It’s always good for me to check myself

surfers coming out of the end of a tube
I can do this

On Thursday afternoon, I was a nervous wreck.

Most of the day Friday, too.

Then, by Friday night, I realized that the recent re-org is potentially a really great thing. For me, anyway.

See, for the past three years, my boss has been pressuring me to do a job I don’t want to do, and I have no interest in doing. They’ve been urging me to be more socially pro-active and get out and drum up political support for the program I run. Go network. Hob-nob. Make my presence felt in the world.

I, on the other hand, really just want to get things done. Because no matter how much I politic and get people “in my corner”, if people aren’t doing the job right, none of it is going to pan out.

And, in fact, a bunch of things didn’t pan out over the past three years — partly because I was so divided in my attention that I missed things. Some things I missed so terribly, I was sure I was going to get fired. I didn’t, but the whole experience was pretty terrible.

Anyway, on Friday I was talking to a co-worker about the re-org, and it looks like that whole hob-nobbing, uber-politicking aspect of my position is going to get offloaded to other people. And that’s fine with me. I hate doing that. With a burning passion. And now it looks like I won’t have to do it, anymore.

Praise be.

So, lesson learned (yet again) : Don’t jump to conclusions about what stuff means or what’s “destined” to happen. Because it might not. And I don’t want to waste my energy, getting all freaked out about things that will never happen.

I need to save my energy.

Speaking of which, today’s a bonus day — cold and rainy and grey and quiet. A lot of people are out of town for the Memorial Day weekend. And I can move at my own pace. Tomorrow, too. Long weekend. Good thing. I’ve been needing this.

Yeah, it’s all good. It usually is, I just don’t always realize it.

Onward.

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Long weekend… coming up.

boat on beach with cliffs in the distanceMemorial Day weekend is just around the corner, and I can’t wait. Having three days off work — and tomorrow I’ll be working from home, just like everyone else who’s able to, who doesn’t want to get stuck in Friday afternoon holiday traffic.

It’s unfortunate that I feel this way. Once upon a time, I loved my work. I couldn’t wait to do it, each and every day. I didn’t like weekends, and I even worked on my skills on Saturdays and Sundays.

No more. The things I once loved to do are lost to me – ever since my TBI in 2004, the way my brain processes information changed, so I can’t do the level of coding  I once did. I also get tired more quickly, so that keeps me from working long hours at it, as well.

Oh, well. I have other things in my life that brighten my day. And I’ll have three days to do them, this weekend. Work in my garden, work around the house, work in my yard. Lots of outdoor activities — providing the weather holds.

That, and catching up on reading, maybe doing some writing, and working on some projects I’ve recently revived.

I’ve got plenty to do. I’m just feeling a certain sense of loss over not counting my day-job as something I look forward to doing.

I sometimes dream of winning the lottery. But then I get depressed. So, I try not to do that, anymore.

I just keep going. Just keep going. Till I get where I’m supposed to go.

It’s going to be great, having the time to myself, this weekend. Time to think. Time to rest. Time to move at my own pace. Bliss. Sheer bliss.

But until then, it’s work-time. And I’m about to launch into that in another 25 minutes. Just enough time to get myself prepped for my first conference call.

Onward.

Taking things as they come

merry go round with city in backgroundLife has been a little too exciting for me, lately. Lots going on, lots to do, and not nearly enough time to recover from it all.

Work needs to be done on the house. So I’m doing it.

My yard needs tending. So I’m tending it.

My job is extremely demanding. So, I’m stepping up to meet the demands as best as I can.

My spouse is doing okay – one day good, the next not so good. So, I’m dealing with that.

My car has been making strange sounds. So I took it to the mechanic.

The loaner car they gave me is terrible. So, I’m driving the van instead.

It seems like each and every day, I’m presented with challenges. More of them now, than usual, it seems. Or maybe I’m just tired. Or maybe I’m just needing a break. It could be all of the above. But for now, since I have no other “escape plan” that’s possible right away, I’m dealing with everything.

As it comes.

As it goes.

Onward.

Spring is finally here

Happy Spring!
Happy Spring!

