The Neuroscience of Resistance and How to Overcome It!

By Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

We all experience resistance everyday when we’re trying to do something that matters. Whether you want to sit and meditate, work on a new project, get out and exercise, whatever it is that is in the direction of growth, resistance comes CogniFit Brain Plasticity
alive. In my next book Uncovering Happiness (can’t wait to share it with you – January, 2015), I explore some of the neuroscience behind what keeps us stuck in a depressive loop and how to get unstuck and even find our natural anti-depressants and thrive.  While resistance lies within a depressive spiral, you don’t have to have had experienced depression in the past to know resistance, it’s a universal daily experience for all of us.

But the deeper question is, where does it reside in the brain and how do we overcome it?

I don’t believe anyone has conducted and brain scan specifically on resistance, but one thing we do know is that the right side of the prefrontal region that lies behind your forehead lights up when we’re trying to avoid something. This same region also lights up with negative emotions.

One thing we’re wanting to do is intentionally practice and repeat shifting the activity to the left prefrontal region that is more associated with approaching things in life and with resiliency.

The fact is resistance is relentless, it’s a deeply ingrained wiring that we all have to move away from what the brain anticipates to be uncomfortable and stay with what’s comfortable.  Not only is this hardwired into most of us, but we’ve practiced is so often that it’s strengthened the default. The brain has such a lock on us, that we’re not even aware of it.

This is why procrastination is so common.

So what do we do about it?

K.N.O.W  Your Resistance

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You Can Find Happiness Here: A Tip from Mitch Albom

By Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

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.”

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Create Confidence Over Depressive Rumination

By Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

shutterstock_150673370Almost 19 million Americans have periods where they feel a lack of pleasure or interest in what was once pleasurable and interesting. They feel tired and heavy, potentially overly emotional or numb, and experience an onslaught of negative and self defeating thoughts that can keep  invading the mind over and over again. The more periods of this depressed mood we have in life, the more likely we are to fall back into them again. Why does this relapse occur and how can mindfulness offer hope?

Falling into a depression feels traumatic and just like getting bit by a dog causes us to be fearful of and oversensitive to dogs, our minds and bodies become oversensitive to associations with the depression causing our brains to flinch at any sign of a relapse.

Feeling low mood is normal for everyone, but if we’ve experienced depression in the past, this may be a trigger for a relapse. If we feel tired or if we notice sadness, the mind pops up with the worry “uh oh, that is how I felt when I was depressed, maybe I’m getting depressed”. Our minds begin to go in overdrive with negative self judgments, “I am a failure” or “I am weak” or “I am worthless”. It then tries to solve the mystery as to why we are becoming depressed again and the more it tries to solve this puzzle, the deeper it sinks into depression. Think of a worried, judging person coming at you trying to solve your problems when you’re already not feeling well. Probably not what you’re looking for. You see, it’s not the low mood that’s the problem here, it’s the way we get stuck in habitually relating to it that pours kerosene on the fire, with our minds continuing to fan the flame rolling us into a full blown depression.

The practice of mindfulness teaches us a different way to relate to our thoughts, feelings, and emotions as they arise. It is about learning to approach and acknowledge whatever is happening in the present moment, setting aside our lenses of judgment and just being with whatever is there, rather than avoiding it or needing to fix it. It’s the mind’s attempt to avoid and fix things in this moment that fuels the negative mood.

With Uncomfortable Emotions

If sadness is there, instead of trying to fix it or figure it out, we might just acknowledge the sadness, let it be and get a better understanding of what we need in the moment.

With Self-Judgments

If self-judgments arise (e.g., I am weak, I am a loser) out of past sensitivities to having been depressed before, we can acknowledge that they are associations from the past, let them be, and then gently bring ourselves back to whatever we were doing. In doing this, we’re stopping the ruminative cycle that might occur between our thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and behaviors that can play off one another leading into another relapse (I call this “The Depression Loop” in the upcoming book Uncovering Happiness).

Now, this is easier said than done and it takes practice.

Confidence with Rumination Practice:

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The Power of Empathy (and One Surefire to Know if You’re Missing It)

By Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

befried inner monsterIf someone shares something with you that is incredibly painful and you try to lighten the moment, that may be a lack of empathy. Empathy is about understanding where someone is coming from and caring about them, it says nothing about trying to make someone feel better. The following is a good descriptive cartoon that illuminates the difference between sympathy and empathy from a talk with Brene Brown, author of Daring Greatly.

 Are there places in your life where someone’s discomfort leaves you feeling uncertain of what to say? Or maybe their pain is simply making you

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7 Essential Lessons I’ve Learned as a Psychotherapist

By Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

alive possibelOne 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?

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Jews and Arabs Refuse to Be Enemies: A Compassionate Response to War

By Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

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.

A Compassionate Peace Practice (Share Generously):

“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).”

arab israeli 1

“May all those in conflict be awakened to their common humanity.”

arab israeli 3

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STOP – This Blog May Save Your Life Today

By Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

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.

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Overcome These Five Obstacles to Your Mindfulness Meditation Practice

By Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

shutterstock_141990691Many media outlets have been talking for a number of years now about how ubiquitous mindfulness is, the impact it’s having in a variety of sectors and all the wonderful science that continues to be published. But I noticed that many people in the media don’t talk much about the actual formal practice of mindfulness meditation and that’s probably because it can be a hard habit to establish. One thing I’ve learned is if you want to establish a practice you have to look directly at what’s getting in the way and allow those obstacles to be your greatest teachers.

Here are five obstacles that have been in people’s way for thousands of years and the antidotes to get over them.

  1. Doubt – The uncertainty about whether something will “work” or not often plagues many people in the beginning of their practice. The thoughts is, “this can work for others, but it won’t work for me.”  Sometimes doubt is healthy, teaching us to look closely at things before we buy them. But the unhealthy doubt just takes us away from experience before it teaches us anything.

    Antidote: We have to remember that thoughts are just thoughts; they’re not facts (even the ones that say they are). When we notice this doubt slipping

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The Mindfulness Backlash: True or False?

By Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

snakeoilIt 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.

A Backlash: True or False?

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The Evolutionary Impulse of Depression: An Interview with Jonathan Rottenberg, PhD

By Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

facepalmIt 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 Epidemicto 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.

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Books and CDs by Dr. Elisha Goldstein:
Mindfulness Meditations for the Anxious Traveler: Quick Exercises to Calm Your Mind
The Now Effect: How This Moment Can Change The Rest of Your Life

A Mindfulness-Based
Stress Reduction Workbook Mindful Solutions for Stress, Anxiety and Depression
 

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