What I Learned the Week of April 14th

Print by Susan Point “Preservation”

From a Podcast  – Balance of Pain Over Pleasure

The topic of addiction has been rattling around in my subconscious for a few weeks. I have had at least one disturbing dream that was pointing to “baggage that is slowing me down” and as I pondered this question journaling I wondered about some of my addictive behaviours and whether they have crept over a tipping point. More to reflect on there and this podcast with Dax Shepard and Anna Lembke and her book about addiction called Dopamine Nation was calling my name!

This book is definitely going into my library for immediate consumption. Anna is a psychiatrist and professor at Stanford University. What I loved about her is her complete descriptions of how our body/brain works as it relates to the balance of pain over pleasure and all things addiction-related. And the bonus is that she speaks with a lot of vulnerability about her early biases in her career about addiction and then later in life recovering from her addictions.  

This podcast is one for all of us to listen to as I see so many of us struggle with pain avoidance. And how the attraction to that dopamine hit can so easily pull me to act in a way that is not consistent with my values. We are often medicating our withdrawal from that last dopamine hit. Take scones. There is a bakery just a few blocks from my home that I pass regularly on my way back from the morning dog walk. I love these scones so much that I find myself daydreaming about them almost every morning. Craving that initial bite of the perfect balance of savoury and sweet.  I’m wasting cognitive resources thinking about these damn scones. And I hate to admit that the last time I broke down and got a scone I ate the entire thing (these are big scones) and felt miserable from it – both physically and mentally shame, for the rest of the day. Yet the next day that craving stirred up again. Uggh!

Now, this is a mild addiction obviously as the impact on my personal life is pretty minimal. I wasted 5-10 minutes a day craving the scones and debating with myself whether I will get one today or not. And then when I do I consume unnecessary calories and feelings of shame – so let’s say another hour of my day is not ideal. Other addictions have much bigger impacts on people’s lives, causing relationship issues, physical illness and inability to get through the day without a fix just to name a few. For me, I have the pain of the craving (or the shame) and I usually can find something to balance that pain that is a more healthy choice. 

Anna talked about how many individuals can have their pain-pleasure balance permanently broken and no matter how long they abstain from the thing they get dopamine (pleasure) hit from – they will be under a dopamine deficit strain. They are constantly white-knuckling it to abstain from their “drug” of choice. In those cases, there may need to be drugs that help relieve the white-knuckling so that they can at least get to their AA meetings or therapy or whatever to live more flourishing lives. I appreciated having this metaphor to understand a little bit better what it might be like for someone who is struggling with their addictions. It is so easy to judge and think people are making a choice. While I always knew that could not be true it is helpful to have the science behind what is going on in a person’s body. 

Fortunately, most of us still have enough brain plasticity that when the pain gremlins jump off the pain-pleasure see-saw we can get back to a homeostasis state. But the reality is many of us are searching for that next dopamine hit every time our see-saw dips to the pain side. And some of that is that we live in this increasingly stimulated world where pleasure is one click away. Bored for a few minutes (more like seconds) – just grab your phone and get sucked into news apps, games, Twitter, Insta and before long you realize you’ve been on Tik-Tok for the last 15-minutes. 

As much as it would be nice to blame all of this on the products we can’t be naive enough to expect the social media platforms (and the world) to grow a conscious and be more ethical about how they entice us into their products with their dopamine hits. We need to establish barriers between ourselves and the world that we live in to create a world within a world as Anna suggested. This also means we need to stop trying to avoid pain and possibly even intentionally make life harder for ourselves. To lean more on the pain side of the seesaw from time to time means we will still get our dopamine hits through the absence of more controlled pain. Example cold plunging, intense exercising, forced removal of digital and into nature, intermittent fasting, etc. 

Now some of those things might not sound like a pain to you but it’s really about the lack of comparison to what is normal – not being digitally connected 24×7, not drinking every night, not eating whatever you want to consume, etc. There is still a need for other therapies when struggling with an addiction that keeps you from living a flourishing life. And many of us are not leading a flourishing life with our mild addictions. An opportunity to look at what are the hard things we might need to be doing instead of seeking that next dopamine hit.

The final point I learned from Anna – humans are wired for pain. Our dopamine hits of pleasure are dependent on some level of pain. That’s how the seesaw works. 

From a Book – Intuition versus Reasoning

Handbook of Intuition Research as a Practice published July 2020

Have fun creating a future leadership workshop where intuition will be a key part of the program. I have had lots of experience leaning into intuition in my coaching practice and prior leadership training. However, I have never really dug into the academic side of intuition. In this book, Jaana Woiceshyn describes intuition as the rapid, unconscious mental processing based on associative pattern recognition that results in effective judgements. It is compared to reasoning which is defined as more rational, deliberate and linear thinking.

