It’s Spring! Get outside and open your mind!

This time of year seems to bring out our loosey-goosey side. Polish people have a spring tradition of dousing each other with water and chasing each other around with Pussywillow switches. South Asians pelt each other with colored powered as a celebration of the triumph of good over evil. And then there’s Mardi Gras – ‘nuff said. We tend to go a little wild.

This kind of behavior can be cathartic after a winter’s worth of suffering, but there’s evidence that it might be good for you, too.

It’s a given that cold weather can dampen spirits. Depression that returns during the winter months each year—seasonal affective disorder—goes by the extremely apt acronym “SAD.”

Warm weather doesn’t really have the opposite effect, though. A number of studies, including one based on 20,818 observations in Dallas, Texas, found that there was no significant correlation between mood and temperature.

So, if it’s not just the warmer weather that affects us, then what is it?

In a study published in 2005 by Psychological Science, researchers put volunteers through a series of tests to gauge how the weather and the amount of time they spent outside affected their mood, their memory, and how receptive they were to new information.

In the first test, researchers measured the temperature and barometric pressure (high pressure is typically associated with clear, sunny weather) on several days when 97 people reported their mood and how much time they spent outside. Then, the participants were asked to remember a series of numbers. They were also given a short, favorable description of a fake employee, and then given additional, unfavorable information about that same person, and then asked to assess the employee’s competence and performance. The more open-minded among them, the researchers thought, would be able to update their initial impressions with the new information before passing judgment.

All three metrics hinged on the weather and how much time the participants had spent outside. On days with high pressure—the clear, sunny ones—people who spent more than 30 minutes outside saw an increase in memory, mood, and flexible thinking styles. Those who spent the time indoors, though, saw a decrease.

In a second experiment, the researchers asked 121 subjects to either spend time inside or outside on a warm, clear day. Among participants who spent more than 30 minutes outside, higher temperature and pressure were associated with higher moods, but among those who spent 30 minutes or less outside, this relationship was reversed.

A third test was done to determine whether the first two tests were tainted by the fact that they took place in the spring in a northern climate. Data was collected through a website from 387 respondents who lived in various climates, and they correlated the submissions with the weather in each city for that day. They found that the participants who spent more time outside during the spring, but not during other seasons, had better moods.

Temperature changes toward cooler weather in the fall did not predict higher mood. Rather, there appears to be something uniquely uplifting about warm days in the spring.

In summary, across the studies, spending more time outside on clear, sunny days, particularly in the spring, was found to increase mood, memory, and openness to new ideas. People who spent their time indoors, though, had the opposite effect, and one possible explanation for this result is that people consciously resent being cooped up indoors when the weather is pleasant in the spring.

People in industrialized nations spend 93 percent of their time inside, but researchers suggest that if you wish to reap the psychological benefits of good springtime weather, go outside!

This just might be the perfect time of year to turn off your computer and lay a Post-it note on your desk (with a copy of this article) that says “OUT OF OFFICE”. Catch an afternoon ballgame, go fishing or just frolic around a park. You’ll feel better, smarter and become more open-minded. If your boss asks ‘what’s up?’ – just say “I’m brain training!”

Bulldogs Don’t Bully

Bullying goes on everyday in all walks of life. There are different forms of bullying, be they physical, verbal, or sexual. However, all of them are demeaning and hurtful to the person on the receiving end. It occurs at school, in the work place, in the home, and even at church. It is everywhere, and the worst part is that bullying is a vicious cycle, where the victims often become bullies themselves.

Bullying can be deadly. Thirteen years ago, April 20, 1999, the tragic school shooting at Columbine High School showed us just how deadly it can be.  The death of 12 students and 1 teacher evoked a lot of debate around gun control laws, the role of violent video games, and school security.  However, it also began to shed light on bullying as a root cause of tragedies such as this one, forcing people to address the problem that the two students/gunmen responsible had been outcasts and bullied to a point of mental distress. Bullying generally can start at school.  While it is hard to imagine how one could hope to control such a widespread problem, schools are beginning to do just that. A colleague and I recently had the opportunity to tour Dallas Academy and see first hand how a school is combating bullying in the hallways and classrooms.

Leigh Richardson, Henri Braun and Dallas Academy Headmaster Jim Richardson discuss the school’s bullying program.

