Answer these questions to understand what you subjectively believe to be the difference between the thinker and the observer.

 * What or who produces the thoughts in your head?

* Can you control all the thoughts in you head?

* Who is it that is noticing or observing the thoughts and images in your head?

* Are you the creator of your thoughts, the observer of your thoughts, something different (you are the consciousness (or part of a collective consciousness) which is conscious of your existence’s apparent consciousness) both (you create your thoughts and observe them, or neither (your mind (or God or a greater energy etc) creates the thoughts and observes them, and you have no control over either)?

Everyone will answer these questions differently and this process tends to give you insight into your theoretical, philosophical or spiritual orientation.

In a state of Mindfulness you are simply the observer – you accept yourself separate from your mind and body along with all of ‘your’ emotions, judgments, preferences, beliefs, knowledge and character traits etc. (don’t worry you get to keep them if you want them – on my best days I tend to be in a state of mindfulness perhaps 10 – 30 percent of the time depending on my setting and my activity.)

  • In such a sate you are aware of your senses, emotions, and thoughts without being controlled by them.

What’s the point of being present of being mindful?

            To give your self peace from an over functioning mind – I personally have one of those minds that is a bit overactive – I am constantly thinking about random scenarios, creative projects, things to do, blog ideas, future plans, relationship variables or trying to come up with solutions to problems that have little to do with me etc. I have been very fond of mindfulness practices as they quiet my mind so that I can enjoy my current setting as opposed to the constant chatter of my mind.

            To reduce suffering, stress and anxiety – the majority of suffering, stress and anxiety are not actually taking place in this exact current moment (in the present moment). It is the mind which imposes memories of suffering to add conflict to the present moment. It is the mind which tells you what you ‘should do’, ‘have to do’, or ‘didn’t do well’ etc that stirs up stress and anxiety when there is nothing in the present moment to evoke such a response.

            It frees you to see the novelty, beauty and uniqueness of stimuli in your current setting – our mind categorizes our environment for survival purposes – we therefore unconsciously label most things as benign, unimportant, not interesting, ordinary, boring, or uneventful etc and we therefore to not attend to the vast majority of what is happening in our current setting. Being mindful gives you that artistic eye which lets you appreciate the subtle beauty of most everything.

What would be an example of a person experiencing mindfulness?

Children – why do the kids seem to notice the weird looking bug that you almost stepped on, how were they able to find that perfectly heart shaped rock, and why are many of them so happy to stick their hand in and out of the sand for an extended period of time? The answer is that children tend to be very presentthey do not yet have minds filled with chatter about what they should do or could do and their world quite literally is novel to them– and as such, they are much more observant of what is going on (marketing directed towards kids has not helped this – if you take a child to a grocery store they can lose themselves to ‘wanting’ – which is a future focus). Though it might be hard to believe – you too can re-experience the bliss of a childlike view of the world by practicing mindfulness.

Do I have to do all that yoga and meditation? – Though these practices are very helpful and will perhaps augment or enhance your ability to be mindful – you can be mindful without practicing those two disciplines.

  • Both yoga and meditation tend to have the result of creating a state of mindfulness.
  • Practices in which you are focusing on the breath tend to increase mindfulness as your mind is given the task to breath which frees up your consciousness to focus on your surroundings.

How do I ‘not judge” – Observe that your mind in creating judgments and accept that is happening while turning your attention back to observation.

  • Some people with mentally objectify their thoughts as a way of separating their thoughts from the observer – ex. they will imagine their thoughts to be clouds floating through the sky.
  • This is indeed one of the hardest aspects of mindfulness, and most medication practices for that matter.
  • Resistance tends to make things worse – (tell yourself not to think about a certain subject… now your thinking about it).
  •  There is also an inherent double bind– you are judging yourself concerning your ability to avoid judgment.
  • Accept your judgments and free yourself to be separate from them – simply notice them as opposed to reacting to them (resisting your judgments would be a reaction).

“Have I ever been in a state of mindfulness as an adult?” – Most likely you experience multiple moments of mindfulness everyday.

  • Often when people use the word surreal – they are describing a moment of mindfulness.
  • We also tend to be more mindful in situations that are new to us –if you are visiting a culture which is very different from yours.
  • In traumatic or life threatening situations you will likely become hyper sensitive to your environment (though you will sometimes still be controlled by your thoughts and emotions).

 

My future blogs will offer techniques to help you to arrive in a state of mindfulness.

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