My Luck Journal

I decided to purchase Richard Wiseman’s book, 59 Seconds, after I listened to him have a conversation on one of my favorite podcasts, Smart People Podcast.  On the show Wiseman discussed luck and neuroscience, and I was fascinated throughout the entire episode.  Afterwards, I knew I wanted to buy one of Wiseman’s books, especially since there was a piece of advice from the show that I was able to implement immediately.  Wiseman talked about creating a “luck diary” to increase your awareness and focus on the lucky and positive parts of your life, and he discussed the benefits that could come with the increased awareness and positivity.  Once I dove into 59 Seconds I came across a section about gratitude, and I saw a more in depth explanation of the importance of my small luck diary.

 

Regarding a study on gratitude Wiseman wrote, “those expressing gratitude ended up happier, much more optimistic about the future, and physically healthier – and they even exercised more.”  The idea of the study was to ask people to journal for a few minutes each week on various topics. One group wrote about things that annoyed them, another group journaled about events and things that happened in the day, and the third group reflected on things they were grateful for. The human brain learns to adapt to its environment and to stop noticing the things that are always around.  Wiseman argues that this loss of conscious awareness occurs even with our own happiness leaving us without a sense of appreciation for the opportunities, luck, and positive events around us as they begin to feel common place and normal. Journaling about luck brings those positive moments back to the forefront of our minds, and helps us remember and be aware of the positives.

 

I don’t know that my luck journal has made me happier, healthier, or helped me exercise more, but I do enjoy the reflective nature of the process.  I enjoy sitting on my bed each night and thinking about what I am  grateful for or what lucky things happened during my day.  Often times I had forgotten about how much went on in my day until I finally sit down and focus to remember each little event that I could describe as a lucky moment.  I enjoy remembering the luck and the positive moments, but I also enjoy working my memory and sifting through all that happened in a day.

The Benefit of Journaling and Writing

In his book 59 Seconds Richard Wiseman continually returns to the idea of writing and journaling when trying to overcome obstacles, become more creative, and reach ones goals.  Towards the beginning of the book Wiseman discusses a study in which participants were asked to either talk to another person to express themselves, journal for a few minutes a few days a week, or just continue on as they always had while the experimenters examined them over long period of time.  The study found large benefits for those who spent their time writing as wiseman explains,

 

“Thinking can often be somewhat unstructured, disorganized, and even chaotic.  In contrast, writing encourages the creation of a story line and structure that help people make sense of what has happened and work toward a solution.  In short, talking can add to a sense of confusion, but writing provides a more systematic solution-based approach.”

 

The subjects of the experiment had all experienced a traumatic event in their lives, and those who spent time writing through what happened, as opposed to those who had done nothing or talked to another about their feelings, found the most traction in getting to a new way of thinking about the traumatic experience.  I believe that this plays into every part of our lives and can make a big impact in how we are feeling on a day to day basis.  Wiseman returns to studies related to journaling throughout his book and explains how anticipating obstacles and writing about them can help one be more prepared for the journey towards their goals. He also writes about the benefits of journaling about the things you love about your loved ones as a way to move forward in your relationships with a more open and loving attitude.

 

One small area in which I have taken Wiseman’s advice for writing and applied it to my own life is in a simple journaling exercise that helps me be aware of the lucky things that happen in my life. I keep a luck journal and every night before I go to bed I reflect on what happened that day that was positive and in some way lucky for me.  This puts me in the right mindset as I prepare to go to sleep and helps me be thankful for the good things that have happened.  I can feel more content with my “luck” at the end of the day and instead of going to bed fearful for something that is coming up.

 

Throughout 59 Seconds Wiseman explains that writing, more than any other activity, helps build new connections in the brain.  It is slower than speaking, even when you are typing at a million miles per hour, and it forces your brain to slow down and be more considerate.  When writing you have the time to think an idea through and find the best way to communicate that idea.  This reinforces the thoughts and connections you had already developed, and gives you a new chance to combine thoughts and ideas and to find new connections.

