Geri Moran - Second Thoughts

Find a Way

Diana Nyad is my current idol. 64 years old and on her 5th try, she became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage. 110 miles and nearly 53 hours, her lips so swollen she could barely speak, she finally achieved a feat she first attempted while in her twenties. READ THAT AGAIN – SIXTY FOUR years old!

Her mantra when she felt she could go on no longer was “find a way.” She had a goal – it took her 35 years – but she found a way to make it happen. Few people could even keep a goal or dream alive that long. And maybe many people along the way told her she was foolish. How many times did people tell her to give it up?

I recently achieved a goal I have had for at least six years – had an article published in Somerset Studio magazine. It felt so good that I actually jumped up and down in excitement when I found out (much to the detriment of my knees). I also reached one lifetime goal this year – I did not die young! LOL Yes, I have reached what my cousin Rita calls, the youth of your old age. However, sadly, and much to the disappointment of my close friends’ and family’s self interest, I have not achieved my other life goal of winning Publishers Clearing House. But I haven’t given up, even though some people think I am living in a dream world, they like me here and I am staying. What’s the harm?

So what goal are you struggling with? I have found that when you reach a goal it makes you want to reach for something else. I used to teach an adult education goal setting seminar and was surprised by how many people just don’t know where to start. I am going to be offering private and group goal setting sessions again soon but if you are looking for a place to start, start with this: You are 85 years old. What do you regret not having done?

Slogging Into Fall

Yesterday I managed to pick the pile of dirty laundry up off the guest room floor. Now, you may be thinking that this act should not be raised to the level of an accomplishment since there shouldn’t BE a pile of dirty laundry on the floor. But given my diminishing interest in housework and overall summer apathy towards any kind of work, I am thinking it was a goal, I made it happen.

There was a time when September’s arrival still had the shiny newness of composition books and pencil cases, the beauty of colored leaves, the joys of good sleeping temperatures and the simple pleasure of once again donning a sweater. Now it just seems to mean our commutes return to to being a horrid 50 minute adventure of near death experiences with hordes of other disgruntled drivers, the return of work stress, the list of fall chores, and the haggle with home heating oil companies intent on making the oil bill equal the GNP of a small Central American country. I almost forgot fall allergies and dread of the forecasted colder than normal winter.

Alas, I have no wisdom to impart here today – only complaints. So, I need your help! What, dear readers, do you love about Fall and how do YOU get over summer’s end? Let us know.

Something New

I took a workshop in stand-up comedy with the multi-talented Peggy Boyce. She gave us an exercise which was meant to unleash some writing creativity. We were told simply to do something we had never done before and write about it. It could be any simple thing – it didn’t have to be anything wild and adventurous, just something new.

The building I work at has a very wide footprint and there is a sidewalk that goes around the perimeter. A colleague and I were having a meeting and because it was one of those suddenly beautiful days she suggested we walk while we talked. Since walking all the way around the building was something I hadn’t done before, I thought I would multi-task by suggesting we do that.

I didn’t tell my coworker of my ulterior motive – especially since I thought it was probably a lame new thing to do that wouldn’t really provide me with any writing material.

So we walked and talked and got about three quarters of the way around the building when suddenly, for no apparent reason, the sidewalk ended! We both just stopped and started laughing. My initial thoughts went to the beloved Shel Silverstein book “Where the Sidewalk Ends.” It struck us so funny that for no apparent reason the sidewalk just stopped – without destination, explanation or obvious reason. So we had to turn around and go back the way we came. All sorts of funny things occurred to us, like what if highways did that – just stopped without an exit – and all the cars had to turn around and go back where they came from. Or, was it some metaphor for getting to the end of the road of life? Did they run out of concrete? Did the workers get tired?

So, the next time you are stuck, whether it be a funky mood, a rut, trying to solve a problem or come up with a creative idea – just try something new. Here are some easy to do suggestions:

  • Drive down road or street you were never on before
  • Go to the library and pick up a magazine you wouldn’t normally read
  • Go to sleep in a different room
  • Listen to a different genre of music than you normally do
  • Learn to play a new board game or card game

Happy discovering – and let us know what you did!

Why Am I Here?

Many of you seemed to like the brain info from the last post so here is some more. Why am I here? We have all asked ourselves that question – maybe not existentially – but during those times when you walk into a room with a specific purpose and suddenly you have no idea why you are there or what you were about to do. (Do not lie to us, it has happened to you too.) Early onset, senility, brain tumor, terminal stupidity – all of these reasons flood your mind as you stand there perplexed and wishing you hadn’t done recreational pharmaceuticals in college (or yesterday).

You can stop worrying – it’s not your fault. It is EST – not the 80’s group human potential craze – but what scientists call Event Segmentation Theory. It is believed that the brain divides experiences into segments in order to provide structure for memory and attention. The brain tracks features of you current environment or experience. An unpredictable change in critical features of the event is perceived as an “event boundary.” These changes could involve color, sound, movement, or the completion of a task. After an even boundary, the brain stores information from the preceding event and leaves out what it might consider to be unimportant information. This serves to assist long-term memory and learning and, in a way, leaves the brain refreshed for the next experience. Due to this phenomenon your memory of something that occurred before the event boundary may not be as strong as your awareness of what is happening in the current event.

Well, after 20 years of research in the field, Notre Dame scientist, Gabriel Rodvansky, has discovered that the act of walking thru a door is perceived by our brains as an event boundary! That thing you were going to do is not as important to your brain anymore as that new room you are standing in. That sure made me feel better so I hope nobody challenges his findings.

So, to combat this you can tear down all your walls and move to an open floor plan OR you could just make yourself more aware of your intentions right before you walk thru that door. I wonder if Rodvansky would have discovered this sooner if he hadn’t been walking thru doors.

Science has now given us absolution for one of our perceived shortcomings – but you should still stay away from the recreational pharmaceuticals and terminally stupid people.

Of Two Minds

While we can all walk and chew gum at the same time (well, hopefully my readers are of that caliber), there are things you cannot do at the same time. Have you ever been out for a walk with someone and suddenly had to stop walking to process something that came up – like a complex calculation or a “wait-what?” moment. In his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Hahneman explains that the brain has two different cognitive systems. System 1 is for the instinctual, emotional, and automatic easy stuff of life – things you can do without much thinking after you have mastered them – like driving or walking. Without System 1 we would be unable to make and retain simple connections (stove hot), or be able to quickly add 2 plus. System 2 is more focused and takes effort, like when you are trying to do a difficult equation or understand a new concept.

System 1 is fast and it likes things to be neat, connected and simple. It is the quick appraising part of the brain and can make assumptions for facts not in evidence. For example, if all you know about a person is that they are attractive, in “the halo effect”, the brain assumes they are also competent. System 2 is slower and conscious, and actually can be so intense as to lower your body’s glucose levels. When you are in System 2 mode you are more likely to give into temptation, which together with the lowered glucose level could be why I need to grab a sugary snack after intense periods of concentration (at least that is the excuse I am now using – you have permission to quote me as an expert and use it yourself).

The trouble is that sometimes we can be locked into System 1 thinking because it has a tendency to think that the bit of information that we have is enough to inform us and once locked into that our brains can refuse to absorb facts that challenge those assumptions. I personally think it is that it is System 1 that makes us react to all the email scams so well engineered to make us click that link or sign that petition. In fact, marketing materials can be designed to take advantage of our System 1 reflex thinking by using bold type or rhyming jingles – making the messages simple and memorable.

Both systems also play a part in experience and memory. Your remembrance of an experience is constructed by System 2, but it is strongly influenced by System 1, which has a tendency to judge an experience by its final moments. If the first week of your vacation is great, but your car broke down during the last week, your memory will more likely be dominated by the unpleasant experience. Now I finally understand why, when my family gets together, the stories our siblings tell sound like we had completely different childhoods – our memories are influenced by these dual mind workings!

We need both systems in order to function and being aware of the workings and pitfalls of both can help us make better choices and decisions. So when you say you are of two minds about something – you really are.


Your Turn: From our last issue. Well, it seems that all of you were much better at putting away the holiday stuff without my motivational tool of humiliation – at least that is what some of you have claimed. I have no choice but to take you at your word, albeit with a tiny bit of skepticism. Now go take down

Post Holiday Procrastination

Pre-holiday I am motivated by the urgency of the looming deadline – in spite of our pleas, the powers that be have refused to move Christmas to a more convenient time. The house got decorated, the gifts done, the dinners made, the company had.

But now it is all over. Even my annual January brunch is over so I have no more excuses to begin the task of taking it all down. But I procrastinate. There is not motivation to undertake this task. The decorating has its own built in motivation – the end result of beautifully festive surroundings. That keeps me going because I can envision how nice it is going to look. But taking it down? There is no joy in that at all. The home that you were satisfied with and looked just fine before the holiday decor, is going to look forlorn, boring, cold without them. Since most of us cannot just go out and buy new furniture there is no remedy. I wonder if this is why more people are doing decorating for Valentine’s Day – to ease that transition.

I cannot seem to summon the energy to start schlepping it all down to the basement or up to the attic. For me, there is only one motivational tool left – humiliation.

I had an excuse to have it up until now because I had a rescheduled holiday party yesterday. But now the excuses are over. We have all seen the houses that have their holiday decor left up well into March. Even more pitiable are the folks who forget to turn off the timer and still have the lights go on every nite or have those air filled lawn figures come to life again. They are just screaming their procrastination to the world. I do not want to be one of them.

It is well documented that the human psyche will do more to avoid pain than to gain pleasure. Ultimately that will be my motivation – avoiding humiliation of having friends stop by in March and be welcomed with December.

Your Turn: So what task will you be using the motivational tool of humiliation for? Let us know and we will help you by casting scornful side eyes at you to get you started.


I recently decided to corral all the memorabilia and keepsakes from the various corners of the house, and finally put it most of it together into albums. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t create work of art scrap books; I just wanted to get it in one place, weed it out and segregate it from the rest of the flotsam and jetsam of paper in my life. It struck me as absolutely amazing that there were items I once cared about enough to squirrel away,  which leave me now completely perplexed as to why! I found a stone – a flat smooth stone like you might use for skimming across the water. I have absolutely no clue as to where it was from or what it was supposed to signify. I am fairly certain that I am free of any medical problem that would cause me to forget, other than the normal erosion of readily accessible information that occurs as we leave our 40s behind (which was not a very recent passing for me).

I also found pages of an old address book. While most of the names were familiar to me, and happily many of the people still in my life, there were names that I am convinced someone else must have surreptitiously entered into said address book while I was sleeping. Who are these people?! It isn’t even that I remember the name but can’t place the face, I might just as well have picked these names randomly from the phone book.

So lessons learned:

  • You WILL forget the funny things your kids say, so write them down.
  • You will NOT remember the person whose contact info you are entering when 5 years from now you decide to clean out your contact list. Unless you are related by blood or ceremony to the person, annotate the entry liberally.
  • You WILL suddenly remember that it was an important relic if you throw it out, so if you keep something, label it right away.

I enjoy keeping things that help me recall fond memories – my memory isn’t going to get better with time and it might need these little boosts. I did find many things that I do remember well and that warmed my heart all over again. Among them, an embroidered handkerchief from an elderly woman who I had helped long ago, a very touching letter of solace from someone I knew briefly but who was very kind to me, a great card with congratulatory messages from former coworkers after a promotion, and an assortment of funny greeting cards from my son. These things remind me of how much we touch each other’s lives and that often we don’t realize how deeply, or for how long. So maybe we will all do something today that will make someone a memory. What a nice thought.

“God gave us memories that we might have roses in December”

~ James M. Barrie


First of all I must do an update on my last Second Thoughts – Guilt and Garbage. Someone DID come by and take a couple of my chairs and my brother, (Dr Tom Moran, world’s greatest chiropractor) bucking my suggestion to toss broken things because you won’t repair them, defiantly DID repair several broken items, thus saving our planet from more trash. Of course I take all the credit for having inspired him to do it.

That started me thinking about inspiration and calls to action and what is actually triggered in the brain to make that happen.

  • Pain – Tony Robbins stresses that we are inspired more by avoiding pain than by gaining pleasure. So when the pain of not doing something exceeds the pleasure of avoiding it we will be motivated to act. So the pain of not fitting into the pants has to exceed the pleasure of eating the ice cream – not easy.
  • Music - In his book, The Mozart Effect, psychologist Don Campbell discusses how music can alter your mental state and has lists of music types with corresponding effects. Latin music inspires us physically, making our bodies want to move; jazz, blues or soul music can inspire us emotionally, classical music can improve concentration and memory. Hip hop and heavy metal excites our nervous system which could make you want to act in a self expressive way.
  • Well I’ll Show You – I don’t know the psychological term for this but needing to prove someone wrong (like my brother and the broken things) can inspire us to action – hopefully for good.
  • Commitment to Another – I did a five minute gig at a comedy open mic night this week. I wanted to change my mind and not go but I promised a fellow aspiring comic I would go with him and didn’t want to renege. When it was over I was glad that I had kept my promise, and despite the wanting to vomit for the entire 48 hours before the performance, I might do it again – all because I promised someone else.

