The Internet and Your Brain

I still remember the night that convinced me I finally needed to join the twenty-first century.

I had just finished a long day helping as a judge for a debate tournament. By the time I finally headed home it was dark. Or at least, I thought I was headed home. However, the further I drove, the less I recognized of my surroundings. As the road progressed further and further up into the mountains, I remembered my young children waiting at a friends’ house for me to collect them. Finally, the road abruptly ended. Literally, it just ended. I had no choice but to turn around and start over.

At about midnight I finally pulled into the drive-way of my friends’ house to collect my tired children. I determined never to let myself get lost again: I would finally invest in a GPS.

A few weeks later I went into an electronics store and asked for a device that had GPS capabilities. They sold me an Android tablet. I quickly discovered that the tablet was more than just a GPS: it was also an audio player, a camera, a gaming device, even a flashlight. Moreover, the tablet had a perpetual connection so it was always online. Continue reading

2-Part Podcast Series on EQ

Last month, my friend Mark Weisman came over to my office to discuss empathy, emotional intelligence and technology. We looped Jason Boom into the conversation through Skype. It was a fascinating conversation about some of the ways digital technology is eroding skills in empathy and emotional intelligence (EQ). In a follow-up conversation, we discussed specific techniques people can practice for increasing their EQ skills.

During these discussions, Mark Weisman was able to contribute valuable insights from his perspective working for years in the tech industry, as well as from his experience as a husband. We explored what the latest brain science is showing about the corrosive effect of too much screen-time, particularly in brain regions associated with emotional maturity, introspection, expression recognition and emotional regulation. 

We syndicated these two conversations to The Robin & Boom Show  which you can listen to below.

 

The Robin & Boom Show #13 – Attentiveness, Technology, Empathy and Stillness (Part 2 of series with Mark Weisman)

Mark Weisman

Robin Phillips and Jason Van Boom continue the discussion with Mark Weisman on technology, empathy, attention and EQ. In this podcast you will learn what Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica and the Great Tradition tell us about bringing attentiveness into our relationships. You will also learn the importance of slowing down to take a reflective turn, how to leverage neuroplasticity for good, and the relationship between the brain, body and emotions. Questions discussed include:
  • What tools and  best practices are available for families who want to push back against the culture of distraction?
  • Is empathetic listening an ability that some people simply have while others do not, or is it a skill that can be developed with practice?
  • How does awareness of one’s own feelings relate to sensitivity towards the emotions of others?
  • How can we develop the intellectual virtue of contemplation, and how does this affect our relationships?
  • How does the Sabbath commandment reflect natural law?
From the podcast:
“…be aware of what other people are feeling, and listen to the emotions behind what they are saying rather than just being quick to respond to surface issues. Go deeper and really try to listen with your heart and with empathy. Often we get into fights and arguments about issues that are really just proxies for deeper emotional issues, and these deeper emotional issues, when they’re not being adequately addressed or listened to, can cause problems abort issues that are not really the issue.”

Pain, Suffering and Resilience, Published by St. Sebastian Orthodox Press

St. Sebastian Orthodox Press has just released a new book Pain, Suffering and Resilience: Orthodox Christian Perspectives.

This collection of peer-reviewed essays explores the mystery of human suffering along with the spiritual and psychological resources that enable us to achieve resilience in the midst of pain.

The publisher explains how the work

“includes eminent scholars, clergy, physicians, and psychotherapists seeking to serve people in their respective fields, through their respective disciplines informed and guided by the depth and riches of the Orthodox Christian Faith. This is the unifying thread for each of the contributors who bring this ancient Christian perspective into dialogue with the contributions of modern psychology and medical science as they seek to address the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual dimensions of pain and human suffering in a variety of contexts.”

