Shakespeare and Hamlet behind Bars


Reading 'Hamlet' behind bars

A Robben Island copy of the Bard's work testifies to what makes us human.

Robben Island Shakespeare
The Robben Island Shakespeare touched apartheid prisoners. (Illustration by Anthony Russo / For The Times / November 23, 2012)
It doesn't look like much — just a tattered, 1970 edition of "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare." But inside, the book bears testament to an era.
Currently on display at the British Museum as part of an exhibition called "Shakespeare: Staging the World," the book belongs to Sonny Venkatrathnam, who was incarcerated during the 1970s in South Africa's apartheid-era political prison, Robben Island. Having convinced a warden that the volume was a Hindu religious text, Venkatrathnam was allowed to keep it with him in prison, where it was passed from prisoner to prisoner. At Venkatrathnam's request, his comrades signed their names beside their favorite passages.
On Dec. 16, 1977, Nelson Mandela signed next to these lines: "Cowards die many times before their deaths; / The valiant never taste of death but once."
Walter Sisulu, another African National Congress leader and close confidant of Mandela, put his name beside a passage in "The Merchant of Venice," in which Shylock talks about the abuse he has taken as a Jewish money-lender: "Still have I borne it with a patient shrug / For sufferance is the badge of all our tribe."
And Billy Nair, who went on to become a member of Parliament in the new South Africa, chose Caliban's challenge to Prospero from "The Tempest": "This island's mine, by Sycorax my mother / Which thou tak'st from me."
The Robben Island Shakespeare is the only book from the prison that records an act of personal literary appreciation by the major figures incarcerated at the time, many of whom went on to play major roles in post-apartheid South Africa. It is a kind of "guest book," bearing the signatures of 34 of the Robben Island prisoners. But is also more than that.
When they signed their names against Shakespeare's text, each prisoner recognized something of himself and his relation to others in the words of a stranger. The Robben Island Shakespeare records that community of character and signature as an example of Shakespeare's global reach and as a historically specific witness to a common human identity and shared experience.
It's not at all clear how big a role the book played in the lives of prisoners other than Venkatrathnam. Not one of the memoirs written by inmates at Robben Island mentions the volume. And when the ANC was asked to comment on the significance of the book this year, its spokesman asked, "What is this 'Robben Island Bible'?" He denied that it had played any special role in the struggle against oppression.
Nevertheless, all the accounts of political imprisonment in South Africa during the apartheid era suggest that the humanities were central to the lives and needs of the prisoners. In an environment of extreme sensory deprivation, designed to deny people their affinity with others and to strip away humanity, the soul staked its claims with striking insistence. Music, some prisoners declared, was more important to them than food; many were prepared to suffer physical punishment for the sake of a book or a newspaper; and the cold of concrete and steel was turned into the warmth of community through common reading and shared education. Jacob Zuma, the current president of South Africa, has said he received his basic education at the "University of Robben Island."
And Shakespeare was very much a part of the lives of literate inmates, though his works were not the only things they read. The prisoners were avid readers of novels, histories, poetry and plays. Mandela's favorite authors included Clausewitz, Tolstoy and Dickens. Impressed by the depth and relevance of Greek tragedy,
he played Creon in a famous Robben Island performance of "Antigone."
Ahmed Kathrada, who signed his name in Venkatrathnam's book beside the passage "Once more into the breach," from "Henry V," filled his prison notebooks with quotations from Donne and Herbert, Euripides and Sophocles, Lewis Carroll and Charlie Chaplin. The Chaplin entry dismisses Shakespeare for being elitist and irrelevant. Even so, as Kathrada told a Mandela biographer, "Somehow Shakespeare always had something to say to us."
Some ex-prisoners, including Kathrada, have said they no longer recognize themselves in the passages that bear their signatures, or that they now prefer other plays, sonnets or speeches. But that shouldn't be surprising. One's relationship with literature is always in flux, a product of personal history, social situation and common conversation. Venkatrathnam's Robben Island "Bible" isn't so much a reminder of the importance of one book or of Shakespeare but rather of how the humanities are akin to the air we need to stay alive.
Some years ago, I was given the opportunity to examine Venkatrathnam's Shakespeare. In addition to the moving signatures and their passages, I found eucalyptus leaves pressed between its pages, still carrying their faint, heady scent of menthol. The leaves had been carried from beyond the cell's dreary confines, picked up on the way back from hard labor in the quarry or the lime pit, a reminder of Coriolanus' words: "There is a world elsewhere."
Shakespeare filled only a small part of the creative and spiritual needs to which the Robben Island prisoners bear witness. But he remains the best record we have of everything that continues to make us human. And Venkatrathnam's humble volume provides an elegant testament to that.
David Schalkwyk is director of research at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington and editor of the Shakespeare Quarterly. He is the author of "Hamlet's Dreams: The Robben Island Shakespeare." He will be lecturing at the Huntington Library in San Marino on Monday evening.


A New & Interactive VISUAL MD

The Visual MD, an outstanding virtual experience through a video and an interactive magazine story to provide information about a specific health condition, disease, or treatment.



Holiday Spirit

 On Thanksgiving, that holiday spirit

A car heist, some missing false teeth, and other memories of Dad and family.

