Part 2

PI

Introduction

These are step by step instructions with comments and explanations of the underlying ideas behind each exercise.

Some of my research on biofeedback has contributed to the concept of psychointeractivity. Also the seminars I have presented have been a continuous source of new ideas and practical observations. I believe this concept would never have been developed to this stage without intense communication with “users”.

As written text is bound to be linear I will use traditional, non-interactive techniques for describing the learning progress. In this sense I will describe an ideal way of proceeding with the training for an ideal and not real person, who by definition does not exist.


Exercises

From time to time I will include suggestions regarding which training modules you can use to support your efforts in case you are not achieving positive results. Also I will explain why a specific module has been developed and what it can contribute to your mental abilities.

The whole procedure will be described as a daily training over 2 weeks.

I assume that you will spend about 15 – 30 minutes a day using the system. It is not important if you split this time up during the day, but please remember that continuous mental training as with any other discipline will reward you with the best results. Of course you can spend more time playing the games each day but please do not fall into “stress training” trying to achieve the best results in a shortest time period.

Just relax and enjoy!

 
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Why relax and concentrate at the same time?

A simple way to activate your physiology is to take three consecutive breaths or think on something which has been bothering you. Notice that  the object will move higher when you do this.

There are many ways of relaxing.
You may use any of the traditional methods offered by “progressive body relaxation training”, meditation or (which  I like to encourage)  just through personal observation. In this way you will find the relaxation technique which works best for you.  Biofeedback is like a mirror, reflecting your inner state.

Several years ago I had a student in mathematics who was interested in biofeedback training. I connected him to a ThoughtStream (GSR)and he tried to change the color of the display LEDs from red to green. After he was finished I put the electrodes on my finger and I continued with mathematics. I was explaining him some aspects of the linear algebra, from the matrix calculus. I was surprised to see the display of the ThoughtStream going more and more into the green the more I immerged into the abstract thinking and calculations. Until then I have believed that high mental performance must be correlated with some stress. But at that moment it was clear to me that exercises such as crossword puzzles can be tools for relaxation and concentration as well.

Look at the situation from a different point of view assuming your goal is just to relax. How might  your physiology, represented by GSR as the stress indicator, behave?

First your skin resistance will increase when you relax and the flying object will descend. But eventually, as you become more relaxed, other thoughts will appear. Perhaps they will be about unaccomplished tasks, or simply “mind chatter”.  As soon as these thoughts enter your mind you will produce more adrenaline and your skin resistance will decrease because of the stress induced by that adrenaline.

On other hand when you stay focused but relaxed, no distracting thoughts will push you up into stress.

In this sense an optimal state for learning and performance must not be always accompanied by stress. The state of being relaxed while concentrated I call “relaxed focus”. As we will see in later exercises in Level 2, this can be a very active state.

 
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Comments

It is natural that the object will escape upwards just before it touches the landing platform. This is because the feeling of expectation invokes stress. I have observed some people repeat this sequence 10 times until  they succeeded.

If this exercise was too easy for you, set the “sensitivity” to a lower value. This will make the training harder, you will have to relax much more in order to reach the platform.

If  the object did not move up and down much try to set the “sensitivity” to a higher value. More sensitivity means more reaction in both directions. The object will more respond to the changes of your GSR values.

 
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Comments

The horizontal movement introduces a small portion of stress into your system. You do not have as much time to relax as in the Stage A.
This time you want to reduce your stress level in a given time of period. If you do not manage to land in the first run, you will have to repeat Stage B again. Also you will have to relax even more as in the Stage A.  In this exercise  the “Time Scale” controls the speed of the horizontal movement. Adjust it to a comfortable value. As with the “Sensitivity” the value is being memorized by the system until you are ready for the next change.

 
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Comments

In Stage C it is possible to miss the landing spot by relaxing too much! The purpose of this training module is to reach a certain relaxation and focus level and keep it constant for a while. When you relax too much and the object is below the landing spot, try to increase your arousal level consciously.

