Archive for July, 2013

Make a Habit of Happiness and Resiliency

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013

One of the secrets to wiring our brain toward happiness is in the simple understanding that what we practice and repeat starts to become more automatic. Call it a happiness or resiliency habit and it’s something that anyone can create. We all have thoughts and behaviors in our lives that lend themselves toward unhappiness, a neutral state, or happiness. While the brain defaults toward paying attention to negative stimuli to keep us safe, we are active participants in our health and well-being and can nurture a happier and more resilient brain.

Here’s a suggestion to start with that comes from the 365 Daily Now Moments:

 “One of the things we can give in life is love to ourselves. This isn’t always easy, but it’s necessary to feeling well.

Consider today, what is one way you can give love to yourself?

Maybe it’s taking a vacation from the inner-critic for a day, indulging in a treat you don’t normally give yourself the luxury of, or perhaps simply putting your hand on your heart and priming your mind for good by wishing yourself to be happy, to be safe, to be healthy and to be free from fear.”

This can seem so simple and yet it is so powerful. Learning how to give more love to ourselves is a key practice that when turned into a habit, becomes a source of happiness and resiliency.

While our brains are incredibly complex and mysterious in some ways, they’re also fairly simple in other ways. Take the process of conditioning. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to understand at this point why a dog salivates at the sound of a bell after it had been introduced numerous times with dog food. That’s the classic Pavlovian tale.

In this same vein, when we practice and repeat introducing ways to love ourselves in certain contexts, the contexts themselves become cues for that to begin happening automatically.

Take a moment to really consider this question. What would the days, weeks and months ahead look like for you if loving yourself came more naturally?

Treat this as an experiment for the next week; consider what loving yourself means to you. Then begin sprinkling that more into your day as a practice for the next week. Set your judgments aside and be curious.

What does your experience teach you?

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

"If all you did was put your hand on your heart and wish yourself well it would be a moment well spent." ~ The Now Effect

“If all you did was put your hand on your heart and wish yourself well it would be a moment well spent.” ~ The Now Effect

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

Learn How to THINK Wisely

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

“Knowing the way you think and where you place your energy allows you to step away from the various stories and mind traps that don’t serve you and enter the space of awareness where you can consider alternatives for creating a more flexible, healthier mind.”

~ The Now Effect

Cheerios recently came out with a commercial that has brought to light how our learned mental models about how things in life “should” can create powerful emotional reactions. A recent Cheerios commercial depicts a mixed race American family pouring some cheerios. While there were many positive comments, many of the comments online were so racist and extreme that they had to take off the comments section online.

Here’s the commercial:

The fact that this commercial was so controversial points directly to how models in our minds are created over time about how things in life “should be.” In this case the mental model is of how an American family “should be” same race.

Whenever something in life isn’t how it “should be” the brain recognizes it as a threat and reacts in kind. We experience the fight, flight or freeze response coming in the forms of anger or fear.  This is the source of the racist comments.

Cheerios went on to do a round table of kids showing them the commercial to see how they react to it. But when the kids were interviewed, they couldn’t find anything wrong with the commercial and were confused when they were told that people had an issue with the commercial being of a mixed race family.

One kid said, “I thought Martin Luther King fixed this already.”

It’s important to look at our mental models in life, see where they came from, who is influencing them and what the net effect of them are?

I like to think of them in terms of “Think.”

is it true, is it helpful

The beauty of mindfulness is training us to get some space from our automatic perceptions in order to give way to perspective. When we get space from our thoughts, we step into a “choice point” to really look at them; in this space we can question the mental model, “Is it true, is it helpful, is it inspiring, is it necessary, is it kind?” Entering into this space is where our growth and freedom lies.

This commercial is not only a genius move by Cheerios to get a whole lot of free media attention (I’m guessing this was part of their plan), but it revives a new awareness of our mental models about race and multiracial families. It’s also reviving that discussion within America between people.

After all, who is anyone to be the judge of who another person chooses to love?

