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How To Become More Resilient
Understanding how to become more resilient could rely on a simple linguistic shift.
Many of our woes begin with language. For example, consider the difference between believing life happens to you and thinking life happens. Those two extra words create the potential for disastrous results: depression, uncertainty, anxiety, guilt. Traveling a different track affords you a level of personal responsibility that proves freeing.
Consider it another way: When you’re sitting on the 405 (or any highway) and someone calls, you’re likely to say "I’m stuck in traffic." Rarely would you say, "I’m traffic right now," even though that is more accurate. To the person behind you, you’re part of the traffic that’s delaying their plans.
These seemingly small linguistic choices result in large psychological consequences. Thinking life happens to us inflates our sense of ego, as if 4.5 billion years of history have led to this jerk cutting us off. When life just happens, you empower yourself with the decision of how to move forward. You feel involved in the choices you make, not belittled by a perpetual causal chain of events aimed at your demise.
This is where resilience comes into play. In a recent article in The New Yorker, Maria Konnikova discusses a young boy who would venture to school each day with a bread sandwich — meat and condiments were luxuries his alcoholic mother could not afford (or remember to include). This young boy was part of developmental psychologist Norman Garmezy’s pilot group; he was studying how resilient children are in the face of adversity.
We all have a tolerance for challenges. Some humans are able to overcome refugee camps, natural disasters, and political revolutions not only intact, but also stronger for it. Others melt if Starbucks doesn’t have their preference of milk. You never know what you’re made of until tested. Humans are often extremely resilient in sudden emergencies, whereas the aggravating humdrum of the day-to-day eats us alive. Then again, plenty of us flee or freeze when our parasympathetic nervous system flies into overdrive.
Before Garmezy’s work, Konnikova writes, psychologists focused more on what made their patients vulnerable than what made them strong. A 32-year longitudinal study in Hawaii, published by Emmy Werner in 1989, further changed the perception of resilience. Luck played a role: a loving mother instead of an alcoholic one, for example. Konnikova continues:
Perhaps most importantly, the resilient children had what psychologists call an “internal locus of control”: They believed that they, and not their circumstances, affected their achievements. The resilient children saw themselves as the orchestrators of their own fates.
Life didn’t happen to them; life happened, they responded.
Psychology professor Richard J. Davidson, the first researcher to scan the brains of Buddhist monks to test the neurological and emotional efficacy of meditation, devotes a section of one book to cultivating resilience. While it is generally believed recovering from adversity as quickly as possible is the best outcome, such a response can actually harden a person; a lack of empathy develops in those who do not take the time to grieve or reflect.
Davidson suggests mindfulness meditation (specifically, focusing on breathing) as one way of building resilience. The result might actually involve a slower recovery from a traumatic event. The importance here is that there is appropriate time for contemplation and healing, without spending weeks or months mired in a loss or setback. There is no set time for any individual. Davidson feels that resilience and empathy, however, go hand in hand.
Part of an empathic response is feeling someone’s pain. Indeed, recent research has shown that when we empathize, the brain activates many of the same networks as when we ourselves experience pain, physical or otherwise.
Creating visual triggers in your home adds a layer of self-reflection — Davidson suggests posting photographs of “earthquakes and tsunami victims on your refrigerator” as one potential means for developing empathy and thereby strengthening resilience. If you’re already slow to recover, however, this would be counterproductive; your sensitivity level is already heightened. Meditation or cognitive reappraisal training might prove more beneficial.
All of these methods share in common a quest for self-knowledge. Understanding how your brain works is an essential component of resilience. As neuroscientist Michael S. Gazzaniga writes, we often seek freedom in our lives, but the question to ask is: freedom from what? Such a concept only makes sense in social situations; indeed, many issues of resilience deal with external relationships in some capacity. He writes:
Responsibility and freedom are found, however, in the space between brains, in the interactions between people.
And in order to strengthen your interactions, as well as your responses to interactions, taking time out every day to reflect and sit quietly does a world of good. Every time you step outside of your home, opportunities of challenge emerge. You can never fully predict what’s going to happen, but one thing seems clear: It isn’t happening to you. It’s just happening. What happens from there is up to you.
Image: Barcroft Media / Getty Images
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Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.
Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.
But science loves a good challenge<p>The mystery remained unsolved until 2005, when French scientists <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~audoly/" target="_blank">Basile Audoly</a> and <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~neukirch/" target="_blank">Sebastien Neukirch </a>won an <a href="https://www.improbable.com/ig/" target="_blank">Ig Nobel Prize</a>, an award given to scientists for real work which is of a less serious nature than the discoveries that win Nobel prizes, for finally determining why this happens. <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/spaghetti/audoly_neukirch_fragmentation.pdf" target="_blank">Their paper describing the effect is wonderfully funny to read</a>, as it takes such a banal issue so seriously. </p><p>They demonstrated that when a rod is bent past a certain point, such as when spaghetti is snapped in half by bending it at the ends, a "snapback effect" is created. This causes energy to reverberate from the initial break to other parts of the rod, often leading to a second break elsewhere.</p><p>While this settled the issue of <em>why </em>spaghetti noodles break into three or more pieces, it didn't establish if they always had to break this way. The question of if the snapback could be regulated remained unsettled.</p>
Physicists, being themselves, immediately wanted to try and break pasta into two pieces using this info<p><a href="https://roheiss.wordpress.com/fun/" target="_blank">Ronald Heisser</a> and <a href="https://math.mit.edu/directory/profile.php?pid=1787" target="_blank">Vishal Patil</a>, two graduate students currently at Cornell and MIT respectively, read about Feynman's night of noodle snapping in class and were inspired to try and find what could be done to make sure the pasta always broke in two.</p><p><a href="http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-mathematicians-solve-age-old-spaghetti-mystery-0813" target="_blank">By placing the noodles in a special machine</a> built for the task and recording the bending with a high-powered camera, the young scientists were able to observe in extreme detail exactly what each change in their snapping method did to the pasta. After breaking more than 500 noodles, they found the solution.</p>
The apparatus the MIT researchers built specifically for the task of snapping hundreds of spaghetti sticks.
(Courtesy of the researchers)
What possible application could this have?<p>The snapback effect is not limited to uncooked pasta noodles and can be applied to rods of all sorts. The discovery of how to cleanly break them in two could be applied to future engineering projects.</p><p>Likewise, knowing how things fragment and fail is always handy to know when you're trying to build things. Carbon Nanotubes, <a href="https://bigthink.com/ideafeed/carbon-nanotube-space-elevator" target="_self">super strong cylinders often hailed as the building material of the future</a>, are also rods which can be better understood thanks to this odd experiment.</p><p>Sometimes big discoveries can be inspired by silly questions. If it hadn't been for Richard Feynman bending noodles seventy years ago, we wouldn't know what we know now about how energy is dispersed through rods and how to control their fracturing. While not all silly questions will lead to such a significant discovery, they can all help us learn.</p>
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In a recent study, researchers examined how Christian nationalism is affecting the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- A new study used survey data to examine the interplay between Christian nationalism and incautious behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The researchers defined Christian nationalism as "an ideology that idealizes and advocates a fusion of American civic life with a particular type of Christian identity and culture."
- The results showed that Christian nationalism was the leading predictor that Americans engaged in incautious behavior.
A pastor at the chapel of the St. Josef Hospital on April 1, 2020 in Bochum, German
Sascha Schuermann/Getty Images<p>Christian nationalists, in general, believe the U.S. and God's will are tied together, and they want the government to embody conservative Christian values and symbols. As such, they also believe the nation's fate depends on how closely it adheres to Christianity.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Unsurprisingly then, in the midst of the COVID‐19 pandemic, conservative pastors prophesied God's protection over the nation, citing America's righteous support for President Trump and the prolife agenda," the researchers write.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Correspondingly, the link between Christian nationalism and God's influence on how COVID‐19 impacts America can be seen in proclamations about God's divine judgment for its immorality―with the logic being that God is using the pandemic to draw wayward America <em>back </em>to himself, which assumes the two belong together."</p><p>The logical conclusion to this kind of thinking: America can save itself not through cautionary measures, like mask-wearing, but through devotion to God. What's more, it stands to reason that Christian nationalists are less likely to trust the media and scientists, given that these sources are generally not concerned with promoting a conservative, religious view of the world.</p><p>(The researchers note that they're unaware of any research directly linking Christian nationalism to distrust of media sources, but that they're almost certain the two are connected.)</p>
Predicted values of Americans' frequency of incautious behaviors during the COVID‐19 pandemic across values of Christian nationalism
Perry et al.<p>In the new study, the researchers examined three waves of results from the Public and Discourse Ethics Survey. One wave of the survey was issued in May, and it asked respondents to rate how often they engaged in both incautious and precautionary behaviors.</p><p>Incautious behaviors included things like "ate inside a restaurant" and "went shopping for nonessential items," while precautionary behaviors included "washed my hands more often than typical" and "wore a mask in public."</p><p>To measure Christian nationalism, the researchers asked respondents to rate how strongly they agree with statements like "the federal government should advocate Christian values" and "the success of the United States is part of God's plan."</p><p>The results suggest that, compared to other groups, Christian nationalists are far less likely to wear masks, socially distance and take other precautionary measures amid the COVID-19 pandemic.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Christian nationalism was the leading predictor that Americans engaged in incautious behavior during the pandemic, and the second leading predictor that Americans avoided taking precautionary measures."</p><p>But that's not to say that religious beliefs are causing Americans to reject mask-wearing or social distancing. In fact, when the study accounted for Christian nationalist beliefs, the results showed that Americans with high levels of religiosity were likely to take precautionary measures for COVID-19.</p>
Limitations<p>Still, the researchers note that they're theorizing about the connections between Christian nationalism and COVID-19 behaviors, not documenting them directly. What's more, they suggest that certain experiences — such as having a family member that contracts COVID-19 — might change a Christian nationalist's behaviors during the pandemic.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Limitations notwithstanding, the implications of this study are important for understanding Americans' curious inability to quickly implement informed and reasonable strategies to overcome the threat of COVID‐19, an inability that has likely cost thousands of lives," they write.</p>
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