Monday, October 20, 2008

Surviving a Conference Part V: Practical Tips for Resisting Influence

Anyone who attends any kind of conference should realize that their decision-making skills will be challenged by the process. The new environment, fatigue, social pressures, expectations, etc. all compromise an individual’s critical thought to some degree. All conferences promote this shift in perspective, potentially putting a person at risk.

Recognizing the dynamics involved with serve as the most powerful way to protect oneself from manipulation while at a conference. Make a decision prior to arriving about how much money you are willing to spend and choose to make no significant decisions until you’ve left the conference environment. I would not make any vows unless I had an opportunity to consider them before arriving at the conference, and I would wait to review them after I’d returned home before agreeing to them. One should consider that emotional environments and sleep deprivation can make things seem idealized, something that is not true of your regular, daily life, and this can cause you to put a great deal of significance on the conference experience.

You might also choose to purposely refrain from “hankey waiving” and repeating when asked to “repeat after me,” just as a measure to remain well-grounded, or comply but affirm to yourself that you will critically consider all information presented. A deeply spiritual experience on day 3 or 4 of a conference where you were able to get little sleep can be very much related to a normal physiologic response to fatigue alone. Emotions tend to run high during such experiences, so keeping check on your emotions helps you put the whole experience into perspective. Feel freedom to take a break and get out of the conference setting, or change your seating arrangements if you need to do so. And remember to enjoy yourself during such experiences, but be aware of the conditions that can be used to manipulate conference attendees.

There are a few creative things you might like to do or plan for ahead of time in order to remain more grounded and well-equipped to make sound decisions.

Beta-Wave Survival Kit

Sunglasses: Keep a pair of light sunglasses with you in the event that you find yourself bothered by an overhead floodlight or distracting florescent lighting.

Peppermints: Peppermint candy and/or peppermint oil has been shown to stimulate beta waves and levels of alertness. Rosemary oil is also touted to do the same.

Caffeine: Caffeine can give your beta waves and alertness a boost if not overdone. Energy drinks that are high in sugar will cause your blood sugar to rise and then will fall quite low, so you’re better with unsweetened drinks like coffee and tea than you are with a Red-Bull.

Red Pen and/or Yellow Highlighter: Both red and yellow stimulate beta waves, so it can be helpful to keep them in view. Use them for note-taking. You might choose to wear red or yellow clothing, but I find a red pen to be most helpful.
Rubber Band: This might seem silly, but if you tend to daydream and zone out at conferences or during lectures, you can use the Glasser approach. Wear a rubber band around your wrist, and if you feel your brain getting foggy, give the rubber band a little snap.

Eat a breakfast with protein and a complex carbohydrate. Eggs and oatmeal would be ideal, though continental fare alone can sometimes cause rebound drops in blood sugar which can limit your ability to pay attention. Breakfast in the morning will also help support your liver’s activities later in the day when it becomes more active, thus helping to counter late afternoon fatigue and hunger.

(Note: Peanut butter can make you sleepy. Save that for a bedtime snack.)
After Lunch Fatigue (Post-prandial dip): About 90 minutes after eating, you will experience some natural fatigue. Your pancreas makes insulin to process a meal, but when your blood sugar returns to baseline, it takes a short period for the pancreas to stop production of insulin. Your blood sugar then reflexively “dips” below an optimal level causing temporary fatigue. (Anyone who teaches right after lunch knows how easily people fatigue soon after the lunch break.) You may wish to keep some snacks on hand. Peppermints or snacks and even water come in handy when feeling the “post-prandial dip.” Anticipate this.

Water: Staying hydrated is very important, especially if you’ve been traveling and your daily routine has been disrupted. Plan ahead to have plenty of water on hand, and drink several ounces if you feel drowsy. Surprisingly, poor hydration alone can account for brain fog and fatigue.

Salty Snacks: I cant figure out why the salt is important exactly, but I’ve heard two speakers recommend this (one of whom was a critical care nurse teaching a critical care certification review). Either way, keep some small snacks on hand. I generally like to take Hershey’s Kisses and Kashi bars with me. Chocolate contains all sorts of chemicals, many of which are stimulants including phenylethylamine (a stimulant that raises dopamine), theophylline and caffeine. And it has theobromine to make you happy. The Kashi bars contain slow release sugars and complex carbohydrates that will help support a stable blood sugar. Again remember that peanuts cause a biochemical sleepiness.

Take a Micro-Nap: If you are very tired, studies have shown that resting for 10 to 15 minutes only can be enough of a refresher to increase work performance and alertness. If it’s possible, you might want to plan to take a mini-nap in a hospitality room. You might want to carry a travel alarm with you for a short rest that can help prepare you between activities.

There you have it.

That’s about everything I know that can help you keep your wits about you when you attend a conference or class. There are probably additional things you can choose to do, but that’s all that comes to mind at the moment.

Remember, all people become fatigued and challenged in this way at any conference of any kind. Just being aware of the conference conditions and how they affect you in both negative and positive ways empowers you with the ability to choose other options if you feel pressured or if things seem a bit too good to be true.

We know God orchestrates all of the events of our lives, but we also know that others, con artists and manipulators in particular, can take advantage of us under these conditions.

Remember to that you have choices available so that you can make sound decisions that are in your own best interest.