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What do hula-hoopers, big-wave surfers and composers have in common? A state of “flow”

19 Mar

270333_4710143305586_564870044_nFor those of you who do follow my blog, you may have realized I’m a pretty big hoop enthusiast, who also enjoys an everyday runner’s high.

 Although the physical benefits of running and spinning a circle on various parts of my body may seem obvious, it’s the mental state I’m in when I go on a 5-mile run, or do a freestyle hoop-dance to a 10-track playlist that brings me back after a long workday.

The constant to-do list engrained in my brain melts away, and in that moment, I am only thinking of the task at hand.

This mental state, coined by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, is called “flow.” In short, flow means being completely engaged in a present moment, enjoying that action and letting all other stressors stay in the back of your mind. This state can be achieved by countless activities: playing chess, writing music, skateboarding, painting, and the list goes on. The main point is that the motivation to do these activities must come from within yourself.  But in order to enter this mental state of flow there are several components that must be met:

  1. The activity must have clear goals and objectives.
  2. The task must have clear and immediate feedback.
  3. One must have a good balance between the perceived challenges of the task and their perceived skills. A task too difficult may cause frustration.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi credited more satisfactory lives to those who regularly entered the state of flow.

In this digital age of constant distraction, entering a state of flow is becoming ever more difficult. Looking back, I think in my early writing days circa 1996, I would enter a state of flow while writing—in my Lisa Frank journal– what I had for dinner that night. I just loved the act of writing and putting my feelings physically on paper. But, with Facebook now giving noise notifications, writing has become one of my tasks that I flip through while reading email or sending a Tweet. Perhaps I need to go back to the pencil and paper (if I did this blog post may have been half of the length.)

When flow is achieved , productivity, awareness and learning all come more easily.  For this reason, Stephen Kotler, Jamie Wheal, and their team have started an initiative called the “Flow Genome Project.” Their project aims to map the genome of flow by the year 2020, and to discover how to reverse-engineer flow states. They credit the Montessori school movement with creating effective learning environments which incorporate elements of flow such by using “a prepared environment, auto-didactic materials, and multi-sensory progressive challenges, according to their website.”

“In training bodies and brains, and verifying our findings objectively, we will end up with a more precise and nuanced understanding of what peak performance looks like and feels like and be able to apply this knowledge directly to our lives and work in the world,” they conclude.

This similar idea is even making its way to local (for me, Florida) flow enthusiasts. Casandra Tannenbaum is launching a project called the Flow Arts Movement, which will bring flow arts such as hula hooping, poi spinning, juggling and the like to teach science lessons in areas such as kinetic energy.

“It is primarily focused on education, and cultivating a model for bringing flow arts into K-12 and afterschool classrooms as arts enrichment, integrated into any of the major curricular areas of formalized education,” Tannenbaum said.  “We are also spreading the model of family friendly, publicly accessible flow festivals to cities and communities throughout the states.”

Tannenbaum started hula hooping in 2001, she fell in love with how the activity made her feel, although she didn’t know the scientific term for it and began teaching and spreading the hoop trend throughout Florida, and is the organizer of an annual festival called Florida Flow Fest.

“Flow is winking at God,” Tannenbaum said. “It’s like a full body mind high, earth, the sun and stars, and all the planets aligned to give you exactly what you want, which is nothing more than the most clear and undiluted presence in the moment-to-moment chaotic dance of universal energy and light which is us, exactly, unrestrained and beautifully loving.”

So, a state of flow may be easier to achieve when you’re doing an activity which requires full focus, such as big wave surfing, where distraction could result in a wipeout. The same goes with all extreme sports which all require the athlete to be totally immersed in this state. Hoop dance is also one of these activities, because in order to create a seamless dance while manipulating an object takes complete concentration as well.  In short, because of this mental state that I enter while distance running or hula hooping, I use these activities to be a sort of meditation of sorts. These activities pull me away from my normal brain, which sometimes reflects an Internet browser page with too many open tabs.

This mental state can be entered during any activity, given the right conditions.

If an activity (yes, even writing on a deadline) meets these requirements, it is possible to enter this mental state as long as you are only focusing on that one task. (So having Facebook and Twitter open while writing a work report or research paper may inhibit flow). There are several benefits of flow to take into consideration:

Benefits of flow:

  1. Time passes quickly (Time flies when you’re having fun, or just really concentrated on one thing)
  2. What you’re doing feels important (mainly because you initiated the act)
  3. You’re not self-conscious
  4. Action and awareness comes together
  5. You feel in control (contrary to feeling stressed and not in control)
  6. Your mind feels rewarded.

“Enjoyment appears at the boundary between boredom and anxiety, when the challenges are just balanced with the person’s capacity to act, ” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says in his book on the subject, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.

Check out more articles on the psychology of flow!

Editor’s picks for 2013

2 Dec

banner_final2.jpgI know we still have a month left in 2013.

But with finals and holiday break coming up, I felt it would be appropriate to make a “Best of” post highlighting some of my favorite posts. Since a majority of the blog is written by me, I feel this aggregation serves as a reflection on the type of science writing I have done and the posts I enjoyed the most. But, I’ve also had some amazing guest bloggers this year and will also be including some of their posts as well. So check out the stories below in case you missed them! Thank you to all my loyal followers.

P.S. Once my thesis is over, expect big things!

Best of Layman’s Terms Media, 2013 (no particular order)

Breast cancer vaccines are nothing new: By Dorothy Hagmajer   “Am I going to die?”  That was Susan Foster’s first question when her doctor told her she had breast cancer.Continue reading

Science in the city: In the basement of the emergency medicine corridor of UF Health Jacksonville, Robert Wears, M.D., a professor in the department of emergency medicine, scans engineering books and medical journals, taking notes on his cluttered desk. He is carefully piecing together the historical puzzle of hospital safety.—> Continue reading

Eat, love and die. The short, but meaningful lives of love “bugs: Miss Plecia is all dolled up. She has been stuffing herself full of organic material and nectar in her swampy-syle pad for the past 20 days with hopes of finding her lifelong mate.—> Continue reading

What exactly is pus? Find out in 15 seconds.Wendy Corrales joins us this week to explain the gross, gooey liquid that plagues teenagers–pus!—-> Continue reading

What’s the deal with Dengue Fever? If you live in Florida, don’t ignore.As a Floridian I have somewhat become immune to the feel of a mosquito bite. The annoying quick itch sensation is quickly thwarted by the thoughtless reflex of my hand slapping the affected area and then quickly scratching up and down for a few seconds. After that, I pretty much forget about the bite.—> Continue reading

Scientist uses Instagram videos to explain anatomy concepts in 15 secondsI am always looking for people who share a passion for science and genuinely want to get others excited about it too, which is one of the main reasons I’m studying science communication. While I was in D.C. for the Science Online Climate Conference, I stayed with my friend Steph who introduced me to Wendy Corrales via Facebook. She showed me her videos and I was cracking up.—> Continue reading

UF researcher says T cells the answer to cancer vaccines: John “Bobby” Goulding, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in the department of pathology, immunology and laboratory medicine at the University of Florida, is in a scramble to help create safe and effective vaccines to prevent and fight human respiratory viruses.—>Continue reading

Rebecca Burton is the founder and editor of Layman's Terms Media. Started in 2011, this blog has been used to exercise Rebecca's love of science writing. These posts were selected based on how much was learned throughout the writing process, or the stories that were simply the most fun.

Rebecca Burton is the founder and editor of Layman’s Terms Media. Started in 2011, this blog has been used to exercise Rebecca’s love of science writing. These posts were selected based on how much was learned throughout the writing process, or the stories that were simply the most fun.

What’s for dinner? Island fish, brah: Study shows Hawaiian restaurant menus hold clues to reef healthMost of us look at menus simply to make a quick decision about what we are going to consume in the near future and at what price. We then give it back to our server and the menu is most likely forgotten. –> Continue reading

Abusive mothers’ DNA and the economy could share the blame with Florida DCF for recent child deaths: The Florida Department of Children and Families has been under fire for the past couple of years for failing to stop child abuse and neglect, resulting in thedeaths of seven childrenwho the department said were in “no immediate danger.” —> Continue reading

Wearing goggles to surf: Kook status or Florida Red Tide?: I took a deep breath in. Smelling the saltwater has always been my ritual before starting the process of unloading my surfboard. But, this time I did not feel refreshed or enlightened by the beach breeze. My eyes started to water.—> Continue reading

Native Florida wildlife caught on camera: By Michael Stone Wildlife photographer Michael Stone, a graduate student in science/health communications at the University of Florida, posts the different species and subspecies he sees in his online catalog.—> Continue reading

Great whites use stored liver oil to power through ocean “road trips”Bears, sea lions and whales rely on their external blubber to power through hibernations and migrations. For them, a little extra flab is crucial to their survival.—> Continue reading

 Sea turtles are Gulf travelers, scientists sayGulf Loggerheads were always thought to be homebodies. After the females nested, they would make a home at their local beach. They would never travel too far from familiarity.—> Continue reading

AAV: from ‘Almost A Virus’ to ‘An Awesome Virus’: In 1965, adeno-associated virus (AAV) was discovered while hitching a ride into the cell with adenovirus, which is a virus that causes the fretted pink eye, cold sores and sore throats.—> Continue reading

The Skinny on Good Fats and Bad Fats: How both will affect your health: By Megan Khan Karen Diet trends come in waves. One decade we see the rejection of carbohydrates, and we shun animal products the next. Some of you reading this right now may remember the low fat craze of the 90’s–it was then that fat got a bad rep. The reputation has stuck so much that “fat” is now considered an insult.—> Continue reading

Will tiny drones cure Floridians’ cynicism toward hurricanes? Most residents of Florida–a state constantly pummeled by tropical storms and hurricanes—have become overly cynical of the often hyped-up weather news warning that the latest tropical action in the Gulf of Mexico or off the coast of the Atlantic Ocean could be deadly. —> Continue reading

Croaking Cuban frogs Create Competition in South Florida: Southern Florida, particularly the more metropolitan areas such as Miami and Ft. Lauderdale are definitely not known for being quiet areas. The constant honking of horns, people yelling in multiple languages and bold headlines of bizarre news events make South Florida a melting pot of noise. —>Continue reading

Why Nemo would face an inevitable mid-life crisis: A finding Nemo 2 would not be Disney friendlyIf you’ve seen the movie Finding Nemo, and didn’t like it–shame on you! Pixar movies always have the right amount of humor, recognizable voices and great graphics that make them appealing to both children and adults. Their sequels are almost always just as profitable as the originals, and they’re ability to make animation seem like reality is superb! But, although I love this movie, there are serious factual flaws.—>Continue reading

Monkeys in Florida? iPhonatography from a jungle in Central FloridaAs I pondered ideas on what to do on Memorial Day Monday, I decided I needed to explore the land-locked area of Florida I often complain about, being a spoiled coastal girl who is accustomed to living near a beach. A friend mentioned a trip he took where he saw wild monkeys on an island in the middle of Silver River, near Silver Springs, Fla. After doing some preliminary research (mainly hear-say from Gainesville locals) I found out that  Silver River was the filming site the early Tarzan movies. Some of the monkeys escaped, bred and hence that is why there are wild monkeys in Florida.—> Continue reading

When did eating become so confusing? Tips to simplify your diet: By Megan Khan Karen There are hundreds of diets that are said to make you healthier than you have ever been, rejuvenate your body, avoid certain cancers, help you fit in your high school jeans and the list goes on. From the Atkins diet to the current “juicing” craze, we are fed heaps of “truths” about certain diets that are usually based on a tiny kernel of truth and a whole lot of anecdotal “evidence.”—> Continue reading

