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We are not our brain

Most neuroscientists Holistic 2 believe that we are our brain, and that when our body dies, along with the brain, so do we. Through functional MRIs neuroscientists attempt to determine which parts of the brain, and even which neurons, are responsible for such things as thinking, emotions and belief in a higher being called God. At the same time, the same scientists are telling us that we, whoever they mean by “we,” can change and control and mould our brain. Because of neural plasticity (the ability of the brain to grow new neurons and axons and synapses) we can break bad habits and form a new ones, heal ourselves, control our blood pressure, temperature and breathing … Wait a minute! If we are our brain, how does the brain decide to change itself, and why would it ever want to?

On the other hand, if we were separate from our brain – let’s say as a mind or spirit – it would make sense. If our brain were just a part of our body – a sophisticated computer, for instance – it would make sense that we would be able to control and use our brain as required or desired.
The problem and the reason the neuroscientists are stymied – is that they, like most scientists and physicists, do not accept the fact that everything in this world is not physical – composed of molecules and atoms – that can be tested and measured or put in a test tube.

This may change; but now most scientists do not acknowledge the mind, soul, spirit or anything that cannot be seen, measured, tested, weighed, prodded or scanned. To the scientist, the mind is just another word for the brain or simply a function of the brain.

Looking at the brain and assuming it is responsible for our thoughts, feelings, beliefs and intelligence, is like looking at a radio and assuming it is responsible for the music, or seeing a light bulb and assuming it is responsible for the light. They are both merely instruments being used to produce these things. The emphasis these days seems to be pinpointing what parts of the brain are responsible for our thoughts and actions and feelings. With functional MRIs neuroscientists can see sections of the brain light up and conclude that part of the brain – or specific neurons – are responsible for decision-making or compassion or fear and so on.

Well, we can say a TV speaker is responsible for the sound since it vibrates whenever the noise is heard and the picture tube produces the picture since it lights up whenever an image appears; but pull the plug and suddenly you realize there must be something else involved. What I suggest is that the brain is simply a part of the body. It is connected to the body and is programed to control the essential workings of the body such as the circulatory system, body temperature and breathing. But it is basically a sophisticated computer that can be further programmed by the mind. Not only can the mind program the brain, through neuroplasticity it can also change the hardware.

While the brain connects with the body, the mind connects with all things – the brain and the rest of our body, nature, our environment, one another, and God. Everyone is born with a mind, and at death, the body and the brain die and return to the earth; but the mind cannot be destroyed, and returns to God.

In holistic time management, when we speak of the body, mind and spirit, I am assuming the brain is part of the body and that the mind is a spiritual entity that cannot be destroyed. But common practice refers to the brain as the mind, and it becomes confusing. Certainly we can change both body and brain, and change ourselves in the process. But it is we, the mind, soul or spirit that is initiating the changes, not our brain. We are not our brain.

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Life after retirement should include people

Retirement (2)A major cause of health problems after retirement is the loss of social connections with co-workers. A 2013 London-based report suggests that retirement can cause depression, mobility issues, diabetes, hypertension, and decreased mental abilities. People who don’t retire completely are generally better both physically and mentally.
People who feel lonely are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s, and according to John Ratey, in his book Spark: The revolutionary new science of exercise and the brain, depression also increases the risk.

We need people as much as we need technology in order to thrive in this digital age of speed. It should never be an either or situation.
Thirty years ago, we tended to blame other people for wasting our time. Excessive socializing, unscheduled interruptions, meetings, and gossip at the water cooler were all common complaints expressed in time management seminars. Fast forward to today, and you don’t hear as much about people wasting our time – at least not in person. Now we’re busy with email, text messages, voice mail, cell phone calls and the Internet.
Technology has not decreased our time problems as much as it has taken away the human element. And yet research is telling us that strong relationships lengthen your life, boost your immune system and cut the risk of depression. According to the research it seems the higher the quantity and quality of your relationships, the longer you live.

Research published in the February, 2008 Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, showed that daily social contacts may boost brain power and cognitive abilities. In a University of Michigan study of 3500 people, it was revealed that more time spent chatting with friends was associated with higher scores on memory tests. Interaction with people provides greater brain stimulation than watching a computer monitor or TV set.
Television, the number one leisure activity in North America and Europe, consumes over half of our free time and is accused of stealing time away from our friendships and relationships with people.

But technology can help as well as hinder our relationships. Facebook, the largest social networking site, was launched at Harvard University in 2004. In 2014, Facebook boasted 1.32 billion active users spending an average of 40 minutes a day on the social media giant.

