Archive for May, 2012

The Power of the Pause: Maria Shriver’s Dare

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

The more you starting paying attention to yourself and those around you, the more you start realizing that most of us are living in a state of a rushing routine that doesn’t seem to have an end. Well, there is an end, but as the introductory story in The Now Effect points out it’s better to get that clarity now. Recently Maria Shriver gave a talk at USC telling graduates that she feels like we are out of control and asks people to learn how to pause to save our nation.

Here are some things she said about the power of pause:

Pausing allows you to take a beat — to take a breath in your life. As everybody else is rushing around like a lunatic out there, I dare you to do the opposite.

PAUSE — and take the time to find out, what’s important to you. Find out what you love, what’s real and true to you — so it can infuse and inform your work and make it your own.

PAUSE — before you report something you don’t know is absolutely true, something you haven’t corroborated with not just one, but two sources, as I was taught. And make sure that they’re two reliable sources.

PAUSE — before you put a rumor out there as fact. Just because you read it or saw it on TV or the Web — no matter how many times — doesn’t mean it’s true. Don’t just pass on garbage because you want to be first. There’s no glory in being first with garbage.

PAUSE — before you hit the “send” button and forward a picture that could ruin someone’s life — or write something nasty on someone’s Wall because you think it’s funny or clever. Believe me, it isn’t.

PAUSE — before you make judgments about people’s personal or professional decisions.

PAUSE — before you join in and disparage someone’s sexuality or intellectual ability.

PAUSE — before forwarding the untrue and inflammatory tidbits that have made it so difficult for would-be public servants and their families to step up and lead. Edmund Hillary once said, “It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.”

The dare today is to pause and check in with yourself. You can do this by just asking yourself, “What’s here right now?” Check in with your body, your emotions and your thoughts.

Set a note on your calendar to “Just Pause” and ask yourself “Where is my mind right now? What is important to pay attention to?”

Create a sign and put it in your workplace, “Pause,” and see what happens.

Read some books that remind you of this. I was sitting with a friend the other night who told me that after reading The Now Effect he notices himself pausing and appreciating many aspects of life more often.

Take this moment right now to pause with this 2-minute video below doing a Mindful Check-In from The Now EffectBookmark it and keep coming back to it. Enjoy.

Simply make it a practice to pause. Remember if you don’t plan it, it will be less likely to happen.

As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Reposted from Elisha Goldstein’s Mindfulness Blog on Psychcentral.com

Dogen Zenji’s Secret to Leading a Happy Life

Friday, May 25th, 2012

A constant struggle and dissonance with our imperfections may very well be the number 1 issue concerning self-esteem, which opens the door to greater stress, anxiety and depression.

Yes, you can quote me on that. We all have self-esteem issues and the media feeds it. When some of us were young, we felt like we had to be perfect in order to get positive attention or love from our parents. Others became enthralled with the media and airbrushed pictures of models showing what a “normal” body looks like. Or maybe it was the billboards and cartoon commercials showing how happy children were when they had a particular expensive toy that many of us didn’t have.

In some way the message is that we’re defective, deficient and imperfect.

Japanese Zen Buddhist teacher Dogen Zenji has a wonderful quote:

“To be in harmony with the wholeness of things is not to have anxiety over imperfections.”

The newsflash is that we are ALL imperfect and that is okay. Dogen Zenji’s quote tells us that to cultivate a sense of harmony, peace and happiness in our lives, we must create peace with our imperfections.

As is said in The Now Effect, “we are all perfectly imperfect.”

I just want to clarify that this does not mean that we’re becoming complacent and not making plans to move toward mental and physical health. This simply means to understand that we are all imperfect and to begin practicing kindness, instead of fear and hate, toward your imperfections when they arise. Then you can make a plan to improve things and engage with that plan.

OK, so let’s get practical. How does this work in our daily lives?

  1. Acceptance – The first step is to accept the fact that you are imperfect as we all are.
  2. ANTS – The automatic negative thoughts (ANTS) may arise “yes, but I have many more imperfections than most people.” If and/or when this happens, notice that as an automatic, habitual thought pattern (because that is what it is), let it be and bring your attention to this third step.
  3. Re-parenting with kindness – Bring kindness to the moment. Bring your attention to the feeling that is there right now. It is likely a physical feeling that is connected to an emotion. Possibly an emotion of shame, disgust, fear, sadness, or anger. Put your hand where the feeling is and imagine it as a little baby; maybe even imagine yourself as a little baby or little boy or girl. Now say to this part of yourself, “I care about your pain and I love you just the way you are.” Or use whatever words fit for you. You can do this for 30 seconds or 30 minutes. Whatever feels right for you in the moment.

