Optimism and cardio vascular health

If you’re smart, you’ll ignore this blog post and read this article from Scientific American Blogs by Scott Barry Kaufman immediately.

Here’s the most relevant quote from the article:

“Since that 2012 review, two additional studies have come out that further point to the robustness of this association. Rosalba Hernandez and colleagues focused on the American Heart Association’s definition of cardiovascular disease (CVD), which involves consideration of 7 metrics grouped into two categories: health behaviors (diet, smoking, physical activity, BMI) and health factors (blood pressure, blood sugar, total cholestrol). This was the first study to consider the association between optimism and CVH as defined by the American Heart Association, and this was also the first study to utilize a large sample of ethnically/racially diverse sample of adults.

Using data collected from 5,134 adults aged 52-84 over an 11 year period, they found a significant association between optimism and cardiovascular health (CVH), with the most optimistic people showing twice the odds of having ideal CVH profiles. The association remained significant even after controlling for socio-demographic variables (i.e., age, sex, race/ethnicity, marital status, education, income, and insurance status) and measures of psychological ill-being (e.g., depression), again supporting the notion that a lack of ill-being doesn’t necessarily indicate the presence of thriving.”

OK, so you’ve insisted on hanging around. I’ll tell you why I find it so relevant.

An old friend of mine is becoming ever more prone to pessimism. He’s always had an inclination toward mild fatalism though he’s married, has a family and fine career.

Still, he experiences the word no more strongly than any other:

No, I can’t do anything I might enjoy.

No, I can’t get any meaningful exercise.

No, I can lose any of the weight I’ve packed on over the last year or so.

To put the cherry on the sundae of this guy’s life let me tell you that he had an emergency angioplasty a couple years back. The artery that was blocked is nicknamed The Widowmaker by cardiologists.

You would think (and I thought) that this and the other normal stuff of life in the 50s would wake my old friend up to the need to take better care of himself. But it hasn’t…yet. I am ever the optimist.

Another quote from the article is this:

“When individuals are confronted with challenge, they may succumb or they may respond in one of three ways: They may survive (continuing to function, but in an impaired fashion), recover (return to previous levels of emotional, social and psychological functioning), or thrive (to go beyond the prior baseline, to grow and flourish). Through the interactive process of confronting and coping with challenges, a transformation occurs.”

I readily admit that for many years I trended toward an acceptance of mere recovery as opposed to a quest to thrive. I have since learned the error of my ways. Some days, perhaps more days than I would care to admit, I have to beat back the temptation to accept simple survival and recovery as good enough. But they’re not.

Pushing my old friend back from the brink and on toward his better self can be an emotional challenge. And, it would be nice to have someone encourage me as I have encouraged him. I will always believe that he’s one clever bit of encouragement away from changing the way he treats himself. Someday he’ll thrive.

Optimism and cardio vascular health

The power of pessimistic expectations to alter the future?

To be honest, I found this article by Tali Sharot a little dull until I read:

“The problem with pessimistic expectations, such as those of the clinically depressed, is that they have the power to alter the future; negative expectations shape outcomes in a negative way. How do expectations change reality?

To answer this question my colleague, cognitive neuroscientist Sara Bengtsson, devised an experiment in which she manipulated positive and negative expectations of students while their brains were scanned and tested their performance on cognitive tasks. To induce expectations of success, she primed college students with words such as smart, intelligent and clever just before asking them to perform a test. To induce expectations of failure, she primed them with words like stupid and ignorant. The students performed better after being primed with an affirmative message.”

The idea that negative expectations can shape outcomes in a negative way upsets the idea of the necessity of pessimism or at least tempered realism. In other words, could what would otherwise be a constructive effort to create a positive effect be upset by negative expectations preceding the effort?

If this is true it places even greater importance on prior expectation and outlook. It’s all too easy to say, “Well, I probably won’t be able to improve my golf game, but I’m going to try.” and then contend that the statement constitutes a realistic outlook that’s supported by the willingness to put forth an honest effort. That statement doesn’t feel pessimistic to the person who made it (me).

