All posts by heatherlgraham

About heatherlgraham

I believe in destiny, providence, some sort of purpose to this crazy, wonderful and sometimes heartbreakingly painful journey we call life. I'm sifting through the moments and trying to make sense of it all: Love--family--life. My background is philosophy, psychology, and English, and I'm pulling on all three as I complete my first novel.

What kind of neighbor are you?

Do you know your neighbor? Do you? Do you know what’s going on in his world? Do you know the difficulties she faces? If they were in an emergency situation, could they come to you and ask you to watch their daughter for a couple of hours?

wilson_fencePerhaps you say hello when you walk your dogs in the morning.

Perhaps, when you meet across the mailboxes in the afternoon, you chat casually.

But do you know your neighbor?

I can’t say that I really do. As I get ready to leave this home I have lived in for three and a half years, I find myself convicted. I don’t know my neighbors–not really. We’re friendly. We say “hi” and “how are you,” but with the exception of one (and I’m so glad we became friends, Tianna!), the truth is, I’d be hard pressed to tell you their names.

Shame on me!

My whole life I have dreaded living what I have coined the “treadmill existence.” To me, this is the daily grind. We wake, we go to work, we come home, we sleep, we wake, we go to work . . . over and over again.

To avoid this, I thought I needed to do something exciting. I needed to live overseas and be a missionary. Or I needed to be a best selling author. Or I needed to find something other than this ordinary, soccer mom (or in my case football/gymnastics mom) existence.

Ironically, God seemed to determined to keep me in that soccer mom sort of existence–and if so, either he was okay with the treadmill existence–or (much more likely) I was missing something!

No, huge surprise here, but I now realize, I had it all wrong.

themostinterestingmanintheworld_1426The treadmill existence is not about the job we do or where we live. It’s not about a great list of accomplishments or a wall full of awards.  You don’t need to be the Dos Equis’ most interesting man alive to get off the treadmill.

It is about our mindset. It is about seeing the opportunity for the divine, for change, for influence in every moment.

Perhaps it’s a little easier for me to see this than most. Being a psychology professor, I see how the impact of what I teach has the possibility to change lives, and it transforms the way I look at those moments in the classroom. They are loaded with possibility, potential. What I say today has the potential of altering the course of a life (in a positive way, or possibly, even in a negative way–very humbling thought!)

But the truth is, every moment of our lives is filled with that same potential.

7089479-business-woman-rushingThe other day, I was cleaning up after my work out at the gym. I was in a hurry. I was running late for a conference call, and I needed to get ready to meet one of my friends for a night out. Just as with my neighbors, though I’m friendly with several people at the gym, I don’t really know anyone by name or well, so nothing should have gotten in the way of my mad dash for the door.

But there was this woman, a woman I had never seen before. And she sighed. Not just the “I’m tired” sigh. Not the, “this has been a really long week sigh.” No, this sigh was something different, and I couldn’t resist commenting on the weight of her sigh.

She responded that her workout had knocked her on her butt.

I made some comment about that being the sign of a good workout.

despairTo which she responded, “No, you don’t understand. It literally knocked my on my ass. I have MS. This is my therapy, and I can’t even do it.” And she sat down and started to cry.

I didn’t know this woman. If not for my inane comment about her sigh, I would have walked right on past, and never known the despair that was eating her up inside. I would have made my conference call, hung out with my friend, and this woman would have left with her burden of despair still firmly on her shoulders. Instead, I found myself with an opportunity of helping a fellow human being. It was time to get off the treadmill.

I didn’t know this woman, but I knew her pain. And I knew that I needed to stay and listen, and offer what comfort I could, conference call be damned!

That moment was one of possibility. It was an opportunity to be God’s hands’ extended. And I could easily have missed it.

How many times have I missed those moments, caught up in the hustle and bustle of the treadmill life, the relentless daily grind? How often, with my eyes focused at the task at hand, have I missed the divine, the chance to get off the treadmill, and to make a real difference in someone’s life?

Too often I fear.

Which of my neighbors has cried out to God for help? And I could have been part of the answer. Who has needed to know that they aren’t alone, but I’ve been too wrapped up in my own world to see?

I despised the treadmill existence, and yet I have had opportunity to get off that treadmill,  time and time again, but I have been too blind to see the opportunity.

In his book The Life You’ve Always Wanted, John Ortberg put it this way:

sonrise-burning-bushAnd Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” Everything turned on Moses’ being willing to turn aside–interrupt his daily routine to pay attention to the presence of God. He didn’t have to. He could have looked the other way, as many of us would. He would have just missed the exodus, the people of Israel, his calling, the reason for his existence. He would have missed knowing God. But he didn’t miss it. He stopped. He “turned aside.”

I don’t want to miss the reason for my existence. I don’t want to miss my calling because I can’t see what’s right in front of me.

I need to live my life in this way. I need to have my eyes open so that I see the burning bush moments, the moments when I get to be the arms, and the voice, of God.

I need to get off the treadmill.

And it starts with seeing.

Seeing our neighbors and their pain. Seeing our coworkers and their struggles. Seeing the needs of our community and stepping out of our daily grind enough to be the one to meet those needs.

Our society, according to a recent gallup poll, is one third Christian. Nine out of ten Americans say they pray everyday. And yet, we are notoriously bad about living with our heads in the sand, being too consumed with our own lives to see the struggles of those around us.

handsThis is what Jesus means by reaching the lost–and most of us are failing.

It is time for us to embrace our purpose. To see that each moment is heavy with possibility. To get our heads out of the sand, and to see.

Will you join me?

We don’t want to miss our burning bush–because that is what it’s all about.

 

A New Definition of Good

A friend of mine received bad news the other day. She has had a lot of bad, difficult, and painful things happen in her life. More than the average person for sure.

angryShe was angry. She was angry at the world, and most of all, she was angry at God. She publicly questioned the goodness of God. She pointed out the inconsistency, the unfairness, the disproportionate pain and difficulty even among Christians. Her conclusion, in that moment, was that God was not good.

Last week was my daughter Serena’s birthday. She would be fifteen years old this year. She’s been gone for fourteen years, and I still miss her every day. I too, most certainly have, at times, questioned the goodness of God.

Like my friend, I have not failed to notice the disproportionate amount of suffering some have to walk through when compared to so many others. Like my friend, it has caused me to question the goodness of God. But unlike my friend, despite the pain and suffering that I have walked through, that I am currently walking through, and that I, no doubt, will have to walk through in the future–still I say–God is good.

God is good all of the time.

It is our definition of what “good” means that has to change.

heroes_vs_villains_mediumAs human beings, we have an inbred sense of fairness, of justice. Jung liked to call them archetypes. It is the idea that if I do good things, good things will happen to me. Evil deeds on the other hand will be punished. If I treat people fairly, I will myself be treated fairly.

The problem is, despite these deep-seeded instincts, that’s not the way the world works.

And it’s not the way God works.

As I mentioned in my last blog, God is not all that concerned with our comfort. In fact, the Bible is abundantly clear that a walk with Christ is a walk of suffering. He talks of refiner’s fire, and he talks of needing our roots to go to deep to find the streams underground so that we can survive the times of drought. He talks of making a way in the wilderness–he doesn’t say he’ll remove the wilderness, but that He will make a way through it.

And yet, the Bible also says that God is good. His goodness is not altered, affected or diminished by the suffering we walk through.

How can that be?

Logically, it must mean that the suffering itself is good for us. Remember, God’s goal is not our comfort, our prosperity, or our happiness. His goal is our transformation.

Our transformation happens in the fires of suffering.

82e36afee241e4603f100c1355976f28It’s easy to say. It’s easy to preach the necessity of suffering. It’s easy to see the truth of it–but it’s mach harder to do it. To not only walk through it (often we have little choice in the matter), but to embrace it.

My personal world is in upheaval right now. The truth is, I was feeling pretty sorry for myself the other night. I don’t deserve what I’m going through. I was a good girl, who made good choices. I’ve always sought God’s will. I’ve never done drugs. I don’t get drunk. I didn’t have sex before marriage. I don’t lie, cheat, or steal. I am a basically good person who has tried to help people in need. Sure, I lose my temper sometimes, and sometimes I can be selfish, and sometimes lazy, but in the scope of things, I am a good person and I don’t deserve all this pain.

Like my friend, I was feeling full of self pity. My pain was unfair. Since I was twenty I have walked through one difficulty after another. It was unjust. Poor, picked on me.

But that same night, my daughter began to cry. She opened up about how her own struggles with the goodness of God. She didn’t understand why she had to walk through this, when her friends didn’t have to walk through anything. She always tries to do what’s right, and yet, instead of being rewarded, here she is have to walk through a season of suffering and her friends don’t, even though her friends so often make wrong choices. Such hard truths to struggle with at the age of ten!

It’s hard to explain what I felt in this moment. I felt a little bit like God had called me on the carpet. The truth is, I knew exactly what God would say to this–we should not compare our lives to the lives of others, because what God has for us is not what He has for them. That God is not concerned with our comfort or our happiness, but rather our transformation. That life isn’t fair, that God never said it was, and He isn’t concerned about the “fairness” of it at all.

Shame on me for wallowing in self pity when I know the truth!

And shame on me for not living it in a way that my daughter can see the truth through my life.

I held my daughter as she cried, and I explained these hard truths to her, and I prayed with her.

I didn’t pray for her comfort or for her protection, though my mother’s heart very much wanted to do just that.

