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.
From my experience the gender that is overwhelmingly attracted to mindfulness is women, men aren’t quite as attracted to it. Why is this? In the early days, the man’s greatest responsibility was to protect the tribe. Our brains have been crafted over thousands and thousands of years to guard against vulnerability. The problem with mindfulness for men is that the practice of it asks us to look toward and open up to vulnerability because that is where the gold is. We are also asked to relate to it in very feminine language like with “warmth,” “tenderness,” and “gentleness.” However, the physical threats that men were guarding against in the past, in most cases, are no longer the threats of modern day. But the brain hasn’t figured this out yet and treats emotional vulnerability as a threat, keeping men from truly reaching our highest human potential.
But things are changing! There is an evolution afoot as more men are starting to see the benefits of integrating mindfulness into daily life.
If you’re a man or you know one, here are five reasons why I think men should give mindfulness a try.
The intention of being more present in our lives is continuing to grow and touch an increasing amount of people. I have friends who I never would have imagined practicing mindfulness who now sit in daily meditation. When I look at the Seattle Seahawks, think of our Army Vets or politicians sitting in the “Quiet Caucus” room, I’m filled with a whole lot of hope. When I see an increasing amount of kids and teens being taught mindfulness in their schools I see possibility. My wife and I ran a family retreat at Denim N’ Dirt Ranch and long before the deadline it was sold out showing me an increasing desire of parents wanting to bring this into their families. As people start to engage mindfulness I’ve noticed a few things they begin to do differently.
Here are 7 things people who practice mindfulness do differently:
Practice Being Curious
One of the essential attitudes of mindfulness is beginner’s mind. This is engaging something as if for the very first time. People who practice mindfulness bring this attitude with them throughout the day. When they take a shower, they might imagine it was the first time feeling the water, smelling the soap, or watching the steam as it shifts and changes before their eyes. Novelty is one of the fastest routes to creating new neural connections.
Even a meal or snack becomes a chance to pause and reflect on how this simple peace of food holds everything in it, the earth, wind, rain and sunshine. All the people from around the world who contributed in making the ingredients and putting them together into what it is in that moment. This simple snack becomes a source of gratitude and a moment of recognizing the interconnection of all things.
Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “Life is routine and routine is resistance to wonder.” Curiosity leads the mindful person to get back in touch with the wonders and possibilities of life.
Believe it or not, five years ago starting a blog called Mindfulness and Psychotherapy seemed like a risky venture. At the time, some people I mentioned it to said, “Well, there are a whole lot of blogs that come and go within a year.” The integration of mindfulness, compassion and neuroscience as a therapy in our daily lives has now become key to millions of people. Through posts and interviews we’ve looked into practical applications for stress, anxiety, depression, addiction, trauma, grief, happiness, joy, self-compassion, forgiveness, relationships, business, medicine, technology, politics and so much more.
Since the inception of this blog we’ve seen the publications of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, The Now Effect and Mindfulness Meditations for the Anxious Traveler. It has been incredibly rewarding to share these years with you and I wanted to thank you all deeply for all your interactions, they have been a source of living wisdom for me and the other readers to benefit from.
Now, here are my Top 10 Favorite Posts from 2013: