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Wed, 22 Jan 2020
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Science of the Spirit

Magic Wand

Want to change your life? Ditch New Year's Resolutions for habit tracking

habit tracking
It's an age-old conundrum -- every time January 1st rolls around, millions of Americans set New Year's Resolutions, but by the time February rolls around, one third of us have abandoned every single one. So, if you want to make 2020 the year you finally organize your finances, get in shape or complete any other monumental task, you may want to forget New Year's Resolutions. Instead of writing down grandiose goals, turn your attention to your daily habits.

What is habit tracking?

Habit tracking -- the practice of monitoring the tiny things you do every single day -- helps you set small and achievable goals that add up over time to produce huge changes in your life. It's a powerful tool that will help you establish healthy habits that'll stick for years to come.

Habits are so important because they are ultimately responsible for any change we make in our life. I'll never be able to publish a novel if I don't sit down every day and put words on the page. I'll never be able to get stronger if I don't workout every day (or at least a few times a week.) I'll never be able to be a more mindful and enlightened person if I don't meditate every morning.

Any huge goal you want to accomplish is virtually insurmountable unless you break it up into bite-sized habits that will, over time, lead you to your final destination.


The ripple effects of expressing gratitude

A new study shows that expressing gratitude affects not only the grateful person, but anyone who witnesses it.

Thank you, gratitude
Researchers studying gratitude have found that being thankful and expressing it to others is good for our health and happiness. Not only does it feel good, it also helps us build trust and closer bonds with the people around us.

These benefits have mostly been observed in a two-person exchange — someone saying thanks and someone receiving thanks. Now, a new study suggests that expressing gratitude not only improves one-on-one relationships, but could bring entire groups together — inspiring a desire to help and connect in people who simply witness an act of gratitude.

In this extensive study, Sara Algoe of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and her colleagues ran multiple experiments to investigate how witnessing gratitude affects people's feelings toward the grateful person and the benefactor (the person who is being thanked).



Vagus Nerve: The mysterious nerve network that quiets pain and stress — and may defeat disease

Take a deep breath. Hug a friend. Reach for the ceiling and stretch your limbs. Each of these simple acts bestows a sense of calm and comfort. And each works its soothing magic in part by activating a complicated system of nerves that connects the brain to the heart, the gut, the immune system, and many of the organs. That system is known collectively as the vagus nerve.

The vagus nerve is one of the twelve cranial nerves, which sprawl out from the brain and into the body like an intricate network of roots. These nerve networks act as lines of communication between the brain and the body's many systems and organs. Some of the cranial nerves interpret sensory information collected by the skin, eyes, or tongue. Others control muscles or communicate with glands.

The vagus nerve, also called the "10th cranial nerve," is the longest, largest, and most complex of the cranial nerves, and in some ways it's also the least understood. Experts have linked its activity to symptom changes in people with migraine headaches, inflammatory bowel disease, depression, epilepsy, arthritis, and many other common ailments. The more science learns about the vagus nerve, the more it seems like a better understanding of its function could unlock new doors to treating all manner of human suffering.

Vagus is Latin for "wandering," which is apt when one considers all the different parts of the body the vagus nerve reaches. "It seems like every year somebody finds a new organ or system that it talks with," says Tiffany Field, PhD, director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine.

Comment: Stimulate your vagus nerve through the breathing techniques and the meditation of Éiriú Eolas.

Magic Hat

The Art and Science of Tricking Your Brain: What the research says about 'fake it til you make it'

brain mask
During difficult times in your life, perhaps you've been told to "take a deep breath" or "try to smile more." Anxious about that big presentation at work? Just "stand up tall with confidence, and everything will be fine."

But to what extent is this kind of advice actually helpful? Can that forced smile trick your brain into believing that you're happy, and can that upright posture give you a feeling of confidence? Is it possible to change how you think or feel through physically changing your body?

The answer is yes.

But first, take a deep breath

Your body and mind are inextricably linked. So it follows that the way you breathe with your lungs can affect your mental state and the way you process stress with your brain.

Most people are aware that breathing deeply helps you to relax and has a powerful effect on how you feel. When you're stressed or overwhelmed, a deep breath can help bring your attention toward bodily sensations and away from whatever is making you feel anxious. It's harder for something to scare you when you're distracted by something else.


Three Stoic lessons from a galaxy far, far away

Star Wars

Luke gazing into the sunset.
It is no secret, to those who are familiar with the saga, that Star Wars is filled with wisdom. Those not familiar with Star Wars are at least familiar with its iconography, such as the helmet of Darth Vader — that great symbol of the dark side of the force.

Some are also likely familiar with the little green Jedi master, Yoda (not to be confused with the cute little creature of the same species from the Mandalorian). Yoda is first introduced in The Empire Strikes Back, when Luke seeks him out on Dagobah to learn the ways of the Jedi. He appears again only briefly in The Return of the Jedi (but not without failing to impart some more wisdom), and is present throughout the prequel trilogy.

The great thing about being a reader of the Classics is that you can recognize almost immediately the Stoicism of Yoda's teachings (one may also locate some Buddhist elements as well, though I think that is to be expected given the similarities between the two). He preaches against attachment, cautions against giving into fear, and speaks of the Force with the same reverence that the Stoics spoke of Nature, among other things. So, let us look at some of the Stoic lessons we can learn from Yoda.

Comment: This also goes to show why a phenomena like the original Star Wars trilogy has had such a lasting cultural impression. The newer 'feminist' versions not included. The stories tell a classic archetypal hero's journey but also highlights differing modes of spiritual development through the Jedi and the Sith and a philosophical underpinning that is reminiscent of the ancient Stoics. See also:


Men think they are better liars says new research

Men better LIars?
© University of Portsmouth
Men are twice as likely as women to consider themselves to be good at lying and at getting away with it, new research has found.

