Friday, July 31, 2015

Brain and Narcissism, 4

What can you do when confronted by a person exhibiting narcissistic behaviors? First, recognize that it involves their self-absorption, inability to manage anger, low levels of self-esteem and Emotional Intelligence, failure to be empathetic, tendency to blame others, learned styles of coping (or not coping) with the ups and downs of life, low motivation for improvement, and so on. Refuse to accept blame or responsibility when it isn’t yours. When I encounter narcissistic behaviors I ask myself: will this matter in 12 months? If the answer is no, I simply get through that one encounter as soon as possible and find something for which to be grateful. If the answer is yes, then I address the issue functionally. Meaning, I set and implement appropriate boundaries to protect myself. When the narcissist is an adult family member, you can still choose to limit your exposure, set and implement appropriate protective boundaries, and avoid taking their narcissistic behaviors personally. You cannot change their behaviors but you can choose yours.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Brain and Narcissism, 3

The still-in-process teenage brain is rather narcissistic in its approach to life and living. The process of maturing the teenage brain is designed to move it away from narcissistic behavior to more balanced behaviors. This involves a learning process and the teenage brain either learns it or not. If the teenagers fail to mature and move to more balanced behaviors, they tend to become narcissistic adults. While narcissists are able to feel most emotions as strongly as do others, they seem to lack the essential ability to perceive or understand the feelings of others. As Martha Stout PhD has put it, narcissism is a failure not of conscience but of empathy. Emotionally speaking, narcissists don’t seem to see past their own nose, sometimes flying into narcissistic rages and then lacking the skills to get back on the good side of people they love. That’s exactly what had happened in the interactions between this mother and her adult son. He had flown into a narcissistic rage when things has not turned out exactly as he expected or wanted, which had fractured the mother-son relationship, yet again. What to do? A last comment tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Brain and Narcissism, 2

An over-riding characteristic of narcissism may be a seriously over-inflated conviction of the individual’s own personal importance. In one sense, every person is important simply because he or she exists. In another sense, every person is simply part of the global village, and while each has membership importance this does not necessarily indicate dictatorship or royalty rights. Nor does the universe revolve around him or her (unless an unwise adult has indicated that it does in the immediate family system). Narcissistic people tend to have a compromised sense of self-worth. In order to feel adequate they must find others incompetent and put them down (e.g., complain, criticize, gossip, show contempt). Because they tend not to recognize their own mistakes, they lack compassion for others and often do everything in their power to avoid being held accountable for their own behaviors. Highly insecure and never having learned how to fail, they try to be successful at all times and at whatever the cost (e.g., may lie, exhibit addictive behaviors, throw you “under the bus” in order for them to look good, or blame and try to make it all your fault). Does that sound like some teenage brains you’ve met? More tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Brain and Narcissism

Several times I’ve been asked to speak on the topic of “Impossible Brains—Toxic Behaviors.” The goal, of course, is to help people recognize some specific undesirable behaviors quickly. If it involves their own behaviors, they can choose to course correct. If it involve the behaviors of others, they can self-select strategies to protect themselves from at least some of the negative consequences. Since then, a number of individuals have contacted me. One caller cataloged emotional pain triggered by a recent visit from his adult son. What the father described, definitely fell into the category of narcissistic behaviors and they weren't pretty. The son stated, among other things, "I do not have a happy life and it is all your fault. After all, you had me!" According to recent statistics, narcissistic behaviors are more commonly identified in males than in females, by a ratio of something like 4 to 1. Narcissism is relatively common, as well, with an estimated prevalence of 6.2% of the population. Since that’s close to one in every 18 people, the likelihood you know a narcissist is high. It can be really tough when the narcissist you know is a member of your own family. Part Two tomorrow.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Obesity and the Brain

