Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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Blogging at the Huffington Post

Great news: I have been invit­ed to be one of the blog­gers at that fun news and blog­ging exper­i­ment called The Huff­in­g­ton Post. I appre­ci­ate very much the oppor­tu­ni­ty to engage a broad­er com­mu­ni­ty around the lat­est research on brain fit­ness and the brain fit­ness mar­ket, and around how to “exer­cise our brains” for hap­pi­ness, health, life­long learning and peak per­for­mance.

You can take a look at the first post: How “Say­ing Thanks” Will Make You Hap­pi­er.

SharpBrains.com/blog will keep being our main blog. Thank you for all your sup­port!

Enhance Happiness and Health by Cultivating Gratitude: Interview with Robert Emmons

Robert Emmons Thanks(Dear read­er: Here you have a lit­tle gift to con­tin­ue the Thanks­giv­ing spir­it. Enjoy the inter­view, and thank you for vis­it­ing our site.)

Prof. Robert Emmons stud­ies grat­i­tude for a liv­ing as Pro­fes­sor of Psy­chol­o­gy at UC Davis and is Edi­tor-In-Chief of the Jour­nal of Pos­i­tive Psy­chol­o­gy. He has just pub­lished Thanks: How the New Sci­ence of Grat­i­tude Can Make You Hap­pi­er, an inter­dis­ci­pli­nary book that pro­vides a research-based syn­the­sis of the top­ic as well as prac­ti­cal sug­ges­tions.

Alvaro Fer­nan­dez: Wel­come. Prof. Emmons, could you please pro­vide us an overview of the Pos­i­tive Psy­chol­o­gy field so we under­stand the con­text for your research?

Robert Emmons: Sure. Mar­tin Selig­man and col­leagues launched what was called “pos­i­tive psy­chol­o­gy in the late 90s as an anti­dote to the tra­di­tion­al near­ly exclu­sive empha­sis of “neg­a­tive psy­chol­o­gy” focused on fix­ing prob­lems like trau­ma, addic­tion, and stress. We want to bal­ance our focus and be able to help every­one, includ­ing high-func­tion­ing indi­vid­u­als. A num­ber of researchers were inves­ti­gat­ing the field since the late 80s, but Selig­man pro­vid­ed a new umbrel­la, a new cat­e­go­ry, with cred­i­bil­i­ty, orga­nized net­works and fund­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties for the whole field.

And where does your own research fit into this over­all pic­ture?

I have been research­ing grat­i­tude for almost 10 years. Grat­i­tude is a pos­i­tive emo­tion that has tra­di­tion­al­ly been the realm of human­ists and philoso­phers, and only recent­ly the sub­ject of a more sci­en­tif­ic approach. We study grat­i­tude not as a mere­ly aca­d­e­m­ic dis­ci­pline, but as a prac­ti­cal frame­work to bet­ter func­tion­ing in life by tak­ing con­trol of hap­pi­ness lev­els and prac­tic­ing the skill of emo­tion­al self-reg­u­la­tion.

What are the 3 key mes­sages that you would like read­ers to take away from your book?

First, the prac­tice of grat­i­tude can increase hap­pi­ness lev­els by around 25%. Sec­ond, this is not hard to achieve — a few hours writ­ing a grat­i­tude jour­nal over 3 weeks can cre­ate an effect that lasts 6 months if not more. Third, that cul­ti­vat­ing grat­i­tude brings oth­er health effects, such as longer and bet­ter qual­i­ty sleep time.

What are some ways to prac­tice grat­i­tude, and what ben­e­fits could we expect? Please refer to your 2003 paper in the Jour­nal of Per­son­al­i­ty and Social Psy­chol­o­gy, where I found fas­ci­nat­ing quotes such as that “The abil­i­ty to notice, appre­ci­ate, and sav­ior the ele­ments of one life has been viewed as a cru­cial ele­ment of well-being.

The most com­mon method we use in our research is to ask peo­ple to keep a “Grat­i­tude Jour­nal”  where you write some­thing you feel grate­ful for. Doing so 4 times a week, for as lit­tle as 3 weeks, is often enough to cre­ate a mean­ing­ful dif­fer­ence in one lev­el of hap­pi­ness. Anoth­er exer­cise is to write a “Grat­i­tude Let­ter” to a per­son who has exert­ed a pos­i­tive influ­ence on one’s life but whom we have not prop­er­ly thanked in the past, and then to meet that per­son and read the let­ter to them face to face.

The ben­e­fits seem to be very sim­i­lar using both meth­ods in terms of enhanced hap­pi­ness, health and well­be­ing. Most of the out­comes are self-report­ed, but there is an increas­ing empha­sis on mea­sur­ing objec­tive data such as cor­ti­sol and stress lev­els, heart rate vari­abil­i­ty, and even brain acti­va­tion pat­terns. The work of Richard David­son is exem­plary in that respect, show­ing how mind­ful­ness prac­tice can rewire some acti­va­tion pat­terns in Read the rest of this entry »

Brain Wellness: Train Your Brain to Be Happier

I am delight­ed to par­tic­i­pate in LifeTwo’s “How to be Hap­pi­er” week with this post. Hap­pi­ness is still large­ly unchar­tered ter­ri­to­ry for neu­ro­science. It sounds like a hid­den, elu­sive El Dora­do. How­ev­er, once one fol­lows pos­i­tive psy­chol­o­gy research and Harvard’s Dr. Ben-Shahar’s advice, “The ques­tion should not be whether you are hap­py but what you can do to become hap­pi­er”, the hap­pi­ness quest starts to become more tan­gi­ble and work­able accord­ing to lat­est neu­ro­science research.

We are now going to explore the four key con­cepts of Dr. Ben-Shahar’s state­ment — 1) “you”, 2) “can”, 3) “do”, and 4) “hap­pi­er” — from a neu­ropsy­cho­log­i­cal per­spec­tive.

1) Who is “you”? Accord­ing to lat­est sci­en­tif­ic under­stand­ing, what we expe­ri­ence as “mind”, our Frontal Lobesaware­ness, emerges from the phys­i­cal brain. So, if we want to refine our minds, we bet­ter start by under­stand­ing and train­ing our brains. A very impor­tant real­i­ty to appre­ci­ate: each brain is unique, since it reflects our unique life­time expe­ri­ences. Sci­en­tists have already shown how even adult brains retain a sig­nif­i­cant abil­i­ty to con­tin­u­al­ly gen­er­ate new neu­rons and lit­er­al­ly rewire them­selves. So, each of us is unique, with our own aspi­ra­tions, emo­tion­al pref­er­ences, capac­i­ties, and each of us in con­tin­u­al­ly in flux. A pow­er­ful con­cept to remind our­selves: “you” can become hap­pi­er means that “you” are the only per­son who can take action and eval­u­ate what works for “you”. And “you” means the mind that emerges from your own, very per­son­al, unique, and con­stant­ly evolv­ing, brain. Which only “you” can train.

2) Why the use of “can”? Well, this reminds me a great quote by Span­ish neu­ro­sci­en­tist San­ti­a­go Ramon y Cajal, who said that “Every man can, if he so desires, become the sculp­tor of his own brain”. Each of us has immense poten­tial. How­ev­er, in the same way that Michaelangelo’s David didn’t spon­ta­neous­ly appear out-of-the-blue one day, becom­ing hap­pi­er requires atten­tion, inten­tion, and actu­al prac­tice.

Atten­tion: Every sec­ond, you choose what to pay atten­tion to. You can focus on the neg­a­tive and there­by train your brain to focus on the neg­a­tive. You can Read the rest of this entry »

Best practice for top trading performance: biofeedback (EmWave personal stress reliever)

Brett N. Steen­barg­er , Ph.D. Asso­ciate Pro­fes­sor of Psy­chi­a­try and Behav­ioral Sci­ences at SUNY Upstate Med­ical Uni­ver­si­ty, active trad­er for over 30 years, for­mer Direc­tor of Trad­er Devel­op­ment for Kingstree Trad­ing, LLC, author of The Psy­chol­o­gy of Trad­ing and the new Enhanc­ing Trad­er Per­for­mance, and of the blog Trader­Feed: Exploit­ing the edge from his­tor­i­cal mar­ket pat­terns, is writ­ing a great col­lec­tion of best prac­tices for traders (many of which are very rel­e­vant for all high-pres­sure occu­pa­tions).

He wrote a great arti­cle a few weeks ago on the val­ue of biofeed­back in achiev­ing self con­trol, and now deep­ens the dis­cus­sion with this best prac­tice for traders.

Both arti­cles are a fun read-here go some quotes from the most recent one

  • This best prac­tice describes biofeed­back as a tool for per­for­mance enhance­ment among traders. It empha­sizes that the role of biofeed­back is to keep us in touch with our (implic­it) knowl­edge, not to elim­i­nate emo­tion from the deci­sion-mak­ing process.”
  • we want to con­trol the lev­el of cog­ni­tive and phys­i­cal arousal so that we retain access to exper­tise that is already present. Biofeed­back is a pow­er­ful tool for achiev­ing such cog­ni­tive and phys­i­cal con­trol.”
  • Through struc­tured prac­tice, peo­ple can learn to sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly improve their abil­i­ty to enter and remain in states of calm focus. Such abil­i­ty is impor­tant to trad­ing (and many oth­er per­for­mance activ­i­ties), not because it elim­i­nates emo­tion, but because it pre­serves our access to the somat­ic mark­ers that rep­re­sent our mar­ket feel. The heart rate vari­abil­i­ty feed­back is par­tic­u­lar­ly user friend­ly, because it is com­put­er based and can track progress both in prac­tice ses­sions and in real time per­for­mance.”
  • Using the Freeze-Framer pro­gram, audi­ble sig­nals tell the user when he or she is expe­ri­enc­ing high, medi­um, or low “coher­ence”, which is a mea­sure of emo­tion­al reg­u­la­tion. On-screen games require the user to keep a float­ing bal­loon in the air, for instance, based upon sus­tained medi­um and high read­ings. I recent­ly had an inter­est­ing expe­ri­ence dur­ing one feed­back ses­sion: I sus­tained a high lev­el of the bal­loon, but then clicked a wrong but­ton on the screen and erased my data acci­den­tal­ly! After that frus­tra­tion, it was *much* hard­er for me to keep the bal­loon in the air. It was a nice illus­tra­tion of the impact of frus­tra­tion even sev­er­al min­utes after an event.”

You can learn more about this best prac­tice for Traders and oth­er high-pres­sure occu­pa­tions where learn­ing how to iden­ti­fy and man­age our emo­tions and lev­els of stress is crit­i­cal for per­for­mance.

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