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4 Habits to Achieve Better Mental Health

The National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates that one in every five U.S. adults lives with a mental illness. This number adds up to nearly 50 million people. Sadly, these numbers likely underestimate the extent of the problem.

Why is mental health important? A bit of a rhetorical question, right?

Clearly, mental health directly affects the quality of our life. Our mental health determines our productivity, feelings of self-worth, confidence, and skillfulness in navigating life’s inevitable challenges. Good mental health maximizes all of these things; poor mental health minimizes them.

If we’re stricken with poor mental health, it becomes impossible to experience life optimally. Without proper treatment or guidance – medical or otherwise – most watch as their life takes a turn for the worst. That’s because the state of our mind impacts both our life – both personally and professionally.

Fortunately, we can improve our mental health. Better yet, we needn’t rely on copious amounts of pharmaceutical drugs to do so (as valuable as these can be at times.)

In this article, we’re going to discuss four habits that can lead to better mental health.

Let’s get to it!

POOR MENTAL HEALTH HAS ALWAYS BEEN A PROBLEM

“ADHD [attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder], anxiety, depression … can be thought of as problems that have existed – and been ignored – for years.”  ~ Paul Hammerness, MD, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School

While the catalysts of mental illness have changed, poor mental health has probably been a thing since homo sapiens first walked the primordial Earth.

Whereas in days of yore humans were concerned about wild animal attacks and having enough food, today we’re fretting about time, money, family, and career. Most likely, a combination of all these things.

FIGHT OR FLIGHT

There is something that connects these two distinct periods, however: the brain.

Neuroscientists state that the structure of the human brain has remained mostly unchanged over the past 500,000 years. Ten thousand years ago, our brains actually shrank. The past century has resulted in a “brain size rebound,” a byproduct of better nutrition and less disease brought on by the industrial revolution.

We can attribute some of the more modern mental illnesses – anxiety and depression, mainly – to the brain’s relatively static development. The harsh living conditions of our distant ancestors required an ever-alert brain mechanism that could quickly respond to threatening stimuli.

Brain experts call this mechanism the Fight-or-Flight response. Others call it hyperarousal or acute stress response.

The ‘FoF’ response is critical to human survival, even now. If you’ve ever been in a situation of sudden, extreme danger – and had to take quick action to ensure your survival – then you’ve had first-hand experience with the FoF response.

The truth is that we’ve all had, to a greater or lesser degree, some experience with FoF. If you’ve ever suffered from an anxiety disorder, you felt the constant agitation. If you’ve ever had to act to avoid danger, you’ve felt the flood of adrenaline that accompanies FoF activation.

In all of these situations, you no doubt noticed an involuntary, unconscious state of arousal. That’s the FoF. Early humans, no doubt, also saw the unpleasantness associated with an overactive FoF response – which was passed along to us.

THE CAUSE OF MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES

While FoF plays a significant role in the state of our mental health, it’s far from the only influencer.

Neurotransmitters, chemicals that act as signaling molecules in the brain, also have a substantial effect on our mental health. While scientists posited this correlation a long time ago, it wasn’t until recently that SPECT imaging studies all but confirmed the relationship.

Any imbalance of the four primary neurotransmitters – serotonin, dopamine, noradrenaline, and GABA – can lead to sub-optimal mental states, possibly mental illness.

mindfulness

4 HABITS THAT IMPROVE MENTAL HEALTH

“You have the power over your mind – not outside events. 

Realize this, and you will find strength.” 

~ Marcus Aurelius

1 – OBSERVE YOUR MIND

Metacognition is actively observing your mental processes and understanding habitual emotional reactive patterns. It’s also a crucial component of good mental health.

If you’ve ever sat back and wondered why in the heck your mind is making so much noise, then you know what metacognition is. You’ve also made a crucial and potentially life-changing discovery: you are not your mind or feelings.

Rather, you are the awareness behind the thoughts and feelings. When you recognize and embrace this fact, you can observe the activity of our mind at a distance – as a passive ‘witness.’ You may even start to get curious about the inner-workings of your mind, and it’s this attitude that will lead to a transformation.

While it’s possible to observe your mind amid daily life, it’s often difficult – especially at first. This is where a regular meditation practice can help.

Try taking 15-20 minutes at the start of each day to sit and allow your mind to become quiet.

2 – SLOW DOWN

“The soft overcomes the hard. The slow overcomes the fast.” ~ Lao-tzu

Okay, so this sounds like commonsensical gibberish nonsense. “What? Slow down? That’s it?”

Okay, then why do we fail at things repeatedly?

Reason #1: society has taught us that frenzied action is the same as productivity. Not only is this untrue, but it’s also potentially disastrous to our mental and physical health.

Slowing down – more specifically, not rushing – can have a powerful impact on our state of mind. Things still get accomplished, and with much less stress. Often, you’ll find that slowing down and focusing on one task at a time (see ‘Single-tasking’ next) not only improves the quality of your work but, ironically, can increase the pace at which things get done!

Practice performing one task a day slowly. Put all of your attention on the job – washing the dishes, showering, vacuuming, etc. – and while doing the activity gradually and deliberately.

3 – SINGLE TASK

“He did each single thing, as if he did nothing else.”   ~ Charles Dickens

Few things have been more damaging to our state of mind than multitasking. How harmful is it? Well, per a study conducted by researchers at Michigan State University, participants who multitasked using multiple forms of entertainment media “showed symptoms of anxiety and depression” based on mental health surveys.

Did you get that? Multitasking – even with entertainment – causes symptoms that mimic those of anxiety and depression!

The truth of the matter is that not only is multitasking a myth; it’s also stress-inducing and harmful.

The human brain simply is not meant for multitasking. When we perform a job, our neural circuitry is concentrated around that task – and that task only. It is incapable of diverting mental resources to a secondary task.

Unless, say, we’re talking about chewing gum and walking at the same time.

Instead, make it a habit to focus your attention single-mindedly on each task. Not only is this a more effective way of living, but it’s also much more peaceful.

4 – BE COMPASSIONATE TOWARDS YOURSELF

“If compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.”  ~ Jack Kornfield

Most people have good hearts. Although the media may try to convince you otherwise (their motto is “Bad news sells” after all) there is plenty of good happening in the world.

Since most people have good hearts, most of us are compassionate by nature. When someone is visibly hurting, we will often try to comfort and console.

But one problem that so many of us have is this: we don’t extend our compassionate nature to ourselves.

Indeed, each one of us is our own worst critic. We don’t even think about self-compassion. Many people live their entire lives without ever once practicing self-love or compassion.

To deny yourself some compassion is not only wrong; it is harmful to your mental wellbeing.

How do you practice self-compassion? Try picturing yourself as a child. If you have a picture of when you were a kid, take a good look at it.

Would you ever want this individual to suffer? Of course not. Talk to that inner child with compassion and love. How do you feel during and afterward?

FINAL THOUGHTS ON IMPROVING YOUR MENTAL HEALTH
In short, you hold the key to unlocking better mental health right there in your hand. All that’s left for you is to flick open that lock.

mindfulness

Mindfulness Improves as We Age

New research may provide an answer for why many people say life gets better with age. A new study by Australian investigators suggests this may be because older people have the wisdom and time to use mindfulness as a means to improve wellbeing.
Healthy aging researchers at Flinders University say certain characteristics of mindfulness seem more strongly evident in older people compared to younger people. The new findings may help people of all ages better deal with life circumstances.
Mindfulness refers to the natural human ability to be aware of one’s experiences and to pay attention to the present moment in a purposeful, receptive and non-judgmental way. Using mindful techniques can be instrumental in reducing stress and promoting positive psychological outcomes.
From middle age to old age, the Flinders University survey highlights the tendency to focus on the present-moment. The strategy to adopt a non-judgmental orientation may become especially important for well-being with advancing age.

“This suggests that mindfulness may naturally develop with time and life experience,” says behavioral scientist Associate Professor Tim Windsor. Windsor co-authored the study which was based on an online community survey of 623 participants, aged between 18 and 86 years.

The study, ‘Older and more mindful? Age differences in mindfulness components and well-being,’ appears online in Aging and Mental Health.

“The significance of mindfulness for wellbeing may also increase as we get older, in particular the ability to focus on the present moment and to approach experiences in a non-judgmental way.

“These characteristics are helpful in adapting to age-related challenges and in generating positive emotions.”

In one of the first age-related studies of its kind, the researchers assessed participants’ mindful qualities such as present-moment attention, acceptance, non-attachment and examined the relationships of these qualities with wellbeing more generally.

“The ability to appreciate the temporary nature of personal experiences may be particularly important for the way people manage their day-to-day goals across the second half of life,” says study lead author Leeann Mahlo. Mahlo is investigating mindfulness in older adulthood as part of her PhD research.

