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Self Awareness Part 1
 

Self Awareness Part 1

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  • This is session on self awareness where we will try to improve our understanding about ourselves. Because it is only what we know which we are make an attempt at improving. We had a previous session on self awareness in the form of MBTI. In that session you were made aware of your preferences and how it affects your behavior. In this session we will talk about how your mind functions and how that affects the way you perceive and interact with the environment. We will do a small exercise; we will form pairs. Each of you will discuss with your partner about that one thing you have been wanting to do (on a daily or weekly basis), but despite your best efforts, you have not been able to take it on. (My eg. Writing a blog). Also discuss why you want to do it and why you have failed so far. I can get a sense that most of us do not have a clue as to why we have all been unsuccessful at taking up this task even though we feel inwardly that this would be important or useful to us. You have been giving some unconvincing reasons. Now let us try figure out why this is so. Do you feel that there are multiple persons within you. One telling you to do it and the other giving you excuses for not doing it. Maybe like a devil and angel within us. Like the next slide.
  • This metaphor is good for good and bad aspects of life. But in life all our choice are not clear cut in terms of good and evil. You may have seen in some movies where a rider is trying to tame a wild horse. Initially the horse is reluctant is difficult to control, but with a persistent rider the horse is finally tamed. Do you also feel like the rider on top of a wild horse, wanting to go in particular direction but the horse wanting to go in a different direction. I think that the problem we have at hand needs to be represented by a much larger animal, may be an elephant. As shown in the next slide.
  • Maybe this metaphor represents our dilemma more accurately. Hold on to this image, we will return back to this to explain various issues that would be discussed in the course of this session.
  • We will now start the process of understanding our mind. Doe you feel that there are multiple persons with in you? Each pulling us in different directions. Each like a politician has their own agenda and leaves us confused with our behavior and choices that we make in life. Well this can be explained to an extent by understanding our mind and how it functions.
  • Our mind is divided in four ways. The first division is the mind vs the body. You must have heard the phrase body has a mind of is own. When you are surprised, maybe you saw a snake or while driving, the vehicle suddenly brakes giving you very little time to take evasive action. What happens, your hair stands on ends. You see a emotional scene in a movie or hear a really soulful music. What happens? You get goose bumps. You find it extremely difficult to control your facial expression. You see you friend fall and you know you should find the situation humorous and try your best not to smile but fail. This is because your body reacts without the command from the brain. Your intestines have close to 100 mn neurons. This is also called the gut brain. There are reasons for this design. When you eat something that is not good for your constitution your intestines immediately takes action to protect you, without taking command from the brain, which may delay the corrective action, by forcing you to throw up. Sometimes you maybe in a setting where you may feel it may not be good idea to pewk and brain instructs you not to, but the intestines works independently and makes you throw up. This is what happens when you have an upset stomach. Your body responds to the external environment fairly independently and your mind at times has little control over its reactions.
  • The brain is divided into two hemisphere; the left and the right and the two are connected by large bundle of nerves, corpus callosum; the largest in our body; so obviously it is doing something important. The left specializes in language processing and analytical tasks. The right specializes in pattern processing. Each of us have one of the hemisphere stronger than the other. I will now explain how these hemisphere work. Signals from our left hand, left leg, left ear and left half each eye go to the right hemisphere and the opposite happens to the left hemisphere. Why this cross connection happens no one knows. In patients who suffer from fits, doctors noticed that the fits travel from one hemisphere to the other. So the doctors came up with the idea if the two hemisphere are separated, the fits would not be able to travel from one hemisphere to the other. They first tested this idea with rates and cut their corpus callosum. They noticed no difference in the rats. So they decided to extend this experiments with humans. Again these patients didn’t show any abnormalities. They then did experiments with these split brain persons. In one of the experiments, these patients were asked to concentrate on a point on the screen. Then they flashed images on the either the right or left of this point for a very brief moment, not giving the person the shift their gaze. For eg, if a