This all seems like more support for Dr, Seligman’s advice to make the narrative more positive, and to use that positivity and the beginning of the narrative.

The power of pessimistic expectations to alter the future?

Revisionist History is Alive & Well at Golf Digest

Question: Did Martha Burk, who wrote a letter to Augusta in 2002 and led a protest in 2003, help or hurt the cause?

Answer: I think Burk set back the process by years.

Sometimes a troubling bit of revisionism can reside in a single sentence. The question quoted above was posed by Golf Digest. The answer was provided by Golf Digest Editor, Marcia Chambers. As is often the case with revisionism, I have every confidence most readers will have missed it, or at least will wonder how it could possibly be relevant.

Chamber’s response revises history by her use of the word, process. Her sentence makes it appear that prior to Martha Burk there was a process in place at Augusta National to admit women members. This would be analogous to the contention that Rosa Parks set back the process pf racial desegregation by refusing to sit in the back of the bus in Alabama back in 1955.

Quite simply, organizations, whether golf clubs or municipal transit companies, do not like to be told what to do.

As I grow older, even small examples of revisionism are troubling to me. It’s easy for me to imagine a young person reading Chambers’ quote and imagining Burk as a common rabble-rouser just out to make trouble.

The PGA Tour’s history does not allow for much leeway when it comes to issues of equality. The end of its Caucasian Clause came in the year of my birth, 1961. It feels real to me since its stain continued into my own time.

Too long ago for you?

In 1984, Shoal Creek Country Club hosted the PGA Championship. At the time, the club had no black members. It is stunning to think that the PGA of 1984 wasn’t savvy enough to be aware of that fact at the time. If that’s easy enough to forgive, how can we forget that when 1990 rolled around the PGA again awarded Shoal Creek with its most prestigious tournament?

Though six years had passed, there were still no black members at Shoal Creek.

Fortunately, the Martha Burks of that time and place were not silent: The Southern Christian Leadership Conference threatened a boycott and sponsors like IBM pulled millions of dollars of commercial advertising from the broadcast. In a matter of weeks, Shoal Creek hastily accepted a local black businessman as an honorary member.

The only difference between Shoal Creek and Augusta National is muscle. In 1990, Shoal Creek feared both financial loss and a damaged reputation. Augusta did a simple calculation based upon the immense wealth of their brand and decided to weather what in the end was merely a bothersome squall of adverse of public opinion.

But know this:

Had Martha Burk stayed silent in 2002, today poor Condi Rice would probably be teeing it up at her local muny. The truth is Martha Burk started the very process Marcia Chambers now says she delayed.

Augusta National is a singularly magnificent golf course. Its co-founder, one of the great gentleman of sport this country has even known. But, its history is always complex and sometimes conflicted.

Marcia Chambers, by way of an implication, brought by a single word in one sentence, has only added to that complexity.

A comment from Martha Burk:

Thank you very much. The piece is a concise and very accurate frame, not only of Chambers’ statement but of the Shoal Creek situation and the response re ANGC. Maybe now that female members are allowed, the asterisk will be removed from the “official” PGA tour event list — an exception they carved our for Augusta in the wake of Shoal Creek when Augusta opened to African American men, but no women, contrary to the new PGA policy against race and sex discrimination. As you know, some clubs dropped out of the tour rather than admit women, but Augusta got to have it both ways.

As for Chambers, I am puzzled. She and I were in contact during the controversy, and she seemed to be entirely with me and what I was doing.  Her book, The Unplayable LIe, had called attention to the problem of sex discrimination in golf long before I got involved.

Again, thanks for an honest and straightforward critique.

Martha Burk

Revisionist History is Alive & Well at Golf Digest

Cognitive Optimism Versus Zen Wisdom: A Buddhist answer to cognitive persuasion and control

This article by Andrea F. Polard Psy.D. got me thinking and feeling.

