Looking forward to 2018

Happy New Year and best wishes for 2018.

Over Christmas I read LeDoux’s book ‘Anxious’. I like LeDoux as he seems to get concepts across well for me and he seems quite pragmatic. In Anxious he starts out by separating feelings (a human concept) from threat responses and neural defence circuits. I liked his thought that a mouse has a threat response via neural defence circuits but, without language, we don’t really know if it feels fear. For him, fear is the label we give to the collective biological activity that is happening at the point we focus on it.

Thanks to Ledoux I have now managed to detach my research from ‘the Self’ conversation – phew. Although I have noted down ten different ways in which authors, outside of psychology, are using the term and they vary from neural circuitry to conceptual notions: Often they mix them up as well.

The book is quite neuro-terminology heavy but it made me think a lot as I Attentionhad not come across or thought much about everything it covered. It appears that we need language to have our type of consciousness which is where ‘we know we know’ and I have been trying to work out what it would be like to plan or decide without using words in my head. I think you must have a different level of consciousness then, like Damasio’s Core Self which is responding in the moment but has no past or future. It’s a bit like when you are engrossed in something, you aren’t thinking in relation to anything larger than what you are doing at that moment. He says that ‘the price of predicting the future is anxiety’ and I wonder if something that used to be a valuable human asset is now becoming our Achilles heel.

LeDoux feels that fear can only be a feeling if you are conscious of it. It also appears that if you can focus your attention firmly on something else then the visual networks responding to seeing a threat are dampened so the action of the amygdala is less. This is like when you are engrossed in a book and you notice less of what is happening around you so you feel calmer, or more likely, you aren’t really aware of how you feel. Attention is powerful and quite narrow as well.

If your attention is less focussed then external events can more easily creep into your consciousness. This matches with the reading I have done about how many people these days are easily distracted and how more anxious they are as well. I can see now why Mindfulness training can reduce stress so much, as you literally don’t see/ hear minor issues that don’t need your attention. However, if you did notice them they would spike a threat response of some level. Once the amygdala is triggered it makes the brain more active and therefore it becomes more effective at processing things it is attending to (threat) which is partly why that is quite tiring for any length of time.

He also cited an experiment where thinking of something pleasant whilst there was a threat stimulus reduces the amygdala’s activity which starts to back-up some therapeutic and NLP techniques. I am also beginning to experiment with purposefully and firmly focusing my attention on something else when I start to have unhelpful conversations in my head (that I don’t need to have) and it has helped.

He talks about extinction techniques where memories can be extinguished and I thought therefore they were erased but it doesn’t seem to be the case. It appears that what happens is that you create a new stronger positive association that becomes neutrally stronger than the old negative response. However, under stress or in certain key situations the old response may reappear. This is worth talking to coachees about if you are working on embedding a better response to something as it prepares them for that happening rather than them thinking it hasn’t worked and giving up on it.

On the DProf front, things have been going well and I am feeling upbeat about it going forwards. My application to join UWTSD should go through soon and I have just about completed the three assignments for this module. I like the slightly more structured approach with key touch points which doesn’t allow you to vanish for months.

Having pulled my project back into my coaching that has been very cathartic and energising. Also, it has helped with my interview questions as I have a real feel for what I want to do with the information at the very end. Plus, people I have tested my new angle on get what I am doing and why I am doing it much easier now.

l also know I am in a good place as I’m finding it easier to stand my ground and feel comfortable in doing that. One thing I learned from last year is to get the person raising the point to explain it a bit more rather than just react to it. It’s amazing how often there’s not much behind it even though it is conveyed with a certain ‘rightness’.

Having repositioned my research, I also reflected on my method. It relied heavily on a number of neuroscientists being involved over a period of time and that was worrying me but now I have been advised to use a Mixed Methods approach. This is a bit of a catch-all phrase but it has allowed me to separate the neuroscientist interviews away from the questionnaires which get the neuroscientists to rate the ideas given in the interviews. This means as long as I can get some neuroscientists to interview it is not so bad if the ratings part does not happen in full.

So overall it feels more worthwhile, simpler and doable. I also feel I am 100% doing my research now rather than what some else suggested, even though that is how it started.