hat was flashed on the right of the point, where would the signal go? Yes, to the left hemisphere. The patient was then asked what he saw. The patient replied hat. The language processing center in the left hemisphere was able to give a name to the object that it hade seen. Then it was flashed to the left, the signal would go the right hemisphere. The patient was asked what he saw, and he mentioned nothing. But when a chart was shown with many images including a hat, the patient was able to point to the hat as the object that he had seen earlier. But he couldn’t assign a name for it because the right hemisphere does not have a language processing center. They extended this experiment. The researchers flashed two images at the same time one to the right and the other to the left. The patient was then supposed to identify that go with the image they saw. For eg shoe and socks. In one such experiment a chicken claw was flashed on the right and a car covered in snow in front of a house. For the claw the patient was point towards a chicken and for the snow covered car a shovel has pointed at. Now the patient was asked the reasons for the selecting the matching images. Patient said, ‘that is easy, the chicken claw goes with chicken and the shovel would be used to clean the chicken shed”. Now this came a surprise to the researchers. The mind was creating its own reasons. This is called confabulation; fabricate reasons for their own behavior. The scientist soon discovered that this was the handiwork of the “interpreter module” (language centers on the left hemisphere). So we are able to fabricate reason for our behavior without understanding the true reason for the behavior. So, while not writing the blog, I was giving the reason that anyway no one will read my blog so what is the point of writing. But the real reason is that I was plain lazy. We do this all the time. If we had a split brained person in our office and he noticed a word walk on his screen, he would immediately start walking without realizing why he is walking. And if one of you asked him where he is going, he would almost immediately reply, going to get a cup of coffee”. Because most of the time people in this office walk when they want to get themselves a cup of coffee or tea or a glass of water. And the reason is pulled out of the hat almost immediately without really knowing the true reason for the behavior. This is characteristic not unique to split brained persons only, we all unconsciously confabulate. The interpreter module is your rider, explaining the behavior of the elephant, without understanding the behavior of the elephant. This awareness about our ability to conjure up excuses, even for innocuous issues should make us want to catch these excuses and dig down to the actual reasons.
  • The first brain among the early living beings were just a few clumps of neurons In early mammals like cats and rats, the forebrain developed an outer shell this was called the limbic system. Some of the main parts are the Hypothalamus, Hippocampus and Amygdala. The hypothalamus is specialized to coordinate basic drives and motivation. Scientists when pushed a probe into the hypothalamus of a rat and pass a weak current, the rat became overtly gluttonous, aggressive and hypersexual. This indicates that the basic animal instincts are stored here. The situation no different for humans. In Social mammals, such as humans and primates, a new covering developed called the neocortex. When a person’s frontal cortex is damaged, they display greater aggression and hyper sexuality. This indicates that frontal cortex suppresses and inhibits our basic animal drives. Lets understand the brains structure through a pictorial representation.
  • The image on the left shows the outer covering of the brain (the new brain) and the transparent image on the left shows what is inside, the old brain. The amygdala is meant to detect threats and gives you information to help you face dangers. But most times the alerts are so vague that you get worried and don’t know what to about it. Hippocampus is important for emotionally charged memory. If you damage this part of the brain you will not be store any information but data that already exits can be accessed anytime. It is like a broken keyboard of a computer. You can’t enter information any longer but you can access the information stored in the hard disk. This is the limbic system which enables quick and fast action. Frontal lobes are the biggest in humans among all the social animals. Frontal lobes are advanced and complex but a bit slower. The different systems do not operate in isolation. Lets take an example how the communication between the systems proceed. Lets imagine your team member points out a mistake in your work during team review. The limbic system would send out the emotion feeling of anger to your frontal lobes. The frontal lobes could do two things; It could amplify the anger and remind you how this member is always trying to find faults with you and the only reason he is doing this is make you look small in this team. OR the frontal lobe could dampen the emotional feeling and try to explain that maybe this person is trying to help you improve. The relationship between the limbic system and the frontal lobes is important to understand why some emotions get bigger and others die out quickly.
  • Now we will watch a small video on the functioning of the brain. While I am setting this up, I would like you to fill this questionnaire on Swine flu. You have one minute to answer. No questions on this. Answer based on the information available. Please don’t look at the others answer. After the video: The presenter mentioned in the video that the difference between humans and animals are thoughts. Remember this, we will get back to this piece of information Now lets go back to the pre frontal cortex. This part of the brain really shows the maximum activity when you notice an opportunity for pleasure or a possibility of pain. For eg you may see a cute child or see a snake. The prefrontal cortex gives you the emotional feeling to either approach or withdraw. Now in persons whose prefrontal cortex damaged, they lack this emotional feelings but their reasoning and logical abilities remain intact. They are free of all emotional disturbances. Do you think that is a good thing? Lets explain this with a situational exercise; lets imagine that you are out on a holiday to a remote tropical island for a week and you decide to buy some fruits while you are there. When you visit the fruit shop, you notice that there about 20 fruits and you have never seen them before. The shopkeeper does not understand your language. How will you decide which fruit to buy? The best way to decide is to use your emotions to shortlist the list numbers to, say, three or four, based on color shape, smell etc. And from the short listed few, use your reasoning to decide the one you really want. Reasoning could be based on whether you can cut the fruit or is it too large for you to have all alone etc. Now you would have realized the importance of emotions in the decision making process. Imagine the difficulty the person with a damaged prefrontal cortex would face in a similar situation. The trick in being effective in such a process in to use both emotion and reason. But unfortunately, we base our decisions mostly on emotions and then use the reason to support that emotion. This happens even when making decisions to buy a cell phone. Eg Iphone. In most interviews the interviewers have decided in the first week seconds whether they would be selecting the candidate or not, and then base their questions to support their decisions. Eg. Selection of random numbers. What about you all, do you generally make your decisions based on emotion or reason? Which one do you use more often? Now lets look at how you have answered the questionnaire on Swine flu. Did you use your reason here? I am sure this required you to use your reason, because it is such an important issue. Lets look at the options given to you.
  • Now tell me was your decision based on reason or emotion. A healthy balance of emotion and reason gives you intelligent behavior. The elephant in this case represents the old brain and your emotions and the rider is your reason. The rider should act as the adviser to the elephant. Should be able to show what lays ahead for eg eating that extra sweet which you not good for your health or that extra bear with your friends when you have to drive back home.
  • We posses two processing system; controlled processing and automatic processing. Let me explain this with an example. Lets suppose you got a call from your friend that he would be reaching the airport at 7.30PM and want you to pick him up. What would you do? You immediately start planning, how much time will it take me to reach, what time should I leave, which route should I take etc. While you are doing this processing can you also process some issues about your project. No. This is controlled processing and you can only do one task at a time. Now you decide to leave for the airport. You are driving, changing gear, pressing the accelerator, keeping distance with the car in front , thinking, and you are doing all this without any effort. This is automatic processing. Controlled processing requires language. Now lets go back to what we learnt earlier about early brain. The first clump of neuron formed the brain 600mn years ago. In contrast language came to humans sometime around 1.5mn to 40,000 years ago. Like a new software it still has some bugs. There we are not so good with language, reasoning or planning. Whereas the automatic processing has gone through many product cycle. And is near perfect. If you had to play chess with the computer, you most probably will loose. Whereas, if you had a six year child or the most advanced robot walk through a forest who would be able to traverse the traverse better. Six year child, of course. Now let’s imagine that you are returning back with your friend/spouse in your car after seeing an enjoyable movie. You are having an animated discussion with your friend/spouse and in parallel you are driving the car. You are negotiating the traffic, avoiding the curb, keeping an eye on the traffic signal, changing gears and performing all these complex tasks without being really conscious about it, unless something strange happens, like when you actually see a zebra on a zebra crossing. Now can you imagine paying conscious attention to driving and having a conversation with the co-passenger. Not possible right! This is because the effort required in the meaning use of language requires consciousness, but those involved in driving, however complicated, don’t involve consciousness. Controlled processing allows us to escape from the stimulus control. What would a dog do if you ran when it looked at you aggressively? It would instinctively chase you. You running is the stimuli to the dog that you are prey and the reaction is to chase and catch the prey. There was a experiment done by Pavlov where he was able to trigger salivation by ringing a bell. I have a similar situation at home when the microwave goes beep beep when coffee is ready in the morning. During weekends when I hear the beep beep in the afternoon, my controlled processing allows me reason out the stimuli and communicate to me that it could be lunch that is being made ready. Controlled processing freed us from the tyranny of hear and now. The automatic processing is your elephant and the rider is your controlled processing which again should be adviser to the elephant. Rider should be able to show what lays ahead for eg eating that extra sweet which you not good for your health or that extra bear with your friends when you have to drive back home. The rider can see further into the future and help the elephant make better choices. The elephant and the rider each has its own intelligence and when they work together they enable unique brilliance. But they don’t always work together well; because there is a version incompatibility .
