Private Lives Of Primates – Inner Mammal News From Loretta Breuning

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By Loretta Breuning

Fellow Mammals,

brainWe all strive for healthy habits, but unhealthy habits often take us by surprise. To understand why, it helps to know how the brain builds habits.

A habit is a real physical pathway in the brain. Electricity flows effortlessly down a well-developed pathway, which is why the behavior come easily. A child who builds good habits will find it easy to take self-care steps, and a child who builds bad habits will find it easy to do things that damage their long-run well-being.

We are born with lots of neurons, but very few connections between them. Connections build every time our happy and unhappy brains chemicals are released. This wires us to repeat a behavior that felt good, and avoid a behavior that felt bad. This is how mammals wired themselves for survival before the era of language, diplomas, and curriculum development experts.

The neural pathways you build when you’re young become superhighways in your brain, thanks to a chemical called myelin. Your myelinated pathways make it easy to do things that felt good when you were young, and avoid things that hurt when you were young. After you’re 20, myelin plummets, and new superhighways are hard to build. Helping a child build healthy habits is the best legacy you can leave.

The brain learns from what feels good

Eating a cookie feels good because it stimulates dopamine. Getting a hug feels good because it stimulates oxytocin. Getting respect for your strength or your looks feels good because it stimulates serotonin. Our brain evolved to promote survival, and eating is linked to survival in many different ways. We end up with many conflicting impulses about how to feel good and how to survive.

If you eat a second cookie, little dopamine is stimulated because it’s not meeting a real need. The brain is designed to motivate you to do things that meet your needs. Dopamine motivates a monkey to keep trying to crack open a nut after it has failed for ten frustrating minutes. If you eat pre-shelled nuts out of a bag in front of the television, you don’t get as much dopamine. But you might do it anyway because the first bag of nuts built a pathway, and you haven’t learned other ways of stimulating your dopamine. The brain is constantly looking for ways to stimulate more happy chemicals because that led to survival in the state of nature.

Broccoli feels good

broccoliBroccoli stimulates less dopamine than a cookie at first, because the primitive brain responds to calorie-rich foods. But you can wire yourself to enjoy the way broccoli meets your real needs. Imagine the strength you have when you eat healthy food. Repeat that image and you build a neural pathway linking broccoli to your happy chemicals. Your dopamine will flow as soon as you plan an outing to the farmers market because you are meeting a need.

A child responds to what feels good now because the joy of meeting long-run needs is a complex neural pathway that takes time to build. A hug feels good now. This is why parents play such a big role in the building of good habits.

But it’s complicated. Refusing to eat broccoli may feel good to a young brain. Power and attention feel good, and a young brain may learn that food fits are a way to get it. Just giving a child too much applause for eating vegetables can teach the wrong lesson. The right lesson is that self-care feels good. Excessive concern for looking good or fighting disease can wire in unhappy pathways in the long run. We must be very careful about which behaviors we reward because a young brain is always learning from what gets rewarded.

Over time, the approval of peers competes with the approval of parents. When a child gets social approval, the good feeling of serotonin and oxytocin pave neural pathways that wire them to repeat the behavior. We end up with many different pathways inclining us toward different ways of meeting our needs. Belonging feels good and getting respect feels good. But we can learn to seek social rewards in ways that don’t compromise our self-care.

Distraction feels good

A cookie can distract you from bad feelings. A child may learn that the good feeling of eating relieves a bad moment. Neurons connect in that moment and your brain can wire in the idea that food relieves problems. Each time it works, the pathway builds. This is why it’s important to learn healthy distractions. We have to learn to live with frustration because problems can’t always be solved in a minute. Preparing healthy food is a great way to relieve frustration. The brain can wire itself to enjoy the act of preparing food without overeating.

cookiesIf you see your parent eat a cookie when they feel bad, it wires you to eat a cookie when you feel bad. We don’t repeat everything our parents do because we have other influences. If you watch a sibling go for a run when they feel bad, you may wire yourself to do that. But mirror neurons play a huge role in our self-care habits. They are special neurons that activate when you watch another individual get a reward or avoid pain. The activation is weak compared to doing the behavior yourself, but if you watch it over and over, a big pathway builds.

But it’s complicated. Some parents act like they will die if they eat a cookie, whether from weight gain or disease. Enormous anxiety about food choices can get wired in. We are not prisoners of our early circuits – indeed our power to re-shape them is the subject of my book Meet Your Happy Chemicals. But a child who starts life with the habit of feeling good about self-care has a huge head start.

The power of early role models

In adult life, we notice our early wiring because we find words to explain our actions. But we can learn to notice the core of our own self-care habits. A touching blog post about this is The Role Model in You by Len Saunders. Then well-known child fitness expert asked people to reflect on the role model they have inside them when it comes to eating and exercise. The comments very widely- some people learned healthy habits from their parents, and others learned to make healthy choices despite their parents’ habits. This blog post was a fascinating reminder of how our unique early experiences make us who we are.

My children are grown and my parents are gone, but I teach children about self care at my local zoo. As a zoo docent, I tell kids how animals exert themselves in the quest for healthy food. Self-care seems like fun when animals do it.

– Loretta Breuning,

Holiday Stress Tips To Private University And College Applicants

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Thank you to PRWeb for supplying this article. Please share your thoughts in the comments section…..

universityAdding to holiday stress is the fact that many high school seniors throughout the country face a big deadline: completing their applications to private universities and colleges before the end of the year. Avoiding mistakes under such pressure will be key to their college admissions success, says Chelsea Watkins, founder and chief executive officer of College Application Training.

If students and their families avoid three big mistakes before the December 31, 2014 deadline for applications to many private universities and colleges, they’ll save money and improve their chances for success, says Chelsea Watkins, an authority on college admissions.

Founder and chief executive officer of College Application Training LLC, Watkins is an expert in understanding the academic, social, and financial needs of students and families she advises – and matching those needs to select colleges and universities.

“There’re three huge mistakes students and their families must avoid: procrastinating; unrealistic financial planning; and, forgetting to do a final review of the application. Taking great care throughout the application process will have a positive impact on a student’s future for years to come,” Watkins notes. “And, it’s predicted that competition for admissions and financial aid will be fiercer than eve, so every little detail counts.”

She estimates that thousands of college-bound high school seniors have not yet completed their personal statements and applications to private colleges and universities.

For students and families, she offers three additional tips for making the best of their applications and meeting the deadline with a minimum of last-minute chaos:

1. Create Authentic, Unique and Compelling Personal Statements: Most institutional merit scholarships are awarded based on the strength of a Common Application. There is no separate scholarship application for most private universities and colleges. The personal statement, as part of the Common Application, is the only way students can showcase their unique personalities and set themselves apart from all other applicants. The stronger the writing, the stronger the application, the more merit aid a student could potentially receive. Also, it is essential that students have met with their high school counselor before the winter break to complete the “Recommenders” section of the Common Application. High school teachers and counselors are usually not available over school vacations, and if there is a problem with that section (which only the counselor can fix), students will not be able to submit their application online.

2. Discover Each School’s Percentage of Need Met: Not all schools are created equal when it comes to awarding need-based financial aid. The higher the percentage of need met, the more need-based financial aid a school will award. Some students do not even apply to certain private universities or colleges because they think it will be too expensive. What they do not realize is that oftentimes, a more expensive school also has a higher percentage of need met, which means it will be less expensive than the cheaper school, which has a lower percentage of need met. For many families, it means that Northwestern University (meets 100% of need) could potentially be less expensive than University of Illinois (meets 66% of need).

3. Calculate Estimated Family Contribution (EFC), Analyze Current Positioning and Re-position to Lower EFC: The EFC is the amount the federal government decides a family should be able to pay for college. It is an algorithm that takes into account several variables, mainly income and assets and assesses them at specific percentages. Many parents unknowingly have positioned themselves so that they will overpay for college. For example, money in a student’s savings account can be assessed up to 20%. Money in a parent’s savings account is assessed at 5.6%. Another example, credit card debt is not counted on the forms, even though it is a significant burden on cash flow. Many families have credit card debt, and they also have money in unprotected assets. If they use some of the assets to pay down the debts, they increase their cash flow and lower their potential college costs.

Watkins adds that students and parents should finish their college applications before Tuesday, December 30, 2014. “In that way, they have time to review, review, and review……and, believe me, during that window of time, they will find ways to strengthen their personal statements and to identity opportunities to save college costs,” she says. “If they take to heart these three tips, along with doing everything else on time, I’m confident there’ll be less anxiety and more hope.”

Watkins, a certified advisor for the National Association of College Funding Advisors (NACFA) and the College Planning Network (CPN), the largest and most reputable college admissions and financial aid servicing center has helped nearly 1,000 students prepare their college applications.

“The world of college admissions is so complicated for students and their families. It is anxiety-ridden and increasingly expensive, given all the tutors, test-prep companies, and psychologists competing for their time and money,” says Watkins. “Being practical, strategic, and wise is the only true solution during this major life-changing milestone in their lives.”

Private Lives Of Primates With Loretta Breuning

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Greetings fellow mammals,

brainI have consciously ignored “the news” for years, but last week it suddenly bombarded me. A news monitor blared in the elevator of a conference I was attending. The elevator was a slow, the conference was on the 18th floor, and I needed a lot of breaks from the three-day event. So I ended up with a huge dose of murder and mayhem in my ears. Then I got stuck by a CNN monitor at the airport. Normally I avoid these monitors, but I happened to be standing near it when my flight was delayed. I expected to board any minute, so I didn’t move. Five minutes later, global apocalypse filled my head and I was feeling bad. I moved, but it was a strong reminder of the awful feeling I used to get from “the news” before I kicked the habit. I realized that other people are still living with that feeling.

You may be shocked by the thought of ignoring “the news.” (I use quotes because it’s just one slice of news rather than “the” news. Good news is only reported when it fits an editor’s view of what is good.) You may think you must follow “the news” to be a good person. You may think bad guys will rule the universe if you stop monitoring them on “the news.” I believed this until I realized that news is a happy-chemical habit. It gives you a good feeling in the short run but you pay a high price in the long run – like other happy habits. Here’s how it works.

