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Mindfulness and Anxiety

Mindfulness practice, at its core, is the opposite of an anxious mind.

What Is Mindfulness?

“There have been many tragedies in my life, but most of them have not happened.” —Mark Twain

Anxiety lives in fears of the future that haven’t happened yet. How often does what you worry about actually happen? Take a second to reflect on the last spiral of worry that took over you. While bad things do happen, the odds are that it was much worse in your mind than what happened or what may happen.

The truth is, most of what we worry about never happens. We’re hardwired to be perceiving and responding to threats. It’s what has kept us alive evolutionarily; other mammals can fight with fangs and claws, but we are “thinking mammals.” We can hardly spend a few moments without thinking. This makes sense, as it’s what has kept us alive. This often causes an emergency response, despite the veracity of the actual threat.

Fear (the core of anxiety, really) is our body’s ancient response to perceived peril, no matter how negligible it actually is. It can present itself as a stress-related physical symptom, making us desperate to get rid of it. This constant state of worry and threat-scanning and detection can wear us down. This can make us avoid any danger signs, even when they often are just signs.

Unfortunately, this is often a trap. What we constantly avoid, we strengthen (i.e., the confrontational conversation or passing by the area where you were robbed), reinforcing its danger, no matter how harmless it may be and usually is.

Our propensity to plan, especially when it stems from anxiety, can also easily become excessive and counterproductive, taking us away from the pleasure and richness of the moment, the only time we can actually feel joy, happiness, pleasure, and peace. We’re also conditioned by capitalism to look for the next thing, taking us away from the now, and everything is usually OK right now unless it’s an emergency or crisis. This is where mindfulness comes in.

Mindfulness practices rewire the brain toward savoring the present moment, instead of dwelling on anxiety, which is often living the state of perceived fears. In mindfulness practice, we learn the wisdom in prioritizing. Things that we’re worrying about often aren’t urgent.

It’s easy to forget you have time to deal with many of the stressors you chronically worry about, and you’ve dealt with them well your whole life! In fact, thinking about bad things happening is worse than just dealing with them! Showing up 20 minutes late to the event wasn’t that bad after all, right?

Worry can also, covertly, feel enjoyable; it’s easy to worry even when everything is OK now. I’m personally an expert at this. The mind can think that worry is what prevented something bad from happening, which can mistakenly reinforce it, despite its factual falseness. Worry often tricks us into thinking we’re “taking action” to prevent danger, when we may actually be reinforcing it.

Mindfulness practice helps you see and prevent these mental pitfalls from decreasing your unnecessary suffering and worrying. What can be better than that? When stuck in traffic, do you want to be fuming like everyone else, or kicking back, relaxing, at ease, savoring life’s blessings? Mindfulness reveals this choice for you, no matter how elusive it felt prior.

Jason Linder, MA, LMFT, is a licensed bilingual (Spanish-speaking) therapist and doctoral (PsyD) candidate at the California School of Professional Psychology in San Diego.

Feb 08, 2020
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Mindfulness

What is mindfulness?
The modern mindfulness is the brainchild of Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, an American professor emeritus of medicine. He defines it as “the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment.”

In simpler terms, mindfulness helps sustain attention to feelings, emotions and thoughts in the present moment without getting carried away by them. Mindfulness has its roots in Buddhism, and from an ancient tradition, it has evolved into a modern mind training. It is a quality that some people possess naturally, but it can also be trained and improved. Mindfulness is the bridge in between our mind and present moment that helps us understand and better react to stressful, overwhelming situations.

Benefits of mindfulness
Mindfulness is a powerful practice that can help with improving wellbeing in terms of physical and mental health. From the physical point of view, mindfulness training can help with stress relief, lowering blood pressure, reducing pain and improving sleep. Mindfulness gives people a larger perspective on life, clear thinking and patience. Our minds don’t have switch off buttons for unwanted thoughts; however, it is possible to train yourself to control them. Systematic training improves focus attention and concentration. It results in having more energy to become fully engaged in important activities of everyday life instead of getting carried away by worries and intrusive thoughts. Mindfulness meditation helps develop better resilience and can help people recover faster from tension and stress.

Scientific foundation
Research on mindfulness has been expanding rapidly in the last decades. The evidence for the benefits of mindfulness is promising and proven in several trials with clinical and social applications.

People have their mind wandering almost 50 percent of the time they are awake. That means their mind is not where their body is; instead, they’re thinking about things that happened in the past, could happen in the future or might never happen at all – all while being involved in many other daily tasks. Evidence suggests that a wandering mind leads to unhappiness.

However, the brain can be trained to sustain focus and attention in the present moment. Introducing mindfulness training in daily routines has the potential to improve mental and overall health treatment outcomes.

Clinical applications of the mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) have proven to be effective in several studies and trials. Researchers report that MBCT can decrease the severity of depression symptoms of currently depressed patients in just eight weeks. A number of trials show a positive effect of mindfulness on brain changes and immune responsivity, and even influence the healing process of skin diseases related to psychological stress.  In the context of mental health, mindfulness encourages people to develop a more compassionate and accepting relationship with their own thoughts and feelings.

Approach
There are many mindfulness techniques, but all of them focus on the same: paying attention and accepting your thoughts on purpose, without judgement. You can practice mindfulness where and when you want; it doesn’t necessarily need to be a lengthy process and can take a couple of minutes – on your break from work, for example.

Mindfulness starts with posture. You can choose whether you want to sit comfortably, lay down or even walk, but you need to have your back straight. You continue with breathing exercises and scanning your body. By focusing on your physical sensations, you can switch to focusing on sensory aspects as sounds, smells and touches. It’s important to observe the feelings and thoughts you’re having without judgement and let them go.

This focusing exercise is just an example of many meditation techniques. Guided meditations are popular and can be easily accessed on many resources online.

Written by Ana Maria Sedletchi     December 9, 2019
 
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3 Steps to Deepen Your Mindfulness Practice

Let’s imagine that you’re a reasonably healthy adult with all of your basic needs met, people who care about you in your life, and things you enjoy doing available to you … you should be pretty happy, right?

It turns out, even in this incredibly lucky scenario, most of us still struggle — stress, anxiety, frustration, overwhelm, letting ourselves and others down, disappointment, hurt feelings, anger, feeling like you’re always behind … it all creates a sense of unease that is not aligned with our fortunate circumstances.

So how do we go about enjoying life, finding a sense of peace and calm and purposeful focus?

I’ve found mindfulness practices to be the key. They’re not a magical solution to anything, but they do ease the suffering we experience in our lives.

Those of you who who have practiced meditation for awhile know what I’m talking about. Let’s look at a few ways to deepen into the practice, if you’re interested.

Step 1: Drop Into Direct Experience of the Moment
Most of us are caught up in our thoughts about our lives, ourselves, other people, the world around us … most of the time. We’re stuck in a movie in our minds, a storyline or narrative about the situation. This causes all of our trouble — frustration, disappointment, stress, anxiety, overwhelm, unhappiness.

The practice here is to drop into the direct experience of the moment. Not the thoughts about the moment (though those will come up), but the actual sensations happening in the moment.

You might notice the sensations present in different parts of your body, including how your breath feels, but also how your torso feels, seeing what you can notice in your neck and head, in your arms and legs. You might notice the sensation of air on your skin, or ground beneath your feet. You might notice sounds or light or colors or shapes.

Whenever you notice yourself caught up in thoughts or ideas, in a narrative or fantasies … drop back into the direct experience of the present moment. Experience everything with beginner’s mind, as if this were the first time you ever experienced this before.

This is a practice that you can get better at, returning again and again to direct experience. You move from concepts and thoughts and ideas and storylines, to direct experience. Just observe, just notice, just be curious.

If you’re feeling frustrated or stressed, try this and see if it shifts anything for you. See if you’re caught up less and present more.

Practice this for at least a month (though it’s really a lifetime practice).

Step 2: Bring a Sense of Friendliness Towards the Experience
After you’ve practiced dropping into direct experience … you might try a new way of relating to that direct experience.

Instead of just noticing as an impartial observer … see if you can bring a feeling of warmth, friendliness, gentleness, kindness, even love to your relating to this direct experience.

For example, if you see someone on the street, you can just notice that there’s a person there … or you can feel a friendliness towards them. Welcoming them into your experience like you would welcome someone warmly into your house.

