Saturday, January 12, 2013

Further adventures in the training of an elephant

"Trainer with Elephant" collage by Lani with textures from FlyPaper 
Today, in Breaking the Habit Code eCourse, we learned more about ways to train our "elephants" or the part of the brain that wants what it wants right now, never mind tomorrow. Christine Carter introduced us to Kelly McGonigal's work with will power, the part of the brain that is the trainer, that can imagine the future and that is guided by her core values.   The idea here is if we have goals and intentions for the new year, if we are trying to learn new habits, then it's really good to help the trainer and the elephant.  There's a wonderful video from Google about Kelly's work!  Very helpful.  So here's my to-do list after watching this video: 1. More sleep  2. Daily meditation (5-15 min.) 3. Physical exercise 4. Plant based, low-glycemic diet, avoiding spikes and drops in blood sugar.  (All of these increase the strength of the "trainer" part of self)

Another interesting bit of research that Kelly mentioned was that the guilt we tend to feel when our elephant strays into the chocolate or what ever, really has the effect of creating more straying rather than more self control.  So we need to be nicer with our elephants, we need to say things like "yes I know you had that doughnut but we all get tempted by these things from time to time, please don't be too hard on your self" instead of "what a terrible big pig of an elephant you are!"  The second approach just adds stress and the urge to look for more of the doughnut and chocolate type quick fix to stress.

Now here's a strange one; people who track success actually do worse with their long term goals than people who look at, think about, and study their failures.  Kelly talks about several studies that were done to look at this phenomenon.  Interesting.

But the most interesting tool, to me, is the meditative practice of "surfing the urge" which you can listen to here.  It comes from Sarah Bowen, a research scientist in the Addictive Behaviors Research Center at the University of Washington.

"We must create what we most need to find" collage by Lani with textures from FlyPaper 

"Controlling elephants depends on three interrelated factors: (1) the level of training of the mahout, (2) the tools or equipment used, and (3) the best ways of using the tools. A weakness in any of these areas means that both safety and the elephant’s health are likely to be affected."  - From Elephant care manual for mahouts and camp managers by P. Phuangkum, R. C. Lair and T. Angkawanith

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