The Importance of Happiness

Following the introduction of his book 59 Seconds, Richard Wiseman starts chapter 1 with an exploration of why it is important to be happy.  He explains a study by Sonja Lyubomirsky at the University of California that reviewed hundreds of studies regarding happiness to find what was common between them all.  One thing her team found is that happiness does not just result from success, but in many ways it actually causes success.  Wiseman summed up Lyubomirsky’s research by writing, “happiness makes people more sociable and altruistic, it increases how much they like themselves and others, it improves their ability to resolve conflict, and it strengthens their immune systems.”

 

Wiseman’s book dives into the science of the ideas and strategies in self help books.  Many of the books are meant to increase happiness, even if their main goal is to help someone in a specific area.  Becoming a better leader, achieving financial peace, and becoming more self aware all have an end goal of helping someone reach a more happy state of mind.  Wiseman starts his book with this quote to show just how important happiness can be, and why we all strive for it.  His quote shows that those who are happy are able to have more personal and engaged relationships, perform better in their career, and live healthier.  The question he sets out to explore is what methods for improving happiness have a scientific backing behind them.

 

I enjoy the quote from Wiseman that sums up Lyubomirsky’s findings because I think it is something we all understand.  I think that we can all vision a happy version of ourselves, and that version does have meaningful relationships with a long and healthy life at the center.  The quote also shows me that it is not a bad thing to try and understand this happiness to a greater extent through reading.  Often times reading self help books carries a certain stigma, but with the importance of happiness, there is no reason not to try and understand happiness and its ties with success.

Control in our Lives

In his book 59 Seconds, Richard Wiseman writes about psychology and the ideas behind many self help books and strategies.  Early on in his book Wiseman discusses the problems with self help strategies that are built on myths and a scientific backing.  When people invest in scientifically backed strategies and funnel their efforts toward productive habits their happiness can be boosted. However, if these strategies do not have a scientific backing, then they can ultimately do more harm to the individual than good, and Wiseman writes that the failure associated with following poor self improvement strategies leads to a lost sense of control in ones life.

 

Regarding the loss of control in ones life Wiseman writes, “The message is clear — those who do not feel in control of their lives are less successful, and less psychologically and physically healthy, than those who do feel in control.”  He provides this quote after a study that followed individuals in a nursing home who were asked to look over a houseplant.  The individuals who had control and responsibility in regards to the plant seemed to be living healthier at the end of the experiment than those who had a house plant that was taken care of by the nursing home staff.

 

In my life I think I can find ways to implement the idea of building a level of control.  The fist step to me seems to be a basic level of self awareness where one identifies what they do and do not have control over in their daily life.  Recognizing what is in your domain allows you to more closely consider the choices that you make so that you can decide to make better decisions.  Focusing on what aspects of your life you do control, and then maximizing those moments gives you a real sense of meaning.  Time spent idly distracted by social media or entertained by television is time that we do control, and it is time that we can better use to give our lives more meaning.

Mind Myths

Richard Wiseman wrote the book 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot to bring science to the ideas of self help books.  His book examines many popular ideas about how to improve our lives, and provides scientific evidence for what works and what does not work when it comes to self improvement principals.  Wiseman is Professor for Public Understanding of Psychology in Britain and has performed many experiments that directly test the efficacy of popular ideas such as positive self projections, writing down goals, and ideas for building creativity.  He became interested in studying this angle of psychology because many self help ideas have permeated through society and can have very positive and negative consequences for those who implement actions into their lives.  Wiseman writes,

 

“Both the public and the business world have bought into modern-day mind myths for years and, in so doing, may have significantly decreased the likelihood of achieving their aims and ambitions.  Worse still, such failure often encourages people to believe that they cannot control their lives.  This is especially unfortunate as even the smallest  loss of perceived control can have a dramatic effect on people’s confidence, happiness, and life span.”

 

Wiseman’s quote shows how important it is to not follow bad advice from self help books, quotes, or guides.  By following ideas that do not have any scientific backing you may just be frustrating yourself even more.  When promised results do not materialize through a poor practice, frustration will increase, and a greater sense of inability will ensue.

