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Open-Mindedness: the Key to a Bright Future

By Paul Lenda   Guest Writer for Wake Up World

Very few individuals can claim to be enlightened and those who are enlightened wouldn’t claim to be so. This curiosity of life leaves us with the reality that we are all experiencing a life of continuous growth or the opportunity for growth. Spiritual transcendence and minimizing the ego’s harmful influences over our actions can be greatly helped by having an open mind and letting artificial blocks dissolve away.

Having an open mind is an essential factor in nurturing spiritual growth and conscious evolution. It acts as a humbling mechanism where we realize that we do not know everything there is to know in an objective way. It demonstrates an ability to allow other perceptions of reality and positions of awareness to become things that are looked at with great curiosity, with the possibility of taking away something that benefits our personal development and spiritual growth.

The importance of having an open mind cannot be stressed enough. Growth of any kind begins with open-mindedness. Look at a child and see the barrage of “Why?” questions and see how open that child is to learning and exploring new things. This is something that should never go away no matter how old we get and no matter how much we think we know. There is always room for more understanding.

As a wise man once said, “listen to me but don’t believe me, because the truth that I proclaim is the truth as I experience it and is only the truth for me”.

If we stay narrow-minded with the belief that what we know is the truth of the matter and any differing view is a falsehood, we can do severe damage to our path of spiritual transcendence, not to mention straining relationships with our friends and loved ones. No person alive today sees reality fully for the way it really is, but instead we all see reality through a subjective lens that’s been influenced by all the various life experiences we’ve had since we were born. Although some more than others are more aligned with objective Truth, we all have different perceptions of the one Reality which leads each of us to different understandings of the same things.

If people were not open-minded, teachers such as Buddha, Jesus, Lau Tzu, Aristotle and others would have been declared heretics, persecuted and would not have any sustaining followers… there would be no trace of Buddhism, Christianity or Metaphysics. If people were not open-minded, Leo DaVinci, Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Carl Sagan and Steven Hawking would have had average and insignificant jobs; humanity would still be in the Dark Ages.

If people did not have an open mind, there would be no future for humanity, as old souls would have no more wisdom than their younger counterparts. It’s hopefully evident by now that being open-minded is not only important for each of us individually to have, but something for the collective consciousness to have since we are all interdependent on each other whether we realize it or not.

There is a looming cloud of ignorance that is brewing up a storm within human society… ignorance of dire environmental changes, of empathy-enhancing practices, of inter-connectedness among all things, and of many other things. The only way this cloud can be dispersed and allow for the light of higher and wider  awareness to shine down on humanity is to work on becoming more open-minded. It might just be the difference between seeing a humanity which lives in a consciously-evolved society, or in a dystopian nightmare. Be open-minded for your own growth, but also for the whole of humanity. We all have a vested interest in this.


The World is Your Mirror

The possibilities you see in others, are possible for you as well. 

The beauty you see around you, is your beauty. 

The world around you is a reflection, a mirror showing you the person you are. 

To change your world, you must change yourself. 

To blame and complain will only make matters worse. 

Whatever you care about, is your responsibility. 

What you see in others, shows you yourself. 

See the best in others, and you will be your best. 

Give to others, and you give to yourself. 

Appreciate beauty, and you will be beautiful. 

Admire creativity, and you will be creative. 

Love, and you will be loved. 

Seek to understand, and you will be understood. 

Listen, and your voice will be heard. 

Teach, and you will learn.




Keep Your New Year’s Resolution: 4 Science-Backed Tips

Diana Vilibert   December 18, 2014

Planning to lose weight, start running, or quit smoking in 2015? Join the club. While a lot of us—almost half percent of Americans—make New Year’s resolutions confidently and optimistically, only eight percent of people actually achieve them. As for the rest of us? Well, there’s still hope—keep reading to find out what makes a New Year’s resolution succeed or fail, and how to make sure you own 2015 goal sticks.

Simple is best

January 1, 2015 is not the time for a total life overhaul. Willpower is a finite resource, so use it wisely. Pick one goal to focus on at a time (even if you plan to work on a few over the course of the year) instead of overloading yourself with plans to run a marathon, double your income, go vegan, and stop smoking.

Get specific

“We say if you can’t measure it, it’s not a very good resolution because vague goals beget vague resolutions,” John Norcross of the University of Scranton tells Forbes. Instead of making a resolution to eat more vegetables, make a plan to eat a veggie-centric meal for lunch every day. Instead of resolving to start working out, sign up for a class that meets three times a week. Want to cook more? Put grocery shopping on your calendar, along with a few weeknights each week so that it’s part of your schedule, not just wishful thinking.

goal setting

Reward yourself along the way

Researchers found that “reinforcement strategies”—rewards for reaching goals part of the resolution—helped people succeed in their resolution. All the more reason to treat yourself to a massage after a month of sticking to a running program, or a cooking class while working on eating healthy.

Plan to fail

Don’t be afraid of setbacks…expect them! Successful resolution-makers who stuck to it for two years slipped up an average of 14 times over the two-year span. Don’t assume your resolution will be without hiccups along the way—and don’t let temporary setbacks get you down on yourself. Researchers found that self-blaming behaviors were more often correlated with failure to keep a resolution long-term.

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The Mother Of All Antioxidants

April 13, 2014 by Joe Martino

We have all heard of antioxidants, but have we heard of the mother of all antioxidants? One that is the secret to prevent cancer, heart disease, aging, neurological issues and more? This single antioxidant has been studied in great depth yet most of us know nothing about it and  many doctors have no idea how to address the epidemic of its deficiency in humans.

We are of course talking about Glutathione (pronounced “gloota-thigh-own.”) This is a powerful detoxifier and immune booster and is crucial to a healthy life. Although the body does make some of its own Glutathione, poor food quality, pollution, toxic environments, stress, infections and radiation are all depleting out bodies glutathione.

What is Glutathione?

Glutathione is a simple molecule produced naturally in the body at all times. It’s a combination of three building blocks of protein or amino acids — cysteine, glycine and glutamine.

The best part of glutathione is that is contains sulfur chemical groups that work to trap all the bad things like free radicals and toxins such as mercury and heavy metals in our body then flush them out. This is especially important in our current world of heavy metal bombardment.

Where Can You Get Glutathione?

The body makes it, but it’s often not enough in our strenuous environment. Here are some food sources that either contain glutathione or its precursors to help the body produce more.

  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Avocados
  • Peaches
  • Watermelon
  • Cinnamon
  • Cardamom
  • Turmeric (Curcumin)
  • Tomatoes
  • Peas
  • Garlic
  • Onions
  • Red peppers

Notice they are all healthy foods we often don’t get enough of? This is another big issue with our diets. We consume a lot of junk, meat, dairy and processed foods, items that clinically have been proven to be the number one causes of heart disease and illness yet we consume  them in huge quantities. The key is to limit these and eat a lot of fresh, lively foods that provide nutrients and don’t ask the body to perform a mega job to digest.

You can also increase your exercise as glutathione production increases when you exercise. Breathing and sweating are also great ways to get rid of toxins in the body.


Glutathione Protects Against Chronic Illness

What makes glutathione so important and powerful is that it recycles antioxidants. When your body is dealing with free radicals, it is essentially passing them from one molecule to another. They might go from vitamin C to vitamin E to lipoic acid and then to glutathione where they are cooled off. Antioxidants are recycled at this point and the body can now regenerate another glutathione molecule to go back at it again.

Glutathione is crucial for helping your immune system fight chronic illness as it acts as the carrier of toxins out of your body. Like a fly trap, toxins stick to glutathione and they are carried to the bile into the stools and out of the body. Glutathione is also powerful enough that it has been shown to help in the treatment of AIDS greatly. The body is going to get in touch with oxidants and toxins, the more we can deal with those the better our body will be at staying strong, this is why glutathione is so important.

9 Final Tips

Dr. Mark Hyman has given 9 tips to increase your Glutathione levels. Check them out!

1. Consume sulfur-rich foods. The main ones in the diet are garlic, onions and the cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, kale, collards, cabbage, cauliflower, watercress, etc.).

2. Try bioactive whey protein. This is great source of cysteine and the amino acid building blocks for glutathione synthesis. As you know, I am not a big fan of dairy, but this is an exception — with a few warnings. The whey protein MUST be bioactive and made from non-denatured proteins (“denaturing” refers to the breakdown of the normal protein structure). Choose non-pasteurized and non-industrially produced milk that contains no pesticides, hormones, or antibiotics. Immunocal is a prescription bioactive non-denatured whey protein that is even listed in the Physician’s Desk Reference.

3. Exercise boosts your glutathione levels and thereby helps boost your immune system, improve detoxification and enhance your body’s own antioxidant defenses. Start slow and build up to 30 minutes a day of vigorous aerobic exercise like walking or jogging, or play various sports. Strength training for 20 minutes 3 times a week is also helpful.

One would think it would be easy just to take glutathione as a pill, but the body digests protein — so you wouldn’t get the benefits if you did it this way. However, the production and recycling of glutathione in the body requires many different nutrients and you CAN take these. Here are the main supplements that need to be taken consistently to boost glutathione. Besides taking a multivitamin and fish oil, supporting my glutathione levels with these supplements is the most important thing I do every day for my personal health.

4. N-acetyl-cysteine. This has been used for years to help treat asthma and lung disease and to treat people with life-threatening liver failure from Tylenol overdose. In fact, I first learned about it in medical school while working in the emergency room. It is even given to prevent kidney damage from dyes used during x-ray studies.

5. Alpha lipoic acid. This is a close second to glutathione in importance in our cells and is involved in energy production, blood sugar control, brain health and detoxification. The body usually makes it, but given all the stresses we are under, we often become depleted.

6. Methylation nutrients (folate and vitamins B6 and B12). These are perhaps the most critical to keep the body producing glutathione. Methylation and the production and recycling of glutathione are the two most important biochemical functions in your body. Take folate (especially in the active form of 5 methyltetrahydrofolate), B6 (in active form of P5P) and B12 (in the active form of methylcobalamin).

7. Selenium. This important mineral helps the body recycle and produce more glutathione.

8. A family of antioxidants including vitamins C and E (in the form of mixed tocopherols), work together to recycle glutathione.

9. Milk thistle (silymarin) has long been used in liver disease and helps boost glutathione levels.


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Why People Act in Self-Defeating, Irrational Ways—and How They Can Stop

Our brains are simply not set up to produce rational behavior.

December 8, 2014  

At the tail end of a sweltering, humid Chicago day in 1993, I took my family to the community pool for a dip. As the children splashed gleefully, I sat nearby reading Robert Ornstein’s new book, The Evolution of Consciousness, unaware that my life was about to change.

Seven years earlier, I’d emerged from my doctoral studies utterly dissatisfied with existing answers to the question of why people continue to behave in self-defeating, irrational ways despite clear evidence that their methods aren’t working. Few questions were more important to the enterprise of psychotherapy, yet the answers at that time were highly speculative—running the gamut from unresolved childhood issues to low ego strength to family homeostasis to secondary payoffs, with little scientific evidence to support any of them. Deeply discouraged, I wondered if I’d chosen the wrong career.

From the first page of Ornstein’s book, it was clear to me that he was on to something new. Using hard neuroscience data, he proposed that we behave irrationally because our brains are simply not set up to produce rational behavior. Throughout history, he argued, we’ve been operating under a great deception—we tend to believe that our thoughts and actions result largely from our conscious intentions. In fact, while our rational mind has a degree of veto power, the inclinations that fuel our perceptions, interpretations, and actions primarily come from neural processes that operate beneath the level of awareness. The fact that most of us have fallen for the great deception isn’t our fault. Because we’re aware only of our conscious thoughts, we readily assume that they’re the prime movers in our brains. We’re a bit like the men in the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding, who think that because they consider themselves the “head of the house,” they’re in charge. But remember Maria’s famous quote? “The man is the head, but the woman is the neck. And she can turn the head any way she wants.” In the brain, nonconscious urges and impulses are the neck, and conscious thought is merely the head.

To support this idea, Ornstein cited the work of Benjamin Libet, the University of California San Francisco researcher who found that by monitoring brain activity, he could tell when subjects were going to initiate simple wrist-flicking movements before the subjects were aware of deciding to flick their wrists. Libet’s findings ran contrary to the way most of us experience ourselves. Most of us think, “When I move, it’s because I decided that I was going to move.” But Libet’s studies showed that impulse and inclination preceded conscious intention. It was as though somebody else in the subject’s brain decided when he or she would flick his or her wrist. Initially, Libet’s study stirred a storm of controversy, but over the next few decades, his findings would be replicated time and time again, with more and more sophisticated technologies, leading to him winning a Nobel Prize for his contributions.

The sun was setting by the time I reached the end of The Evolution of Consciousness. I hauled the kids out of the pool and herded them into the car. On the drive home, I remember thinking that if Ornstein were right, I’d need to rethink my assumptions about nearly everything concerning human behavior, including psychotherapy. For me, reading his work was a genuine eureka moment. But figuring out a way to actually use this new brain knowledge with my clients would turn out to be tough, painstaking work. Still, I decided that I was up for the challenge—if my clients were.

The Knee-Jerk Brain

Investigating the studies cited in Ornstein’s book soon plunged me into the work of other pioneering researchers in the as-yet-unnamed field of affective neuroscience. Researcher Antonio Damasio’s work played a key role in furthering my understanding of the power of automatic processes in the brain. Damasio studied the brains of people who’d suffered a unique kind of brain damage that had left their cognitive abilities intact, impeding only their ability to experience emotions normally. Despite testing that confirmed that all the building blocks of rationality were in place, these people couldn’t make effective real-life decisions. At first, Damasio was puzzled. Why would impairment in the emotional brain interfere with practical decision-making? He eventually realized that the emotional brain plays a crucial role in the machinery of rationality: the brain generates quick, gut-level emotional reactions that collectively serve as a guidance system for reasoning.

Until reading Damasio’s studies, I’d assumed that successful people were effective because they resisted the pull of their emotions of the moment and used reasoning to guide their actions. Damasio’s studies powerfully challenged this notion, suggesting that disciplined people are every bit as much influenced by emotional impulse and inclination as undisciplined people are. The difference is that their impulses are more balanced.

This was a revolutionary concept for me. I’d never considered the possibility that disciplined people took too much credit for their efforts. According to Damasio, a disciplined person was simply someone whose nervous system naturally generated a wider range of gut-level emotion reactions than an undisciplined person. Whereas undisciplined people are influenced primarily by the gut feelings they experience in the present moment (e.g., wanting to blow off a homework assignment and watch a movie), disciplined people are equally influenced by good and bad feelings generated while remembering the past (e.g., feeling bad remembering the grade reduction resulting from missing an assignment) or envisioning the future (e.g., feeling good in anticipation of a job completed).

Gradually, I began to accept the concept that conscious understanding and effort weren’t the mighty forces that I’d assumed they were and that automatic urges and inclinations were much stronger than I’d ever imagined. In fact, confirming evidence seemed to pop up everywhere. In my therapy practice, I began to notice the wide range of my clients’ natural inclinations. I saw some people naturally plunge into rumination whenever they got upset, while others let go and refocused with relative ease. Some naturally experienced an abundance of feelings of warmth, tenderness, and playfulness, while others rarely had these feelings—even when life was going pretty well. Some intensely felt a measure of what others were feeling, while others could only infer what people were feeling from their words and actions. The list went on.

Just as the Cookie Monster couldn’t decide one day that he liked broccoli more than Oreos, the apparently automatic reactions that determined how people behaved in these areas seemingly couldn’t be changed at will. Such behaviors appear so deeply ingrained that they seem to be part of our second nature. Nevertheless, they wield tremendous influence on the quality of our lives. People who tend toward knee-jerk defensiveness don’t function as well as those who respond less defensively: they’re impervious to corrective feedback, and their partners regularly feel dismissed. Likewise, people who don’t feel much affection toward others seem to have more trouble forming close relationships than people who experience loving feelings freely.

Up to this point, most of my therapeutic efforts had been focused on helping clients develop better understandings of their lives and, as a result, make better choices. I’d wanted to help them live more consciously, but my confidence in the effectiveness of awareness and effort was waning. With my new understanding of the brain, I knew gut-level inclinations were more likely to sit in the driver’s seat, and the most that our conscious, willful selves could do was to try to influence these inclinations from the back seat, unless—and this was a big unless—there was a way to retrain the emotional brain.

Focused Practice

One of my first experiments in trying to help a client engage in emotional reconditioning involved Steve, whose wife, Debra, had attended a few sessions and then dropped out of therapy. Steve continued on his own, recognizing that many of his relationship habits were dysfunctional. During previous conjoint sessions, I’d noticed that whenever Debra had voiced a complaint, Steve had predictably become upset and defensive. I knew that Steve would need some way to practice thinking differently at the moments when he was actually upset. So I suggested that he ask Debra if she’d record complaints on a cassette tape, which he could then use to practice being nondefensive. Surprised and intrigued, Debra agreed.

I sent Debra a message asking her to make short 15- to 45-second recordings whenever she felt upset with Steve—the more recordings, the better. After she’d made a week’s worth of recordings, she was to give the tape to Steve to bring to our next therapy session. During our next several sessions, Steve and I listened to Debra’s recordings together, and I helped Steve pay attention to his automatic reactions when listening to her critical tone. Without feeling the immediate pressure to respond to Debra, he came to recognize that when he felt criticized, his face typically flushed, his features scrunched into a scowl, and his hands tingled slightly. He also noticed that predictable thoughts popped up—such as She’s so controlling!—and that he always felt an immediate urge to dispute every possible detail of her complaint.

Together, Steve and I developed a practice plan that involved relaxing physically as he listened to her complaints, slowing his breathing down, reminding himself that he could afford to take his time and hear her out, maintaining eye contact without scowling, and then searching for and commenting on understandable aspects of her complaint. For several weeks in our therapy sessions, Steve practiced this sequence while listening to complaint after complaint. Then one day, he came to our session with a grin on his face, exclaiming, “I think this is beginning to work!”

A few days before, Debra had become upset with him when she’d learned that he’d forgotten to tell his parents that they needed to cancel their plans to get together. “You know what?” Steve said excitedly. “When she was yelling at me, I actually noticed that my breathing was slowing down, and I was really listening to her. I had the urge to justify why I didn’t make the call, but I remembered that I could do that later if I needed to and that I could take my time and hear her out.” Instead of offering an excuse, Steve told her that he should have made calling his mother a higher priority. “You should have seen the look on her face!” Steve beamed. The fact that Steve’s automatic reactions had begun to change after only a few weeks of focused practice made me believe that I was on the right track.

The Wages of Blame

Soon enough, however, I realized that the reconditioning exercises worked so well for Steve because he was highly self-responsible and motivated to change, while most of the people I saw in therapy didn’t think they needed to change—at least not nearly as much as they thought their partners needed to. Motivating partners to take personal responsibility was the most frustrating part of being a couple’s therapist for me. Every time I challenged partners to behave differently, they’d counter with some version of “Well, I wouldn’t be acting this way if my partner wasn’t so selfish (or insensitive, irresponsible, inattentive, immature, misguided, unrealistic, irrational, short-sighted, or biased.)”

They usually had a point. Their partners often behaved just as badly as they themselves did, but to them, it seemed that their partners’ actions were far more egregious. Before I could do anything even approaching “brain retraining” with such clients, I needed a way to help them see their negative habits and understand the role that these habits were playing in the deterioration of their relationships.

I honestly don’t know if I’d have succeeded in motivating these clients had it not been for the fact that I’d already read John Gottman’s book Why Do Marriages Succeed or Fail?, in which he reports on his research finding that the most effective partners in intimate relationships were able to avoid “negative affect reciprocity” (the tendency to respond to negativity with more negativity) and the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” (criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling) when they felt provoked. Additionally, Gottman found that it was especially when partners were behaving badly that the differences between couples who were destined for satisfying relationships could be most clearly distinguished from couples who were destined for serious trouble.

Gottman’s research enabled me to cut through the blame game that so often plagues ailing partners and help them—at least some of them—understand that the ability to respond effectively when they didn’t like their partner’s actions was a nonnegotiable requirement if they wanted their relationships to thrive. Gottman’s research was also valuable because of its precision. He’d zeroed in on the specific habits that were required for relationships to succeed, which helped clients identify exactly where they tended to get off track in their relationships. However, while most Gottman-influenced therapists I talked to were trying to teach clients these skills, I knew that clients wouldn’t be able to conjure these skills at a moment’s notice as long as their automatic emotional reactions kept getting in the way. To successfully implement these skills, clients would first need to rewire some of their automatic reactions.

The Brain on Mindfulness

For almost 20 years now, I’ve been exploring methods for helping clients develop new, automatic inclinations that allow better self-regulation, self-attunement, perspective-taking, and empathy, especially in their intimate relationships. But one of the studies with the biggest impact on my approach was published in NeuroReport by a team of researchers from Harvard and Yale who’d found that mindfulness meditation may produce growth in brain areas known to be involved in mood regulation, attentiveness, and empathy.

As it turned out, this study was just the first of its kind. Since then, 18 additional studies have been published finding that meditators have significantly greater volume in areas of the brain that produce automatic tendencies relevant to social functioning, including several that found that periods as short as eight weeks of regular mindfulness created predictable changes in the brain. In fact, in 2013, a team of researchers from Brazil and the United Kingdom found that they could distinguish the brains of experienced meditators from those of non-meditators with 94.9 percent accuracy. The evidence is clear—meditation conditions the brain to produce automatic inclinations that help people be more attentive and optimistic and less affected by stressful circumstances and anxiety. In other words, the nervous system changes promoted by mindfulness can serve as a stable platform that enables people to act more skillfully in all areas of their lives.

Using Brain Science for Behavioral Change

Over the years, I’ve come to recognize that there’s no one-shot, magic-bullet approach to retraining the human brain. Instead, I’ve developed a process that systematically combines what we know about the power of the emotional brain, the particular strengths of the rational mind, the mechanics of mindfulness meditation, and the brain’s impressive flexibility to help clients learn to calm their nervous systems and navigate their lives more effectively. This process includes:

  1. Conscious pursuit of understanding and change. We need to use our conscious minds to understand our lives, develop ideas about what’s healthy and unhealthy, and pursue concrete changes that move us toward health and well-being.
  2. Stress reduction and rejuvenation. We need to develop nervous system inclinations that reduce stress, relax the mind, and rejuvenate the body.
  3. Distress tolerance and self-regulation. We need to develop nervous system inclinations that help us tolerate the inevitable stress that accompanies making difficult changes and self-regulate in emotionally charged situations.
  4. Emotional accessibility. We need to develop nervous system inclinations that produce feelings that connect us to others.

At our treatment center for couples, my colleagues and I begin stress reduction and rejuvenation in the first week of therapy, asking partners to start mindfulness classes in conjunction with therapy. While mindfulness training alone won’t heal broken relationships, we consider it an indispensable part of the relationship improvement process. Years of experience have taught us that there’s only so much that we can do with clients whose default nervous system impulses and inclinations keep them perpetually stressed, edgy, and preoccupied.

While partners engage in their first eight weeks of mindfulness classes, we use therapy sessions to engage them in the conscious pursuit of understanding and change. Specifically, we help them (1) become aware of studies suggesting that people who believe their partners are “the main problem” are usually mistaken, (2) consider evidence suggesting that this mistake is of no small consequence to relationships, (3) become receptive to our opinion that their habits have been as damaging to the relationship as their partner’s habits, (4) listen with an open mind as we paint a clear picture of their problematic habits, (5) understand why it’s in their own best interest to explicitly acknowledge and accept responsibility for their roles in the deterioration of their relationships, and (6) become determined to develop the full set of habits that are characteristic of people who know how to get their partners to treat them well. We also help partners accept mutual responsibility while in the presence of each other. Then we move on to identify the underlying needs, worries, fears, and insecurities that are beneath their previous blaming and defensive postures, and we help them talk about these vulnerable feelings without accusation or blame.

The combination of stress reduction and rejuvenation (facilitated through mindfulness classes) andconscious pursuit of understanding and change (during therapy sessions) is powerful, and couples often make significant strides in the first two months of therapy. But in my experience, that’s rarely enough. Up to this point, the shifts that clients make during sessions are heavily therapist dependent.We help partners self-regulate during sessions. We create the conditions that enable them to connect with vulnerable feelings. The biggest challenge for them is still ahead: learning to rewire their brains to produce automatic inclinations that enable them to do these things on their own. This is hard, gutsy work, but it can produce substantial change, so we help clients walk the arduous path toward self-regulation through exercises in distress tolerance and self-soothing and in emotional accessibility.


Developing Calm in the Storm

Neuroscientist and psychiatrist Daniel Siegel notes that the process of turning toward and soothing upset feelings (rather than focusing exclusively on the external threats) is what good parents do in responding to feelings of distress in their children. Before helping children solve their problems, skillful parents relax, turn toward and welcome their children’s feelings while providing direct physical soothing—often through hugging, holding, and other forms of nurturing contact. Similarly, distress tolerance and self-soothing exercises help clients turn toward their own upset feelings and engage directly in physiological soothing, temporarily postponing thoughts about problems. This process of self-accompaniment elicits a sense of calm in the storm, allowing clients to avoid alarm or panic when things aren’t going well.

We begin by asking clients to notice when small annoyances or disappointments occur in the course of each day. When they notice these frustrations, clients stop what they’re doing and spend one to three minutes resisting the urge to analyze their upsetting circumstances. Instead, they’re encouraged to slow down their breathing and focus attention on their physical sensations.

We’ve found that the key to reconditioning automatic reactions involves frequent reconditioning exercises that are practiced in close proximity to each other. The brain will acquire a new habit more quickly if a person practices the new habit once a day for 14 days than if a person practices it one time per week for 14 weeks. I learned this concept decades ago from Albert, the white lab rat I worked with in my college experimental psychology class. Albert learned new behaviors, like running to a specific area of his cage, with fewer conditioning trials when he was rewarded for desired behavior once per hour than when he was rewarded for it once per week. This is why we ask partners to practice with every upset feeling—no matter how small—that they experience on a daily basis. We emphasize that most of the work involves simply remembering to do the exercises and being willing to interrupt whatever they’re doing for a couple of minutes. If practiced faithfully, these small moments will change their brains within weeks. We want clients to understand that each day that goes by without practicing distress tolerance and self-soothing decreases the likelihood that their brains will begin to produce calming instincts and inclinations automatically.

Clients begin by practicing with mild upset feelings. Once they’ve worked with mild upset feelings every day for at least a week, they move on to more intense feelings. For this level of practice, we want the upset feelings to be stronger, but not so difficult that clients get hijacked by them and are unable to practice. One method involves having clients listen to complaints that their partners have prerecorded, as I had Steve do with Debra’s complaints in the days of tape recorders. (Now we have the added convenience of making recordings on our smartphones.) Some clients don’t need to listen to recordings to activate upset feelings. They can feel upset just by setting aside times to regularly remember recent upsetting events. To many people this sounds crazy. “Why would I want to deliberately make myself upset?” they balk. The answer is so they can practice calming themselves frequently enough to wire their brains with an instinct to remain calm during upsetting situations.

Although the point of triggering is to learn how to calm oneself and eventually not get triggered in the first place, it’s undeniably painful work. When clients lose their nerve I empathize with them, readily acknowledging that there have been weeks, months, and even whole phases in my life when I just haven’t had the energy or motivation to engage in practices that would’ve been good for me. Sometimes life is like that; you just can’t sustain the courage or motivation to press on, and it’s wise to cut yourself some slack. I support clients who need to back off, but I don’t want them to delude themselves. Even as they’re backing off, I encourage them to consider that at some point, they’ll probably need to find the motivation to engage in difficult practices such as these if they want their habitual reactions to change.

Intense upset feelings during actual arguments are the most difficult for clients to practice with; however, clients who have practiced diligently with mild and moderate feelings can usually soothe intense feelings as well. First, we familiarize them with the process of working with intense feelings in advance, when they’re calm and can fully take in each element of practice. Then during conjoint sessions, we ask them to discuss hot issues, the ones that trigger strong feelings. Ahead of time, clients agree that when they’re triggered, they’ll take session breaks for the purpose of practicingdistress tolerance and self-soothing, and I give them the set of instructions in the box on the next page to help them through each of the steps.

Once partners have gone through the steps described in the box to the right, they resume the session and continue discussing the troubling issue. Sometimes another break is needed, and often there isn’t time for issues to get resolved by the end of sessions. To feel okay about this lack of resolution, clients must care more about acquiring the ability to self-soothe and tolerate distress than they do about resolving issues quickly. They must believe that ultimately, the ability to react less intensely and operate with less desperation will lead to easier resolution of differences—and this benefit will extend over time throughout their relationship. They must be willing to exchange the value of quick resolution for the long-term benefits that will come from investing time in reconditioning their brains for calmer reactions in upsetting situations.

After they’ve had success on their own during session breaks, we ask clients to begin practicing at home by taking breaks during real-time arguments. When people have difficulty engaging in distress tolerance and self-soothing exercises at home during arguments, it’s usually because they’re not fully committed to getting better at them. Deep down, they may not believe that calming themselves will matter much. They may feel that they’ve been calm during arguments in the past and it hasn’t made any difference; their partners were still unresponsive. I agree with such clients, acknowledging that staying calm by itself won’t be enough—they may also need to stand up for themselves. To heighten motivation for these clients, we spend quite a bit of time discussing studies showing that the ability to calm oneself in the face of conflict is highly correlated with getting satisfying responses from one’s partner. We then ask clients to complete logs in which they record each upsetting incident, how much time they spent trying to shut down mental chatter and focus on physical self-soothing, and how much calmer they felt after practicing. The good news is that for clients who practice diligently with the full range of mild, moderate, and intense feelings, changes take place in their nervous systems within a period of weeks.

The Power of Mental Rehearsal

As partners become better able to self-regulate and resolve differences respectfully, feelings of warmth, interest, fondness, playfulness, sexual interest, and other forms of loving attention often increase spontaneously. However, this doesn’t always happen. Years of animosity and indifference often shut down the neural systems that generate such feelings. In his 30 years of studying the neural systems that create social bonds, neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp identified four special operating systems in the brain, which, when active, automatically produce feelings that bring people closer together. One creates a longing for emotional closeness and contact, a second produces feelings of tenderness and the urge to care for others, a third produces the urges for spontaneous and playful social contact, and a fourth activates sexual desire. Any of these systems can go dormant when stressful life circumstances occur. But some individuals, even before experiencing the relationship distress that drove them into therapy, never had an abundance of easy access to some or all of these intimacy-generating neural systems. Is this emotional coolness a fixed state, or can it change? A number of studies in the past decade suggest that, just as our nervous systems can be groomed for better self-regulation, these neural systems can be primed to enable a natural emergence of feelings of connection. We help clients do this through specific, focused mental practices that we callemotional accessibility exercises.

