Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Her Stroke of Insight

In the later part of last year, I was working on improving my presentation skills. I was reading about presentations and great presenting. I cannot remember if it was Guy Kawasaki or a talk on Presentation Zen
by Garr Reynolds. Guy turned me on to Garr and an author's talk he did at Google on Presentation Zen. Along the way, several people have also pointed me towards TED (Technology, Innovation, Design). One of the best talks that I have watched on TED was "My Stroke of Insight" by Jill Bolte Taylor:

After watching this presentation, I purchased and read the book under the same name, My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey. She has turned something that most people would find very crippling into a source of knowledge and strength. Along the way, she also used her education as a brain researcher to help gain better understanding about how the brain works. I find this particularly interesting.

She found out how hard it is to build a plan and stick to it when the narrator in the brain is not working. When your inner voice, that helps plot and plan, is no longer available. This would be a lot like how my Artificial Life forms live. I am not yet sure how to incorporate that inner voice into my creatures, but wow, it would be great to have them.

Right now, without that narrative, my creatures are living in the moment. At each moment, they need to make a plan, analyze the situation, and take a course of action. At the next moment, they don't really have much information about the plan that they were following previously. There are some clues, but they are pretty weak.

One thing I picked up from the book is the length of time for a physiological response. After something happens or you first become aware of it, your body physically responds for a bout 90 seconds. You are afraid, or angry, or happy, or whatever for 90 seconds. After that period, you can choose your reaction again. You can choose how you feel. You can ignore your initial physical reaction to something for 90 seconds and then it gets easier. This is very good to keep in mind when your child does something particularly harsh or someone does something that sets you off for some reason. Just wait 90 seconds, pretend it is all good, and in 90 seconds, it will be easier to let it go. I have used this insight to get past some really painful or frustrating things, and also to help change what I think about.

Jill described telling her brain something on the order of "yes, that is very nice, we are going to stop having that kind of thought now" and having it work. I have had a decent amount of success with this technique. Why did it take reading a book about someone's experience during and recovering from partial brain death for me to consider talking to my brain? I know it sounds weird, but have you tried it? Ask your brain to do something or not do something. Really ask it. You might be surprised.

Another thing that I found really scary was Jill's description of what it was like to be in the hospital after a stroke. She wanted people to speak slowly and quietly. She needed a lot of time to form a response to a question. The doctors or nurses ended up thinking that she was incapable due to her reaction to bright lights and loud questions or the amount of time it took her to come up with a response.

It still amazes me how adaptive a human body and human brain are. She lost a lot. By working on getting back pieces and stretching a little bit more each day, she gained a lot of it back. Yes, in the end, she is not the same person. But, if she had listened to common wisdom, she would have been an invalid for life with never expanding horizons. Believe in what your body and brain can do. Give them a chance.

To Jill, who went through a massive breakdown and turned it into genius: Thank You!


1 comment:

ZUrlocker said...

you've been tagged!