You Gotta Love Science

I am utterly enamored with science.

Or…maybe it would be better to say that I love the spirit of the scientific process.

Think about it. It’s basically a process devoted to curiosity and exploration (and just try to convince me that curiosity and exploration aren’t worthwhile. I dare you).

First: you have a question.

Second: you try and answer the question with…well basically a hopeful guess.

Third: you collect data.

Fourth: you review the data.

Fifth: you summarize what the data told you.

Simple. Clean. Elegant.

But It Was an Acquired Taste…

I didn’t always have an appreciation for data or for using that data in any sort of “scientific” way. I wanted to be all “feel into it” about life. I wanted to just “go with the flow, man.” I wanted to rely on the awesomeness that was my self-identified highly sensitive, holistically healthy, absurdly affable, spidey senses.

Data? Psh…that’s for those soulless, mechanical, non-people people.

But I discovered something interesting about this thing I’m calling my “self.” I’m actually not that smart. Or…I am…but I’m not smart in the ways that I thought I was smart.

I’m smart if by “smart” we mean “clever.” I can cleverly devise a story to validate behaviors I have been conditioned to see as being in my best interest. But I’m not so smart if by “smart” we mean “discerning”…as in – able to consistently and reliably cut through the bullshit of my conditioning and engage in behaviors that are actually in my best interest.

For example, I might…

  • Eat food my body doesn’t need (because I deserve this chocolate!)
  • Deny myself food my body does need (because I didn’t exercise enough, today)
  • Say “yes” to things I don’t actually want to do (If I say “no” it will mean I am weak)
  • Say “no” to things because I don’t think I can do them (If I say “yes” I might fail)
  • Stay in relationships that simply are not working (I just need to work a little harder)
  • Avoid creating relationships (he/she will feel put out by my attempts to connect)
  • Buy things I don’t need (everyone needs to splurge every now and then)
  • Avoid  buying things I do need (I don’t have enough money for that)

Any one of these things might be problematic on its own. But the real puzzle is how paradoxical and schizophrenic they all are. I might turn down a cookie in the afternoon because “I didn’t exercise enough” only to say yes to two of them later because “I deserve it.” I might tell myself in the afternoon that I have to keep trying at this romantic relationship that is clearly a mismatch because I “value my relationships” and yet push “ignore” on a call from a friend that I’ve had a positive long-term connection with.

Huh? What is going ON here?!?

Well, the short answer is…emotions are going on, here. And maybe…Impulses are going on, here. And while emotions and impulses can be incredibly helpful and even informative…if we do not pause on occasion to examine them, we run the risk of being relegated to the passenger’s seat rather than the driver of our own lives.

Do We Really Have Free Will?

And SPEAKING of being the driver in our own lives….

Fun Fact: did you know you typically make decisions before you realize you have made a decision? In fact, your  brain sometimes makes decisions up to 10 seconds before you think you have made that choice. 

Which begs the question…who is the “you” who is making choices on “your” behalf, anyway?

Your decision to say yes to that person’s request for a dance? Maybe you made a rational choice. Or maybe your unconscious mind was influenced by the tap on your shoulder he gave you. Research shows we are heavily influenced by even subtle touch.

Your decision to buy that sweater? Maybe it was because you really, really liked it. Or maybe your brain was being hijacked. Maybe it was because shopping malls have food courts that pump out the smell of food…which is known to increase your desire to consume…which can influence you to buy things you might not otherwise have bought.

That relationship that you feel so good about today? It might be the case that you and your mate really are headed on a positive trajectory. OR…it may be that you’re just in an especially good mood right now, which is affecting the lens you view your surroundings with.

So are “YOU” really making all these calls? Is there even really a coherent “YOU” to make them?

Back to My Point…Data

To be clear, here…I make no claim to know the inner workings of your mind. Perhaps you are immune to all this. Maybe you are a living embodiment of discernment. If you are…good for you! I’ll leave you to be the expert on you.

But as for me? I can only tell you that I, personally, am not immune to my emotions or my impulses. I’m highly sensitive…which  means I quickly detect and respond to subtle changes in my environment. It doesn’t mean I am a master of, or immune to them.

So what’s a girl to do? How am I to optimize my decision making skills when the “I” I think is deciding might only be justifying decisions made long before I even had awareness I had decided?

The answer is simple (although I know some of my fellow HSP’s are going to start throwing tomatoes at me).

You have to start making friends with data. You have to be willing and open to seeing each of your experiences as separate data points in their own right, rather than bullet points in a story you’re telling yourself about you.

Do you want to lose weight? One of the best things you can do is start collecting data. Write down the food you eat. Write down your weight each morning. Write down how much water you drink. Etc…etc…etc.

Do you want to start saving money? Start tracking how much money you make and how much you spend. Make a budget.