And then there are things that inspire me the wrong way. I don’t know about you but I cannot take one more Sarah McLaughlin sad-eyed dog commercial. They inspire me to change the channel – not sure why, maybe it’s the sheer frequency of them or the feeling of being so blatantly manipulated.

“My sole inspiration is a telephone call from a director.”

~ Cole Porter

Guilt and Garbage

Recently a client of mine was surprised to hear that I was throwing out paper that I had accumulated. So here is the public confession – I am a pack rat, but an organized one – especially when it comes to paperwork (my basement? um, that’s not important right now).  Even when you are organized, the paperwork does require periodic purging to stay that way.

But looking at the other things I have noticed that are hard for all of us to let go of, I realized that with much of it there is guilt attached! So get rid of the guilt and get rid of the garbage.

  • Broken thingsbut I can fix it! How can I throw out something that is fixable? No, you won’t fix it. If you really, really intend to fix it put a date on it. If the next time you look at the thing that date has passed, throw it out. And let’s face it, sadly, it is hard to find places to fix things and often cheaper to replace.
  • Ghastly gifts - but I don’t want to hurt their feelings. Neither do I. Acknowledge the good intention behind the gift and leave it out a respectable amount of time and then pass it on to an organization that can use it.
  • Out of date clothing and accessoriesbut styles come back! That is very, very true – even red jeans from the 80’s are making a comeback now. I had them then (although now I wouldn’t get my arm into the leg of them – I was so thin then :-( ). But sadly, a fashion rule I have heard is if you wore it the first time around, it will be inappropriate on you (read “too old”) to wear it when it comes round again. (think fringed vests, bell bottoms, and peace jewelry).
  • Clothes that don’t fit anymorebut I can lose weight, or worse, might gain - This is probably the hardest for weight yoyo folks like me. My new rule is I throw out the biggest (I vow never to be that size again) and the smallest (get real, you were anorexic), and keep just a few larger items (reality check – it happens) so I don’t have to go thru the agony of buying something if I sneak up a little.
  • You just hate it - but it is good/expensive/usable - So what? Someone else may love it.

I have to work on almost all of these situations myself – told you, I am by nature a pack rat. I have passed this on to my son to his girlfriend’s dismay. Sorry Erin. I even have a couple of broken chairs to get rid of – (they could be fixed or refinished). Hey, if there are any handy people out there you are welcome to them!

Guilt: the gift that keeps on giving”   ~Erma Bombeck


Quick, what did you have for lunch yesterday? If you are among my younger readers it doesn’t count if you remembered immediately, but if you are over 40 congratulations for remembering at all. It isn’t that our brains can’t remember as we get older, but that things do slow down. The retrieval process, for example, takes longer. That’s why I want to start a new version of the tv game show Jeopardy – “Jeopardy 40+”. In this version, nobody is allowed to answer for 30 seconds, thereby giving our brains time to open the file cabinet drawers as it were and evening out the playing field.

Clearly the IT people who want us to change our passwords monthly, make them random non-words with symbols, without any sequential alpha numeric characters, and all WITHOUT WRITING THEM DOWN ANYWHERE, have not yet reached the age where this is a small challenge.

So, how do we get things to stick? In his book, The Owner’s Manual for the Brain, Pierce J. Howard says that to convert information from your short term memory you must purposely want to memorize it. (Which reminds me of the old joke, “How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb? Only one, but the light bulb must really want to change.”)

Howard suggests these 3 steps:

  1. Intend to memorize it
  2. File it by mentally organizing the information.
  3. Rehearse it over and over

Often the failure to remember is actually a failure of attention, rather than of brain function. When we multitask or do things out of habit, it is harder to remember them – like when you are driving on autopilot and you don’t consciously remember passing every point along the way. I have learned that before I leave the house I have to look at the coffee pot and mentally say to myself, yes, I have turned it off, or it won’t stick among all the little running out of the house tasks (or perhaps I should just buy myself an automatic shutoff coffee pot and save the brain space to remember something else!).

I have a friend who always leaves her phone number when she leaves a voice mail. Over time, I could remember hearing the her say the number in her messages and eventually it stuck. That is an example of another device – using different modalities. I have read that if you memorize something while smelling a scent, for example, you will remember it better in the presence of the same scent.

Go now, light a scented candle, memorize that password, and shut off the coffee pot. Oh, and remember to blow out the candle.

“I am so forgetful lately that sometimes I am not sure if I am remembering something, or if it is an entirely new thought” ~ Geri Moran