Reductio ad Absurdum: A Stress Relief Tool

Leave a comment

Two weeks left, a brief respite, then my internship begins. I’m looking forward to it. Unfortunately, it is not a paid internship, so I have to also find a part time job. I’d like to find one in my industry, but I’m not sure that’s a viable alternative at this point. I’ll have to do some searching…in between classes, labs, studying, car issues, etc. First, though, I need to find my way through four tests and three practicals. Here’s the rundown:

Physiology: Test on kidneys (including acid/base homeostasis), digestion, endocrine, and reproductive. Cumulative lab exam on everything from membrane physiology through reproductive systems.

Performance Enhancement for Athletics: This is the NSCA class. We only have 1 test, and it’s cumulative. The lab exam is also cumulative, though not comprehensive. First is video and picture analysis. Then we randomly draw exercises, have about a minute to set them up before the test subject comes in. We then explain, demonstrate, cue, and correct the subject.

Program Theory and Instructional Design: This is the ACSM class. We have one more non-cumulative test. The lab practical involves doing a series of assessments on a friend we bring in.

Dance: Yes. Apparently dance has a final exam. Technically there’s also a practical, but it’s more of a review. Given this is only a 1 hour credit course, I’m not worrying about it too much.

Oh, and we have final assessments for our faculty clients this week.

Why did I list all this out? It’s one of my “get a grip” tools. By listing what I have to do, I make it easier to figure out how to go about doing it. It’s more than defining hoops to jump through. Not only do I have the hoops defined, I also have clues as to the best approach for each hoop. For instance, the physiology test is probably the most involved; however, the lowest grade I’ve made in that class thus far is in the mid-90s. I have a very significant buffer. The NSCA class, however, has had no tests thus far. Thus this one exam carries more weight than any exam in any other class. That’s my priority. I’ll review and talk with my physiology lab- and classmates, but I’ll spend most of my time getting ready for the NSCA class.

The ACSM class, though in my area of study, has had a couple of tests and several quizzes. Based on my previous history, I’ll spend a little extra time preparing for the assessments in lab, but the test probably won’t be that much trouble. Certainly the dance class won’t get much of my attention. The majority of the grade comes from participation. The test goes over time signatures, cadences, styles, terminology, etc. Given my attendance and participation, even if I make a 0 on the test, I’ll still pass the class with a 75. I’ll do a skim-through but not really worry about it after that.

I’m not saying that none of these tests will be challenging. On the contrary, I know that at least two of them will be VERY challenging. All I’m saying is that with this list and this approach outlined, I now have a reasonable hope of putting my study time in the areas that are of most use to me. Explicitly stated, the order of my efforts are: NSCA, physiology, ACSM, dance. Having determined this, my stress levels are now well within manageable limits. In fact, if I help some of my classmates, I’ll not only be making sure I’ve learned the material, but I’ll be sure I can explain it in multiple ways. When I can explain something in multiple ways, I cease to have doubts about whether I actually know the material.

Advertisements

Progressive Flailing

Leave a comment

After teaching martial arts for a number of years, I’ve realized a pattern in the progression of students. I’m not talking about ranking, or even proficiency in movement. I’m talking about reaction to stimulus. It has to do with inherent fight/flight reactions. There is a third part of the fight/flight response, and that is “freeze”. The freeze response is what most people refer to as “deer in the headlights” response: somatic muscle stimulation stops, and the person just sits there and watches. I’m not a neuroscientist, but I suspect it has to do with hypersensitivity to perceived threats. So how does this apply to students in the martial arts?

Here’s my new progression:

Freezing, Wildly Flailing, Directional Flailing, Flailing Overcompensation, Directed Response, Appropriate Response, Reflexive Response.

Freezing: When training students, as an instructor, I have to assume the student is going to start here. Thus my “attacks” are slow, linear, and separated from each other. This prevents the overload by greatly reducing the perceived threat. In this stage, it is also a good bet that we have to teach the student it is okay to hit back. Once the student gets the idea that 1) he can hit back and 2) an incoming attack is dangerous only when it lands, then they move on to the second step in the progression.

Wildly Flailing: This is most easily seen in “slap fights”: hands and arms reach out blindly, trying to find a target. It’s also seen in defense as a shotgun barrage of untargeted blocking. It’s roughly the equivalent of the last twitches of a drowning person that might get his head above water—usually unproductive, but better than nothing. Students in this phase are, for the first time, in a situation where the attacks are coming in more quickly and in random sequence.

