Tag Archives: health

My latest on Huff Post: Worried About Your Teen Getting Into College? Consider Music Lessons

The following is an excerpt from my article, Worried About Your Teen Getting Into College? Consider Music Lessons, published on HuffingtonPost.com on February 2, 2017:

pedrosimao

Courtesy: Pedro Simao

Gaining mastery over any challenge your teen may face – sports, travel abroad, or acing AP Math – results in feelings of being ready to take on the challenge of post-secondary education. But many high school students aren’t able to compete, or don’t have access to classes and experiences that improve their chances for getting into and succeeding in college.

However, music training begun as late as high school may help improve the teenage brain’s responses to sound and sharpen hearing and language skills, suggests a new study from Northwestern University.

Nina Kraus, senior study author and director of Northwestern’s Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at the School of Communication recruited 40 Chicago-area high school freshmen in a study that began shortly before school started. They followed these children longitudinally until their senior year. The stable processing of sound details, important for language skills, is known to be diminished in children raised in poverty, raising the possibility that music education may offset this negative influence on sound processing.

“While music programs are often the first to be cut when the school budget is tight, these results highlight music’s place in the high school curriculum,” said Kraus.

Can Music Lessons Make a Difference?

The U.S. Department of Education recommends at least one year of visual and performing arts for college-bound high school students asserting, “Many colleges view participation in the arts and music as valuable experience that broadens students’ understanding and appreciation of the world around them.” In addition, music education plays a part in improving “children’s intellectual development.”

According to the Children’s Music Workshop, a Los Angeles-area music education company specializing in school-site music instruction, music education advocacy, and custom-designed band and orchestra books. “Students taking courses in music performance and music appreciation scored higher in the SAT than students with no arts participation. Music performance students scored 53 points higher on the verbal and 39 points higher on the math. Music appreciation students scored 61 points higher on the verbal and 42 points higher on the math…

I invite you to continue reading the entire article on HuffPo, including resources for parents and teachers. Click here to continue.

If you have ideas for supporting music programs in American high schools, please comment below!

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The Writer’s 3 Step Practice for Improved Health and Creativity

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If you’re a writer, chances are you spend hours crouched before your computer’s screen. It’s a potentially sedentary lifestyle, writing, but there are simple steps we writers can take to boost our health, creativity and sense of well-being. If we want to continue writing well into our golden years, these Easy Changes Can Vastly Improve Health, Happiness and Well-Being.

Dr. Frank King describes three that will have you feeling better quickly.

Drink half your body weight in ounces of spring or well water every day. If you weigh 150 pounds, that’s 75 ounces of water (about 9 cups).

“Many of us walk around dehydrated without realizing it and that can have a significant effect on our health and how we feel,” Dr. King says. Dehydrated bodies trap toxins and encourage water retention – a natural defense against the chronic “drought.”

A simple test for dehydration: Pinch the skin on the back of your hand and hold for three seconds. When you release, if the ridge from the pinch remains for more than a second, you’re probably dehydrated. (I found a great article on hydration and creativity from Psychology Today, Why Your Brain Needs Water. -RL)

• Take a few minutes every day to connect with nature. Nature brings perpetual revitalization and ongoing renewal, especially when experienced through multiple senses: the smell of freshly turned earth or evergreens in the woods; the touch of cool stream water on your face or feet; the sight of birds on the wing and budding blooms. (And can offer ideas for your manuscript! -RL)

“These are not just pleasant little gifts to experience – we need them for restoration, renewal, revival and rehabilitation,” Dr. King says. “The more disconnected we become from the Earth, the more we inhibit our body’s natural ability to heal.”

• Take a brisk, 10- to 20-minute walk every day. Walking is the simplest, most natural form of exercise. You might walk a nature trail, walk to the store instead of driving or take your pet for a stroll.

“Three brisk 10-minute walks a day are as effective at lowering blood pressure as one 30-minute walk,” Dr. King says, citing an Arizona State University study.

