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A Discussion of Essential Self Technologies

This discussion of Essential Self Technologies was presented April 10, 2014, at the MIT Media Lab.

Special thanks to Pattie Maes for hosting, to Alex Bodell and Anthony Zorzos for helping with the demo technologies, and to Karthik Dinakar, who provided video and tech support.

(Yes, I mis-speak for a moment at the beginning.  Oops!  The sympathetic nervous system refers to our “fight or flight” response.  The parasympathetic nervous system refers to our “rest and renew” or “rest and digest” response.)

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Cute Cats Redux

Ethan Zuckerman, who is wise, kind, and brilliant, posits that people have a preference for using the Internet for banal activities, like surfing for “cute cats.”  It seems true that Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and the like, are, indeed, rife with cute cats.  I’m beginning to believe there is a deep explanation for that.  I’m proposing a theory hereby referred to as Cute Cats Redux.

Here’s a little background:

In 2009, I was talking about email apnea and showing the Heartmath EmWave technology at a Foo Camp.  Before passing the EmWave around, I demonstrated it.  The EmWave shows, using red, blue, and green colored lights, the level of stress one is experiencing. 

I explained that, to reduce stress, one could use certain types of breathing to get into a more balanced autonomic state.  Only, even as I was using the suggested breathing technique, I was _not_  shifting states.  The light was red. Red. RED.

I looked at the audience and said:  “There’s actually another way to do this. When we evoke feelings of love and appreciation, it can also bring us into a more balanced autonomic state.” I looked around the room and saw so many people I admired and appreciated:  Matt Mullenweg, John Hagel, Kathy Sierra, Bunnie Huang, Dan Gould, Sara Winge, and so many others.

Then, my eyes settled on Matt Mullenweg.  Matt had very kindly come up to me at a conference a few months earlier, and mentioned that he enjoyed my writing, and when I was ready to move off my very broken JotSpot Wiki, to WordPress, that he’d be happy to help me.  I was so moved by this – both emotionally (and literally!  I made the switch and Matt was awesome!). 

I started, “Matt, thank you so much for your kindness – for…”  Before I could even finish the sentence, the audience gasped.  GREEN!!!  Eye contact, appreciation, and a few words, had shifted my autonomic state instantly!  The audience SAW the power of emotion.  Of course, with the emotion, my breathing and attention state also shifted.  I was more relaxed.  It’s all wired together:  attention, emotion, breathing.

A few months after that, I was showing a senior executive how to use the EmWave to become more aware of her stress levels and to learn to better manage this.  When breathing techniques didn’t work to help her shift out of a stressed state, I suggested she think about something she loved.  Her husband was standing nearby.  For a moment (she explained later), she focused on her husband, then sighed, and said, “Honey, I’m going to focus on the cats.”  Green!  Instant green!

Fast forward to March 2014.  I’m being interviewed by Erin Anderssen, a journalist.  She mentions that it can be challenging to shift from red to green when she’s using the EmWave.  I tell her the story from 2009.  Then it hits me! 

What if all the cute cats and dogs on the Internet are in some small way, evoking momentary feelings of love and appreciation?  What if looking at these images is as beneficial as a “breathing break.”  What if cute cats and dogs make us kinder and more empathic as we hunch over our personal technologies for hours on end?  What if we are self-soothing and bringing ourselves back into a kind of spiritual homeostasis when we look at and share these images and videos.

It turns out, there’s science to support the Cute Cats Redux theory.  There’s a database of images called the International Affective Picture System, compiled by researchers Margaret Bradley and Peter Lang.  This calibrated set of photos tracks affective consequences, and positive and negative responses to photos.  Negative examples include:  a spider, a baby with a tumor, and an automobile crash with injured people.  On the positive side, there’s a category referred to as “cute.”  Cute includes the old couple on the park bench holding hands and watching the sunset, as well as kittens and puppies.  All these produce positive affect.

Looking at those cute cats and puppies is not a waste of time.  It’s self-soothing.  Just as we have a physical homeostasis that supports healthy regulation of bodily functions, I believe we have a spiritual homeostasis that can draw us, both individually and collectively toward what heals us.  Cute Cats Redux.  

This post is dedicated to Ben Huh, Cheezburger, and to a very funny guy who sent me a video of him singing a sweet song to his cat.

 

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What Part of You is Free?

This post was written several years ago.  I’m feeling great these days and ready to post some of the things written in darker moments…

From January 2010

I’m lying in bed and the right side of my body is frozen.  I’m right-handed.  I want to get up and the thought alone isn’t getting me there.  I remember something my doctor said, “When you wake up, pay attention to what is working.  Put all your attention on that.” 

I scan my body.   My left arm is great.   Okay, left arm, show me what you can do.  I reach to grab one of the headboard spindles, and use my left arm to roll over and hoist myself up.  My left leg is working pretty well, too.  I lean against the wall and drag myself into the bathroom.  Home run.  I may be right-handed, but my left arm rules.

A few years ago, my friend, Mary Jane, was telling me about someone she had coached.   The woman kept diving into the same story, the same limitations, and the same struggles.  Mary Jane would listen and ask questions.  At one point, in a face-to-face meeting, Mary Jane took the woman’s arm and told her to try to get away.  The woman pulled and pulled with the arm Mary Jane was holding, then, gave up.  “I’m stuck,” she said, committed to stuck-ness.

“What part of you is caught?”   Mary Jane asked.  

“Easy,” the woman responded, “my arm.”

“What part of you is free,” Mary Jane coached.

“Wow.  The rest of my body!”

“How can you use the rest of your body to free yourself?”

The woman was quickly free. 

As I fell back into bed, I wondered why mind always found limitations quickly and was blind to freedom.

One of my favorite mentors and teachers, Byron Katie, offers:

“Life is simple. Everything happens for you, not to you. Everything happens at exactly the right moment, neither too soon nor too late. You don’t have to like it… it’s just easier if you do.”

 

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Falling in Love (How To)

A few years ago, in a conversation with a friend, I caught myself paying more attention to another, nearby conversation. Realizing I was missing the moment to connect with this friend, I created a “game” for myself to counteract the distraction. Now, as much as possible, when I make a choice to be in conversation with someone, I assign myself the task of noticing what I like about that person. This attunes my listening, and softens my attention into a state I call “relaxed presence.” It opens me into a receptive, present moment state.

In doing this, I find myself falling in love all day long.  

For me, this “game” is more powerful than listing what I’m grateful for or reminding myself of the power of unconditional love and compassion.  Going from the general to the specific, is immediate and powerful.

Tonight, at dinner, I fell in like/love with the person next to me, a serial entrepreneur and social entrepreneur with a strong sense of integrity,  warmth and kindness,  curiosity and creativity.  

The path toward compassion and unconditional love starts here.

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Our Powerful and Fragile Attention

What if I told you that the way we are talking about attention is part of the problem today? Our conversation about distraction, multi-tasking, and the stern command to focus actually creates a level of stress, anxiety, and shame.

Headlines read: Dangers of Digital Distraction! Taming the Distraction Monster! Time to Unplug! This conversation stresses us in a way similar to the techniques magicians and con artists use to create misdirection. As we consider how distracted we are, we shame ourselves with messages like: “I should unplug!” “I have too much to do!” “I’m distracted!” “I have to focus!”

All of these thoughts, all of this stress, zaps our attention bandwidth. We twist in the winds of our own misdirection. Isn’t it ironic that even in our efforts to manage our attention effectively, we are, instead, contributing to stress and misdirection!

If we don’t consciously choose where we want to direct our attention, there will always be something in our path tomisdirect it. From the news, to pickpockets, to Facebook — every choice we don’t make is made for us.

If we want to harness the superpower that is our attention, instead of talking about distraction and a need to unplug and disconnect, let’s talk about what it is we choose to connect to. As we reach for what we prefer, we can stop stressing and shaming ourselves regarding what it is we’re getting wrong.

Click here to read the whole post on the HuffingtonPost

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The Time We Have (in Jelly Beans)

http://ashow.zefrank.com/episodes/128

My friend’s 16 year old son stopped playing video games. Cold turkey. From hours a day in front of the screen one day to those same hours spent with friends ever after.

“Why did you stop?” his mother asked.

“Jelly Beans. My life in jelly beans.”

Thanks to Ze Frank for creating this powerful video!

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January 25, 2014 · 7:30 am

Choreograph Lively Dinner Conversation

I started hosting dinner parties when I was 12.  I enjoyed cooking and especially loved great conversation.  Over the years, I started to notice that even with fourteen fascinating people at the table, sometimes the conversation was like fireworks and sometimes it fell flat.

I wanted to figure out an algorithm for dinner party seating.  Was this magic?  Or was there a formula?  I was certain there was a way to ensure great conversation.

I think of dinner table conversation as “pinball.”  If the ball stalls or goes down the drain, the game loses energy.  If an energetic conversation is happening between two people sitting across from each other, the ends of the table “die.”

It’s an art!  It’s a science!  It’s fun.  Please try it out and let me know how it works for you!

Basic Rules

»Eight to 14 people per table works best.

»Never seat friends next to one another.

»Ignore the old etiquette of alternating males and females.

Strategy

»Sort place cards into four “energy density” piles: H (high), M (medium), L (low), and ? (wild card).

»Assign the H guests first. Seat them diagonally from one another. Never seat H people directly across from each other.

»If you have guests with strong opposing views, seat them diagonally from each other, too.

»Seat the L people next to the H people. When conversation bounces around the table, The Ls will be more inclined to participate because of their proximity to an H.

»Scatter M and ? guests among the remaining open seats.

The piece below was first published by Wired in August of 2006

Scroll down on this page to see the original.

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The Essential Self: Health Beyond the Numbers

“What are you tracking?” This is the conversation at Quantified Self (QS) meetups. The Quantified Self movement celebrates “self-knowledge through numbers.” In our current love affair with QS, we tend to focus on data and the mind. Technology helps manage and mediate that relationship. The body is in there somewhere, too, as a sort of “slave” to the mind and the technology.

In our relationship with technology, we easily fall out of touch with our bodies. We know how many screen hours we’ve logged, but we are less likely to be able to answer the question: “How do you feel?”

The full post is here, and suggests a new movement, alongside the Quantified Self movement.  This new movement is called:  The Essential Self.

What might the tools and technologies of this new movement look and feel like?

Passive, ambient, non-invasive technologies are emerging as tools to help support our Essential Self. Some of these technologies work with light, music, or vibration to support “flow-like” states.  We can use these technologies as “prosthetics for feeling” — using them is about experiencing versus tracking. Some technologies support more optimal breathing practices. Essential Self technologies might connect us more directly to our limbic system, bypassing the “thinking mind,” to support our Essential Self.

When data and tracking take center stage, as is the case with most Quantified Self technologies, the thinking mind is in charge. And, as a friend of mine says, “I used to think my mind was the best part of me. Then I realized what was telling me that.”


Here are a few examples of outstanding Essential Self technologies; please share your examples and experiences in the comments:

  • JustGetFlux.com
    More than eight million people have downloaded f.lux. Once downloaded, f.lux matches the light from the computer display to the time of day: warm at night and like sunlight during the day. The body’s circadian system is sensitive to blue light, and f.lux removes most of this stimulating light just before you go to bed. These light shifts are more in keeping with your circadian rhythms and might contribute to better sleep and greater ease in working in front of the screen. This is easy to download, and once installed, requires no further action from you — it manages the display light passively, ambiently, and non-invasively.
  • Focusatwill.com
    When neuroscience, music, and technology come together brilliantly, focusatwill.com is the result. Many of us enjoy listening to music while we work. The folks at focusatwill.com understand which music best supports sustained, engaged attention, and have curated a music library that can increase attention span up to 400% according to their website.  The selections draw from core neuroscience insights to subtly and periodically change the music so your brain remains in a “zone” of focused attention without being distracted. “Attention amplifying” music soothes and supports sustained periods of relaxed focus. I’m addicted.
  • Just for fun, use a Heartmath EmWave2 to track the state of your Autonomic Nervous System while you’re listening to one of the focusatwill.com music channels.

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From the Atlantic: Interview with James Fallows

Jim Fallows asked me to talk with him about the future of attention.  I wanted to share the links for the short version that appeared in the magazine, and the longer version that appeared online.

The short version, followed by a link:

From the time we’re born, we’re learning and modeling a variety of attention and communication strategies. For example, one parent might put one toy after another in front of the baby until the baby stops crying. Another parent might work with the baby to demonstrate a new way to play with the same toy. These are very different strategies, and they set up a very different way of relating to the world for those children. Adults model attention and communication strategies, and children imitate. In some cases, through sports or crafts or performing arts, children are taught attention strategies. Some of the training might involve managing the breath and emotions—bringing one’s body and mind to the same place at the same time.

Read more here…

Here’s an excerpt from the full interview, which Jim posted on his blog:

We learn by imitation, from the very start. That’s how we’re wired. Andrew Meltzoff and Patricia Kuhl, professors at the University of Washington I-LABS, show videos of babies at 42 minutes old, imitating adults. The adult sticks his tongue out. The baby sticks his tongue out, mirroring the adult’s behavior. Children are also cued by where a parent focuses attention. The child’s gaze follows the mother’s gaze. Not long ago, I had brunch with friends who are doctors, and both of them were on call. They were constantly pulling out their smartphones. The focus of their 1-year-old turned to the smartphone: Mommy’s got it, Daddy’s got it. I want it.

We may think that kids have a natural fascination with phones. Really, children have a fascination with what-ever Mom and Dad find fascinating. If they are fascinated by the flowers coming up in the yard, that’s what the children are going to find fascinating. And if Mom and Dad can’t put down the device with the screen, the child is going to think, That’s where it’s all at, that’s where I need to be! I interviewed kids between the ages of 7 and 12 about this. They said things like “My mom should make eye contact with me when she talks to me” and “I used to watch TV with my dad, but now he has his iPad, and I watch by myself.”

Kids learn empathy in part through eye contact and gaze. If kids are learning empathy through eye contact, and our eye contact is with devices, they will miss out on empathy.

Read more here…

Both in the interview with Jim and later in a post for the Atlantic website, I talked about how we think about and measure productivity today:  more work, faster pace, more efficiently, and how we might rethink productivity and how we measure it going forward.

Note that I’m not arguing against being productive.  I’m asking that we re-consider how we evaluate productivity.  Is it the number of emails we send and receive?  The number of hours a child spends on homework?  Read the excerpt and click on the link below.  Please consider sharing your experience and thinking on this.

An unintended and tragic consequence of our metrics for schools is that what we measure causes us to remove self-directed play from the school day. Children’s lives are completely programmed, filled with homework, lessons, and other activities.. There is less and less space for the kind of self-directed play that can be a fantastically fertile way for us to develop resilience and a broad set of attention strategies, not to mention a sense of who we are, and what questions captivate us. We have narrowed ourselves in service to the gods of productivity, a type of productivity that is about output and not about results.

Read more here…

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A More Resilient Species

Play researchers’ findings indicate that self-directed play, for both children and adults, nourishes the human spirit and helps develop resilience, independence, and resourcefulness. Yet, our desire to be efficient and productive, and our tendency to over-schedule and over-program, has crowded out opportunities for self-directed play in our education system and in our lives at home.

Read the rest…

 

 

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If Kids Made the Rules…

“My mom should look at me when I talk to her.  She always only looks at her iPhone!  It makes me mad!”  This was the response of a ten year old, when asked:  “What rules would you make for your parents regarding the use of technology?” 

We’re quick to make rules for kids when it comes to the use of technology.   Is this working?  Is there another way?

What if the kids are just imitating us?  What if we put the phone down?  What if we could set a great example for kids regarding the appropriate use of technology?

And – what if doing this turned out to be as beneficial for us, and our relationships, as it would be for them?

Mark Matousek, in a Psychology Today article, wrote, “You learn the world from your mother’s face.  The mother’s eyes, especially, are a child’s refuge, the mirror where children confirm their existence.  From the doting reflection of its mother’s eyes, a baby draws its earliest, wordless lessons about connection, care, and love, and about how being ignored – which every child is sooner or later – makes the good feeling disappear.”

Where are those good feelings for this frustrated eight year old girl?    “I used to snuggle with my mom in the morning.  Now, she’s always playing Scrabble when I curl up next to her. She should stop playing Scrabble and cuddle with me!”

At brunch, my friends, both doctors on call, frequently check their iPhones.  It’s not surprising that their one year old constantly reaches for the iPhone, often jamming it in his mouth.  The iPhone is the target of his parent’s attention.  Why shouldn’t it be the target of his attention?

Psychologist Dan Siegel, tells us that a mother’s gaze plays a crucial role in the development of empathy. “We learn to care, quite literally, by observing the caring behavior of our parents toward us.”  When mom’s gaze is fixed on the screen, might this have an impact on the child’s ability to be empathic?

A twelve year old noticed that, even in front of the television, his father was missing in action:  “My dad used to watch TV with me.  Now he’s like, sitting next to me, on his iPad or iPhone, and it’s like I’m alone.  My dad should watch TV with me for real.  Like he used to.”

We’re also teaching the next generation how to be safe on the road.  Or not.  “Texting while driving isn’t even legal.  My mom and dad do it all the time.  They won’t stop even when I tell them to stop.  And it’s not legal, right? Grown-ups shouldn’t text and drive.”

Imitation and modeling are among the most powerful tools we have for creating behavior change, particularly for children.  When we start making rules for our kids around the use of technology, let’s enlist them in the process.  They’re loaded with wisdom.

 

 

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Conscious Computing

Conscious Computing Allows Technology to Become a Prosthetic for Engaging with Our Full Potential

Personal technologies today are prosthetics for our minds.

In our current relationship with technology, we bring our bodies, but our minds rule.