Directional Flailing: Students in this phase are still flailing, but the area covered is much narrower. Whereas in the Wildly Flailing phase, the flailing happens roughly evenly across the entire half-sphere in front of the student, Directional Flailing happens in more of a cone type area that encompasses the incoming attack. In this phase, the student’s subconscious mind has started to kick in, allowing an inherent understanding of “if the attacker’s right arm is coming in from this direction, it can’t be coming in from any other direction”.

Flailing Overcompensation: In this phase, there is apparently a slowing down of response. What is actually going on, however, is the student is having to consciously overcome the inherent flail response. In other words, the student’s drop in response speed has more to do with fighting himself than being unable to execute the appropriate response. Some flailing will still happen, but if the attack speed is reduced, the correct responses will become more apparent.

Directed Response: The student has now internalized a series of possible responses, but is still in the process of narrowing down the appropriate stimulus response sequence. The movements of a forearm block have been practiced so often that it’s second nature, but the forearm block is lost amidst an index of other possible responses. The response speed is faster than in the Flailing Overcompensation stage, but is still slow enough that the student wouldn’t last long in an actual fight…or even in a sparring match.

Appropriate Response: The student has learned his own hierarchy of stimulus response in both attack and defense. In this phase, the reaction speed picks up again, but the student can only deal with a few sequential attacks at a time since he is thinking about each attack individually. The goal of this phase is to smooth out the stimulus reaction loop to the point where conscious thought no longer has a place in the system.

Reflexive Response: In this phase, the responses are at the operant reflex level (as opposed to physiological reflex). Instead of thinking about dealing with the incoming attack, the reflex takes care of it and the brain can think about other things such as tactics, environment, and self-control.

This progression of responses is mostly tongue-in-cheek, but I suspect you’ll find a certain level of truth in it. Part of the purpose of martial arts classes is to take someone from Freezing to Reflexive Response as quickly (and hopefully painlessly) as possible. As an instructor, I teach responses to stimuli (even attack is a response to stimuli). In order for the teaching to be effective, however, I have to initially teach the responses in a very sterile and uncomplicated way.  In a more dynamic, non-drill situation, the appropriate responses are less obvious, which is why a student who performs very well in the drills can become flustered in the dynamic situation.

The other thing to keep in mind with this progression, is that it focuses on stimulus-response. It does not map to differences in ranks, only to experience with techniques. Every technique (especially in the beginning ranks) goes through this series. Even now, when I learn something new, I usually start in the Flailing Overcompensation phase as I try to fit the new technique in with the rest of my skills. I may even regress slightly into the Directed Flailing phase as I begin a Reflexive Response, remember I’m doing something new, and switch mid-movement.

Addictive Reframing

Leave a comment

I was sitting in a computer lab, struggling to come up with a topic, when this energetic guy comes in, plops down in the chair next to me and logs in. Moments later, I reeled back from the stench of him. I’m not talking about being unwashed, but every time he moves (even to turn a page) the noisome odor of cigarettes rolls over me.

In my mind, I picture people like him surrounded by a symbiotic malevolent aura. He may be a very nice person, but cloaking him is this invisible monster. It spends some of its time controlling him, but the rest of the time, it reaches out to those around him and slowly throttles them. Every time it feels itself start to weaken, it forces him to light up and recharge. Then the man-monster symbiote returns to strangle more people.

No, this isn’t another rant about smokers. It’s an example of reframing. Reframing is a conscious shift of mental perspective. It can go either way. For instance, instead of a malevolent symbiotic entity, I could have thought of the guy as intentionally trying to ruin the day of the people around him. In the first example, he’s only partially responsible being both instigator and victim. In the second, he’s entirely responsible. The first opens the possibility of pity, empathy, or sympathy. The second is almost entirely adversarial.

Anyone who’s dealt with an addiction can see themselves in the first example of reframing. It’s even in colloquial dialog. “It’s the booze talking,” or “[drug] is the only way to appease this gnawing emptiness.” I’m not excusing anything. Addiction is a path that started with a choice. This is the reason so many people take the “blame the addict” stance.

The problem is after that first, perhaps almost trivial, choice, the ability to choose the other way disappears. The addiction grows and slowly takes over the person’s life. It becomes and obsession and a compulsion. It takes control and drives the person to the very edge of sanity, then seduces them back into its arms. It is territorial in that it finds ways to make the person shut out others that don’t share in the addiction. Addiction is a living thing, but only because it is part of the person.

I don’t like being around smokers. I don’t like being around alcoholics. And yet, looking at those sentences, it’s obvious that I define people (at least in this case) by their addiction. I suspect that most people view addicts this way. Fortunately, I have a tool garnered from Alateen: separate the person from the addictive behavior.

Remember that an addict is not a single person, an addict is a symbiote: part person, part addiction. When the addict is temporarily free of the addiction influences, that person may very well be a charming, decent person. It’s only when the addiction decides to sharpen its claws on the scratching post of the person’s soul does the harmful behavior come back.

Thus, when I catch myself thinking of someone in terms of their addiction (smoker, drinker), I consciously try to separate the person from the addictive behavior—I try reframing. The person who sat next to me in the computer lab is not “a smoker”, he is someone who smokes. His behavior, especially the result of his behavior, may annoy the hell out of me, but by blaming the behavior rather than the person opens the door to being his friend. And if there’s anything an addict needs, it’s friends.

Last Week and Measures

Leave a comment

Last week didn’t turn out as hopelessly as I’d feared. As I mentioned in my previous post, once I realized that pride was at stake, and not my passing or failing, I was able to calm down. Maintaining that attitude through the week allowed me to keep from panicking too much. For instance, working with my faculty client for the first time. I can only liken the before attitude to “first date” jitters. Most of the other student trainers felt the same. The pride versus competency discussion took place in my mind once more and I calmed down. The first session went really well.

Every now and then my life brings in these little leitmotifs. Last time was confidence versus inertia. This time it’s pride versus competency. I suspect this one will become a major theme for the semester with other issues taking up the leitmotif slots. We’ll see.

In other news, my personal physical activity schedule continues to decline. It is something I suspected would happen this semester, but it’s nonetheless discouraging to watch. Especially since I start to feel hypocritical between my actual work out schedule and what I know I’ll be telling my client. My major saving point is that we’re eating healthier at home. My estimated Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) is somewhere between 1900 and 2000 calories per day. It’s hard to imagine, but that’s supposedly just to maintain weight if I’m lying down all day. It seems awfully high to me. I would have to do one of those labs where a machine analyzes my oxygen intake and output at rest to see if that’s actually what I’m supposed to be taking in. I’d love to do it…unfortunately money is the primary issue preventing me.

According to bioelectrical impedance, my total body weight is 29% fat. According to calipers done by a fellow student, I’m somewhere between 11% and 15% depending on 3-site or 7-site pinch tests. Looking at waist-to-hip ratio, I’m probably somewhere between 20 and 25%; however, according to BMI, if I were 0% body fat, I would be somewhere around a BMI score of 24 (overweight is 25 and obese is 30+). According to my age estimated max heart rate, I’m most likely already dead of an over worked heart. (Age estimated MaxHR (Gillesh method): 182 bpm; actual submax test results regularly put me over 200.) Why all of these odd numbers?

From my statistics classes way back when, the larger the population used in a measure, the more likely the distribution of results will end up as a bell-curve. With nearly all of the measures used in basic personal fitness training, the various interpretive tables and charts are based on a 2 standard deviation curve (I think). This means that for a minority of people, these tables are just plain wrong. (Performance level athletes usually have their own tables, so they don’t count as part of this minority.) The tables and charts and estimations are there both as a guide and, more and more frequently, a legal defense. The only way to determine an individual’s true maximum heart rate is to do a physician supervised maximal heart rate test. Short of that, you’re stuck with submaximal tests and age predicted equations. Most personal trainers are not certified to do submaximal tests, so they’re stuck with the equations.  Yet those equations are better than nothing. It gives an expected range recognized both by the fitness industry and by the medical industry. Work within that range and you’re protected by industry standards if something goes wrong. (Unless you do something incredibly stupid like responding to “my chest hurts” with “keep running”.)

How does this apply to me? I know I’m overfat; however, “normal” fat would still leave me “overweight”. So weight means far less than body composition (a good rule in any case). I’m roughly 100 pounds lighter than my dad at my age and probably at least 50 pounds lighter than my mother, so I’m doing fairly well with combating heredity. I take amphetamine salts for ADHD (brand name: Adderall) so my entire heart rate chart (including max heart rate) is shifted upwards (as is my blood pressure). Thus, using heart rate as a measure is dicey for me, so I have to rely on the RPE scale (Ratings of Perceived Exertion).

The major lesson here? Measures are good guides to understanding, but relying too heavily on them could lead to misunderstanding.

A Meta-Topic

Leave a comment

Once again, I broach the topic of “topic”. Why? A couple of reasons. It seems to be my default topic when I have no others at hand when I sit down to write. As an un-themed blog it is both very easy and very difficult to come up with a topic. Since a themed blog is, by definition, focused on a single subject, topics can be found through research and analysis. At least, this is what I see from both subject matter experts (SMEs) and those on the “outside” looking in. I have great respect for those who consistently provide excellent, focused content. It is not something I would feel comfortable attempting, at least for the mainstream audience.

My blog is an un-themed blog. It is a mix of fact and fiction, part diary, part experiment in other viewpoints, part soapbox. Those who have followed my blog from the beginning see that posts tend to fall into a few consistent themes. Which brings me to another reason that “topics” is my default…um…topic.  For un-themed blogs, topic subjects and timings are sometimes an even better clue, overall, to the person behind the keyboard, than the contents of posts. The topic of any particular post in an un-themed blog reveals what that person is thinking about (or has recently spent a lot of time pondering). When I get too wrapped up in something, I find it hard to stop obsessing over it. Because writing about “topics” is what I would call “meta-writing”, it allows me to step back and clear at least a part of my slate.

Does this mean I can immediately turn out another several blogs on various topics? Sometimes, yes. Usually, no. What it does do is allow me to be more open to potential topics as I run into them.  It gets me in the mindset of “how can I turn ____ into a topic I can write on?” A side benefit seems to be a (sometimes temporary) increase in the ability to link unusual concepts into a single category. For instance, I was playing a word association game a while back when the primary word was “astronomy”. Most of the others in the small group came up with planetary bodies or concepts, but my response was “Academy Awards”. I would group that particular linked pairing into the category “word play”. (I got a few rolled eyes when I explained the link, but it was allowed to pass.)

My main concern, as the semester comes to a close, is that there will be an increasing number of posts about “topics”.

Stalking Language

1 Comment

Writing requires a certain precision in grammar, syntax, and vocabulary. It’s not always easy to get these elements to line up in a meaningful way. Sometimes it can be downright difficult. So difficult, in fact, that I have yet to see a college degree plan that doesn’t require proof of competency…usually by attaining a grade of “C” or better in a composition class of some sort.

I enjoy language. I enjoy using language to inform, describe, and entertain. More specifically, I enjoy writing. I spend a decent amount of time putting ideas into a readable format. I also spend a lot of time revising so that what I wrote matches what I want to say on more than one level. This means paying attention to more than just the definition of a word. It also means examining the connotation so that denotation matches the emotional intent. (As an example, compare the following: smell, odor, stench, fragrance.)

In addition to determining the appropriate vocabulary, I also pay attention to the grammar and syntax. I’m sometimes criticized for using what some of my readers call “bizarre sentence construction” or “confusing” sentences. They then suggest a simpler way of saying what they believe the message is. For example:

My version: I would have been walking for three hours at four o’clock yesterday afternoon.

Their version: I was walking at four o’clock yesterday afternoon.

Yes, their version is easier to understand; however, in looking at the implications of how the information is presented, my version conveys (or at least is intended to convey) a person reconstructing his memory to report it to a questioner. The other is more like someone with a time-stamped video.

So what? Just because I spend extra time to make sure a particular message includes not only the appropriate denotation, but also the appropriate emotional content, does that mean I expect everyone else to do the same? Of course not. Many times, it’s not even necessary. Unfortunately, sometimes it is. I recently ran into just such an issue in one of my textbooks. It rests on a single word: “between”. The issue: defining cyberbullying, cyberstalking, and flame war.

The text has the following definitions:

Cyberbullying: children or teenagers bullying other children or teenagers via the Internet

Cyberstalking: repeated threats or harassing behavior between adults carried out via email or another Internet communications method

Setting aside the issue that differentiation based on age is, at best, arbitrary, there are so many problems with the cyberstalking definition, it’s hard to know just where to begin*. However, just looking at the second definition (not the word it’s defining), it seems to define “flame war” better than “cyberstalking”. One of my reasons for saying this is the word “between”. Doing less than two minutes of research, you can see that most definitions of cyberbullying/cyberstalking go one way. If you look up “between” on Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, the first definition in the full definition listing is: “by the common action of: jointly engaging”. In other words, there is reciprocal effort. That just doesn’t fit with the apparent intention of the definition.

The really annoying thing is that when I asked about this in order to clarify my understanding of what will be tested in class, the instructor merely repeated the definition and justified it as “the textbook was written by computer experts.” *headdesk*

*For comparison, here is the National Institute of Justice’s (the research section of the US Department of Justice) definition of cyberstalking: the use of technology to stalk victims; it involves the pursuit, harassment, or contact of others in an unsolicited fashion initially via the Internet and e-mail. It is part of the web page describing stalking. (http://www.nij.gov/topics/crime/stalking/)

Get SMART

Leave a comment

Few doubt the efficacy of goal setting as a means of accomplishing what you need or want. Yet for most people, goal setting is limited to “Lose weight” or “Get fit” or even “Get better at _____.” Those who leave their goals at this point are either doomed to failure, or damned with faint success. I’ve recently encountered two acronyms for goal setting: SPIRO and SMART.

SPIRO
Specific
Practical
Inspirational
Realistic
Obtainable

A SPIRO goal contains all of these elements. But what do they mean? In brief: Specific means something concrete, something you can point to and say “I achieved that.” Practical means the goal has to be applicable in a meaningful way, a specific goal of lifting 150 lbs. is not really germane if your overall objective is to write 2000 words a day. Inspirational means the goal has to be something that you not only want to achieve, but will provide something on which you can base further developments. In other words, the goal itself is something you want to achieve as opposed to being merely a means to an end. Realistic means it has to be achievable without having to take drastic, and potentially harmful, measures. For instance, losing 30 pounds in two weeks can be done, but only at severe hazard to both short term and long term health. Obtainable means it must be achievable within a person’s limitations. For instance, someone with advanced cerebral palsy is probably not going to be able to type 100 words a minute, though typing as an activity is not necessarily out of their range of ability.

SMART
Specific
Measureable
Attainable
Relevant
Time-bound

SMART goals have a lot in common with SPIRO goals. “Specific” is obviously the same, “attainable” and “obtainable” are close enough in meaning that most people use them interchangeably, “practical” and “relevant” in all the discussions I’ve seen on these two processes are essentially the same. The main differences, then, are that SMART goals tend to be more numbers drive (or at least have an emphasis on concrete results) and SMART goals have a time limit. It should be noted that “attainable” includes not only “obtainable” but also “realistic”.

Despite their similarities, SMART and SPIRO goals have different emphases. SPIRO goals appear to be more applicable to therapeutic milieux. In that setting, “realistic” and “obtainable” are separate. While an inspirational goal is generally to be desired in any setting, it plays a special role in therapy that is not generally required in other settings. SMART goals lend themselves to benchmarking. The acronym actually contains the word “measurable”. SMART goals are more likely to be used where productivity is a factor since time is a component both of the goal and of productivity.

So why does it matter that there are multiple acronyms to guide goal setting? Who cares about the differences? For many people, it doesn’t really matter. Those will read this post and say, “Meh. Kind of a dry subject.” Others, though, may have encountered multiple goal setting methods and been confused. To those readers, I’d like to point out that goal setting methods are not really interchangeable…a particular method may or may not be appropriate to a specific setting. All these methods guide you to setting good and appropriate goals, but in order for the goal to be truly good and appropriate to your purpose, the guide must also be appropriate. For instance, if there’s no reason for a goal to be time-bound, as in some therapies, adding an artificial deadline adds yet one more thing for the client to deal with, which may act as a barrier to the client’s ability to achieve the goal. On the other hand, if you’re training for a race, time will definitely be a factor in setting goals since the deadline is not only concrete, but very public.

Having a goal is often necessary to progress. It provides something to strive for, something to make it worth overcoming obstacles. It’s the first step in motivating yourself. For a goal to accomplish these things, though, it must be meaningful. Both SPIRO and SMART are guides to creating a meaningful goal. They are not the only ones, but they’re a couple of the easiest to remember.  Which one gets used will depend on the activity or activities in question.

Older Entries