The best way to get the brain to change it seems is through engaging novelty. Kids are doing it like crazy, everything is new. I remember when my oldest was born and we’d walk around the neighborhood. I’d grab a leaf on a tree and say, “See this, this is a leaf. Look closely at the shape and see how it has veins.” In the process I was interacting with life as if for the first time and it inspired wonder and joy within me. I tapped into something important and I knew it.
In the now famous book Tuesdays with Morrie, Morrie points us in the direction of happiness:
“So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they’re busy doing things they think are important. This is because they’re chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.”
One of the wonderful surprises of being a therapist all these years is how big the gift of being of service can be. I have the privilege of knowing people intimately and supporting them in opening their hearts and uncovering happiness. When I sit with that, it gives me an immense sense of purpose. Herein lies life’s beautiful paradox: The more love you give away, the more love you have. The ripple effects give me immense joy.
Through this experience I’ve realized at times it’s important to relay back what I’ve learned.
1. Essential Books to Have at Your Bedside
Aside from Uncovering Happiness: Overcoming Depression with Mindfulness and Self-Compassion (debut: January, 2015) - wink! – I’m a big fan of books that keep it simple. Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Buddhist Monk who writes simply and elegantly and I am a fan of many of his works. Taming the Tiger Within and The Miracle of Mindfulness are some of my favorites.
2. What’s the biggest myth about therapy?
That there’s an end goal.
I don’t mean that people need to be in therapy for an indefinite time, but there’s a faulty notion of achieving some end state. This focus makes therapy more difficult as the mind is cluttered with an expectation instead of focusing on learning. Even if insurance only covers 10 sessions and wants a definitive end goal, we have to always keep in mind that therapy is a vehicle for learning and while we can begin to master certain ways of being, growing and learning about ourselves in life never ends.
3. What seems to be the biggest obstacle for clients in therapy?
Take two minutes to read this blog post; it may truly be the thing today that can save your life.
First before we begin, watch this surprising video below (runtime 1:47).
The National Safety Council says there are currently 1.6 million accidents per year for texting while driving.
How could it not be true that the way many of us engage with Smartphones while in the car is not responsible for a rising amount of death tolls and injuries?
To some extent, it’s important to understand how the brain science may be working in the case of driving with the phone.
Scientists John Gaspar and John McDonald from Simon Fraser University in British Columbia have recently discovered that we have an anti-distraction mode in our brain (See an overview here or the actual study here). This means that focusing on what matters moment-to-moment is not only about intentionally paying attention to something, like reading this blog post or listening to a friend, but also about suppressing all of the distractions in the background.
Why is this important to us and what can we do about it?
From time to time I’ll bring you a leader in the field of Mindfulness who I believe has something to really teach us. Linda Graham, MFT is the author of Bouncing Back: Rewiring Your Brain for Maximum Resilience and Well-Being, where she does an excellent job showing us how mindfulness can help to rewire our brain for greater resilience. Linda has a wealth of experience as a seasoned clinician and also as a mindfulness teacher and practitioner.
Today she’ll talk to us about what parts of the brain to bolster for resiliency, a practice to help us do just that and the critical roles of compassion and equanimity.
Elisha: What makes someone resilient has been one of the foremost questions of our time. Are there parts of the brain we want to pay attention to when thinking of resiliency?
Have you ever thought about what your thoughts really are?
Consider for a moment even as you’re reading this the voices and images that are naturally appearing in your mind as your brain processes this sentence.
Close your eyes for 10 seconds. Imagine you’re in a dark movie theatre and just watch these mental events forming and unforming. Some are voices questioning what you’re doing, others are telling you what you should pay attention to, or yet others are just a string of different images shifting and changing (You can also be guided through this practice).
Even after looking at them are hearing them in your mind right now, are you any closer to understanding what thoughts are?
The truth is not a single scientist can tell you for certain what a thought is, but somehow we become highly identified with them.
We say, “I am a teacher,” or “I am a good person” or “I am a failure” or “I make the best chocolate chip cookies” or “I am an addict” or “I am a depressed person” or “I am unworthy, unlovable and defective.” The stories go on and on.
From the time we are born we collect these stories to define who we are and what we can achieve in this life. When the thoughts are judgments, can we say for certainty that they’re true? The answer is almost always, no. But the thoughts lead to feelings or the reinforcement of feelings that were already there. Inevitably they feel true.
What it comes down to is we are not our thoughts, not even the ones that say we are.
How do I know this?
In a study out of the Journal of Communication, researchers showed how media multitasking not only makes for poorer cognitive performance and makes us less effective at home and work. It turns out that even the idea of multitasking is a myth. In an interview with the National Institute of the Clinical Applications of Behavioral Medicine (NICABM), Dan Goleman, PhD, author of the recent bestselling book Focus talks about how the concept of multitasking is a myth, why it makes us less effective and how we can get more focus.
You can watch this one hour interview free on Wednesday February 5th, 2014. This series also lines up Dan Siegel, Rick Hanson, Daniel Amen, Bruce Lipton, Helen Fisher, among others.
It turns out that according to cognitive science the brain cannot handle more than one task at a time. Multitasking is a process of incredibly fast switching of attention. Just like a computer that has many programs open, when the brain multitasks and rapidly shifts back and forth the performance ultimately goes down.
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:
Science points to the statistic that our minds wander on average about 46.9% of the time from what we’re intending to pay attention to. This statistic is mainly from an adult population. Now, imagine if you grew up (and you might have) with all the digital distractions of the modern world and you can inflate that number. The alarming piece is that research shows that kids’ ability to resist distraction predicts how he or she will fare health-wise in adulthood. Dan Goleman, PhD author of the international best seller Emotional Intelligence and his new groundbreaking book Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence shows us the science behind why the mental asset of attention may be the most important thing to focus on this year.
But while science and theory can peak our interest change never happens unless we put it into action. That’s what I’m glad Dan created an audio series that complements the book, giving us the practical techniques to increase focus of adults, teens and kids.
At times I’m a sucker for acronyms and when I find one where the name fits what it is trying to spell out I grab onto it. A few months ago I heard an acronym that knocked my socks off and spoke to the underlying secrets of healthy living and happiness. Dan Siegel, MD is a renowned neuropsychiatrist and author of many books, the latest being Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain where this incredibly relevant acronym is spelled out. In this book he explores what we know about the adolescent brain and how to navigate these critical years for optimal health and happiness for teens and parents.
Dan will be in San Diego on Saturday, February 8th delivering a talk to the public at the Bridging the Hearts and Mind of Youth Conference.
The brilliant acronym is ESSENCE and we can all take a lesson from it.