Although 40 minutes a day seems like a long time, it is nothing compared to the 5 hours a day consumed by television. And there is more social interaction while communicating on Facebook than there is in being glued to a TV set. Two million friends are requested every twenty minutes and three million messages are sent during that same period of time. Although cyber friends are not the same as personal “live” friendships, many of them do become actual friends that they meet and spend real time with.

Matthew Lieberman, in his book, Social: Why our brains are wired to connect (Random House, 2013), described a survey conducted in 1985 where people were asked “Over the last six months, who are the people with whom you discussed matters important to you?” The most common number of friends listed was three. When the same survey was given in 2004 the most common number of friends listed was zero.

Although the Internet in general can still be a time waster, judicious use of it can reap huge benefits – especially when it comes to social media. But nothing can replace the health benefits of one-on-one contact with family and friends. If you don’t have any, join the coffee shop crowd in the mornings. There are groups of people who are there are seeking companionship as well. And it shouldn’t be long before you are invited to join a group.

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Volunteering can extend your life

VoluteeringIn 1999, for instance, scientists tracked 2025 Californians aged 55 and older, for five years and found that those who volunteered for two or more organizations were 63% less likely to die during the study than those who didn’t volunteer. And those who volunteered for only one organization lowered their mortality rate by 26%.

An article in the November 30, 2014 Toronto Star reports on the above study and several others. Canada sits in sixth place on the World Happiness Report, (Statscan) and 84% of Canadians donate money to charity every year. 68% of volunteers agree that volunteering has made them feel physically healthier.

There appears to be a definite link between giving and volunteering and happiness, and another link between happiness and health and longevity. Dr. Lissa Rankin, in her 2013 book, Mind over medicine, admits that unhappy people are less likely to eat well, exercise, and enjoy healthy sleep patterns, but insists there is more to it than that. She goes on to describe the “nun study”, which gave the opportunity to follow the nuns in a controlled environment for the balance of their lives. 90% of the most cheerful nuns were still alive at age 84, compared to only 34% of the least cheerful. (Rankin goes on to explain how, with functional MRI machines and electroencephalography; it is now easier to study the science of happiness.

There is much evidence to support the role of happiness in healthy populations but there is still disagreement as to whether happiness — or attitude, fighting spirit, or positive thinking for that matter — can actually cure diseases. But studies do show an improvement in recovery rates.
Since holistic time management includes strategies that will help us lead a happier, healthier, longer more productive and fulfilling life, we must include the habit of giving and volunteering among these strategies.

Leaders of the future will be those who can master some of the more useful technology that becomes available while maintaining their interpersonal relationships and people skills. Not only will they be able to work efficiently, they’ll be able to relate to other people, negotiate, gain consensus, close deals, network effectively and motivate and inspire others.

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Increasing performance with plants

OutdoorsThe more we gravitate toward the cities and hole up in our offices, the more we withdraw from nature and its largely unrecognized or unappreciated benefits. Studies have shown that the presence of potted plants, for example, improves productivity, creativity, performance and learning ability. In the case of schools, the presence of plants improved scores in mathematics spelling and science between 10% and 14%. Think what trees in the classroom might do!

Researchers have also found that plants act as vacuum cleaners removing pollution from the air. Exposure to indoor and outdoor pollutants in both home and offices has been linked to anxiety, depression, irritability, fatigue and short and long-term cognitive decline among other afflictions.

One study involved new computers, which have been shown to give off chemicals into the air. When a batch of new computers were hidden behind a divider, cognitive testing showed it reduced performance and increased errors by those workers closest to the hidden computers.

Plants not only give off oxygen, they are able to absorb environmental chemicals and transport them to the soil, rendering them less harmful. This is particularly true of trees, so if we don’t completely decimate our forests, they could be the answer to our air pollution problem. NASA used plants to keep their astronauts healthy while working in enclosed places constructed of synthetic materials. Potted plants have reduced indoor pollutants by at least 75%.

Natural lighting from the sun is another environmental factor that can affect our health and personal performance. It improves cognitive performance alertness and mood. This cannot be said of the artificial light of computer screens and TV sets. The artificial light adversely affects melatonin production and recent research links it to many health issues, including insomnia, immune deficits, cancers, obesity, daytime fatigue, depression, ADD, and others.

Light therapy studies, where blue-enriched white fluorescent tubes were installed, showed an improvement in mood, performance, alertness and so on. Not as good as working outdoors or near a window in the daytime, but it highlighted the importance of light for our health and well-being — which in turn affects our personal performance.

