A Science-of-Love Approved Checklist of 12 Wedding Vows, 1 of 2

By Athena Staik, Ph.D.

Noel + Hannah Will Marlow via Compfight

A recent article on Science of Relationships outlined a list of ten research-based wedding vows. Based on findings, Samantha Joel outlined vows that, if followed, would best guarantee marital bliss. The below list of 12 vows is adapted from the original.

1. “I vow to think highly of you, and seek to know and appreciate you for who you are, as well as who you aspire to become.”

This vow draws from research on the power of imagination, more specifically, the use of positive illusions or imagination, as a creative force, a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts. Based on the findings of Dr. Sandara Murray and colleagues, partners who maintained positive illusions of the other and their relationship were more likely to eventually create it. When you view your partner in a positive light, whether you do so consciously or not, the benefits include not only giving your partner a personal feel-good, but also increasing their sense of security in relation to you. 

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Body Wisdom: Taking the Reins of Your Health and Happiness, 2 of 2

By Athena Staik, Ph.D.

Summer Lovin' Caro Wallis via Compfight

You and your body are one vast interconnected communication system that operates nonstop.

Both you (thoughts and beliefs) and your body (physio-emotion responses) are sending signals to each other around the clock.

You’re at a slight disadvantage, however, as discussed in Part 1. Unlike you, your body’s mind or subconscious, comes pre-wired with the knowledge of how to interpret your thoughts (akin to your computer’s operating system).

In contrast, unless your caregivers in early childhood were tuned into their inner world enough so that they could be tuned into you, you’ll need to “work” at understanding how to interpret your body’s signals (emotion signals), as well as discovering the rules your body follows to to interpret your signals (thoughts)

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Body Wisdom: Understanding the Language of Your Body, 1 of 2

By Athena Staik, Ph.D.

InnocenceCreative Commons License Hartwig HKD via Compfight

Like or love it, you and your body are a highly sophisticated communication network that operates 24/7 around the clock every day of your life.

Neuroscience and other studies of the brain and human relationships have taught us a lot about the brain in the last two decades. We know that to understand and organize our thinking experience of the world, we must necessarily learn language—and all of its syntax and grammatical complexities. In much the same way, we must learn to understand and organize our experience of our body’s own language — emotion and sensory cues — with its unique grammar and syntax rules.

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Does Your Brain Trick You Out of Happiness In Your Love Relationship?

By Athena Staik, Ph.D.

Valentine's Day

Sergiu Bacioiu via Compfight

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?).

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Mirror Neurons: How Our Ability to Connect With Others Makes Us Caring, Moral By Nature

By Athena Staik, Ph.D.

MIRRORS Neil Krug via Compfight

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.

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Affirmations to Calm Fear and Fulfill Yearnings for Love

By Athena Staik, Ph.D.

Stay on your path Tc Morgan via Compfight

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 would be impossible to go to higher levels of playing an instrument or excelling in some sport with your “conscious” thinking mind!).

And it goes deeper than that; every bodily function and every aspect of your personality is somehow involved in the wiring and rewiring of groups of brain cells. Even before you were born your brain arranged cells or neurons in particular patterns, testing and rewiring its circuits, routing and rerouting its electrical signals.

This is no less than access to built-in tools that help you to become the consciously-in-command of captain of (regulating) the emotional states that shape your behaviors and life.

Negative self-talk can range from being limiting and fear- or anxiety-inducing to being just plain harsh, for example.  Can you afford to put them in charge of your life and relationships?

It is estimated that every day you have about 60,000 thoughts. Many of them are not original, meaning they are not “your own” thoughts or beliefs at all. Though they can feel like “you,” many of these thought patterns were acquired subconsciously in the formative years of childhood, when children’s brains get subconsciously wired interacting with parents’ brains.

You may think your thoughts reflect “the reality” of what you experience. It is more the case, however, that your experience of the world is dramatically altered by your thoughts—especially ones tied to core (self-concept) beliefs (in other words, your thoughts about food or car choices are not likely to be as intense).

If you’ve not awakened to understanding how powerful your thoughts are, at minimum you may wish to explore this further.

Affirmations are a practice that can help you energize the kind of focus you need to lighten your mental load, to increase your happiness, to help you appreciate the little things that other people do (for you – but also in general).  If you want to transform your life, more quickly than imagined, start practicing affirmations today.

Surprisingly, the practice can have an impact on your life whether you believe them fully or not. They train your mind to focus on what you really, really want – which operates as a directive of your subconscious mind.

In case you’re considering, here are a few guidelines to begin or enhance your practice:

  • Make a commitment to look for and even create affirming words and phrases that most resonate with you.
  • Put your favorite affirmations on index cards and keep these handy in your purse or pockets.
  • Memorize the affirmations that most inspire you or help you shift out of toxic states of mind.
  • Read them to yourself or aloud, at minimum, each morning and last thing before sleeping at night.
  • State each affirmation three times before going to the next.
  • Practice repeating each affirmation with your eyes closed, a smile on lips, enjoying the present moment.
  • Whenever possible, choose to feel the emotion of gratitude for what you are affirming (act if 100% true…just for a few moments, what do have to lose?)
  • Smile, and feel that smile radiate positive emotional boosts of positive or healing energy throughout your body.
  • Choose to become aware of and use affirmations to replace limiting thoughts, one that have kept you overly focused on negativity, as they appear in the moment.
  • Repeat certain calming affirmations whenever you find yourself feeling stressed, anxious, sad or having feelings that in general intensify negative states of mind and body.
  • Use affirmations when you find yourself focusing on what you don’t want – or thoughts of what you or life or others may “lack.”
  • Start thinking of yourself, and believing, to be the captain of the states of your mind and body, the creator of your thoughts and feelings and beliefs, and the chooser at any given moment of what emotion-outcomes you want to produce — inside.
  • Remember you always have the power to create the life you want to live by the choices you consistently make, one moment and day at a time.

Following the guidelines above will help you replace or weaken old life-limiting beliefs, and eventually, you may find that you automatically stop thinking thoughts that used to lower or attack your esteem, ones that prevented your brain from working optimally to solve problems, or blocked your happiness!

If you’re new to this, at first, the affirmations may not feel real.

Eventually, however, repetitive thoughts persuade your subconscious mind to integrate them as a new set of beliefs about you and your life (which is also good reason to let go of repeating toxic thoughts!).

Of course, you may be not “believe” in affirmations, and as you may be reading this, telling yourself the reasons this practice “cannot” work. This too is an affirmation, however. So keep in mind that, if this is your truth, your brain and body will work hard to make this true for you.

And yes, there is a delicate balance to consider. You’re absolutely right if you’re arguing that, “Well, no matter how much I tell myself I’m a Martian, that’s not going to happen.” What you affirm must necessarily follow the laws of physics and nature as we know them – and at the same time invite us to stretch “out of the box” and keep reaching for the stars for the unknown (quantum physics…).

Finally, if you’ve tried affirmations before, believe you were diligent, yet found they didn’t work for you, you may wish to consider professional assistance. Your subconscious mind may not be “permitting” change, and a professional can help you uncover possible reasons that you may not really, really want to change deep down inside (i.e., perhaps a few limiting core beliefs formed in past experiences?).

Remember what you already know, that: attitude is everything in any life endeavor. Your mind-body or subconscious does, and keeps track and accesses at any moment the precise “attitude” you’ve trained it to have in a given situation.

In other words, your primary job is to persuade your subconscious that you are okay with a requested change deep down inside, and talking to a professional can help make conscious any limiting or blocking subconscious beliefs and experiences.

Start with a few affirmations that help you calm fears, put on a mindset of trusting yourself and caring about your self and life to bring you positive results.

Here are a few suggestions to choose from:

I love and deeply care for my self, mind and body.

I easily say no to activities that overburden my schedule.

I easily say yes to activities that are healthy for my mind, body, emotional wellbeing (spirit).

I am healthy and whole and vibrant.

I love and accept myself fully, completely, unconditionally.

I am grateful for all I am, have, give and receive.

I am grateful for my life, every breath I take, my wondrous mind and body.

I choose to celebrate and feel gratitude for each day.

I dissolve all blocks to being courageous and free to ask for what I need.

I replace indecision with calm, focused decisive action.

I notice and wisely let go of any judgments of myself or others, easily and effortlessly.

I and all others deserve to be treated with the unconditional acceptance, dignity and love we yearn for.

I consciously seek to see the best in my self and others even as we may consider requests for change.

I courageously protect my happiness.

I let go of any reluctance, resistance to my good, easily and effortlessly.

I inspire others and others inspire me to live a life of wholeness, harmony and meaning.

I approach any triggering situation in my life thoughtfully and wisely.

Now step into a state of positive expectation. Expect to feel more and more capable and calm, confident and centered, when dealing with something that previously triggered your body’s fear response in the past. Expect to be able to create the optimal happiness you want in your life at any moment.

With a positive mindset, it’s guaranteed to work. Look for and celebrate small successes. Smile a lot.

What determines the brightness of your future is not your past. The level of fulfillment you reach and fulfill does not depend on your past, and rather your commitment to the level of happiness you choose to affirm for yourself in your present moments.

Narcissism: Identifying Key Traits, Symptoms and Risk Factors

By Athena Staik, Ph.D.

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In contrast to codependency tendencies, described in a previous article as a rigid pattern of relating to key others (and self) with little or no sense of own wants and needs as valuable, significant or even viable, those with indicators for narcissism have a rigid pattern of relating to others as extension of themselves, wants, drives, desires, and so on. When it comes to feeling others’ feelings, those with narcissistic personality disorder seem to relate from a place that is as lifeless and cold as an ice sculpture.

It is perhaps no surprise that the codependent and narcissist often find themselves in an irresistible yet toxic dance together in life. Whereas the codependent enters a relationship with little or no sense of self, the narcissist enters with little or no ability to empathize, “see” or treat others as separate persons with feelings and vantage points of their own. Perhaps even more significantly, they have no desire to do so. If you consider their key traits, why would they?

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The Power of Words: 20 Phrases to Heal (or Grow From) Relationship Conflicts

By Athena Staik, Ph.D.

Wild Dolphin PlayCreative Commons License Steve Jurvetson via Compfight

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.

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A Conscious Re-Writing of Your Life Story: Three Optimal Practices, 2 of 2

By Athena Staik, Ph.D.

The authentic wise-self and the wounded ego-self are often at odds with each other.

