You may or may not have heard by now that our brain is wired to pay attention more frequently, and with great veracity, to what’s negative. This doesn’t mean that the good moments in life aren’t happening, we’re just not wired to pay attention to them.
Because as a human race, we’re wired to survive, not be happy.
I have a theory that in this moment in time we’re going through an evolution as a species where because of the overabundance of things pulling our attention, we’re being thrusted into growing our awareness – the kind of awareness that breeds balance, well-being and a greater sense of what matters.
So people are being turned onto mindfulness more. More spaces are offering it, more institutions are studying it and there’s greater media to
Whether we like it or not, this time of year cues our minds to reflect and think about habits we want to change. If you’re reading this blog, odds are one of those habits are bringing mindfulness into your life more and allowing this to be the year where it sticks. Or maybe you’re also looking to change other habits that run alongside your values like being more self-compassion, living alongside your values, playing more or creating more mastery in life. All of these are basic elements that help uncover happiness.
Whatever the habit is that you want to make, here are a few practical tips to help make your changes stick.
There’s really nothing like the power of a big supportive hug. The body reads a sense of caring in the human touch. When we’re hugged we sense that on a deep level, we are not alone. In some ways it’s a shame that in our relationships with healing professionals hugging is often advised against.
There are so many wonderful stories where hugging has been a healing modality.
The Science and Practice of a Hug
In one study published in Nature Communications, researchers injected
Over a decade ago, Zindel Segal, Mark Williams and John Teasdale developed Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) for helping people not relapse into depression. Over time study after study has come out showing the positive impact MBCT has in relapse depression. I’ve taught this program many many times and have seen the transformative power of it firsthand. At the same time I would get emails from people across the country asking if I knew if it was in their area. Often times it wasn’t, but now Zindel Segal and Sona Dimidjian have solved that problem.
Today, Zindel talks to us about a new online program called Mindful Noggin that can bring MBCT to you anywhere, anytime.
Elisha: The Mindful Noggin is a great name, what exactly is it and how do you see it pushing the needle forward on integrating MBCT into our daily lives?
Why are bad habits so hard to break? What if the bumper sticker “Just Say No!” actually works against us? If willpower were the answer to breaking bad habits then we wouldn’t have drug addiction or obesity. There’s something going on in our brains where we literally lose the ability for self-control, but all hope isn’t lost.
Nora Volkow, head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse calls the phrase “Just Say No!” “magical thinking.”
It appears that dopamine is one of the main chemicals regulating the pleasure center of the brain. At the most basic level, it regulates motivation — it sends signals to receptors in the brain saying, “This feels good!”
Whether you’re a heroin addict and you see an association to heroin, you’re a caffeine addict and you see a cup of coffee, you’re a Smartphone addict and you see another person pick up their phone, or if you’re hungry and you see some good-looking food, your brain rushes with dopamine and that is now caught on brain-scanning machines.
The fascinating thing is that Volkow has found that the images alone affect the rise of dopamine in our brains. So if we pass a McDonald’s and see the arches, our brain associates that with a tasty hamburger (for some) and shoots up dopamine. That good feeling will unconsciously drive the motivation to go in and get a Big Mac. It’s a conditioned response. The same goes for anything including most likely our relationships to our phones.
What can we do?
You wake up the morning and before saying hi to anyone in the house you say hi to your phone. Walking on the way to the bathroom you make sure to grab your phone to check any messages on the way. Slowing down at the stoplight in the car is an invitation to see if you have any messages and perhaps even begin responding. At lunch we make sure to have it with us. Waiting anywhere is a cue to engage anything on the phone. Before going to bed it’s the last thing we kiss goodnight.
There’s a very subtle, and for some, not-so-subtle habitual relationship with our technology. I could easily make the argument that most of us have an addiction to our screens. In China there are currently 400 intensive treatment center for web addiction. An entire documentary called Web Junkie has been created to chronicle this issue there (Note: I’ll be at the Laemmle Music Hall in Los Angeles, California on October 5th doing a Q&A after this screening). Many of us may not feel we have a web addiction, but in truth, most of us have some form of this.