Experiment with your thoughts or respiration techniques to find out how it feels changing your GSR  response up and down.

As I have already mentioned previously, it is quite easy to “energize” yourself by taking several, quick consecutive breaths. Try to use it as an “emergency” technique only - otherwise you may “cheat” and falsify your real training progress. Instead of accelerated breathing use your mental powers to control your GSR response.

When you miss the landing area for in the first run it may happen that you feel slightly frustrated.  Notice how this frustration corresponds to changes in your GSR.

We will observe this phenomenon more in detail in the Level 2 exercises.

 
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Why first relax and then activate?

Some people can relax easily but it is difficult for them to activate themselves. It can be very helpful for them to train their activation ability. There is also a natural physiological curve for a short regeneration process and you are welcome to use the Stage D for this purpose only!

In Stage D the settings “Sensitivity” and “Time Scale” play an important role. When you set the “Sensitivity” quite low, you will have to change your GSR considerably in order to fly through the cloud free tunnel.
It corresponds to high relaxation level and to reactivation to the level at the start. Please note which “Sensitivity” setting was optimal for you in this exercise.

 
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Why emotional Balance?

This are the first training steps for not only changing your stress level in a desired direction but also to keep it unchanged for some time. This will give you a feeling of emotional stability as you learn not to react or overact to inner or outer stimuli.

You might find this to be a rather difficult exercise and I suggest you repeat it from time to time. You will find an even more advanced exercise in the “Custom Area” of the Level II, “Balance”.

 
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Why lower the “Sensitivity”?

Doing this exercise will help you to consolidate your understanding about controlling stress, the relaxation process and mental concentration. Setting the sensitivity lower will help you to relax even deeper.

You may repeat this training from time to time adjusting the “Sensitivity” each time one point lower.

Now you should be able to control your basic psychophysiological response, as measured by galvanic skin response. This part stays in the framework of the traditional biofeedback training and is  important for our next step toward psychointeractivity.

When you have difficulty at this point in achieving the training objectives do not hesitate but continue with the following exercises, but please return consequently to this basic part of the training.

 
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Why sensomotoric activity in “relaxed focus”?

The algorithm for personal scoring in this and most of the other sensomotoric modules includes your time required for accomplishing the goal, your total average GSR change, and when required, the level of difficulty or any other module’s specific parameters. It means that your score will be higher when you accomplish the goal in shorter time and you relax as much as possible while performing the task. In some cases it may happen that you score a better time, but because of increased stress your total score may be lower as when you finish taking slightly longer, but in a more relaxed state making a difference on average of 50 %!

The idea behind this scoring algorithm is as follows:

We tend to feel stress when we have to perform a task while being timed. In emergency situations this  “fight or flight” response makes perfect sense. But is it really required for a mental activity? Can it possibly be the case that this kind of stress, caused by too much adrenaline, may prevent you from being focused?  
The answer is of course yes.  Other examples of this counterproductive response include “drawing a blank” while taking an important test, and “burnout.”

Your energy is not limitless, and this  training program will provide you with tools for personal energy management.

Now, imagine you are able to control your adrenaline level consciously. Then you may choose an optimal strategy for performing a given task.
If this is a mental task, requiring much concentration, your strategy may be to accomplish it a state of the relaxed focus.

Perhaps you were able to observe in this training that the frustration caused by not finding a specific digit made you nervous and your GSR response  immediately showed a peak. Try to look for such “incidents” in the future and see how your reactions and the resulting feelings and mental clarity have improved due to this training. 

 
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Why speeding up the mandala in one and then in another direction?

Again, as you have already experienced in the exercise #5, it is important to be capable to change at will your stress and relaxation level in both directions.

Watching the rotating mandala will sooth most  people, inducing a sort of trance-like state. Originally the mandala module evolved from the “Entry” screen of Mental Games; a psychologist friend of mine, working in his  neurofeedback center in Zurich, asked me to adapt the rotating figures of the “Entry” for his hypnosis session. For this reason the module has “X” setting for “amplify”; there is no relation of the rotation to your GSR change when so selected.

Making the mandalas rotation rate dependent upon stress level was a natural next step. Many persons reported valuable inner experiences while working with this module. I also noticed that it was a favorite with children, which surprised me as I did not expect that this passive module would be very interesting for them, as they often prefer action. One possible explanation is that this simple module comes very close to the experience of  psychointeractivity, making  users interact  in the training the more they apply themselves.

The mandalas will rotate faster as you go deeper into yourself. Focusing your attention on the rotation engages you more deeply  in the process. In this sense there is an immediate feedback loop between you and the computer. It will not last forever, it could be even dangerous when you would go into a deep trance state alone, without having had much previous experience with altered states of consciousness.

For example some long forgotten memories and feelings could emerge to the surface and they may be more than you are ready to deal with at the time.  In this sense this Mental Games module is similar to light and sound stimulation at slow frequencies.

Luckily we have a natural brakes and at some point the trance-inducing “looping” becomes saturated.
When this happens, it is often helpful to return to the starting point, even activate yourself for a short time and then return back to the level you started with at the end of the training.

As already described in the first part of this manual, you can use this module for achieving  specific desired mental states.

 
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Why “open  focus”?

Notice that this time it feels like a different kind  of “focus”: I will call it “open focus”. In this state the goal is to concentrate on the details without losing your attention to the whole.

The idea for developing this module came me while I  was studying Modern Arnis, a Philippine martial art. In this discipline it is necessary to make complex movements with special sticks for attack and defense. I had to be able to see the details of my partners body and motions while at the same time “open” my attention in order not to lose his whole body from my sight, including my surroundings. The details were necessary to act in the present and the whole was needed to “predict” our next actions. Another aspect of this training was very important to me: to stay relaxed and react quickly and precisely. Also each player learns to develop his own special set of movements, typical for his strategies. It was an advantage in the training to recognize and “memorize” the partner’s personal set of actions, predict them and then sabotage his strategy.

Out of this experience in the field of martial arts the “Focus” module was developed.

The picture you click on is the current detail. Simultaneously you have to be aware of which picture is to be next, changing briefly in a random, unpredictable pattern and you can not lose sight of the “big picture” as well.  The goal is to remain relaxed, or the algorithm will lower your total score. And you may work with predictable patterns, trying to memorize at least parts of the linear sequence of the pictures.

My wife had some difficulty to keep her attention opened and was becoming very tense while training Modern Arnis. After playing the “Focus” for some time, she was able to successfully transfer her knowledge from the “virtual” training to Modern Arnis.

 
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Why “inner focus”?

Note that the feeling of “focus” has a different quality than the others you have explored: I will call it  “inner focus”. You can concentrate on inner thoughts, feelings and body sensations.

Here again my neurofeedback friend from Zurich gave me valuable remarks and expressed his interest for a module, which would enable a “long time” monitoring on a single screen. The therapist would be able to see the plot and the patient just have access to auditory feedback about his GSR level.

Here we are experiencing  “classic” biofeedback with a simple form of feedback. But nevertheless it is a very useful tool for working with inner states. Some people will find it easier to relax when they close their eyes.
It may be also very valuable for you to have some feedback about your inner excitement while you are doing progressive body relaxation training, mind machine session or meditation. Just notice how different the GSR responses are when you focus your attention away from the surroundings towards yourself.

Questions:

  • How does your GSR change when you visualize something soothing, something very exciting but pleasant and something that makes you angry?
  • What about the attackand decay time of your GSR curve in those situations?
 
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Why “positive loop”?

The definition of a positive biofeedback loop brings us one step closer to the idea of psychointeractivity.  Now the “computer interface” interacts with your emotional state directly, changing its appearance according to your inner arousal.

The positive loop is a “good loop” to start with. Here you can see what strategy you have chosen for the task of catching the ants, which behave randomly.  Many people react initially with stress. Then the situation becomes even worse as stress accelerates the ants and they are more difficult to catch. So what about changing your strategy in this case? Relax and focus first and then start catching the insects!
The voluntary change of the strategy is one of the main keys in energy management. When you are able to react adequately in a stressful situation—that is, in control of emotional responses--you have become more conscious and more fully functioning. You are not longer a slave of your own uncontrollable reactions.