I prayed for God’s will in her life. I prayed that God would give her strength in the difficulties. Faith in the darkness. And the eyes to see the goodness of God even when all around her seemed to call that very goodness into question.

Facebook-20140427-123611I prayed that God’s will would be done. And I know what that means.

But, I want the best for my daughter, not the easiest–just like God does for me.

The easiest is very rarely the best. The best takes work. The best is hard. It is often painful. Sometimes it’s downright awful.

But, just as my prayer for Arabelle, God wants the best for me–for us.

And doing what’s right, even when it hurts, that is the definition of good.

I’m pretty sure it hurts God’s heart, just like it hurt mine, but he knows it’s best.

And yet again, I need to trust that my Father knows best.

So yes, God is good–all of the time.

God, help me to see your goodness, not as a measure of what you’ve done for me, not as a measure of what I have or do not have, but for who you are–a God who walks with me through my pain and through my suffering so that I can get to the other side and be transformed.

What’s Your Standard of Measure?

Our society has it totally wrong. (No surprise there–oh, let me count the ways it has it wrong!)

No, I’m not talking the current political mess (though I easily could, and just might, at some point, dip my toe in those waters).

I’m not talking about the government, or the establishment, or of race and gender equality, or the many topics and ways that society as a group gets it wrong.

I’m talking about us. We, the society of individuals, we have it totally wrong on a fundamental level.

Case in point, I want you to think back to your last class reunion. What thoughts occupied your head prior to attending?

i-am-not-good-enough-L-EseIyyI can tell you what occupied mine.:I need to drop the last of that baby weight. I want to look good. . . which dress should I wear…and then I started cataloging my accomplishments. How much had I accomplished? Would they think me successful, or would they think I was a massive under achiever? Had I done enough, accomplished enough?

My guess is, most of you would have had a similar train of thought. And it shows an inherent flaw in how we approach this wild and wonderful journey we call life.

We are preoccupied by the doing–but what we need to embrace is the becoming.

Not_Good_Enough_by_graphiqualAs I approach the ripe old age of forty, I’ve been taking stock, and I haven’t liked what I’ve tallied. I’ve been left with this disappointment, this sense of dissatisfaction that it isn’t enough–that I haven’t done enough–that I’m not enough.

But I’ve got it all wrong. My standard of measure is off. My worth as a human being is not weighed by the things I’ve done, the mountains I’ve climbed, the awards I’ve won–it’s much more simple than that. My worth is measured by how well I have allowed God to make me into the person he wants me to be.

Just as yours is.

Lynne Twist, in her book The Soul of Money refers to something she calls the scarcity principle which is her term for this “never enough” idea that seems to eat away at most of us these days. She calls it the”great lie.” In reference to this concept she says:

Before we even sit up in bed, before our feet touch the floor, we’re already inadequate, already behind, already losing, already lacking something. And by the time we go to bed at night, our minds are racing with a litany of what we didn’t get, or didn’t get done, that day. We go to sleep burdened by those thoughts and wake up to that reverie of lack.”

She pegged it. She pegged me. I’ve been buying the lie that society has been selling and I’ve been allowing it to tell me that I’m not enough.

My to do list, my already done list, my list of accomplishments, is not the embodiment of my worth.

So often, we look at where we thought we would be, where we think we should be, and when we’re not there, when life doesn’t look like we thought it would look, we feel like we’ve failed. But we’ve missed the fundamental–God was never concerned with our destination, he was concerned with who become on the journey.

climbingYouth Groups all around the country can be blamed a little bit for this misconception. Every youth group I know used to sing the song “I’m gonna do great things, accomplish great things, climb every mountain with God.”

That sounds great. It gets us jazzed. It imbues us with a great sense of purpose–but it also causes us to misconstrue what this journey we call Christianity is all about.

Christianity is not about doing great things, it’s about becoming who we are meant to be–and who we are meant to be is not made on the mountain tops, but rather in the valleys.

My standard of measure is not what I’ve done, but how much I’ve allowed God to transform me.

This disappointment I feel in myself is not really about the list of things I haven’t done and accomplished. It’s about how I’ve not yet become who I am meant to be.

John Ortberg in his book The Life You’ve Always Wanted puts it this way:

Sometimes, although I am aware of how far I fall short, it doesn’t even bother me very much. And I am disappointed by my lack of disappointment…the older and wiser answer is that the feeling of disappointment is not the problem, but a reflection of a deeper problem–my failure to be the person God had in mind when He created me.

Yikes. I’ve been worried because my tally of accomplishments is to short and paltry, but what I should have been worried about is that innate lethargy that seems to find all of us as we leave our youth behind. Too often, as life takes on its treadmill quality, I have gotten lost in the details, and have had too little motivation to focus on the becoming–therein lies the real issue.

