Archives for Well-being
Most of us walk around in this world in a trance with the delusional belief that we are only autonomous beings that are completely acting with free will. However, many scientists agree that we are interdependent with our environments and our brains are constantly making snap judgments based on internal and external cues. You have recall this quote by Albert Einstein: “A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” The notion of willpower, pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps, or manning up fails to take the psychological and scientific realities into mind. Alcoholics Anonymous has it right, if you're addicted to substances you need to get them out of the house and begin to change your relationships. This was certainly my experience with my own struggle with substances years ago. Considering the impact of our environments on our ability to be happy and make the changes we want to make, can drastically facilitate more adherence to whatever habits you're trying to break or create. Years ago, UC Berkeley Researcher Marian Diamond conducted a study where she randomly put mice in a few different cages. One had toys and playmates, one had playmates and one had neither. After a few weeks, they found that the brains of the mice that had toys and playmates had thicker cerebral cortices than the other two. This part of the brain is associated with higher order functions like cognitive processing. In fact, the one without toys and playmates showed the thinnest layer. This is just to say that our environments not only impact our behavior, but also impact our brains (which impact our behavior).
So what's the secret sauce?
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
I haven't met many people who say they wouldn't enjoy feeling more relaxed or even being able to relax-on-demand. The good news is that according to a study published in the journal Nature, learning how to get better at relaxing, not only feels good, but increases our brain's ability to remember new information (including strengths of mindfulness, compassion and joy). The researchers in this study recruited eight epileptic volunteers who were shown 100 photos and then 30 minutes later were shown 50 of the same and 50 different photos. They then had to tell the researcher which photos they had seen before and which they had not. While the participants were using their memory, the researchers used electroencephalogram (EEG) electrodes to record electrical activity in the area of the brain where memories are formed. The findings showed that recognition was highest when participants were in a relaxed state (referencing "theta waves"). Okay, it's not necessarily news that we learn better when we're more relaxed, so why does this matter? It matters because at this point in time, we happen to live in a petri dish of overstimulation and fractured partial attention on a daily basis. The way we're living right now stresses out our nervous systems making it really difficult for any new learning (mental or behavioral) to really stick. Some people think mindfulness meditation is the answer - a tool that is meant to actively relax us. But no, it's meant to help us cultivate awareness so we can make wise choices, which may be to
We all want to be happy, undeniably. For some people happiness comes easier than others, but what we're starting to understand is that happiness -- that sense of connection and ease of appreciating the good moments and being more graceful and resilient during the difficult ones -- is a skill and strength that we can all build. Here are Five Simple Ways to Increase Happiness in Daily Life (Note: Set all judgments aside when you read this, practice these techniques for yourself, and let experience be your teacher.) Practice happiness for other people's happiness - When you see others doing good things for themselves such as exercising, laughing with a group of friends, or experiencing an accomplishment, practice being supportive to them in your mind. Say things like, "good for you for taking care of yourself" or "glad you're having a moment of joy." Smile in your mind at them or just say, "Yes!" Practice non-violent communication toward yourself - We've known for a long time we're our own worst critics, and the way we talk to ourselves has a major impact on how we feel. Being a little self-critical is okay, but most of us experience it all too regularly. That has to be nipped in the bud. See if you can label any of that self-judgment, and in that moment flip it to actively thinking about things you like about yourself.
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
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...
Most people believe that waiting is a waste of time and it's best to fill that time with something... anything. Whether we're in line at a the grocery story, waiting at a doctor's office, or sitting at a stoplight, the brain seems to be cued to fill that space. Nowadays, many of us pull out our phones and begin sifting through various messages, reading over documents, or surfing the web. However, the belief that waiting has no value is mistaken. In fact, the secret to a sense of personal control, general satisfaction with life and even success, lies in learning how to find peace with waiting. We've all heard the famous adage, "Patience is a virtue" or "Good things come to those who wait." Easier said than done, why? We're not in control of our brains Because underneath the subtle yet intolerable experience of waiting is a little anxious gremlin that fears being alone. This gremlin is operating on old software that says if you're alone that means you're not being protected by your clan and it's a threat to your safety. In those small moments of waiting, the gremlin takes the controls of your brain and reaches for something to "be with" so you're not alone anymore. In other words, the anxious gremlin is in control and you're not. Studies are clear that lacking a sense of control is associated with negative stress, anxiety and depression. Also, the more we let the gremlin run our brain, the stronger it gets - or as the Canadian psychologist Donald Hebb says, "neurons that fire together, wire together." Using waiting for good
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:
We live in a time where there is simply too much to pay attention to. Our nervous systems are overloaded leading many people to disconnect and now we're seeing rising levels of anxiety and depression. In fact, there isn't a single person I know who hasn't experienced these in one form or another. But when you try to convey what anxiety depression really feel like, words never really do it justice. Katie Joy Crawford is a photographer who through her own experience has created 12 stunning photos she calls, "My Anxious Heart" depicting how anxiety and depression feel. Allow this to be a mindfulness practice, take a breath and look at each picture, notice what kinds of thoughts, emotions and sensations arise. Does the picture resonate with you in some way or at some point in your life? A picture is truly worth more than a thousand words. "depression is when you can’t feel at all. anxiety is when you feel too much. having both is a constant war within your own mind. having both means never winning."