Dallas Academy, who’s mascot is the bulldog, works with a unique group of students.  Their mission statement is to restore the promise of full academic enrichment to students with learning differences.  Learning differences often involve problems with reading and writing, and their curriculum involves two hours a day skill work on these problem subjects. And, the kids love it. We walked in and out of the classrooms as Headmaster Jim Richardson, asked the students if they were having fun, only to be answered by emphatic and sincere groupings of “yes” at every turn.  I kept waiting for that one “no” but it never came.  Jim has been there since 1983, and knows the school from the ground up. He has been involved in activity at every level. What he and his team have created there is pretty special.  As we toured the campus Henri, one of my colleagues noted how relaxed all of the students appeared.  The campus is very peaceful, with plenty of trees and natural light, and feels like a warm and nurturing place that fosters learning.

So, in this beautiful setting where everyone is having so much fun learning, why would Dallas Academy spend over a year training its teachers and administrators on an anti-bullying program?  It is an expensive and time consuming process. WHY?  It’s because those who work at the Dallas Academy appreciate the unique population of students that they have.  They understand the difficulties that these students have had in other environments, and want better for their kids.  It’s as simple as that.  They realize that even in an environment such as this, the potential for bullying still exists.  Despite all the successes and hard work, the faculty at Dallas Academy knows that the students are only human. With the help of their teachers and staff, these students who could have otherwise easily fallen into bullying have managed to rise above and make the Dallas Academy a haven and natural environment for learning and personal growth. The administrators walk their talk, and so do the students and their parents.

Please take the opportunity to learn more about their bullying program, and visit the campus on May 9th for a parent’s presentation on bullying.  For more information click here, http://www.dallas-academy.com/.

If you have a child with learning differences, or if you think that your child may be a victim of bullying, then take this opportunity to learn what you as a parent can do to help your child. You won’t be sorry if you go.  I was so inspired during my first vist, I can’t wait to go back.  The kind of example that the Dallas Academy is setting might even cause you to stop and examine your own daily practices, and ask yourself how you can better the environment in which you work and learn in.

Why Can’t I Get Motivated?

I can’t tell you how many times I have been asked the question, “What part of the brain can we tap into for more motivation? Is there a spot that we can focus on?”

That is a hard question to answer, because motivation comes from within; within the mind, body, and spirit. Research shows that both motivation and attention are controlled by the prefrontal cortex, which can be thought of as the “executive center” of the brain.

The prefrontal cortex, which continues to mature into early adulthood, controls functions such as planning, decision making and the ability to delay gratification.

There is a whole chapter on ‘Attention and Motivation’ in The Dana Guide to Brain Health, a great resource for anyone looking for more information, that explains the prefrontal lobe are its role in formulating complex goals and intentions. The authors note that “this means that the human brain is capable of creating models of the world not only as it is, but as we want it to be. The human brain is able to create models of the future. This is called intentionality. But merely creating a model of the future is not enough. We must have the ability to strive to change the world as it is into the world we want it to become. This ability is called motivation. Without motivation, no life challenge of any degree of complexity can successfully be met.”

We use the frontal lobes to set our short and long term goals, as well as to prioritize and keep our attention from being distracted from our goals. There is more to motivation that just setting a goal, as everyone is not goal oriented. Different people get motivated in different ways. For some people, motivation must come through positive reinforcement, such as:

  • Killing them with kindness; showering them with support. A positive brain approach.
  • Treating them with trust and respect.
  • Creating challenges.  Getting them excited!
  • Incentives and rewards.
  • Inspiring them – make them believe in themselves.

Inspiration – stimulating our mind and emotions to a high level of feeling and activity. Many of us can be inspired by the words of great leaders. One that rings especially true for me comes from Gandhi, who said “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” We may get inspiration from a speech we hear, a story we read, or a simple act of kindness that we see during our daily lives. Poetry moves us in different ways. Music is a powerful vehicle for motivation; just ask anyone who feels the beat of their favorite song fueling them to run that extra lap, or work just a little bit harder the next time they exercise.

For me, motivation occurs on all levels, cognitively, emotionally and spiritually. I want to share this video with you that provided the inspiration for this blog. Just watch it. Texas County Reporter: Blind Quilter It will touch you in a way you didn’t expect.

Go explore your local library, the internet, or even ask your friends and family for sources of inspiration. Find something that rings true for you personally, and use that as your own personal call to arms, as your mantra to spur you forward towards healthy behaviors. However, if you still find yourself saying “none of that works for me, no matter how hard I try” and you feel out of control, you should stop blaming yourself and start wondering. Ask yourself, could there be a medical reason? Is your brain out of balance and not working the way it needs to? Are you depressed?  These are questions that require investigation. If you think you were born that way and can’t change it, you are wrong. You can. Seek the help of a neurologist or neuropsychologist who can provide you with the tools and treatment to help you heal yourself.

You can create positive change in your life!