Of course, we can’t go backwards to our roots even if we wanted to – although in a way, I do envy people who live in the country. But we can use such information to modify our work environments.
For instance, I moved my home condo office from a windowless room that used to be a dining room to the solarium where I am surrounded by two walls of glass and access to the balcony. I am buying plants after having thrown them all out after my wife died less than two years ago, and in the Spring I am replacing her balcony window boxes that I trashed in the name of efficiency.

When I walk in the morning, In the Summer and Fall (we don’t have Spring in this part of Canada) I head through parkland that starts behind our condo building, winds around a pond and takes me to a little village with a coffee shop – where I do my most creative writing. The coffee shop has large windows and a great view of nature.
I buy organic fruit and vegetables, even though I know some of the labels may be misleading, and I make sure the cheese is from grazing cattle and the eggs from free-range hens. I avoid manufactured fats and stick to those from nature, and try to avoid all processed foods and fast foods.

Why this sudden interest in nature? I just read two fascinating books that provided all the above information and more: Your brain on nature by Eva Celhub and Alan Logan and Go wild: Free your body from the affliction of civilization by John J. Ratey and Richard Manning. And I recall the fun – and energy – I had as a youngster exploring the woods in my home town of Timmins, Ontario.

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Eat a hearty breakfast

PorridgeSkipping breakfast frequently results in unhealthy snacking throughout the day and overeating at lunchtime. Skipping breakfast has been linked to health risks such as high blood pressure, unhealthy assortment of blood-fats, and obesity. Forbes magazine reported on a Harvard study of nearly 27,000 men, 45-82 years old over a period of about 16 years. Men who skipped breakfast were 27% more likely to experience a heart attack or to die as the result of coronary heart disease.

I spend a good half-hour preparing my breakfast in the morning, and since I have had a history of high blood pressure, a mini-stroke, high cholesterol and arthritis, I prepare oatmeal and as it cooks, add the following ingredients that I think might help. I do believe that food can be one of the most effective medicines.
The ingredients that I add are as follows, along with some of the benefits of each as researched on the Internet. The resulting concoction actually tastes delicious.

Oatmeal: Oatmeal is a rich source of soluble fiber which inhibits the body’s absorption of low-density lipoprotein LDL which is known as the bad cholesterol. It’s also full of antioxidants, and has been known to lower cholesterol and prevents hardening of the arteries and lowers blood pressure. It also gives the immune system a boost.
Flax seed: There’s some evidence that it may help reduce your risk of heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes but it owes its primary healthy reputation to three of them. It contains Omega-3 essential fatty acids, “good” fats that have been shown to have heart-healthy effects, Lignans, which have antioxidant qualities and fibre.

Bananas: Bananas are rich in potassium and are helpful for reducing strokes in regulating blood pressure. They are also rich in iron, and help promote hemoglobin production. They have been known to boost brainpower, soothes ulcers, lift your spirits, and promote bowel health, among other things.

Blueberries: Blueberries are laden with antioxidants and ranked number one of all the fruits. They fight off disease, reduce high blood pressure, improve memory, and even protect against colon cancer according to the literature. They’re also claims that they help preserve vision contribute to brain health, fight heart disease, and even promote urinary tract health.

Cinnamon: Cinnamon reduces LDL cholesterol, regulates blood sugar, and reduces pain linked to arthritis. According to some research, it even helps fight Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, brain tumors and meningitis.
Honey: One of the oldest sweet airs on earth, honey has even been recommended by King Solomon in Proverbs when he said, “eat honey my son.” It contains flavonoids and antioxidants which help reduce the risk of some cancers and heart disease. Claims for the benefit of honey include reducing ulcers and gastrointestinal disorders, increasing athletic performance, reducing cost and throat irritation, regulating blood sugar, healing wounds and burns, and so on.

A mixture of cinnamon and honey is said to cure most diseases – everything from skin infections to colds and upset stomach. It is even said that tea made with honey and cinnamon powder when taken regularly arrests the ravages of old age.

I know that my oatmeal – or porridge as my mother used to call it – is one ritual I have stuck to for many years, and I don’t have the urge to snack by mid-morning. It stays with me. I encourage people to seek out natural remedies for what ails them – not to ignore doctors’ prescriptions and advice – but to go further by becoming an expert on your own health needs.

And yes, when I checked my blood pressure this morning it was 118/72 – not bad for a man in his eighties. I had better see the doctor to see if I can reduce or eliminate my blood pressure medication.

I spend a half-hour cooking my breakfast each morning; but eating a nutritious morning meal will save you time in the long run. It makes up for any lost time by energizing both your body and brain and increasing your performance throughout the day.