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 Pitfalls of Trying to Be a Mindful Person

Tuesday, July 16th, 2013

There’s an inherent trap in trying to become a mindful person. Any moment that you are acting mindlessly you fall into the category of deficiency. You are less than what you are trying to be and this leads to some form of suffering. It reminds of a quote by Walter Landor that said, “As soon as you want to be happier, you are no longer happy.” There’s a more optimal way to view living mindfully.

In 2007 I published a national research study called Sacred Moments: Implications on Well-Being and Stress in The Journal of Clinical Psychology. The study was focused on the question, “Is it possible for people to cultivate sacred moments in their lives and if so, what effect does that have?”

The key word in this is “moments.”

Life is about the moments.

As we practice and repeat something the brain registers it and it starts to become more automatic. With the practice of mindfulness we start to experience more moments of awareness. Maybe it’s the moment that you’re driving shouting at the car next to you that one of those moments arrives. You pause, take a few deep breaths and become more flexible in how you’re seeing that situation and the choices you have before you.

Or maybe it’s when you’re rushing out of the house late for work and your son asks you to look at a picture he just drew. As you’re about to leave you a moment drifts upon you and you remember that you’ll never regret pausing and giving that 30 seconds to yours son, but you may regret not having given it.

Or perhaps it’s a simple moment at lunch while you’re eating as awareness settles upon you. You consider all the people potentially around the world that put their efforts into getting this meal to you today, including yourself for having worked to afford it. You may consider that the nourishment of this food helps keep you strong so you can be of service to your friends, coworkers, family and yourself. That next bite is far tastier than the previous ones.

There are so many moments throughout the day where this kind gentle awareness is available to get us in touch with choice and the wisdom of what matters.

It will help a whole lot if we can drop the label in our minds of aspiring to be a mindful person and instead aspire to have more mindful moments. This simplifies things and takes away the trap of falling short.

If you haven’t already experienced the Daily Now Moments where you get daily notes to your inbox reminding you of experiencing mindful moments, you can get them now for free, my service to you.

Take a moment to write below a recent daily now moment that you’ve experienced. Your interaction below inspires others to become more aware of them in their own lives.

Imagine the ripple effects.

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

Beyond McMindfulness: Throwing the Baby Out with the Bathwater

Friday, July 12th, 2013

meditateEver since mindfulness began spreading its wings in Western culture, there has been the fear that it would be stripped down, diluted and packaged for sale by greedy money-hoarding capitalists just wanting to make their bank accounts fatter. If this happened, inevitably it would just become a passing trend that the public would eventually grow weary of. The most cautionary piece about this was an article published on Huffington Post called Beyond McMindfulness. While the sentiment of commodifying mindfulness into a marketable technique is alive, and worth cautioning against, it’s important not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

The entry of a secularized mindfulness into Western culture and even into the highest levels of business, medicine, mental health, education, sports and even politics has been a major source of transformation for thousands of people. With strong ties to its ancient roots, it was Jon Kabat-Zinn who skillfully managed to find a way to secularize it and gain acceptance in the world of science, medicine and mental health. By definition Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is a product that people purchase that is very clearly packaged as a stress reduction program, but it maintains the important elements of the mindfulness tradition and almost subversively intends to create much greater transformation toward wise action, social harmony and compassion.

In fact, the most popular programs that have made their way into businesses are those that have been created by people with a good understanding of traditional mindfulness and are not “cloaked in an aura of care and humanity.” These programs include Mindfulness at Work®, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Search Inside Yourself (SIY) and the Mindful Leadership program led by Janice Marturano. Janice, who has had an extensive mindfulness practice, takes mindfulness top-down so the leaders can incorporate into their working lives—and hardly with the goal of controlling employees. A mindful leader sees past the urge to control pretty quickly. They know it doesn’t work.

Ultimately, a program has to be marketed to meet people where they are. The 15th century Indian poet Kabir said, “Wherever you are that’s the entry point.” For people to enter into the experience of mindfulness, it helps to package it for stress reduction, reducing depressive relapse, increasing productivity, increasing attentional focus, or lowering blood pressure. These allow people to be attracted to it and then have a genuinely beneficial experience that can guide them toward what matters.

Can you imagine if you walked into a corporation and said, “We have a program that integrates ancient practices from a Buddhist context that embeds moral and ethical guidelines for the benefit of all beings.” I don’t think you’d find many takers. But, rest assured, most of the leading programs out there are taught by people who hold these moral values in mind and integrate them in a way that can be understood and accepted.

An increasing number of studies point to the health benefits and even yes, the corporate benefits, of integrating mindfulness into the workplace. A study on the Mindfulness at Work® program conducted by Duke Integrative Medicine, Aetna (CEO Mark Bertolini happens to be a long-time meditator) and eMindful showed employees experienced stress reduction, increased productivity and lower medical costs. The MAW program integrates the important qualities of mindfulness , including awareness, self-compassion, compassion and the importance of community. I know this because I designed it, and the transformative accounts from employees who take it go far beyond stress reduction, and that’s heartwarming.

Ultimately, the reason mindfulness will not just become another trend is because too many people at this point are experiencing how it not only reduces stress, but gets you in touch with what matters. It’s intentionally not tied to the Buddhist context, so maybe we call it “Western mindfulness.” More and more people are being trained under a more secular perspective and with the intention of it being a benefit beyond the egoic self.

In fact, there’s now an entire magazine called Mindful that’s dedicated to these more secular perspectives and how it is changing the face of business, education, mental health, medicine, and all these various sectors of life. Take heart, the magazine was started by people who have a deep appreciation for mindfulness as a movement that is globally transformative.

A very popular conference called Wisdom 2.0 that is all probably the leading conference for mindfulness and business has a subtitle that says, “How do we live with greater awareness, wisdom and compassion in the digital age?” My sense is that the trend is not heading toward McMindfulness, but is deeper than that. The folks that are just packaging it for a buck are more likely going to be the ones whose voices get drowned out by the leading programs.

I appreciate the cautionary notes in Beyond McMindfulness since we need to be aware when someone is just using the term as a buzz word without ties to a deeper moral purpose. But I want to make sure it’s balanced out with the reality of how a secularization of mindfulness, while not explicitly tied to Buddhist principles, is a vital movement for individuals, businesses, medicine, mental health and education.

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

Man in suit meditating image available from Shutterstock.

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

A Simple Practice to a Happier Balanced Brain

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013

“TAKE A MOMENT to look around. Where is the good in this moment? Look inside and out. What’s the good within you, what’s the good outside of you?

The gifts of life are truly here; we just need to come to our senses from time to time to notice them.”

~ Mindfulness Meditations for the Anxious Traveler: Quick Exercises to Calm Your Mind

The fact is our brains aren’t wired to be happy; they’re wired to keep us safe. That’s why left to its own devices the brain isn’t going to be aware of all the good that is around.

There are many writers, psychologists and mindfulness teachers who speak about the essence of our true nature being good, being happy, and being compassionate.

However, this only comes when we feel safe and secure.

Our brain is often times not in a state of feeling safe and secure and is more often on the lookout for what’s a potential danger around us. This is what’s been called the brain’s automatic negativity bias. In other words, we’re far more likely to pay attention to what’s not good than to what’s good. This is especially prevalent if you’ve ever struggled with anxiety, depression or any trauma.

But there’s good news:

The good news is that we also know what we practice and repeat in life starts to become automatic. In neuroscience lingo, that is the basis behind neuroplasticity – the ability to wire our brains with our attention and behaviors.

This can be a very simple practice as suggested above to just pause from time to time and ask yourself, “What is good right now?” or perhaps you can even ask yourself, “What do I love?”

At times the answers may come easy and at other times you may yourself reaching for something that’s good. There may be even times when you notice resistance to this practice, judgments around it or a sense of vulnerability arising in combination with the answers.

This is your brain’s way of guarding against vulnerability. In other words, if you feel good you’re at risk for a greater let down if something bad happens. Researcher Brene Brown calls this “Foreboding Joy” and it’s more common than we think. When you notice this resistance, remind yourself it’s okay to be aware of the good and see if you can refocus on it for a moment.

For the good of your brain and your life, give this simple practice a shot. Treat it like an experiment and see what you notice. Allow your experience to be your teacher.

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