Ortberg calls it being dis-appointed with God, as in, missing the life that I was appointed by God to live.

My life might never look how I thought it should look when I was twenty. I might never do the great things I thought I would do. But the more important question is, will I become who He wants me to be?

Will you?

That’s all He ever asks of us.

919d35bde32013777cc945aa5b2b78e6Don’t get me wrong, sometimes that includes doing, and sometimes it even includes the mountain tops, but more often than not, the work is done in the anonymous seasons of life, and in the valleys–and it’s important to remember that. These are the seasons that, if we allow Him to work, He will look at us one day and say, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”

And that’s the only standard of measure I need.

Father knows Best–and it’s time we start believing it

My son is 12. (any of the parents of difficult tweens out there, you felt the sympathetic wince that statement elicits)

angry-teen-boy-350Yep, he’s twelve–and it’s been baptism by fire.

You see, he’s our first, and our most difficult. And this year has been hard.

I was a teacher, now am a professor, and I have a graduate degree in Psychology, so I should have been ready for everything this year and this stage were going to unload on me–right?

Sadly, no.

I have been pushed to the limit of my parenting skills and my psychology skills. It’s just been plain hard.

You see, my son is hard-headed (that’s the understatement of the century!) He might only be twelve, but he thinks he knows better than everybody else. And the kid has always known what he’s wanted and has had the stubbornness and tenacity to go after it. The combination of these two traits has been a nightmare.

That was unacceptable behaviour, young man

In one of our most recent battle of the wills, we tried another tact. Instead of addressing Gavin’s behavior (which was mean, spiteful, and disrespectful), we addressed it’s effectiveness.

We pointed out that his approach was not meeting and gaining his objective. In other words,

“You’re not getting what you want when you act this way! So why not change your behavior, and see if that gives you the pay out you’re looking for?!!”

I wish that my son would choose to do the right thing, because it is the right thing. That’s what I want, but sadly, he’s not there–yet.

But when we pointed out that what he considers his shortcut, is not only not a shortcut, but is preventing him from the desired end all together, he finally started paying a little bit of attention.

As I explained to him that my desire is not to hurt him, but to ensure his well being and his happiness…when I explained that we correct his behavior because we see and know more, and that he just needs to trust us, even if he doesn’t see how it makes sense or why it should work that way…I couldn’t help but see the correlation to my own relationship with God.

We know where we want to go. We see what we want.

And we see the quick route–the direct route–to our destination.

But most of the time, that’s not the route we find ourselves on. We find ourselves on what appears to be a circuitous route, one that sometimes seems to go backwards, wanders to rabbit trails, and even sometimes seems to end in dead-ends. Much of my life I have felt like Moses wandering around in the desert, knowing where I need to be, but unable to get there. Or like David, the anointed King of Israel who, instead of ruling as was his right, finds himself moldering in a cave for years.

long-winding-road-p92b_saint_gothard_pass_switzerlandWhen there is a disconnect between the life that is, and the life that we feel like we should be living, we become confused, disgruntled,  angry, and often bitter.

“Why, God? Why?” we rail.

He gives us the dream, He sets our path, but instead of the path leading to our expected destination, we find ourselves in the desert, or hidden in a cave, forgotten, moldering away into anonymity.

I’ve had lots of these moments in my life. Moments when it seems like God stopped listening, stopped caring, and certainly stopped guiding.

But as I talked with Gavin, I was convicted.

That was the child’s response, and I am not a child. It is time to put away childish things.

Just as I am asking Gavin to trust that my way is better, I need to trust that God’s way is better.

Just as I tell my son that I am looking at the big picture that he cannot know, I need to trust that God is seeing the big picture that I cannot see.

This place, where I’m at, this isn’t what I wanted. Or at least, this was not the way I wanted it to be.

I thought I’d be much farther by now.

Next year I turn 40. By 40, I thought I would be established.

I’m not.

I have a fledgling writing career.

I am an associate professor, not a tenured one.

I’m not in the ministry.

My goal to change the world and help people in some large way, has translated into a much smaller sphere of influence than I anticipated.

And it’s taken me almost 40 years to get here.

But, I think I’ve been missing the point.

I’m a writer and a professor, and that’s what I always wanted to be.

And occasionally, God has used me to touch a few, not as a missionary, not in some defined role, but as I rub shoulders with people in my daily life.

waysThe road was not the road I would have chosen, but, I have to believe, it was the road I was meant to take–the road I needed to take. God sees the big picture, the destination and the necessary journey.

