From Part 4 of my interview with Dr. Taylor on Brain Fitness:
“Without intellectual curiosity learning is boring. Without intellectual curiosity the justification for knowledge ultimately rests in pragmatic concerns outside the material itself, with the result that knowledge is reduced to a utilitarian tool. Intellectual curiosity saves us from the type of servile mind that sees knowledge as only useful for material gain. That’s why intellectual curiosity is freeing, dignifying and humanizing. Intellectual curiosity arises naturally from the best education, since the finest education is able in instill in us the sense that life is intensely interesting and worthwhile to study for its own sake.
But intellectual curiosity is also very practical since it is closely connected with memory. When knowledge ceases to be interesting for its own sake then we find it difficult to remember the content. The brain is very efficient so that when something is boring for us the brain gets the message ‘This isn’t worth remembering, I need to conserve my resources for stuff that is more interesting.’
We tend to think that a positive outlook results from external circumstances and forces that are outside of us. Though we might not actually express it so crudely, we intuitively assume that peace of mind results from getting what we want. While this may be partially true in some cases, it is more often the case that peace of mind results from the mindset we choose to adopt about our livesirrespective to what is happening around us.
Last week I decided to apply for a cleaning job someone told me about. Given that my work as a writer has recently slowed down, I was eager at the prospect of some extra income.
Cleaning might be just the right sort of part-time job for me, I thought, since I could listen to audio books and courses while I worked. It would essentially mean that I could be paid to do the thing I loved most of all: listen to courses and audio books!
Thus it was that last Saturday I excitedly made my way to a spot in downtown Coeur d’Alene where I had arranged to be interviewed for a cleaning job. All I had been told is that I should meet a man named Igor, who organized janitorial crews for companies and had been having difficulty finding workers for one of his corporate clients.
As I approached the place I was supposed to rendezvous with Igor, my heart sank: it was in the worst part of town—the part of Coeur d’Alene where respectable people never venture. Coeur d’Alene has a law against loitering, but in this area the law was apparently not being enforced. A crowd of desolates and drunks eyed me suspiciously as I approach Igor’s office.
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Earlier this month, Carolyn Gregoire wrote a powerful article on intuition for the Huffington Post. Her article, ‘10 Things Highly Intuitive People Do Differently‘, showed that being able to have an accurate intuition is a skill we develop with practice, by engaging in right practices such as taking time to be creative, to be quiet, to mindfulness let go of negative emotions, and so forth. It reminded me of Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blinkwhere he showed that there is a complex context of antecedents that precede a person’s ability to make accurate split second reactions based on intuition. One of the things I most appreciated about Gregoire’s piece was her emphasis that constant busyness and connection to digital connectivity can starve the ability to be intuitive. That is something I’ve found, as it is the times when I turn off all my devices to just be quiet that I achieve my best insights and connect best with the intuition God has given me. From Gregoire’s piece:
“Few things stifle intuition as easily as constant busyness, multitasking, connectivity to digital devices and stress and burnout. According to Huffington, we always have an intuitive sense about the people in our lives — on a deep level, we know the good ones from the ‘flatterers and dissemblers’ — but we’re not always awake enough to our intuition to acknowledge the difference to ourselves. The problem is that we’re simply too busy.”
In his 1983 book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, psychologist Howard Gardner expanded the notion of intelligence to include multiple different modalities. One of the most important of these is the category that many psychologists call emotional intelligence but which Gardner termed “Interpersonal Intelligence.”
Emotional intelligence involves the ability to recognize our feelings as they occur and thus to increase the gap between stimulus and response. But emotional intelligence isn’t just about recognizing and managing our own emotions, because clinical studies have established that the same mental muscles involved in attentive perception of our own moods and feelings also form the basis of attentive perception of others people’s emotions and needs. So emotional intelligence is both self-directed and others-directed. And it’s so important practically. As I pointed out in my essays on attentiveness, a high level of emotional intelligence is absolutely necessary in order to have successful relationships, to self-regulate our emotions, and effectively to navigate the challenges of life. In fact, many researchers now believe that emotional intelligence is even more important than IQ. This was the thesis of Daniel Goleman’s ground-breaking 1995 book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. Goleman didn’t discover the concept of emotional intelligence, but he’s the one who popularized the concept and made it a household term. Thanks to the work of Goleman and others, it is now widely accepted that emotional intelligence plays a far greater role than we ever realized in all the things that matter most in life. In his book Search Inside Yourself, former Google-engineer-turned-mindfulness-guru, Chade-Meng Tan, showed that emotional intelligence even plays a central role in jobs that we might expect to only require good brain-processing power, such as the work of programmers, engineers and technicians.
Research is increasingly showing that emotional intelligence involves neurological skills that can be developed with practice, and so it is absolutely crucial that this skill be at the center of any discussion about brain fitness.
“There are two main strategies we can adopt to improve the quality of life. The first is to try making external conditions match our goals. The second is to change how we experience conditions to make them fit our goals better.”
— Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience