Video of the day

Lake Superior ice stacking.  So cool!  Explanation here.

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On Resilience

Fascinating piece from Maria Konnikova.  Was about to put into quick hits, but too many gems to paste:

What was it that set the resilient children apart? Because the individuals in her sample had been followed and tested consistently for three decades, Werner had a trove of data at her disposal. She found that several elements predicted resilience. Some elements had to do with luck: a resilient child might have a strong bond with a supportive caregiver, parent, teacher, or other mentor-like figure. But another, quite large set of elements was psychological, and had to do with how the children responded to the environment. From a young age, resilient children tended to “meet the world on their own terms.” They were autonomous and independent, would seek out new experiences, and had a “positive social orientation.” “Though not especially gifted, these children used whatever skills they had effectively,” Werner wrote. 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. [emphases mine] In fact, on a scale that measured locus of control, they scored more than two standard deviations away from the standardization group…

One of the central elements of resilience, Bonanno has found, is perception: Do you conceptualize an event as traumatic, or as an opportunity to learn and grow? “Events are not traumatic until we experience them as traumatic,” Bonanno told me, in December. “To call something a ‘traumatic event’ belies that fact.” He has coined a different term: PTE, or potentially traumatic event, which he argues is more accurate. The theory is straightforward. Every frightening event, no matter how negative it might seem from the sidelines, has the potential to be traumatic or not to the person experiencing it…

The good news is that positive construal can be taught. “We can make ourselves more or less vulnerable by how we think about things,” Bonanno said. In research at Columbia, the neuroscientist Kevin Ochsner has shown that teaching people to think of stimuli in different ways—to reframe them in positive terms when the initial response is negative, or in a less emotional way when the initial response is emotionally “hot”—changes how they experience and react to the stimulus. You can train people to better regulate their emotions, and the training seems to have lasting effects…

Seligman found that training people to change their explanatory styles from internal to external (“Bad events aren’t my fault”), from global to specific (“This is one narrow thing rather than a massive indication that something is wrong with my life”), and from permanent to impermanent (“I can change the situation, rather than assuming it’s fixed”) made them more psychologically successful and less prone to depression. The same goes for locus of control: not only is a more internal locus tied to perceiving less stress and performing better but changing your locus from external to internal leads to positive changes in both psychological well-being and objective work performance. The cognitive skills that underpin resilience, then, seem like they can indeed be learned over time, creating resilience where there was none.

Honestly, I think I am pretty resilient,but I don’t really know because I have been extraordinary lucky on the low level of potentially traumatic events in my life.  (Or maybe, I just think that– no really, pretty sure I’m lucky here).  That said, at least one of my children is far too prone to an external locus of control.  Life has not thrown a lot of bad things his way (it’s good to be in my family), but we need to work on this.  The good news is we can.  //

Why we don’t govern by public opinion

Not sure why Gallup would even ask the question, “Do you think the United States is #1 in the world militarily, or that it only one of several leading military powers?”  You might as well ask, “is the human body composed of mostly water?”  But, I guess there’s value in seeing how clueless the American people are.  To wit:

Trend: Americans' Views on How U.S. Military Ranks

The reality:

SOURCE: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, SIPRI Military Expenditure Database, April 2015. Data are for 2014. Compiled by PGPF. NOTE: Figures are in U.S. dollars, converted from local currencies using market exchange rates.

I was thinking the only way people could be this wrong is if they are being actively misled.  But who would do that?  Zack Beauchamp:

There is, no doubt, a bit of a cycle here: The more Republican candidates talk about America’s military weakness, the more Americans (especially Republican partisans) come to believe that US military strength has declined.

Hmmm, I wonder what other misperceptions of reality are being spread out there.  Cannot imagine anything about, oh, I don’t know, the economic impact of immigration, the benefits of tax cuts for rich people, etc.

Is a calorie a calorie?

Loved this recent Atlantic piece on re-thinking the calorie.  Yes, if you expend your calories than you take in, you will lose weight.  But it is oh so much more complicated than that in many ways:

At the heart of this issue is a single unit of measurement—the calorie—and some seemingly straightforward arithmetic. “To lose weight, you must use up more calories than you take in,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dieters like Nash and Haelle could eat all their meals at McDonald’s and still lose weight, provided they burn enough calories, says Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University. “Really, that’s all it takes.”

But Nash and Haelle do not find weight control so simple. And part of the problem goes way beyond individual self-control. The numbers logged in Nash’s Fitbit, or printed on the food labels that Haelle reads religiously, are at best good guesses. Worse yet, as scientists are increasingly finding, some of those calorie counts are flat-out wrong—off by more than enough, for instance, to wipe out the calories Haelle burns by running an extra mile on a treadmill. A calorie isn’t just a calorie. And our mistaken faith in the power of this seemingly simple measurement may be hindering the fight against obesity [emphases mine]…

A fascinating discussion of how calories are actually measured comes next.  It’s complicated!!

This entire enterprise, from the Beltsville facility to the numbers on the packets of the food we buy, creates an aura of scientific precision around the business of counting calories. That precision is illusory…

Even if the calorie counts themselves were accurate, dieters like Haelle and Nash would have to contend with the significant variations between the total calories in the food and the amount our bodies extract. These variations, which scientists have only recently started to understand, go beyond the inaccuracies in the numbers on the back of food packaging. In fact, the new research calls into question the validity of nutrition science’s core belief that a calorie is a calorie…

Industrial food processing, which subjects foods to extremely high temperatures and pressures, might be freeing up even more calories. The food industry, says Wrangham, has been “increasingly turning our food to mush, to the maximum calories you can get out of it. Which, of course, is all very ironic, because in the West there’s tremendous pressure to reduce the number of calories you’re getting out of your food.” He expects to find examples of structural differences that affect caloric availability in many more foods. “I think there is work here for hundreds and probably thousands of nutritionists for years,” he says…

There’s also the problem that no two people are identical. Differences in height, body fat, liver size, levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and other factors influence the energy required to maintain the body’s basic functions. Between two people of the same sex, weight, and age, this number may differ by up to 600 calories a day—over a quarter of the recommended intake for a moderately active woman. Even something as seemingly insignificant as the time at which we eat may affect how we process energy. In one recent study, researchers found that mice fed a high-fat diet between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. gained 28 percent less weight than mice fed the exact same food across a 24-hour period. The researchers suggested that irregular feedings affect the circadian cycle of the liver and the way it metabolizes food, thus influencing overall energy balance. Such differences would not emerge under the feeding schedules in the Beltsville experiments…

For example, it seems that medications that are known to cause weight gain might be doing so by modifying the populations of microbes in our gut. In November 2015, researchers showed that risperidone, an antipsychotic drug, altered the gut microbes of mice who received it. The microbial changes slowed the animals’ resting metabolisms, causing them to increase their body mass by 10 percent in two months. The authors liken the effects to a 30-pound weight gain over one year for an average human, which they say would be the equivalent of an extra cheeseburger every day…

All of these factors introduce a disturbingly large margin of error for an individual who is trying, like Nash, Haelle, and millions of others, to count calories. The discrepancies between the number on the label and the calories that are actually available in our food, combined with individual variations in how we metabolize that food, can add up to much more than the 200 calories a day that nutritionists often advise cutting in order to lose weight…

One option is to focus on something other than energy intake. Like satiety, for instance. Picture a 300-calorie slice of cheesecake: It is going to be small. “So you’re going to feel very dissatisfied with that meal,” says Susan Roberts. If you eat 300 calories of a chicken salad instead, with nuts, olive oil, and roasted vegetables, “you’ve got a lot of different nutrients that are hitting all the signals quite nicely,” she says. “So you’re going to feel full after you’ve eaten it. That fullness is going to last for several hours.” …

As a result of her research, Roberts has created a weight-loss plan that focuses on satiety rather than a straight calorie count. The idea is that foods that help people feel satisfied and full for longer should prevent them from overeating at lunch or searching for a snack soon after cleaning the table. Whole apples, white fish, and Greek yogurt are on her list of the best foods for keeping hunger at bay.

Argh.  Wow, so complicated.   And, I actually bought Roberts’ book after reading this article a couple of weeks ago.  Some good advice, but very little I had not read before.  What do you know– whole, less processed foods, and foods that are less calorie dense.  I’m still waiting for the diet pill that reduces hunger without bad side effects (actually, we already have that, but I don’t feel right taking my son’s Adderall).  Until then, I’ll spend far too much mental energy thinking about what I am eating and what I am not eating.  But damnit, I got down to a 32″ waist and have invested a lot in pants that fit it.  I’m not going back up to 33 or 34!

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