It’s time I started giving God the trust He deserves. I need to have faith in a Father who loves me and who knows more, sees more, than I do.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

Maybe the Chubby Hubby isn’t the Problem…

man-eating-chips-400x267We’d all like to lose a few (okay, maybe not all–there are a blessed few out there completely content with your body size–damn you all! 😉 ). We assume that it’s that extra cookie that we add on at the Starbucks counter, or when we bow to temptation and take that late night jaunt to the drive through at Mickey D’s, but what if the real culprit isn’t that juicy burger, your sugar fix, or that bag of barbeque Lays?

What if, the real culprit is not food at all, but the amount of sleep you’re getting at night? According to Shape magazine, it might be sleep undermining all your weight loss efforts.

article-2538937-1AA3DA7400000578-149_634x706The debate about the best way to achieve a healthy weight always revolves around eating and movement. If you want to look better, the most common suggestion is “eat less and move more.” But it’s not that simple, or even accurate. Sometimes you want to eat less and move more, but it seems impossible to do so. And there might be a good reason: Between living your life, working, and exercising, you’re forgetting to sleep enough. Or maybe, more importantly, you don’t realize that sleep is the key to being rewarded for your diet and fitness efforts. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 35 percent of people are sleep deprived. And when you consider that the statistic for obesity is nearly identical, it’s easy to connect the dots and discover that the connection is not a coincidence.

Can sleep possibly be a contributing factor in our body size?

According to the Mayo clinic, yes, “it might be. Recent studies have suggested an association between sleep duration and weight gain. Sleeping less than five hours — or more than nine hours — a night appears to increase the likelihood of weight gain.”

That there is a correlation between insufficient sleep and obesity appears undeniable.

When considering the bulk of research on the subject, the Harvard School of Public Health states:

Most studies that measure adults’ sleep habits at one point in time (cross-sectional
studies) have found a link between short sleep duration and obesity…The largest and
longest study to date on adult sleep habits and weight is the Nurses’ Health Study,
which followed 68,000 middle-age American women for up to 16 years. Compared to
women who slept seven hours a night, women who slept five hours or less were 15
percent more likely to become obese over the course of the study.

 

Whether the lack of sleep is actually causing the weight gain, or is the by product of some other X-factor is where things become a little bit sticky.

nighttimeSome believe that the lack of sleep does not directly cause the weight gain, but rather predisposes us to make poor decisions that indirectly are causing the weight disparity. Web MD puts it this way:

It’s true: Being short on sleep can really affect your weight. While you weren’t sleeping, your body cooked up a perfect recipe for weight gain. When you’re short on sleep, it’s easy to lean on a large latte to get moving. You might be tempted to skip exercise(too tired), get takeout for dinner, and then turn in late because you’re uncomfortably full. If this cascade of events happens a few times each year, no problem. Trouble is, nearly two-thirds of Americans aren’t getting enough sleep during a typical week …Skimping on sleep sets your brain up to make bad decisions. It dulls activity in the brain’s frontal lobe, the locus of decision-making and impulse control….So it’s a little like being drunk. You don’t have the mental clarity to make good decisions.
 
However, others think the lack of sleep might be playing a more direct role. The Mayo clinic explains it this way:One explanation might be that sleep duration affects hormones regulating hunger — ghrelin and leptin — and stimulates the appetite. Another contributing factor might be that lack of sleep leads to fatigue and results in less physical activity.

Whether lack of sleep is directly or indirectly causing those love handles you despise, it is a factor in their existence.

So, tonight, when you’re tempted to watch just one more episode of your choice on Netflix, or drink that frappuccino after 6 pm, you might just want to resist. Your waistline will say thank you.

 

How Emotion Hijacks our Reason

20120818_mo-running-from-bearWe’ve all heard of the fight or flight response, and we get it. We see a grizzly in the woods and our instinct is to run screaming. Makes total sense (though it will get you killed, so don’t do it).

What most of us don’t realize is that we also have this same response to intense emotional situations. Feelings of shame and betrayal hijack our limbic system the same way that spying a King Cobra would.

According to Psychologist Brene Brown in her book Daring Greatly:

“When shame descends, we almost always are hijacked by the limbic system. In other           words, the prefrontal cortex, where we do all our thinking and analyzing and                             strategizing, gives way to the primitive fight-or-flight part of our brain.”

heart-mindThat instinct you have to run and hide after you’ve said or done something incredibly stupid? Yep, that’s the fight or flight response too. In his book Icognito, neuroscientist David Eagleman describes the brain as a “team of rivals.” In other words, in these emotional interactions, it is quite literally a battle between the heart (or our emotional selves) and our minds. That disparity between what we know in our heads and what we feel is a real battle, and whichever wins is going to call the shots in terms of our behavior.

Eagleman puts it this way:

away“There is an ongoing conversation among the different factions in your brain, each competing to control the single output channel of your behavior…the rational system is the one that cares about analysis of things in the outside world, while the emotional system monitors the internal state and worries whether things are good or bad.”
toward

Our response to these emotional confrontations isn’t that much different from the one with the grizzly. In classical psychology terms, Karen Horney’s theory that we move toward, move against, or we move away explains it best.