Coaches and trainers have long utilized focused mental exercises to help athletes enhance performance by visualizing goals and concentrating on steps toward goals, but only recently have we discovered just how powerfully mental exercises can change the brain. In a Harvard study conducted by neurologist Alvaro Pascual-Leone, subjects who’d never played the piano before were given instructions and asked to practice a piece for five days, two hours per day, for a total of 10 hours. Before and after these practice stints, their brains were scanned. As anticipated, subjects showed brain changes in the areas of the motor cortex that corresponded to the physical movements that they’d practiced.

Another group of subjects randomly assigned to a second practice condition did the same thing as the first group, with one crucial exception: they never pressed the keys of the piano. Instead, they mentally focused on each of the practice movements. Researchers were amazed to find that these mental-rehearsal-only subjects evidenced almost the same changes in their brains as the subjects who’d practiced using their hands. In other words, mental practice produced changes in the motor cortex even though subjects hadn’t moved their fingers—they just visualized moving their fingers.

But how did the purely mental rehearsal, with its accompanying brain changes, affect the subjects’ ability to play the piece? Here, the results were stunning. Although the people in the mental-rehearsal-only group had never practiced physically, they could play the rehearsed piano piece almost as well as the group who’d practiced physically for five days. And after only one day of physical practice, they could play just as well as them.

The Harvard piano studies aren’t the only ones that show brain and performance-level changes in response to mental rehearsal. A study at the Cleveland Clinic found that subjects could increase their finger strength 53 percent through physical exercises over a 12-week period, but amazingly, a second group showed a 35 percent strength increase through mental visualization only. In a 2007 study conducted at Bishop’s University in Quebec, college athletes who engaged in hip flexor exercises increased their muscle strength 28 percent, while a mental-rehearsal-only group strengthened the same hip flexor muscles by 24 percent.

Can feelings, too, be changed through mental exercise? The answer appears to be yes. Over the past decade, dozens of studies have been published on a particular form of mental rehearsal known as compassion meditation. The exercise involves spending extended periods of time focusing on the intent and desire to develop feelings of compassion and loving-kindness for others. Just as mental rehearsal promoted changes in the motor cortex of Pascual-Leone’s piano players, brain scans have revealed that brain circuits involved in empathy, positive emotion, and emotional regulation are dramatically changed in subjects who’d extensively practiced compassion meditation.

A 2013 study from a University of Wisconsin research team, published in Psychological Science, showed that focusing daily on the intention to be loving and compassionate not only strengthened feelings of compassion and related neural underpinnings, but also increased the concrete altruistic behavior of subjects. A 2013 study from Emory University published in Social, Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience found that compassion meditation boosted something called “empathic accuracy,” a person’s ability to read the facial expressions of others. In this study, the meditators, in comparison to those in the control group, showed significant increases in neural activity in areas of the brain important for empathy, and these brain changes accounted for changes in the participants’ empathic accuracy scores.

These studies suggest that simply dwelling on the intention to develop a specific feeling activates the neural circuits responsible for producing that feeling. In focusing on the intention to be compassionate, meditators primed their brains for compassion. It’s reasonable to assume that the same principle applies to other feelings. Thus, if you spend five minutes a day thinking about things you’re grateful for, you’re likely to energize and create more connection with brain circuits that produce feelings of gratitude. If you spend five minutes a day remembering vividly times when you felt happy (or playful, affectionate, sexual, and so forth), you’ll energize and strengthen brain circuits that can produce these feelings. As neuroscientists explain, anything you consistently give attention to teaches the brain to produce more of it, and this is true with negative thoughts.

At our clinic, we ask partners to spend five minutes each day doing nothing but thinking about things they like about their mates and about good moments that they’ve spent together. The primary value of this emotional accessibility exercise is that each time partners dwell on the good feelings they have toward each other, the neural circuits that generate feelings of connection—such as the middle insula, superior parietal lobule, right periaqueductal gray, left ventral tegmental area, and left rostro-dorsal anterior cingulate cortex—may be strengthened.

However, studies on mental rehearsal and compassion meditation suggest that it’s not just any kind of attention that produces these significant changes. Once again, regular, sustained work is essential. The subjects in Pascual-Leone’s piano study didn’t just wish occasionally for increased piano skills; they spent hours per day specifically imagining the piano moves necessary to develop the skills. Similarly, those involved in the compassion meditation studies didn’t just entertain fleeting thoughts about wanting to feel more compassion and loving-kindness; they regularly spent time dwelling on the desire to have more compassion—in some studies up to 40 minutes per day over the course of eight weeks. Reflecting on his experience, one of my clients said, “I can’t make a good feeling walk through the door on command, but if I keep holding the door open, sooner or later it’ll walk through.”

Many people live out their lives without holding this door open. Generally, people fail to do this because they believe it’s useless. Early in our lives, most of us are told, “Wishful thinking won’t get you anywhere! You need to get off of your butt and make things happen!” While wishful thinking alone won’t get people where they want to go, people who bolster their concrete efforts with focused, sustained intentions are likelier to make desired changes than those who use behavioral efforts alone. Numerous studies over the past decade have shown that surgeons who engage in mental and physical practice together are more skillful than those who engage in physical practice only. Similarly, stroke victims who engage in mental visualization in addition to physical therapy recover functioning faster, and athletes and musicians who combine mental and physical practice perform better.

Doing the Work

When I think back on that afternoon years ago when Robert Ornstein was first blowing my mind, I realize that since then almost everything about the way I conduct therapy has changed. I still help clients develop insight and make concrete plans for operating more effectively in their daily lives, but truthfully, this part of my work is more of a sideline. These days, my central concern is reconditioning the brain. Modern neuroscientific discoveries suggest that William James was right in 1890 when he proposed that the basic organizer of the human mind is habit, not rational thought or understanding. Thus, I believe that in the coming years, the most important developments in mental health will involve refining technologies for isolating and intervening in automatic nervous system habits.

Reconditioning the brain isn’t the stuff of brief therapy. I ask a lot of my clients, and some weeks I’m better at motivating them than others. Over the years, I’ve noticed that their willingness to do the work seems to correlate with what’s going on within me. The calmer my own nervous system is, the easier it is for me to connect with feelings of love, nonjudgment, empathy, acceptance, and excitement about the possibilities that lie ahead for my clients. When clients sense qualities in me that they’d like to develop in themselves, they’re sold. I can talk about the scientifically proven benefits of mental practice until I’m blue in the face, but unless they sense that I know what I’m talking about through their felt experience of me, they don’t buy in. Good for them. In this business, there’s no substitute for the real thing.

Distress Tolerance & Self-Soothing: Guidelines for Clients

1. Stop what you’re doing and say to yourself:

  • I can afford to slow down and try to relax.
  • I’ve got some time to figure out how to handle this situation.
  • I’m not going to just let it go without saying something.
  • If I can get calmer, I’ll be more powerful.

2. Now identify the behind-the-scenes facts that are making you feel upset. Write your answers to these questions:

  • What seems to be the sad or disturbing truth about why this person is acting this way?
  • What bad thing is happening here that seems similar to a bad situation that’s happened before? Is the same bad thing happening now?
  • What will happen if I can’t get this sort of thing to stop happening?

3. Propose to yourself that the answers to these questions may not be as clearcut as they seem. One by one, go back through each question and say to yourself: “Maybe things are as they seem, and maybe they aren’t.”

4. Set your thinking about these questions and about the upsetting situation aside for now. Assume a first-things-first attitude: “First I’m going to get myself into a state of mind where I feel less upset; then I’ll think things through and figure out what to do.”

5. Pay attention exclusively to the physical sensations that go along with your feelings. Welcome these sensations. Avoid trying to change them. Just accompany them while “giving them air” through slow breathing. Think of slow breathing as putting an oxygen mask on the part of you that feels upset. Take big inhales and then long, slow exhales.

6. If thoughts pop up, acknowledge them. Then without judging yourself, gently bring your attention back to the physical sensations. Do this as many times as needed.

7. Alternate between paying attention to physical sensations that go along with the feeling and giving mindful attention to your breath, other body sensations, and your immediate surroundings. Use any mental images that help you feel more at ease.

8. If you can’t seem to stop ruminating about the upsetting circumstances, engage in an activity that requires your full attention. Later, when you’re feeling better, go back and give some thought to how you can best respond to the upsetting circumstances. If you begin feeling upset again, start at #1 and follow these guidelines one more time.

Brent Atkinson, PhD, is director of postgraduate training at the Couples Research Institute in Geneva, Illinois, and Professor Emeritus at Northern Illinois University. He’s the author of Emotional Intelligence in Couples Therapy: Advances from Neurobiology and the Science of Intimate Relationships and Developing Habits for Relationship Success. Contact: atkinson.bja@gmail.com.


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12 Things Not To Be Ashamed Of

“Never be ashamed of yourself. Be proud of who you are and don’t worry about how others see you.” – Kristen Butler

In today’s critical society, the lives of others are often measured and compared to “the norm”. So much so, that it comes down to the point of people actually being ashamed of how they live their life, or even who they live it with.

Who ever made you think that you had to give away your power of being a uniquely beautiful individual?

The truth is, you do NOT have to be ashamed of your life, how you live it, or who you live it with. The important part of life is that you are creating happiness in your own life as well as in the lives of others. You shouldn’t have to cover the life you live just because someone else may think or tell you that you shouldn’t, or don’t need to be living in that fashion.

Here are 12 things you should no longer be ashamed of:

1. Taking time for self-care

In a hectic world, it’s easy to get lost in the hustle and bustle of doing things for others. You can spend an entire day making sure everyone you know is happy and well taken care of.

But what about taking time for yourself?

Self-care, or more commonly referred to as “me time”, comes in many forms. You can go extreme and book a 5-night vacation to somewhere sandy and warm, or you can do something a little more subtle and treat yourself to your favorite meal, read your favorite book, or get a massage. Self-care is vital to well-being!

2. Showing or expressing your emotion

Feeling sad? Maybe a little angry? You could even be ecstatic! Whatever you’re feeling, don’t be ashamed to express it. People who regularly use cognitive therapy to understand what they’re feeling become more competent in managing their emotions. As a result, they are less susceptible to manipulation and negative moods.

3. Who you spend time with

Not all your loved ones are family. Sometimes these people include your friends and romantic partners. In other words, you get to decide who you let into your life and who you spend most of your time with.

According to Jim Rohn’s law of averages, you’re most like the five people you spend the majority of your time with. If this is true, wouldn’t it be wise to proudly spend time with the people who you want to be around that will make you a better person?

4. What you do for work

In a society obsessed with what you do for a living and how much money you make, following your career aspirations can sometimes seem difficult. Just ask any liberal art college student how many times they’ve heard, “You’re getting a degree in that? What are you going to do? How are you going to pay your bills?”

When you’re constantly bombarded with attacks on your choice of career, it’s easy to get discouraged. Always remember what drew you to a certain field in the first place, and why you feel that you’re positively contributing to the world through that career choice.

5. Forgiveness

Holding grudges is bad for your relationships and health. It can easily wrap you up in the past instead of the present, and produce a multitude of health issues.

Never be ashamed to forgive anyone. Forgiving is important to move forward in life. Sometimes people think forgiving means it makes it okay. That’s untrue. Forgiveness means you are allowing yourself to let go. You free yourself from the bondage, and in fact, receive more of a gift from it than those who you forgive!


6. Being hopeful

There’s a common saying that a person is made truly happy by three things: someone to love, something to do, and something to hope for. The dreamers among us know all about hope and how common it is to have that hope challenged by people who tell you to “be realistic” and prepare for the worst.

But to those challengers we say, “You may call me a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.” Hopeful, positive thinking even has multiple health benefits including increased life span, lower levels of stress, and improves coping skills. So in difficult times, keep calm and hope on!

7. Positive Thinking

Not every day may be a good day, but this doesn’t mean that you have to let life kick you while you’re down. It’s impossible to predict when a bad day is going to come around, but thinking positive throughout those bad days will make you more resilient next time you’re challenged with one. With this ever growing resilience, you’ll be cruising down the best possible path you can take with your life.

8. Being true to yourself

One of the biggest deathbed regrets people express is not living a life true to themselves. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the expectations other people have for you and your life, but it will always boil down to what you want to do with your life.

Embracing your unique self and loving that self is one of the most courageous things you can do. Don’t worry about what others think. As that ridiculously catchy Bon Jovi song goes…it’s your life. It’s now or never.

9. Your past

Trials and tribulation ultimately create experience and wisdom. There are a lot of bumps along the road of life, especially in the first couple of decades. Don’t let those minor bumps turn into mountains. There are going to be moments that you wish you can do over, but the power of hindsight is that you learn from your past mistakes.

As time goes on, you’ll be able to make better, more informed decisions, allowing you to create a happier and healthier life.

10. Your natural self

In her wildly hilarious memoir, Bossypants, Tina Fey references a laundry list of beauty standards forced on women, including Caucasian blue eyes, full Spanish lips, small Japanese feet, the arms of Michelle Obama, and much more.

Men and women are both subjected to this kind of social standard, and can often become ashamed of how their body looks, based on what other people think about it. Even if you try every cutting edge surgery or serum, no one can be a perfectly sculpted specimen. Give those strict beauty standards a kick to the curb and embrace your natural state, while aiming to be the best version of you.

11. Your eating habits.

From animal protein lovers to the vegans and beyond, people can be very sensitive about their food. Some people swear by their diets, while others jump from superfood to superfood trying to find their next nutritive fix.

Whatever it is you’re chowing down on, don’t let others discourage you for being consistent with your own beliefs. Listen to your body. It will tell you exactly what food it needs, and if you ever get stuck on what to eat next, there are many resources available online to create a perfect meal plan for your individual needs.

12. Doing your best

We all want to live happy, fulfilling lives. To do so it takes a conscious effort, a lot of energy, and sometimes even a lot of time. Striving to do your best is always an admirable feat and should be revered, not frowned upon.

Anyone who tries to make you feel ashamed for striving may simply be ashamed of themselves for not striving to be their own optimal self.

Step into the freedom of being your unique self. You can be free from living in shame, regardless of what anyone thinks. Know that you are making a positive impact in the world, and that everything outside of that is strictly superficial. Shine ON!


Health Benefits of Honey

Honey has been used by countless cultures all around the world over the past 2,500 years. While the numerous health benefits of honey have made it an important element of traditional medicines such as Ayurvedic treatments, scientists are also researching the benefits of honey in relation to modern medicine, particularly in the healing of wounds.

It is known as Honig in German, Miele in Italian, Shahad in Hindi, Miel in French and Spanish, Mel in Portuguese, мед in Russian, Honing in Dutch, and μελι in Greek; there is almost no part in the world where honey is not widely used and celebrated as a part of the cultural diet.

But what makes honey so popular? Most likely, it is the ease with which it can be consumed. One can eat honey directly, put it on bread like a jam, mix it with juice or any drink instead of sugar, or mix it with warm water, lime juice, cinnamon and other herbs to make a medicine. It is savored by all due to its taste as well as health benefits, making it extremely useful and versatile.


Health Benefits of Honey

The health benefits of honey include the following treatments, taken from both traditional and modern medical experts.

Sweetener: Sugar can be substituted with honey in many food and drinks. Honey contains about 69% glucose and fructose, enabling it to be used as a sweetener that is better for your overall health than normal white sugar.

Weight Loss: Though honey has more calories than sugar, when honey is consumed with warm water, it helps in digesting the fat stored in your body. Similarly, honey and lemon juice as well as honey and cinnamon help in reducing weight. Read more about the benefits of honey in weight loss.

Energy Source: According to the USDA, honey contains about 64 calories per tablespoon. Therefore, honey is used by many people as a source of energy. On the other hand, one tablespoon of sugar will give you about 15 calories. Furthermore, the carbohydrates in honey can be easily converted into glucose by even the most sensitive stomachs, since it is very easy for the body to digest this pure, natural substance.

Improving Athletic Performance: Recent research has shown that honey is an excellent ergogenic aid and helps in boosting the performance of athletes. Honey is a great way to maintain blood sugar levels, muscle recuperation and glycogen restoration after a workout, as well as regulating the amount of insulin in the body, as well as energy expenditure.

Source of Vitamins and Minerals: Honey contains a variety of vitamins and minerals. The type of vitamins and minerals and their quantity depends on the type of flowers used for apiculture. Commonly, honey contains Vitamin C, Calcium and Iron. If you check the vitamin and mineral content in regular sugar from any other source, you will find it to be completely absent or insignificant.

Antibacterial and Antifungal Properties: Honey has anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties, so it is often used as a natural antiseptic in traditional medicines.

Antioxidants: Honey contains nutraceuticals, which are very effective for the removal of free radicals from the body. As a result, our body immunity is improved against many conditions, even potentially fatal ones like cancer or heart disease.

Skin Care with Milk and Honey: Milk and honey are often served together, since both of these ingredients help in creating smooth, beautiful skin. Consuming milk and honey every morning is a common practice in many countries for this very reason.

Honey in Wound Management:  Significant research is being carried out to study the benefits of honey in the treatment of wounds. The Nursing Standard explains some of these benefits of honey in wound management in the document. These have been listed below:

  • Honey possesses antimicrobial properties.
  • It helps in promoting autolytic debridement.
  • It deodorizes malodorous wounds.
  • It speeds up the healing process by stimulating wound tissues.
  • It helps in initiating the healing process in dormant wounds.
  • Honey also helps in promoting moist wound healing.

The healing powers of honey are not overstated. The Waikato Honey Research Unit provides details about the world-wide research that is being carried out on the benefits of honey in medicine. Furthermore, BBC reported in July of 2006 that doctors at the Christie Hospital in Didsbury, Manchester are planning to use honey for faster recovery of cancer patients after surgery. Such research will provide scientific evidence for the so-called “beliefs” held by honey lovers all over the world and will help in propagating the benefits of honey to more people.

Now that you know the benefits of honey, how do you eat it? You can eat it raw, add it to water or different beverages and you can also add it to several recipes.