“Don’t stop now, you’re on a roll. Yes, pick up that phone call, you can still answer these six emails. Watch the Twitter stream while working on PowerPoint?  Why not?” Our minds push, demand, coax, and cajole. “No break yet, we’re not done. No dinner until this draft is done.”

Our tyrannical minds conspire with enabling technologies and our bodies do their best to hang on for the wild ride.

Glenn Fleishman posted on software that disables bits of the computer to make us more productive and to minimize distractions. Programs like Freedom, Isolator, RescueTime, LeechBlock, Turn Off the Lights and others were mentioned — all tools that block distractions. This software category is called:  Internet Blocking Productivity Software.  Users can choose to disable Internet access and/or local network access. Users claim that software like Freedom makes them more productive by blocking tempting distractions.

I’m not opposed to using technologies to support us in reclaiming our attention. But I prefer passive, ambient, non-invasive technologies that address our bodymind, over parental ones.

Consider the Toyota Prius. The Prius doesn’t stop in the middle of a highway and say, “Listen to me, Mr. Irresponsible Driver, you’re using too much gas and this car isn’t going to move another inch until you commit to fix that.” Instead, a display engages us in a playful way and our body implicitly learns to shift to use less gas.

Glenn was kind enough to call me for a comment as he prepared his post. We talked about email apneacontinuous partial attention, and how, while software that locks out distractions is a great first step, our ultimate opportunity is to evolve our relationship with personal technologies.

With technologies like Freedom, we take away, from our mind, the role of tyrant, and re-assign that role to the technology. The technology then dictates to the mind. The mind then dictates to the body. Meanwhile, the body that senses and feels, that turns out to offer more wisdom than the finest mind could even imagine, is ignored.

There are techniques and technologies that actually tune us in to our bodies, and our nervous systems.  These technologies let us know when we’re stressed, or when we’re engaged.  One of these technologies, from Heartmath, has been particularly helpful to me.  A clip goes on the earlobe, and is connected to a small, lightweight box, that can sit next to the computer.  There are lights on the box that indicate the state of the nervous system.  One of these products, the emWave2, can be used while doing work on the computer (in other contexts as well).  Heartmath also offer software games that work with the emWave2.  The 5-10 minute games involve actions that are totally controlled by the state of your nervous system.

At the heart of compromised attention is compromised breathing. Breathing, attention, and emotion, are commutative. Athletes, dancers, and musicians are among those who don’t have email apnea. Optimal breathing contributes to regulating our autonomic nervous system and it’s in this regulated state that our cognition and memory, social and emotional intelligence, and even innovative thinking can be fueled.

Scientists, like Antonio Damasio, Daniel Siegel, and Daniel Goleman, have shown us that aspects of our intelligence come from sensing and feeling and that our bodies offer a kind of wisdom.

Thirty years ago, personal computing technologies created a revolution in personal productivity, supporting a value on self-expression, output and efficiency. The personal communications technology era that followed the era of personal productivity amplified accessibility and responsiveness. Personal technologies have served us well as prosthetics for the mind, in service of thinking and doing.

Our focus has been on technologies as prosthetics for the mind, and human-as-machine style productivity.  This has led to burn-out, poor health, poor sleep, and what I call email apnea or screen apnea.  We wonder where our attention has gone.  Turns out, it’s right where we left it — with our ability to breathe fully.

We can use personal technologies that are prosthetics for our beings, to enhance our lives.  I call this Conscious Computing.

We can use technology to help enable Conscious Computing, or we can find it on our own, through attending to how we feel.  For advice from a musician on how to do Conscious Computing, I interviewed the organist, Cameron Carpenter.

Conscious Computing with the help of passive, ambient, non-invasive Heart Rate Variability (HRV)  technology is poised to take off over the next few years.  It has the potential to help all of us learn the skills that musicians, athletes and dancers have, that immunizes them from email apnea.

With a musical instrument, it’s awkward at first.  All thumbs.  Uncomfortable.  We don’t know how to sit, stand or breathe.  With practice, a musician becomes self-contained versus merged with the instrument.  So it will be with personal technology.  Now, a prosthetic of mind, it will become a prosthetic of being.  A violinist with a violin.  Us with our gadgets,.  Embodied.  Attending.  Self-contained.  Present.

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Quantified Self: Can We Measure What Really Matters?

Chris Anderson’s April 7, Google+ post describes the quantified self lifestyle:

Philips DirectLife, Nike Fuelband, Polar FA20 Activity monitor watch, a Withings scale, a Zeo, and Runkeeer on the iPhone.

Chris’ wife has a FitBit, Zeo, and Runkeeper.   The kids wear Zamzees.  To say that movement is tracked is an understatement.