“We found that positive relationships between aspects of mindfulness and wellbeing became stronger from middle age onwards,” she says.“Our findings suggest that if mindfulness has particular benefits in later life, this could be translated into tailored training approaches to enhanced wellbeing in older populations.”

Mindfulness skills can help build wellbeing at any age, adds Mahlo. Tips to develop mindful techniques include:
• Becoming aware of our thoughts and surroundings and paying attention to the present moment in an open and nonjudgmental way. This can prevent us from focusing on the past or worrying about the future in unhelpful ways.
• Understanding that our thoughts, feelings and situations exist in the moment and will not last. This can help us to respond in flexible, more optimistic ways to challenging circumstances, including those that we are facing with concerns related to COVID-19.
• Finding out more about mindfulness via app-based programs such as Calm, Headspace, Insight Timer, Smiling Mind, and Stop, Breathe & Think. These are available for use on computers or smartphones and offer flexible ways of learning and practicing mindfulness — including for people now spending more time at home.
By Rick Nauert PhD             Associate News Editor   Apr 2020
Source:   Flinders University/EurekAlert   psychcentral.com


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Leveling Up Your Emotional Intelligence

Moving from reaction to response to reflection

One of the hallmarks of emotional intelligence is the ability to respond to a situation, rather than react to it. We are at our basest when we react to external situations or events, allowing those experiences to control our behavior. Through the development of self-awareness, we move away from this external orientation toward one that is more interior in nature. As this happens, we become more and more cognizant of our thoughts and feelings, giving us increasing access to our interior landscape.

When we react, we are literally being hijacked by our emotions, or, more to the point, overwhelmed by a physio-emotional response driven by a brain structure called the amygdala. The amygdalae (pl.) are two almond shaped nuclei—a cluster of densely packed neurons—located medially in the temporal lobes of the brain. It is one of the more thoroughly understood regions of the brain, particularly with regard to gender differences. Research shows it to be integral to memory, decision-making and, most importantly for this conversation, emotional reactions.

As we mature, moving away from a purely exterior orientation to one that is more interior and balanced, we begin to lay the foundation of emotional regulation. That’s not to say we can’t fall back into reacting to external stimuli. When we do, however, we are more likely to be aware of what’s going on for us, rather than just having a tantrum in the face of not getting our needs or expectations met.

This self-awareness leads us to other-awareness. In other words, we begin to develop sympathy in its truest sense—a commonality of feeling—with others. With this in hand, we are open to developing empathy, where we are not simply sharing feelings with others, but understanding their experience. The resonance created by this understanding and attendant empathy is at the heart of moving from reacting to responding.

compassion

When we are in this matrix of sympathy, empathy and understanding, we are not only with our own feelings, but with the feelings of another person. When that connection extends beyond a single person to a group or the larger community, we move out of the egocentricity of empathy and into the ethno- and geo-centricity of compassion. Exercising compassion demands that we stay inside. By staying inside, and not letting ourselves get pulled off center by the situations or events outside us, we move into an even more subtle level of emotional intelligence—from responding to reflecting.

Exercising compassion means holding space. Reflection, on the other hand, is about holding the space. The subtle difference here is that holding space, from the perspective of Buddhist psychology, is about accepting and allowing for the experience of another person—being with it and being with them. Holding the space, by contrast, means holding the container of experience and staying centered in it so the accepting and allowing of compassion can happen. The former—holding space—is an expression of witnessing the emotional experience of an individual or community. The latter—holding the space—extends beyond witnessing into active participation. Reflection transforms compassionate understanding into an act of authentic tenderness and humanity that raises not only our own level of emotional intelligence, but weaves that ethos into the larger fabric of society, hopefully for the greater good.

Jul 31, 2016  
Michael J Formica MS, MA, EdM


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9 Small Choices That’ll Make Every Day Happier

by Vishnu Subramaniam    April 21, 2016 

You don’t have to travel around the world or spend years in a monastery to find happiness. Happiness is all around us—within us. That means it isn’t some far-off, unimaginable destination. It’s something you can cultivate through small, consistent actions.

These nine small adjustments will help you tap into happiness more and more with every passing day.

“Happiness is not ready-made.
It comes from your own actions.”
—The Dalai Lama 

1. Choose to appreciate rather than to complain.

You can complain until you’re blue in the face. You can complain that you’re reading this article, that it’s too cold outside, that life isn’t fair. But it’s a surefire way to feel lousy about yourself and everything around you.

When you have the option of complaining—don’t. Instead, ask yourself, “What can I appreciate about the circumstances in front of me? What is good about my work or where I live?” Refrain from complaining and spend more time in gratitude for the many good things in your life.