Note: Be aware of any judgments that arise right now, such as “this is dumb” or “This is lame, I could never do this.” These automatic negative thoughts (ANTS) are habitual patterns of the mind that have been with you for quite some time. That’s all they are.  Notice them, and bring attention back to practicing kindness with the pain.

The instructions here may seem simple, but this is not necessarily an easy practice. It is a practice; sometimes you will be able to do it, other times you may not. When you are not able, that is OK.  You can always come back to it another time. Notice the thoughts that come tell you that you can’t do it, practice noticing them just as habitual mind-traps and come back to it again when you’re ready.

Try this out for yourself, this is a path toward greater healing and self-esteem.

As always, please share your thoughts, stories, and questions below. Your interactions create a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Reposted from Elisha Goldstein’s Mindfulness Blog on Psychcentral.com

One Step to Rediscover the Meaning in Your Life (Video)

Monday, May 21st, 2012

I often quote the Abraham Joshua Heschel saying: “Life is routine and routine is resistance to wonder.” This quote simply epitomizes how our brains work and why, over time, the things that seemed so interesting or captivating start to lose their luster.

Of course we get disconnected from what matters in life; it’s the way we’re wired. The question is, how do we train our brains to pop out of this auto-pilot and into a space of awareness where the choice points lie to reconnect to what’s most meaningful?

The answer is as close as you can possibly imagine. In fact, it’s right here, right now.  I want to give you something very practical to do during the day that is a practice coined by my dear friend and colleague, Bob Stahl, PhD and is found in The Now Effect: How a Mindful Moment Can Change the Rest of Your Life.

The term is called Mindful Check-In and it’s worth scheduling a least a few times per day as an experiment. People who I have worked with who have taken this seriously have reported a real difference in their stress, ability to focus and sense of compassion toward themselves throughout the day. As we begin to direct our actions more often with our intentions, we’re actually living a more meaningful life.

Here is a guided video of The Mindful Check-in, one of 14 different short guided mindfulness videos woven throughout the book. Give yourself the luxury to just pause for 2 minutes and practice being here for your life:

Again, try and practice this a few times a day as an experiment to break out of your daily routine, just checking in with your mind and body. What do you notice? After practicing this for one week, what comes up for you?

As always, please don’t take my word for it, try this out for yourself to gain insight from your own experience.

Please share your thoughts, questions, and stories below. Your interaction here provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Reposted from Elisha Goldstein’s Mindfulness Blog on Psychcentral.com

Rumi’s Secret to Making the Changes You Want

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

Before reading this blog post, take 10 seconds to take a few deep breaths, be aware of your body here and create a moment of being present. Now, read over this poem twice before moving on.

Here is a poem by 13th century Sufi Poet, Rumi,:

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don’t go back to sleep.

You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.

People are going back and forth across the door sill
Where the two worlds touch.

The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.

Right now is an opportunity (which is really available to us at any moment) to recognize that we may be starting this moment off from a place of auto-pilot, falling into the same old habitual styles of thinking and behaving that we’re really wanting to change. This might mean engaging in habits that don’t serve your health and well-being (e.g., drinking/eating too much, isolating, too much TV, too much digital interaction) or with habitual ways of thinking (e.g., negative self talk).

Rumi reminds us that “the breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you. Don’t go back to sleep.” This reminds us that right from the morning time, we can break out of our habitual tendencies and become present. We don’t need to fall back into the “same old, same old.”

What is it that you really want? Re-mind yourself of it and “don’t go back to sleep.”

However, he notes how that moment of awareness and choice is very subtle, we touch the ability to change, going “back and forth across the doorsill.”

He reminds us that the doorsill is there,  it’s “round and open,” deep down we can feel it and may have even tasted it.

Sometimes it takes a reminder like this, to put us into a space of awareness where we can see the doorsill, see the hope, to make a change. This momentary awareness of clarity and choice is The Now Effect in action. When we have the experience of making the change, this allows us to trust ourselves that we can indeed do it.

