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Week 3

Mouse in the maze

The spirit in which you do something is often as important as the act itself.

In a study published in 2001, Ronald Friedman and Jens Forster examined how the approach and avoidance systems  affect creativity. They set two groups of college students a simple task. Both groups were given a sheet of paper which showed a cartoon mouse trapped inside the picture of a maze. The task was to help the mouse find a way out of the maze. But there was one slight difference in the pictures the groups received. The ‘approach’ version of the picture showed a piece of Swiss cheese lying outside the maze in front of a mouse hole. The ‘avoidance’ version showed an identical maze except that, instead of a satisfying meal of cheese at the end, an owl hovered over the maze – ready to swoop and catch the mouse at any moment.

The maze takes about two minutes to complete and all the students who took part solved it in about that time, irrespective of the picture they were working on. You might therefore think that there was no significant difference between the groups. But the difference in the after-effects of working on the puzzle was striking. When the participants took a test of creativity soon afterwards, those who had helped the mouse avoid the owl came out with scores 50% lower than those who had helped the mouse find the cheese. The state of mind that was brought about by attending to the owl had produced a lingering sense of caution, avoidance and vigilance for things going wrong. Those participants were comparatively more right prefrontal cortex activated. This weakened their creativity, closed down options for them and reduced their flexibility when it came to the creativity task. (Adapted from "Living mindfully in a frantic world")

 If you do something in a negative or critical way, if you over-think or worry or carry out a task through gritted teeth, then you will activate your minds “aversion system”. This will narrow the focus of your life.
If, however, you do exactly the same thing in an open-hearted, welcoming manner, you thereby activate the mind’s “approach system” -your life has a chance to become richer, warmer, more flexible, and more creative.

In general we react to experience in one of three ways:

a) With attachment - wanting to hold on to experiences that we are currently experiencing or wishing we were having different experiences to those we are having, "wanting things to be different than they are".

b) With aversion - wanting to get rid of experiences that we are having right now or avoid experiences.

c) With indifference - we literally switch off and go into daydream or somewhere else "in our heads", like a spacing out or bored attitude.

Each of these ways can cause pain and suffering - the chocolate cake doesn't last, the back pain is still there and boring household tasks need to be done.

Therefore, it is important that we become familiar with our reactions and responses to stressful events, people and situations we encounter. How we handle the stressors makes the difference between whether they rule our lives or we are at a steering wheel. Becoming more aware of our thoughts, sensations and feelings can allow us to free ourselves from reacting to that of healthier responses.

Practice for week 3:

  1. Breath and body meditation by Mark Williams. Since this is only 8 min practice, you can remain sitting for a few moments in silence. Recommended to try a longer meditation at least once during the week- 20 min Breath and Body meditation by Jon Kabat-Zinn ( be aware theat there are periods of silence in it)
  2. 34 min Befriending the breath by Jon Kabat -Zinn
  3. 3 minutes breathing space, twice a day with or without the guidance. Reading about it.
  4. Fill in Unpleasant events calendar
  5. Habit releaser – turn off the TV when the programme you intended to watch is over, turn off the computer when you are finished with what you intended to do (rather than 2 hours later of Youtube!) and listen to the radio mindfully (are you listening to the same news on 3 different radio station one after another…)
  6. Listen to podcast by Trinity's Sarah -Jane Cullinane
  7. Podcast based on the book "The Serendipity Mindset:The Art and Science of Creating Good Luck" by Christian Busch, PhD
  8. Wise words by Holocost survivor Edith Eger and Podcast with her
  9. Continue weaving mindfulness into your daily life.

Related articles:

3 min video of Science of meditation