But where does quantity meet quality?  

What else might we measure?  

I’ve long been a proponent of measuring heart rate variability and galvanic skin response – which can indicate how relaxed or stressed we are.  

What about measuring how many minutes or hours we are not sitting in front of a screen?  How many minutes or hours we spend outside?  How long we spend enjoying a meal or how much we enjoyed a meal?

Does our current focus on measuring steps and calories keep us in a cerebral thinking and doing state, and distance us from being more wholly embodied, sensing and feeling?  

Do our current quantified self activities measure what’s easily measured or do they measure what really matters?  What else might we measure?

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Playing Video Games When the Power is Out

I haven’t always been a fan of video games.   I’m a fan of getting outside, enjoying fresh air, exploring tide pools, walking on a trail or in the park.  I love cooking, baking and crafting.   It just never occurred to me that adding more hours in front of a screen could be a path to joy.

Over the years, in over the shoulder mode, I’ve loved watching friends of all ages engage — with a full on passion and joy, and my latest HuffPo post describes one such moment.

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TEDxMidwest

These last few months, I’ve linked up with Mike Hettwer  to create TEDxMidwest.    On a flight to Chicago now and super excited about the terrific speakers and great friends who plan to join us in the inaugural year of this event.

Special thanks to Chris Anderson, TED Conferences, for his vision and for offering a program for local TEDx events.   Special thanks to the TEDx team for their support, with a special shout out to Lara Stein and Ronda Carnegie.

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How Did You Play?

This past weekend, at SciFoo 2010, during one of Nat Torkington’s Lightning Rounds, I had a chance to talk about childhood play patterns of scientists, of all of us, and about the benefits of self-directed play.  Here’s an earlier blog post on the topic.

Please join the discussion in the Talk To Me section of this blog, and share how you played as a child. Alone?  Social?  Both?  Were you a builder and a maker?  Did you create your own experiments? Did you have favorite objects?    Do tell!

http://lindastone.net/talk-to-me/

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Intentions & Goals

How does an intention form and gather energy?  Is a goal an intention without the passion? Is a goal from the mind only and an intention from our entire being?

For you, talk to me about intentions — what they are, how they form and gather energy…

Thank you.

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Kids, Video Games, Posture & Breathing

One of my favorite 8 year olds can’t get enough of his Wii.  I enjoy this child and hung out with him recently while he played his favorite video game.  He was hunched over on the sofa and I promise you, his breathing was undetectable.  With some coaxing, he moved to a wooden chair.  For the first 3 minutes, he sat up straight, then he smiled at me, said, “I like to slouch,” and continued his game slouched in the wooden chair.

Did I mention that this is how he spent his Saturday morning  just before going to an appointment with the doctor helping him with his ADHD issues?

Shallow breathing and temporary breath holding up regulates the sympathetic or fight or flight nervous system response.  I call this email apnea.  If your child has ADHD or impulse control issues and also hunches in front of a computer or video game or in front of the television, it might be time to consider an intervention that involves teaching a breathing technique that up regulates the parasympathetic or rest and digest response.

I recently spent some time playing with the HeartMath emWave Desktop software.  With short games, a player  manages his/her breathing pattern as part of game play.

At TEDMED 2009, Dr. Daniel Siegel mentioned research he’d conducted using breath training to manage ADHD.

Sometimes pharmaceuticals are the most effective option for treating a condition.   In many cases, for conditions involving impulse control, regulation of emotions, ADHD and other attention issues, it may be worth looking into options that help”re-set” the autonomic nervous system:  various breathing techniques, Buteyko, Feldenkrais, Alexander Technique, cranial-sacral, and certain forms of acupuncture.

Performance, particularly dance and music, often involve training in breathing techniques.  The same is true for certain sports.

The way we breathe is central in regulation of attention and emotion, cognition and memory, and social and emotional intelligence.

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The Sunset of the PC?

Today, I don’t own an iPad.  Last week, I had no intention of buying one anytime soon.  The Wall Street Journal, All Things Digital, D8 Conference, has seriously cracked my resolve.

Lisa Gold, showed me her iPad a few weeks ago, and talked about her experience with the iPad:

“When I use it, I don’t have email apnea because I sit or recline comfortably, I’m relaxed, and I breathe. When I’m sitting at my desk, in a chair, staring at my computer screen and clutching my mouse, I’m physically uncomfortable and I often find myself holding my breath and feeling slightly anxious. Instead of forcing my body to adapt to the demands of the computer, iPad adapts to me and the different ways I want to use it. My iPad can’t completely replace my computer, but I find myself using iPad more and the computer less. And it has made me much more aware of how using a computer affects my body.”