In the same way, you can bring a friendliness and warmth and welcoming towards anything you notice in your direct experience. You notice the sensation of air on your skin, and you might feel friendly towards these sensations. The same with anything you hear, see, smell, touch. The same with how you notice nature all around you, or sensations in your body.

It’s a continuation of the practice of direct experience, but with a shift in how you relate — it’s unconditional friendliness to anything you bring your awareness towards.

Practice this for at least a month as well.

Step 3: Drop the Sense of Self, and Motivation from Gain & Loss
Once you’ve practiced the two steps above, you’ll be grounded in a view of reality that is much more free of conceptions and storylines, more open and unconstrained.

The next step is to notice that when you’re in direct experience, there is no self. I mean, there’s a body and brain, but it’s not separate from everything around it — it’s interconnected, not identifiable as something distinct from the world around it. Just as you might pick a drop of water in the ocean and say, “This is a separate drop of water!” … it’s only separate in our minds, in concept. In reality, it’s not separate but a part of everything around it.

This might sound pretty philosophical, but what is very real is noticing whether everything you do is motivated by a desire for gain or desire to avoid a loss. For example, you might want someone’s praise or affection (gain), or you might want to avoid them getting mad at you (loss). You might be scrolling through and posting in social media looking for validation (gain) or worried about missing out (loss). You might buy something because of how you think it will make you look or feel (gain) or because you’re feeling worried or insecure about a situation (loss).

All of these actions motivated by a sense of gain and loss are completely normal — we all do it. But they all come from a sense of separate self — we are trying to gain something for the self, trying to avoid a loss for the self. Helping this separate self get what it wants or avoid what it doesn’t want becomes our biggest activity and goal in life. It is what makes us frustrated or angry when we don’t get what we want, or hurt or sad when we get what we don’t want, or anxious or stressed when we might gain or lose something.

Being motivated by gain or loss is what causes our struggles in life. And that stems from the sense of separate self.

What’s another way? Dropping the sense of separate self. Just being present with direct experience. Feeling a friendliness and even love for everything and everyone around us. And then being motivated by that love — I act from a place of love and compassion for everyone around me (myself included, but not only myself).

Try it! It’s an incredible practice. Be directly with your experience, dropping your sense of self, of separateness from everything around you. Start to appreciate how connected you are to the world — you breathe in air from the world, eat food from the world, drink water and get information and heat and clothes and shelter and love from everything and everyone around you. You’re completely interconnected and interdependent. Dropping the conception of self, like you drop other concepts, return to direct experience.

And then watch your actions and see if they’re motivated by a desire for gain or desire to avoid loss. See if you can come from a place of love and compassion for everyone in the world, every living being. It’s a really powerful place to be moved from.

 
BY LEO BABAUTA
 


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Conquering Emotional Blind Spots Is Challenging, But Worth It

Knowing you have them is the first step.

I’ve signed up to get emotionally attacked by my phone every day. Along with hundreds of thousands of people, I get a daily notification from the astrology app Co-Star. It sends an A.I.-generated nugget of wisdom based on what my horoscope and the message is usually ruthless.

“Who do you trust with your most intense feelings?” Co-Star asked me recently. The question stunned me so much that I had to sit down to think about it. When I could think of no one, I ended up booking my first therapist appointment in months.

“Taking the time to correct a friend’s behaviour is an act of love,” the app quipped. I realized that I was holding back from talking to an acquaintance about a hurtful remark they made because of how much I hate confrontation.

I’m no masochist and would be mortified if anyone talked to me like Co-Star does. But I won’t be deleting the app anytime soon. These regular roasts serve an important function in my life that little else can: they force me to self-reflect on my emotional blind spots that erode my relationships.

What is a blind spot?
Emotional blind spots cause life obstacles that aren’t visible to us, but are obvious to others. Maybe you never apologize authentically because accepting blame makes you feel bad. Or you could be a habitual people-pleaser, to the detriment of your stress levels. This hard-wired obliviousness is often due to our cognitive biases. Our brains are constantly filtering endless amounts of information, making them prone to decision-making shortcuts that are based on memories and emotions rather than rational thinking.

When it comes to uncomfortable situations or interactions, our cognitive biases are likely to kick in and lead to reactions that are unhealthy for us or the people we care about. But like rear-view mirrors, there are tools that can help us spot what obstructs our judgement.

Find a blind spot
Listen to how others describe you. Counsellor Kevin Beauchamp advises keeping an ear out for “the just factor:” it’s when your social circles use the word “just” before referring to you as an excuse for your behaviour.

“That’s just Paul, he gets angry … She doesn’t take feedback well, that’s just the way she is,” he gives as examples.

Mindfulness exercises can also unearth uncomfortable truths. Oprah Magazine recommends looking at patterns in bad relationships and listing what makes you unhappy in your current ones. If it seems like all your exes have the same negative quality, it might be time to question the common denominator. For example, if you blame former lovers for never knowing how you feel, it could be that you’re prone to shutting loved ones out.

Mood-tracking can also be revealing. Should certain encounters frequently make you feel unhappy or if certain statements about your life (from friends or astrology apps alike) cause you to double-take, you might be able to trace your mood to a warped line of thinking you regularly fall into.

OK, I know my personality flaw. How do I change it?
Counsellor and mental health journalist Kathleen Smith writes we should question some personal adages. These might look like:

  • I must be loved at all times.
  • I must avoid all conflict.
  • I must have control over everything.

If you find yourself agreeing with statements that support an “I must” mentality, it’s worth asking yourself why and work towards proving that statement wrong.

This can be easier said than done. But our personalities are a lot more flexible than we think.

University of Cambridge psychologist Brian R. Little studied the “personal projects” people undertake in the pursuit of changing themselves, such as getting over social anxiety by volunteering. Little found they could eventually change their personality traits permanently, as long as their project was something they really cared about.

You can do this by setting attainable goals related to your shortcomings. A 14-week long study suggests that participants who kept challenging themselves to change were more successful than those who just expressed a desire to be different.

For those who want to be less neurotic, study author and psychologist Nathan Hudson said activities like saying positive affirmations can directly intervene in one’s neurotic thought process.

Personal project ideas for common blind spots
You don’t need to step completely out of your comfort zone to change your personality. Starting small and being consistent are key steps to making progress:

Trying to be less avoidant? Send a difficult message over text, instead of saying it in-person.

Want to be less self-critical? Say three compliments every time you have a negative thought about yourself.

Quick to anger in an argument? Before replying, slow down your breathing and consider the other person’s perspective.

Trying to listen more? Pay attention to how much others speak and ask questions about what they bring up.

20 Ideas For 2020 is our month-long series that explores easy ways to take action on the ideas and changes you may have already been thinking about.
By Al Donato       01/07/2020 

2 Mindfulness Steps To Silence Your Inner Critic

Self-Care For Leaders: 2 Mindfulness Steps To Silence Your Inner Critic

“What will they think of me?,” “I’m not good enough,” “I am lazy,” “What if I fail?,” “I am overwhelmed at work.” “Everyone is more beautiful, smarter, stronger, thinner.” “I can never be a good leader.”
Our minds seem to have an infinite supply of critical comments. And those comments are hard to ignore. They distract us and they limit us and they even interfere with our ability to enjoy a peaceful sleep. To be clear, I am not talking about our ability to reflect on where we are in life, and assess our strengths and weaknesses so we can choose what we might want to change. That ability is fundamental to our growth as a human being.
The inner critic is different. It is not constructive and it does not deal with the facts. It is a story-teller. And when we feed the words of the inner critic, the story becomes a full-length feature film that keeps us frozen to the status quo. We begin to believe the criticisms. And those critical comments have the power to prevent us from following our dreams, or taking the chances needed to find happiness or love or success. They can also begin to make us feel sad or anxious.
So, how can mindfulness help?
  1. Begin by calling to mind an example of an inner critic statement. As you do so, notice if other thoughts start to pop up to enhance the statement, or if you start feeling any sensations of discomfort in your body. Are they familiar? When else do you notice those thoughts or feelings?
  2. Now see if you can meet those words and thoughts with this sentence: “This may or may not be true.” Once again pay attention to sensations and feelings that arise.
There is no need for you to try to deny the critical comment, it is enough to simply begin to generate some spaciousness around it. You are beginning to develop a different relationship to the words that pop into your head. And with that shift, some spaciousness begins to develop and some of the weightiness begins to lift. What decisions will you make now that all that chatter in your head is beginning to quiet down?
This post is the second in a series on Self Care. The first post looked at ways to get a better night’s sleep Self Care for Leaders.
Janice Marturano       Jan 7, 2020
Check out my website or some of my other work here.