 

Throughout Wiseman’s book he looks at different areas that are popular in self help communities.  He examines what it takes to be creative and how we can build our creativity. Wiseman looks at what practices help us build self awareness to change habits, but in a way that helps us understand the challenges and obstacles we will face on our journey so that we are prepared to handle them.  The book reveals not just what works and what does not work in psychology and self help books, but it explains theories as to why some practices are helpful, and why some damaging practices have become so popular.

James Nestor’s Guide to Free Diving

In his book Deep: Free Diving, Renegade Science, and What the Ocean Tells Us About Ourselves, James Nestor explains how he learned to free dive. For Nestor the process was not as simple as just getting into the water and learning to hold his breath. At first he had a real fear of reaching new depths, and this fear held him back from truly being able to free dive and experience the physical and psychological changes that accompany free diving.  One of his free diving coaches was a woman named Hanli Prinsloo who helped Nestor learn to free dive by helping him connect with the ocean in an almost spiritual manner.  Prinsloo turned to her own story to help Nestor understand how to connect to the ocean, and Nestor shares that story in the book. Prinsloo isolated herself from society in a spiritual retreat focusing on philosophy and self awareness through practices such as yoga and conscious breathing. Recounting one of Prinsloo’s personal trips to Dharmsala, India Nestor writes,

 

“At the end of her stay, she rediscovered a “stillness” in herself.  it was the same stillness that had first attracted her to free diving fifteen years earlier, but it had been lost in her ambition to keep going deeper.”
“In Dharamsala, I remembered that free diving was all about letting go,” she says. “After Dahab, I was reminded again, that you can never force yourself into the ocean. You do that and” – she pauses – “you’ll just get lost.”

 

To me, and this was apparent when I first read the quote, the idea of stillness seems to also represent complete self awareness.  Our lives are very busy and rushed, and we often force ourselves into situations that are not always the best. Often times we are pursuing goals both good and bad, and without a moment of stillness we lack the ability to truly reflect on our path and realign ourselves.  When you lose this stillness by constantly seeking an outcome you become lost in what you are doing. There must be stillness as a place for you to stay grounded.

 

Prinsloo’s story shows us the power of connecting with nature, and also the danger in chasing after goals without thinking of how your struggle for those goals affects you and those around you.  Philosophy and self awareness helped Prinsloo to see that by diving for deeper goals she was missing out on enjoying the ocean that she was submerged in.  I think this correlates nicely with our lives in many ways.  It is easy to become so focused on a single area in life to forget about the world, interactions, and relationships that surround us.  Prinsloo needed a moment to step away from her goals and chaos to understand her true desires and see what path she should follow.

Life in the Ocean

James Nestor wrote the book, Deep: Free Diving, Renegade Science, and What the Ocean Tells Us About Ourselves, after traveling to the Mediterranean to watch a free diving competition.  Prior to the competition he was a certified scuba diver, but it was not until he learned about how the human body reacts to the depths of the ocean without scuba gear that Nestor really began to understand the importance of the ocean.  He did not just study free diving and human physiology in the water, but he worked to understand all aspects of life in the ocean. Nestor writes, “The ocean occupies 71 percent of the Earth’s surface and is home to about 50 percent of its known creatures — the largest inhabited area found anywhere in the universe so far.”

 

I love learning about how large, deep, and diversified our oceans are.  I live in Reno, NV, in one of the only places on Earth that does not have a river that eventually makes its way to the ocean.  Our high desert climate is about as far from the ocean as one can be, which perhaps is why I am so fascinated with the life in water.  Learning about the varied life in the ocean fascinates me because we have only studied the ocean to a very limited extent, and in many ways the deep ocean can be compared to outer space in terms of how difficult it is to reach and the extent to which it has been explored and understood.

 

In Nestor’s quote he writes that the ocean is home to about 50 percent of Earth’s species, and what I find interesting is that many marine biologists believe that we do not know all of the creatures and life forms living in the ocean.  We have truly only explored a small percent of the ocean, and there are many more living organisms to be discovered in the vast depths of the worlds oceans.

