The best and worst of academia

My eldest son says that blogs are good because ‘we are on the journey with you’ although after this week I am glad that that is only metaphorical for you.

Anyway let’s start with the best of academia. The last 12 months have been rewarding and challenging although in a robust and supportive way, via my Advisor and DProf colleagues. As a group, we’ve been meeting about every seven weeks and we’ve found it tremendously helpful. Partly it is a sense of belonging, of being on a journey together and learning from each other. It has also been useful for me in understanding the level, or not, of what is required, as I am finding that much of a DProf is about the quality, rigor and depth of understanding rather than about being more complex than other degrees. Someone said that you end up knowing a lot about very little. I am beginning to see that because you are answering a very very specific question. Something worth remembering when you next see an article about how red wine, etc can improve your health: It may in one aspect but that might not negate its detrimental aspects or mean that something else doesn’t have more of the magic ingredient and is healthier.

I have also embraced using the DProf group in road testing things and they have not held back on politely, although firmly, telling me where things don’t make sense. I’d rather understand that now than later. The academic rigor thus far has forced me to justify my project. It has made me clean up or remove any vagaries and hasn’t allowed me to move on until I stand on firm ground with clear rational. Feels as if this would be helpful in a number of business meetings as we seem to be kidding ourselves more and more about how much we can rush or skip.

I have also noticed a difference in my writing and my views about what I am reading. I have certainly striped neuroscience of any glamour. Before you think I’ve gone off neuroscience, I haven’t as there is some useful stuff happening; it’s just that much of it is further back than we think or the press would have us believe.

On the other side of academia, I had my project panel recently. I was told that it would be an informative and productive discussion although challenging; that they were looking to help me make my project the best it could be and would ask about things that they were unclear about. Unfortunately I think someone forgot to tell the panel members that that was what it was about. I am struggling to raise it above pointless and destructive. Although I have been told that I have passed with conditions, which most people do, I am enraged about it as it feels to have added no value to my project proposal and actually that is what I wanted it to do. I think I would have been better off revising how to do Meta-model questions than revising my submission. Hopefully the written feedback will surprise me and be helpful. I certainly understand firsthand the upsides and downsides of a body full of cortisol: stunning uplift in my running ability and compromised thinking ability.

I read an interesting article, whilst revising, ‘In search of a human self-regulation system’. It talks about how self regulation often fails if we’re near temptation (reward cues) and that it is impaired due to emotional distress, social problems or depleted self-regulation resources. If we try too much to self-regulate then this causes our self-regulation system to become exhausted over time. So taking it in steps might prove more beneficial.

When it is depleted, we are more vulnerable to temptation, less able to control emotions and more likely to violate social norms. It may also change our motivation away from effortful control and shift it towards rewarding the self. Neuroscience studies have shown that if it is depleted the amygdala is more sensitive to emotional scenes. As a coach it may be worth thinking about how the coachee can rebuild their self-regulation system and stop depleting it before tacking the other issues.

It seems that people who struggle more to control their impulses have heightened cue reactivity in parts of their brains related to what the cue is; for example olfactory regions for food smells. Various studies have shown that these people often have more weight and health problems. Also people, who abstain such as dieters or smokers giving up, tend to overindulge if they break their absenteeism.

Apparently, emotionally or socially distressed people show increased reward cue system activity when temptation is present. Not sure if the reward is perceived as bigger or if the reward cue system becomes more sensitive. But it is probably worth thinking about improving the situation before trying to resist the temptations. We even trigger the reward cue system when we are not consciously aware of the cue being present so taking ourselves away from temptation could be useful.

The article then looks at various brain regions related to the self-regulation system although it concludes that it is difficult to understand what this system is fully. Partly this is because inactivity can be attributed to low ability or skilful ability as neural networks consolidate once an activity becomes ‘natural’. Therefore, it can be difficult to distinguish between the two.

There are some interesting references about how media multi-tasking leads to a greater spread of attention so people become easily distracted and find maintaining attention difficult. For me the fact that multi-tasking leads to strengthening one brain pathway means that you can probably strengthen a useful counter pathway to compensate although this may take longer as there have been many hours of strengthening. I must admit that I am becoming more of a fan of mindfulness and also HeartMath’s cardiac coherence practice as these seem to improve attention and reduce stress.