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Easy Tricks To Teach Kids How To Deal With Stress Through Mindfulness

But experts say if you want to teach your children to be mindful, you have to be mindful, too.

The back-to-school season brings its own unique stressors to just about everyone: young children starting school for the first time, older kids dealing with longer days and social pressures, teenagers who have to make decisions about their futures, and of course to parents who might also feel overwhelmed. But researchers at Vancouver’s Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre have suggested strategies to deal with back-to-school stress.

“Mindfulness” has become a bit of a buzzword recently, along the lines of “radical wellness” and “living your best life.” But beyond the context of GOOP, there’s a lot of value in the idea that we could all focus more on the present moment.

The basic tenet of mindfulness is the idea that stress and pain is often the result of thinking about past regrets or worrying about the future, and that can be combated by coming up with strategies that focus on remaining in the present moment. HuffPost Canada spoke to Dr. Dzung Vo, an adolescent medicine specialist and pediatrician at British Columbia’s Children’s Hospital, about how kids can implement those strategies.

“I define mindfulness as paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and with unconditional love,” Dr. Vo says. “It’s not meant to be something that you succeed or fail at, it’s more of an intention and an attitude that we orient ourselves to when we practice being in the present moment.”

Studies have shown that mindfulness can reduces stress and anxiety, improve attention and memory, and encourage empathy and monitor your emotions. It’s also been shown to be beneficial physically by lowering blood pressure and heart rate. And new research is currently underway to determine whether it can be a helpful tool to fight against depression.

Vo’s pediatric practice focuses primarily on teenagers, but he says there are effective strategies that can help just about every age group understand their feelings, process their reactions, and live a healthier emotional life.

Babies and toddlers
By far the most important factor in teaching very young children to be mindful is to have a parent or caregiver who is mindful themselves.

“What we know from neuroscience is that the parent’s own mental and neurologic state has a profound influence on regulating the child,” Vo told HuffPost Canada. “If the parent or caregiver can be mindful, present, attentive, and attuned with unconditional love and presence, then that will affect the child in very deep and healthy ways.”

One of the principles of mindfulness is approaching a subject with “beginner’s mind” — a sense of curiosity and presence you might use if you were trying something for the first time. This is something young children generally do anyways. “Kids are actually pretty naturally in the moment, so it’s not too hard to do,” Vo says.

Studies have shown that mindfulness can reduces stress and anxiety

School-age kids
Vo suggests adding brief mindfulness exercises into the routine of slightly older children, maybe at bedtime or when they get home from school. One idea is to get them to lie with a teddy bear on top of their belly and ask them to slowly breathe in and out, he says. Watching the teddy bear go up and down with their breath will put them in tune with their bodies, and put them in a state of calm.

Another useful activity can be to sing songs with lyrics that remind kids to think about where they are and how they feel — he suggests “Planting Seeds” by Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh. “As kids go through their day, when they need a mindful moment, they just sing the song,” he says. “Singing it actually is a practice, because it cultivates that mindful attitude.”

Crafts and artwork, approached with the “beginner’s mind,” are another helpful way to practice mindfulness. Vo suggests gently guiding children to be curious and really focus on their surroundings and what they might be engaging in.

“Maybe they’re drawing a flower in front of them,” he says. “Encourage the child to really pay attention to it by asking them: What are you seeing there? What are you noticing? What are the colours? What are the shapes?”

It isn’t particularly important that children understand the idea of mindfulness, he says.

“It’s more important to have experiences than to talk too much about the concepts.” And again, he stresses that the most important way to teach mindfulness to kids is the mindful presence of the parent or caregiver.

Teenagers
In his sessions with teens, Vo will often get them to try out their “beginner’s mind” by slowly eating one single raisin. “That might seem very simple and boring, but when you bring curious attention to it, you find experiences that seem tedious or boring may be quite interesting, or quite relaxing, or quite enjoyable in ways that we hadn’t considered when we go through them in autopilot mode.”

Many teenagers will bring what Vo calls “informal meditation” to a wide variety of day-to-day activities: breathing deeply and considering their senses while walking the dog, or waiting for the bus, or washing dishes. It can particularly help before a stressful situation at school — right before writing an exam, for instance.

There isn’t a lot of research on the benefits of mindfulness for teens, but Vo says that he believes that’s the time of life when those practices would be most beneficial.

Studies of adults have demonstrated that mindful practices can actually change the parts of the brain linked to memory, self-image, and emotional regulation. Because adolescent brains are changing quickly and profoundly, Vo says he thinks the effects would be even more significant. One of the biggest adolescent brain changes involves the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for emotional regulation and executive functioning, which develops throughout the teenage years up until the early 20s. It develops through focused attention and concentration, he says, which suggests that the more that they use these neurologic pathways to help regulate their brains, the stronger those connections will get.

By Maija Kappler                 08/22/2018


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3 Ways To Practice Living In The Now

If you haven’t read The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, you’re missing out. This philosophic and somewhat spiritual book is a game-changer, which is probably why it spent years on the New York Times bestseller list and sold more than 3 million copies in North America alone.

I won’t give away too much here, but the general thesis of the book is that in order to achieve enlightenment, one really has to learn how to live in the now. It sounds simplistic, but Tolle elaborates on the idea to explain how far-reaching the consequences of future- and past-focused thinking actually are.

Whether you’ve read the book or not, you’re probably familiar with the concept of living in the now. It’s heralded as a solution to many of life’s problems, and yet for most of us, being entirely present is an immensely difficult task. If you’re struggling to live in the now, here are five tips for refocusing your thinking and re-immersing yourself in what IS, rather than what has been or what will be.

Focus on Your Breathing

It’s been said over and over again, but focusing on your breathing is a fantastic way to get into the present moment. When you focus intently on your inhales and exhales, you develop an awareness of your body that helps you to feel more rooted in exactly where your body is at this particular point in time. I could get into all the metaphorical reasons that breath is so central to yoga and other spiritual pursuits, but that’d be another article entirely. For now, suffice to say that training your mind to focus on the breath can be absolutely beneficial.

Some techniques to try include breathing up and down the spine (that is, focusing your mental energy along the spine as you inhale and then exhale), inhaling and exhaling in a deliberate, rhythmic manner, and noticing the way air comes into your body cool and leaves it warm.

Get Into Your Body

Have you ever noticed that when you’re forced to focus on a difficult physical task, such as moving a large piece of furniture or racing with a friend, your mind zooms in on the task at hand? This is because these adrenaline-pumping states force us into the now. One can hardly ruminate on past loves while she is focusing all of her attention on staying afloat when her canoe turns over.

Obviously, you don’t want to create dangerous situations for yourself, but difficult physical tasks that require all of your attention are a fabulous resource for jolting you into the now. Pick a favorite type of exercise and, as long as you’re physically able, take it to the next level. This is why yoga and mindfulness are so interrelated. The goal of yoga is to take you into the present moment, where you’re forced to focus on balancing and maintaining your form, and out of the caverns of your mind.

Watch Your Mind

It goes without saying that meditation is closely bound to living in the now. However, it can be very difficult for some people to achieve productive meditation. If you struggle with clearing your mind, try this little trick: Start to look at meditation not as clearing your mind, but watching your mind.

By this, I mean you should learn to observe your thoughts. Sit and meditate as if watching yourself from just above your head (your crown chakra, if you’re into that kind of thing). Learn to observe your brain no matter what happens. If a thought drifts in, take note of it and recognize it immediately. Then consciously let it go.

This extends into your daily life as well. Watch your mind in such a way that each time an angry or toxic thought enters your mind, you can immediately acknowledge it and dismiss it. Over time, this ability will result in healthier relationships, a better self-image, more realistic thinking and a generally more enlightened way of being.

By: Maggie McCracken       March 25, 2017
 
Follow Maggie at @MaggieBlogs
 
source: www.care2.com


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Breathe and Focus: How Practicing Mindfulness Improves Mental Health as We Age

As we age, it’s natural to worry about possible declines in our mental and brain health. Many older adults are concerned about things like memory loss and poorer attention, forgetting names, and taking longer to learn new things. As a result, as we get older we may feel more distress, sadness, and/ or anxiety that can decrease our quality of life. However, we can do something to address these concerns. The answer is mindfulness. Research shows that it can improve brain functioning, resulting in thinking and feeling better as we get older (e.g., Chambers et al., 2007; Chiesa et al., 2010; Prakash, 2014).

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is an Eastern meditation practice that originates from Buddhism (Baer, 2003). It involves directing our attention to the present moment. Mindfulness can help block irrelevant information and enhance emotional control which in turn can improve the mental health of older adults. For instance, mindfulness could be sitting quietly and not letting your mind wonder, but instead focusing on your breathing. You would breathe in slowly from your nose and breathe out slowly from your mouth.

Mindfulness helps cognitive health 

Practicing mindfulness improves functioning in certain brain areas associated with paying attention and keeping focus. It can help us become less distracted and increase our focus on what we want to pay attention to (Prakash, 2014). Research on mindfulness demonstrated improvements in concentration, attention, and even memory (Chambers et al., 2007; Chiesa et al., 2010; Prakash, 2014).

Mindfulness helps emotional health 

In addition, mindfulness can benefit our emotional health as we age. It promotes an increase in self-awareness that allows for better control of our feelings. We can use mindfulness to focus on positive feelings, and less so on the negative feelings. Research (Brown & Ryan, 2003; Chambers et al., 2007; Ostafin et al., 2006) has shown that mindfulness can:

  • Decrease depressive symptoms;
  • Reduce focus on negativity;
  • Reduce focus on distress; and
  • Increase self-control.
mindfulness

Mindfulness benefits us in the short term and long term

In research studies, short-term practice of mindfulness (i.e., practicing mindfulness for 10 days) has helped to improve attention and focus by reducing the effects of distraction (Chambers et al., 2007; Ostafin et al., 2006). Long-term mindfulness training shows greater effects in being able to maintain focused attention which leads to better thinking and mood. So, as with most things, “more” is “better”. The more we practice mindfulness consistently, the better our mental health will be as we age!

For more information, check out this essential guide to mindfulness for older adults and these 6 mindfulness exercises!

 

By Flora Ma (Clinical Psychology PhD student, Palo Alto University) and 
Rowena Gomez, PhD (Associate Professor, Palo Alto University) 
MAY 25, 2016
 

Biographies:

Flora Ma is a Clinical Psychology PhD student at Palo Alto University. She graduated from the University of British Columbia in 2014, with a major in Cognitive Systems.  She has particular research and clinical interests in aging, neuropsychology and life span studies. She is also a student member of the American Psychological Association.

Dr. Rowena Gomez is Director of Clinical Training for the PhD Clinical Psychology Program and Associate Professor at Palo Alto University. Dr. Gomez’s research focus has been in geropsychology, neuropsychology, and depression.

References:

Baer, R. A. (2003). Mindfulness training as a clinical intervention: A conceptual and empirical review. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice. http://doi.org/10.1093/clipsy/bpg015

Brown, K. W., & Ryan, R. M. (2003). The benefits of being present: mindfulness and its role in psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(4), 822–848. http://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.84.4.822

Chambers, R., Lo, B. C. Y., & Allen, N. B. (2008). The impact of intensive mindfulness training on attentional control, cognitive style, and affect. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 32(3), 303–322. http://doi.org/10.1007/s10608-007-9119-0

Chiesa, A., Calati, R., & Serretti, A. (2011). Does mindfulness training improve cognitive abilities? A systematic review of neuropsychological findings. Clinical Psychology Review. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2010.11.003

Ostafin, B. D., Chawla, N., Bowen, S., Dillworth, T. M., Witkiewitz, K., & Marlatt, G. A. (2006). Intensive Mindfulness Training and the Reduction of Psychological Distress: A Preliminary Study. Cognitive and Behavioral Practice, 13(3), 191–197. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.cbpra.2005.12.001

Prakash, R. S., De Leon, A. A., Patterson, B., Schirda, B. L., & Janssen, A. L. (2014). Mindfulness and the aging brain: A proposed paradigm shift. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience. http://doi.org/10.3389/fnagi.2014.00120


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Why Your Phone And The ‘fear Of Missing Out’ May Negatively Impact Your Mental Health

Electronic devices, such as smartphones and computers, are a necessity of day-to-day life; but that reliance on devices may be taking a toll on Canadians’ mental health.

A new survey by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) suggests, on average, Ontario adults spend more than 11 hours per week using social media or communicating via email, and nearly four hours per week playing screen-based games. That’s 15 hours a week not including the amount of time spent on devices at work or in school.

CAMH’s study suggested nearly one in five respondents between the ages of 18 to 29 showed signs of reliance on electronic devices, based on questions like, “Have you missed school, work or important social activities because of your use of devices?”

Overall, seven per cent of those surveyed had a problematic relationship with devices, according to the survey. Of those, 24 per cent said they had tried to cut back on their use and 14 per cent reported family members expressing concern about the amount of time they spent on their device.

Ten per cent reported feeling an “irresistible urge or uncontrollable need” to use their devices and seven per cent had experienced anxiety that could only be relieved by using a device.

“It’s clear that, for most of us, our use of electronic devices has skyrocketed over the past five to 10 years,” said Dr. Nigel Turner, scientist at CAMH’s Institute for Mental Health Policy Research, in a press release.

“While our understanding of problematic use is evolving, we know that some people do end up harming their career or educational opportunities by excessive use.”

How to cut down on your device use and improve your mental health

When Canadians talk about limiting screen time, the conversation usually revolves around children – but experts say it’s equally important for adults to consider putting tech restrictions on themselves for the sake of their mental health.

“Technology prompts us to respond – those beeps and buzzes gets our dopamine flowing,” Lisa Pont, therapist and educator with CAMH. “The fear of missing out is huge.”

family tech phones computer

As Pont points out, all of those text messages, Facebook Likes and Instagram notifications lighting up our devices provide us with a hit of dopamine – which helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centre. This often leads to people constantly being tuned in to their devices.

“There is this expectation of people in our lives to be immediately responsive because everyone knows you have your smartphone on you,” Pont said.

Pont says it’s important for adults to reflect on their tech use to see how it’s affecting their day-to-day lives and attitude – do you feel the pressure to respond right away; do you feel anxiety due to information overload, or do you feel FOMO (fear of missing out) when you aren’t using your device; have you argued with your partner because they feel you are disconnected?

“You have to look at the consequences. If it’s affecting your work, or its impacting relationships, those are negative consequences,” she said. “This idea that I have to know what’s going on, it sounds so benign, but I think it truly affects our stress level.”

If you feel your device is impacting your mental health, try imposing limits on yourself – for example, no devices after 8 p.m., turn phones off during family dinners, or no phones in the bedroom.

“Consciously not using it at times when you want to be present,” Pont said. “We have anxiety detaching from technology, but you might discover you like it.”

Another important habit to break: using your phone as your alarm. Although sleeping next to your device may not seem like a big deal, Pont said those beeps and vibrations have the same effect our sleeping brain, causing you to lose sleep – and a lack of sleep can contribute to stress.

The light emitted from a smartphone or tablet, for example, can suppress the production of melatonin – a hormone that regulates a person’s circadian rhythm – and multiple studies have shown that using blue light-emitting, like smartphones and computers, before bed can lead to poor sleep.

Of course, cutting down on your screen time might be hard to do if you have a job that requires you to be available after-hours.

That’s why France banned work emails outside business hours earlier this year, Germany’s labour ministry banned managers from calling or emailing staff outside of work hours in 2013, and Volkswagen made it so that its servers would shut down the ability to send emails 30 minutes after an employee’s shift ended in 2011.

No such bans have been implemented in Canada, however.

These latest survey findings are based on the 2015 CAMH Monitor, a collection of survey data which allows researchers to track long-term trends in the use of alcohol, drugs and tobacco, as well as identifying problematic behaviours related to mental health within Ontario’s population.

Another alarming issue in the survey: 37 per cent of respondents reported they had texted while driving at least once during the past year, while 11 per cent admitted texting behind the wheel 30 or more times over the previous year.

If you have the urge to text and drive, Pont suggests turning your phone on “Airplane Mode.” If you have a hands-free solution in your car and want to keep your phone on for emergency situations, then try leaving it in the backseat or somewhere out of reach.

By Nicole Bogart       National Online Journalist, Breaking News Global News
source: globalnews.ca


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22 Life-Changing Lessons From “The Motivation Manifesto”

by Laura Probert   March 3, 2016 

Have you ever read a book and wished you’d written it yourself? For me, that book is Brendon Burchard’s The Motivation Manifesto — a compelling primer on how to overcome self-doubt and establish personal freedom.

I’ve dedicated many years to studying the art of training my mind, feeling my body, and untethering my soul, and this book’s powerful words had me constantly nodding my head.

Brendon Burchard — an acclaimed author and motivational trainer — really gets what it means to be a warrior (he survived a life-threatening car accident at the age of 19), and he’ll guide you on your journey to becoming one as well.

Now take a deep breath, sink down deep into the center of your body, and read these 22 quotes and take-aways from an utterly inspiring text.

Magic is about living in the moment. 

1. “We are not slave to our history. We can be freed by our conscious thoughts and disciplined habits.”

In other words, a new level of awareness materializes when you start actively training your mind and developing habits.

2. “If we are not vigilant, being around constant worry can quickly limit who we are and what we might be capable of.”

Whenever possible, choose to surround yourself with people who are positive and purposeful.

3. “If yesterday’s hardships are stealing our aliveness today then we must seek another level of consciousness.”

If you’re still living in the past and letting outdated thoughts, beliefs, and memories drive your present, wake up and recognize that you’re sabotaging yourself.

4. “What can I focus on in my life this exact moment to sense some peace, gratitude, or enthusiasm?”

You have the power to choose your next thought. Choose a good one.

5. “Am I feeling this life?”

Brendon poses some great, big questions through the course of his book, and this one is fantastic because it asks you to get in touch with your underlying feelings. I’m a big fan of using these conceptual questions as journaling prompts.

6. “Avoidance is the best long-term strategy to ensure suffering.”

Oh my, are you feeling this one? Stop procrastinating — even on the stuff that scares the shit out of you. Face it. Get it done. I promise you, the solution to your fear lies in the middle of your action.

7. “Be a guardian of your own mind, body, and soul.”

This quote speaks to a deeper level of self-care. In life, we have to be our own guardians and fiercely protect ourselves and our territory.

The solution to your fear lies in the middle of your action. 

8. “Be aware of the information entering your mind. Seek empowering information that moves your life forward.”

This quote speaks to all those moments that we ruin with negativity. (I’m thinking mostly about television and media.) Turn the distractions off and go do something more positive and inspiring with your time.

9. Take positive, meaningful action.

This is my interpretation of Brendon’s take on action. Remember, you can create your own definition of “meaningful.” And when you combine it with positivity and purpose, you have a magic wand in your hands.

How many actions do you take every day that aren’t meaningful, positive, or purposeful? When you realize all the opportunities to shift your purpose, you’ll get excited.

10. What are you asking for?

Throughout the book, Brendon challenges readers to analyze what they’re asking for with their actions. What do your actions point to? When you take a look at how you spend your time and who you spend it with, you’ll figure out what you’re actually asking of the Universe.

11. Love is the divine essence or thread that connects us all.

Brendon does a lovely job talking about the energy of love. When you realize that love is a never-ending source of clarity, you’ll wake up to the fact that you’re getting in the way of its flow. Open yourself up to giving and receiving love.

love

 

If you are awake, you have a choice. 

12. Don’t make me guess about what ignites your soul.

Brendon’s words demonstrate the importance of speaking up for yourself. How will people ever know what you’re all about unless you say it? Be brave!

13. “Don’t limit your vision based on the number of people who nod.”

Wow, you gotta be feeling this one with me. Don’t make your dream smaller because you’re waiting for someone else’s approval.

14. Revive the magic.

Magic is about living in the moment and remaining aware of everything around you. Brendon encourages readers to revive that feeling inside and look for magic everywhere.

15. “To master life is to transform the energy we feel at any moment into cheerful engagement and deep appreciation.”

If you are awake, you have a choice. When things don’t feel right, you can transform the energy of fear into joy.

16. “Freely chosen attitude is a treasure available to us all.”

This is another way of saying that we have the choice to think, believe, and act in any way we deem good, better, best for us.

It takes a warrior to stand up for what matters. 

17. “Don’t become a catastrophe of energetic conformity.”

I love when Brendon talks about how it’s possible to get carried away in other people’s energy. Just because everyone else is being negative, hateful, or ungrateful, doesn’t mean we have to be. Don’t let the energy of other people waste yours. Be vigilant about this. It takes a warrior to stand up for what matters.

18. Make enthusiasm a practice.

Whatever way you want to feel, make it a practice. It’s in that disciplined behavior that your life will start to change.

19. “Let us master the art of curiosity, release, play, and cheerful engagement of the moment.”

In this case, Brendon is referring to the energy of a child. He asks that adults resort back to this art and use its energy to infuse moments and change focus.

20. “Meet struggle with intense and spirited joy.”

I love this one. It’s so easy to meet struggle with anxiety, sadness, resignation, doubt, or fear. We’ve practiced that too much — let’s try something different.

21. “Struggle does not always have to equal suffering.”

We are all conditioned to believe that the struggles and problems we face are against us, but what if they are here to teach us how to grow and evolve?

22. Awareness + Discipline = Freedom.

And lastly, this is a formula I put together after reflecting on the book’s teachings. The Motivation Manifesto is all about finding the personal freedom to be a warrior in your own life and achieve your dreams to make the world a better place. What better way to live?


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Three Powerful Mindfulness Tips That Can Change Your Life

JANUARY 22, 2016 BY HAMISHLOUX

Be the master of every moment

You are the master of your mind and only you can decide what you’re feeling. Don’t let other people put you down with their words and actions. You have the decision to give in to their misery or to remain unaffected and pleasant.

Think of them as giving you a present; inside of it is a little misery. Your mind has a choice to accept it or not. Without accepting the present, what happens to the present? It remains with the owner and they have to deal with it. People often receive one present of misery and give ten presents back. This just feeds the cycle of misery and it’ll keep going. People who feed the cycle want to receive your attention and get a reaction; don’t give into this. By understanding how this cycle works, you should remain unaffected and stop the cycle.

As humans we crave social interaction, and when we are desperate for attention we say things or do things we don’t mean. It’s a really petty way of getting attention, but that’s okay because that’s what makes us human.

Whether it be for their ego or for their misery – accept that the people you’re dealing with just want to be desperately heard. Don’t feed their ego or misery and remain unaffected; we aren’t cavemen anymore. You have a choice to let things go!

Respect the law of impermanence

We have all heard the saying “what comes up must come down”, and that applies to life as well. People give insufficient attention to this little detail in life. No matter how happy you are in life, there will be a time when that happiness goes away. Same goes with pain, no matter how painful you feel that pain would thankfully go away.

Individuals who get attached to outcomes and material objects suffer a lot more than those who understand the impermanence of everything. Let your attachments to material objects go and you will feel more tranquil and have a lighter mind.

Take for example two people who bought the same pair of shoes. One is attached to the shoe and worries about it getting dirty even though eventually it would get dirty and replaced. The other understands that this is only one of many shoes that he would wear in his lifetime and wears it without worry. Who suffers more?

When you feel attached to an outcome or feel aversion towards one, remind yourself about the law of impermanence. Correct understanding will help you let go of these feelings and have a calmer mind. It is a hard habit to master and may take a long time, but keep at it!

temporary

Accept that everything is changing ALL THE TIME

You aren’t the same person you were a year ago or even 5 years ago. Everyday you change a bit, for the better, or for the worse. It’s just the law of nature that things change over time. Accept that life changes and let things go. Don’t get attached to what had previously happened or worry about the future; it’s a waste of mental energy and focus. Focus on the present instead, and use what you had learned from previous experiences to improve yourself. Forge yourself to be unaffected by sudden or gradual changes, and when the time comes to let past outcomes go – you will be ready.

Your body is the best example of this. You can experience the change and apply the knowledge. The surface of your body is going through countless biochemical reactions at any given point of time. If you focus hard enough you can even feel the changes. A change in temperature, a sudden itch, the feeling of touch, the vibrations caused by blood flow, etc. Just like your body the world is changing a countless number of times at any given point of time.

These changes happen relatively fast compared to your lifetime. Each experience that you have gone through is comparable to a second of small vibrations on your body. You went through it and you’re here now. Why give so much attention and mental energy to something that’s so fast and insignificant? Let go of those thoughts and free your mind from the suffering that they cause.

As grim as it sounds, life is short – your body is changing and degrading all the time. You want to focus on things that matter and not give your focus away like charity. If something is bothering you, let it go because it does not deserve your focus. Realise that it’s a little blimp in your journey called life and you would live more happily and freely!

Enjoy more tips at my blog ‘The Anxiolytic’ (www.theanxiolytic.com) which aims to help those with anxiety and share techniques for stress reduction.
 


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The Art of Now: Six Steps to Living in the Moment

We live in the age of distraction. Yet one of life’s sharpest paradoxes is that your brightest future hinges on your ability to pay attention to the present.

By Jay Dixit,        published on November 1, 2008 – last reviewed on August 11, 2015

A friend was walking in the desert when he found the telephone to God. The setting was Burning Man, an electronic arts and music festival for which 50,000 people descend on Black Rock City, Nevada, for eight days of “radical self-expression”—dancing, socializing, meditating, and debauchery.

A phone booth in the middle of the desert with a sign that said “Talk to God” was a surreal sight even at Burning Man. The idea was that you picked up the phone, and God—or someone claiming to be God—would be at the other end to ease your pain.

So when God came on the line asking how he could help, my friend was ready. “How can I live more in the moment?” he asked. Too often, he felt, the beautiful moments of his life were drowned out by a cacophony of self-consciousness and anxiety. What could he do to hush the buzzing of his mind?

“Breathe,” replied a soothing male voice.

My friend flinched at the tired new-age mantra, then reminded himself to keep an open mind. When God talks, you listen.

“Whenever you feel anxious about your future or your past, just breathe,” continued God. “Try it with me a few times right now. Breathe in… breathe out.” And despite himself, my friend began to relax.

You Are Not Your Thoughts

Life unfolds in the present. But so often, we let the present slip away, allowing time to rush past unobserved and unseized, and squandering the precious seconds of our lives as we worry about the future and ruminate about what’s past. “We’re living in a world that contributes in a major way to mental fragmentation, disintegration, distraction, decoherence,” says Buddhist scholar B. Alan Wallace. We’re always doing something, and we allow little time to practice stillness and calm.

When we’re at work, we fantasize about being on vacation; on vacation, we worry about the work piling up on our desks. We dwell on intrusive memories of the past or fret about what may or may not happen in the future. We don’t appreciate the living present because our “monkey minds,” as Buddhists call them, vault from thought to thought like monkeys swinging from tree to tree.

Most of us don’t undertake our thoughts in awareness. Rather, our thoughts control us. “Ordinary thoughts course through our mind like a deafening waterfall,” writes Jon Kabat-Zinn, the biomedical scientist who introduced meditation into mainstream medicine. In order to feel more in control of our minds and our lives, to find the sense of balance that eludes us, we need to step out of this current, to pause, and, as Kabat-Zinn puts it, to “rest in stillness—to stop doing and focus on just being.”

We need to live more in the moment. Living in the moment—also called mindfulness—is a state of active, open, intentional attention on the present. When you become mindful, you realize that you are not your thoughts; you become an observer of your thoughts from moment to moment without judging them. Mindfulness involves being with your thoughts as they are, neither grasping at them nor pushing them away. Instead of letting your life go by without living it, you awaken to experience.

Cultivating a nonjudgmental awareness of the present bestows a host of benefits. Mindfulness reduces stress, boosts immune functioning, reduces chronic pain, lowers blood pressure, and helps patients cope with cancer. By alleviating stress, spending a few minutes a day actively focusing on living in the moment reduces the risk of heart disease. Mindfulness may even slow the progression of HIV.

Mindful people are happier, more exuberant, more empathetic, and more secure. They have higher self-esteem and are more accepting of their own weaknesses. Anchoring awareness in the here and now reduces the kinds of impulsivity and reactivity that underlie depression, binge eating, and attention problems. Mindful people can hear negative feedback without feeling threatened. They fight less with their romantic partners and are more accommodating and less defensive. As a result, mindful couples have more satisfying relationships.

Mindfulness is at the root of Buddhism, Taoism, and many Native-American traditions, not to mention yoga. It’s why Thoreau went to Walden Pond; it’s what Emerson and Whitman wrote about in their essays and poems.

“Everyone agrees it’s important to live in the moment, but the problem is how,” says Ellen Langer, a psychologist at Harvard and author of Mindfulness. “When people are not in the moment, they’re not there to know that they’re not there.” Overriding the distraction reflex and awakening to the present takes intentionality and practice.

Living in the moment involves a profound paradox: You can’t pursue it for its benefits. That’s because the expectation of reward launches a future-oriented mindset, which subverts the entire process. Instead, you just have to trust that the rewards will come. There are many paths to mindfulness—and at the core of each is a paradox. Ironically, letting go of what you want is the only way to get it. Here are a few tricks to help you along.

1: To improve your performance, stop thinking about it (unselfconsciousness).

I’ve never felt comfortable on a dance floor. My movements feel awkward. I feel like people are judging me. I never know what to do with my arms. I want to let go, but I can’t, because I know I look ridiculous.

“Loosen up, no one’s watching you,” people always say. “Everyone’s too busy worrying about themselves.” So how come they always make fun of my dancing the next day?

The dance world has a term for people like me: “absolute beginner.” Which is why my dance teacher, Jessica Hayden, the owner of Shockra Studio in Manhattan, started at the beginning, sitting me down on a bench and having me tap my feet to the beat as Jay-Z thumped away in the background. We spent the rest of the class doing “isolations”—moving just our shoulders, ribs, or hips—to build “body awareness.”

But even more important than body awareness, Hayden said, was present-moment awareness. “Be right here right now!” she’d say. “Just let go and let yourself be in the moment.”

That’s the first paradox of living in the moment: Thinking too hard about what you’re doing actually makes you do worse. If you’re in a situation that makes you anxious—giving a speech, introducing yourself to a stranger, dancing—focusing on your anxiety tends to heighten it. “When I say, ‘be here with me now,’ I mean don’t zone out or get too in-your-head—instead, follow my energy, my movements,” says Hayden. “Focus less on what’s going on in your mind and more on what’s going on in the room, less on your mental chatter and more on yourself as part of something.” To be most myself, I needed to focus on things outside myself, like the music or the people around me.

Indeed, mindfulness blurs the line between self and other, explains Michael Kernis, a psychologist at the University of Georgia. “When people are mindful, they’re more likely to experience themselves as part of humanity, as part of a greater universe.” That’s why highly mindful people such as Buddhist monks talk about being “one with everything.”

By reducing self-consciousness, mindfulness allows you to witness the passing drama of feelings, social pressures, even of being esteemed or disparaged by others without taking their evaluations personally, explain Richard Ryan and K. W. Brown of the University of Rochester. When you focus on your immediate experience without attaching it to your self-esteem, unpleasant events like social rejection—or your so-called friends making fun of your dancing—seem less threatening.

Focusing on the present moment also forces you to stop overthinking. “Being present-minded takes away some of that self-evaluation and getting lost in your mind—and in the mind is where we make the evaluations that beat us up,” says Stephen Schueller, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania. Instead of getting stuck in your head and worrying, you can let yourself go.

2: To avoid worrying about the future, focus on the present (savoring).

In her memoir Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert writes about a friend who, whenever she sees a beautiful place, exclaims in a near panic, “It’s so beautiful here! I want to come back here someday!” “It takes all my persuasive powers,” writes Gilbert, “to try to convince her that she is already here.”

Often, we’re so trapped in thoughts of the future or the past that we forget to experience, let alone enjoy, what’s happening right now. We sip coffee and think, “This is not as good as what I had last week.” We eat a cookie and think, “I hope I don’t run out of cookies.”

Instead, relish or luxuriate in whatever you’re doing at the present moment—what psychologists call savoring. “This could be while you’re eating a pastry, taking a shower, or basking in the sun. You could be savoring a success or savoring music,” explains Sonja Lyubomirsky, a psychologist at the University of California at Riverside and author of The How of Happiness. “Usually it involves your senses.”

When subjects in a study took a few minutes each day to actively savor something they usually hurried through—eating a meal, drinking a cup of tea, walking to the bus—they began experiencing more joy, happiness, and other positive emotions, and fewer depressive symptoms, Schueller found.

Why does living in the moment make people happier—not just at the moment they’re tasting molten chocolate pooling on their tongue, but lastingly? Because most negative thoughts concern the past or the future. As Mark Twain said, “I have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.” The hallmark of depression and anxiety is catastrophizing—worrying about something that hasn’t happened yet and might not happen at all. Worry, by its very nature, means thinking about the future—and if you hoist yourself into awareness of the present moment, worrying melts away.

The flip side of worrying is ruminating, thinking bleakly about events in the past. And again, if you press your focus into the now, rumination ceases. Savoring forces you into the present, so you can’t worry about things that aren’t there.

3: If you want a future with your significant other, inhabit the present (breathe).

Living consciously with alert interest has a powerful effect on interpersonal life. Mindfulness actually inoculates people against aggressive impulses, say Whitney Heppner and Michael Kernis of the University of Georgia. In a study they conducted, each subject was told that other subjects were forming a group—and taking a vote on whether she could join. Five minutes later, the experimenter announced the results—either the subject had gotten the least number of votes and been rejected or she’d been accepted. Beforehand, half the subjects had undergone a mindfulness exercise in which each slowly ate a raisin, savoring its taste and texture and focusing on each sensation.

Later, in what they thought was a separate experiment, subjects had the opportunity to deliver a painful blast of noise to another person. Among subjects who hadn’t eaten the raisin, those who were told they’d been rejected by the group became aggressive, inflicting long and painful sonic blasts without provocation. Stung by social rejection, they took it out on other people.

But among those who’d eaten the raisin first, it didn’t matter whether they’d been ostracized or embraced. Either way, they were serene and unwilling to inflict pain on others—exactly like those who were given word of social acceptance.

How does being in the moment make you less aggressive? “Mindfulness decreases ego involvement,” explains Kernis. “So people are less likely to link their self-esteem to events and more likely to take things at face value.” Mindfulness also makes people feel more connected to other people—that empathic feeling of being “at one with the universe.”

Mindfulness boosts your awareness of how you interpret and react to what’s happening in your mind. It increases the gap between emotional impulse and action, allowing you to do what Buddhists call recognizing the spark before the flame. Focusing on the present reboots your mind so you can respond thoughtfully rather than automatically. Instead of lashing out in anger, backing down in fear, or mindlessly indulging a passing craving, you get the opportunity to say to yourself, “This is the emotion I’m feeling. How should I respond?”

mind

Mindfulness increases self-control; since you’re not getting thrown by threats to your self-esteem, you’re better able to regulate your behavior. That’s the other irony: Inhabiting your own mind more fully has a powerful effect on your interactions with others.

Of course, during a flare-up with your significant other it’s rarely practical to duck out and savor a raisin. But there’s a simple exercise you can do anywhere, anytime to induce mindfulness: Breathe. As it turns out, the advice my friend got in the desert was spot-on. There’s no better way to bring yourself into the present moment than to focus on your breathing. Because you’re placing your awareness on what’s happening right now, you propel yourself powerfully into the present moment. For many, focusing on the breath is the preferred method of orienting themselves to the now—not because the breath has some magical property, but because it’s always there with you.

4: To make the most of time, lose track of it (flow).

Perhaps the most complete way of living in the moment is the state of total absorption psychologists call flow. Flow occurs when you’re so engrossed in a task that you lose track of everything else around you. Flow embodies an apparent paradox: How can you be living in the moment if you’re not even aware of the moment? The depth of engagement absorbs you powerfully, keeping attention so focused that distractions cannot penetrate. You focus so intensely on what you’re doing that you’re unaware of the passage of time. Hours can pass without you noticing.

Flow is an elusive state. As with romance or sleep, you can’t just will yourself into it—all you can do is set the stage, creating the optimal conditions for it to occur.

The first requirement for flow is to set a goal that’s challenging but not unattainable—something you have to marshal your resources and stretch yourself to achieve. The task should be matched to your ability level—not so difficult that you’ll feel stressed, but not so easy that you’ll get bored. In flow, you’re firing on all cylinders to rise to a challenge.

To set the stage for flow, goals need to be clearly defined so that you always know your next step. “It could be playing the next bar in a scroll of music, or finding the next foothold if you’re a rock climber, or turning the page if you’re reading a good novel,” says Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the psychologist who first defined the concept of flow. “At the same time, you’re kind of anticipating.”

You also need to set up the task in such a way that you receive direct and immediate feedback; with your successes and failures apparent, you can seamlessly adjust your behavior. A climber on the mountain knows immediately if his foothold is secure; a pianist knows instantly when she’s played the wrong note.

As your attentional focus narrows, self-consciousness evaporates. You feel as if your awareness merges with the action you’re performing. You feel a sense of personal mastery over the situation, and the activity is so intrinsically rewarding that although the task is difficult, action feels effortless.

5: If something is bothering you, move toward it rather than away from it (acceptance).

We all have pain in our lives, whether it’s the ex we still long for, the jackhammer snarling across the street, or the sudden wave of anxiety when we get up to give a speech. If we let them, such irritants can distract us from the enjoyment of life. Paradoxically, the obvious response—focusing on the problem in order to combat and overcome it—often makes it worse, argues Stephen Hayes, a psychologist at the University of Nevada.

The mind’s natural tendency when faced with pain is to attempt to avoid it—by trying to resist unpleasant thoughts, feelings, and sensations. When we lose a love, for instance, we fight our feelings of heartbreak. As we get older, we work feverishly to recapture our youth. When we’re sitting in the dentist’s chair waiting for a painful root canal, we wish we were anywhere but there. But in many cases, negative feelings and situations can’t be avoided—and resisting them only magnifies the pain.

The problem is we have not just primary emotions but also secondary ones—emotions about other emotions. We get stressed out and then think, “I wish I weren’t so stressed out.” The primary emotion is stress over your workload. The secondary emotion is feeling, “I hate being stressed.”

It doesn’t have to be this way. The solution is acceptance—letting the emotion be there. That is, being open to the way things are in each moment without trying to manipulate or change the experience—without judging it, clinging to it, or pushing it away. The present moment can only be as it is. Trying to change it only frustrates and exhausts you. Acceptance relieves you of this needless extra suffering.

Suppose you’ve just broken up with your girlfriend or boyfriend; you’re heartbroken, overwhelmed by feelings of sadness and longing. You could try to fight these feelings, essentially saying, “I hate feeling this way; I need to make this feeling go away.” But by focusing on the pain—being sad about being sad—you only prolong the sadness. You do yourself a favor by accepting your feelings, saying instead, “I’ve just had a breakup. Feelings of loss are normal and natural. It’s OK for me to feel this way.”

Acceptance of an unpleasant state doesn’t mean you don’t have goals for the future. It just means you accept that certain things are beyond your control. The sadness, stress, pain, or anger is there whether you like it or not. Better to embrace the feeling as it is.

Nor does acceptance mean you have to like what’s happening. “Acceptance of the present moment has nothing to do with resignation,” writes Kabat-Zinn. “Acceptance doesn’t tell you what to do. What happens next, what you choose to do; that has to come out of your understanding of this moment.”

If you feel anxiety, for instance, you can accept the feeling, label it as anxiety—then direct your attention to something else instead. You watch your thoughts, perceptions, and emotions flit through your mind without getting involved. Thoughts are just thoughts. You don’t have to believe them and you don’t have to do what they say.

6: Know that you don’t know (engagement).

You’ve probably had the experience of driving along a highway only to suddenly realize you have no memory or awareness of the previous 15 minutes. Maybe you even missed your exit. You just zoned out; you were somewhere else, and it’s as if you’ve suddenly woken up at the wheel. Or maybe it happens when you’re reading a book: “I know I just read that page, but I have no idea what it said.”

