Reductio ad Absurdum: A Stress Relief Tool

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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.

Topic Shotgun!

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The semester is coming to an end. I know this, not because of the date, but because of all the projects that are coming due. I find myself a little melancholy at the prospect of the semester ending. With the exception of one class, which I thought was badly planned and badly executed, I’ve truly enjoyed my classes. However, it is time to think about the summer. This summer, I have an internship. There are two possible sites. I had an interview at one of them this morning. It looks like a great place, but I know I need to keep an open mind. I also need a part time job. Hmmm. Too bad I’m not allowed to combine the two.

I have four tests coming up, plus 3 lab practicals. Fortunately, the class I don’t particularly like has no final. Is it strange that I’m looking forward to the tests and practicals? Most of the other students don’t seem to share the attitude, so I try to keep it to myself.

While waiting for my interview this morning, I started a quasi-stream of consciousness piece. Depending on the quality of the final piece, I may post it here, or I may even try to send it in…somewhere. Not sure what genre it will be. So far it looks promising, but I may just be hyped up for the interview. At this point, it is first person narrative, so I’ll post a “this post is fiction” notice if I post it here.

Speaking of writing, I’ve come to the realization that my writing, specifically my fiction writing, is fairly minimalist in terms of descriptions of the environments. Obviously, since I’ve recently realized it, it’s been an unconscious decision. Now I wonder if I need to do two passes in order to come up with a first draft: one to write the story, and a second to fill in the description. Or should I make a conscious decision to leave things minimal. I think of van Gough using only three lines to draw a cat (I think it was van Gough). It’s possible that having the reader fill in details from their own memories and experiences, it’ll make them more invested in the story. “Here I am. In a hospital bed. No idea of how I got here.” Another way of doing it is description by effect on the character. “She had the kind of beauty that made me think of Kali: mother and destroyer.” Any ideas?

Happy Stress Day!

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Wow. It’s been a couple of very busy weeks. The “achievement” score so far stands thus: 1 car totaled, 1 used car bought, 2 tests taken (without being studied for), 1 minor project completed, 1 major project started, 4 training sessions altered to account for client improvements beyond expectations and new client injuries, 2 new students. Gotta love life.

The ability to devote all your attention on the task in front of you is one of the greatest abilities we have. In this digital age, we constantly hear about “multitask” this and “multithread” that. That’s great for computers, but the human mind only fools itself into thinking it can do that. The closest we can come is to break down multiple larger tasks into chunks, then address each chunk in turn. By devoting all attention to each chunk one at a time, the tasks get done much more quickly, whether or not consecutive chunks are part of the same task. This is the basis of just about every time-management lecture/book/workshop/etc. I’ve ever seen.

These past few weeks have put my ability to do this to the test. I’ve really had to discipline my mind in ways I haven’t had to do in a long time. Creating multiple contingency plans for transportation is a great idea…just not during a test. Likewise, when with my client, I have to keep my focus on her, and not let my mind drift to the test I have to take the following day which I have not yet studied for.

I hadn’t intended to write about time management, or even the illusion of attention (as mentioned in The Invisible Gorilla). To be fair, I didn’t have a specific topic in mind, today, but giving clues as to a low point in my life was not my intention. On the other hand, maybe the catharsis of stream of consciousness writing will help me focus on some of my tasks today.

Speaking of writing, I find it’s easiest to write when my stress levels are within certain tolerances, call them X for the low end and Y for the top end. Writing this entry has been an interesting exercise in both the focus mentioned above and writing while pushing the Y boundary. When my stress levels are far beyond the Y limit, I just don’t care. The challenge is when my stress levels are just above my normal Y limit.

I wonder if there’s a correlation between the type of writing I find easiest at any one time and where within the X-Y tolerance my stress is. If this post is any indication, it looks as though the closer to Y (or past it), the easier it is for stream of consciousness writing. I know I have to have a fairly low level of stress in order to write fantasy (whether traditional or urban). This is not unexpected, since in writing fiction, I tend to try to imagine myself in the specific physical and emotional situations of the characters. My stress buffer has to be fairly clear in order to constructively cope with deliberately putting myself in…unfortunate…situations.

If my stress level gets too low, I just don’t have anything to tap into to write about. This is probably the best time for me to write my academic papers. Without a minimum level of stress, I can’t creatively express the conflicts necessary for amusement writing (notice I did not say “good writing”). Without that minimum level of stress, being able to focus on facts, understand them, interpret them, and apply them become much easier for me. Below that point, logic, deductive reasoning, and inductive reasoning become very easy for me.

I guess if I had multiple writing projects I had to take care of, I would have to break them into chunks, then address the chunks separately, deciding which chunk to take care of at any one time based on my current level of stress.

