I was smart, but now I'm just stupid...
February 8, 2006 12:21 PM   Subscribe

Emotional Intelligence - can I regain it? How much damage/habit can be undone? Looking for book recommendations and/or mental exercises. [long inside]

This is very personal, and I half-wanted to post this anonymously, but I really respect the AskMe community so I'm throwing this on the table and sharing it.

[The very quick version for people who don't want to read it all is this: I was once incredibly gifted. Bad things happened to me and I feel like I lost that gift and also created some bad habits/behavioral reaction patterns. I'm looking for a way to repair that. Now for the detailed version...]

I will try to keep this as short as I can, but don't want to be overly scant on details so it's still long. Basically, I was a "gifted" child - speaking in full sentences before I was a year old.

My parents wanted to cultivate it and not let me be hindered by rather lackluster accomodations of public schools, so they grouped up with other parents when I was very young, and actually created a school for gifted children.

I went there until 5th grade, when money ran out and times became very troubled for my parents, financially. At that point, I was cast back into the public school system having spent all of my childhood only conversing with other very intelligent kids and even moreso with adults. I was completely at home talking about news or technology with my Dad's friends, even when I was a young kid, for example. My IQ tests were somewhat insane, and as we all know, "intelligent" people are often not the most well praised by their peers. That, combined with being short and skinny, made for a difficult experience.

Difficulty became trauma as years went by - I was the victim of a lot of physical and mental bullying. There were multiple occasions where my life was in fact in danger -- to people who I'd barely spoken a word to. I was at the receiving end of vicious bullying by individuals and groups, and it screwed me up big time. My academics suffered, and I changed from an overachiever to an underachiever. I was still "smart", but I just didn't care anymore - grades were meaningless to me. I got mostly A's and B's for a while, then as high school came and went I found myself getting a considerable number of C's. More notably - I found myself incredibly depressed to the point that my health and safety were in danger. The plus side of all of this is how much I learned about social interaction. I was not the socially inept type of nerd, in fact quite the contrary, but I was not good at interacting with the whole "hierarchy" in public school as a dork/outcast. I developed quite a persecution complex, which probably amplified my feelings of depression, loneliness, etc. I was always in a state of "fight or flight", afraid to walk the halls for fear of verbal of physical abuse, and sometimes even afraid to walk home the same way every day. This led to me being sick quite often, and developing a big problem with insomnia.

Thankfully, a trip off to college made a world of difference for me. I continued to underachieve academically, and got mostly B's and C's but did manage to get a respectable degree from a respectable institution. While I didn't do that well with grades, I got a fresh start and made a lot of friends, proving to myself that the whole high school / junior high period of my life was probably not really my fault and I wasn't some sort of freak. I gained a reputation for being able to befriend the frat boys and sorority girls just as easily as I could befriend the nerds or the goth kids or the [insert subculture here]... Socially, I'd say I've become very adept and perceptive for the most part.

Now, as I come up on 28 years old, the depression and persecution complex issues I had are a think of the past. A few things linger, however: When it comes to academic sorts of things, I'm still very impatient and unmotivated. I cannot read a book to save my life unless it's an audiobook, because after 5 pages of "reading", I will realize my mind was in 8 different places and I didn't really take in the last 2. My insomnia lingers, which I've posted about to AskMeFi before. Finally, I spent so much time feeling disliked and abused by my peers that I have a great deal of difficulty accepting (or even believing) praise. In fact, I probably overuse self-deprecating humor.

This was made clear to me when I received my review recently at work. I got a meaningful promotion, and the highest possible rating (which is generally unheard of - nobody gets this rating). I got to read quotes from my peers here at work (anonymous quotes, but real nonetheless) and was astounded at the lengths people went to to describe how great it is to work with me and how intelligent and perceptive I am at my job. My boss had me read these things in my review, and seemed like he was awaiting my verbal response to what I was reading. All I could think to say in response was "I am speechless. I spent so much of my time growing up being the kid who was picked on and had a persecution complex that I have absolutely no clue how to respond to this sort of praise. All I can think to say is 'Wow', and 'Thank You'"

By serendipity's sake or whatever, I've been reading (err, listening to) a book called Emotional Intelligence, and it has clued me in to something: I still have a lot of deep seeded behaviors and beliefs that I really need to work on changing, but I'm afraid that at my age this will be incredibly difficult. I see myself being very defensive at times, and I get very animated and energized when I'm arguing my side of something. I don't yell or resort to attacks, but I just feel like maybe I'm displaying too much vigor. I also see this at the poker table (a serious hobby of mine) -- I react immaturely and stupidly to "bad beats" (when someone catches the 1 card in the deck that saves them, for example). For poker fans out there: I'm no Phil Hellmuth, but I still look back at some of my behavior with embarassment.

How can I learn to slow my brain down enough to read a book instead of having to do audiobooks? How can I learn to relax and not be so defensive? How can I learn to not be so reactive when things don't go my way? Emotional Intelligence is a great book, and has taught me a lot about the neurology of what's going on with me, and has allowed me to understand how my past has shaped my present. What I really want now, though, is to find a way to undo what the past did to me. I was once exceedingly intelligent, and I feel like I've let my intellectual gift go completely to waste because of what happened to me academically in the past. I want to redeem myself and make use of it again, and would love to hear some recommendations for books or other resources that would give me techniques for retraining my mind.

Thanks in advance for reading all of that.
posted by twiggy to Human Relations (29 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I should add/clarify that social interactions with others is something I'm good at. People trust me and tend to come to me for advice, etc. It's the internal stuff I'm looking to improve.
posted by twiggy at 12:24 PM on February 8, 2006

Best answer: Have you considered therapy? That's pretty much the point of most of it -- helping you unravel behaviors and assumptions that are holding you back, helping you work through your past, helping you learn to change yourself. You can do all that on your own, probably, with books and such, but it's so much easier, faster, and more effective to work with someone who's responding to *you*, not an anonymous reading audience.

Working with a therapist is also a great way to learn to trust someone else's judgment.

Meditation is also a good way to retrain and calm the mind. The always-recommended Wherever You Go, There You Are is a great place to start.

And 28 is by no means too old for any of this.
posted by occhiblu at 12:31 PM on February 8, 2006

Go to a Tony Robbins seminar. This is the kind of stuff his seminars are actually very effective at, and it's a whole lot cheaper than traditional therapy, especially if you go to one of the new (and much cheaper) videotaped sessions over a weekend.
posted by gd779 at 12:38 PM on February 8, 2006

Best answer: I can relate to a lot of the things you're saying, a book that really turned me around in terms of maintaining a cool head was A Guide To Rational Living.

It will probably tell you things that you already know, but maybe need reminding of. The key concept is the 'awfullizing' that one tends to do. Instead of saying things like "I'm awful, screw me" or "You're awful, screw you" what you need to consider is "What is truly awful?" and eventually say "That was unfortunate, but not awful. What could I have done?"

The book is a lot more eloquent than me and covers a lot of specific examples for most aspects of living. It deals with the whole "I'm such a disappointment" affliction very successfully and is generally a great educator about the nature of hyperbole in our lives.
posted by dobie at 12:40 PM on February 8, 2006

Heh, I'm not being very mindful, am I? Here's Wherever You Go, There You Are in audio book form. Sorry!
posted by occhiblu at 12:51 PM on February 8, 2006

Since Emotional Intelligence is what potentially set this off, maybe you could participate in a formal "measure" of emotional intelligence.

I've gone through it - and while it can be pretty brutal (and in my case it was) - there are a lot of helpful suggestions that either you, or a shrink, could focus on to help you get over your hump.
posted by purephase at 12:57 PM on February 8, 2006

I am not a medical doctor, but I'm impressed by the track record of cognitive-behavioral therapy. Two oft-recommended books are "Feeling Good" and "Learned Optimism" which are based on research and not as cheesey as the titles suggest. You might find a good C/B therapist and use the books as a supplement. For what it's worth, at 28, from the perspective of someone older, you have lots of time left to redeem yourself.
posted by craniac at 12:57 PM on February 8, 2006

I hate to bring it up because it's such a "fashionable" impairment but your reading problem reminds me of myself. You might consider whether you have what the medical community calls ADD. I've also heard that ADD like symptoms can be cause by post traumatic stress (another fashionable disorder). People connect PTS with extremely violent experiences but I have heard that it can also be caused by less vigorous trauma such as bullying or verbal abuse. Just something else to consider.
posted by Carbolic at 1:00 PM on February 8, 2006

Best answer: I was once exceedingly intelligent, and I feel like I've let my intellectual gift go completely to waste because of what happened to me academically in the past.

I don't think that you're any less intelligent than you used to be. Just because you didn't grow up to be a neurosurgeon doesn't mean you wasted your intelligence (and btw - you can still be a neurosurgeon if you want). Academic achievement is typically more an expression of desire and goal-setting than intelligence - as you said, you did not care about school and grades, so how or why would you have done well in school? Someone not nearly as smart as you who is completely focused on being a (fill in the blank), and who sets specific goals and achieves them is going to succeed in academics. You're not going to become a neurosurgeon if you never apply to medical school.

You say you can't get through books but you want to read a book on how to slow your mind down and read more books? You should probably instead talk to a therapist. It seems evident that, with this long post to AskMe, you'd like to discuss these issues with someone. It'd probably be really good for you to sit down with someone and get all of this stuff off of your chest. You're not the only person to have gone through something like this, I'm sure, and the world is filled with people who showed promise in their youth and are trying to figure out how to use it. Hopefully a therapist will help you either find direction in something that you can pursue and will give you a sense of accomplishment (using your intelligence) or will help you realize that you don't have to maximize your intelligence to be happy.

I think (and I'm sorry if I'm presuming too much) that what you're ultimately after is just some sort of reconciliation of who you were, who you thought you were going to be, what people expected you to be, what you expect yourself to be, and who you actually are. I don't know exactly how you're going to find the answer to all that, but I don't think it will be in a book. You also seem very introspective and very aware of your personality traits and its flaws. I think that right now (and for some time), without a grand project or difficult daily work to absorb your mind, you've been focusing all of your intelligence on yourself, trying to find out exactly what it is that is wrong with you, trying to perfect yourself, rid yourself of all of your flaws, and also discover where your flaws come from. None of us is perfect. Find something besides yourself that you can focus on, and use your intelligence on, and you may find that other things clear up. But I'm just a dude on AskMe - you should probably talk to a therapist.
posted by billysumday at 1:06 PM on February 8, 2006 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Wow - I'm really surprised at the overwhelming leaning toward therapy. I guess I just never considered it since I have a good job, I'm not depressed, and I function pretty well generally. I always viewed therapy as something more for getting over a trauma that has you depressed or incapacitated mentally and/or physically, and not as a means toward self improvement.

Regarding the ADD suggestion - I've actually been tested for that for exactly this reason, and it was determined that I do not have ADD.

Thank you all thus far. I will take a look at the books (hopefully in audio form, and thanks for the follow up, occhiblu - looks like audible.com which I subscribe to also has it!) people have suggested, and hope more suggestions come in.
posted by twiggy at 1:23 PM on February 8, 2006

I'm sure many others will suggest that you look into an ADD diagnosis. It happens to gifted people all the time. ADD and giftedness are often confused because symptoms can appear the same - but they're different. The difficulty with ruling ADD out is that if you look for that diagnosis, you're likely to get it. It's possible to have both, but it's also worth noting that 9 out of 10 gifted children are told at some point during their educations that they're ADD.

I third the therapy suggestion. Emotional Intelligence is a bit of a buzzword; it's one way of constructing the complexity of human behavior, not the key to everything. Your set of problems is individualized. There are therapists who specialize in working with gifted adults; I don't know if any of 'em are any good, but as with all therapy, you should shop around and 'interview' therapists before beginning a plan with them.

This book was fairly lame in terms of practical suggestions, but is helpful in describing the types of phenomena gifted adults commonly experience (you'll see a lot of your story in there). I don't know if it's in audio.
posted by Miko at 1:39 PM on February 8, 2006

You beat me.

Yeah, therapy doesn't always have to be about a trauma, and in many ways it's better if you enter with a clear head and a problem you're ready to solve.
posted by Miko at 1:40 PM on February 8, 2006

Therapy's a great tool for self-improvement. It helps you recognize and analyze your mental and emotional processes so that you can start changing the ones that aren't working for you -- the same way you might attack any other problem.
posted by occhiblu at 1:41 PM on February 8, 2006

Have you considered that perhaps you just aren't that interested in being 'intelligent' as defined by IQ tests and private schools and that the books you are trying to read just aren't that interesting to you and that in fact you don't actually enjoy reading? Or perhaps some of the other things that you do?

I say this because it sounds to me that you are entirely successfull in both social and work settings but that due to your background you may be putting exceeding amounts of pressure on yourself with regard to what you SHOULD like to do. I was a gifted child too and often I find that we are told what we should enjoy before we get a chance to figure it out for ourselves. I got to an age where I started to realize that some of the things that come along with "being intelligent" I didn't necessarily enjoy but was forcing myself to indulge in out of some notion of who I was as a 'smart person'. This often leads to being hot headed or defensive in arguments and the like as one's identity is highly wrapped up in 'being correct" or "being intelligent". Now when I pick up a book or engage in something I try to pay more attention and give more validity to whether I actually ENJOY the process of what I'm doing than whether it fits in to the patterns of all those previous years.

This comes into play I think with the poker example too. Often highly intelligent people feel they should always be good or the best at something. Because they always have been. So when chance comes into play, or god forbid when your mind wasn't 100% focused and you slipped up and made an amatuer mistake, there's a temptation to go ballistic on yourself, when in reality, you're simply human.

I think being emotionally intelligent is centered around fully realizing that things INCLUDING YOURSELF are never perfect, despite how hard you try or how smart you are. It's very difficult to accept that you can't do or make things perfectly and so particularly with work (as in your example above) your standards may be incredibly higher than those around you. What then happens is that you see only the imperfections of what you are doing because your idea of good is 'x' while in reality what passes for good is x/10. It's very liberating to realize that if x/5 is still twice as good as most people expect, you can allow yourself to slack. It bears some looking into.
posted by spicynuts at 1:47 PM on February 8, 2006

Let's see what we have here:
* Significant changes in appetite and sleep patterns (insomnia)
* Irritability, anger, worry, agitation, anxiety
* Pessimism, indifference
* Inability to concentrate, indecisiveness

Given your history of depression, and 4 of 9 symptoms of depression, you might want to explore the SSRI/benzodiazepine/other brain medicine garden path.

(ps - you'd have 5 symptoms if I was convinced you had "feelings of guilt and worthlessness", which I almost added)
posted by crazycanuck at 2:14 PM on February 8, 2006

Let me go out on a limb here: You were in a protected environment, praised for your strengths, presumably encouraged to work on weaknesses and supported by those close to you.

When your schooling situation changed, the environment was a shock. You were previously able to challenge others on statements and accept challenges to your own opinions -- this isn't how the public school system works. You had to cope with the give and take of assignments -- you're given a task, and the results are taken from you and scored. The lack of interaction destroyed your willingness to learn (or at least to achieve) because it became less of a cooperative effort and more rote repetition and head nodding.

I would imagine you're just not accustomed to learning by absorbing information -- you're more of a social learner who was put among people who divide learning and social activity. When you read, imagine that you're reading the words aloud to someone else and attempting to get them to understand. It's been shown that this technique increases your own concentration, along with your level of involvement.

Having played poker only with groups of friends and lacking an agressive competitive streak, I can't relate to your anger there. Were you really angry and frustrated as a kid when you were picked on because it seemed so random and out of your control, despite whatever precautions you might have made? That's poker in a nutshell.
posted by mikeh at 2:20 PM on February 8, 2006

On the poker front, it never bothers me when I get beat by a single card. It's going to happen, and you should be thrilled when people are calling you down with a one-outer, because it means you're going to take their money from them in the long run. Keeping that long run in mind is useful for handling bad beats. Analogy: if you were in a coin-flipping contest, and you have to pay $5 for every heads, but win $10 for every tails, you wouldn't get mad when the heads came up half the time, would you? The bad beats are the price for the opportunity to play a winning game; if the fish didn't hit their inside straight on the river from time to time, they wouldn't keep playing. Say "Nice hand, sir," and reload.

If you're getting mad because the bad beats are affecting you adversely financially such that you don't get the opportunity to win your money back, then your problem is that you're playing above your bankroll. Play a lower-stakes game.
posted by commander_cool at 2:49 PM on February 8, 2006

Response by poster: commander_cool: Believe me, I'm glad those people are calling me too.. I know over the long term, they are the reason I've been profitable for 2 years.

However, rational thought completely exits the room when that card shows up and I'm screwed. It has absolutely nothing to do with my rationale for why what just happened happened, and why I should be glad that that person is not mathematically inclined.

It's a gut emotional reaction that I need to learn to control, because right now I can't put a cap on it. I usually don't let it put me on tilt, but I still really hate the way I react immediately.
posted by twiggy at 3:06 PM on February 8, 2006

I would add one possibility. While anti-depressants and tranquilizers could possibly help, they could also be WHY you are having these problems (if you use either). Long-term use of benzodiazepines and SSRIs can cause a rebound or "boomerang" withdrawal effect that include severe cognitive problems. If you have been on either class of drugs, please visit:
Also, good information in this book:
The Anti-Depressant Fact Book: What Your Doctor Won't Tell You About Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, Celexa, and Luvox

If you have been taking benzos or SSRIs for a fairly long time - please look into this.
posted by Gerard Sorme at 4:49 PM on February 8, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for the info, Gerard. I have never taken any sort of anti-depressant or anxiety drug in my life, though. Still probably useful info for others though, so thanks for posting.
posted by twiggy at 5:24 PM on February 8, 2006

Welcome to life. Everyone has problems. It is good to want to correct your problems in life, but don't let them ruin your life by obsessing over them.

Do you need therapy or help? I think most people do. You don't seem that messed up from your post.

For sleeping at night, have you tried meditation? What about pot?
posted by nickerbocker at 5:36 PM on February 8, 2006

I whole-heartedly concur with occhiblu. Meditation and mindfulness are key to better understanding your life as it really is (as opposed to stumbling through existance in a haze, regreting the past and worrying about the future). Too much thinking causes pain. Just interface with the present moment and see how that feels.

Also, speaking from personal experience, following the teachings and example of Jesus Christ has had an ennobling effect on my character. I feel I've become a more patient and loving father since becoming a Christian, and people at work have expressed to me that I seem calmer and happier (which I am).

Something to consider.
posted by rinkjustice at 6:57 PM on February 8, 2006

Best answer: Thank you for asking this, twiggy. I'm going through a lot of what you describe right now, discovering deep-seated issues that go back to feeling ostracized for being the "smart kid" until I hit college.

I've had some C/B therapy, which I recommend, but the catch with this particular kind of therapy for me was - being a quick study - that I understood the C part pretty quickly, at which point I thought I was "cured." Which I was not; it can be a long road from C to B.

The other thing I thought from reading your post is that you may benefit from David Allen's Getting Things Done (good excerpt here); if you're like I was before I started GTD and your insomnia stems from lying in bed thinking about things you should be doing or are worried about, GTD's idea of getting all those open loops out of your head and into a closed system could really help you not only to fall asleep more easily but also to do things like reading that require you to be "in the zone" with much more success.
posted by joshuaconner at 7:15 PM on February 8, 2006

Best answer: Your mental development almost completely mirrors my own. All I can say is that you need to change your goal from wanting to get back your intelligence (an extreme of which is *not* a good thing I think) to just simply being happy. Get up each morning and tell yourself that you're going to do the best you can at everything (as a whole, not individually) and try to be consciously relaxed and happy as much as possible during that day. Addict yourself to the feelings of happiness and accomplishment instead of the feelings of anger and stress. Areas of your intellect that are actually useful and productive will be used automatically without you even trying. Areas that aren't useful just fade off. No biggie. This is evolution on a small scale, isn't it?

I think going after books and such (when you have a problem concentrating on books and such) is like buying a home gym before you work up the energy to do the free things like pushups and situps. Just start doing the little things that have to happen to get to the place you need to be.

Also, find some hobby that uses completely different areas of your brain than you do at work. Something where stressful things never come to mind. It's a sort of meditation. I use bowling for that, but it's something you may want to look for if you don't have it already. It will train you to slow your mind down a bit and focus on one thing, which will in turn help you to focus on individual tasks like consuming a book or whatever.
posted by BrandonAbell at 12:59 AM on February 9, 2006

Best answer: I'm not too sure it is what you are looking for, but the part of the question I honed in on is,

How can I learn to slow my brain down enough to read a book instead of having to do audiobooks? How can I learn to relax and not be so defensive? How can I learn to not be so reactive when things don't go my way?

I can sympathise with your dilemma, and I third meditation and mindfulness. I have always had an extremely over-active mind, though able to concentrate if I really want to do something. A few years ago I discovered the concepts of meditation and mindfulness. I can't promise any miracles, but a small amount of regular practice can go a long way, over time.

The key thing that has helped me to relax is observing my breathing. This is a basic starting place in the practice of meditation and mindfulness, and will take you a long way.

Try to spend a few minutes focusing on your breathing every now and again, particularly if you are feeling 'over-heated', or when trying to relax before bed. You will (hopefully) find this has the effect of calming you mind, give you a comfortable, deep regular pattern of breathing, and give you a break from the monkey-chatter that can seem endless.

Soon you will start to incorporate it into your behaviour, so that when you start to feel angry/irrational/uncomposed you will notice your breathing is unharmonious and direct your attention away from whatever has unhinged you.

The underlying method and goal is to become more aware of yourself, and more at peace with yourself. This is a gradual process that cannot be rushed, so don't over do it, and don't be discouraged at perceived failure. If you practice, you will improve, even in spite of yourself.

If you enjoy literature, you may find The Discipline of Do Easy, a short story by William Burroughs, explains all I have said far more eloquently.

I believe you will find an investigation of the principles buddhism, taoism and zen worthwhile. I know of no great introductory texts, but I have found the Tao Te Ching of incomparable utility in these matters, though YMMV. Here is my favourite translation of the Tao Te Ching. I'm not trying to direct you to a (my) view of the world, just a good foundation for chilling out.

Though having said all that I still get inordinately upset at bad beats, so take what I have said with a decent pinch of salt.
posted by MetaMonkey at 1:14 AM on February 9, 2006

Best answer: Twigg-meister, after reading all the posts (with emphasis on the ones by spicynuts and BrandonAbell), I ask you to consider: Maybe the only problem is that you think there is a problem.

By your own account (and the account of those around you), you excel at work and are good with social interactions. That second part in particular, the social interactions part, I think contradicts your concern that you have low Emotional Intelligence (EQ?). It really could be as simple as accepting that your character and personality have changed over time and you now have a different set of character strengths. I would suggest focusing on those strengths.

I sometimes think the whole "looking into the past for childhood trauma and then trying to fix that trauma" is a bit of a hamster-wheel. It's almost like rummaging around in the past to create a problem so that you'll then have something to fix. Why not start with the idea, as a possibility, that there ain't nothing broken, ain't nothing to fix.

Then, if there is some kind of unpleasant internal experience / emotion going on, work with it in the present moment . . . .meditation is an excellent way to work with emotion, and to disconnect the emotion from whatever mental story you may be telling yourself about the emotion.

Anyway, that's a different way of looking at it . . .may work for you or may not. If it sounds way off, please don't be offended. I don't mean to minimize your experience or anything like that. ('Sides, I'm all sorts of fucked up . . . .I sure as hell wouldn't listen to anything I said, were I you. )
posted by Zendogg at 1:42 AM on February 9, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks guys/gals, a ton of great answers. With the exception of someone correcting me semantically (and offering nothing else), and a condescending phrase like "Welcome to life", as if to imply I don't know the first thing about real life --- everything else has been very helpful.

Thanks for taking the time to read and respond to such a long winded question, and for being so kind as to link all of the suggested books, etc.

Looks like meditation is the first path I'll investigate and then if that doesn't help significantly I may just consider the whole therapy thing... that was totally off of my radar since I just thought it was more for like, life-debilitating problems like depression, etc.

Again - thanks very much, everyone.
posted by twiggy at 7:32 AM on February 9, 2006

I'm going to suggest meditation in some form or another as well. You say you're not really depressed and are functioning pretty well so that doesn't sound like therapy to me. Meditation is like exercising your concentration muscles. The side effects are that it helps you to react less automatically/habitually, more authentically, be less distract-able and helps you stay more chilled out. In other words, you become less a victim of your historical baggage. Since it improves your ability to focus, it will probably help with the reading.

Almost any form of meditation will probably help. Personally, I think some form of Buddhist meditation provides the most bang for the buck, effort-wise. Qua Buddhism, it may sound like a religious thing but I'd argue Buddhism is more of a marriage of a philosophy to a technique than it is a religion with a set of beliefs in the supernatural. (It's conceivable to be a Buddhist and a Catholic at the same time, for instance.)

Someone suggested the Tao te Ching as a good text to introduce the eastern, philosophical worldview that the meditation tradition springs out of. And its a good recommendation. I'd also suggest Zen Mind, Beginners Mind by Shunryu Suzuki. It's a v. practical and down to earth take on the (Soto) Zen tradition which is, itself, a very practical and down to earth form of practice.

Regardless of the buddhist angle, just spending 20 or 40 minutes a day practicising your concentration and sticking with it will help a lot, I think.
posted by kaymac at 10:20 AM on February 9, 2006

There's plenty of good suggestions.
I would definitely recommend seeing a cognitive-behavior therapist (i would find one that won't just prescribe meds). Attentive talking and listening does wonders.

Meditation is great, walking is great, walking meditation is supergreat (just concentrate on the walking): 30 mins of that a day will do wonders. Yoga can be great as well.

Nutrition is important. Cutting down on processed foods (esp. fructose syrups and vegatable oils) and adding omega 3 to your diet through seafood can help your brain a good bit.

Anaerobic exercise is great too: just try some body weight exercises (pull ups, push ups, play on a kids' playground).
posted by Furious Fitness at 1:14 PM on February 9, 2006

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