These autopilot moments are what Harvard’s Ellen Langer calls mindlessness—times when you’re so lost in your thoughts that you aren’t aware of your present experience. As a result, life passes you by without registering on you. The best way to avoid such blackouts, Langer says, is to develop the habit of always noticing new things in whatever situation you’re in. That process creates engagement with the present moment and releases a cascade of other benefits. Noticing new things puts you emphatically in the here and now.

We become mindless, Langer explains, because once we think we know something, we stop paying attention to it. We go about our morning commute in a haze because we’ve trod the same route a hundred times before. But if we see the world with fresh eyes, we realize almost everything is different each time—the pattern of light on the buildings, the faces of the people, even the sensations and feelings we experience along the way. Noticing imbues each moment with a new, fresh quality. Some people have termed this “beginner’s mind.”

By acquiring the habit of noticing new things, says Langer, we recognize that the world is actually changing constantly. We really don’t know how the espresso is going to taste or how the commute will be—or at least, we’re not sure.

Orchestra musicians who are instructed to make their performance new in subtle ways not only enjoy themselves more but audiences actually prefer those performances. “When we’re there at the moment, making it new, it leaves an imprint in the music we play, the things we write, the art we create, in everything we do,” says Langer. “Once you recognize that you don’t know the things you’ve always taken for granted, you set out of the house quite differently. It becomes an adventure in noticing—and the more you notice, the more you see.” And the more excitement you feel.

Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There

Living a consistently mindful life takes effort. But mindfulness itself is easy. “People set the goal of being mindful for the next 20 minutes or the next two weeks, then they think mindfulness is difficult because they have the wrong yardstick,” says Jay Winner, a California-based family physician and author of Take the Stress out of Your Life. “The correct yardstick is just for this moment.”

Mindfulness is the only intentional, systematic activity that is not about trying to improve yourself or get anywhere else, explains Kabat-Zinn. It is simply a matter of realizing where you already are. A cartoon from The New Yorker sums it up: Two monks are sitting side by side, meditating. The younger one is giving the older one a quizzical look, to which the older one responds, “Nothing happens next. This is it.”

You can become mindful at any moment just by paying attention to your immediate experience. You can do it right now. What’s happening this instant? Think of yourself as an eternal witness, and just observe the moment. What do you see, hear, smell? It doesn’t matter how it feels—pleasant or unpleasant, good or bad—you roll with it because it’s what’s present; you’re not judging it. And if you notice your mind wandering, bring yourself back. Just say to yourself, “Now. Now. Now.”

Here’s the most fundamental paradox of all: Mindfulness isn’t a goal, because goals are about the future, but you do have to set the intention of paying attention to what’s happening at the present moment. As you read the words printed on this page, as your eyes distinguish the black squiggles on white paper, as you feel gravity anchoring you to the planet, wake up. Become aware of being alive. And breathe. As you draw your next breath, focus on the rise of your abdomen on the in-breath, the stream of heat through your nostrils on the out-breath. If you’re aware of that feeling right now, as you’re reading this, you’re living in the moment. Nothing happens next. It’s not a destination. This is it. You’re already there.


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12 Little Known Laws Of Mindfulness

by MARC CHERNOFF     The Open Mind     August 28, 2015 

“Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens.”

 – Carl Jung

Mindfulness as a daily ritual is the ultimate challenge and practice.  It’s a way of living, of being, of seeing, of tapping into the full power of your humanity.

At its core, mindfulness is…

  • Being aware of what’s happening in the present moment without wishing it were different
  • Enjoying each pleasant experience without holding on when it changes (which it will)
  • Being with each unpleasant experience without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t)

Knowing this is important.  Living every day in such a way that makes mindfulness possible is life-changing.  Here are twelve basic laws of (practical) mindfulness we often cover with our coaching/course students that make mindful living a gradual reality:

1.  Your only reality is THIS MOMENT, right here, right now.

  • The secret to health for the mind, body and soul is not to mourn the past, nor to worry about the future, but to live the present moment mindfully and purposefully.
  • True wealth is the ability to experience the present moment fully.  No other time and place is real.  Lifelong peace and abundance is found in such simple awareness.

2.  A negative thought is harmless unless you believe it.

  • It’s not your thoughts, but your attachment to your thoughts, that causes suffering.
  • Attaching to a thought means believing that it’s true without proof.  A belief is a thought that you’ve been attaching to, often for years.

3.  You will not be punished FOR your anger; you will be punished BY it.

  • Speak and act when you are enraged, and you will make the best speech and motions you will ever regret.
  • Being angry and unhappy about something is easy.  Doing something productive about it is the hard and worthwhile part.  Life is too precious and too short to spend it being upset.  Drop it.  Be positive. Be your best.

4.  Inner peace is knowing how to belong to oneself, without external validation.

  • In order to understand the world, you have to turn away from it on occasion.
  • Sometimes you justify yourself to others when you cease to be at peace with your thoughts.  Don’t look for anyone else to give you permission to be yourself.  You don’t need anyone’s validation to be happy or to live a good life.

5.  Everything is created twice, first in your mind and then in your life.

  • If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for almost anything.
  • Keep your morals close to your heart and at the top of your mind.

6.  There is a wilderness you walk alone, however well accompanied you are.

  • Others can walk beside you, but they can’t walk in your shoes.
  • Give yourself an opportunity to discover who you truly are, and to figure out why you truly are always alone even when you’re surrounded, and why this is perfectly OK.
mindfulness

7.  To strongly believe in something, and not live it, is dishonest.

  • Don’t bend; don’t water down your dreams; don’t try to make every feeling logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion trends.  Rather, follow your most intense passions, mindfully.
  • Characterize yourself by your actions and you will never be fooled by other people’s words.

8.  The right path and the easy path are rarely the same path.

  • You will ultimately come to realize that the struggle is not found on the path, it is the path, and it’s worth your while.  Every step forward may be tough, but will feel better than anything else you can imagine.
  • People don’t stop pursuing their dreams and passions because they grow old; they grow old because they stop pursuing their dreams and passions.

9.  If you want the benefits of something in life, you have to also want the costs.

  • Instead of thinking about what you want, first consider what you are willing to give up to get it.  You can’t have the destination without the journey.  If you want the six-pack abs, you have to want the sweat, the sore muscles, the early mornings at the gym, and the healthy meals.
  • Ask yourself: What is worth suffering for?  If you find yourself wanting something month after month, year after year, yet nothing happens and you never come any closer to it, then maybe you don’t actually want it at all, because you’re not willing to suffer though the work it’s going to take to achieve it.

10.  Overcommitting is the antithesis of living a peaceful, mindful life.

  • There’s a difference between being committed to the right things and being overcommitted to everything.  It’s tempting to fill in every waking minute of the day with to-do list tasks or distractions.  Don’t do this to yourself.  Leave space.
  • Keep your life ordered and your schedule under-booked.  Create a foundation with a soft place to land, a wide margin of error, and room to think and breathe.

11.  When you try to control too much, you enjoy too little.

  • Don’t live a life packed full of concrete plans.  Work hard, but be flexible.  The best moments often happen unplanned and the greatest regrets happen by not reaching exactly what was planned.
  • Sometimes you just need to let go, relax, take a deep breath and love what is, right now.

12.  When you are tired, you are attacked by ideas you likely conquered long ago.

  • You must refill your bucket on a regular basis.  That means catching your breath, finding quiet solitude, focusing your attention inward, and otherwise making time for recovery from the chaos of your routine.
  • It’s perfectly healthy to pause and let the world spin without you for a while.  If you don’t, you will burn yourself out.

Afterthoughts

As I am wrapping up this post, I am reminded that the greatest enemy of good thinking, and thus mindfulness, is busyness.

Busyness isn’t a virtue, nor is it something to respect.  We all have seasons of wild schedules, but very few of us have a legitimate need to be busy ALL the time.  We simply don’t know how to live within our means, prioritize properly, and say no when we should.

Although being busy can make us feel more alive than anything else for a moment, the sensation is not sustainable long term.  We will inevitably, whether tomorrow or on our deathbed, come to wish that we spent less time in the buzz of busyness and more time actually living a purposeful, mindful life.  (Angel and I discuss this in more detail in the “Adversity” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)