Archives for March, 2012
Today in my inbox I received an email that reminded me to engage in something that has been proven over and again through research and experience to lend our brains toward mindfulness, happiness and connection. Here is what the email said:
It's important to understand that making changes in life isn't just about sheer willpower. For most of our lives, we're on auto-pilot and our brain is making rapid decisions for us. It references our history, mood and environment to come up with the most adaptive response. However, when we're trying to make changes in our lives, being more mindful, for example, we can do a simple trick to set up our environment in a way that supports our success. If you have The Now Effect you may have found a "5 Step Cheat Sheet" in the Appendix that gives you ways to prime your mind toward the present moment and reinforce a certain way of being that you aspire to. One of the five steps references controlling your environment. Just like signs on the road may help remind us to slow down or remind us of children crossing, we can put up signs with short verses in our day to day to remind us to be how we want to be.
There's a funny print cartoon that has a man and woman sitting on the couch staring at a TV screen and the caption below reads, "It's 12 O'clock, do you know where your mind is?" As time goes on and we grow up from children to adolescents to adults, for many of us, somewhere along the way, life begins to become routine. Day in and day out whether we're walking, driving, talking, eating, going to the grocery store, or being with our families, our minds get kicked onto auto-pilot and continue to develop their habitual ways of thinking, interpreting, expecting, and relating to other people. These habits of the mind can keep us stuck in stress, anxiety, depression, or even addictive behaviors.. Here are a few habits of the mind and a mindfulness practice to help you break out of auto-pilot and gain more control over your life. The Now Effect lays out some Common "Mind Traps" that are not effective for well-being:
Abraham Joshua Heschel said, "Life is routine and routine is resistance to wonder." As we get older this statement may seem too ring true more often, but it doesn't have to be this way. With children, research has shown that play has a significant impact on physical, cognitive, emotional, and social health. Why would it be different for us adults? How do we bring this mental health boosting attitude back into our lives? John Kelly, a Sociologist once said, "Adults need to play. We are working creatures, we are bonding creatures, and we are playing creatures." Martin Seligman, past president of the American Psychological Association and author of Authentic Happiness, says that the three pillars of mental health are love, work, and play. In a blog post, Therese Borchard interviewed fellow blogger John McManamy to bring up the value of play in relation to our mental health. When we were all kids, play seemed to come so easy, but as our lives started to become busier and "more serious" it started to move lower down on the totem pole of "important" things to do and soon even off the list. He also notes that when adults engage in play nowadays, we may do it with ulterior motives to meet or network with a person which alters the true nature of play.
There’s been a lot of talk about the new findings of neuroplasticity and the ray of hope it has brought many with the understanding that we can use our mental processes to change our brains throughout the lifespan. If you’ve been reading The Now Effect you know that I open up the Know Your Mind, Change Your Brain section with the story of the young violinists who showed similar shifting in the motor cortex of the brain whether they were actually playing the violin or just imagining playing the violin. This conveys the power of our minds to shape our brains. But it’s not all roses.
It’s no secret that there’s more stress now than there ever has been. Maybe it’s a result of having more things than ever to pay attention to, or perhaps it's the increasingly panicked way the news comes at us, or maybe it’s that people are feeling more alone today than ever before. Whatever the reason, one thing we now know is that a very simple type of connection actually reduces activity in the area of the brain that is responsible for releasing our stress hormones.
Prior to becoming a Psychologist, I was in the corporate world leading teams of people and becoming intimate, maybe too intimate, with being overwhelmed and feeling stress at work. The amount of workers today that say job stress is a major problem in their lives has doubled in the last decade. Recently, I wrote a popular post called Outsmart Your Stress: The 1-Minute "Be" Practice and now it's time to see how to make this now effect come alive at work. In today's accelerating business world people are constantly being told there's no time to "BE" and they don't manage their time well, so it's no wonder why more and more people every day are left feeling exhausted, unfocused, unproductive, unhealthy, and burnt out. "You need to manage your time better and learn to juggle more," is the conventional reply to getting more things done faster. The American Psychological Association put out a report saying, the inability to focus for even 10 minutes on any one thing at a time may be costing you 20% to 40% in terms of efficiency and productivity. What more and more business leaders are finding is instead of doing more things faster, you need to learn how to prioritize your attention and do the most important things really well.
Over the course of thousands and thousands of years our brains have become wired toward creating, fixing, solving, basically just doing. It’s been a great benefit; we have roofs over our heads, cars to drive, chairs to sit on and even this technology to connect around. But when it comes to our stress or uncomfortable emotions, the brain mistakenly uses the same approach and unknowingly make our stress and pain worse. We can begin right now to train our brain with a more effective approach. This is what I call, the “BE” practice and it can be experienced in one minute.
I love when people in various areas of life integrate mindfulness into their work. Dr. Jason Selk is the Director of Mental Training for the St. Louis Cardinals, and best-selling author of 10-Minute Toughness and newly released Executive Toughness. He contributes to ABC, CBS, ESPN, and NBC radio and television and has been featured in USA Today, Muscle and Fitness, Men’s Health, Shape, and Self Magazines. Jason utilizes his in-depth knowledge and experience of working with the world’s finest athletes, coaches and business leaders to help individuals and organizations outperform their competition. Recently Jason shared with me very practical mindful ways to create mental toughness to increase our happiness and success.
A number of years ago a story came out of renowned national violinist Joshua Bell playing in a DC Metro stop during rush hour. By the end of his playing a few people were there standing around but everyone else was rushing by. Watch this 2-minute video and then we can look at how our brains are wired to miss the wonders of our lives that could very well be the secret to happiness and resiliency.