In a recent talk the Vietnamese Buddhist Monk, Thich Nhat Hanh compared technology to a horse and said we’re currently riding it. When someone walks up and says to the rider, “Where are you going?” The rider looks at the person and replies, “I don’t know, ask the horse.” There it is, we have lost control of technology, it’s driving us, and we are no longer driving it.
The reality is, technology isn’t a positive or negative force in our lives, it’s technology. But, like riding a horse, we have to learn how to harness it to make good use of it.
To harness your relationship with technology, take a short inventory:
In what ways does my relationship to technology distract me or stress me out?
What information am I taking in that isn’t nourishing to my life or well-being?
Do I use technology to cover up my loneliness?
Does my relationship to technology take me away from …
Make this week a week to be mindful of your diet.
What kind of diet are you feeding your senses?
Are they on sensory overload from too much interaction with digital devices? Is there too much time with the news?
What good things might you bring into your diet? Is there music you’d like to listen to? The touch of a loved one? A specific food or maybe a beautiful landscape?
Allow today to be the day, in this Now Moment, to start feeding a life of meaning.
Henry David Thoreau said, “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”
At some point in our development we learn to see others through a lens of fear and hate. Because the brain is so malleable in our younger years these beliefs become that much more ingrained and as we grow older the skew of our lens becomes hardened. When it comes to the Middle East, it seems there is a collective lens that’s been hardened through history that Arabs and Jews have an irreconcilable relationship. There seems to be a social construction of hopelessness that we’re all entranced in. But if hate and ignorance are learned, is it possible they can be unlearned?
The reality is nobody has “the answer” to this conflict and the historical trauma on both sides runs deep. When safety feels threatened, as is a continual reality there, it’s a natural survival reaction to close down the mind and heart in order to protect against vulnerability and default to a fight or flight response. If someone was shooting arrows at you, you’d put up your shield and either run or eventually shoot back. At the same time, I know there are many people on both sides, if not the majority, that see the common humanity between each other, want deeply to feel safe and protected, and long to live in peace.
From thoughts come actions and from actions comes consequences.
Read through the intentions and pictures below in the following “Compassionate Peace Practice.” Set your judgments aside for a moment and see if you can bring them into your heart and mind when considering all those who are suffering in this war.
“May all those who have suffered violence and all those who have committed violence feel safe and protected from inner and outer harm (because if they did feel safe they’d be less like to commit violent acts).”
“May all those in conflict be awakened to their common humanity.”
It seems like every day interest in mindfulness is reaching new heights. All the major news networks have covered it and recently Sharon Salzberg was on the Katie Couric Show explaining how to achieve mindfulness. But the question on many people’s minds is; has mindfulness become another form of snake oil, claiming to cure everything under the sun from anxiety to sneezing? Last week a post broke out on the New York Times claiming there is a “Mindfulness Backlash” afoot where some people are questioning the science, seeing it packaged as a commodity and even warning against it.
It doesn’t appear that there is a single person on this planet who is not affected by depression in some way. You’ve either experienced it directly or you have a family member or friend who has been caught in the throws of it. One in 10 adults report depression and that doesn’t count the millions more that live in the shadows of shame and the millions more on top of that who simply live with some low grade life of apathy that doesn’t appear to lift. For this reason it has become one of the most important topics of our time.
That is why I am so happy to bring to you Jonathan Rottenberg, PhD, author of The Depths: The Evolutionary Origins of the Depression Epidemic, to give us some insight into why depression is so tenacious and how we can begin making small shifts toward greater health and well-being.
Elisha: Jonathan, what I find so interesting about The Depths is how you explain depression in evolutionary terms. Tell us more about the evolutionary manifestation of depression as we know it today.
Jonathan: Mood is a very ancient adaptation. It’s easy for most people to see that high moods could be useful in energizing behavior to pursue rewards, but, low moods are useful as well. Low moods focus attention on threats and obstacles and restrain behavior. When conditions are unfavorable, or when goals are unreachable, low moods pause behavior to ensure that an animal does not engage in fruitless efforts. This efficiency is important given that resources of every sort — time, energy, or money — are finite.