It was rather frightening to read the results of a study by researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. According to Dr. Lin Yang, “This generation of Americans is the first that will have a shorter life expectancy than the previous generation, and obesity is one of the biggest contributors to this shortened life expectancy because it is driving a lot of chronic health conditions.” Based on the data evaluated, estimates are that more than 36 million men and nearly 29 million women in the United States are currently overweight, and about 32 million men and 36 million women are obese. If you fall into the overweight or obese category, you might want to get a copy of my latest book “Longevity Lifestyle Matters—Keeping Your Brain, Body, and Weight in the Game . . .” and stay in the game! It’s worth the effort. Remember: everything starts and ends in your brain and when it comes to staying in the game, mindset is critically important.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Meridian Monument

In an attempt to measure how flattened the earth is at its poles, Struve (a Russian astronomer and geodesist( reportedly took measurements for 39 years in 10 different countries, measuring latitude at 13 stations spread along what is known as The Struve Geodetic Arc. (Reportedly, much of the actual field work was done by two military officers, Klouman and Lundh.) One of those 13 stations was in Hammerfest Norway, where stands the Meridian Monument to Struve’s work. The IUGG (International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics), fully active to this day under the general umbrella of the United Stations, is said to have emerged from Struve’s original work. The bottom line? The radius of curvature at the equator is shorter than at the poles. According to The Struve Geodetic Arc, one degree of latitude is 359 meters shorter on the Black Sea than on the coast of the Norwegian Sea. The Struve Geodetic Arc (or Meridian Monument) was the first technical and scientific object to be inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Struve Geodetic Arc

The earth is definitely not flat but it is not perfectly round, either. The radius of curvature at the equator of our planet is shorter than at the poles, although that is a relatively recent discovery. The idea that the earth was round reportedly was propounded in some circles as long ago as 500 B.C. In the 1600's A.D. Sir Isaac Newton suggested that the earth is not exactly spherical but somewhat flattened at its poles. In the 18th and 19th centuries the question of how much the earth flattens at its poles came into focus. But how to measure that, because there was no GPS. Enter the Russian astronomer and geodesist* Friedrich Georg Wilhelm Struve (1793-1864). He decided to take this on as a project and the Struve Geodetic Arc in Hammerfest, Norway commemorates his work. 

*Geodesy is the science of the figure and the size of planet earth; a Geodesist is a practitioner of that science.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Aurora Borealis

Growing up in Canada there were times in late fall and winter when the aurora borealis paid a visit—those colorful and ethereal filmy veils that trail across the sky when conditions are just right. Reportedly they are caused by cosmic rays, solar wind, and magnetospheric plasma interacting with the upper atmosphere. Oxygen and nitrogen molecules play in there somewhere. I think of the aurora as the midnight sun’s polar opposite (not only in terms of the calendar but in terms of temperature readings, as well). The Meteorological Institute in Tromso, Norway, offers a 20-minute documentary at the Northern Lights Observatory. The movie, the brain-child of a couple dedicated photographers, represents seven months of time and hundreds of hours of winter sky-watching. Their hundreds of thousands of photographs have been condensed into the world’s first 360-degree high resolution movie of the Aurora Borealis or Northern lights. If you are able to give your brain a ‘travel treat,’ this movie is a must, at least in in my book. You might want to check Wikipedia for a picture of the aurora over Calgary, my birth city.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Changeable as the Weather

As a child I recall hearing my father make a comment that “so-and-so” is as changeable as the weather. Indeed, living on the Canadian prairies the weather could be quite changeable. Norway had it all over Canada on my recent trip to the fabulous Geiranger Fjord in Norway, a UNESCO World Heritage site. In Geiranger, our coach wound its way up the Eagle Road with its eleven hairpin turns (and I mean hairpin) to Mount Daisnibba, nearly 5,000 feet above sea level. There, at the summit of Daisnibba Mountain with its glacier, it was snowing. Back down the mountain to sun and 55o F with moderate winds. The next day in Trondheim the weather was 45o F. with a light rain that turned into a hail storm. But the pea-sized hail lasted only about three minutes. Then the weather was back to sunny with intermittent cloud patterns. My brain has a new description of “changeable as the weather.” Fortunately, my brain thrives on variety . . .

Monday, July 20, 2015

North Cape

Visiting the country of Norway during the two summer months when the sun never sets (yes, it literally is the land of the midnight sun) was a treat that had been on my bucket list for a very long time. Every year from May 21 to July 21 the sun does not bother sinking below the horizon and it’s worth staying up to see. [When it was time for bed my brain would only fall sleep after I covered my eyes with cloth. I thought maybe my eyelids were thinner than most but the local residents I spoke with all seemed to have some similar trick to help them get to sleep.) Lest you think that because the sun stays above the horizon for 24-hours a day that the weather, therefore, is warm, think again. Honningsvag, Norway, touted as the northern-most town on planet earth, is at Latitude N 71o 10’ (similar to Latitude N 71o of Point Barrow, Alaska). “Warm” here is about 45o F. By way of reference 6o C is about 43o F. And even though the Gulf Stream flows by these Norwegian fjords, come fall and the temperature can easily fall to minus 15o C. You do the math. I just know I’ll be glad to be back home by then.  The North Cape, most northern part of Europe and 1300 miles from the North Pole, is bleakly impressive.





Friday, July 17, 2015

Land of the Midnight Sun

Some of you may recall my blogs several years ago about seeing the “midnight sun” in Iceland, thanks to the kindness of my friend Unnur, who took me on a two-day (and night, of course) whirlwind trip half-way around the island. My brain and I experienced the midnight sun again this summer on another island, this time among the fjords of Norway—during the two months when the sun never sets. And if you think that is simply an expression, it is also a reality. Every year from May 21 to July 21 the sun doesn’t not deign to sink below the horizon. On a clear night, it’s worth staying up to see. In life you typically give up something to get something, however. This adventure brought with it a 15-day internet interlude. So if you had a delayed response to an email you sent me during that period, it was because I had crossed the Arctic Circle Longitude N 66o 33’ and Latitude 12o 03’ and kept on going North—where Wi-Fi was not easily available (or accessible when it was available). It was such fun to cross into the Arctic Circle for the second time in my life. This time by sea, so I saw the nautical marker.






Thursday, July 16, 2015

Neapolitan Proverbs

The Amalfi Coast is a stretch of coastline in the State of Salerno in Southern Italy. In 1997, UNESCO listed the Amalfi Coast as a World Heritage Site, an outstanding example of a Mediterranean landscape. A little over 22 miles from Naples, which is located in the State of Campania, Amalfi is a relatively easy and breathtakingly beautiful drive. Although I couldn’t find any proverbs attributed specifically to Amalfi, there were several touted as Neapolitan:


  • The tongue has no bone—but it breaks bones.
  • Strike while the iron is hot.
  • No need to rush, says the snail.
  • If you act like a sheep, the wolf will eat you.
  • Relatives are like shoes: the tighter they are the more they hurt.
  • Some ‘friends’ are like an umbrella: when it’s raining you never find it.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

You Only Know What You Know

Have you ever done something to help another person and ended up with an unexpected benefit? That happened to me while on a trip with three of my cousins. Although the Amalfi Coast was not in my ‘bucket list,” it was in my cousin Tim’s. At dinner one evening he mentioned, “Too bad I won’t get to see the Amalfi coast when we go to Pompeii.” (Amalfi shoes I knew. The Amalfi coast not so much.) Some recollection niggled in my brain, however, so I set out to research options to see if there was any way my cousin could get to check off the Amalfi coast on his bucket list. Sure enough, the ship offered a shore excursion to the ruins of Pompeii plus the Amalfi coast, including a boat trip to view its 50 kilometers or so of coastline from the Mediterranean Sea. A consultation with the ship’s concierge and us four cousins had new tickets. Turns out, that visit to the Amalfi Coast and to the town of Amalfi itself, ranks right up there with several other of my all-time favorites. I might have missed it—because you only know what you know 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Italian Proverbs

Introducing my cousin Rosalee to Italy was such fun. It was great stimulation for my brain, too. Bordered on three sides by the Mediterranean Sea, the peninsula became the Republic of Italy in 1946. Here are some Italian proverbs:


  • After the game, the king and the pawn go into the same box.
  • Eggs have no business dancing with stones.
  • Count your nights by stars, not shadows; count your life with smiles, not tears.
  • Only your real friends will tell you when your face is dirty.
  • If nothing is going well, call your grandmother—and listen.
  • If you know, you do it; if you don't, you teach it.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Meet Murphy

Recently I spent a few days with one of my co-authors, Dr. Marilyn Banford, in White Rock. Nearly 14 years ago she adopted a little black lab that she named Murphy. Over time I’ve watched this ‘little puppy’ grow and grow and grow. Not fat, mind you, just larger and larger and larger! I’ve found it fascinating to note that this huge black lab seems to remember me whenever I show up in his environment, no matter if it’s been 2-3 years. On this last trip, I was plopped down in a lounge chair on the patio doing 15 minutes of challenging brain exercises (Whirly Word). Animals are very sensitive to the electromagnetic energy discharged by our neurons. Mine must have been positive, because along comes Murphy and with one small step (for him) decided to share the lounge. He created a minor earthquake as he decided where to settle down. You can see that he took up most of the lounge and his front paws hung off the end, at that. Talk about feeling dwarfed by a dog . . .


Friday, July 10, 2015

Monks from Myanmar (in S. Korea)

While lecturing in S. Korea, I was invited to make a presentation on the brain to Burmese monks from Myanmar (Burma) at their temple in Seoul. It seems that I was the first female invited to make a presentation to them at their monastery. The temple portion was on the 4th floor (no elevator).  Since I enjoy ‘firsts,’ I was happy to agree. However, my titanium hips find it difficult to sit on the floor (so my head would be lower than that of the head monk) and completely impossible to sit cross-leggedanywhere. Fortunately, he graciously allowed me to sit in a chair. I tried to slump a bit so my head would be at least a little bit lower but I fear that didn’t last long as I started concentrating on what to share. It was great fun talking about brain function, especially since they spoke excellent English and a translator was not required. At the end of nearly an hour, they invited me to visit Myanmar and make a presentation at the home monastery. It would be fun to do that sometime. They also invited me to have my picture taken with three of them. Such gracious individuals; such an honor to meet them and talk about brain function.


Thursday, July 9, 2015

Empathy and Yawning

Birds yawn, too. Andrew C. Gallup, PhD, and colleagues reported that the frequency of yawns more than doubled among parakeets when their ambient temperature increased. Have you noticed that yawning, as with laughter, can be contagious? Studies have shown yawning contagion among humans, chimps, and dogs. Some researchers think that the behavior of yawning may indicated a capacity for empathy. The journal Frontiers of Neurology and Neuroscience suggested that: “.... contagious yawning is a primitive expression of social cognition.” There may be other connections between yawns and health, too. Anecdotally, excessive yawning may be connected with a heart problem (that needs to be checked out). Some seizure-prone individuals have exhibited excessive yawning just before a seizure, others prior to the onset of a migraine. Or it just may mean that you are sleep deprived . . . 

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Sleep Deprivation and Yawning

Did you grow up being told that people yawn in a meeting or classroom because they're bored? Whenever I yawned in childhood, I was often told to stand up straight because “you’re doing shallow breathing and are oxygen deprived.” Those may be triggers but researchers now suggest that sleep-deprivation may also trigger yawning. The involuntary behavior of yawning (it’s difficult to produce a genuine yawn on demand) may be designed to cool down brain tissue. The temperature of your brain increases when you are sleep deprived. Yawning causes you to take in deeper breaths of air. Inhaling cool air ventilates your sinuses and helps to dissipate heat. This is another way in which human brains resemble computers: computers and human brains work best when cool. More tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Body Language – Hair