At last.

The snow has all melted, and the rains have come, and now everyone’s yards are turning green.

I bought myself some grass seed and some moss killer, because my yard is getting way out of control with the mossy stuff. Grass needs to grow. So, it’s time to take action.

I’ve got some gardening to do, too. I bought flower seeds for the various flower beds around the house, and this weekend I’ll have some time to work on them. My spouse is away for four days, starting Thursday. So, as of Friday, I’ll have the place to myself (I’m helping out on Thursday, so it won’t be a day off for me).

Then I can get some work done. Make a racket. Make a mess. I’ll clean it all up, of course, but it’ll be good to just clunk around the house without worrying about bothering anyone else.

Happy Spring. Indeed.

 

The Brain Is In Continual Conflict

The Busy-Not-Busy Balancing Act

hand holding pen, checking off lists on a checklist
Getting stuff done… one thing at a time.

It’s been a little while since I last blogged here. I’ve actually been increasingly busy at work. No sooner do I start to think, “I’m out of here…” than I get a handful of projects handed to me that are actually really good for my resume. So, I’ll be around long enough to finish them up. Possibly longer. As long as the job is serving my purposes with keeping my skills sharp and my record clean, I’ll keep it.

No need to bolt. Not just yet. Of course, with the merger happening before year-end, anything could happen, but I’m not racing off… not quite yet.

It’s eerie, though, how the more I intended to leave, the more my boss started to “loop me in” to more projects with high visibility. Some days it seems like they’re reading my mind. How do they do that, anyway?

Well, whatever. I’ve been more busy at work, and I’ve been organizing at home. So, I’ve had less time to blog here.

The whole pace of my past six months has been a little strange. It’s either feast or famine. I’m either slammed with a million different things to do, or I’m in a lull, feeling like I’m twiddling my thumbs (sometimes I literally am). Of course, then I feel the need to jump into action and come up with more things to do, so I get myself busy again… and then when the normal incoming tide of to-do items starts to rise again, I have twice as much to handle.

Funny, how that goes.

Well, it’s better than not having anything going on, I suppose. I’m not sure I could have nothing going on, anyway.

It’s really about balance. And also doing a better job of tracking what I’m really working on. Sometimes, when I am “not busy”, I really should be — I’m just forgetting that I’ve got stuff simmering on the back-burner. Or I’ve flat-out forgotten that I’m supposed to be doing something important. Then I scramble to get it together, and I don’t always do a great job of it.

I can’t beat myself up over it, though. I just have to keep steady, and also do a better job of tracking my activities. I’ve started keeping weekly logs of what needs to be done, what I did in the past week, what I need to do next week. I’ve tried a bunch of different systems, but for some reason, they have all bugged the crap out of me. I think this one is good, though. So far, so good.

And I’m reviewing my lists with my neuropsych, which is helpful. I haven’t done this before, because I was embarrassed that I was really struggling. I didn’t feel like I should be, and my old neuropsych was very intent on making sure I didn’t get bogged down in a lot of negative self-talk. So, rather than admit when I was having trouble, I just didn’t talk about it. And I let a lot of stuff slip through the cracks.

No more, though. No more of that. I want to do well. I want to do my best. Even if that means getting over my self-consciousness and sense of impending failure.

It’s all a balancing act — an act of balance. A deliberate choice to balance things out, and a conscious act to do just that.

Yep. For me, it’s a choice.

Onward… together with the help I can find.

No exercise, no waking up

rain-on-leavesI didn’t feel like exercising this morning. I just lay in bed and pulled back the curtains… watched the gentle rain fall and listened to it pinging on the chimney cap outside my window. It’s a beautiful day to stay indoors and just chill out… reading, thinking, blogging… just chillin’.

If only.

But if I don’t get up and get my circulation pumping — get on that bike and ride — I’m no good for the rest of the day. I bypassed my morning ride, and I was dragging all day. And that was no good.

So, after I lay there a little while, I got myself out of bed and went for my ride. I’m not sure how long I rode. It was at least 20 minutes, I think. Nothing huge, just enough to wake me up and work up a bit of a sweat. Then I had my big glass of water and made my breakfast. I didn’t lift this morning, because I’ve been lifting and carrying heavy objects for days, now, and my body needs a rest. As much as I’d like to have that morning “pump”, common sense prevails.

I know how unproductive it is, when I overtrain and overdo it, so I’ll use my good sense and not do that today.

Yesterday, I swam again. It’s good. I only swam once last week, in the pool at work. I managed to get in a friend’s pool over the weekend and have a little bit of a swim on Sunday, but it was no workout. Just a cooling-off, really.

When I swim at work, it’s a whole different thing. I go around noontime, when everyone is either eating lunch, or they’re in the gym. I usually have the place to myself, but yesterday there was someone else there. I like to swim hard from one end of the Olympic sized pool to the other, then float on my back and relax, letting my heart rate and breathing go back to normal. It’s probably the most relaxing thing in my day, to just lie there and float… weightless, feeling myself floating free… The other person in the pool looked at me strangely, and I wonder if maybe they thought there was something wrong. But after my heart rate and breathing were back to normal, I went back to swimming… and they jumped out of the pool and went back to their work day.

I’m going to see the neurologist again today, to look at test results. I think this whole thing has been a boondoggle, quite frankly. But I had to follow up on it, because it would be remiss for me to overlook a serious problem that could impact myself and my spouse, on down the line. I’m the sole $upport for us, so I have to take care of myself and do my due diligence wherever possible. I don’t like it, but it’s gotta get done.

So, I’m doing it. I’m not sure what’s going to come out of this. I’m tempted to just bag it and say, “Okay, I have these issues, and you’ve been unable to medically find anything significant to address. I know they’re issues for me, and I need to manage them, so since you’ve got nothing to offer me, I’ll take it from here.”

The medical establishment doesn’t have the nuance and sophistication for people like me, so I’m not going to waste any more of their (and my time) with requests for help that they’re unprepared and unable to give.

Time to just take things into my own hands, and be done with it. I’ve given it my best shot, but it’s time to call an end to this search.

It’s taking up way too much time and energy, and I just don’t have the time and resources to keep chasing this the way I have. Anyway, I’m really just following this up because of advice from my neuropsych(s). I would have just left it alone and dealt with it, myself, but they’ve been so keen on me figuring out the medical piece of this, so I don’t fall.

The crazy thing is, months ago (and before I spent lots of time and a bit of money on this), I could have predicted this outcome. But then, I’m the brain-injured one, so what do I know?

Well, maybe today will see the end to this. If I ever get concussed or brain-injured again, I know where to find these people. But until then (and hopefully that never happens), I’m just going to get back to my life. It’s been interesting, but it hasn’t been that productive.

And frankly, exercise and a good diet, getting rest, keeping active in my life, and really diving into my life experience to learn as much as I can, is turning out to be the ticket to my ongoing recovery.

That’s just fine with me.

Onward!

Heavier weights today

this is waht today feels like
This is what today feels like

Not every day starts out with 9.5 hours of sleep, unfortunately. In fact, precious few do. And after days of sleeping long past 8 hours, I’m up early this morning with barely 7 hours under my belt. I was too warm, overnight, and I probably need to put the air conditioner back in the window, because when I get too warm, I can’t sleep.

Also, I was having bad dreams last night, having to do with my spouse. I was so angry with them about doing something wrong, and I was trying to get back at them and teach them a lesson, but when they tried to step up and do what I needed them to do, they couldn’t, because their mind was gone. It was mean-spirited and cruel, and it also brought home to me, yet again, just how much it sucks to have your beloved decline right before your very eyes.

So, no, I didn’t get enough sleep last night.

I got up anyway and started in on my day. I rode the exercise bike for 20 minutes, then I did some heavier lifting than I usually do. I didn’t do a ton of it, because I don’t want to injure myself. But I did lift heavier weights that took more concentration and effort than usual. And that felt pretty good. It felt good to push, even if it was just a slight bit more than usual.