Pumpkin pie
Pumpkin pie and memories of family and Thanksgivings past. (Frederic J. Brown / AFP / Getty Images)
On Thanksgiving Day, nine years ago, I stole my father's car.
He was 88 years old and living in a retirement community in Ojai. The previous July, he'd failed his driver's test, but he'd kept driving without a license — and therefore, without insurance. Perhaps he had forgotten that he didn't have a license, or perhaps he didn't care, but something had to be done.
On Thanksgiving morning, I drove up to fetch him for a turkey dinner in Pasadena, and while he finished getting ready, I appropriated his spare car keys. That afternoon we had a convivial dinner with friends, and Dad spent the night at my house. The next day, after a long talk in which he refused to relinquish his keys, I drove him home with a friend in tow — a friend who would drive my father's Camry back to my place. I was so nervous and eager for the whole caper to be over, I got a speeding ticket on the way.
It was a far cry from the Thanksgiving memories of my childhood, which much more closely resembled the Rockwellian image of a long table with several generations gathered for the feast and a father brandishing a knife over a large roasted bird.
Over time, the old folks passed on, then my mother, at too young an age. My sister moved across the country and, since we both remained childless, the number of family members at our holiday tables severely diminished.
My father never fully forgave the theft of his car, although as the months passed and his dementia worsened, the daughter who stole his car became a different entity from the daughter who came to see him, and he sometimes complained to me about her.
My name too no longer came instantly to his mind, but he always knew I was his. I married, and he never did learn Jim's name, referring to him as "the other one." "Is the other one here?" he'd ask when I came into his room.
One reason my father had been so keen to keep driving was that his younger brother Wes lived in a county home in Sylmar. Wes had been born mentally challenged and later was diagnosed with schizophrenia; my father had driven monthly to see him. It seemed only right to help them see each other. So, seven years ago, Jim and I borrowed a van equipped for a wheelchair from friends, picked up Wes and took him for Thanksgiving with my father in Ojai.
At my father's place, we maneuvered Wes in his chair out of the van and up to the door. When the brothers saw each other, their faces lit up.
"Is that you, Bud?" Wes called out, half rising from his seat.
"Well, for crying in the bucket," my father cried. They clasped hands, beamed at each other, their joy palpable, contagious.
We ate early that afternoon, in the main dining hall among other seniors and their families. Wes, having forgotten his false teeth, took forever with his meal. He managed the mashed potatoes and small pieces of turkey well enough, but the long string beans were challenging. We ate and conversed as best we could, and watched as the families around us finished and left the dining room. Finally, when most of the others were gone, Wes allowed that he was ready for dessert. The pumpkin pie and whipped cream proved easier to eat, but still, we closed the place.
Slowly, we made our way back to my father's apartment; my husband walked alongside my father and his walker while I pushed Wes in his chair. We'd gone about a block when Wes worked his jaw, leaned to the right and spat. There, on the pavement, sat, intact, a bright green string bean.
That was the last time my father saw his brother. Wes passed away a few months later. My father continued to decline.
He'd always had his issues with his daughters, but as he aged and his mind slipped, he lost track of the disapproval and disappointment we engendered. Of course, he lost track too of which one was which. ("Am I Doree or Michelle?" my sister asked him at Thanksgiving dinner three years ago. He laughed good-naturedly, then made a lucky guess.)
What remained, however, was the unmistakable, pure affection that transformed his face whenever he saw us. That day, he looked from one to the other, his eyes bright, his spirits merry, and said several times how happy he was that we were all together.
That was our last Thanksgiving together. Art Huneven died in 2011, a few months shy of his 96th birthday.
That means there will be no car caper this year, no wheelchair van, and there will never again be multiple generations of our family at the same table.
But my sister and her partner are flying in from Maryland, and we have all been invited to some dear friends' house for Thanksgiving dinner. I'm really looking forward to it.
Michelle Huneven's novels include "Blame" and "Jamesland.",0,6391563.story


Do We Really Only Use 10% of our Brain?

Using Just 10% of Your Brain? Think Again

Popular 'neuromyths' about how we learn are creating confusion in the classroom

No, you do not, in fact, use just 10% of your brain, and "learning styles" make no difference in the classroom. Psychology professor Christopher Chabris discusses these and other "neuromyths" with WSJ's Gary Rosen. Photo: Jenny Elia Pfeiffer/Corbis.
Pop quiz: Which of these statements is false?
1. We use only 10% of our brain.
2. Environments rich in stimuli improve the brains of preschool children.
3. Individuals learn better when they receive information in their preferred learning style, whether auditory, visual or kinesthetic.
If you picked the first one, congratulations. The idea that we use only 10% of our brain is patently false. Yet it so permeates popular culture that, among psychologists and neuroscientists, it is known as the "10% myth." Contrary to popular belief, the entire brain is put to use—unused neurons die and unused circuits atrophy. Reports of neuroimaging research might perpetuate the myth by showing only a small number of areas "lighting up" in a brain scan, but those are just areas that have more than a base line level of activity; the dark regions aren't dormant or unused.
Did you agree with the other two statements? If so, you fell into our trap. All three statements are false—or at least not substantiated by scientific evidence. Unfortunately, if you got any of them wrong, you're hardly alone.
These "neuromyths," along with others, were presented to 242 primary and secondary school teachers in the Netherlands and the U.K. as part of a study by Sanne Dekker and colleagues at VU University Amsterdam and Bristol University, and just published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology. They found that 47% of the teachers believed the 10% myth. Even more, 76%, believed that enriching children's environments will strengthen their brains.
[image] Mark Nerys
#1: THE 10% MYTH
[image] Mark Nerys
[image] Mark Nerys
This belief might have emerged from evidence that rats raised in cages with amenities like exercise wheels, tunnels and other rats showed better cognitive abilities and improvements in brain structure compared with rats that grew up isolated in bare cages. But such experiments show only that a truly impoverished and unnatural environment leads to poorer developmental outcomes than a more natural environment with opportunities to play and interact. It follows that growing up locked in a closet or otherwise cut off from human contact will impair a child's brain development. It does not follow that "enriching" a child's environment beyond what is already typical—for example, by constant exposure to "Baby Einstein"-type videos—will boost cognitive development.
The myth about learning styles was the most popular: 94% of the teachers believed that students perform better when lessons are delivered in their preferred learning style. Indeed, students do have preferences about how they learn; the problem is that these preferences have little to do with how effectively they learn.
Cognitive psychologist Daniel Willingham explained this conundrum in his 2009 book "Why Don't Students Like School?" In the best tests of the learning-styles theory, researchers first ascertain students' preferred styles and then randomly assign them to a form of instruction that either matches their preferences or doesn't. For example, in one study, students were randomly assigned to memorize a set of objects presented either verbally (as names) or visually (as pictures). Overall, visual presentation led to better memory, but there was no relationship between the learners' preferences and the instruction style. A study comparing "sensing" to "intuitive" learners among medical residents being taught new procedures reached a similar conclusion.
Of course, good teachers sense when students are struggling or progressing, and they adjust accordingly. Students with disabilities have individual needs that should be addressed. But a comprehensive review commissioned by the Association for Psychological Science concluded that there's essentially no evidence that customizing instruction formats to match students' preferred learning styles leads to better achievement. This is a knock not on teachers—we are teachers ourselves—but on human intuition, which finds the claim about learning styles so self-evident that it is hard to see how it could be wrong.
Our own surveys of the U.S. population have found even more widespread belief in myths about the brain. About two-thirds of the public agreed with the 10% myth. Many also believed that memory works like a video recording or that they can tell when someone is staring at the back of their head.
Ironically, in the Dekker group's study, the teachers who knew the most about neuroscience also believed in the most myths. Apparently, teachers who are (admirably) enthusiastic about expanding their knowledge of the mind and brain have trouble separating fact from fiction as they learn. Neuromyths have so much intuitive appeal, and they spread so rapidly in fields like business and self-help, that eradicating them from popular consciousness might be a Sisyphean task. But reducing their influence in the classroom would be a good start.
—Mr. Chabris is a psychology professor at Union College. Mr. Simons is a psychology professor at the University of Illinois. They are the authors of "The Invisible Gorilla, and Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceive Us."
A version of this article appeared November 17, 2012, on page C3 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Using Just 10% of Your Brain? Think Again.


The Banjo and China

 ED Radio Hour
9:21 am
Fri June 1, 2012

What Do China And The Banjo Have In Common?

Originally published on Fri June 1, 2012 2:37 pm
Part 3 of the TED Radio Hour episode The Creative Process.
About Abigail Washburn's TEDTalk
TED Fellow Abigail Washburn wanted to be a lawyer working on U.S.-China relations — until she picked up a banjo. In this TEDTalk, she tells a moving story of the remarkable connections she's formed touring across the United States and China while playing that banjo and singing in Chinese.
About Abigail Washburn
Abigail Washburn pairs venerable folk elements with far-flung sounds, creating results that feel both strangely familiar and unlike anything anybody's ever heard before. If American old-time music is about adopting earlier, simpler ways of life and music-making, Washburn has proven herself a challenge to that tradition.
A singing, songwriting, Chinese-speaking, Illinois-born, Nashville-based, clawhammer banjo player, she is every bit as interested in the present and the future as in the past, and every bit as attuned to the global as the local. From the recovery zones of earthquake-shaken Sichuan to the hollers of Tennessee, Washburn pairs venerable folk elements with far-flung sounds. The results feel both strangely familiar and unlike anything anybody's ever heard before. To put it another way, she changes what seems possible.
Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit
This is the TED RADIO HOUR from NPR. I'm Alison Stewart.
Today on the program, we've been talking about the creative process, where we find our inspiration. Our next guest had to travel halfway across the world to find her voice.
ABIGAIL WASHBURN: Goin' to North Carolina baby mine. Goin' to North Carolina baby mine. Goin' to North Carolina and from there off to China. I'm goin; off to China baby mine.
STEWART: Abigail Washburn is a banjo player who performed earlier this year at TED. But being a musician wasn't the career she first had in mind. After traveling through China during college, she fell in love with the country and the idea of becoming a lawyer in Beijing.
WASBURN: And I was dead set on doing that. And, basically, within a period of thinking I was headed off to law school in Beijing, I heard the sound of Doc Watson singing and playing "Shady Grove."
(Singing) Shady Grove, my little love. Shady Grove, my darling. Shady Grove, my little love. Going back to Harlem.
And I thought the sound was so beautiful. And, after being completely obsessed with Chinese culture for eight years, I was so relieved and so excited to hear something so distinctly American and so completely beautiful. And I knew that I had to buy a banjo and take it with me to China.
So before I left for China, I went on this - this road trip through Appalachia and I studied banjo tunes at a fiddlers' gathering in West Virginia. And I ended up at the International Bluegrass Music Association convention in Louisville, Kentucky. And I thought, OK, here we go, this is my last little slice of America before I'm off to China.
And I was sitting in a hallway one night and a few young women came up to me and asked me if I wanted to jam. And I was literally timidly jamming out on the four songs, five songs I knew. And I got offered a record deal. Some record executive walked up to me from Nashville, Tennessee and said come on down to Nashville and cut a record.
And I'm, I guess you could say, the Chinese-speaking, banjo-picking girl.
STEWART: Some of your most innovative work is the way you blend Chinese language and the clawhammer banjo. It was really such an unusual sensation when you took the stage at TED in 2012. Let's listen to a little bit of that performance.
WASBURN: (Singing in Chinese)
STEWART: What was it that made you feel so connected with China and Chinese culture that you thought, you know what, I am going to incorporate this into my music?
WASBURN: Well, for me, that's simple. It was that China came first. China had a few years on folk music. So as soon as I started playing music, you know, as soon as that record executive walked up to me and offered me a record deal and I started becoming a professional musician, my first song I wrote was in English and my second one was literally in Chinese. It went...
(Singing in Chinese).
And that means (Chinese language spoken), outside your door the world is waiting. (Chinese language spoken), inside your heart a voice is calling. (Chinese language spoken), the four corners of the world are waiting. (Chinese language spoken), so go get it, girl. Travel, daughter, travel.
So, for me, my creative inspiration was also in Chinese.
STEWART: Abigail, did you know you were a creative person before you settled into your music career?
WASBURN: I don't think I really thought about it that way. And, even now, I have - I've been able to have really interesting discussions with my other friends who are artists and musicians about what creativity really is. Is it an original idea? Or is it something where you literally are creative collages? You're taking pieces of the world that you see around you and that are inside of you and - and put them together in a way that you - you see fit.
And then all of a sudden you have something that maybe sounds a bit unique. But does that make it an original idea? These are a lot of the conversations I have late at night, especially with my, like, collaborator right now that I'm on the road with, Kai Welch. We will sort of try to keep ourselves awake late at night, at four in the morning, trying to finish that drive from one city to the next. And we'll - we'll get into this.
And I - I'm definitely a believer in the - that creativity is actually more like a collaging. And I suppose I've done that my whole life. I would say I've always lived creativity but now I - I do it with an intention that's got a completely different power.
STEWART: We'll talk about collaboration in a minute, but first we'd love to hear some music. Maybe hear "City of Refuge," the title cut from your most recent release?
WASBURN: Yeah, here we go.
WASBURN: (Singing) I got a mother, I got a father. Diamond rations, stark white collar. She looks good, he makes the dollars. I'm just free to do what I want to. I gotta run, run, run, run. Run to the City of Refuge. Where everyone is mating. I gotta run. I gotta run. Where there's a mother, where there's a father. Adam's on the roof and Eve is in the gutter. Eden's on the far side where the circle started.
(Singing) Run, run, run! Run to the City of Refuge. Where everyone is mating. Oh, the City of Refuge. Where everyone is mating. Oh the City of Refuge. Where our burdens lay in the towns. Where we came from.
STEWART: That's Abigail Washburn and the "City of Refuge." Listening to you play the banjo and, I think, anybody who's played a musical instrument, you know that it takes practice and it takes hard work to learn an instrument and to master it like that. So I'm curious about your thoughts on the relationship between discipline and creativity. The discipline to learn the instrument and then the ability to let yourself be creative with it. What are your thoughts on that?