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Holistic time management goes beyond efficiency and effectiveness

Biological clockHolistic time management aims to improve the whole life of an individual, not just his or her efficiency and effectiveness.

Michael Harris, in his book, Absence: Reclaiming what we’ve lost in a world of constant connection, points out that as we embrace technology’s gifts, we forget what we are being asked for in return – for example, that the gaps in our schedules have disappeared. There is definitely a price to pay as we adopt technology, and one of the biggest costs is our time.

Another cost is what we will leave behind. The next generation will never remember life before the Internet. Some things will be missing from their lives but they will never notice because for them they never were. We are the only generation, if you’re over 25, that can still notice the difference between before and after the Internet.
Our grandchildren may never know how to read a map without GPS, but will they care?

When we reach for our cell phone during dinner, we can catch ourselves and say, “wait a minute — what am I doing? I don’t have to be connected to everyone 24 hours a day.”

Or when we find ourselves checking e-mail before breakfast or taking calls on the way home in our car or checking Twitter and Facebook while having a coffee break at Starbucks, we can stop ourselves and say, “wait a minute — I need a break from all this I want time to unwind, relax and refresh, give my mind a rest, put myself in a creative mood, think about my new grandchild”, and so on.

But the next generation, will not be able to say that because they will be born into this new world and won’t be able to visualize it being any other way.

One thing I am trying to do through holistic time management is determine what it is we are leaving behind in this new age of technology, and if anything is worth preserving.
Should we be buying our toddlers iPads, complete with electronic games – or blocks and popsicle sticks and refrigerator cartons to play with? (By the way, yesterday I saw two toddlers using an iPad at the coffee shop yesterday and it reminded me that CTA Digital had released its iPotty a year or so ago, a toilet for toddlers with a stand for their tablets.)
Should we buy them electronic art pads – or crayons and paper? What impact will it have on the way their brains develop? Should I teach my great grandchildren how to write and spell and add and subtract — or simply buy them a computer and tell them which icons to click?

And what about my adult family? Should I encourage one-on-one relationships or 1000 friends on Facebook? Walks through the woods, or 20 minutes on a treadmill? Home-cooked meals or fast food and take-outs? Reading books or watching Netflix? An active or sedentary lifestyle?

And what about me? I’m in my eighties and have lived in both worlds. Should I reject technology and hand-write my books or use voice activated software? Look words up in the dictionary or use Spell-check? Pay for long distance calls or use Skype? Send greeting cards by snail mail or e-cards via the Internet?

Is there anything good about the past that merits preserving? Anything bad about technology that requires controlling?

And how does it all impact my chosen profession of time management? How does it impact your chosen profession and your lifestyle? In this digital age of speed and technology is time management even necessary? Or has it too become obsolete — soon to be a thing of the past?

Well, the conclusion I came to was that time management as we have been teaching it is still relevant, but it is no longer sufficient. It has to change.

We have been making statements such as “she is managing her time well” or “she is organized” — as though they were the goals. Time management and organization are not destinations that you’re aiming to arrive at. They are merely tools to help you achieve that kind of life you want to live. For most people this might be a lifestyle that includes being healthy, happy, relatively stress free, with time to do the things that bring you and your loved ones personal satisfaction.

Time management is a journey, not an event, and time itself is not life; it simply measures its passing.
It’s time for a new or expanded time management. I chose to label this new or changed time management as “holistic time management” simply because it involves strategies affecting the whole person, not just his or her efficiency and effectiveness as it relates to getting things done.
I define holistic time management as “the strategies necessary to lead a happier, healthier, longer, more productive and fulfilling life.” I presume that this is the generic life goal of most people.

And in light of the new technological age that we now find ourselves in, I feel that in order to achieve this goal we need the strategies that take into consideration both external and internal time management as well as health, stress, lifestyle and environmental issues that affect body mind and spirit.

Factors to consider in applying holistic time management include exercise, getting adequate sleep, keeping your brain healthy and active, avoiding excessive stress, developing your executive, brain-based skills, watching what you eat and so on. You need to control technology, your workload, your emotions and even your attitude. And your spiritual and mental conditions have a big impact on your health, longevity, and state of mind.

For top performance and physical well-being, you have to consider all facets of a person’s life. That’s why you will see a wide range of articles in this blog page. But they all have a direct or indirect impact on how we manage our time and our life.

The greatest time management strategy is to live longer, healthier, happier and more productive. It’s amazing how much you can accomplish with a few extra years.