  • Failure of Self Control : Let’s take the issue of Failure of Self Control. This can be explained best by an exercise that was conducted many years ago. Imagine you are all four year old kids. I am conducting this experience. I bring you to this room individually. There are some toys and I keep a chocolate in glass box and tell you that I will be back after some time. You can have the chocolate after I come back, but if you can’t wait and want to have the chocolate, ring the bell and I will come back and give you the chocolate. But if you wait till I come back, I will give you two chocolates. Now some of you wait for a few minutes before ringing the bell some wait a little longer and some actually wait till I return. I have taken your personal details and keep track of you as you grow. After 15 years, I give your parents a call and ask them how their child is progressing in life. You would be college and generally have an inkling how life would pan out. What do you think would be the pattern? Do you think there would be a linkage with the results of the experiment conducted 15 years back? Children who were able to delay their gratifications were generally able to do better in life. Life threw many choices at them and they were able to delay their gratification and make the choice that was in their best interest. Maybe in the 6 th standard, you may have the choice to play video games, go out to play with friends, watch TV or study. Some of you were able to resist the temptation to focus on studies because you know it is in your interest to study well. The children who were able to resist the temptation had a strategy. Can you guess what it could be? They shifted their attention. They started playing with the toys. As the child grows older, he could shift his attention to the rewards that come with doing well in studies. The rider in this case is convince the elephant that there goodies at the end of the more difficult road. Mental Intrusion : Sometimes when you are standing at the edge of the cliff, do you hear word “Jump” inside you? It is not a command but just the word which pops up automatically. Do you have acquaintance who is cockeyed and where you make a conscious effort to not stare at his eyes? Do you notice how difficult it is to not do so? Let us try to understand why this is so. There was an experiment conducted where the participants where asked not to think of white bears. Whenever we take us such tasks, our controlled processing immediately sets an explicit goal, which is “do not think about white bears”. And what do you do when you go about trying to achieve an objective that you set for yourself? You check progress. In this case, the automatic processing immediately starts checking your progress by checking whether you are not thinking about white bears. And when that happens a white bear automatically pops up. In this case the controlled processing and automatic processing work at cross purposes. This is what happens when we try to block bad thoughts, like the thought of someone’s death or bad opinion about a person. As we try to block this, the automatic processing brings the thought back. This causes us anxiety and affects our behavior. If I get back to the earlier example of standing at the edge of the cliff; now if I were to ask you to walk on the 2feet wide plank kept on the floor, I am sure all of you would be able to complete the task in a jiffy. Now if I keep this same plank between two 15 storied building, do you now think you would now be able to do it. No! This is because while you are trying to walk on this plank your controlled processing sets the goal for you to cross and not to think about falling. Your automatic processing now keeps checking whether you are crossing and are you not thing about not falling. The thought keeps coming to you that you may fall and this makes your ability to cross falter. This is what happens in cricket. Imagine if Sehwag has been told not to play a particular shot. Now every time he plays a shot, his auto processing confirms each time whether he is not playing that shot. And this causes clutter in his mind and he ends up playing neither shot. The difficult of winning an argument : Now let me have your opinion on what you think about death sentence. We are going to have two groups one for death penalty and the other against. A study was conducted in Stanford, tow groups were given the same topic to discuss. One group supported death penalty and the other opposed it. Then each group was given two pieces of evidence, one supporting their position and the other opposing it. Both groups tended o be more accepting of the evidence that supported their position. Like a sieve, we store evidence that support our position and discard those that don’t. Over a period of time we would have a storehouse of evidence that supports our position and then like a good lawyer defend our case well. To overcome this and have a more balanced view, you could purposefully put yourself in the other persons position, where you argue for the other side. If you do a good job at arguing the other person’s case, you could walk away with a more balanced approach. Lets take another example; I read in a newspaper that a sister and brother are planning to get married. Do you think they should be allowed to? If not, why? This is what happens with moral reasoning, feelings come in first and then we try to justify our reasons. As long we know that there are no absolute answers in such cases. The answer would be very contextual. This awareness would help you understand how you make your decisions and also have empathy for the other persons point of view. Let me give an example, which Dr Amartya Sen uses in his class for moral reasoning. Suppose there are three children and one flute. The first child has no other toy. The second made it. And the third plays it the best. Who should get the flute? Difficult to decide, right? Now if I also showed you pictures of the children, there is a strong possibility that you would identify the cutest among the three and then invent a reason why that child should get it. Think about it. In this case the feelings is the elephant and reason the rider. The rider in this case acts as the lawyer of the elephant. And as you know, a lawyer is less interested in the truth and more concerned with his client’s interest.
  • So we have understood our mind to some extent and how difficult it is to manage the may contradictions. There is a method by which you could make an attempt at taming the elephant. Lets try it out. This will take about five minutes.
  • Being mindful means being aware of the present moment; consciously noticing, listening to, smelling, touching and tasting the experiences that we are having in the here and now. It is the practice of paying attention with an open and non-judging attitude to our thoughts and feelings as they come and go, and to the things that happen about and around us in the present moment—moment by moment. Now I want you to make yourself comfortable and shut your eyes. For the next two minutes focus your full attention on your breath. Inhale deeply, filling your lungs completely; exhale completely, allowing your body to relax and release downward with gravity. Be aware of the coolness of the air as it enters your nostrils; notice your abdomen, diaphragm and lungs expand as the air fills them; notice your body melt downward with gravity, slowly releasing tension as the air is slowly released from your body; notice the pause between breaths, and feel your heart beat. When you become aware that your thoughts are wandering, gently return your attention to your breath; focus and re-focus your attention on your breath. Several times each day, stop and take a letting-go breath, sigh completely.
  • Was it difficult to concentrate on this task? Did your thoughts keep disturbing you in your effort to concentrate on your breadth. Now I want you to observe your thoughts, emotions and sensation. Do not block the thoughts. Do not participate in yours thought, emotion or sensation. If you feel an itch, do not scratch it. Just observe it. As you observe it you will find it going away. Next I would want you to acknowledge your thoughts, emotions and thoughts. Do not judge it. Why have I got the itch and such like. And next return back to your breadth. You should keep doing this. Every time you are distracted from your task, observe the distraction, acknowledge it and return back to observing your breadth. Keep this sequence going for the next two minutes. This practice allows you understand that the products of your mind are not permanent and they are transitional, they come and go. You would also improve your ability to accept what happens to you without being judgemental. And finally you improve your ability to choose when and how to act. When you practice this regularly and follow the observe, acknowledge, return sequence, you refuse to be led by your mind blindly into the past and the future. You train yourself to stay in the present moment. And the proof of taming is the breaking of attachments. Attachments in this case in not the same relationships. Have you noticed children playing? They are constantly chattering away. They keep this chattering on because they feel silence would break the bond that exists between them. Being creatures of thought, we fear any break in thought, because thought provide the basis and bonds in our lives. Through meditation we allow silence to disple the thoughts which were causing the attachments. Let me explain attachment with an example..
  • Lets take a dog. It may have two attachments; eating meat & not being left alone at home. Lets take the second attachment. Because of this attachments, what does the dog have to endure: Many moments of anxiety (fear of being left alone) Few hours of despair (when actually left alone) Few minutes of joy (each time his solitude is relieved) We humans have many more attachments compared to the dog. We experience the same feelings as the dog. Lets assume my attachment is “being respected”. Now because of this attachment, I spend my entire day scanning the environment for disrespect; with anxiety. Sometime, someone does show respect, which gives me a few moments of satisfaction and someone does show disrespect; causing a great sense of despair. The same happens with our attachment with money. We satisfaction of gaining money pales in comparison to the anxiety of losing it. If we keep one unit of respect on one side of a scale and one unit of disrespect on the other side. What would happen to the scale? The disrespect side would come down because the pain of disrespect is much greater than the pleasure of respect. This is like gambling, the more we play the more we loose. The happiness of winning $200 in a casino is negated by loosing $50. Then we try our best to recover this loss and keep loosing. This is why casinos never loose money. They play with our attachment to money. The only way to escape this vicious cycle is to move away from the table. You may loose the pleasure of winning, but more importantly you also lose the pain of the loss. Ultimately, you are the winner. Meditation allows you to reduce your attachment by calming your mind. The benefits of meditation is no jumbo mumbo. There are physical benefits from the practice of meditation. How does this happen? Have you seen a bunch of kids playing in a park. There is constant chatter between them. They have a purpose for this chatter. To them, any silence would break the bond between them. In the same way, we attach with the rest of the world through our thoughts. Any break of thoughts is scary because it means we are breaking our bonds with world. Meditation provides us this break, through the silence between the thoughts.