People who excel at lying are good talkers and tell more lies than others, usually to family, friends, romantic partners and colleagues, according to the research led by Dr Brianna Verigin, at the University of Portsmouth.

Expert liars also prefer to lie face-to-face, rather than via text messages, and social media was the least likely place where they'd tell a lie.

Dr Verigin, who splits her time between the Universities of Portsmouth and Maastricht, in the Netherlands, said: "We found a significant link between expertise at lying and gender. Men were more than twice as likely to consider themselves expert liars who got away with it.

"Previous research has shown that most people tell one-two lies per day, but that's not accurate, most people don't lie everyday but a small number of prolific liars are responsible for the majority of lies reported.

"What stood out in our study was that nearly half (40 per cent) of all lies are told by a very small number of deceivers. And these people will lie with impunity to those closest to them."

"Prolific liars rely on a great deal on being good with words, weaving their lies into truths, so it becomes hard for others to distinguish the difference, and they're also better than most at hiding lies within apparently simple, clear stories which are harder for others to doubt."

Dr Verigin quizzed 194 people, half men and half women, with an average age of 39.

Microscope 1

'Gay gene' ruled out as biggest ever study on genetics and sexuality shows environment is major factor in homosexuality

gay pride parade
Genes play just a small role in whether a person is gay, scientists have found, after discovering that environment has a far bigger impact on homosexuality.

In the biggest ever study into the genetic basis of sexuality, researchers from more than 30 institutions including Cambridge University and Harvard, looked at the DNA of nearly 500,000 people in Britain and the US.

They found that genes are responsible for between eight to 25 per cent of the probability of a person being gay, meaning at least three quarters is down to environment.

Comment: They sure were nervous about announcing these results!

'Our findings prove that the vast majority of gays aren't born gay, but trust us, it's complicated nonetheless!'

It's not really that complicated. Society has gone to hell in a handbasket, and everything has 'gone fluid' in the process.

No Entry

How to gracefully, but firmly, say No!

how to say No

Saying no isn't always easy, but you can do it in a more graceful manner.
Sometimes we just don't want to say no. A friend asks you to go out on a Friday night. You want to... badly! But, you also know you have an early morning, and told yourself you needed to keep it mellow, give yourself some much deserved me-time, and simply reconnect to that beautiful feeling of nothingness. Do you give in and go because you want to? Or because your friend wants you to?

Sometimes it's that you really want to say no, but you're too afraid. A co-worker asks you for help with a project; a friend asks you for help moving furniture; you get asked to grab dinner with a friend. You say yes to all of them, because the fear of how the other person will respond to your denial is too much to bear.

Wanting to be liked by others is something many of us can relate to. And there's nothing wrong with it, but if you're compromising your well-being, who you are, and what makes you happy, it's time to take a step back.

Comment: How to stop being busy all the time - Do fewer things, better
The secret of being productive lies in choosing what to do - and doing it right - instead of doing more and more. When you are busy, you don't have time to think, reflect, or enjoy. You are running from one task to another without being present. Your mind needs space. Silence helps us reflect. Serendipity attracts new ideas. Distance brings perspective.

your life. When you say yes to everything, you are saying no to what really matters. That's the biggest issue with being busy: we end doing the wrong things.

Doing fewer things right, not being busy, should be a badge of honor.
See also: The importance of saying "No" in a healthy life


The language of emotion: Cultural variation and universal structure across different populations

© J.-M. List
Colexification network involving "surprise" and "fear"
Words for emotions like "anger" and "fear" vary in meaning across language families. Researchers have now compared colexifications of emotion words — cases where one word signifies multiple semantically related concepts. By analyzing such words in 2,474 spoken languages, they found variation in emotion conceptualization and evidence of a universal structure in colexification networks.

Among the rich vocabularies many languages have for communicating emotions, many words appear to name similar emotional states. The English word "love," for example, is often translated into Turkish as "sevgi" and into Hungarian as "szerelem." But whether the concept of "love" has the same meaning for speakers of all three languages remains unclear. In the current study published in Science, researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, and Australian National University have used a new method of comparative linguistics to examine the meaning of emotion concepts around the globe.

Colexification networks reveal wide variety, cultural influence on emotion semantics

With the help of a database of 2,474 languages, the researchers constructed networks of colexified emotion concepts and compared them across languages and language families. These emotion colexification networks varied significantly, suggesting that emotion words may vary in meaning across languages, even if they are often equated in translation dictionaries. In Austronesian languages, for example, "surprise" is closely associated with "fear," whereas Tai-Kadai languages associate "surprise" with the concepts "hope" and "want."

Comment: See also,


Competition or Cooperation: Which one works best for you?

Scientists at Moscow State University of Psychology and Education (MSUPE) have studied the differences in problem solving in people with different thinking styles to discover that "analysts" solve problems faster while competing, while "holists" solve problems faster while cooperating. The authors suggest using the study results in pedagogics.
© CC0 / Pixabay
According to the MSUPE scientists, people of different cultures can have "analytical" or "holistic" way of thinking. Analytical thinking involves focusing an object as such, studying its internal structure and laws. This way of thinking is more characteristic of Western Europe, as well as the US, Canada, South Africa and Australia; it implies breaking each object and phenomenon down into components, and assuming that the whole is the sum of all components. Analysts believe that life events change linearly and progressively. They are more likely to use formal logic.

Holistic thinking requires greater consideration of the social context, as well as focus on the relations between objects and phenomena. According to experts, holism is characteristic for East Asia, as well as Latin America and Russia; it implies considering any object or phenomenon in the context of its environment. Holists see life as dynamically changing; at the same time, they realise that these changes are often unpredictable. They tend to explain life events by the context of situations.