When you and your partner discuss a hot topic, do you handle it in a way that enriches your relationship — and ultimately your happiness — or does your experience put more emotional distance between you and polarize your positions? Many couples fall in the latter category.
Think about it. It’s tempting, isn’t it, to use our capacity for logic to build a case against the other? The feel-good neurochemicals in our brain pull us in this direction, particularly, if we’ve experienced this reaction in early experiences with parents (and who hasn’t?).
As it turns out, social sciences and religions alike have been seriously wrong when it comes to labeling humans as inherently “bad,” “selfish” or “aggressive,” and so on, by nature or from birth. Similarly, scientific thought has mislead us at times into thinking that our instincts for survival have been the primary motivating force of nature, to include human nature.
(It begs the question: Is it coincidence that we’ve been simultaneously taught to think of love as fluffy, secondary or an optional add on to our nature?)
Conceivably, love is a primary evolutionary force. For humans, it is the primary reason to live, and the quest for meaning in life shapes most all of our behaviors, and not merely to survive.
More than likely, our physical instincts to survive are there to serve our higher ones. A handful of psychological theorists, such as Alfred Adler and Abraham Maslow, had it right. They understood certain essential instincts revealed our social nature as human beings, such as our yearnings for belonging, acceptance, making contributions, etc., substantiated by recent findings in neuroscience.
The work of Dr. Marco Iacoboni, published in his most recent book, Mirroring People: The New Science of How we Connect with Others invites us to look at human nature with new reverence and awe.
The practice of affirmations can be a powerful means to heal, change and grow in positive directions. Correctly applied, reaching for customized affirmations is also one of the easiest, fastest, most effective ways to supercharge your life — in a given moment or situation — to activate the health-boosting hormones and processes that optimal emotional states produce in the brain and body.
When you think of it, in its simplest form, an affirmation is really anything you say or think to yourself silently or aloud. In effect, you likely practice “affirmations” around the clock — subconsciously, outside your awareness.
More specifically, however, the word “affirmations” speaks to the conscious use of words that affirm, lift up, inspire, refresh, in other words, a conscious practice of making positive statements to your self … for the purpose of optimizing performance, energizing the body’s healing processes or shifting away from toxic thought patterns that intensify fears, depression, anger, etc., to unhealthy levels.
Affirmations are a key aspect of letting go of and, or replacing old habits of negative self-talk, which most persons are conditioned to repeat, to some degree 24/7, whether they are aware of doing so or not. Because thoughts are powerful activators of automatic neural activity, which produces actual structural inside your body, when you make this a conscious process, you are literally exercising your very own built-in capacity (unique to human beings!), ultimately, to choose the beliefs that will direct the firing and wiring of cells in your brain and body.
The joining or “wiring” of brain cells, is often referred to as, “cells that fire together, wire together”; the words are used to describe what happens when we learn something new or reinforce or modify a current skill. This wiring produces different types of structural changes to the brain, literally, when groups of cells that get activated together, develop new associations, or get modified or reinforced (thicker connections) to the extent they are repeated.
This grouping of common brain cells is what learned behavior is all about; this ability of our brain allows us to walk, talk, run, write, sing, in fact any learned activity we do, and do so seemingly without thinking (in truth, it …
Thoughts are much more than airy pieces of information that enter our minds and then disappear. The words and ideas we think, and the accompanying feelings they spark, subconsciously shape our lives.
They can literally activate chemical processes that affect us at every level, emotional, physical, mental, and thus can drive us in the direction of overall success and happiness — or failure and distress.
Thoughts are energy. Emotions are energy. Physical feelings are energy. Together, they energize us to action accordingly, and even have the power to immobilize us. How you think (and thus feel) can have a profound effect on your ability to recognize an opportunity, perform to the best of your ability, or achieve the outcome of the goals that you’ve set for yourself.
Mindfulness makes living a happy and health life and relationship easier, and more effortless. Yet it is more than the vital practices that it is most commonly associated with, such as cultivating a sense of effortless presence, awareness, connection to mind and body, breath work, and the like.
It also requires us to become conscious and aware thinkers, and this requires effort. consistent and conscious effort to become aware and conscious thinkers.
Essentially, it is, if anything, a transformation of old thought and belief patterns that activate our fear response unnecessarily, and thus prevent us from a deeper relationship and connection to our self, mind and body, and life around us.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a learned ability to live in the present moment, an inner connection to our experience of life in and around us.
Findings show that thoughts are powerful activators of life transforming inner processes. They activate neurochemical signals that accordingly generate emotions and actions, learning and change, to include the formation of behavioral patterns or habits.
Subconscious learning in itself is a powerful and efficient built-in capacity. When what we learn is aligned by chance to our goals and highest interests for personal and relational health and well being, it can support us to grow in positive directions and to realize amazing and creative outcomes and passions. What if it doesn’t however? Limiting beliefs or toxic thinking patterns can harm our health, keep us stuck in life-draining addictive behavior patterns, and at best place limits on our happiness.
Without empathy, we’re not connected to the otherwise amazing inner resources available to help us restore or keep our connection to built-in capacities to think and feel, and, when necessary, to shift to optimal thoughts and feelings, imagine new possibilities, transform fears, make optimal choices, and ultimately grow wiser learning from our mistakes.
It is in empathic relationships that we learn to feel safe enough to compassionately connect with what is going on inside of us — rather than run away or react aggressively — when we feel triggered or stressed.
Part 1 outlined key intentions underlying empathy, and Part 2 listed three of seven actions that naturally flow from seeking to genuinely connect with another human being at deeper levels. Here are the remaining four:
4. Seek to understand (other) before being understood.
This allows you to focus your attention on listening to understand the other’s heart with compassion (as you’d likely wish if you were them). In this place, you are present in mind and body, and are seeking what is in the highest interest of both, ultimately, to grow your compassion for your self and the other as human beings.
In Part 1, we described empathy as a form of love, a gift of our presence to actively listen, to emotionally connect, and to provide a holding place that shares the intensity of another’s experience. We also said that, consciously or subconsciously, empathy stems from certain intentions. It doesn’t stop there, however.
Actions are an essential part of expressing, giving and receiving love. Action seals the deal; and this is the topic of this post.
Without action, the best of intentions have no meaning, in other words, as if they never occurred or existed. Relationships are living entities, and they require certain actions to remain alive.
Communication is the life tool with which we may create and strengthen our relationships, and relationships are all about emotional safety and meaningful connections.
Communication is a tool like no other. Whether verbal or nonverbal, it is to your emotional and mental health, and relationships, what food and water are to your body. You may be wondering, if talking is such a “loving” activity why do you experience so much pain in your communications with one of the most important persons in your life, your partner?