WASBURN: I'm not a trained musician. All I've been able to figure out from this is that we're only as great as our ability to negotiate and take advantage of our limitations.
WASBURN: And so I've decided my limitations are not only OK, but they're an incredible opportunity to think about what it is I can do with what I have. And so I try to temper continually my technical growth on my instrument and with my voice, with what I know I have to give already, which is an open heart, a searching heart.
So, as I'm trying to advance and use discipline to become a better technical musician and even create moments and periods of time in my life where - where I have the - the open time and space to practice and become better, I'm also trying to remember that it's living life and feeling empathy. And having hope and a mission that really makes the music meaningful.
STEWART: So Abigail, we're going to give you artist's choice. Tell us what song you're going to play and why you chose it.
WASBURN: I'm going to choose an old-time tune that comes from Blind Willy Johnson and his song that he recorded in the 1930s called "Nobody's Fault But Mine."
WASBURN: (Singing) Nobody's fauit but mine. Nobody's fault but mine. If I die and my soul be lost, it's nobody's fault but mine.
(Singing) I had a mother who could pray. I had a mother who could pray. She prayed all day, and into the night, I had a mother who could pray. Nobody's fault but mine. Nobody's fault but mine. If I die and my soul be lost, nobody's fault but mine.
(Singing) I had a mother who could sing. I had a mother who could sing. She sang all day, and into the night. I had a mother who could sing. Nobody's fault but mine. Nobody's fault but mine. If I die and my soul be lost, nobody's fault but mine. Nobody, nobody's fault but mine. Nobody's fault but mine. If I die and my soul be lost, if I die and my soul be lost, if I die ... nobody's fault but mine.
STEWART: That's Abigail Washburn, who's joining us on the TED RADIO HOUR. And the theme this hour is the creative process. Abigail, is there any environment that really helps you tap into your creativity when you need to write or you need to think about lyrics?
WASBURN: Yeah, it's a - a big reason why I just sang that song. Something that's really, really powerful for me when I need a new idea is I listen to the old ones.
WASBURN: I go turn on Blind Willy Johnson or I go get my "Goodbye Babylon" box set and I start listening to old preachers preach. Or I listen to old speeches. Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech always sends me down some path, some trajectory of some creative idea. Yeah, I listen to the old to get an idea for the new.
STEWART: When you performed at TED, you chose to perform a song - you did it a cappella - called "Dreams Of Nectar".
WASBURN: (Singing) The first day I stepped foot in this fair country, Boarder man took my paper, told me I would be free. Boarder man took my paper, told me I was now free.
STEWART: Share with us a little bit why you chose that to perform at TED and a little bit of the back story.
WASBURN: "Dreams of Nectar" is a song that began a long time before any of those lyrics or melodies came to me. I chose to share it at TED because such a huge part of what I do and what I care about, is people's stories and how they relate to how we're globalizing and changing in the world. And this one particular song has a story connected to it that is - harkens back to my time when I was - still thought I was going to be studying law in China and I was studying for the HSK, living in Montpelier, Vermont.
And I just couldn't stop thinking about China and wasn't getting my fix, you know?
WASBURN: So it ended up that, who would have thought it, but at the local Chinese restaurant, the China Star, there was seven Chinese men working away. And they all had come to America to earn money to send back to their families in the hope that some day they'd be able to bring their families over to America to be with them.
And I - I learned this because I became their English as a second language teacher. And there was one guy in particular in the group that was having just a terrible time learning English and I - I decided to invite him over to my house once a week to get some extra - extra work done on his English. And he showed up at the door one night and then I suddenly noticed that he was crying.
And I said (Chinese language spoken), what's wrong? And he held out his hand and it had a - a piece of paper in it and he said (Chinese language spoken), look for yourself. So I opened up the letter and it was from his wife back in Fujian province. And it said (Chinese language spoken), you've already been in America for four years. (Chinese language spoken), I'm afraid you're not ever going to come back to China.
(Chinese language spoken), and I'm afraid your child and I are never going to be able to come to America to be with you. (Chinese language spoken), we're going to start a new life without you. Consider this the end.
And he cried and cried and I watched him. And I didn't know what to do with that, until I started writing songs.
STEWART: Let's listen to a little bit of Abigail Washburn at TED 2012 with "Dreams of Nectar."
WASBURN: (Singing) I'm just old now, all alone. In a land of fertile lives. I see my unborn babies and tired birds in the sky. I see my unborn babies, tired birds in the sky. Before I die, grant me one thing. Grant one thing to me. Don't let me dream of nectar. Just make me fruit on the tree.
Thank you.
STEWART: In doing press for this most recent release, "City of Refuge," you described your writing process as evolving and that initially it was a very private thing. So how is it going, evolving from that very private solo space into the rest of the world?
WASBURN: I've noticed that the more I open up, the more I learn. So I'm incredibly grateful for that. But I'm - I'm not going to lie. I can feel really vulnerable and kind of scared sometimes when I sit down to write in any kind of situation that invites a collaborator in. But I think that - maybe that adds an electricity to the situation, an excitement, a vulnerability that maybe brings something to the music that wouldn't be there otherwise.
So, one of the reasons I probably have remained somewhat private about it is perhaps a point of pride, but I don't want to become someone who writes a song simply for the sake of the craft of writing song. I really want every song to be filled with that extremely human element of longing for it to take something to the world.
So I come to every song with a - a - a huge amount of intention, although I've had a couple of friends say to me, who are good songwriters, say hey, why don't you just start writing songs and don't worry about whether they're good or not?
Maybe they're right. I'll keep thinking about that.
STEWART: Maybe they're not.
WASBURN: Maybe they're not.
STEWART: Abigail Washburn, it was a pleasure speaking and listening to you. Thank you so much for your time.
WASBURN: Thank you so much for having me, Alison.
STEWART: I'm Alison Stewart. You've been listening to ideas worth spreading on the TED RADIO HOUR from NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.


Let's Talk ABout Sex

Let's Talk About Sex

Posted By Kenny Phelps and Tina Schermer Sellers, Yesterday
Talking about sex...It is difficult to avoid the multiple sexualized images in American culture. From Janet Jackson’s Superbowl peepshow to the popularity of the Sex and the City episodes to television programs of young girls being dressed up like 21 year old beauty queens, the messages of sex are inescapable in recent years.

While the quantity of sexual images and information has increased in our society, the quality of this information is severely lacking. Myths and misnomers about contraception and human anatomy are two examples of how we have a lot of information, but also a lot of misinformation. Additionally, the medicalization of sex has led to conceptualizations of the sexual response cycle separate from the inherent relational and systemic dynamics involved. US Surgeon General David Satcher"Sexuality is an integral part of human life. It carries the awesome potential to create new life. It can foster intimacy and bonding as well as shared pleasure in our relationships. Sexual health is inextricably bound to both physical and mental health" .
  --U.S. Surgeon General
Certainly, we must conceptualize sexual health as a biopsychosocial phenomenon. For the past several decades, there has been increasing recognition in medicine of the importance of sexual health and sexual health education in supporting both physical and emotional health(Foley, Wittmann, & Balon, 2010). In 2001, the surgeon general made this statement about the importance of sexuality as a contributor of overall quality of life: "Sexuality is an integral part of human life. It carries the awesome potential to create new life. It can foster intimacy and bonding as well as shared pleasure in our relationships. Sexual health is inextricably bound to both physical and mental health” (Satcher, 2001). Thus, is seems only natural that sexual health should be a part of the dialogue between patients and providers, but is it?
While professionals might recognize the importance of sexual health in the life of their patients, this is not equating to an increase in sexual education or patient assessment, treatment or referral. Sexuality is routinely overlooked in primary medicine (Owens & Tepper, 2007). Studies reveal that only 10%-30% of primary care physicians obtain sex histories (Lewis & H, 1987)(Gemson, Colombotos, & Elinson, 1991). Challenges to the progression of sexual health care range from a significant lack of sexual education for most ‘would be’ medical providers, a lack of adequate sexual education in medical school and residency, a shared ignorance and unease about sexual health between patient and provider, a lack of time (Morreale & Arfken, 2010; Foley, Wittmann, & Balon, 2010) and a complex set of biopsychosocial issues playing into a person’s sexual health and sexual satisfaction (Geraci, 2010). What role does integrated and collaborative care play in overcoming these challenges? How can medical and mental health providers working in tandem create small ripples of change that may lead to larger changes in our current rates of STIs, teenage pregnancy rates, and reports of relational discord?
We propose that integrated care and intensive collaboration between providers should be the rule rather than the exception when addressing sexual health. Providers can work together to: screen for sexual concerns (Are you currently sexually active? Are your partners men or women? Are you satisfied with your sexual life? How can I be helpful to address any sexual or relational problems you are having?); provide education on most common problems (desire, premature ejaculation, performance anxiety, erectile dysfunction, etc.); and frame intimacy/sexuality as part of a larger relational and cultural picture (How did what your parents or culture tell you about sex influence your current preferences?).
Due to the biopsychosocial nature of sex, it requires multiple providers who are wearing "different hats.” For instance, a patient with erectile dysfunction needs a thorough evaluation of current medical concerns and medications, psychiatric comorbidities, automatic thought prior and during sexual activity, and current relational satisfaction. Patients who are parents of young children also need our guidance providing age appropriate sex education to their children. Research shows that youth need 100 one minute conversations about sexuality versus one 100 minute conversation (Martino, MN, Corona, DE, & MA, 2008). The vast majority of our patients grew up in homes that were silent and often reactive to sexual curiosity. This leads to parents of young children who are unaware of how sexual curiosity is expressed by children and ill-equipped to provide ongoing sex education. This anxiety often leads to repeating the cycle, becoming mostly silent and reactive to the sexual interest of their children.
In our opinion, integrated care delivered by systemically minded professionals is an ideal place to facilitate this dialogue. In other words, let’s talk about sex with our patients…they want us to!

Kenny PhelpsKenneth Phelps, Ph.D., LMFT is an Assistant Clinical Professor in the Department of Neuropsychiatry and Behavioral Science at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine. He is a member ofthe Collaborative Family Healthcare Association (CFHA)and Co-Chair of the Membership Committee. He is also a member ofthe American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT) and working toward Certification as a Sex Therapist. Contact info:
Tina Schermer SellersTina Schermer Sellers, Ph.Dc., LMFT, the director of the Medical Family Therapy Post-graduate Certificate Program in the Department of Marriage and Family Therapy at Seattle Pacific University. She has been a member ofthe Collaborative Family Healthcare Association (CFHA)since 1993, is a past board member and is currently on the CFHA Advisory Board. She is also a Certified Sex Therapist with the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT). Contact info:;
Foley, S., Wittmann, D., & Balon, R. (2010). A Multipdisciplinary Approach to Sexual Dysfunction in Medical School Education. Academic Psychiatry, 386-389.
Gemson, D., Colombotos, J., & Elinson, J. (1991). Acquired immunodefiniency syndrom prevention: knowledge, attitudes, and practices of primary care physicians. Archives of Internal Medicine, 1102-1108.
Geraci, R. (2010). Sex in the Fifties. Washington, DC: AARP.
Haeberle, E. (1983). Education and Treatment in Human Sexuality: The Training of Health Professionals Report of a WHO Meeting. In Workbook Part 1 for Associate in Sex Education and Clinical Sexology Certificate. Exodus Trust.
Lewis, C., & H, F. (1987). The sexual history taking and counseling practices of primary care physicians. Western Journal of Medicine, 165-167.
Martino, S., MN, E., Corona, R., DE, K., & MA, S. (2008). Beyond the "big talk": the roles of breadth and repetition in parent-adolescent communication about sexual topics. Pediatrics.
Morreale, M., & Arfken, R. (2010). Survey of Sexual Education Among Residents From Different Specialities. Academic Psychiatry, 346-348.
Owens, A., & Tepper, M. (2007). Sexual Health - State of Art Treatment and Research. Westport: Praeger.
Reid, R., Coleman, K., Johnson, E., Fishman, P., Hsu, C., Soman, M., et al. (2010). The Group Health Medical Home at Year Two: Cost Savings, Higher Patient Satisfaction, And Less Burnout for Providers. Health Affairs, 835-843.
Satcher, D. (2001). The Surgeon General's Call to Action to Promote Sexual Health and Responsible Sexual Behavior.
Tsimtsiou, X., Hatzimouratidis, K., & Nakopoulou, E. (2006). Predictors ofPphysician' Involvement in Addressing Sexual Health Issues. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 583-588.
Wimberly, Y., Hogben, M., Moore-Ruffin, J., Moore, S., & Fry-Johnson, Y. (2006). Sexual History-Taking Among Primary Care Physicians. Journal of the National Medical Association, 1924-1929.


Saroo and an Orphan's Journey

How Thieves Choose

Reading Maxim Can Make you a Theft Target
by Shankar Vedantam, National Public Radio
November 14, 2012