Some competition between them is natural, in vying over which lense, love or fear, will be the primary voice of your experience of life. It’s an ongoing aspect of personal growth and development. As discussed in Part 1, each tells your life story from very different perspectives. 
Roughly speaking, these parts correspond with the two divisions of the body’s autonomic nervous system: the parasympathetic nervous system (learning or balanced mode) versus the sympathetic nervous system (survival or automatic defense mode). The question is which division will take charge of your mind and body in situations that trigger you?
Who makes this “decision”? Ultimately, the simple answer of course is y-o-u. However, most decisions we make are automatic and therefore activated subconsciously without your awareness? The outcomes are dramatically different, however, depending on whether your wise-self or wounded-ego self is in charge.
These two parts relate to life and key questions differently in that they are each driven by different emotional states of the mind and body.
That’s because the former involves your brain in higher-thinking processes (frontal cortex), tasking you to consciously re-think a situation in new ways (okay, your partner may be upset because you’re late, but does this mean your survival is really at stake?!). In contrast, the latter automatically accesses mostly pre-decided-thinking-strategies. Naturally, the former requires more effort, conscious awareness in the present moment, and thus is not as comfortable.
Like it or not, conscious thinking is the road less taken because the latter “feels more comfortable,” taking automatic pre-programmed paths of least resistance. Three emotional-command pathways stand out in terms of freeing you to create an enriching life story.
1. The practice of curiosity (rather than judgment).
The emotion of curiosity fosters an optimal learning environment for your mind and body, and brain. Curiosity allows you to maintain a learning orientation to events and life around you. Unlike rigid thinking and judgements which activate fear, curiosity sparks optimism and positive expectations for growth and progress. It fulfills a natural seeking — and need to learn and grow our knowledge and understanding, and learn how to optimize our happiness, optimally, to treat your life and life around you as treasures that you have the honor of experiencing. Emotions of curiosity also spark possibility thinking processes.
In contrast, the wounded ego-self is primarily focused on limiting learning to improving defenses, protection, ensuring survival, and so on, and thus keeps your mind and body hyper-vigilant, on-guard and on the look out for perceived threats that help you maintain distance and a protective level of mistrust of others. Your body also stops normal processes of growth in survival mode, such as cell regeneration, in order to conserve energy for defense.  Of course, wherever and whenever survival is really, really at stake, survival mode serves well.
2.  The practice of flexibility (instead of unyielding rigidity).
The emotion state of flexibility is one that frees you to be grounded in your power to make choices. It allows you to access higher cortex processes, such as reflective or possibility thinking, which increase your chances of learning how to protect your happiness and fulfill your own core emotion-drives to matter, to meaningfully connect in relation to life and others, and so on — and not just depend or wait for others to “make you” feel good enough, deserving, loved, loving, and so on. Life is a series of choices, and you always have a choice.
In contrast, rigid either-or or black-and-white thinking can lead you to make unrealistic conclusions, such as that you must “control” certain events or other persons, and this maintains the illusion that it is desirable or even possible to control others. This belief leads to much suffering. In truth, you’ve alwayes been in control of your life, and your greatest power is always your ability to choice at any moment how you respond (emotions, thoughts, beliefs, actions etc.).  No one has power over you because they cannot control your heart. No force or fear-based logic, regardless how sound, can open the human heart. Only love can do that.
You are not your emotions and thoughts, or the events you’ve experienced; you are much more. You are the observer, the choice-maker, and your choices in how you respond are a life-shaping power that can keep you on course to realize happiness and fulfillment, and navigate away from being tossed around by the emotion-activating behaviors of persons or events around you. In truth, it is your responses to your experiences that hold the power to shape who you are and become, thus, shape the direction of your life. To make positive change, you must own the power you have to choose, and to embrace this power to create optimal and ever wiser responses to what most challenges and triggers you.
3. The practice of presence (rather than the anxiety about the future or regrets about past). See the most important moment in your life is always now, the present.
The most important moment in your life is always the present one. It is the only place of power to make a new an optimal choice that would perhaps positively effect the future.  An emotional state of presence allows you, at any given time and especially in triggering moments, to remain connected to the inner sources of power and wisdom, knowledge and understanding of the past, and to do so connected to your awareness. The present moment is a space in time that is pure power.
There is no other moment in which you may actually exercise your power to choose. To forget this puts you at risk that some fear-based emotion will hold your mind hostage either in the past (i.e., regret) or the future (i.e., anxiety), or both. Safe to say, life is an eternity of present moments. Life issues can only be resolved in the now experience of them. Healing of past or future anxiety occurs in the present. Even you talk about the past or plan for the future, your subconscious mind and body experience this in the present moment. This explains why attempting to solve any problem “for all time” gets you stuck. Attempting to create plans to avoid certain emotions is counterproductive, and these emotions promote growth and healing.
This is good news. It means if you really want to heal the past or break free of anxiety about the future, healing is always a breath away.  Life is to be lived one moment at a time – or risk not being lived at all.
You always have a choice in how you respond to events in and around you. This helps you stay centered in your power from within as you come to realize, more and more, that events do not define or shape you.

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10 Essential Ways of Thinking to Make Mindfulness a Way of Life

By Athena Staik, Ph.D.

images-15Mindfulness 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.

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