“Human doing” vs. human being: Which type are you?
More than 80 members and friends of the SHIFT Community gathered at the new TPT Street Space in St. Paul December 7, 2015, to hear from Henry Emmons and David Alter about personal strategies we can take to ensure a youthful brain now and into the future. The authors shared insight from their new book, Staying Sharp: Nine Keys for a Youthful Brain through Modern Science and Ageless Wisdom. Emmons and Alter explained complex brain science theory in easy-to-understand language, providing personal stories and practical exercises that everyone can use to work out our brain and mind.
A Finely Tuned Instrument
During his part of the presentation, Emmons, a Minneapolis psychiatrist who integrates mind-body and natural therapies, mindfulness and compassion practices into his clinical work, compared the mind and body to a world-class orchestra. The body is composed of all the instruments in the orchestra; the mind is the orchestra’s conductor and the heart is the audience. Without all three, there can be no concert.
He continued by describing two underlying principles we must embrace for mind/body strength:
- Awareness/mindfulness–to see things as they really are
- Resilience–to be able to face whatever it is in front of us with skill, to be able get up when life knocks us down
Ways to stay vibrant are easy.
- First, keep your body moving. The brain loves it when we move. Emmons explained that it doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming. Just stand up and move, aiming for a total of 150 minutes a week.
- Second, feed the brain what it needs to work, including good fats like olive oil and nuts, plenty of lean protein, and a limited sugar intake. He added that the brain benefits highly from medium-chain triglycerides (MCT), which can be found in fats like coconut oil.
- Finally, get enough quality sleep. Did you know that during sleep, the glymphatic system, which is basically the brain’s internal cleaning system, accomplishes work critical to brain health? Daily cleanup is important for memory and cognition, and can be accomplished only during deep sleep, so cat naps just won’t cut the mustard here.
Productive vs. Passionate = “Human Doings” vs. Human Beings
Alter, a Minneapolis psychologist with 30 years’ experience in health psychology, neuropsychology, and clinical hypnosis, shared a startling statistic: A poll of 25 million people in 189 countries found that only 13 percent felt engaged in their work. In other words, almost 90 percent of the people polled reported their work as a major frustration in their lives.
Alter went on to explain there is a distinct difference between being productive and being passionate. Because employers and American culture in general highly value productivity, Alter worries that we’re becoming “human doings.” He said staying busy in routine tasks does not feed our mind, heart, or body. On the other hand, being passionate about our life work results in our becoming, and remaining, human beings. He urged that we cultivate the skills of curiosity and optimism, living “with an orientation to what has not happened yet,” as opposed to getting stuck in regret over what happened in the past. To put that idea into practice, he encouraged us to seek novelty, finding ways to challenge ourselves to engage in new and stimulating activities. These can be as simple as regularly getting out into nature, taking time to challenge ourselves with a new activity, or volunteering.
Staying Sharp provided a blueprint to live more joyfully, age more gracefully, and build intimacy in relationships, no matter what our age or life stage.
Submitted by Susan Krautbauer & Don Lee