Do you want to know if you should stay in that relationship? Look at the data. Track your mood throughout the day each day. Mark down your experiences in a journal. Track how often your mood lifts or falls when he/she is near.

Do you want to get better sleep? Start tracking when you go to bed, and when you wake up. Track how you feel after eating at 6pm vs. 8pm vs. 10pm. Track how much energy you have in the morning when you wake up. Track the things you do before bed and how each of those things seems to affect the quality of your sleep.

Want to improve your fitness? Get a heart rate variability tracker.

I can keep going, folks. I  got alllllll day.

Why Is This Important for HSP’s in Particular? 

Listen, my dear HSP’s. I have spoken to a fair number of you. I’m ONE of you. And I know data can feel cold and meaningless. But that, my dearest ones, is precisely the point.

To have a more vigilant nervous system means that we detect changes in our world with more precision. It doesn’t necessarily mean that we always respond to them appropriately. We process things deeply – which is good! But sometimes we process things SO deeply that we quite literally get lost in our thoughts. We are easily over-aroused – which can mean we are easily moved! But it also means we might be more easily swayed by our impulses than most if we aren’t paying close attention. We might exaggerate the importance of events in our lives or changes we experience and make moves that are unnecessarily rash.

BUT….If you are willing to couple your vigilant nervous system alongside a data tracking system , you could very well end up in an extremely advantageous position in your life. Because, my love, YOU are the PERFECT data tracking machine.

Because you process things in your environment deeply, you are probably able to devise an especially useful method of tracking AND link that method with something you want to see improvement in. Because your system is easily over-aroused, that also means you are a kind of canary. You’ll be able to detect disruptions much more efficiently than the average person. Your emotional granularity? Use it! Track how your emotions are affected by the things you do, the people you spend time with, and the environments you inhabit. And your sensory sensitivity? USE. IT.

Fitting This Into the Big Picture…

I want to back up for just a second, here. I don’t want you walking away thinking that what I’m advocating for is for you to STOP going with the flow of life, avoiding your intuition, and/or becoming an obsessive data tracker. That’s not what I’m saying at all.

Here is what I am saying.

Life is short. Most of us want to make the most of the time we have. It’s hard to do that if we aren’t willing to sit still for a second and ask ourselves some hard questions about what kind of life we want to live, and how we might go about influencing that outcome.

In my case, I’m ultimately just trying to live as honest a life as I possibly can. I want to live a life of integrity…which is to say…I want my actions to reflect my values as closely as possible. To do that, I have to not only pay attention, I have to invest in it.

I have to be willing to constantly check in and ponder…what are my values? What kind of life do I want to live? Who is the “I” who wants to live that way, anyway?

Then I have to take a look at my life and the way I’m moving in it. How am I spending my time? Who am I spending my time with? What kinds of things am I doing each day? Are my actions in alignment with the kind of person I say I want to be? Am I, in other words, living honestly?

Finally…I have to start examining whether the values I profess to have and the actions I am taking to honor them are, in fact, giving me the outcomes I claim I need.

I don’t know about you, but when I ask myself these questions, I sometimes end up with uncomfortable answers. I asked myself these questions when I was living in San Francisco, working in a high stress job, coping with insomnia, and desperately trying to manage my anxiety. I really wanted to want to stay in San Francisco. But you know what? The data didn’t support that choice. I spent more of my time in survival mode than I spent feeling at ease. I had to go.

I asked myself these questions when I was trying to make my most recent relationship stick. I loved him SO much. I didn’t want to let him go. But the data didn’t support staying. We spent more time fighting than we spent building connection and intimacy. We had to let it go.

I wanted to find a way to stay in the Bay Area of California. I wanted that big “Boss” position. I wanted to stay in a four-bedroom house. I looked at my finances. I looked at the time I was spending in traffic. I looked at the time I wasn’t spending cultivating relationships and practicing self care. The data didn’t support it. So I quit that job. I moved out of the Bay Area.

And you know what?  I work in a job I am passionate about, and with people I feel at home with. I spend my free time on self care and on my private practice. I feel at ease. The data supports the way I am currently living my life right now.

Please note…I didn’t ignore my intuition in favor of data. I partnered my intuition with data. This life I am living right now? A single gal working as a health educator with her dog and her cat in Salem Oregon? It’s fabulous! Right now. It might not always work. My job isn’t done. I just need to keep looking at the data.

Because, so far as I can tell…life is a kind of experiment (at least it is if we are doing it right). We ask a question and send it out into the universe. Then we make as educated a guess as we can about what we think might be a good answer. We might have an intuition about that answer. We don’t ignore that intuition. But we also don’t follow it, blindly. Instead, we collect data. We analyze the data. We summarize what the data is telling us. Then, we go about creating our next experiment. No judgement. Just a strong dose of curiosity and a willingness to go out and play.

What is an experiment you are currently working on in YOUR life right now? If you don’t have one…what might be one worth designing?