Cherish the Empty Space

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Empty space can be so symbolic. While a lot of people might think of the empty space as a symbol of failure, a gap that needs to be filled, it doesn’t have to be that way. Take the writer staring at an empty page, or the artist with every part of his studio filled except for one tiny portion. Our first instinct is to fill that page and paint that portrait to hang on the wall. Our first instinct is to fill that space.

But why can’t we let it be?

Just appreciate the emptiness. Let it symbolically represent all the boundless opportunities that could have been and that could be. Because the moment that space is filled, it’s easy to feel a sense of achievement. It’s easy to get too comfortable and glue yourself to that new comfort zone. Let that empty space be motivational. Let it lure you into taking that one more step to whatever it is you seek. In other words, just let it be.

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Are you left-brained or right brained?

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The other day a friend of mine pointed out that a study came out announcing that the whole “logical-analytical-people-are-left-brained-creative-people-are-right-brained” was a myth.

It turns out that the myth originated from Roger Sperry’s 1960 research, which involved studying epilepsy patients who were treated surgically by cutting the brain along the corpus callosum. The consequence of that was the left and right hemispheres could no longer communicate so “Split Brain” experiments were done to determine which parts of the brain were involved in different functions.

All good and well.

Until popular culture decided to spread the idea that people in the science field tend to be more left-brained while creative artists tend to rely on their right brains more.

Then the fMRI entered the scene and helped debunk this myth due to its ability to map neural activity. In a study published in PLOS One journal [1], scientists studied the scans of patients and concluded that the patients were inclined to rely on one half of the brain more than the other.

So now if someone asks you if you were left-brained or right brained, you can confidently answer, “whole-brained” though how others might understand it is a totally different issue.

[1] An Evaluation of the Left-Brain vs. Right-Brain Hypothesis with Resting State Functional Connectivity Magnetic Resonance Imaging

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Avoid Falling Back into Old Habits

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If picking up and maintaining new good habits were easy, those habits would already be in our lives. Sometimes it’s really hard to reprogram our auto-pilot systems and replace them with new habits. Willpower alone doesn’t always work, so if you’re scared you’d return to old habits, below are a few tips to consider.

1) Use ‘Loss aversion’ to your advantage. Loss aversion theory suggests that the pain of losing a dollar is more than the pleasure of acquiring one. So let’s say, you make a promise that every time you return to your bad habit, you’re going to give out a dollar. For some people, that might be enough to make them stop.

While the idea is appealing, if the dollar is given away for a good cause, it is easy to mentally ‘win’ in both situations. If you don’t return to your habit, you don’t lose the dollar. If you do return to your old habit, you give the dollar away to charity (which is not so bad). That would render this method useless in controlling your habits. Some popular authors, like Chris Bailey author of “New Year’s Resolutions Guideline” suggest that you give the money to a cause you don’t like so it would feel like a punishment and make you stop.

2) Make plans around inflection points; points where the temptation to quit is strongest. This was mentioned before in this blog but I shall reiterate. In his book, ‘The Power of Habits’ Charles Duhigg writes about a study to find out the type of people who were mostly likely to fail in rehabilitation after undergoing hip or knee surgery. The participants were given a booklet with details of the rehab schedule, and blank spaces after “My goals for this week are….” They found out that patients who recovered more quickly were those who filled their booklets with plans, and their plans focused on how they would handle a specific moment of anticipated pain. The idea was also covered in Psyblog, ”Make a very specific ‘if-then’ plan.” Anticipate weak points in the plan where you could fail and make detailed plans around that.

Inflection points could appear when your daily schedule is disrupted like when you travel for holidays. It’s very easy to quit new habits and relapse to old habits since it’s “Just for one month.” So it is imperative that people plan ahead.

3) Peer pressure is a very powerful force that always gets blamed for bad habits. So why don’t we use it to reinforce good habits? Let’s say your resolution is to read one book per month. You could join a monthly book club, and that commitment could push you to read. Alternatively, just have a virtual reading partner you could discuss a particular book with every months.

The most important thing to remember is that breaking out of old habits is difficult. Habits form neural pathways in your brain and restructuring them is no easy feat. So if you ever fall back into your old habits, don’t beat yourself up. Instead, learn to forgive yourself.

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