This burns into our short term memory and as we intentionally practice and repeat this it starts to become automatic. We’ll still cross back and forth across the doorsill from time to time, but over time, with practice, we’ll be more awake and cross over less and less.

Give yourself the gift of crossing the doorsill and not “going back to sleep.”

Please share your thoughts, stories, and questions below. Your interaction here provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Reposted from Elisha Goldstein’s Mindfulness Blog on Psychcentral.com

Media Multitasking Leads to Poorer Cognitive Performance: A Mindful Response

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

In a recent study out of the Journal of Communication, researchers showed how media multitasking not only makes for poorer cognitive performance, but perhaps points to why, despite increasing our stress and making us less effective at home and work, we still do it.

The study found that there is an emotional boost when we engage in media multitasking. One thing we know about emotions is that they often guide our subconscious decision making. You might wonder why you say, “Okay, today I won’t text and drive,” or “I’m really going to focus on this project today,” only to find yourself falling back into the media multitasking trap; repeatedly checking twitter, Facebook and your text messages. Your conscious mind is not in the driver’s seat.

In a past blog post explaining why habits are so hard to break, Dr. Nora Volkow, head of the National Institute of Drug Abuse, explains the dopamine kick that comes our way in the face of addictive substances. This dopamine drives our behavior toward whatever the gratifying substance is. In other words, there is a physiological and emotional gratification that we receive as we move toward the substance.

There are a few things we can do to raise our abilities to effectively integrate and manage this media in our lives, and I highlight these in The Now Effect:

  1. Acceptance – Accept the reality that your brain is often making decisions for you on a subconscious level and you’re not often consciously in control. You can use the serenity prayer; it certainly applies. “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”
  2. Control your environment – Now that you understand that your subconscious mind makes most of the decisions, you can do certain things to influence it. Turn the phone off or maybe the ringer. The addictive behavior is so strong that you may not even be able to do that. Put up some signs in your work place or home that reminds you to be present to what you’re doing. Surround yourself with materials on mindfulness.
  3. Forgive and invite – Every time you notice yourself unintentionally multitasking with unimportant and non-urgent tasks, no need to be harsh on yourself, which only gets you further from a focused attention.  Just forgive yourself for the time gone by, recognize that you’re present, and in this “choice point,” make the decision to refocus.

Integrate these 3 steps into your life and you’ll be on your way to breaking the bad habits and more effectively harnessing the power of the technology that’s available today.

As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Reposted from Elisha Goldstein’s Mindfulness Blog on Psychcentral.com

Why are Habits So Hard to Break? Dr. Nora Volkow Has the Answer

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

Why are bad habits so hard to break? What does the bumper sticker “Just Say No!” actually work against us? Dr. Nora Volkow, head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, may have the answer.

If you have 10 minutes or so, watch the 60 Minutes video below to understand why habits are so hard to break and what is being done about it:

Volkow also was part of a 25-minute documentary on HBO around a range of issues related to addiction.

In the 60 Minutes video Volkow tells us that if it were so easy to just say no then we wouldn’t have drug addiction or obesity. There’s something going on in the brains of addicts where they literally lose the ability for self control.

Because of this Volkow calls the phrase “Just Say No!” “magical thinking.”

The fact is, drugs affect learning, memory and self control. It’s a chronic disease that physically changes the brain; these changes are long lasting and persist over time even after the person stops taking the drugs.

To get more specific, dopamine is one of the main chemicals regulating the pleasure center of the brain. At the most basic level it regulates motivation; it sends signals to receptors in the brain saying, “This feels good!”

Whether you’re a heroin addict and you see an association to heroin, you’re a caffeine addict and you see a cup of coffee, or if you’re hungry and you see some good-looking food, your brain rushes with dopamine, which is now caught on brain scanning machines.

So what about the problem with obesity in our society? Volkow says that images also affect the rise of dopamine in our brains. So if we pass a McDonalds and see the arches, our brain associates that with a tasty hamburger (for some) and shoots up dopamine. That good feeling will unconsciously drive the motivation to go in and get a Big Mac. It’s a conditioned response.

The big news that Volkow has found is that most addicts share a reduction in levels of dopamine receptors. This isn’t just for the hard drugs; this includes people who regularly smoke marijuana and cigarettes. The brain isn’t wired to handle these highs and a shut-off valve kicks in and reduces the number of receptors available. So the ability of the drugs to stimulate pleasure continues to decrease. That is why eventually addicts no longer use to get high, but just to feel normal.

On top of that, drugs have been shown to damage the prefrontal cortex, this is the area that resides in the front of the brain, our executive function that allows us to exert free will. When this is damaged it makes it more difficult to regulate emotions and self control.

It makes sense why more and more addiction centers are integrating mindfulness into their curriculum. Mindfulness practice has been shown to activate the prefrontal cortex and even grow the hippocampus, the area involved with learning and memory. It’s also been shown to grow areas of the brain associated with empathy, which might come in handy when addicts start to experience a sense of failure and shame when not being able to “Just Say No!”

Another reason mindfulness is helpful in terms of recovery is that it yields The Now Effect, that “aha” moment of clarity where we enter into a choice point, a moment where we access possibilities and opportunities we didn’t know were there before. This is crucial when it comes to our addictive behaviors to take a step back, “think through the drink” and recognize the various options that lie before us.

We can learn to step into the pause, notice the sensation of the urge that’s there and as the late Alan Marlatt, PhD says, “Surf the Urge” as it peaks, crests and falls back down like a wave in the ocean.

Just because our brains have been altered by addiction, doesn’t mean we’re destined to fall into the same habits. With the right skills, community and support we can learn how to break out of routine and into a life worth living.

And at the end of the day, if we got addicted to mindfulness, would that be so bad?

As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Reposted from Elisha Goldstein’s Mindfulness Blog on Psychcentral.com

How to Get Netsmart and Use Mindfulness to Thrive Online

Monday, May 7th, 2012

We’re all experiencing the intersection of social media into the landscape of our culture and daily lives. That is why bringing mindfulness to how we interact in this medium is more important than ever.

It’s my pleasure to bring to you Howard Rheingold, an author who has been talking about our interaction with the online world and how it has changed our reality for years. Howard is author of many books, the most recent being Net Smart: How to Thrive Online.

Today in our debut video. Howard answers questions on the landscape of social media today, why mindfulness can help and what the future looks like.

In the video you will find:

  • A Brief History of Social Media: Social Media didn’t start with Facebook, in the 80′s there were interactive bulletin boards. Today, the interaction is enormous; we’re approaching 3 billion internet accounts and 5 billion mobile users. More than ever, there’s a collision between technology and our attention, but social media does not compel our attention. We have a choice to be aware of it and use it wisely, and mindfulness can support this.
  • Understand the 5 Essential Literacies: Attention, Participation, Collaboration, Crap detecting, Network know how.
  • This is a participatory medium where we are actively creating our culture. The only way we can improve quality of life online is to help people separate good information from bad information.
  • Quick Tips for being more mindful of social mediaBuild a personal learning network. Look for people who know what they’re talking about and follow them via blogs, twitter, or listorious. Pay attention to those people; stop following the others. When it comes to the ones who provide value, feed them: ask questions and even give them your own tips.

Howard says that in the future we will need to consider: is this social media machine going to use us or are we going to use it?

The answer is up to us.

As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

 

Reposted from Elisha Goldstein’s Mindfulness Blog on Psychcentral.com

The Slow Down Diet: Enjoying Food, Feeling Better

Friday, May 4th, 2012

In the spirit of Psychcentral’s Slow Eating Challenge  and the “Now on Your Diet” chapter in The Now Effect I offer The Slow Down Diet.

There’s a funny cartoon out there of some cows in a pasture eating grass. One cow’s head is lifted up with a sense of horror on his face and the caption reads “Hey wait a minute! This is grass! We’ve been eating grass!”

If I asked you, have you ever been sitting at a meal with someone or even by yourself and been halfway through the meal without having tasted the food? In my experience, the odds are likely that you’ll be nodding your head up and down. Our heads are simply often somewhere else, worrying about where we need to be, watching television, or engrossed in conversation.

This unawareness is the seed for making poor food choices, not to mention missing out on enjoying the food. This unawareness can also drive people to overeat as a way to cope with unacknowledged feelings and emotions. You may be in search of a “quick fix” that consists of caffeinated beverages and highly refined foods that burn very quickly and spike up the metabolism.  

Many people have learned to comfort and sedate themselves with food.  Sadly our “super-size” culture not only supports these tactics but also capitalizes on it.

Since preparing and eating food is such an essential component of our lives, why not bring mindful awareness to this?

I had a client who suffered from stomach pains, always complaining of a sensitive stomach. I told him that Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist Monk, has a system where he suggests chewing the food 30 times before swallowing (you don’t to count after you practice a few times). When he tried this he began noticing that his stomach didn’t hurt quite as much anymore because his food was broken down so much prior to hitting his stomach.

I had another client that suffered from a food addiction and would often be found going to the bakery daily, buying a cake, and eating it that night. We practiced mindful eating with a raisin in session to experience the concept of slightly slowing down with the eating and beginning to bring all the senses to the food.

She took time seeing it, touching it, smelling it, hearing it and tasting it. She considered all the hard work it took by many people (including her own for having the resources to pay for a session to do this) to get this simple raisin in front of her today. In time, along with other work we did, she was able to slow down her eating and begin to eat in smaller portions with a greater sense of appreciation for her food.

Another client I did this practice with said, “I’ve been downing raisins my whole life in handfuls, one after the other. And it wasn’t until now that I realized, I don’t even like raisins.”

We both had a good laugh.

Go ahead and try this out for yourself. Whether you’re eating a snack or a meal, try to slightly slow down your eating, bring your senses to the food as if you were noticing this food for the very first time. Consider all the work that it took by so many to get it there today (including you). Whatever you do, don’t take my word for it, try it out for yourself!

Please share your comments and questions below, your interaction provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Reposted from Elisha Goldstein’s Mindfulness Blog on Psychcentral.com

Is Facebook Making Us Lonelier? The Great Mindful Experiment

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012

Before Stephen March wrote his thoughts in The Atlantic that Facebook was making us lonelier, there were been several people arguing both sides for years. It’s intriguing to consider how technology is changing how we relate to one another as it is happening.

We’re living in a time of major flux, a real transition in our culture and it would be wonderful if we were aware of what was happening as it is happening. So let’s take a momentary glance at Facebook and the rest of technology that we use every day and see the importance in starting The Great Mindful Experiment.

We can make the argument that it’s not the medium of social media that’s making people lonelier or helping them feel more connected, it’s the way people relate to the medium. In other words, as John Grohol points out, it’s possible to feel wonderful about being connected to hundreds of “friends” and still make time for those that are closest to you.

It’s a matter of awareness and choice. There’s already many copies sprouting up and getting venture capital around creating smaller more intimate social networks. There will be another evolution to social media.

Harnessing our interactions with social media starts with awareness and it’s my opinion that most of us don’t have much awareness most of the time we’re interacting with it. What I mean by that is that the new digital devices of the day, (e.g., smartphones, tablets and all the latest apps) are incredibly attractive to the pleasure centers of our brain and oftentimes hook us without awareness.

Just think, how many times have you had the intention of working on something only to be pulled away by a Facebook, Twitter or chat message? Or how many times have you been speaking with someone and an alert on your phone dragged your vision to the phone itself, disconnecting you or splitting attention from the person you are there with?

Or worse yet, how often have you, yes you, been pulled toward a text while driving only to find yourself actually responding to it. This is an insidious way of creating disconnection in our “in-person friendships” and actually putting us and others in harm’s way that we’re often times not aware of.

The fact is, the mediums themselves are fantastic and offer an incredible amount of potential. It’s just that as a culture, we’re not mature enough to handle this type of technology yet. It’s beyond our developmental capacity.

Carl Rogers once said, “It wasn’t until I accepted myself exactly as I was that I was free to change.” That’s what this means. Once we can accept the reality of this, we can begin to apply more mindfulness to the technology, advancing awareness of our interaction with it and moving toward more skillful ways of relating to it.

Facebook, Twitter, chatting, texting and all the wonderful new ways of connecting are an evolution in our culture, we just need to peel the lens back a bit and watch ourselves as we engage in this great big experiment.

We can treat this as a “Great Mindful Experiment,” watching our reactions, seeing what feels pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. Is time spent with “non-virtual” friends being cut down or are you able to connect with them with the same amount of time and quality of attention? Does “screen time” take you away from other important things in life like exercise, meditation, or other hobbies or are you able to give them the same time and quality of attention?

There’s no definitive answer, the answer lies within each of us and it will serve us well individually and as a culture to take this experiment on.

Before beginning this experiment, let’s pause and STOP (a short guided video from The Now Effect):

Enjoy and let us know what you find.

 

Reposted from Elisha Goldstein’s Mindfulness Blog on Psychcentral.com