Archives for Gratitude
There has been a growing amount of evidence that mindfulness can help us kick our bad habits. In a recent study, 63 participants who were addicted to stimulants received behavioral treatment for 12 weeks. Four weeks into the program they were randomly assigned to either one group received mindfulness training targeted at cravings and urges or another that received health education. At the end of 12 weeks, researchers measured changes in participants use of stimulants and symptoms of anxiety and depression. Eighty seven percent of the participants who had major depression were not using stimulants at the end of the 12 weeks versus 67% of the health education group. One month later 100% of the depressed patients were off of stimulants compared to 50% in the health education group. How could this be? Change happens through experience and community support, not as much through cognitive education. Mindfulness helps slow us down and creates space from the cravings (desires) and urges (feelings) that can control our attention and decision making. The reality is the greatest "bad habit" we have is our thinking. The snap judgment of whether something is good or bad, right or wrong, fair or unfair all happens faster than the blink of an eye and then leads to the behavioral bad habit. Mindfulness trains awareness of this and over time the actual craving or urge becomes a "wake-up call" in the moment to choose a different response. A healthier response. After we practice and repeat noticing the urges and cravings that span from cutting people off while they're talking, to stress eating, to more intense and destructive addictive behaviors, our awareness starts to be more automatic. Our awareness of our choices also grows and so we actually expand our "cognitive flexibility" which is correlated with well-being. On top of that, when we feel better, we also tend to be more resilient and so the spiral goes up!
A Breaking Bad Habit Exercise - 5 Steps
There seems to be a whole lot of mind troubling and heart wrenching news in the world today. The world's current atmosphere can give our minds endless fuel to race, worry, and catastrophize. When you turn on the news these days, it's all disaster. These disasters are real, but the stories in our minds that the world is going to hell in a hand basket may not be. Our brains are designed to project into the future and attempt to predict the worst case scenarios so we can be prepared. It doesn't do us any good to continue in a state of auto-pilot with a hyperaroused nervous system, spreading worry, negativity and catastrophe throughout our social circle. Not only are our storylines a source of suffering, but spreading these catastrophic stories through our social networks creates an emotional contagious of emotional suffering. We already get enough of that through the news. The news knows that our eyeballs get fused to the screen at signs of danger and plays on it so it can sell more soap. It's a business and the bottom line is truly to make more money and it knows how to play on our concerns. This is the same for MSNBC, CNN, and Fox news - money has no party loyalty. The news isn't going to make a big fuss about the millions and millions of dollars going into mindfulness and compassion research globally, or about these police officers who paid the check of a
This will be a short piece because I know you're likely busy, but I promise it to be an important one. Recently, I was eating with my family at a hotel restaurant in Liberia, Costa Rica and next to us I catch this older man who was sitting by himself, coming over to a young couple and placing a hand on both of their shoulders. I overheard him saying, "I hope you don't mind an old man sharing some kind thoughts with you. It breaks my heart to see a couple together on vacation in a special place like this on their phones together. Please put your phones away and be with each other." They both smiled, put their phones away, and the young man reached out toward the woman across the table and they connected. I thought that was a pretty bold move on the older man's part (and I was cheering for him in my mind). The next morning I caught him at breakfast and thanked him for helping not only that couple, but also reminding me how precious the moments in life are.
We’ve all experienced it. It’s the moment we say something and as the last syllables leave our lips our brain has figured out we put our foot in our mouths and reaches to take them back, but it’s too late. The fact is we often time don’t think before we speak. Our words become actions and actions become consequences. Unfortunately the consequences land us in relationship problems, a blown business deal, or just the general reinforcement of unhealthy mind traps. But what if I told you there’s a way to fix this. Just consider, what would the days, weeks and months ahead look like if before we all spoke we considered three questions: Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind? These a questions that one might say are inspired by the world’s wisdom traditions and have great relevance to our relationships in our families, friendships, business, and education today. In this emerging world where we’re quick to fire off texts, tweets, Snapchats and Facebook messages, it might be more important than ever to
Life is a practice and what you choose to practice is what will make up your character. It's worth considering what you value in life and then making an intention and plan to live alongside those values. This is the direct back to living Ghandi's words, "Be the change that you wish to see in the world." Consider how simple it really is: If you want to be more grateful in life, practice being grateful. If you want to be confident, practice confidence. If you want to be more mindful, practice mindfulness. If you want to be more loving, practice loving yourself and others. If you want to be more forgiving and let go of stress-laden emotional burdens, practice forgiveness. If you want to live essential happiness ingredients such as compassion and generosity, practice compassion and generosity. With this said, no one said it's going to be easy. We are all blessed with this negativity bias in our brains that has kept us alert enough to negative and fearful cues to survive this long as a species. However, this negativity bias steps too far and infringes on us doing what we know inside is the direct path to happiness and well-being. It
We all have difficult people in our lives, it's part of the human experience. Typically, we tend to see them as a nuisance, individuals we have to put up with, or even avoid. This also comes with it's share of suffering. I'm not familiar with the author of the quote above, but the message is worth being curious about. What if we could change our perception to seeing difficult people as messengers or teachers who arouse something inside of us that needs to be cared for or loved? If we do this, might we become less reactive toward ourselves and other people? Inevitably, won't this provide a chance for more relationships to improve? Might it be easier to let go of bitter grudges and move toward strengthening mindfulness, self-compassion, and forgiveness? This isn't Pollyanna, it's a practical approach that can help us focus more on what matters in life. Moreover, consider this: If relationships improve, might that support communities, regions and countries to improve? Is it possible to set off a spark in this way that leads to not only the healing of our individual being, but the healing of humanity? Whoa, that's a bit too large to imagine perhaps, so let's just begin with today and ourselves. Today, try this...
Ajahn Chah was the spiritual teacher to many leading mindfulness teachers. He had a wonderful saying when it comes to being present in life, "It's like this." This saying always stuck with me as a great truth and a way to bring me back to the moment when my mind was spinning due to something stressful or difficult. In 2011, I realized that not only is "it like this," but my mind would quickly begin swimming again and I would then say, "ah, and this too." When I said, "and this too," it brought me back once again to being here. However, recently I found a new, practical and powerful use for the phrase, "It's like this...and this too" that has everything to do with cultivating perspective and happiness. It's like this... There's nothing like the uncomfortable emotion of negative stress, anxiety, sadness, anger, shame, guilt or disgust to get the head spinning. It's natural, the brain is trying to figure out how to balance us. So it jumps to the future thinking of worst case scenarios so we can be prepared, or it ruminates on all the negative facts of the past so we can use our history to mine for optimal decisions. At best, this auto-pilot mental looping keeps us stuck and at worst exacerbates the difficulty. In that moment, when we say, "It's like this," this moment is exactly like this, we're pausing to see the mental looping, the emotion, the physical sensation, the urge to engage in this destructive behavior. Neuroscience shows that when we note things it down-regulates the amygala or alarm center of the brain and brings activity back to the prefrontal cortex (PFC), the emotional regulator. So at that point the body starts calming down a bit, we're no longer in the throws of the mental and emotional looping and have widened the
A while back I decided to try an experiment. I interviewed over 20 top leading experts in the field of happiness to ask them what that word actually meant and in their professional experience, what are some practical ways to begin making it a reality. This was called the Uncovering Happiness Symposium and some of the people interviewed included Sharon Salzberg, Dan Siegel, Rick Hanson, Jack Kornfield, Dan Harris, Kelly McGonigal, Tara Brach, Byron Katie and more. Byron Katie struggled throughout her life with deep deep depression and ultimately found a path that led her to a simple way to break free from the internal negativity and into greater states of freedom. She defined this as happiness. Here are the four questions to ask ourselves to help challenge compelling negative thoughts:
One of the secrets to wiring our brain toward happiness is in the simple understanding that what we practice and repeat starts to become more automatic. Call it a happiness or resiliency habit and it’s something that anyone can create. The fact is, we all have thoughts and behaviors in our lives that influence states of unhappiness or happiness. While the brain defaults toward paying attention to negative stimuli to keep us safe, we are active participants in our health and well-being and can nurture a happier and more resilient brain. To help us really get to the root of all the elements necessary to make happiness a practice, I did my research. I interviewed over 20 highly respected and accomplished people in the field of happiness and well-being like Sharon Salzberg, Byron Katie, Dan Siegel, Rick Hanson, Jack Kornfield, Tara Brach, Dan Harris, Kelly McGonigal and so many more. I wanted to hear what their definition of happiness was and discover the practical ways we can make it come alive. This is the online Uncovering Happiness Symposium and it's live daily right now through July 3rd. For now, here’s a suggestion to start with that comes from the Daily Now Moments that many people receive in their inbox:
If you've followed my writing or heard me speak you may have heard me quote Philosopher and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel saying, "Life is routine and routine is resistance to wonder." Our brains are wired toward routine and we absolutely lose our sense of wonder in every day life. Yet wonder is a natural anti-depressant. When we pause, have a moment of mindfulness and open our senses, the sights, smells, tastes, sounds and feeling of things comes alive. There are so many wonders all around us that can bring alive the magic of the world. I wanted to share one of them with you put out by filmmaker Alexis Coram in National Geographic who films the "auroras" of the Northern Lights. Take 3 minutes and treat this as a mindful experiment. As you watch, what do you notice. See if you become aware of the fact that here we are sitting on a spinning planet in the middle of space. Look at this beauty, what comes alive in you?