“Outdoor walking is preferable to walking on a treadmill or other machine, since the uneven surfaces and changing directions of natural walking will engage more muscles and tendons.”

Swing each arm in synchronization with the opposite foot to strengthen your cross-crawl functionality and mind-body balance. (Julia Cameron has written at length about the benefits of walking for writers. It is on walks we get our story breakthroughs. -RL)

Dr. Frank King is a chiropractor, doctor of naturopathy, and founder and president of King Bio, an FDA-registered pharmaceutical company. Dr. King is also the author of, The Healing Revolution: Eight Essentials to Awaken Abundant Life Naturally!

What are your ideas for staying refreshed over long writing sessions? Comment below!

Follow me on Twitter @TheRJLacko

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Food, glorious food. NEW Studies promoting red wine and chocolate for unexpected uses

One of my favorite phenomenons is an unexpected stroke of brilliance from a most unlikely source.

A couple of awesomesauce items came out of the 244thNational Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society. I picture with suspicion such conferences proffering our nation the the latest results culled from ongoing animal testing of synthetics intended as food additives, eyelash lengtheners or weight loss supplements. To my delight, the chemists have uncovered new truths about the natural world–significantly, the yummy natural world.

I’m posting this because I love food, but more importantly, so much of what we need to survive and thrive in this world has always been with us, growing somewhere ready for the observant to harvest, test, and apply in the the appropriate setting. (I sounded just a wee Taoist there, didn’t I?)

I say awesome “sauce” specifically, because red wine has a new purpose. While getting old used to require an exchange of alcohol for lemon water and chocolate for dry biscuits, we can raise a toast to the future with the decadence of emperors past.

Red wine has been found to decrease your chance of falling down. (What? I always thought it the opposite.) The antioxident in red wine we all know and love for its ability to reduce inflammation, lower cholesterol, slash the risk of heart disease and certain cancers–resveratrol–could actually decrease  an aging person’s risk of hospitalization due to slips and falls,” said Jane E. Cavanaugh, Ph.D., Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.

This is bigger news than you think; One in three older Americans have difficulty with balance or walking, according to the American Geriatrics Society. Falls are the leading cause of injury-related death among people older than 65.

Pour your mom a nice cabernet and tell her you love her.

But wait, there’s more! Feeling down, depressed, no longer finding pleasure in your favorite activities? This year’s chemical exposition also featured studies indicating some flavors bearing a striking chemical similarity to valproic acid, a widely used prescription mood-stabilizing drug used to smooth out the mood swings of people with manic-depressive disorder and related conditions (sold under brand names that include Depakene, Depakote and Stavzor.)

“The large body of evidence that chemicals in chocolate, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, teas and foods containing omega-3 fatty acids could well be mood-enhancers encourages the search for other mood modulators in food,” noted Karina Martinez-Mayorga, Ph.D., at the Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies, and the Chemistry Institute at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

Her group presented the study of more than 1,700 substances that make up the flavors of common foods at the American Chemical Society Exposition.

Food has and will always be our best and first course of “medicine” for most of what ails us. One may argue we’ve known of these resources for thousands of years (hey thanks, Chinese medicine!) but the diligent pursuit of synthetic alternatives has unraveled much of how we now approach healing. These scientists in search of new uses for familiar, easy-to-grow, natural resources are on the right path.

 

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Self-doubt and writing: amicable partners?

It’s Monday morning, and I am dragging myself through the mud. Am I making any progress?  Is what I’m writing any good, any good whatsoever? Over the weekend, my husband and I had the rare opportunity to enjoy a date night. It was a beautiful evening, so we sat outdoors at one of our favorite places (the incomparable Watermarc in Laguna Beach) and over dinner, my husband inquired about my fiction novel, Radiohead.  He asked if I come sum it up, so I gave him my elevator pitch.

His response? Utter indifference. Struck by his impassibility, I found myself rambling, determined to convince him of how exciting the details of my story are proving to be, but the conversation continued its radical nosedive. While the storyline seemed promising and dynamic to him, in truth he really didn’t want to talk about the details of my process. Nonetheless the exchange aggravated deep-seated self-doubt I’d been struggling to quash.

“Every one of us experiences self-doubt, even the most well-established writer,” says Joan Dempsey of Literary Living. “Dean Koontz, for instance, an author who has sold more than 400 million books and is one of the most highly paid writers in the world, says ‘I have more self-doubt than any writer I know.’”

Dempsey also points to Alice Munro, the celebrated Canadian writer who’s been called our Chekhov, and how she worries every time she finishes writing a book that she’ll never write again.

“Let’s agree, then, that self-doubt is an ordinary part of every writer’s experience, even yours,” says Dempsey. “You’ll never be without it. The question is, what can you learn from it?”

Here are Joan Dempsey’s four reasons to appreciate your self-doubt.

1. Self-Doubt is a Protective Instinct

Self-doubt arises out of your own instinctive desire to protect yourself, which is actually a nice impulse that you probably don’t often acknowledge. We usually bemoan or bludgeon our self-doubt; we believe what writer Sylvia Plath famously claimed, that “the worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”

I beg to differ!

You can be more creative if you welcome and examine your self-doubts.

It’s true, though, that we writers allow our doubts to keep us away from our work. Why? To protect ourselves from pain. Author James Baldwin says we’re good at fooling ourselves because we don’t want to get hurt. “We don’t want to have our certainty disturbed,” he said.

Psychologists call this self-handicapping . If you stay away from your work you’ll never have to face the pain of writing poorly, or you can fool yourself into thinking you’ll be a great writer if you do get down to work.

The problem with that, though, is that you’ll never really be a writer. Baldwin believed that the trick is to know when you’re fooling yourself.

The best writers live an examined and therefore honest life, and that includes scrutinizing your self-doubt.

2. Self-Doubt Sounds an Alarm

Not unlike a smoke detector, self-doubt alerts us to the presence of fear, the typical cause of our doubts.

Thich Nhat Hanh, a well-known Buddhist teacher (and celebrated author), advises us that because fear is a natural and constant presence in our lives, we’d do well to welcome it rather than fight it:

It is best not to say, “Go away, Fear. I don’t like you. You are not me.” It is much more effective to say, “Hello Fear. How are you today?”

The next time you feel self-doubt, don’t despair or fight – look around to see what might be smoldering; be grateful for the alarm.

3. Self-Doubt is a Call to Action

Dean Koontz is notorious for obsessively polishing his paragraphs. “I began this ceaseless polishing out of self-doubt,” says Koontz, “as a way of preventing self-doubt from turning into writer’s block: by doing something with the unsatisfactory page, I wasn’t just sitting there brooding about it.”

In Koontz’s case, feeling uncertain about his abilities actually motivated him to take an action he might otherwise not have pursued.

4. Self-Doubt Provides Fresh Perspective

If you keep your doubts to yourself you’re missing a valuable opportunity. By sharing your doubts with friends and writing colleagues you’re bound to get a fresh perspective. Others often don’t see your failings or uncertainties in the same way you do.

By sharing your doubts you’ll likely learn something new about yourself, feel companioned, hear a helpful cheer, or receive a much-needed boost to your self-esteem.

James Baldwin, in discussing why he writes, says he does so to describe. What he means is that by describing something in detail you come to understand it intimately. Describe your doubts in writing, or through dialogue – either way, your new understanding can help disarm your doubts.

The next time self-doubt keeps you away from your writing, try this:

  • Review these four reasons to appreciate your doubts;
  • Say “Hello, self-doubt, how are you today”; and
  • Get to work.

What have you learned from your self-doubts?

Joan Dempsey is a writer and the founder of Literary Living, an online program for serious, aspiring writers who want to overcome resistance and self-doubt to create a unique writing life. Sign-up for more information, a free audio interview with Leo Babauta, and a free e-book, The Power of Deliberate Thinking: 5 Strategies for Staying at the Writing Desk (Despite Your Self-Doubts)

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5 Tips for Writing More, Writing Better. Cultivating a laser-beam focus

Last week, we lost our Internet connection for more than two full days. The initial shock rendered me temporarily immobile. What could I possibly do? I couldn’t work without connection to the outside world…. could I? No, the pain and discomfort was too much to face. I decided instead to get my car keys and run all those errands I’d put off. Oh, and make all those important phone calls on my to-do list.

When we finally fixed our connection I realized something monumental. The Internet had been wasting my time. Well, perhaps to be more accurate, I allow entirely too much of my creativity and productivity, and even my devotion to my family’s needs, slip away while I check email, update Twitter and Facebook and fiddle about looking at book reviews, reading “news” and trying to keep up with what everyone else is up to.

Without my connection to the Grand WWW, I had gotten so much accomplished! My fiction book took flight, I meditated, I read, I cooked, I planted flowers, I played more with my children, I made every phone call necessary to our lives, I booked appointments for playdates and doctors’ appointments, scheduled date nights with my beloved. Had I rediscovered, dare I say it, a full life? Gasp!

In fact, as a mother, wife and freelance writer, the moments I actually have to work at the computer are few and far between and I have clearly been squandering them with online time-wasters. (I will admit, however, that I just discovered Goodreads.com and I’m in love with it! But more on that later.)

Writer (and fellow Canuck) Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen says, “the biggest mistake I make is multitasking.” She is the creator of website, theAdventurousWriter.com, and freelances for magazines such as Woman’s Day, Reader’s Digest Online, alive, Glow, Health & Spirituality and More. A Feature Writer for Psychology Suite101, Pawlik-Kienlen specializes in articles about emotional, spiritual, and intellectual health and wellness.  She also collects inspirational, thought-provoking quotations for her blog.

For writers hoping to cut through extraneous time-waters and improve productivity, Laurie suggests we use publication coach Daphne Gray Grant‘s  five tips for writing more and writing better are about cultivating a laser beam-like focus. She also recommends we check out Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer (“It’s one of my favorite books about writing,” she says.)

The Biggest Mistake Writers Make?  5 Tips for Writing More, Writing Better

Daphne Gray Grant

In theory, multitasking sounds brave and competent. Truth be told, however, it’s more accurate to describe multitasking as “being distracted.” I think there are five main ways in which writers try to multitask (and I suggest you avoid ALL of them while you’re writing).

1. Checking email. This is probably the most disruptive — and compelling — distraction of our day. According to a calculation by Merlin Mann on 43 folders, if you check your e-mail every 5 minutes, then you’re checking it 12 times an hour. Multiply 12 times an hour by 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, 50 weeks a year (assuming you take two weeks of vacation and not counting your at-home email habits) and that means you are checking your email some 24,000 times each year. That’s awesome — in a bad way! As Mann asks: “What are you not working on during that time?” (you’re not writing more or writing better, that’s for sure!).

2. Surfing the web. How often are you checking Facebook, Twitter, blogs or just generally surfing the web? Sure it’s attractive (I adore Twitter for example), but I don’t let it control my life. All computer related habits should be delegated to set times of the day. Start by trying to limit yourself to once an hour for each. From there, reduce even further to only once or twice a day. Or, possibly, use this “distraction” as a reward for when you finish your writing.

3. Talking on the phone. Here’s a hard one. Not only can it be fun, it can also be essential for your job. If there’s a call you can’t afford to miss, it takes nerves of steel to ignore a ringing phone. To solve this problem, try to schedule your writing as an appointment — and then treat it like a meeting with your CEO. If necessary, leave your office and perch in a coffee shop or at a boardroom or library table. (One of the biggest mistakes I make as a writer is not getting out of my home office once in a while. Writing elsewhere increases my creativity and productivity).

4. Doing research while you write. Please, don’t ever mix your writing with your research. These are two separate tasks and the research should always come first. That doesn’t mean there won’t be information gaps when you write but don’t use them as an excuse to stop writing. Instead, insert a blank “marker” in your text — like this ________ or this XXX — and then research how to fill it/fix it later, when you’re editing.

5. Eating lunch at your computer. This is a bad idea — not just for you, but also for your computer. Crumbs and liquid can kill your keyboard. My daughter lost her laptop when she spilled a glass of orange juice over it. But it’s also bad for you. When you’ve been working hard writing, you deserve a break. So, pat yourself on the back and go eat your lunch (or your snack) elsewhere.

Multitasking. It’s not just being an extra-hard writer. It’s being a distracted one.

Daphne Gray-Grant is a writing and editing coach and the author of the popular book 8½ Steps to Writing Faster, Better. She offers a free weekly newsletter on her website; subscribe at The Publication Coach.

Gray-Grant also contributed Tips for Avoiding Writer’s Burnout and 5 Ways to Salvage Writing Disasters, here on Quips & Tips for Successful Writers.

Do you multitask — and is it the biggest mistake you make as a writer? I welcome your comments below…

Please follow me on Twitter! @RebeccaLacko

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Filed under Best Writer Tips, Fiction Novel Writing, For the love of writing, Freelance Writing, Guest posts, Who is Writing What?

Anne Lamott’s tips for growing your creative spirit–and sense of purpose.

I offer you a guest-post of sorts today in the form of excerpts from Time Lost and Found by author Anne Lamott which I just found in the always pleasing Sunset magazine.

As a mother who is a freelance writer and editor working from home, I often place my own needs (especially creative diversions) at the very bottom of my priority list. This is not say that I am a self-sacrificing martyr—it is important to note that my time is frequently wasted perusing Facebook and responding to pitches for product reviews that I will ultimately do nothing about (I only review products I am thrilled about, and I am getting harder and harder to please, it would seem.) However, like most creative people I am conscious of the truth that frequent exposure to one’s heart’s desires will rapidly explode creative juices, starting a fiery blaze of inspiration, productivity and sheer joy. Do visits to art galleries keep your own canvases wet with fresh expression? Do hikes by lakes result in gorgeous photos of birds or other wildlife? Do trips to bookstores ignite a dozen new pages of writing?

Read on for Anne Lamott’s wise advice:

“I tell my [writing] students…there is nothing you can buy, achieve, own, or rent that can fill up that hunger inside for a sense of fulfillment and wonder. But the good news is that creative expression, whether that means writing, dancing, bird-watching, or cooking, can give a person almost everything that he or she has been searching for: enlivenment, peace, meaning, and the incalculable wealth of time spent quietly in beauty.

Then I bring up the bad news: You have to make time to do this.

Needless to say, this is very distressing for my writing students. They start to explain that they have two kids at home, or five, a stable of horses or a hive of bees, and 40-hour workweeks. Or, on the other hand, sometimes they are climbing the walls with boredom, own nearly nothing, and are looking for work full-time, which is why they can’t make time now to pursue their hearts’ desires. They often add that as soon as they retire, or their last child moves out, or they move to the country, or to the city, or sell the horses, they will. They are absolutely sincere, and they are delusional.”

Lamott recommends we each take, “half an hour, a few days a week. You could commit to writing one page a night, which, over a year, is most of a book. No one else really cares if anyone else finally starts to write or volunteers with marine mammals. But how can [my students] not care and let life slip away? Can’t they give up the gym once a week and buy two hours’ worth of fresh, delectable moments?

They look at me bitterly now—they don’t think I understand. But I do—I know how addictive busyness and mania are. But I ask them whether, if their children grow up to become adults who spend this one precious life in a spin of multitasking, stress, and achievement, and then work out four times a week, will they be pleased that their kids also pursued this kind of whirlwind life?

