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Experiment For Optimum Results

Experiment For Optimum Results

Experiment For Optimum Results

    Many times when we are looking to improve in any aspect of our life, we search for someone who has already achieved the results that we are looking for, and we do our best to mimic their actions, expecting their results.  The problem with this approach is that there are too many variables to consider in pretty much any aspect of life, and therefore too much is out of our control.  We would be better off creating a plan that takes into account the success of others’ actions, and then tweaking our own actions to better fit our needs and expectations.

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    For instance, I just finished a 30 day biphasic sleep experiment.  For 30 days I slept only 4.5 hours total each day, with a 3 hour core sleep each night and a 1.5 hour nap midday.  This schedule was very different than any other biphasic sleep schedule that I had read about.  The problem with the other schedules was that they just didn’t match my lifestyle and day-to-day schedule.  I knew that in order to be successful with my experiment I would have to follow a schedule that worked for me.  So I set about researching the amount of hours of sleep I could function on, then with the help of a neuroscientist friend created a schedule that we thought could work.  I decided not to get too attached to this newly created schedule till we could observe whether or not it worked, and having gone 30 days with it, I can safely advise that the Universal Man sleep schedule (as I later named it) was a great success and can be used by anyone with a few days to adjust.

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    Had I followed other schedules, I can’t assume that I would have been as successful as I was with the Universal Man schedule.  That’s not to say that I wouldn’t have been successful, but that there would have been schedule conflicts initially, which would only lend to less success.  As I went through the experiment there were days when I needed to make minor changes, though.  And thus the idea of tweaking your experiments as you go.  I started summer school mid experiment, which meant that I would need to have higher levels of focus from 8 am to 3 pm.  This led me to have a really sleepy mid day lul.  I supplemented my sleep with a 15 minute nap at 1 pm (I just walked out of class, went to the library, and slept for 15 minutes).  This allowed me to “recharge” and when I got back to class I was better focused and able to stick to the experiment.  Had I not tweaked the experiment to allow for this nap, I’m quite sure I would have failed.

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    This is not to say that it’s not good to follow the trails of others who have found success, because it’s always better to follow someone who has done what you want to do than to try it alone.  But we need to understand that we are all different, and because of that we all have different needs and requirements.  By learning  your own needs, you will be better equipt to tweak every aspect of your life for optimum results.  And what is the use in all of this self-improvement if not to become the optimum human, right?

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    Last Updated on July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

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