When you find a way to meet your needs, your mammal brain releases the great feeling of dopamine. Information meets your needs when it helps you find rewards and avoid threats. “The news” appeals to that need, but it never actually meets it. News squanders your attention on generalized threats signals that you can’t really act on. You are better off gathering your own information to navigate your own obstacles. You may think it’s more honorable to focus on the pain of others than on your own needs, but the opposite is true. Paralyzing yourself with anxiety does not help you contribute. You can do more when you focus on tangible obstacles in front of you instead of on abstract threats everywhere. And you can get more dopamine by finding needed information than by absorbing the alarm calls of news packagers.

Our brain looks for safety in a world of potential threats. Oxytocin causes the feeling of safety in the company of those you trust. Animals avoid harm by sticking with a group and listening for their alarm calls. News is a steady stream of alarm calls, and reporters are always suggesting that you put your trust in them. So it’s easy to build social affiliations around today’s headlines. News chat helps ease your mammal brain’s sense of threat and stimulate oxytocin. But it’s a two-edged sword. Your herd mates expect you to share their state of hyper-vigilance. They shun you if you don’t share their sense of threat. You lose the oxytocin that gave you a sense of belonging and told you who to trust. You can stimulate oxytocin in other ways, but people often don’t because the herd created by “the news” is so easily available.

You get a a nice one-up feeling when “the news” critiques people in power. News is a reliable serotonin stimulater because it always puts the common man in the one-up position and finds fault with the powerful. Hostility toward leaders is glorified as a mark of intelligence despite the fact that apes have the same hostility. Apes live with alphas who dominate their food and mating opportunity. Feeling grieved by the man is a primal impulse, not an intellectual triumph. Higher intelligence is needed to see that simple answers do not solve complex problems. When you watch “the news,” you may fantasize about having the power to do the right thing. Your mammal brain loves the power feeling, but your higher intelligence eventually realizes that problems would not vanish if you were running things. You tell yourself you follow “the news” for sophisticated policy analysis, but it rewards you with a feeling of significance akin to adolescent oppositionalism. Alas, you end up feeling trampled and powerless if you rely on “the news” for your sense of importance, because you cannot truly put yourself up by putting others down.

I hate being in the bubble created by “the news.” I have learned to notice it and leave. Creating my own bubble is better than living in the bubble created by journalists.

You can avoid negativity. A program for doing that is described in my new book, Beyond Cynical: Transcend Your Mammalian Negativity. ~ Loretta Breuning

Ten Ways to Stay Positive During the Holidays

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By Loretta Breuning

brainthinking1. Notice the social comparisons your mind makes.

Social comparisons upset us, yet our minds keep going there. That’s because our brains are inherited from ancestors who had to make social comparisons to survive. When you recognize your own impulse to compare, you’re less hooked by the thought that others are judging you. Each time you catch yourself making a social comparison, you can choose to focus elsewhere.

2. Avoid the news.

The constant blast of negativity is draining. You may be surrounded by media, but you don’t have to give it access to your brain. Learn to notice when you’re getting sucked in, and shift your focus to your own goals instead.

3. Prepare a positive topic.

Be ready to talk about something you feel good about. Find a relatable topic instead of showing off. You don’t have to wait around for a positive topic to come up because you can take the risk of bringing one up yourself.

4. Find the good in others.

Some of the people in your holiday rounds will get on your nerves. Some of them will shoot down your positivity. If you focus on their flaws, you will miss out on the good. You have the power to find the good in interactions that might have annoyed you.

5. Notice your anger.

Your inner mammal thinks anger is positive! Anger is the impulse to fight for the one-up position instead of accepting the one-down position. In the animal world, anger is self-limiting because it can get you killed. We humans learn to mask and muzzle it, which is why we can also marinate in it. We bond around shared anger the way our ancestors allied against common threats. This feels good in the short run, but it wastes your energy in the long run. Instead, you can learn to put yourself up in ways that don’t put others down.

womantwisting6. Celebrate your goals.

It’s easy to lose sight of your goals when you overindulge. “I’ve already blown it so I may as well have more,” you may think. Hating yourself in the morning only intensifies the urge to indulge. You can escape this loop by habitually re-focusing on your goals. There’s joy in the act of choosing goals, and joy in each step you take toward them. You have the power to enjoy things that are good for you.

7. Read Meet Your Happy Chemicals

and learn to stimulate more dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and endorphin.

8. Read Beyond Cynical: Transcend Your Mammalian Negativity

and build realistic expectations that you enjoy meeting.

9. Read I, Mammal: Why Your Brain Links Status and Happiness

and make peace with your inner mammal.

10. Choose to stay positive.

Choosing means investing effort in new neural pathways. Old pathways light up effortlessly. Negativity is effortless. Positivity takes work, but the effort is rewarded in the long run. Each time you go positive, you build pathways that make it easier.