 

For me, thinking about the ocean in this way forces me to think about human relationships with the ocean.  Many of our relationships are not positive, through history we have not done a good job thinking about ocean health.  It is easy for our trash to accumulate in watersheds that drain into the oceans, and oil shipping and exploration have had many negative consequences for ocean life.  In addition, we have inhabited huge areas, typically bays and estuaries, along our coastlines and reduced the habitat for many marine species.  While human societies should not be constantly limited in order to save animal species, thinking about how we can live in a state of harmony with oceans and marine life is not just a nice thing to do, it is a necessary responsibility of all humans.

Magnetoreception

James Nestor talks about the incredible abilities of marine animals in his book Deep, and he compares humans, our evolutionary past, and our physical limits to those of marine mammals and other ocean life.  When speaking about diving to incredible depths and perceiving the world he refers to sharks, “Sharks, which can dive below six hundred and fifty feet, and much deeper, rely on senses beyond the ones we know.  Among them is magneto reception, an attunement to the magnetic impulses of the Earth’s molten core.  Research suggests that humans have this ability and likely used it to navigate across the oceans and trackless deserts for thousands of years.”  Nestor explains that at 600 feet below the surface the pressure exerted by the ocean is about twenty times grater than the atmospheric pressure at the surface.  This is the absolute limit of the human body, but other animals, whales and sharks for example, are able to survive these depths.

 

What this section speaks to me about is the incredible diversity in life on our planet. With conservation it is important that we do not force society into blocking projects and developments that may be crucial for societal advances on the basis of preserving natural harmony, but at the same time, seeing the incredible adaptations among all forms of life is inspiring and could unlock new potentials for humanity.  An adaption that leads sharks to be able to navigate by magnetic senses may not directly correlate to human advancement, but understanding that living organisms can adapt these senses may provide a spark of motivation for someone in the future. The possible breakthroughs in science, medicine, and technology are a strong base for expanding education and research of marine life, and that life must be protected through conservation in order for our continued research.  Unfortunately fun discoveries and potential discoveries that could help humanity cannot be considered always more important than a growing and improving society.  Individuals living along the coast rely on shipping, and forcing ports to close by changing shipping lanes so that we can better preserve and save a species of shark to study magnetorecption might not always be the best way to think of conservation.

 

Aside from conservation, what I am constantly reminded of when I read passages that deal with animal senses that seem alien when compared to human abilities, is that we truly do not know everything of our world.  I have come to understand that it is ok to not know everything about the world. It is difficult, but necessary for us to accept that we can not be 100 percent aware of everything around us or everything that influences us.  It is tempting after years of academic work to adopt the idea that one knows everything, can sense everything, and understands their perceptions of the world, but it is a fallacy.  We cannot perceive the world based on our perception of magnetic fields, and keeping that in mind helps us remember that we cannot sense and be aware of all the forces acting on our lives.  I have become comfortable with the idea that there are things that are hidden from me due to my lack of physical senses and mental perspectives.  That comfort helped me to understand that no matter how much I study something or think I know something, there are always different views and ideas that I cannot see which may hide information from me.  Knowing this allows me to listen to others and try to gain more perspectives.  I may not gain a new sense like magnetoreception, but knowing that it exists reminds me to be open.

Our Connection to the Ocean

In his book Deep, James Nestor describes how he became passionate about the oceans, marine life, and our connections to the water as humans.  When he began his research of free diving and started to study marine mammals and our resemblance to marine life, he was surprised. Nestor wrote, “We’re born of the ocean.  Each of us begins life floating in amniotic fluid that has almost the same makeup as ocean water.” Nestor begins with human life as a fetus comparing human embryonic development to that of fish.  “Our earliest characteristics are fishlike.  The month-old embryo grows fins first, not feet.”  As he continues, Nestor spends a lot of time discussing the similarities in our development to that of marine mammals and marine life to show that somewhere in our human past we began life in the ocean, and evolved from life in the ocean.  His position is strengthened when he compares the chemical composition of human blood to sea water, noting the similarities of our blood PH, and he continues the comparison by examining what many call “The Master Switch of Life”, or the mammalian dive reflex.