I was privileged to be asked to contribute a chapter to this volume on the topic of practicing gratitude during times of suffering. My essay  develops material I began exploring in my chapter on Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Saints and Scoundrels. By drawing on classic spiritual texts (i.e., The Way of the Pilgrim, The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, Dorotheus of Gaza’s Saying and Discourses, etc) and integrating them with recent developments (i.e., advances in cognitive psychology, neuroscience, the twentieth-century prison literature, etc.) I make a case that suffering and gratitude are not related like two sides of a zero-sum transaction where an increase in the former entails a decrease in the latter. Rather, by receiving our sufferings rightly, we can use them as opportunities to actually grow in the cognitive, behavioral and emotional dimensions of thankfulness. From the essay:

“…true gratitude is not merely compatible with an acknowledgement of pain; it presupposes it. To be truly grateful is to acknowledge that life is difficult while framing that difficulty within a context of thanksgiving…. Gratitude releases us to lean into the pain, to stand face to face with the ambiguity and complexity of life and not to despair. In contrast to stoicism, cynicism and sentimentalism, gratitude-based reframing does not involve detachment from suffering; rather, it provides the inner resources for genuine engagement…. In so far as gratitude enables us to lean into pain, to be realistic rather than escapist, it provides the resources to engage with others who are suffering instead of insulating ourselves from their pain. In our comfort-oriented culture, many people’s default response is to avoid those whose lives are lonely, messy or filled with pain. Instead of going through people’s pain with them, we often numb ourselves to the suffering around us in order to protect ourselves. However, when the pursuit of comfort causes us to numb ourselves to the impact of suffering, what we are doing is numbing away the capacity to empathize, to feel love, joy and gratitude. This is because it is impossible to selectively numb emotion. When we harden ourselves as a defense against fear, grief, disappointment, shame, rejection or vulnerability, we are inadvertently reducing our capacity to feel the emotions that are important for our wellbeing, including gratitude.

Gratitude enables us to look pain straight in the eye and not to despair. Gratitude enables us to derive genuine enjoyment from small blessings even when evil, suffering and pain are crowding in upon us. This is important, not only so we can have the resources for weathering life’s storms, but so we have the inner resources to engage with others who are going through hardships. Instead of pushing people away because we cannot deal with their pain, and instead of numbing ourselves in order to be insulated from other people’s grief, a grateful person has the inner resources to empathize with those who are in pain and like the Apostle said, ‘rejoicing with them that rejoice, and weeping with them that weep.’ (Romans 12:15)”

What I don’t share in my chapter, but which I would like to share here, is that the research behind this essay was prompted by a very painful set of circumstances in my personal life. The Lord brought me to a point where I was ready to dig deep in ancient spiritual teachings on contentment and pain. What I found is the spiritual paradox encapsulated by Elder Alexander of Gethsemane who observed that “The amount of suffering that the soul can accommodate is also how much it can accommodate the grace of God.

The best chapters in Pain, Suffering and Resilience: Orthodox Christian Perspectives, are actually the ones written by others, including a contribution by His Grace, Bishop Alexander (Golitzin), who serves as Bisohp of the Diocese of the South for the OCA and ruling bishop of the Bulgarian Diocese of the Orthodox Church in America.

I hope all the essays in this book can prove an encouragement to ordinary men and women facing struggles and pain.

I would be grateful for people to buy the book on Amazon and then write a review (Amazon always privileges reviews if the person writing the review has bought the book through them).

You can read more about the book on the St. Sebastian Orthodox Press website.

Further Reading

A Scientific Perspective on “Embracing Your Emotional State”

For most of its history, clinical psychology has been preoccupied with neurosis, psychosis and everything that can go wrong. In the twentieth-century, however, many psychologists began to shift their emphasis and take an interest in studying health and normality. A central question they began asking is, “what do things look like when everything is working properly and can that be learned and replicated?” This has led to extensive research into the brains and behaviors of people who report high levels of happiness and well-being.

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An Eastern Orthodox Perspective on Gratitude

I couple weeks ago I was speaking on George MacDonald and the Imagination at the Gold Country Gathering hosted by my parents. A number of people at the conference heard I was an Eastern Orthodox Christian and wanted to know more about Orthodoxy and why I converted to it. It’s always hard to answer questions like that in a short space of time. But part of the answer has to do with the rich tradition of spiritual psychotherapy found within the Orthodox Church. I touched on some of that in my 2016 OCAMPR talk in which I offered an Eastern Orthodox perspective on the psychology of gratitude. I thought this would be a good time to re-post my talk here for some of the new readers I recently picked up. Nothing I mention concerning the spirituality of gratitude is unique to Eastern Orthodox Christianity, but for me it was only after joining the Orthodox Church that I found out about this teaching through visits to monasteries and reading the examples and teachings of the saints revered in our tradition.

Wellness Resources and Coaching

For a number of years I’ve had the privilege of working with Young Living as a wellness coach, helping numerous individuals achieve mental, physical and emotional wellness. (For some of the other things I do, see here).

Through my work I have come to believe that one of the reasons many of us are failing to live up to our full potential is that we haven’t given attention to the total person. Maybe we are focused exclusively on physical fitness, or emotional health, or nutrition or brain fitness. In my coaching, however, I follow a holistic approach that takes seriously the human person as an integrated whole. Thus, I help people with a wide variety of issues, ranging from getting a good night’s sleep to overcoming procrastination

Below are some of the resources I use in my wellness coaching. Feel free to browse! If you have any questions or would like to purchase a coaching session on any of these topics, send me an email or reach me in the chat box in the lower left-hand corner of this page.

Young Living Starter Kit. Aromatherapy plays a key role in many of the wellness protocols I use. The best way to get the highest quality essential oils is to sign up as a wholesale customer with Young Living and then purchase their Premium Starter Kit. Once you join Young Living as a wholesale member, you get 24% off the retail price on all their products. Being a member of Young Living comes with no obligation to buy every month or to introduce others to the opportunity. Moreover, the Premium Starter Kit will get you $320.00 worth of products (including a diffuser) for only $160.00. You can learn more about the contents of this kit by clicking here. Moreover, if you join with a Premium Starter Kit and put in my Young Living number as the one who referred you (#1297759), then I will personally send you a small gift and offer free support as you begin learning about these products. It gets even better: joining Young Living with the Premium Starter as part of my team will automatically qualify you one free coaching session on any of the following topics: (1) overcoming insomnia, (2) eliminating procrastination, (3) increasing your memory and learning potential.

Life Coaching for Students. Many students find themselves unable to accomplish their goals because of problems with time-management, procrastination, memory and learning difficulties, and other difficulties. Through my life coaching services, I offer science-based counseling to help students overcome these problems and reach their goals. All coaching sessions last an hour and cost $75. During the first 20 minutes, I listen to the student explain about his or her issues. During the next 20 minutes, I chat with the student about the neuroscience behind a particular problem (i.e. procrastination). During the final 20 minutes, I work with the student to help him or her apply the scientific research to their own life and put together a personalized treatment plan. Coaching sessions occur through Skype and are billed via PayPal or Venmo. To learn more about coaching, or to purchase a session, contact me in the chat box in the lower right-hand corner.

Essential Oils and Sleep. Insomnia is an ever-increasing problem. In this booklet, I have addressed the common causes of insomnia and how you can use Young Living’s products to get a good night’s sleep. Click on the following link for a free download: Using Young Living Products to Get a Good Night’s Sleep (pdf)

Develop a Youthful Brain Through the Power of Ningxia. In this booklet I share ways that you can keep your brain youthful, using a combination of neuroplasticity and nutrition. In the process, you will learn about the secrets of the Ningxia Wolfberry and why people in Northern China remain healthy into their hundreds. Click on the following link for a free download: Develop a Youthful Brain Through the Power of Ningxia (pdf)

Overcome Anxiety. Anxiety is now the most common disorder in our society. But science-based techniques used by the Special Forces offer hope for those crippled by anxiety. This article combines these techniques with the teachings of the Bible to offer practical steps for overcoming anxiety. Use Positive Self-Talk to Overcome Anxiety (pdf)

Using Young Living Essential Oils in the Kitchen. If you like essential oils, you may be surprised to learn that there are yummy ways to incorporate them into cooking. In this booklet I share some of my own great-tasting and great-smelling recipes using Young Living Essential Oils. Robin’s Essential Oil Recipes (pdf)

Brain Fitness Interview. In 2016, Dr. Graham Taylor interviewed me about brain fitness. During our conversation I suggested that the notion of “being smart” often invokes a one-sided paradigm of mental ability that may not be consistent with overall cognitive health. I explained why a proper understanding of brain fitness should also include such things as imagination, intellectual curiosity, mental focus, the ability to think outside the box, emotional intelligence, and many other aspects of a healthy brain that are often overlooked in our culture. Read our entire conversation at the following link: “Graham Taylor’s Conversation With Robin Phillips about Brain Fitness.