Self Awareness Part 1 Self Awareness Part 1 Presentation Transcript

  • Self Awareness Part 1
  •  
  •  
    • Understanding Your Mind
  • Four divisions of the mind
    • Our mind is divided in four ways
    • First Division: Body vs Mind
      • Body has a mind of its own (Autonomic Nervous System)
      • Gut Brain/Regional admin. center/(100 mn neurons)
  • Four divisions of the mind (contd.)
    • Second Division: Left vs Right
      • Two separate hemisphere joined by a bundle of nerves (Corpus Callosum)
        • Left: Language processing, Analytical Tasks
        • Right: Processing patterns
      • Confabulation: Fabricate reasons for their own behaviour
      • Interpreter module (language centers on the left hemisphere)
  • Four divisions of the mind (contd.)
    • Third Division: New vs Old
      • Vertebrates
        • Clumps of neurons (Hind brain, Mid brain, Forebrain)
      • Early Mammals (Forebrain developed a new outer shell – Limbic system)
        • Hypothalamus (Specialized to coordinate basic drives & motivation)
        • Hippocampus (Specialized for memory)
        • Amygdala (Specialized for emotional learning & responses)
      • Social Mammals
        • Neocortex (new covering over the old limbic system)
        • Frontal Cortex (Engaged in thinking, planning & decision making)
        • Orbitofrontal cortex
  • Four divisions of the mind (contd.) New vs Old
        • VIDEO – HUMAN BRAIN
        • VIDEO – HUMAN BRAIN
    • If Drug C is used: 400 will die
    • If Drug D is used: 1/3 chance that nobody will die, and 2/3 chance that 600 will die
    • If Drug A is used: 200 will be saved
    • If Drug B is used: 1/3 chance that all will be saved and 2/3 chance that nobody will be saved
  • Four divisions of the mind (contd.)
    • Fourth Division: Controlled vs Automatic
    • Auto Processing
        • Good at parallel processing
        • Thousands of product cycle & nearly perfect
        • Eg. Chess/Walk in the forest
        • Dopamine release button
  • Four divisions of the mind (contd.)
    • Fourth Division: Controlled vs Automatic
    • Controlled Processing:
      • We can think consciously about one thing at a time only
      • Requires language (words):
        • To weigh pros & cons
        • To plan something complex
        • Analyze past successes & failures
      • New software
      • Escape the tyranny of here and now
      • Allows people to think about the long term goals
  • Relation between Rider & the Elephant
    • Failure of Self Control
      • Delay gratification
      • Strategy: Shift attention
    • Mental Intrusion
    • The Difficulty of Winning an Argument
      • Moral arguments :
        • Feelings come first
        • Reasons are invented along the way
    • Changing Your Mind
  • Changing Your Mind
      • Mindfulness Practice
      • (a form of meditation)
      • The goal of this practice is to change automatic thought processes, thereby taming the elephant
  • Changing Your Mind
      • 1. Observe
      • 2. Acknowledge
      • 3. Return
    • The practice of not participating empowers us to see that the products of the mind are not permanent
      • - means not to participate
      • - means not to judge
    • The practice of not judging strengthens our ability to observe and accept what happens
      • - means to exercise choice
    • The practice of exercising choice restores our ability to choose when and how to act
  • Changing Your Mind (contd.)
    • Attachments
        • Is like gambling – you lose more than you gain
        • Step away from the table to ensure you do not react to the up & downs of life
        • This is possible by meditation
        • Meditation tames and calms your Elephant
        • It helps reduce fearful & negative thoughts
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  •