Tailspin

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My brain, for some reason, doesn’t seem to be working well today. Perhaps it’s overloaded. I missed one of my busiest school days last week because I was dealing with the aftermath of an accident the afternoon before. I’m still dealing with some of that, but since I missed not only two lectures, but two labs, I’m naturally obsessing about that. For the first time in a long time, I’m wishing I didn’t have school today.

On the other hand, it’s a chance for me to find ways to push past a major concern. Find ways to set it aside so that I can concentrate on things I can do something about. Right now, my thoughts are VERY sluggish, hence the lower quality of blog today. Nevertheless, here are some of the coping mechanisms I’m using:

  1.        Prioritizing: Make a list of things to do based on deadlines
  2.        Reframing: Find alternate ways to look at any given situation
  3.        One Step at a Time: Focus on the next task, not the mountain of worries ahead of me
  4.        Determine what I can change and what I can’t, and leave the stuff I can’t change alone

 

There are, no doubt, others that I will come up with and use; however, it’s one thing to know what to do, and something else to do it.

Progressive Flailing

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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.

Complacent Subluxation

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wrist-forearm small

I’m guessing I’ve been too positive in my approach to life recently. Either that, or too complacent. Life has seen fit to give me a partially dislocated wrist. Partially dislocated? Something’s either dislocated or it’s not, isn’t it? Well, not really. The technical name is “subluxation”. If you’ve ever had a joint pop out, then immediately pop back into place without the need for external pressure to put it back (like a doctor…or a wall), you’ve had a subluxation. Specifically, my subluxation is at the ulnar-carpal joint and it subluxes medially.

Subluxations typically happen when the dislocating force (pressure, torque, etc.) on the joint just slightly exceeds the stabilizing pressures of ligaments, tendons, and muscles. When the dislocating force abates, even slightly, the stabilizing pressures snap the joint back into place. Unfortunately, my particular subluxation is not a one-time thing, it’s repeatable. It happens every time I flex (i.e. palmar flex) my wrist under load. This indicates that there is an unfortunate amount of permanent ligament stretch.

Usually the way to rehabilitate this kind of thing is to strengthen the muscles overlaying the ligaments. There is a problem, however. I’ve looked in two anatomical atlases and an athletic training reference text. There are no muscles that directly overlay the distal head of the ulna. The flexor carpi ulnaris and extensor carpi ulnaris travel down the outside (medial) of the ulna, but wrap to palmar or dorsal side respectively about an inch or so before reaching the distal head of the ulna. No doubt this is why the subluxation is happening medially…there is no support structure other than the ligaments. I can still strengthen the flexor- and extensor carpi ulnaris and hope that I can strengthen them to the point where they can hold the distal ulnar head in place via a third class lever type action.

In the meantime, I’m finding that I have some pain in the radial side of the wrist as the radius tries to compensate for an unstable ulna. Gotta love chain reactions.

From what I remember when I had a slight separation of the AC joint in my right shoulder, it took about 6 weeks for things to heal and settle into place. Granted there are different causal mechanisms at work, I’ll still use that as my baseline. At the moment, my plan is to keep my left wrist as immobile as possible (without a cast) for a few weeks. Ligaments don’t have a whole lot of healing capabilities, but they do have some. I’ll let them heal as much as they can, then start strengthening the ulnaris muscles.

Irrationality: a double bladed trick of the mind

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Next week is Spring Break and all campuses are closed.  I’m posting next week’s blog early since I won’t have access to a computer until the following week.

I made the first step in restoring communications with some people I wish I’d never lost touch with. It’s a rare day these past few years that I didn’t think about them and the impact they had on my life. At first it was a case of not noticing how communication was slipping. Then I realized that at some point, I had not written or called for nearly a year. At that point, my irrational side made itself known. The internal conversation went something like this:

“I haven’t written in a while. I should probably do that.”

“It has been a long time. They’re probably angry. You don’t want to make them angrier, do you?”

“Are you saying that getting in touch with them will make them angrier than they were when I stopped communicating?”

“Yes.”

“………”

At this point paralysis and inertia kick in and communication continued to lapse. Ladies and gentlemen, my irrational side. (no applause necessary)

As time went on, I felt worse about it. Then I started building walls around that part and tried to ignore it. As it happened, my irrational side got me into this, an irrational event broke the barrier. I got a piece of spam from one of the people I’d lost contact with. Spam is everywhere, so why was this an irrational event? First, he never initiates contact. Getting email from him before I sent one first is an unimaginable event. Second, it was spam. More specifically, someone had hacked into his system and started using his email list to send links to spoofed websites. Despite the email being spam, my irrational side’s little brother started jumping up and down with joy. “He emailed me first!”

I didn’t know if anyone else had let him know, so I emailed him back to tell him his account had been hacked. Then, I added a brief here’s-what-I’m-currently-up-to message and sent it off. The next day, I get a response with no text in the body, but the subject read: thanks for keeping in touch. Irony or sincerity? With him it could be either. Time will tell.

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