Tag Archives: science

why willpower is really about intention

Willpower: the ability to control oneself and determine one’s actions

Motivation: the desire to do; interest or drive

Intention: an aim that guides an action

The Huffington Post published a summary of Northwestern University’s study exploring the energy model of willpower. That is, the impact of mental vigilance, and subsequent depletion of mental resources, on blood glucose levels. The details are interesting so it’s worth a read. Simply stated, they found that when sensing a reward is coming, the brain is motivated to put in extra effort!

To me this reads that we must know why we are doing what we are doing in order to be motivated to do it! So, when thinking about your motivation, you must consider your intention (the ultimate reward) for that motivation. Then willpower happens. Simple, but now it seems that science is backing it up.

The next time you put your mind to something, create a goal for yourself or even begin your day tomorrow, set a clear intention for yourself about what you want to achieve, what you would like to get out of the day, or just the way you want to be in the world that day. Notice for yourself if having a clear intention for your day makes a difference. I bet it will.

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this is your brain on dance

Scientific American’s 2008 article explains that “unconscious entrainment – the process that causes us to absent-mindedly tap our feet to a beat – reflects our instinct for dance.” It would seem that our brains have evolved around rhythm!

Throughout all of the movement tasks in their study, there was activation in areas of the brain that correlate with Broca’s area, the area of the brain associated with speech production. These findings offer further support that dance began as a form of representational communication. Movement is a powerful impulse and a powerful form of expression.

Martha Graham said it best, “The body says what words cannot.”

What happened to dance? Unfortunately, society has taught many of us to become bashful, introverted and inhibited in using our bodies as a means of expression. Unfortunate, since we hold some of our most powerful and traumatic emotions and experiences on a cellular level. Without moving our bodies, it becomes very difficult to discharge what we need to in order to fully process our experiences.

When animals are faced with potential danger, they have a stress response of fight-or-flight-or-freeze. After freezing, and all danger is gone, these animals shiver in order to “shake off” the freeze response, to release the trauma and reset their bodies.

When humans are faced with potential danger, sympathetic nervous system arousal suppresses parasympathetic nervous system processes and trauma and experiences become stuck in our bodies. In extreme cases, this can lead to things like post-traumatic stress disorder and panic disorder.

Rooted in the idea that the mind and body are inseparable, dance movement therapy has been used as a way to treat trauma by allowing the processing of experiences to occur with visual and sensory memories. Sometimes there are no words. And sometimes the words feel unspeakable. Movement allows for this critical processing to occur in a safe space with some distance from intense emotions.

Not everything is trauma. Sometimes our bodies just feel tight and the more we stress, we begin to notice things like our shoulders creeping up to our ears (I call this New York City shoulders). Think about shaking it off, moving your body, stretching your body and releasing whatever emotions are stored up.

So, the next time you hit the dance floor, shake it in your bedroom, or simply find your foot tapping to the rhythm in the air, notice how you feel. Notice which emotions arise and how it feels in your body. Notice the energy that you release in your movements and how you feel when you’re done. Connect to yourself, mind and body, and shake it like you mean it! Move as if no one is watching!


why music moves us

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In the wake of Whitney Houston’s death there has been a lot of discussion about her having provided the “soundtrack” for our lives for the past nearly 30 years. Music moves us. We’ve all experienced it, hearing a song that suddenly brings us back to particular time, place or experience.

Music also gets into our bodies. We’ve gotten chills, goosebumps and been moved to tears. Did you ever wonder why? The Wall Street Journal just published an article about the science of music and the power that it has over our sympathetic nervous system, the system that regulates involuntary bodily functions, e.g.: cardiovascular system, digestion, sweat glands, etc. Backed by research, the article details the mechanics of musical arrangements, how they are experienced by our bodies and why sometimes, we can endlessly listen to the same song.

So the next time you feel moved, as the article so beautifully invites us to do, “sit back and let the dopamine keep us coming back for more.”


“Don’t give in to hate. That leads to the Dark Side.” – Obi Wan Kenobi

The New York Times blogger, Tara Parker-Pope, blogged on Monday about “When Fatty Feasts Are Driven by Automatic Pilot.” She writes of a study that suggests new opportunities to control obesity with drugs that target the body’s endocannabinoid system.

The last line of Tara’s blog post reads, “but just because your brain is being hijacked, that doesn’t mean you don’t have a responsibility to protect yourself,” seems, at least to me, to suggest that part of being responsible is existing in an atmosphere of body hatred and engaging in unhealthy behaviors, in this case, taking diet pills. And while not everyone develops eating disorders, this value system plays a critical hand in pushing the envelope for those who are vulnerable.

As time and science advance, we continue to learn more, define more and ultimately in some ways manipulate more, particularly in the vein of food, weight and shape. Societally we are drawn to the next quick fix. But what about the underlying motivations for our behaviors?  When do we take the time to understand why we are doing the things we are doing and the emotional undercurrents that lie beneath? When will we begin to use valuable information about how our body runs well, optimally and healthily to honor it rather than use it to manipulate and strangulate our bodies and our selves? Perhaps at this juncture in time, this is more of a personal question within a culture of thinness.

I am not in any way suggesting that science halt any and all research related to body weight, shape and size. My point here is not to support or deny that, perhaps, in some cases the use of medication may be an important facet within a multi-faceted approach to dealing with obesity. My intention is to highlight how we, societally and privately, use this information. While we continue to push for society to strive towards health rather than thinness at any cost, you, we, all of us, have the opportunity to make empowered choices that match our own internal value system, which hopefully includes living a well-balanced life without excess or restriction.