Friday, February 24, 2012


That whole mind/heart interaction thing is more confusing than most people think.  No, really.  That's come to my attention in three odd ways recently.

Way number 1:  K-daughter sometimes has panic attacks.  It's scary (especially for her).  You'd think the best way to get her out of shaking like a leaf, wondering whether death is imminent, is to reassure her.  To speak to the heart.  But actually, as a therapist friend showed me, it's better to engage the rational side.  I start asking questions:  What day is today?  Can you recite your phone number?  What did you have for dinner last night?  What ingredients went into that dish?  That intense concentration helps to stop the shakes, to bring her back. To cure, if you will, the emotional side.
Fixing the emotional sometimes sometimes requires the rational.

Way number 2:  Several educational researchers have showed that, if you ask women in a math class to spend 15 minutes writing about their values and goals on the first day of the semester, then their final grades at the end of the semester are higher.  Does that make sense?  Writing about their deeply held convictions on one day helps these students perform technical computations months later.  As a person who teaches a lot of math myself, I'm still trying to digest this.
Succeeding at math is tied to knowing your values?
So, on the one hand, rational thought helps to heal emotions.  And on the other hand, acknowledging the heart's desire helps people improve their rational thinking.  And as I was mulling over these seeming contradictions this past week, I stumbled (Way number 3) on the following sentences from Susan Blackmore's Meme Machine,
The neurologist Antonio Damasio (1994) has worked with many patients who have brain damage, often in the frontal lobe, that causes them to lose their normal emotional responses and become emotionally flat.  Far from turning into super-rational decision-makers, able to plan their lives without all the irritating distraction of unwanted emotions, they become almost paralysed with indecision.  Whether to choose pickle and pumpkin crisps, or cheese and onion, can become a nerve-racking dilemma to be resolved only by long and careful thought, and a normal life becomes impossible. 
In other words, our brains can't even make a simple choice unless we have a way to feel good or bad about that choice.

What does this have to do with being a miser mom?  I like to think (being the uber-rational person I am) that the way I spend money is The Right Way -- meaning of course the logical way.  But if I am honest, each choice is also the way that I just happen to feel like spending money . . . or not spending money, as the case may be -- heh!  

I like turning off unused lights (rational).  I also like plunking down a wad of money to go to live theater (emotional).  I like going yard saling, finding new school pants for 50¢ (score!).  I don't like being inside malls, even when the malls are giving away free stuff.  

The way I spend . . . it's not rational.  Except when it is.  Go figure.

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