According to Dr. Linda Hartling’s research while at the Stone Center at Wellesley, in these types of situations, we tend to move away by withdrawing, hiding, and keeping secrets. We move toward by attempting to appease and to please. We move against by attempting to gain power over others through aggression, both verbal and physical.

The reality is, we likely do all of these in different situations with different people at different times. The important thing is to recognize it for what it is, our limbic system hijacking our reasoning.

We need to learn to spot it, take an emotional step back, and give our reason a chance to come back on line.

 

 

Chocolate just got better–No, seriously, it really did!

What if I told you that chocolate actually tastes better when you take fat out of it?

You wouldn’t believe me, right?

Savoring-ChocolatesOur experience with taking fat out of food tells us that it generally tastes like cardboard unless we add a whole lot of extra sugar which just negates the positive of taking the fat out in the first place. So why would chocolate be any different?

It’s all about the process.

As is so often the case with so many of our great discoveries, this one happened by accident.

The Mars candy company was having a problem. The chocolate was clogging the machinery.

Cocoa beans are typically dried and then roasted before they are ground and liquefied. The result is a liquor (what gives the chocolate its intense flavor) that is blended with the cocoa butter (or the fat, which gives it the rich, creamy texture).

This is where the problem arises.

lots of chocolate falling from above

Though the substance appears uniform in it’s liquidity to the naked eye, the reality is that it’s really only the melted fat and oil portion that is truly liquid. At a microscopic level, tiny little balls of cocoa solids bump up against each other amidst the liquid. This affects the viscosity of the chocolate. In other words, there has to be a certain amount of the liquid (the cocoa fat) to keep the chocolate at the right consistency so that it flows at the proper pace. Too little fat and the substance becomes too thick and clogs up the pipes.

With this problem in mind, a consulting company for Mars reached out to a physicist named Rongjia Tao from the Temple University in Philadelphia hoping that he might be able to adapt a technique he had used to improve the viscosity of crude oil to also work for chocolate. His technique increased the viscosity of the oil making it easier to transport it through the miles of underwater pipelines–in theory this same principle should work with chocolate.

Pulling from his work with oil, Tao decided to try running the liquid chocolate through an electric field. What he found was that as the chocolate passed through the field, it changed shape. Instead of the cocoa solids being in circles, the solids became elongated, or pill shaped, which allowed the solids to be packed more tightly together. This improved the viscosity of the chocolate.

viscosity.jpgTao then realized that, if the changed shape of the solids could change the viscosity, he didn’t need the cocoa butter to do it. It gave him the opportunity to decrease the amount of fat in the chocolate without having to worry about clogging up the machinery.

He found that they were able to remove up to 20% of the fat while, according to some, making the end product tastier. Here are his findings

For perhaps the first time, we have a product that tastes better after taking out the fat (well some of it).

Granted, it’s not the absence of the fat, but rather the process itself that makes the difference, but who cares about those details anyway? The fact is, tastier chocolate makes me happy, and chocolate with less fat makes my waistline happy.

I’m putting this one in the win win column.

 

 

 

 

What do you do with your cookie, and what does that say about who you are?

I was reminded yet again that I need to do better…I thought you might need the reminder again too!

musings from the trenches

hand-holding-cookie-bite-taken-outWe’ve all had that moment when we’re about to take a bite of the last chocolate chip cookie, and we’re anticipating the burst of flavor that will come with it when our sister/brother/friend/son/daughter/etc. comes on the scene and says, “Oh! A chocolate chip cookie! I want one! Where are there?!”

What we do in that next moment is a window into who we are, a window into how we live our lives, and it is a window into our heart.

Do we, scarf down the cookie quickly, and only then admit it’s the last one?

mouthfulDo we shrug and say “last one” and then take a huge bite from the cookie?

Do we break the cookie in half and cheerfully offer the other half?

Do we offer the other half, but feel a tug of reluctance, begrudging the loss of half of the cookie?

Or do we cheerfully hand the…

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The Misinformation Effect:Why our memories can’t be trusted

Uncle Ron

We all have the uncle (or aunt, or grandparent, or wacky fifth cousin twice removed) who likes to reminisce about how “When I was a kid…” he used to walk uphill both ways to school, or she helped her mama with all the chores before she was asked, or he never disrespected his parents.

We fully recognize that their memory has taken on a tinge of unreality and, in response, we are ready with the prerequisite eye roll or groan, recognizing that “Uncle Rob’s memory is a few bricks shy of a full load.”

We fully accept that their memories are somewhat lacking.