If not, if they want much more for their kids, lives well spent in hard work and savoring all that is lovely, why are they living this manic way?

I ask them, is there a eucalyptus grove at the end of their street, or a new exhibit at the art museum? An upcoming minus tide at the beach where the agates and tidepools are, or a great poet coming to the library soon? A pond where you can see so many turtles? A journal to fill?”

Half-hour time-wasters to consider giving up:

  • the treadmill at the gym–take a walk in the park, a forest, on the beach, on an undiscovered (by you) path, to a different part of town, anywhere…
  • house cleaning–honestly, what’s with all the scrubbing? Are you competing for the shiniest floors? Does anybody really care?
  • TV–Lamott says “no one needs to watch the news every night, unless one is married to the anchor.”
  • electronic connectivity: Lamott remarks that “cell phone, email, text, Twitter—steal most chances of lasting connection or amazement. That multitasking can argue a wasted life.”

Thanks, Anne. From this day forward, I commit at least one half-hour per day to my fiction novel. I will also pause to enjoy my favorite things: the lightness of swimming, a fresh-brewed cup of coffee, the scent of foliage in the park. I will also endeavor to schedule trips to galleries and author readings. If it were me showing or reading, I would be thankful for one more attendee, so I can give the gift of my appreciation to others who have completed their art.

Lamott’s books include Operating Instructions and Traveling Mercies. Her new novel, Imperfect Birds (Riverhead Books; $26), will be published this month.

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Your Aha! Moment – Neural Evidence for Sudden Insight

A recent study published by the Cell Press in the May 13 issue of the journal Neuron supports the idea of “a-ha” moments in the brain that are associated with sudden insight.

In the words of Albert Einstein,

“You can never solve a problem on the level on which it was created.”

Our daily lives are filled with changes that force us to abandon old behavioral strategies that are no longer advantageous and develop new, more appropriate responses. While it is clear that new rules are often deduced through trial-and-error learning, the neural dynamics that underlie the change from a familiar to a novel rule are not well understood.

“The ability of animals and humans to infer and apply new rules in order to maximize reward relies critically on the frontal lobes,” explains one of the researchers who led the study, Dr. Jeremy K. Seamans from the Brain Research Centre at the University of British Columbia (UBC) and Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute. “In our study, we examined how groups of frontal cortex neurons in rat brains switch from encoding a familiar rule to a completely novel rule that could only be deduced through trial and error.”

Specifically, Dr. Seamans with colleagues from UBC and collaborator Dr. Daniel Durstewitz from the Central Institute of Mental Health in Germany were interested in determining whether networks of neurons change their activity in a slow gradual way as an old strategy is abandoned and a new one is learned or whether there is a more abrupt transition.

Using sophisticated statistical techniques to study ensembles of neurons in the medial frontal cortex on a trial-by-trial basis as rats deduced a novel rule in a specially designed task, they found that the same populations of neurons formed unique network states that corresponded to familiar and novel rules. Interestingly, although it took many trials for the animals to figure out the new rule, the recorded ensembles did not change gradually but instead exhibited a rather abrupt transition to a new pattern that corresponded directly to the shift in behavior, as if the network had experienced an “a-ha” moment.

Taken together, these findings provide concrete support for sudden transitions between neural states rather than slow, gradual changes. “In the present problem solving context where the animal had to infer a new rule by accumulating evidence through trial and error, such sudden neural and behavioral transitions may correspond to moments of ‘sudden insight,'” concludes Dr. Durstewitz.

Daniel Durstewitz, Nicole M. Vittoz, Stan B. Floresco, Jeremy K. Seamans. Abrupt Transitions between Prefrontal Neural Ensemble States Accompany Behavioral Transitions during Rule Learning. Neuron, 2010; 66 (3): 438-448 DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2010.03.029 .
Have you ever had an a-ha! moment? Tell me about it in the comment box below!

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