Some time ago, a man wearing jeans, cowboy boots and a hoodie drove a dirty Ford Explorer into a carwash in Fort Worth, Texas. As soon as the car came back clean, he got it filthy again, and drove to the next carwash. He did this with every single full-service carwash in town.
The man wasn't suffering from a strange mental disorder; Patrick Kinkade was a criminologist conducting an experiment.
Kinkade left a large amount of loose change inside the car each time he dropped it off. When he got the car back, he counted the money still inside to see if any of it had been stolen.
He found, surprisingly, that money was taken from his car about a third of the time. The car was admittedly a fat target because Kinkade left lots of loose change inside it, but if the theft rate in Fort Worth is anything like the theft rate nationwide, it's possible that millions of dollars are being stolen from cars each year during car washes.
In a new paper titled "Getting Hosed," Kinkade and fellow researchers Ronald Burns and Michael Bachmann at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth found that there were certain factors that increased the risk of theft.
At some carwashes, Kinkade dropped off the car with a copy of Maxim magazine inside it — the magazine contains plenty of suggestive pictures of semi-clad women. Underneath a seat, Kinkade also left crushed beer cans.
The idea, he said in an interview, was to suggest the driver of the car was somehow "deviant." Kinkade said he and his colleagues wanted to explore the possibility that when people's behavior marks them as being somehow out of the mainstream, they are more likely to become victims of crime.
Kinkade emphasized he was not using the term "deviant" pejoratively, but as a technical term that distinguishes between mainstream and nonmainstream behavior. Lots of people view suggestive and explicit pictures in magazines, but they tend to do it in private.
"The experimental condition created the perception that the driver of this particular vehicle was perhaps a deviant," he said. "And what we did in order to trigger that perception was place a men's magazine on the front seat to suggest some sort of interest in sexuality and a couple crushed beer cans underneath the seat to suggest that the person probably had been drinking and driving."
Kinkade found that the cash was twice as likely to be stolen from when the magazine and beer cans were present. He also found that larger amounts of money were taken from the car, compared with when the magazine and beer cans were absent.
Kinkade said he didn't go back to the carwashes to confront the thieves, since the research experiment wasn't meant to be a sting operation.
The researchers stressed they weren't suggesting that people who become victims of crime somehow bring it upon themselves: Reading a certain magazine doesn't mean people deserve to have their cars stolen from. But the researchers speculated that criminals may prey on people who seem like they are out of the mainstream.
"You may be targeted because you can be blamed for your own victimization," Kinkade said. "The criminal may say, 'Well, I'm a criminal and I'm doing criminal acts against people, but that person over there is also a criminal and so he deserves it.'"
Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit

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Mississippi Infant Mortality

Infant deaths: Searching for answers in Mississippi

By Elizabeth Landau, CNN
updated 1:16 PM EST, Tue November 13, 2012
Babies in Mississippi are less likely to reach their first birthday than babies in any other state, according to CDC data.
Babies in Mississippi are less likely to reach their first birthday than babies in any other state, according to CDC data.
  • For years, Mississippi's infant mortality rate has ranked last in the U.S.
  • Experts point to several contributing factors, including obesity, poverty and teen births
  • Top 10 CNN Hero Catalina Escobar is fighting the same problem in Colombia
  • Colombia's rate is higher than any state, but it's comparable to the rates of black Americans
(CNN) -- The room was lined with baby after baby, and it was almost too warm for Keri Dykes to tolerate.
She remembers squeezing between the incubators to see her son Jesse, who had been born only 25 weeks into her pregnancy.
A neonatal intensive care unit in Tupelo, Mississippi, is where Jesse spent his brief life in 2008 -- a life cut short by an infection that got into his bloodstream and lungs.
The first time Dykes, 29, got to hold him and look at him face to face, she remembers that his pretty blue eyes were open as he was dying.
"It's just something you never, ever think will happen to you," she said.
Jesse happened to be born in the state where babies are less likely to reach their first birthday than in any other state, according to the most recent data (PDF) from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
For every 1,000 Mississippi babies born in 2011, 9.4 died before their first birthday, according to the state's health office. That makes Mississippi's infant mortality rate more comparable to countries such as Costa Rica (9.2), Sri Lanka (9.5) and Botswana (10.5) than the United States (6.0), according to latest estimates in the CIA World Factbook.
The bottom of the list
Mississippi is 50th out of 50 states when it comes to infant mortality, and it's been that way for a long time, says state health officer Mary Currier.
The Dykes family holds a photo of Jesse Ray, who was born prematurely and died in 2008.
The Dykes family holds a photo of Jesse Ray, who was born prematurely and died in 2008.
There's not one clear explanation. Experts cite a multitude of factors that are also seen in other parts of the country and around the world.
For example, Mississippi leads the nation in obesity, which can carry with it a host of complications that might affect a baby, such as hypertensive disorders, says Dr. Michelle Owens, an obstetrician-gynecologist at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. Other Southern states with a high prevalence of obesity -- Alabama and Louisiana, for instance -- also have some of the nation's highest rates for infant mortality. A 2010 study also found that overweight and obese women are at higher risk for preterm birth.
In general, Owens said, many pregnant women don't realize the importance of getting their own medical problems treated.
"We know that the way we get the best pregnancy is to have a healthy mom before mom and baby are together," she said.
Birth defects are the leading cause of infant death in the United States. Not all are preventable, but a mother can reduce risk by keeping her own health under control by eliminating smoking, drinking and illegal drugs.
The same is true for premature births, another leading cause of infant deaths in the United States. The March of Dimes recently released its Premature Birth Report Card and gave failing grades to Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana. Mississippi has the largest premature birth rate based on the 2011 national statistics used in the report.
Map of preterm birth rates by state
Preterm birth rates have been dropping in recent years, but there are still disparities among the states.
View interactive map »
Poverty, low socioeconomic background and low education contribute to high preterm birth rates, said Dr. Eve Lackritz, senior program officer for the Global Alliance to Prevent Prematurity and Stillbirth, an initiative of Seattle Children's. Lackritz was once the branch chief for the CDC's maternal and infant health division.
Southern states tend to have some of the biggest poverty problems in the country. Mississippi led the country with the highest percentage of people whose income was below the poverty line in 2011, according to the American Community Survey (PDF).
"Infant mortality goes along with poverty, and we have a pretty low average income in the state," says Currier.
Mississippi also ranks in the top 10 states for the percent of the population that is uninsured (19%), according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, and in the proportion of residents receiving Medicaid (20%).
Teenage births are also more common in the South than in most other parts of the country, according to the latest CDC data. Mississippi had the highest teen birth rate in the country in 2010, at 55 births per 1,000 women compared with a national average of 34.2. Alabama (43.6) and Louisiana (47.7) are also on the higher side in this regard.
Babies born to teens are more likely to be born prematurely and have a low birth weight, according to the Mayo Clinic. Not receiving proper prenatal care contributes to the complications that can arise in teen pregnancies.
An international reach
The interplay between teenage births, poverty and infant mortality isn't unique to the United States.
Catalina Escobar, one of the top 10 CNN Heroes of 2012, knows all too well how much young mothers need medical support and education to give birth to healthy children. In Escobar's country, Colombia, the infant mortality rate is 15.92, much higher than any state in the U.S.
Colombia's colorful city of Cartagena is an attractive tourist destination, with its historical grandeur and beach resorts. Acclaimed author Gabriel Garcia Marquez set one of his famous novels, "Love in the Time of Cholera," there. But Cartagena has a darker side that visitors may not realize: One-third of residents live at or below the poverty line.
Escobar once worked in a maternity clinic in Cartagena, and she was devastated when a 12-day-old baby died in her arms. It was heartbreaking, Escobar said, even more so when she found out that the baby's teenage mother couldn't afford $30 for treatment that could have saved the baby's life.
"His mother (needed) $30 that I had in my pocket. I will never forget that," she said. "It was a preventable death."
To break the cycle of poverty and infant deaths, she started the Juan Felipe Gomez Foundation, which is helping young mothers in Cartagena. Since 2002, her foundation has provided counseling, education and job training to more than 2,000 teenage mothers. And in 2005, she established a medical clinic that has provided health care to more than 84,000 low-income people -- mostly young mothers and their children.
"You see these girls, (with) their tiny faces ... they're babies holding babies," Escobar said.
What role does race play?
Colombia has a much higher infant mortality rate than the United States as a whole, but not when you examine the vast differences among racial groups in the U.S.
CDC data spanning from 2006 to 2008 show that black Americans in Hawaii, Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee and Wisconsin all have infant mortality rates above 15 per 1,000 live births. This racial disparity is very much present in Mississippi, too, where the rate over that period was 7.07 for white children compared with 13.82 for black children.
"It is my belief that is largely due to poverty and the social determinants of health," Currier said about this divide.
In Mississippi, 40% of infants are born to black women, which could be driving up the infant mortality rate for the state as a whole, Lackritz said. Black women are also 50% more likely to give birth to a premature baby, and no one knows why, the CDC says.
These demographic observations don't have to do with skin pigment, Lackritz said, but rather associated factors such as poverty, low socioeconomic background and teen births.
The disparities seem to persist even taking into account health conditions such as diabetes and obesity, Owens said. There is even evidence, including a study from Morehouse School of Medicine, that black women with college degrees have a higher likelihood of preterm birth and low birth weight than white women with college degrees.
It's unknown whether there are genetic factors that come into play, or if there are higher rates of inflammation or infection among blacks linked to pregnancy complications. There might be an interaction between a person's genetic disposition and exposure to stress that could lead to preterm births, Lackritz said.
There could be environmental factors, including stress, that certain groups may experience in a different way, Owens said.
"This should be an active area of research," Lackritz said. "This is an area that has not received the sufficient attention that it deserves."
Sudden infant death syndrome
It's also still a mystery as to why rates for black children are disproportionately higher for sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, than white babies. SIDS is the name for any unexplained sudden death in an infant less than 1 year old.
SIDS is the leading cause of death for children between 1 and 12 months and the third most common cause of infant mortality in general in the United States.
Public health authorities have issued recommendations about how babies should sleep to reduce the risk of SIDS. A national campaign called Safe to Sleep (formerly known as Back to Sleep) encourages parents to keep their babies sleeping on their backs, on a firm surface, and in a room of comfortable temperature.
Thanks in part to this campaign, SIDS deaths have declined by more than half since 1994. But the rates remain significantly higher for some demographic groups, including blacks. Deaths from SIDS in 2008 nationally were 55.4 per 100,000 live births in 2008, according to the National SUID/SIDS Resource Center, and for whites it was similar at 54.6. For blacks, however, it was 106.7.
The Cooper family lost their son Alex, pictured behind them, to sudden infant death syndrome.
The Cooper family lost their son Alex, pictured behind them, to sudden infant death syndrome.
Anitra Cooper of Jackson, Mississippi, had a son, Alex, who died suddenly at 3 months and 1 day old. It might have been because of sleeping on his stomach, but there's no way to know for sure.
"I was still breast-feeding him at the time," Cooper said. "I was doing everything that I could possibly do."
Cooper, who is black, did not know the extent of the country's racial divide in infant mortality until CNN told her how much more common infant deaths are among black children than white children.
She speculated that one factor may be that some women may leave their doctor's office without getting the information they need.
"A lot of people go to the doctor and don't make the doctor talk in layman's terms," Cooper said. "They're unaware of what they need to do for their children."
In the meantime, researchers are searching for evidence-based recommendations so that pregnant mothers can prevent preterm births and therefore reduce the risk of infant mortality. Currently, says Lackritz, there aren't any known interventions (beyond staying in good health and not smoking, drinking or using drugs) that would have a far-reaching impact on the entire population.
The hormone progesterone is used in an intramuscular injection, called 17 alpha-hydroxyprogesterone caproate, which may reduce risk in women who have given birth prematurely before.
"If we can increase access to that injectable medication, that can decrease preterm birth," said Currier, the Mississippi health officer.
Dykes received this injection with her next two children, whom she nearly carried nearly to full term although she had to have planned Caesarean sections with them.
Other methods for preventing preterm births have not proved useful scientifically. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says bed rest, hydration and pelvic rest do not appear to improve the rate of preterm birth and should not be routinely recommended.
Mississippi's infant mortality rate, although still the highest in the country, is slightly lower than it has ever been for the state, Currier said. The dip isn't statistically significant, but "at least we're going in the right direction," she said.
Cooper and Dykes both said they did everything right before giving birth to infants who died. They got all the prenatal care and education they needed. Neither woman was a teenager during pregnancy. They both work, and so do their husbands. They both have health insurance.
So the search for answers about infant mortality trends continues. The Dykes family tries to raise awareness for the cause through the March of Dimes, participating in the March of Dimes Walk to raise money in Jesse's memory.
Cooper now volunteers with the Mississippi SIDS Alliance to spread awareness. Such organizations exist, she says, not only for educational outreach, but "so that we can be strong and move on, and go through the proper stages of grief."
Both women are also strong in their faith.
"We just pretty much believe that God had a purpose for (Jesse), and he did touch a lot of lives while he was here," Dykes said. "We just have to believe that we don't have to understand."
CNN's Kathleen Toner contributed to this report.


Motivation and Work

The Science Behind What Motivates Us to Get Up For Work Every Day

Feelings provide important feedback during our workday. It doesn't make sense to pretend that it's best or even possible to keep our emotions and work separate, treating our capacity for emotion and thought as weakness. Walter Chen, co-founder of iDoneThis, looks into how does our brain deals with emotion and connects it to practical results like motivation and productivity.
So, here is the thing right at the start: I've always been uncomfortable with the traditional ideal of the professional—cool, collected, and capable, checking off tasks left and right, all numbers and results and making it happen, please, with not a hair out of place. An effective employee, no fuss, no muss, a manager's dream. You might as well be describing an ideal vacuum cleaner.
I admit that I've never been able to work that way. There is one thing that always came first and most importantly for me: How am I feeling today? I found that it can easily happen to think of emotions as something that gets in the way of work. When I grew, I often heard that they obstruct reasoning and rationality, but I feel that we as humans can't shut off our humanness when we come to work. I wanted to look into whether there was anything besides a gut feeling to my suspicions behind keeping the head and the heart separate in business.