More on The End of the PC?  here.

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Parenting and Managing; Evolving Practices

I was surprised when a couple of Highly Regarded Silicon Valley folks, canceled a leadership themed dinner due to lack of interest.

Is this an interesting topic to the current generation of CEO’s and senior executives — especially those under 40?  I asked a serial entrepreneur, CEO friend of mine:   “Not so much,” was his reply.

Reflecting on why this might be the case, I started to think about parenting, and how very different Dr. Spock’s parenting advice fifty years ago, is from one of today’s parenting gurus, Alyson Shafer, in Honey, I Wrecked the Kids:  When Yelling, Screaming, Threats, Bribes, Time-Outs, Sticker Charts, and Removing Privileges All Don’t Work.

I’m still working through my thoughts on this.  However, I’m coming to believe that by looking at how parenting practices have changed over time, we can learn a lot about how management practices have and might continue to evolve.

For those familiar with today’s parenting guidance, and working in the business world — do you have insights and stories to share?

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Are You Ready for the 21st Century?

In a provocative video, Michael Cartier offers a snapshot of four possible worlds in which we may choose to live:

1.  Consumerist

2.  Renewed Participative Democracy

3.  Environmentally Conscious

4.  Oligarchic Soft Facism (security state)

The video can be viewed here.

Thoughts?  Comments?

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What is Dying to be Born?

A few weeks ago, when I checked my inbox, there was an email from Lianne Raymond.   Her request:

I am asking you, as one of the women I look to for thought leadership, to contribute your idea of “what is dying to be born” in the world right now- maybe it is already in the process of happening and you will shine the light on it – it doesn’t matter: whatever way you want to interpret that phrase is welcomed and encouraged, as part of the beauty of the end product will be our multi-faceted ways of viewing the world, with each view reflecting the others.

You are on this list because somewhere along the way you made a difference in my life through your words. So thank you so much for being a part of my life and growth, whether or not you become a part of this.

With much love,

Lianne Raymond

Click on the link below, for Linda’s page,  to read my piece on Presence in What is Dying to Be Born?

linda’s page

The link, What is Dying to be Born, will take you to the entire book:

What is Dying to be Born?

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Mind & Body, War & Peace

I’ll be writing a series of posts on something that is troubling me — our personal and collective dialog about health.   We seem to be using the language of war, and our greatest opportunity is to seek peace.   We speak passionately about what we don’t want, and the joy is in the aspiration, the dreams of what we want, both for ourselves and as a larger community.

I come to this from a very personal place, as well as from a place of believing, that for all of us, nothing could matter more.

Shifting our language can shift us toward more powerful and positive possibilities.  I welcome your comments and stories here and on the Huffington Post.

Excerpt from the first post in the series:

I have grown weary of this American dialog, a dialog of mind at war with body. Mind always right, of course. Mind, the dictator. Mind, the jailer. Body, the servant. Body, the victim, of mind, the bully.

Read the rest of the post by clicking here…

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FIRST + Dean Kamen = Inspiration

FIRST stands for: For Inspiration and Recognition in Science and Technology. By 1992, Dean Kamen was becoming increasingly concerned about our ability to effectively compete in business given our declining ability to educate students in science and technology. Kamen and his friend, Dr. Woodie Flowers, had a wild idea: create a competition–now a “coopertition”–where teams of high school students, working closely with mentors, design and build a robot, in a six week period, then compete both regionally and nationally.

Continue reading…

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National Lab Day: Creating a National Learning Community

When Jack Hidary told me about National Lab Day, I got chills. The tag line for National Lab Day is: A National Barn-Raising for Hands-On Learning. Using the internet and social computing technologies, with the support of the White House and the business and scientific communities, National Lab Day reaches out to the education community, providing a tool set that brings context, community, and passion to education, and that has the potential to transform our educational system into a true learning community.

Read more….

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Finding Ourselves Through Play

The book that had the most impact on my thinking in 2009, was:  Play:  How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul, by Stuart Brown and Christopher Vaughan.

It inspired me to chat with Nobel Laureates, last June, at a gathering in Sweden, about their play patterns as children.   When these men talked about their work in the lab today and their childhood play patterns, it was the same conversation.   They played passionately as children and the emergent questions and interests they had as children were still central in their work, albeit more evolved.

More recently, I started carrying a Flip Video recorder with me and interviewing friends and people I meet here and there.  One friend, Mike, talked about his stamp collection — the excitement of opening the bag of envelope corners with colorful stamps affixed, the thrill of tracking on a map where each stamp was from and learning a little about each country, and the sense of possibility and curiosity about a larger world with so many different cultures.  Mike went on to major in international relations and does global policy work today.

Matt Ruff was clear from the age of five that he wanted to be a novelist.  He read voraciously, invented imaginary worlds and has confidently and successfully pursued these dreams as an adult.

Over the holidays, sitting with my mom and little sister, I began asking them what they remembered about my childhood play patterns.  “You were into everything,” my mom recalled, “You had science experiments going in the basement with mice, you baked and sold cookies door to door, you were constantly crafting and making things, and you started hosting dinner parties at the age of twelve.”    My sister remembered the science fair projects, chess club, and all the making and building projects.

I remembered being positively obsessed with the notion of infinity and with Ann Cutler’s, Instant Math, and number patterns.  My dad was a willing co-conspirator in any building project — one of the most memorable: building an incubator to hatch chicks.  I had rock, stamp, and coin collections. I loved to bake and cook from a young age, and then found ways to sell my wares in the neighborhood — my mom always made me reimburse her for cost of goods.

Working with the kids next door, we produced circus performances.  I was involved in every aspect of production, program development, marketing, logistics, and pricing, for both the entry fee and goods sold.  We also organized summer crafting programs for young kids in the neighborhood.  I loved co-creating these businesses — with neighbor kids I’m still very friendly with today (no, not through or because of FaceBook).

By age eleven, I wanted to learn how to bake bread and didn’t know anyone who could teach me.  Trial and error and fifty loaves later, I could do it blindfolded and could easily modify a recipe successfully.  If I’d done this in school, I’d have gotten a failing grade after the first few loaves.  Thanks to my parents, I could try as often as I wanted and analyze and question what was going wrong and right each time.

I read voraciously, both fiction and non-fiction, and visited the library frequently.  As a child, I created books.  As a teenager, I wrote both prose and poetry and was the editor of my high school literary magazine.

I fearlessly rode my bicycle all over the northern Chicago suburbs — seriously, everywhere.  My bicycle was my freedom.  I sang with friends in high school and later in college.

I loved to travel and between baby-sitting and a waitress job that paid fifty cents an hour plus tips, I traveled all over the U.S. and to Panama, French Canada, and Europe, as a young teenager — on my own or with friends.  I loved meeting weavers in rural Holland, drinking my first cappuccino at the age of fifteen in Panama City, and picking blueberries just outside of Chicoutimi, Quebec, Canada.  People fascinated me – I wanted to understand everything about creativity, intelligence, learning, and communication.  I still do.

All of these themes are active today, both in my work and in my play.  I taught (K-6, university) and worked as a children’s librarian the first decade of my career, spent the next two decades in high tech, where I’m still very active, and this last year, helped co-found a fresh sauces and puddings company, Abby’s Table.  I serve on many Advisory Boards, both for profit and not for profit, covering a range of areas from technology to health to education to the environment.

How are your play patterns alive today, in what you do as an adult?  Once you start writing, even a paragraph or two, about your childhood play patterns, you’ll see the power of play.

I hope you’ll take a few minutes to comment on your childhood play patterns here.  What couldn’t you wait to do when you got home from school or on a Saturday? Does your work and play today share themes from your childhood play?  I hope this new decade is a decade where play is celebrated and acknowledged as the key to passion, joy and a productive and fulfilling life.

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Screens R Us: When to Take a Break

Someone always stops me in the hall at a conference or asks anxiously after a talk:  How much time should I spend in front of a screen? At what point should I pull back and take a break?  Should I stop every 30 or 45 minutes?

My response is always the same:  How do you feel?  Your body is wiser than your mind in these matters.

The challenge is, most of us, especially the brainy future thinking high tech types, tend to favor the inclinations of the mind.  The mind, for many of us, is often tyrannical towards the body.  “Just stay up 3 more hours.   One more all-nighter.   A Red Bull or two and I’ll meet this deadline!  No walk until this paper is done…”

Our always-on lifestyle has favored thinking and doing.  As we move toward a lifestyle that seeks quality of life, we’ll find ourselves valuing sensing and feeling.   We see the first signs of this in the various food related movements that are gaining popularity:  slow foods, Farmer’s Markets, and preferences for artisanal and  local organic foods.

The operative questions are: How do I feel?  What would feel better?    These questions can help create a flexible, flowing workstyle that will enable the wisdom of both body and mind to come through in everything we do.

This piece also appeared on the Huffington Post.

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