I need to shake things up and break up my routine, so it doesn’t get boring and I don’t lose interest and motivation. I mean, having a “master routine” of doing the same activities each morning and evening (getting to bed at the same time, exercising and eating a nutritious breakfast in the morning, and keeping myself on a schedule). But doing the exact same thing(s) over and over can be mind-numbing, so I need to find other ways to work and stay active.

And that’s what I’m doing. I had my “magic potion” of electrolytes and fruit juice this morning. And I also mixed up a big batch of deviled eggs. I actually love them. And over the last holiday season, my sister-in-law showed me some secrets of making really tasty ones. So, I whipped up a batch and sealed them up in plastic containers for later (so the refrigerator doesn’t smell like egg sulphur). I used to watch Jacques Pepin on a food channel, and he showed how you can poke a hole in the end of an egg to let the sulphur release, so your eggs don’t have that rotten smell, but I could never get it to work. It just got egg all over the inside of the pan I was cooking them in.

Oh, well. The smell isn’t awful, and it doesn’t mean the eggs are bad, so I’ll live with it. At least I have my deviled eggs.

I’m tired today. And not just from not getting sleep. Yesterday was a very emotional day for me —  much moreso than I expected. I had a neuro appointment, where they did an EMG on my legs to check for neuropathy. They wanted to check how the nerves in my legs and feet are behaving —  if my balance issues might be related to degeneration in my nerves there, or if the impulses are not traveling properly from my spine to brain to legs to feet… and so on.

I had to lie still and relax completely, while they did little electric shocks on my legs, and then tested the nerves in the muscles with little needles that the doctor inserted into the muscle. It wasn’t terrible. I could do without the shocks. It reminded me a lot of when I was a kid running around at dairy farms, bumping into the electric fence. It was like that, but the place where they pressed the electric conductor against my skin was very sensitive. The doctor told me that if I relaxed and got my autonomic nervous system to calm down, I’d have less of a pain response.

I found it interesting that they talked about the ANS that way — and that they seemed to assume that I knew about it and understood what they were talking about. The thing that bothered me about it, was that they went really fast, and I felt like I couldn’t prepare or keep up or get my head around what they were saying, until they’d started. And that sense of no control was stressful. I mean, not necessarily control, but just not feeling like I was actually a part of the process — that they were just doing all this on my body as though I wasn’t even there — I didn’t care for that at all.

It took about 30 minutes to do the testing, and the needles weren’t bad at all. They said it would hurt a little bit, but it didn’t hurt very much at all. The anticipation was much worse. And the needles were actually less painful than the electric shocks. The shocks were the worst, really, now that I think about it. Having your legs jumping around, and feeling that burning roughness from the electric conductor… it was worse than I thought it would be.

I got through it in good spirits, had a pleasant chat with the receptionists, and then headed back to the office where I could just get some work done. It really wasn’t that big of a deal. But then when I was going to sleep, I suddenly burst into tears and wept like a small child. I guess it did bother me — a lot. And the thing that got to me the most was that I was all alone in the process. I’ve stopped discussing the neuro appointments with my spouse — I don’t even tell them that I’m going — because it sets off their anxiety so intensely, to think there might be something “wrong” with me. And then my life gets even more complicated, because they shut down in their anxiety, and they just “drop out” of live, leaving me even more alone — and burdened — than before. So, I stopped telling my spouse about my appointments.

After all, there could be nothing at all wrong with me. Maybe I’m just a very sensitive individual who has a unique combination of traits that make me dizzy at unexpected moments. Who knows? So, why worry my spouse, if that’s the case?

But not having anyone to talk to afterwards, not having anyone to debrief and decompress with… that’s tough. And I really felt it last night.

These times when I have to push through an unpleasant experience is a little like lifting heavier weights on occasion. It forces me to pay attention. It makes me feel vulnerable and out of my element. And it reminds me of how much farther I have to go, to really feel as though my life is on solid footing.

It also makes me more sensitive to the situations of others who are even worse off than I am, who are struggling with serious health issues in the face of a medical system that doesn’t serve them, but only confuses and alienates them… and then blames them for not taking proper care of themselves. That’s especially true for folks with cognitive issues. I had a really hard time, inside the silence of my own skull, keeping up with what was going on around me. So, I just went along with it. But if the doctor had made a bad choice or wanted to do something more serious to me, would I have had the wherewithal to stop them? To question them? To defend myself?