What does emotion have to do with work?

It turns out, quite a lot. Emotions play a leading role in how to succeed in business because they influence how much you try and this is widely misunderstood by bosses and managers.
Psychologists Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer interviewed over 600 managers and found a shocking result. 95 percent of managers misunderstood what motivates employees. They thought what motivates employees was making money, getting raises and bonuses. In fact, after analyzing over 12,000 employee diary entries, they discovered that the number one work motivator was emotion, not financial incentive: it's the feeling of making progress every day toward a meaningful goal. In fact, Dan Pink found that actually the exact oposite is true:
"The larger the monetary reward, the poorer the performance. – money doesn't motivate us, at all, instead emotions do."
In the famous experiment by Dr. Edward Deci clarified again whether emotional feedback or money would engagement with work. People were sitting in a room and tried to solve a puzzle while Deci measured how much time they put in, before giving up. For Group A, he offered a cash reward for successfully solving the puzzle, and as you might expect, those people spent almost twice as much time trying to solve the puzzle as those people in Group B who weren't offered a prize.
A surprising thing happened the next day, when Deci told Group A that there wasn't enough money to pay them this time around: Group A lost interest in the puzzle. Group B, on the other hand, having never been offered money in exchange for working on the puzzles, worked on the puzzles longer and longer in each consecutive session and maintained a higher level of sustained interest than Group A. So if it not money what else really motivates us?

The 3 real reasons that motivate us to work hard every day

Pink explains further that there are in fact just 3 very simple things that drive nearly each and everyone of us to work hard:
  • Autonomy: Our desire to direct our own lives. In short: "You probably want to do something interesting, let me get out of your way!"
  • Mastery: Our urge to get better at stuff.
  • Purpose: The feeling and intention that we can make a difference in the world.
The Science Behind What Motivates Us to Get Up For Work Every Day
If these three things play nicely together, Amabile and Kramer called this the somewhat obvious "inner work life balance" and emphasize its importance to how well we work. Inner work life is what's going on in your head in response to workday events that affects your performance.
The components of the inner work life—motivation, emotions, and perceptions of how the above three things work together—feed each other. So ultimately our emotional processes ultimately our motivation to work. They end up being the main influencer of our performance.
Deci's experiment showed that payment actually undermined intrinsic motivation because such external rewards thwart our "three psychological needs—to feel autonomous, to feel competent and to feel related to others." As he told, "You need thinkers, problem solvers, people who can be creative and using money to motivate them will not get you that."

What's going on inside our brains that connects emotions to motivate you as a thinker and problem solver?

Amabile and Kramer tell us this:
"Depending on what happens with our emotions, motivation for the work can skyrocket or nosedive (or hardly shift at all)."
So how does our brain deal with emotion and connect it to such practical results like motivation and productivity? Well, the ironic part is that the parts of the brain that deal with emotions are actually connected to those that deal with cognition. Richard J. Davidson explains how emotional and cognitive functions interrelate. To get all "brainy" with this:
The brain connection of cognition and emotion is not segregated. The idea is that your "limbic system" is the seat of emotion [...] and it is critical for your cognitive processes (e.g., the hippocampus for memory).
Emotions are wired straight into our thinking and cognitive functions such as memory, attention, and reasoning.
Let's switch this around. We know what happens if we positively affect our emotions. But what about the other way round? Famous psychologist Alice Isen found that positive moods facilitate creative problem-solving. Negative emotions, on the other hand, lead us to think more narrowly:
"Negative emotions like fear and sadness can lead to brain activity and thought patterns that are detrimental to creative, productive work: (a) avoidance of risk; (b) difficulty remembering and planning; and (c) rational decision-making."
Personally, I found this particularly interesting. I always had a good hunch that positive thinking will improve my daily performance. The impact of negative emotions was never that clear and gives me a lot to think about working hard on limiting these emotions.

3 Most important things to improve your inner work life and manage your motivation

Yes, it's done! With the knowledge about the impact of a positive inner work life and our emotions' connection to great performance, I think we win the battle against the reserved, rational robot.
The key takeaway here for me is to pay more attention to our emotions and thoughts. It's simple, we use them to be more awesome at what we do. Following on from the studies above, the following three main actions have proven the best results for keeping our emotions and positive thinking the highest:
1. Exercise: We've discussed before in detail how exercise makes us happier. Any work-out will automatically release mood-enhancing chemicals and endorphin into your blood. This can immediately lift your mood and lowering stress. Exercise and maintenance of our physical health boosts our emotional health. The hard part here is of course how to get started with an exercise habit. Whatever it is you want to get into, the key is to start with easier task than you could actually do. Yes, that's right. If you feel comfortable lifting 10kg, make it 5. The art is in the start.
2. Set yourself up for success: Amabile and Kramer's most important finding is that making progress at work is the main way to fuel positive inner work life. Making progress is easier said than done but breaking it down to ask what will facilitate progress can be helpful. Identify barriers and remove them, whether it's too many meetings or micromanagement. Identify facilitators and implement or improve them, such as better communication or increased autonomy. The feeling of progress triggers the emotions and brain activity that result in creativity and your best work.
3. Reflect and review: Pay careful attention to your inner work life by writing down thoughts and feelings about your workday in a work diary by yourself or with your team using a tool like iDoneThis. A regular practice of reflection helps you recognize patterns, gain insight about your work and work relationships, celebrate and appreciate achievements and gestures, and puzzle out what helps and hinders progress. Journaling itself will improve your inner work life, lifting your emotions and aiding cognitive processing and adaptation. Take ten minutes out of your day to reflect, vent, and celebrate.

Quick last fact: Emotions are the key driver to make your daily decisions

Here is an interesting last fact for you. Making decisions is all about our intellectual capability, right? I thought so too, turns out, that's completely wrong. In an experiment by Antonio Damasio named Descartes' Error, he discovered that the key element for making daily decisions is to have strong emotional feelings:
"One of Damasio's patients, Elliot, suffered ventromedial frontal lobe damage and while retaining his intelligence, lost the ability to feel emotion. The result was that he lost his ability to make decisions and to plan for the future, and he couldn't hold on to a job."
The way our brains are built make it necessary that emotions "cloud" our judgment. Without all that cloudy emotion, we wouldn't be able to reason, have motivation, and make decisions.

Walter Chen is the co-founder of iDoneThis, a simple way to preserve and celebrate progress at work, every day, that amazing companies like Zappos, Shopify, and reddit use. He'd love to hear from you on Twitter at @smalter.
Image remixed from Wessel du Plooy and liskus (Shutterstock).
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