“Instead of trying to persuade ourselves to thinking positive, the Zen approach is to ask ourselves, ‘Who is it that needs persuasion?’ The idea is to question the way we experience ourselves and others before we even look at the particular negative thought or event. Zen questioning is there to find perspective. Usually we suffer unnecessarily because our perspective is very, very limited, namely the perspective of being a separate person. Our brain produces the illusion of separateness because it wishes to control the concrete world. While this is a fantastic survival strategy, it disconnects us from our community and from the expansive feeling of being related to everybody and everything. Once we get a sense of who we truly are, namely this being connected to the greater Being, we look at the particular, small experience with wisdom. We don’t have to take it so seriously anymore. Just looking at our inner experience from the perspective of Being causes us to relax and smile.”

I’m all for keeping my thoughts and feelings in perspective relative to the world around me. Where her article starts to give me pause is when she writes, “…there is no evidence that our thoughts are at the top of a hierarchy inside the brain.” They sure aren’t. Feelings of fear trumps logic when it comes to someone who fears flying. And, rage has no need for ideas. No matter where our thoughts reside within the brain’s hierarchy, these most troublesome feelings and emotions reside near the bottom but that doesn’t mean they’re not hugely powerful. That’s why a cat, even though it lacks a fully developed frontal lobe, can still be desperately fearful and amazingly enraged (sometimes all at once).

What Pollard seems to ignore is that most of the problems of the relentless pessimist flow from a relentless blending of negative thoughts and feelings. It’s very hard to have a thought that matters without an awareness of a corresponding feeling. In the same way, we are usually quite able to correlate a feeling to a thought.

Geez, I love a good massage.

Keeping realism from becoming runaway pessimism is a matter of managing thoughts and feelings.

Both are affected by the world around me, there’s no doubt.

But only I can find the balance point between the world and what I think and feel.

Cognitive Optimism Versus Zen Wisdom: A Buddhist answer to cognitive persuasion and control

Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative

In his book, Learned Optimism, Martin Seligman advises readers to minimize negative thoughts rather than trying to increase the number of positive thoughts.

This gave me the idea to make a list of the negative ideas that are floating around my head.

Negative ideas are slippery little devils. They often masquerade as neutral or realistic ideas rather than the overtly negative forces they truly are:

1) I’m getting too old to accomplish very much.2) I’ve wasted some precious opportunities (ones I could not afford to waste).3) I rely too much (in the professional realm) on other people doing things or failing to do them.4) One (or more) of my current projects seems destined to cost me rather than make money.

One of my old pals, Little Stevie, used to quote an old timer he knew: “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?”

I always liked that quote. The truth is that I’ve never (as an adult) felt limited by my age. Oh sure, I imagine that my age could possibly get in the way if I ever had to look for a new job, but it wouldn’t be a brick wall. Obviously, this too old feeling is pretty standard stuff. In the end, the reality of aging is what it is.Thinking about it is a genuine waste of time and energy.

Bemoaning a missed opportunity is standard issue what if stuff. Whether the opportunities were truly missed or whether another equally valid and possibly rewarding course was chosen is purely academic. The past is past.

Reliance on others is a hard one. It can true and also hard to change. I do rely on the judgments of others when it comes to my profession. Someone else pulls most of the strings. That reality flows from decisions made long ago. Still, no one attains true autonomy even though everyone says they want it.

Projects cost time and money. Even if they don’t cost actual money, time is simply money in another form. I have a friend who is terrified of trying something new (when it comes to business, especially) because he’s afraid his efforts are likely to come to nothing. Even before I cataloged my daily negativism I used his monumental resistance as motivation not to give in to his self defeatist example. In the end, I fear standing still even more than slipping backward so all of my projects are all systems go.

Most books never get published.

Most businesses fail.

But, the only certainty is that which comes from an effort never made.

Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative