Two Guys on Your Head

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For many of us, Thanksgiving means spending time with our families, carrying out traditions that we’ve practiced for years.

While it can be very stressful, messy, and challenging to spend time with family members you don’t see very often, it can also be a beautiful time of recentering. 

Traditions serve a psychological function. By repeating the same traditional activity with the same group of people over the years, we construct a chronological record of who we’ve been before – and who we are now. It’s a hidden way of staying in touch with the consistent elements of our identities, and it allows us to track ourselves as we develop and change. 

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‘Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.’

Popular as they are, those words really aren’t as accurate as we would like them to be.

Words are a part of almost every aspect of our lives, and the words we use impact not only those we are speaking to, but the very way we see the world – and even the chemicals released in our brain.

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Even though competing sports teams who consider themselves rivals like to highlight their supposedly apparent differences – in actuality, rivals are more alike than they are different. They share a common goal, for which they are competing.

Rivalries allow us as humans to have a friendly competition. They can be energizing, and allow us to bond with our communities over success or failure. 

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We may think we’re making conscious decisions about everything we do on a daily basis – but a large portion of things we do during each day, we do without thinking about them.

Take turning on a light, or consuming snacks in front of the TV. These automatic behaviors are great because they allow our brains to consider more complex ideas and thoughts. They’re great, that is, until we are doing things automatically that are harmful to others or ourselves.

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Failure is a scary word that carries a very negative connotation: “I’m a failure.” “He’s a failure.” “I don’t want to be a failure.” 

The word failure arouses emotional responses that we’d usually rather avoid.  What about the word success  The thought of success arouses images of comfort, ease and satisfaction.  Why?  It’s because of something in our brains. 

We’re wired with a dopamine reward system that releases positive or negative chemical affect in our brains depending upon the success or failure of our efforts.  Success feels good, while failure feels bad.  So we tend to seek success and avoid failure. It’s simple.  

But hang on a minute and let the Two Guys on Your Head, Dr. Art Markman and Dr. Bob Duke, tell you about a function of failure that is too often overlooked and discredited: Failure is a learning tool. 

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