All you have to do is to try several times and suddenly you should feel and see objectively on the screen the change in your strategy. Try to remember the point of mental shift. You may then apply it to real life situations.

If you are not able to lower your stress level with the positive loop after more than 10 trials proceed with the “Insects 3”, the negative loop first (Exercise # 14) and then return to this exercise the next day.

If you are already an experienced player and you can choose the best mental strategy in this module (GSR change of more than 30, Score more than 2000), spend more time on the next exercise instead.

 
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Why another way of GSR evaluation?

The evaluation algorithm of the “Music Plot 2” is slightly different as in the “Music Plot 1”. In the first version it shows you the standard, straightforward way of evaluation: the change relative  to your starting value. This value is actually calculated from the first 5 seconds after you clicked “start”, in order to average changes which occur while you settle down. In the second version of the “Music Plot” the change is evaluated relative to the average for the entire session which has run thus far. In this way the system adapts itself dynamically and is able to reveal instantaneous changes.
This makes it interesting for observing emotions.

Scanning through personal memories while being monitored in this manner gives you additional information about yourself:

Questions:

  • Can you relax with your particular memories, or they are still making you angry, sad or frustrated, taking energy away from you?
  • Are you indifferent toward them or do they still excite you in a positive or a negative way?
 
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Why “negative loop”?

In this exercise we have the opposite situation than in  exercise #12, “Positive loop”. Here you can train and adjust your “maximum” sensomotoric efficiency. You can train to play faster, to be more focused and more relaxed!

This loop is also ideal to start first with for those who have difficulties playing the positive loop: overreacting, hyperactive children or adults.

Also you may use the negative loop to learn to activate yourself in order to win. Set the “time scale” to 1 and the “amplify” to 4. Now you can win only if you get really angry! For some people it may be harder than relaxing.

 
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Why “Negative versus positive loop”?

We tend to get stuck in one strategy. Choosing one time negative loop and just shortly afterwards the positive and then negative again breaks our inner patterns, making us more flexible.

Questions:

  • How do you feel when the drops sound more frequently in the negative loop mode when you relax?
  • How does it feel like when the drops sound less frequently in the positive loop mode when you relax?
  • Which pattern do you find to be more comfortable?
  • Can you switch your preference pattern/strategy if there is any?
 
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Why “patience”?

Patience is a mental virtue and you can learn it. Using this module, because you are working with positive loop, it is important not to get excited every time you make a wrong decision and have to start again. Imagine that your psychophysiological reaction in case of mistakes or failure is not connected with inner excitement and its possible consequences. Instead of becoming red faced or wet handed, loosing your head, and consequently making more mistakes, you can manage to stay relaxed and focused.

Questions:

    • How does it feel when you make a mistake?
    • Can you see the typical excitement peaks in the GSR plot each time you made the wrong choice?

     

 
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Why “reaction”?

Here you have chance to learn to react as quickly as possible. In the “Reaction” module five identical objects appear on screen.  The faster you recognize this specific situation and react immediately the better will be your score. Playing in the positive loop mode will give you slightly more time when you focus and relax but only as an average. The single turn is still random.
Expectation may drive stress and disturb your reaction capabilities. 
Here, like in the “Focus” module you can learn to react faster and not to “overdrive”.

 
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Why “emotional balance”?

Emotional balance is the capability of preventing your psychophysical system, represented in this case by your GSR, from making rapid changes. In this sense you can learn to stay at one arousal level for a longer time or at least make changes very slowly, so that your inner system has enough time to adapt.
This is just another strategy of: stability.

Questions:

    • Can you relax slowly?
    • When do the arrows go out of balance?
    • How do you react when the arrows go out of balance?
    • Can you think of situations in your life where you can use the strategy of emotional balance?
 
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