A key position shared is the concept of recognizing intuition and reasoning as parallel processes versus alternate processes. When we think of them as dual processing systems, ones that are in constant communication with each other then it opens the door to our intuition always being available to us. However, this requires strong self-management work to clear out the noise of politics and decisions driven by emotional non-logical thinking versus having our emotions validate our rational thinking.

There was a quote I was introduced to this week from Antonio Damasio -Professor of Psychology, Philosophy, and Neurology, at the University of Southern California. “We are not necessarily thinking machines. We are feeling machines that think.” Trying to ignore that our emotions are present in all of our thinking is foolish. Hence the importance of building our emotional intelligence skills. And when we do that we will have more access to our intuitive skills or unconscious mental processing. 

Social Media – Dog Food & Plastic

For all the dog lovers out there, and likely this applies to any pet, there is a warning I found from this TikTok – do not put your dog food in plastic containers. The recommendation is to keep in original bad, or optionally use glass or metal container. 

Real Person – Non-Binary Drag

It’s been at least twenty years since I went to my last drag show, which was probably my first one. Growing up in North Carolina there was not quite the same openness to anything that challenged the norm as there is in Vancouver, BC. I’m always excited to celebrate and create space for others to be fully themselves. This show was hosted by Vancouver’s drag mogul, vintage pinup model, and community leader who crafted a special people of colour drag show which added a bit of icing to the cake in being able to support this. However, I’m embarrassed to say that this was the first time I had heard of non-binary drag queens and during intermission, I had to look it up to educate myself. I learn constantly of my own biases, particularly in this space. The performance was great and so much in line with the body-positive vibe from the entire evening. However, there I must admit there was a solid moment of confusion in my brain when the performer first came on the stage. It reminds me how important it is to keep getting myself out in the world to experience new things and witness all the many beautiful ways one can express themselves.

From Myself – 5 Things I Would Save

There was another podcast that I thoroughly enjoyed this week between Tim Ferriss and Michael Schur who was a very successful writer on SNL and creator of “The Good Place”. I found the podcast very much worth the listen and lots of yummy conversations around the philosophy. However, one of the reflection points that Michael shared left me wondering what would my answer be.

Burning house scenario. Let’s assume your house is burning down with all of the possessions you most cherish. We can also assume that all humans and pets will safely get outside of the house. However, you only have time to save 5 things. What would be my 5 things?

I found this hard as I am not a possession kind of girl. Experiences and quality time are my love language over gifts. Michael, in the podcast, chose precious books as he is a first edition collector. I love my books but none are first editions and so all are very replaceable. What’s not replaceable?

1 – Scotland family trip scrapbook. For my husband’s 50th birthday the boys and I took him to Scotland for the British Open. The boys were 17 so borderline in terms of would they be bored to tears going from one castle to another. All of us were swept away by the country’s beauty, and everyone was 110% engaged the entire time. I created a scrapbook as part of the setup for the trip (which he opened on his actual birthday in May) and then added to it pictures and souvenirs after the fact. The pictures, of course, are all digital but where we stayed, the special things we did, are experienced as I flip through the pages of that scrapbook.

2 – Baby scrapbook. Like the above, I have a scrapbook with a few key items and many photos from the boys’ first months. I still find it amazing to look at some of the photos of Mike and me before we had the twins and then just a few months after. I think we aged a decade!!! And they were soooo tinny. You’d never believe they would grow up to be 6’4″.

3 – Leadership Journal. I have lots of journals from various times in my life that someday I would love to go through and re-read. But if I could only pick one it would be from the year 2015 when I was part of a very special leadership year-long course with CTI and the Opossums. That was a big year in my personal growth and there are still things I am processing from that experience even today. Definitely one I wouldn’t want to lose.

4 – Photo of my grandma and grandpa sitting on the stairs just outside their house. The house that I associate them with was one that on the ground floor was their fabric store called the Mountain Peddler and then above, sitting slightly on a hill, was their home. There was a hillside stairway that took you from their front door down to the store. I cannot tell you how many dreams I have about being in that house, the stairway, looking out of their bedroom window to the cow field across the road, etc. My grandparents were a huge part of my childhood, and that photo is one that I feel honoured to have. 

5 – This is tough. So many things that I could still choose for this 5th spot however I would take the first piece of artwork that Mike and I ever bought together as we were just starting to build our lives together before we were even married. The colour print is by Susan Point, titled “Preservation” print III/III. I can remember clearly the day we bought it at her Granville Island Studio in ’98. She was not quite as famous as she is today. Mike knew he wanted a piece of indigenous art as his first major purchase, and I was somewhat indifferent. However, after I saw her work, I was enamoured with its beauty and depth.  We have since bought 2 more of her larger colour prints and one day I hope to be privileged enough to showcase one of her wooden sculptures. Regardless, the video reel that plays in my head of the joy and lightness of that day is preserved with that print. 

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