Thursday, June 11, 2009

Greener Grass Conundrum: Psychology of habit

Now that the semester has concluded, I find myself with more unstructured time than I've had in a ages. Rather than "free" time, "unstructured" time, to me, means that I don't need to physically be anywhere so I have time to work on my research and clinical work. It's more like the free-lance life of my husband. The day is my blob of clay to mold. I can have leisurely mornings, productive afternoons, and relaxing evenings. Or so I thought I would.

All year, while hauling myself between campuses, doing neuropsychological assessments, seeing clients, fighting to stay awake in classes, and trying to pull together my research in stolen moments, I desperately held onto the hope that once the academic year was over, I would be relieved from this daily chaos. As each day closed, I thought to myself, "Hang in there kiddo, another one down." Each morning, as I woke up, I thought to myself, "Ugh, another day. Just get through it." Now, I'm through it. Thankfully, I won a summer fellowship that allows me to work on MY work, my research, and focus on my clients without the distractions of research assistant work or teaching courses. My time is finally mine.

The first week, of this new found freedom, I found myself feeling a little empty, finally feeling the cumulative damage the chronic stress left on my body and mind. It was really hard for me to unwind, as if I developed a bad habit of frantically working on something at all times. While watching a movie, I would read multiple online newspapers, play Spider solitaire, and mindlessly exploring Facebook. I couldn't simply sit and do nothing or focus on one thing. I've developed a sickening form of ADHD where I can't even talk to my husband and focus on what he's saying, instead, my mind races looking for stimulation. Ironically, I now have the time to breathe and truly get engaged in my work within a flexible time frame and I'm giving myself things to do, mental projects, that make me feel that my brain's motherboard is working at maximum capacity...when it doesn't need to be!

Now into the second week of unstructured schedule, I'm getting better at balancing my mental energy. It's hard to break habits, especially those that have been reinforced for years, like being a "workaholic." [I hate that term, workaholic. I makes me feel like I love working 24/7, when, in actuality, I hate it. Drug addicts like something about the drug. Much to my chagrin, I do not get high off of work.] It's as if I've trained myself to be constantly working all day long. If I don't, my feel an inner anxiety, like I'm slacking on something. Regardless of what I feel, I'm always slacking on something; that's the reality of grad school. Now, I'm slacking on slacking!! Anyway, I suppose the purpose of this post is to illustrate how easily we fall into maladaptive patterns of living, mindlessly developing habits that become indistinguishable from drug addictions. I'm withdrawing now, from chronic stress. It's getting better, but it's not easy. Finding balance when life actually allows it, is not as easy as Oprah and all of the spirit gurus would like us to believe it is. Sadly, relaxing often takes work. Get to work, then!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Seeing what you want to see: The Van Meegeren Vermeer Fiasco

Before jumping into some of the hijinks I've been up to lately, I thought I would share a fascinating series of articles that explore the psychology that goes into art forgery. Errol Morris, the famous filmmaker and all around genius, put together a series of pieces in the New York Times titled "Bamboozling Ourselves." He delves into the story of Van Meegeren, the infamous Dutch art forger and Nazi-enthusiast, who pulled the wool over the eyes of some of the most influential VIPs of the 1930s and 40s by selling them never before seen Vermeer pieces. That is, they were never before seen until he painted them himself (picture right). Morris includes interviews with two authors who've penned newly released books on the subject, along with lengthy discussion of the psychology that goes into successful forgery and how Van Meegeren's plans fell apart. You'll get theory, graphs, and detailed image comparisons of the Vermeer and Van Meegeren pieces. Basically, this 7-part series provides all the things you need to feel smart and sound smart at your next BBQ. Enjoy!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Holy hiatus, Batman!

Sorry for the massive delay, folks! This year has been nothing but chaotic and absolutely exhausting. Between taking the last few classes of my academic career, seeing clients, working at the Alzheimer's Research Center diagnosing older folks with dementia, doing research and still trying to be a decent wife, I had just enough time to sleep. Just sleep. I actually think I've developed stress-induced dementia, if such a thing exists. What do I know (har, har).

Anyway, I'm back and I have a lot to share, so, stay tuned!