Warning: Smoothies can cause sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgiaIt’s that time of year again. Summer. Hot. Humid.The urge to swap that hot coffee for a refreshing smoothie may overcome you. But beware, drinking cold drinks can cause a condition called sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia.—> Continue reading

What do hula-hoopers, big-wave surfers and composers have in common? A state of “flow”For those of you who do follow my blog, you may have realized I’m a pretty big hoop enthusiast, who also enjoys an everyday runner’s high. Although the physical benefits of running and spinning a circle on various parts of my body may seem obvious, it’s the mental state I’m in when I go on a 5-mile run, or do a freestyle hoop-dance to a 10-track playlist that brings me back after a long workday.—> Continue reading

Be swamp-conscious: Pet owners should be aware of deadly pathogen in Gainesville: By Jackson Presser Pythium insidiosum is common in stagnant, swampy water (lakes/ponds with water temperatures ranging from 68F-95F) worldwide, and the very type of water that is a staple of Gainesville and surrounding areas.  Pythiosis affects its host depending on how it is introduced. Dogs, horses, cattle and other mammals can be infected simply by wading or drinking water that has been tainted with the infection. —> Continue reading

From “ice cream socials” to science: Creating confidence in young journalists

15 Oct

banner_final2.jpgDuring the past few sleep-deprived months, I have been attempting to reflect on my role in science communication–as a journalist, as a blogger, as a future mentor and as a grad student. For those of you who don’t know, I started Layman’s Terms Media because I have always had a passion for science.

Ever since I was about five years old, my elders have encouraged me to write. They said I was good at it, that it came naturally to me. I guess my first-grade journal entries about what I had for dinner the night before were impressive. I could always expect to receive at least one new trendy journal at every birthday party.

To me, writing was just a way to express myself and the world around me, I never thought about pursuing it professionally. It was my vice, my learning tool and my sense maker.

My early career aspirations ranged from being an Olympic gymnast to other common childhood dreams such as being a doctor, teacher or movie star. I ultimately decided to attend journalism school not only because writing came fairly easy to me, but I also saw it as a way to learn a little about a lot of things.

I originally started Layman’s Terms Media as a senior project–one of which I predicted would be live only until grades posted, eventually doomed to get swallowed in the abyss of the Internet, never to be found again (except, maybe by some obscure search terms).

While interning and freelancing at multiple “mainstream media” outlets, I exhaustively tried to pitch stories about science, but I was constantly rejected. Instead, I would be told to cover the typical “ice cream social” (a word journalists use to describe an irrelevant, fluffy, feature story). Those types of stories are fun at first, but they aren’t the kind of scoop that gets your adrenaline going.  I decided to take matters into my own hands. I wasn’t going to progress with science writing as a non-scientist unless I started writing it for an audience, no matter how big.

And then it dawned on me….publishing is free on the Internet!

I guess I should’ve thought of this sooner since I had been blogging about nonsense since I was 13 via ancient blogging sites like Xanga and Live Journal.

And then I thought: Why not use that to my advantage and write what I want to write about? I mean, I had formal journalism training why not use it to learn and grow as a science writer?

From there, Layman’s Terms Media kind of turned into my personal platform to do so. With no editor (except myself) I began writing regularly. I set deadlines for myself as if this blog was an ACTUAL publication. I pretended I had readers, and would (and still do) post my stories on Facebook and Twitter in attempts to get some sort of critical eyes.

And here I am, two years later.  I have a steady readership–it’s modest, but it’s something–and I can honestly say that writing for this “publication,” although not mainstream, has satisfied me in ways I’ve never experienced while covering “ice cream socials.”

The point of this post is not to ramble about my personal mission to become a science communicator, or share my narrative about how this site came to be. Rather, this post is to explain where I would like Layman’s Terms Media to go. I am writing it publicly so that you, the audience, can hold me accountable for the vision I am about to share. Continue reading

5 Myths about Science communication

9 Sep
My thesis data-collecting semester is all but calm, and I haven’t been able to sit down and really write a post in a couple of weeks (although I have a few in the making). Because of this I’ve decided to recycle some of my old posts that were published at the birth of this blog, which means they were probably never read. This post is from my first semester of grad school last fall when I was just beginning to learn about the complexities of science communication. I began making visuals to help me learn and this was one of the first! Enjoy!

If you’re a follower of science, health or communication-related topics, please follow along and comment! Since most people probably don’t have the time to read long journal articles, I’ll just summarize the key points and make them into illustrations.

Here is the first one, the “5 myths of Science Communication,” from an opinion article titled “Scientists Intuitive Failures,” from The Scientist.

Six word memoirs: Reflection

2 Oct

While this blog is mainly to share science, health or any other articles I write, it is also to share the journey of a struggling journalist. When I say “struggling” I don’t necessarily mean it in a negative way. The struggles I’ve faced have helped shape my life and get me to where I am today, and I can’t complain about the present.

To write was always my first passion, and since 75 percent of the birthday presents I ever received were journals, I took a hint and kept doing it. My reason for writing has changed somewhat. I used to write for myself and would only do so to reflect, put things in perspective and to organize my life in my mind.

Now, since I’ve gone through J-school I see journalism as storytelling for the public good.

As I was reading one of my journals (the one I kept the summer before I moved to Miami) I came across a page titled “Six Word Memoirs.” I remember writing that after seeing a book by the same name, where authors and celebrities were asked to write about themselves in six words. I decided to post the ones I wrote when I was 18, naive and a beach bum in Pensacola.

18-year old memoirs:


Will break curse by strong ambition.

There is no being too nice.

Restlessness will cause a fulfilling life.

The black sheep always breaks away.

Never judged, just refused to be.

She lived practically to be independent.

Change is good unless to conform.

Never was satisfied with stagnant surroundings.

While some of these may only make sense to me, the only one I would change is the one about being too nice. But then again, that’s a different story. I encourage any writer, journalist or even recent graduate who is undergoing a huge change in your life to try to write a few. They don’t have to be biographical. Use them to reflect, state life goals or even just for a writing exercise. You may be surprised at what you come up with.

Coming soon: 23-year-old memoirs.

How is health literacy measured in America?

18 Sep

Health communicators face the challenge of communicating what can be complex subjects to the general public. To do this, measures of a particular audience’s health literacy may be measured to create a strategic communication plan. Surprisingly, the form below is how health literacy is tested in the United States.

Is this enough? Is there a more comprehensive strategy? This test simply measures whether or not the patient can read the words aloud, not if they can comprehend them. Research also shows that a majority of the population is health illiterate based on this test. What are effective mediums that health communicators can use to educate lay people?

This, is of course a rhetorical question that will appreciate any comment. I hope I will slowly learn some sort of answer to this question as I research more.

The Rapid Estimate of Adult Literacy in Medicine takes two to three minutes to complete and can be administered by a nurse or other staff member.

What exactly is “Science Communication” anyway?

7 Sep

Communication can come in many different forms, but must always have a goal in mind. With this definition of science communication, found in the Public Understanding of Science Journal, communicators can better articulate what the point of their articles are.

5 Myths about Science communication

7 Sep

Since the majority of graduate schoolwork is reading academic journals about a particular area of interest I have decided to start blogging the interesting articles I read. Since my specialization in Science/Health communication, these are the topics I will be posting about on a weekly basis.

If you’re a follower of science, health or communication-related topics, please follow along and comment! Since most people probably don’t have the time to read long journal articles, I’ll just summarize the key points and make them into illustrations.

Here is the first one, the “5 myths of Science Communication,” from an opinion article titled “Scientists Intuitive Failures,” from The Scientist.