 

Nestor first encountered the mammalian dive reflex when he watched a group of people exploit our amphibious reflexes to dive to depths of nearly 300 feet in a free diving competition in the Mediterranean.  He was amazed by the capacities of the human body to adjust in water and accomplish things that seemed impossible below the surface, but he was abhorred by the competition aspect of free diving that pushed people beyond their limits and often left competitors bloody and semiconscious.

 

Throughout his book Nestor continually refers back to the idea of human closeness to the ocean. By describing our developmental similarities and evolutional ties to marine life in the quote above, he sets a foundation for the rest of his book that shows how natural free diving and unassisted human exploration of the ocean can be.  He rejects the competition aspect of free diving because it leaves the competitor at a point where they no longer focus on the ocean and their connection to it, but rather push through the water ignoring all senses until they reach a desired depth.  For Nestor, understanding our connection to the ocean means understanding human beings and life in a more intimate way.  Seeing ourselves as evolutionarily bound to the ocean allows him to paint a new picture of the oceans importance for us, and became truly captivating for Nestor who had previously never given the ocean a second thought.

The Mamalian Dive Reflex

A couple of months back I finished the book Deep: Freediving, Renegade Science, and What the Ocean Tells us About Ourselves written by James Nestor.  The author got into the idea and world of free diving after being assigned to cover a free diving competition with divers reaching depths of over 200 feet on just a single breath of air.  The competition is gruesome and not for the faint of heart, but Nestor was captivated.  He did not enjoy the competitive aspect of free diving, but the fact that humans have the ability to stay underwater for over three minutes on a single breath and can become super connected to the ocean while doing so amazed Nestor.  Regarding this incredibly ability Nestor writes, “Scientists call it the mammalian dive reflex or, lyrically, the Master Switch of Life, and they’ve been researching it for the pat fifty years.”

 

What Nestor is discussing when he mentions the Master Switch of Life is the human body’s ability to change its physiological functions while under water unassisted by scuba gear.  But, as Nestor explains, it is not just humans who accomplish this feat. The term mammalian dive reflex is the most accurate because there are many marine mammal species, whales, dolphins, sea lions, who have the same physiological reaction to the icy depths of the ocean that humans do.  If a sea lion can live on the surface and dive hundreds of feet into the the ocean to hunt for food, then clearly life has found a way to adapt to these intense changes of environment. Restricting the mammalian dive reflex to marine mammals seems far more natural than extending the body’s reactions to humans, but Nestor explains what physiological changes take place.

 

During a dive the lungs are forced inwards by the incredibly pressure outside the body and the fact that there is not enough air in the body to hold the lungs out to their normal size.  Around 30 feet down the lungs are half their normal size, and close to 300 feet down they shrink to the size of baseballs.  As this happens our bodies force blood away from our extremities and back towards our chest and brain.  The heart is slowed, but blood is brought back from our arms and legs to make it easier for our heart to pump.  In this state, we can survive the massive pressures of the ocean on just a single breath of air.

 

Nestor also explains that during the dive our lungs change shape so dramatically that if we were to inhale oxygen in a tank filled at normal atmospheric pressures, that air would blast into our lungs so rapidly that the force would burst our lungs. While it sounds terrifying to dive so deeply and not be able to take a breath of air while we are under or as we ascend, it gives the body a unique advantage.  A free diver with their single breath of air can dive incredibly deep and shoot back to the surface as quickly as they would like.  Their body adjusts naturally for the changes in pressure both inside and outside the body, and as soon as the diver breaks the surface they can take a deep breath.  Scuba divers on the other hand must stop to decompress as regular intervals as they ascent from the ocean depths.  This is because the compressed air breathed in under water by divers cannot adjust to the changes of pressure as a diver surfaces.  Nitrogen will bubble out of the blood in a scuba diver if they ascend too quickly, because there will be less pressure on the body and the cardiovascular system to keep the nitrogen dissolved within the blood.  Divers must stop at regular intervals to assure that their body is able to handle the process of pulling nitrogen out of the blood in a safe manner, without it rapidly bubbling up and building up in their joints.  This symptom is called the bends, but it only affects scuba and assisted divers, not free divers. The mammalian dive reflex evolved millions of years ago, and solved the problem that scuba divers must be cautious to prevent.