Maybe I could have. Or maybe not. I just don’t know. But I do know that for many, many others, they can’t. They just can’t. They’re at the mercy of the medical system, unable to follow along, unable to figure out what the doctor is saying in the 15 (whopping) minutes they have to spend with them.

And that can be deadly. We can’t speak up for ourselves, we can’t advocate for ourselves. We just end up being guinea pigs, and that’s such a bothersome situation, it alone keeps me up at night, sometimes. I wish to high heaven there were something I could do to change this, but all I can do is offer my own experiences, and hope that somewhere, somehow, someone reads these words and gets something from them.

I’m feeling a little better this morning, but my dream bothers me. It all bothers me. But it’s a new day, a beautiful day, and life is waiting. I’ve got a whole bunch of deviled eggs in the fridge, and that’s pretty cool. Life is good. Regardless.

Onward…

Great weekend… and a big week ahead.

Calming it down, one breath at a time
It’s all coming at me pretty fast, but if I keep relaxed and keep breathing, it can all happen. It can all turn out pretty well.

I had a full and productive weekend. I caught up on a number of things I’ve been needing to get done for weeks, now. I also got some things done around my yard that HAD to get done before it rains later this week. I feel pretty good about getting those things done. It was not a small task, but I did it.  Woot.

Some important-but-delayed things I did not get done. But I got enough important things done, that it offsets the disappointment. And it gives me more motivation to get moving on those things I didn’t finish (or even start).

I’ve also been working on my breathing. Focusing on relaxing and feeling where my body is “at” — where I’m tense, where I need to loosen up, where my breath seems to have stopped. I need to keep it moving, not get stuck in fight-flight, which is what happens at times, when I hold my breath unconsciously.

Years ago, I was very intent on working with my breath and getting in touch with my body, so I could more effectively manage stress. It was a regular part of my daily practice, and it did wonders for me. Somehow, I got away from that. I got caught up in everything else, and I was in serious survival mode for several years, while I dealt with creditors and paid down my years-salary-worth-of-debt. I lost sight of the big picture with my approaches, and while some things improved in my life — like my job situation and my perception of myself in the professional world — other parts fell by the wayside.

Including my breathing. I’m working on that again. And swimming is a big part of it — since it involves both movement and breathing. And it’s great exercise. Just great, great exercise.

This week is a pretty big one for me. I have my weekly neuropsych appointment, when I work on problems with making progress and getting things done. I have a whole lot of things I need to get done on a regular basis. I’ve been doing them for years, I just haven’t been doing them as efficiently as I should – and it shows. I may need to take some of them off my to-do list and put them on my ‘would be nice to do’ list… and then not worry about them till later.

One project, in particular, has been drawing a lot of energy off the other projects I really need to do. It’s training materials for people who are in a certain part of the job market and don’t understand how things work.

The thing is, if I start on that, it’s going to be pretty all-consuming. It’s not just some training materials — the whole plan also involves public speaking, public appearances, and a lot of writing and publishing and networking. And I just don’t have time for that, now.

It’s a great prospect for me, and it could bring in a fair amount of money for me, but I have so many other things I want to be working on, I can’t really afford to spend the time on it, to do it full justice.

So, I’m tabling that — putting it on the “back burner” to simmer for a while. I’m really treating that like my backup-plan “B”, in case I lose my job or the 9-to-5 thing doesn’t work out for me. That would be the ideal time to cut this project loose and set it free — when I actually have time to fully devote to it.

I’m in the process of cooking up a number of other projects, many of which I find really inspiring and motivational. So, I need to make room for them, and find where I can fit them, while not burning out. I’ll work through this with my neuropsych this week — and in later weeks, as well.

In addition to that, I’ve got a town meeting this week, when we’ll discuss the fate of a company that wants to expand. I’ve had my ups and downs with the board I belong to — they don’t always seem to respect me, and they sometimes ignore me or talk over me. People in town have laughed at me, when I asked one of my “stupid” questions, which was completely disrespectful (and ill-advised, since the board I’m on makes decisions about what people want to do on their properties, and I’m not the sort of enemy you want to have). I let that go, though, and I continue to serve on the board. It connects me with the larger community, and it also puts me on good terms with the local authorities. It’s a lot easier dealing with the local police, when they run my personal details and realize I’m also an “enforcer” who serves the public good.

I probably would have gotten in more trouble, had the friction not dissipated when the cops realized who I was and what role I play in local government.

Another thing is, I’m seeing my neurologist later this week to talk about the headaches and my other issues. Actually, I’ll be seeing their assistant, as the neuro proper has kind of washed their hands of me. They didn’t find anything on the MRI (even the DTI-MRI) that gave them any clues about what was going on with me, and since they can’t diagnose me with anything, how are they supposed to treat me (and bill the insurance companies)? I feel for them, but I don’t appreciate being pushed aside.

Fortunately, while I was sorting through my stack of insurance statements and various papers and notices, I found a promotional flyer for one of those services that gives you access to second opinions by highly qualified physicians and healthcare experts. I’m going to check in with them, to see if they can help me, because this current neuro approach is not working. I really don’t need to take hours out of my day to drive to an office where I’m just going to be brushed off, and my concerns aren’t going to be taken seriously.

Just as an example, the neuro-in-charge told me that my concerns about falling and having a worse TBI than the one I had before, were unfounded. They told me that concussions are NOT cumulative, which contradicts just about everything I’ve read… and after weeks of consideration, I have a lot of reservations about their abilities and willingness to be of help.

Then again, I do fit the profile of someone in the “miserable minority” — I’m very much like the first individual profiled in that seminal 1996 paper, which touched off a chain-reaction of further studies and diagnostic / treatment approaches to folks with lingering post-concussive symptoms. So, maybe the neuro was referencing that profile.

My own feelings of insult and dismissal aside, the “miserable minority” approach may have done more to perpetuate misery, by steering away from the functional and structural issues that come along with traumatic brain injury, and focusing so deeply on the psychological factors.

I’m not saying psychological factors don’t come into play. I’m saying there’s more to it than that, and it’s my belief — after many, many years of unfruitful and counter-productive therapy approaches, followed by amazingly fantastic progress after far fewer years of basic functional retraining — that a focus on psychology, without addressing the underlying neurology, has done more to perpetuate PCS than anyone would guess.

Of course, people mean well. They’re just misguided. And they’re so caught up in proving that they’re right, and they deserve a place at the rehabilitative table, with all the respect due highly trained professionals, that they “circle the wagons” and get Balkanized — cut off from others, hostile and uncooperative and territorial, and always ready to battle over some piece of territory.

Unfortunately for those of us who need their help, we get sucked into that dynamic, and that’s no good for anyone.

But there it is.

There it is.

Friday is free and clear for me — no meetings, no appointments. I do need to do some shopping this week to pick up some black pants for my business trip next week. I’m going to be presenting at a client conference, and I need some black pants. Or maybe I don’t need to go shopping. I have a couple pairs of black pants I can probably wear. They’re just not as casual as the conference wants us to be. It’s definitely “dress down” — although we still need to present in a professional manner.

I also need to practice my presentation. I’m doing one technical talk that’s only about 10 minutes long, and I’m going to be “on call” to answer questions about the company’s full product line, which is a pretty extensive collection. I just need to  have a quick 2-minute “spiel” I can launch into, for a variety of topics. That’s probably the biggest undertaking of this week, and I’ll be practicing while I’m driving to and from work, as well as to and from my appointments.

Memorizing things used to be easy for me as a kid. I can still memorize things, if I go over them 30+ times. 35 times seems to be the magic number, but I don’t have that kind of time — 35 times for each of the 10 different spiels is 350 separate practice sessions. At 2 minutes apiece, that’s 700 minutes (11.66 hours), minimum. I can break it up, sure, but it’s still a lot of time to spend.

So, again, I’ve got to pick and choose.

And so, I shall.

Onward.

Not just a floating brain: Action and Cognition Lab studies human body’s impact on visual perception

brain-blue-patternsThis is an excellent article – and it really helps explain certain mysteries of post-concussion issues. I’m thinking and writing a fair amount about this, these days, tying in “embodied cognition” with the neurofunctional pieces.

Essentially, embodied cognition approaches our cognition as a result of a combination of influences — from inside and outside the brain. There are a number of different “definitions” and approaches, but the one that makes the most sense to me actually replaces the brain-only / mind-only definition of cognition.

I believe that our brain and biology both affects things, and so does our environment. We’re in constant interaction with the world around us, and that interaction is at the heart of our cognitive process. We’re more than brains floating around inside skulls, making up images and meanings and metaphors about our world and where we fit, then acting accordingly. The world around us, in fact, plays a central role in our cognitive process.

It’s fascinating stuff. Take a look:

Not just a floating brain: Action and Cognition Lab studies human body’s impact on visual perception

FARGO — Humans are not just a pair of eyes and a brain floating around.

The idea that humans are active beings with bodies that interact with the environment is at the core of the study of embodied cognition: what a person sees and perceives in the world around them as influenced by aspects of the body beyond the brain. The parts of the brain a person uses to perceive the world are also the same parts of the brain they use to think.

“We’re acting beings who have these bodies that allow us to do things in our environment,” said Laura Thomas, an assistant professor of psychology at North Dakota State University. “The idea is what I’m ready to do with the environment is going to have this interaction with the information that I’m biased to perceive.”

The NDSU Action and Cognition Lab, headed by Thomas, studies the impacts a person’s physical, social and kinetic interactions with the world have on the way the brain processes information. Studies in the lab have found that factors as minor as how a person holds their hands affects their ability to perceive movement or fine spatial details.

“Just being ready to catch a ball or thread a needle will create this subtle bias in terms of what my brain is going to emphasize when I take in that information,” Thomas said.

The lab’s primary study looks at how a person perceives visual information near their hands based on what they are doing with their hands.

Researchers have subjects put their hands in a “power grasp,” with their fists closed as though they are ready to swing a hammer, and perform a task on a computer display. They then have them do the same task with their hands held in a “precision grasp,” as though they are about to tie their shoes or thread a needle, and compare their performance against the same activity done with their hands in their lap.

“We’ve found that if people are holding their hands up on a computer display (in a power grasp), they’re more sensitive to changes in motion information — information that changes quickly over time,” Thomas said. “That’s the kind of visual information that is most useful to me if I’m doing something like trying to catch a ball or swing a hammer.”

“If your hands are positioned (in a precision grasp), you are more likely to respond to visual information that is related to fine spatial details. Little differences between the positions of dots on the screen are going to be easier for you to notice.”

More studies

The other two areas of study in the lab test how social interactions affect what a person sees and the effect of physical motion on thought processes.

The social interaction study tests how people perceive a person’s face if they compete with them versus if they work together on a team.

“We found that if you’re playing against another person — if you’re competing — you remember that person’s face as being more aggressive looking,” Thomas said. “This idea of facial aggression is measured basically by — if you think about a triangle where you’ve got your eyes and your mouth — a triangle that is more scrunched up is more aggressive.”

The study on the impact of physical motion on thought tasks subjects with solving a difficult spatial reasoning problem. The solution to the problem involves swinging a string like a pendulum. The study has found that if they ask subjects to swing their arms back and forth, without telling them it has anything to do with the problem, they are much more likely to solve the problem.

“Movements of the body can serve as primes or triggers to particular types of thought,” Thomas said.

The lab also provides opportunities for undergraduate students to conduct studies. Junior psychology major Hallie Anderson is about to begin a study on the impact handshakes have on business interactions. They are bringing in a grip testing machine to see whether a firm handshake actually yields superior economic results.

“The popular hypothesis would say that the firmness of the handshake would play a factor into who would receive more money in an economic game,” Anderson said. “But I almost think personality will play a factor as well. We’ll see if the handshake itself is making that difference.”