How often do you touch your hair? People touch their hair for any number of reasons. Playing with your hair is quite common in flirtation, especially in women. It can also be a signal that you are feeling nervous. Twirling or fiddling with your hair can be interpreted as signs of immaturity. Flipping your hair from side to side, tossing your hair around, or continually pushing it back from your face or behind your ear can signal flirtation or nervousness or immaturity . . .  The bottom line: what do you want to convey? If you are in a business meeting or professional event, you might want to keep your hands away from your hair and avoid flinging it around. Smile.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Body Language - Nose

What does your body language reveal about you at any given moment? Body language starts in the brain. For example, when your blood pressure rises (as may happen if you are telling a lie), capillaries in your nose can dilate, allowing more blood flow. Lying can also trigger an adrenalin rush with similar results, according to psychologist Michael Cunningham, a professor of communication at the University of Louisville. Increased blood can make your nose feel itchy, which prompts you to touch it. (Typically you rub your nose more vigorously when you have a genuine nose itch unrelated to lying.) If the person you are talking with knows this piece of brain trivia and you are touching your nose often, it might suggest deception. An exception might be a sociopath whose brain fails to register truth from fiction, so blood pressure might not rise or there may be no adrenalin rush.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Brain and 1st Impressions, Part 5

Studies have shown that a person's thinking becomes more abstract when the individual adopts formal, polite language. Turn out a similar thing happens when people put on formal clothing. Findings from a study led by Michael L. Slepian of Columbia University discovered that the nature of an everyday and ecologically valid experience, the type of clothing worn, influences cognition broadly, impacting the processing style that changes how objects, people, and events are construed. (Abstract thinking facilitates the pursuit of long-term goals over short-term gains; saving versus spending, for example.) Research participants wearing formal attire scored 5.04 on a 1-to-10 scale of a type of thought process that measures abstract thinking, versus 3.99 for those wearing casual clothing. My brain’s opinion is that this is just another example of the way in which ‘everything starts in the brain.’ It’s not only the brains of others that are impacted by your appearance, your own brain is, too! Thinking about how you are impressing your own brain may be a new concept. But you may want to pay attention, seeing as it can impact even the way your brain functions . . .


Thursday, July 2, 2015

Brain and 1st Impressions, Part 4

Other nonverbals also contribute to the first impression you make. When you look directly at the other person’s eyes, your energy and openness are communicated. If you’re not skilled at doing this, just train yourself to look directly at the other individual’s eyes and note his or her eye color. Their brain will sense your brain’s attitude so decide in advance the attitude you want to project: negative or positive, insecure or confident, disaffirming or affirming, powerless or powerful, bored or interesting, incompetent or competent. Some say that status and power are nonverbally conveyed by the use of height and space. Standing tall (even if you’re short), pulling your shoulders back, and holding your head up are signals of confidence and competence. You have 1/10th of a second in which to make an initial impression—likely reinforced in the next 6 and 9/10th seconds—but if you know what you’re doing that’s all you need to make a positive and memorable impression.” How does your appearance make an impression your own brain? Part 5 tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Brain and 1st Impressions, Part 3

In this time of new or unusual infectious diseases, the question for some is whether to ‘shake or not to shake.’ We’re talking ‘hands’ here, of course. Studies have shown that the fastest and most effective way to establish rapport is to shake hands. It can take an average of three hours of continuous interaction to achieve the same level of rapport you can get with a handshake. So what do you do? Some people are moving to the ‘fist bump.’ It’s interesting to see how quickly another brain picks up on that move and responds. Handshaking is still likely the gold standard in many parts of the world so I simply carry a little bottle of hand disinfectant—after a spate of handshaking I use a shot of disinfectant and I’m good to go. Leaning in slightly, while you are shaking or bumping, can indicate that you’re engaged or interested in the connection—as long as you respect the other person’s personal space. The generally recognized average comfortable ‘space’ zone is about two (2) feet.  Part 4 tomorrow.