Time Management Tips. Do you find yourself overwhelmed with too many projects? Do you find yourself with a to-do list that never seems to get any shorter? In this video you will learn the secrets of harnessing the power of aromatherapy and effectively managing your time so you can accomplish everything you need to do. Watch video at YouTube.

Overcoming Procrastination Video. If you find yourself unable to accomplish your goals because of continual procrastination, then the tips in this video may transform your life. In this video, I discuss the latest findings from neuroscience on why we procrastinate and what you can do about it. Watch Video on Overcoming Procrastination

Essential Oils and Brain Fitness. Many people are not aware of the incredible power found in essential oils for achieving mental and emotional wellness. To address this need, I have published an ongoing series of articles pm how to combine aromatherapy and neuroplasticity to create a better brain. To read these articles, visit ‘Series on Essential Oils and Brain Fitness.’ I have also created a Facebook group as a forum for personal sharing and education on using essential oils for brain fitness. You can visit our group by clicking on the image below.

Positive Self-Talk and Anxiety

On a blustery Sunday afternoon in December 2017, I headed to Seattle with my two teenage sons, Matthew (age 19) and Timothy (age 15). Our mission was simple: hand Matthew off to the Air Force at Seattle.

We left on our journey shortly after Matthew said goodbye to everyone at church. When we arrived in Seattle later that evening, Timothy and I planned to drop Matthew off at the Air Force processing station and then go to stay overnight with my brother, Gregory. The next morning, Timothy and I would watch Matthew take his final oath before he flew out with the Air Force to San Antonio for Basic Training.

As I drove the long stretch of highway from Coeur d’Alene Idaho to Seattle Washington, I reflected on the events leading up to this journey.

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New Course, ‘Mindfulness in the 21st century Classroom’, is Ready to Launch

Update: since writing the post below, all spots in the first run of the course, taught by John Adams, are now full. Interested parties can register for the second run beginning December 4th and taught by Julie Gold.

Teachers wishing to qualify for pay increases by gaining graduate level credits now have the perfect opportunity. On September 25th, the Idaho-based education company, The Connecting Link, is launching their online course “Mindfulness in the 21st century Classroom” for the professional development of teachers. This Masters level course is being taught by educational psychologist John Adams and is being accredited through Argosy University, Antioch University, Benedictine University, Valparaiso University and Central Michigan University. It is designed to give educators at all levels an overview of recent research on mindfulness practices. Even better, the course provides step by step guidance on how to integrate mindfulness practices into the classroom.

If you’re interested, here are some links you may want to check out:

  • For a free lesson, drawn from the material of the course, see ‘Free Mindfulness Lesson for Teachers!
  • For a detailed syllabus of the course, visit TCL’s ‘Online Participant Syllabus‘.
  • To learn more about why mindfulness is important for teachers and how it’s being used in the classroom, see my article ‘Mindfulness: From Ancient Wisdom to Modern Classroom.’
  • To learn more about John Adams, the instructor of this course, click here.
  • To register a place in the upcoming course, click here. (Right now TCL is running a “Back to School Savings” special of $100 off!)
  • For a promotional flier advertising the course and giving details about the special savings, click here.

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Nicholas Carr on the Decline of Deep Thinking

In the video below, Pulitzer Prize finalist Nicholas Carr shares evidence from brain science about what happens when our devices (particularly the smartphones) infuse into our lives perpetual distractibility, multitasking and split attentiveness. He shows that what science is finding (and you can see footnotes to the actual peer-reviewed studies in Carr’s book The Shallows) is that there is a trade-off whereby certain cognitive functions become diminished.

That much isn’t surprising, but what I found really interesting is which cognitive functions are compromised.

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