But what if I told you that it isn’t just Uncle Rob and Aunt Cheryl? What if I were to point my finger at you, and tell you that your memory is just as false as crazy cousin Wally’s?

a1We like to think that our memories are ironclad. Often, in disagreements and arguments, we site our recollection of events as solid, irrefutable back up of our version of reality. We don’t pause to consider when our [spouse, parent, friend] refutes our version of the experience with their own version of events that we might be the one who is wrong. We tell ourselves he/she is simply wrong. They are remembering incorrectly. It happened the way we replay it in our heads.

But, if their memory can be incorrect, why do we assume that our own isn’t inaccurate as well? Why do we somehow believe that we simply are better at remembering?

False memories have gotten a lot of attention lately with the documentary series “Making a Murderer.” Anyone who’s on Facebook couldn’t escape the indignation that permeated half the posts several months ago. Many watching the series felt a sense of moral outrage that an innocent man could have had his life taken from him in such a way. How could such a mistake be made! It’s unacceptable! How does this happen?!

The truth is, it happens very easily. Rather than being the anomaly, a little digging shows that it is not an uncommon tale. Psychologist Elizabeth Loftus has been pointing out this flaw in our memories and by extension our legal system for years. Check out her TedTalk on the subject here

Eye witness testimonies are frequently wrong. They are wrong, not because of some vindictive purpose of the witness, but due to the inherent flaws in memory.

Through a series of experiments, Loftus found that simple semantics changed the testimony of a witness.

a2If an individual was asked how fast a car was going when it “smashed” into another vehicle versus how fast a car was going when it “hit” another vehicle, the witness would raise the mph of the car because the word “smash” implies more force. Same accident, different wording equaled different memory of the events.

Loftus decided to take the susceptibility of our memory to alteration one step further. She decided to see if a completely false memory was planted, it could cause a person to believe something that they did not see or experience at all.

Through a series of experiments, she found that, absolutely, we can come to believe that things happened that did not happen. She calls this the misinformation effect.

For instance, if an individual is told that when they were very young he became separated from his parents in a mall and that he wandered terrified and lost, the individual is likely to begin “remembering” details of the event–even though it never actually happened.

a3Our memories are susceptible to suggestion. They can be altered.

As a Psych professor, I decided that my skeptical students could benefit from a little experiment of their own. They recorded a memory of their own in as much detail as they could remember and they were then told to rate the accuracy of the memory on a scale of one to ten. The memory had to be one in which another individual was involved. They were then to interview that individual and record their version of the memory in as much detail as the individual remembered it. They were then told to compare the two sets of memories.

The next part of the assignment was even more interesting. They were told to try to sew misinformation. The goal was to plant false memories and to see if they were believed. To aid the success of the experiment, they were told that they had to come up with plausible additions, things that easily could have happened.

The result of their experiment was that most of the students realized that their memory wasn’t nearly as reliable as they originally believed it to be. When they compared it to the other individual’s memory, they found things they had forgotten and many discrepancies between the two sets of memories.

Secondly, about fifty percent of the students were successfully able to plant false memories. It was far easier than any of us had believed to warp and change an individual’s memory of an event. In fact, it was a little disturbing to see how easy it was to alter a person’s memories and it left most of us with the uncomfortable reality that rather than looking at our memories as a movie played back in our minds, they should be regarded with suspicion and doubt.

So, what does this mean to you? The next time you are entrenched in your belief that your version of events is the accurate one, you might want to take a step back and reconsider–memory is malleable and downright faulty–and it is certainly not a hill for relationships to die on.

 

 

There’s a little bit of magic in all 0f us, and it’s called the mind

Savoring-ChocolatesWhat would happen if you were to eat something unhealthy but believe it was good for you … or something healthy but believe it was bad for you?

I doesn’t matter, right? If it’s healthy, it’s healthy. That’s simply a fact.

78653217_2And no matter how often you tell yourself that pan of brownies is actually good for you, it doesn’t make it so, right? I mean, that’s common sense.

Or not.

Wait a minute…what?

I can’t possibly be telling you that you can just think the calories out of your brownies?! What kind of quack am I?! I mean that’s ridiculous! You’re just going to stop reading now. Obviously, I don’t know what I’m talking about.

But wait, just for a minute. Hear me out.

Okay, so you can’t make those brownies into a carrot stick no matter how hard you try, BUT it seems that what we believe matters more than we think. Our body responds to how we view something. How our body reacts and interacts changes based on what we tell our brain is true.

This shouldn’t be as shocking as it sounds. We do things like this all of the time.

Seriously. No joke.

Take phantom limb pain. One of the ways we handle it is through something called mirror therapy. We quite literally trick the brain into thinking that the missing limb is still there–even though it’s not.

By using a mirror, we envision a leg where there is no leg, and the brain responds sort of like this:

“Oh! Dear me! My mistake! So sorry! There is a leg there. I see it now. Well, let me just get rid of this pain for you. My mistake. Won’t happen again!”

And poof! The pain goes away.

Are we still missing the leg?

Absolutely!

Are our nerves still sending a static message to the brain?

Yep.

But we’ve tricked the brain into believing there isn’t a problem.

How about another example: stress.

Are you stressed?

stress-300x266I’m stressed.

I’m not sure you can live in this modern world and not be stressed.

For years we have been told that stress is bad for us. It makes us sick. It can even kill us.

Many have mistakenly believed that stress can cause cancer. Research has never supported this. Though there is a correlation between stress and cancer, there is nothing that backs up the idea that stress causes the cancer. A basic research principle there: correlation does not equal causation.

We are now finding out that we have been demonizing stress to our own detriment. Stress itself is not bad. It is only the belief that stress is bad that gives stress the power to harm us.

Huh? What kind of psychological mumbojumbo is this? I’m losing you again, aren’t I? Hold tight. It sounds like mumbojumbo, but it’s not.

It’s backed up with research, and it’s pretty amazing. Check out this TedTalk and let the experts say it better than I can myself: Kelly Mcgonigal TedTalk Trust me, it’s worth the watch.

163808-Good-Morning-Let-The-Stress-BeginStress itself is not bad for us. In fact, we need to take our stress response and make it work for us.

I decided to take this concept and consciously practice it recently when confronted with a crisis in my own life.

As a professor of Psychology, I am very aware of the cycle of the stress response and exactly what is happening in my body when the fight/flight response is triggered. I felt the acceleration of my hearbeat. I felt the blood pumping in my veins. I was aware that my lack of appetite was due to my body focusing its energy on more important needs. I was aware of the the cortisol flooding my system to ensure that I had energy despite my lack of nutrition. I was consciously aware of my body’s response to the crisis at hand, and I told myself just what I was told to tell myself: this is a good thing. This is my body helping me to rise to the challenge and to overcome.

Phase two, I called my friends and family. Remembering the second part of Kelly Mcgonigal’s TedTalk, I got the people who love and care about me involved. I didn’t try to do it on my own. I didn’t let pride or embarrassment keep me silent. I knew I needed friends, and I called them. And they came, because my friends and family are awesome that way!

This was the second worst crisis of my life, only topped by the diagnosis and subsequent death of my first child.

It was bad. Really, really bad.

in-times-of-great-stress-or-adversity-its-always-best-to-keep-busy-to-plow-your-anger-and-your-energy-into-something-positiveAnd yet, I handled this crisis better than any crisis in my life. My body empowered me to deal with it, and my very belief that it would, ensured that it did. It didn’t make the situation any less terrible, but I handled it so very much better!

And I am continuing to handle it so much better, because, though the initial crisis is over, the stress and the aftermath are going to take a long, long time to deal with, and the continued stress I feel can sap my energy and will, or it can feed me.

I choose the latter.

I know my body is designed to help me withstand and overcome just such situations, and I’m going to let it do just that.

The Huffington Post puts it this way:

This isn’t exactly new material. Think of Shakespeare’s wisdom that “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Or this affirmation by 19th century Christian religious thought leader, Mary Baker Eddy: “Hold thought steadfastly to the enduring, the good, and the true, and you will bring these into your experience proportionably to their occupancy of your thoughts.” (See #9 on: “10 Positive Thinking Books That Might Change Your Life.”) 

In other words, the more research we do, the more the link between our spirit/soul/consciousness and our physical selves becomes evident. What we think matters. Negativity hurts us physically. Whether it is our inner dialogue telling us how we don’t measure up and how we can’t ever achieve what we want to achieve (for more on this concept see my earlier blog: Queen of Schmucks ) or whether it is telling ourselves that our biological stress response is bad for us, negative thoughts take a toll on our physical bodies.

We need to change how we think.

How do we go about it? Well “Forbes” magazine breaks it down and gives us some practical steps in how we can begin to change our mindset about stress and make it work for us:

Tembracestresshen, follow this three-step process for cultivating a new stress mindset over the next month:

Step 1.

Acknowledge stress when you feel it, notice stress in your body.

If you have a difficult time noticing what you feel in your body, try meditating for just five minutes a day.

Step 2.

Welcome stress by knowing that it’s a response to something you care about. Can you connect with the positive motivation behind the stress?

What is at stake here? Why does it matter to you?

Step 3.

Make use of the energy that stress gives you, instead of wasting time trying to manage stress. Think of something you can do now and take action aligned with your values and goals.

If you believe the research, this short intervention can change your life.

Changing how we think is hard. It takes conscious effort and time. We can’t change our thinking over night.

For the optimists out there, we have a built in buoy system that makes it a whole lot easier.

For the pessimists, it might well be an uphill battle–but it’s a battle worth fighting.

It just might save your life.