® Newsletter, April, 2012

by Patrick Magee, author of Brain Dancing

"The human race is a remarkable creature, one with great potential, and I hope that Star Trek has helped to show us what we can be if we believe in ourselves and our abilities." --Gene Roddenberry, Creator of Star Trek

Summary of this issue:

  1. Emotional Intelligence: A Meta Ability
  2. Body Clocks and Power Sleeping
  3. Cool Products: Stevia: A Natural Sweetener and LifeCycle with Heart Rate Monitor
  4. Cool Links: Personal Excellence Newsletter Articles, and Cecilia audio files.
  5. What's New at StartGen 3.0 receives ZDNet's Highest Rating, T-shirt, Webcast directory including an excerpt from my audiotape, revised edition of Brain Dancing available in July.

Emotional Intelligence   

[Adapted from the revised edition of Brain Dancing.]

There are four main dimensions to life: spiritual, social/emotional, mental and physical. You can no more live a life while neglecting one of these dimensions than you can drive a car after removing a wheel. Brain Dancing is mostly a book about mental tools, with one chapter on the physical issues of nutrition and exercise. Regarding the social/emotional dimension, I highly recommend Daniel Goleman's book, Emotional Intelligence.

One key distinction Goleman mentions is how a section of the brain called the amygdala directs our emotional responses. When information is taken in through the senses, a small portion of it is sent directly to the amygdala. This allows a faster, though less precise response to occur in cases of possible danger. The emotional response starts to occur before the sensory information is fully registered and processed by the neocortex (conscious mind). "This bypass," writes Goleman, "seems to allow the amygdala to be a repository for emotional impressions and memories that we have never known about in full awareness." A key lesson you can apply when relating to family and friends, is to hold your initial amygdala-driven emotional response in check for a moment or two while the full spectrum of information makes its way to and is processed by the neocortex. Those prone to "flying off at the handle" may need to learn this more than others.

"Emotional aptitude is a meta-ability, determining how well we can use whatever other skills we have, including raw intellect." --Daniel Goleman

I believe this amygdala distinction explains the basis for phobias and for NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) anchors discussed in Chapter 3. The reason anchors and phobias trigger an automatic response without conscious effort is because the reaction is driven by a strong impression stored in the amygdala's emotional memory banks.

Emotions are often beyond words, and trying to analyze them mentally sometimes sends my mind into a free-fall, whirling through issues and scenarios over and over. Emotions don't compute! Another way to deal with them is taught by Sara Paddison in her book, The Hidden Power of the Heart: Achieving Balance and Fulfillment in a Stressful World . The other way is to use heart intelligence. This involves changing the frequency at which you are thinking to one based on the higher frequencies of the heart, such as love.

Learning to direct your mind with positive thoughts from the heart is an essential survival skill. Paddison shares specific exercises for self-activating the frequency of love in your heart and keeping it going. Her book is based on research conducted at the Institute of HeartMathâ in Boulder Creek, California. Measurements with electrocardiograph machines have proven that these exercises can literally change how our hearts beat. Bill Thomson, the editor of Natural Health magazine, has written a great review of HeartMath's teachings which you can read by clicking here . HeartMath's index of online articles can be viewed by clicking here .

Wasn't it great the way emotional health was placed ahead of intellectual development in the movie Good Will Hunting? Reference was made to the Unabomber as someone who developed significant mental abilities, but somehow lacked the emotional intelligence to apply that talent wisely.

Body Clocks and Power Sleeping   
[Adapted from the revised edition of Brain Dancing.]

At a recent booksigning event for Washington state authors, I came across a book called Know Your Body Clock, by Carol Orlock. I had been fascinated with this subject ever since college when I learned that we sleep in 90 minute cycles. Being woken by an alarm clock in the middle of one of these cycles can throw a wrench in our whole day. If I need to cut my sleep short, I do it in 90 minute increments.

Orlock's book is an extensively researched summary of the various internal body clocks that operate on daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, and lifetime cycles. Her book will help you understand these cycles and coordinate your schedule accordingly. Research in the field of chronobiology has shown that we are geared for different types of activities at different times of the day. Here are some of the ways I use these distinctions to keep my schedule in synch with these rhythms:

This schedule corresponds to best times for most people, but not necessarily for all. Both of the above-mentioned books emphasize that some people have night-owl inclinations while others do best when they wake early. Peak performance times usually correspond to the time when your body temperature peaks. For myself, this occurs in the morning. My personal experience suggests that this so-called inclination is habit induced since I can shift between the two. In Roger von Oech's excellent book, A Kick in the Seat of the Pants, Nolan Bushnell states that when he wants to be creative, he stays up late, and when he wants to get a lot done, he gets up early. I've done some of my most creative thinking after the time I normally go to bed and before the time I normally wake up. It's almost as if part of my brain goes to sleep on schedule and other parts, normally utilized only while sleeping, wake up.

Disrupting regular sleep habits can have negative consequences, however. A key point emphasized by Dr. Maas is that our sleep cycle runs on a 25 hour cycle (kind of makes you wonder if the Earth day didn't used to be 25 hours long; why would nature mess this up?). In other words, we have a natural tendency to want to stay up an extra hour each night. Maas suggests that the best strategy to combat this tendency is to establish consistent sleep habits.

If you read Dr. Maas' book, pay particular attention to the section in Chapter 3 where he discusses "REM Sleep for Peak Daytime Performance." This section alone is worth the price of the book. He describes how to design you sleep habits to maximize learning and memory functions. Key lesson summary:

Listen to a 15 minute RealAudio interview with Dr. Maas.

Not only do we spend one-third of our lives sleeping, but how we sleep can dramatically impact the quality of the remaining two-thirds. Power Sleep is a timely book given that an estimated 50 million Americans suffer from some kind of sleep disorder. This book is loaded with specific practical suggestions. Check out the "Peak Performance Sleep Log" on page 79.

Both books emphasize that the time at which light first hits our eyes plays an important role in setting our sleeping clocks. Natural light in particular. Based on the information these authors provided, I've been able to shift my body clock forward by advancing the time at which light first hits my eyes in the morning. When traveling to other time zones, spend some time out of doors in natural daylight soon after arriving to begin acclimating your body clocks (i.e., melatonin cycles).

As explained in Know Your Body Clock, melatonin is the hormone our body produces to make us sleepy. The darker it is, the more melatonin we produce. This explains why covering your eyes is important when doing power naps. Not getting enough natural light during the day can cause your melatonin levels to lose their pronounced amplitude near bedtime. Before reading this, I worked my PC in a fairly dim office. The only light besides the computer monitor was a single halogen lamp that lit up the ceiling. This was encouraging melatonin production throughout the day, making it more difficult to get to sleep at night. One of the great benefits of working at home is that my home office desk faces a window and thus natural daylight throughout the day. More importantly, I get to keep the window open all day allowing freshly manufactured plant oxygen to drift in from the nearby trees and plants. (slight digression: breathing processed air in office buildings is cited as a possible cause of the alarming rise of asthma cases in America. I've worked in buildings where you could set a glass of water out one day and find it the next morning completely evaporated by the building's air filtration system).

(UPDATE: 9/98) One more note on Melatonin: In his book, Total Wellness , Joe Pizzorno, N.D., mentions that melatonin also plays an important role as a free-radical scavenger. He cites studies indicating that melatonin can play a pivotal part in preventing oxidative damage to the nerves and brain. "Melatonin supplementation and treatments aimed at preserving the endogenous rhythm of melatonin formation appear to retard the rate of aging and the time of onset of age-related diseases," writes Dr. Pizzorno.

Stanford University has accumulated a wealth of resources on sleep:

Pacific Coast provides a wide variety of suggestions on their Healthy Sleep page.

SleepNet also provides a wealth of related info including their Sleep Link Review page.

If jet lag is something you need to deal with, you might want to read what Dr. Andrew Weil has to say about the herb valerian, which he claims has no side effects: Article 1 ; Article 2 . Dr. Weil has also posted his suggestions on sleeping well .

Note the difference between the melatonin your body produces naturally and the supplements sold over the counter. Personally, I avoid the supplement since it is a synthesized hormone. A recent report published by The Lancet suggests a link between Melatonin supplements and childhood seizures. You might want to read what the Mayo Clinic has to say about melatonin supplements .

Cool Products

LifeCycle with Heart Rate Monitor   

My athletic club recently added new LifeCycle exercise bikes with built in heart rate monitors. You just grab the handles while peddling and it gives you a moment by moment reading of your heart rate. Click here to see what this bike looks like.

In his "Fit or Fat" PBS video, Covert Bailey points out that some people have smaller hearts that like to beat fast and others have larger hearts that like to beat slow. Age alone is not enough to calculate what 80% of your maximum heart rate is. He emphasizes that if you are exercising so hard that you are unable to carry on a conversation without gasping for breath, then you are exercising too hard for your current circumstances.

I was surprised to see how slowly my heart rate went up as I biked, especially since I'm not in the best shape right now. Where before I was exercising at a pace that "felt right," this LifeCycle increased my awareness of what it feels like to exercise at various heart rates. I had no clue of this prior to using this bike. Be sure and consult a physician before using this if appropriate to your circumstances.


Stevia is a plant extract that is over 30 times sweeter than sucrose. It is used extensively in Asia as a sugar alternative but its use as a food additive is apparently still banned in the USA by the FDA. I heard a rumor that it was approved last year. My normal beverage is plain distilled water, to which I occasionally add 3 drops of stevia for variety. I've used it for about two years and have noticed no adverse reactions. Three drops is all it takes to make a 16 oz. glass of water taste like a mild root beer. The best tasting stevia I've tried is made by Sunrider, but it's more expensive and only available from Sunrider distributors. Nature's Way Products makes a "Stevia Leaves water extract" that is available for about $8. This 2 oz. bottle lasts me several months. Stevia is also available in powder form but I haven't tried it yet. You might want to read what Dr. Andrew Weil has to say about stevia .

Cool Links

Index to articles in Personal Excellence newsletter .

Want to hear one of the most beautiful voices I've ever heard? Click here to listen to a 30 second audio clip of Cecilia singing Amazing Grace (caution, hold on to your socks before playing, and you should probably play some "Stairway" to warm up your speakers before subjecting them to the extreme range of Cecilia's voice:-) Click here to read more about this awesome CD or here to listen to a second song from the album. I was able to listen to these music files using Microsoft's ActiveMovie control but was unable to determine from where I downloaded it.

What's New at

  1. StartGen 3.0 Receives ZDNet's Highest Rating: 5 Stars. StartGen is a shareware software product that I developed to help people optimize or eliminate frequently performed Web browsing processes. Links: Read ZDNet's review , Checkout the online guided tour of a start page created using StartGen, or visit StartGen's main Web page .
  2. I used StartGen's new directory listing feature to produce a listing of links to interesting Webcasts . StartGen can import links from existing Web pages to simplify the process of setting up such pages.
  3. The new T-shirt will be available on April 24th.
  4. Listen to an audio excerpt from my Brain Dancing Overview audiotape . Links

If you plan to purchase the above mentioned books anyway, you can support the research needed to write future editions of this newsletter by purchasing them via the following links. Know Your Body Clocks , Power Sleeping .

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