Appreciation is happiness at your fingertips.

2. Choose people over things.

How much of your day do you spend focused on things? How much of your time is spent earning more money to pay for cars, houses and shopping? Having more stuff seldom makes us happy.

Saying “hello” to a coworker, neighbor, or grocery store clerk, on the other hand, will help you connect with others and spark a moment of humanity and cheer.

3. Choose compassion over judgment.

Think about how many judgments you make each day. Next time you find yourself judging, flip the judgment to compassion. Instead of condemning with your mind, see if you can find the good. Can you help? Can you uplift? Can you understand?

4. Choose generosity over selfishness.

In an all-about-me culture, doing something selfless for someone else is an instant mood-booster.

If you’re feeling down, help a coworker. Let someone cut in line, say hello to a stranger, or give your afternoon snack to the homeless veteran.

Any time you give, you get happiness in return. Give without expectations.

happiness

5. Choose to focus on solutions rather than problems.

You can focus on failure, roadblocks, etc., or you can look for answers, find solutions, and overcome the obstacle in front of you. When you look for solutions, you’re being proactive and optimistic. That always encourages happiness.

6. Choose acceptance over resistance.

If you go around resisting everything that comes into your life, you’ll always be angry and frustrated.

Accept that things won’t always go your way. Deal with the disappointment and then try again. If you resist pain, you can’t deal with it. If you accept it first, you can find a way through it.

7. Choose the high road rather than being petty.

Someone cuts you off on the road or takes your leftover sandwich from the fridge. Let go of grudges. Forgive quickly and choose the high road. When you don’t respond to snarky emails in kind, or treat rude waiters with condescension, you’ll feel happier quickly, and might even be able to perk up the people who upset you.

The high road always wins when it comes to happiness.

8. Choose your truth over society’s demands.

The easiest way to feel unhappy and frustrated with life is to play by life’s rules, follow and do what everyone else is doing—just because they’re doing it.

As years go by, the more you conform and blindly follow society’s lead, the more miserable you’ll be.

Choose to live your truth; follow your heart’s lead, bow out of unwanted obligations and live the life you desire. Ignore cultural noise, or demands for you to conform.

9. Choose to take achievable daily actions rather than make grandiose bucket lists.

Bucket lists are where dreams go to die. You may put your most-wanted dreams on your bucket list, but don’t put off your happiness till some future experience is realized.

Pick a few small things you really want to change or do and start taking the steps toward making that happen today. Save up for that trip, start on that passion project, write that book. By the time you’re ready to dive into your bucket list, you might not be here!

Working on your most treasured dreams today is maybe the best way I know to be happier immediately, and every day.


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Three Strategies For Bringing More Kindness Into Your Life

Countless studies link kindness and generosity to greater life satisfaction.

Greater Good Science Center    By Juliana Breines, Ph.D.    10/04/2015 

One of the best ways to increase our own happiness is to do things that make other people happy. In countless studies, kindness and generosity have been linked to greater life satisfaction, stronger relationships, and better mental and physical health—generous people even live longer.

What’s more, the happiness people derive from giving to others creates a positive feedback loop: The positive feelings inspire further generosity—which, in turn, fuels greater happiness. And research suggests that kindness is truly contagious: Those who witness and benefit from others’ acts of kindness are more likely to be kind themselves; a single act of kindness spreads through social networks by three degrees of separation, from person to person to person to person.

But just because we have the capacity for kindness, and reap real benefits from it, doesn’t mean that we always act with kindness. We may be too busy, distracted, or wrapped up in our own concerns to pay close attention to others’ needs or actively seek out opportunities to help. Or we’re just out of practice: Researchers have argued that kindness is like a muscle that needs to be strengthened through repeated use.

How do we strengthen kindness? Researchers have identified a number of effective exercises, and many of them are collected on the Greater Good Science Center’s new website, Greater Good in Action (GGIA), which features the top research-based activities for fostering happiness, kindness, connection, and resilience.

Here I highlight GGIA’s 10 core kindness practices, grouped into three broad categories.

1. How to Cultivate Feelings of Kindness

Kind behavior comes more naturally when we’re feeling a sense of compassion and connection with others. This first set of practices focuses on cultivating these feelings.

The Feeling Connected practice involves thinking about a time when you felt a strong connection to another person—through a meaningful conversation, say, or by experiencing a great loss or success or historic event together—and describing that experience in writing. A 2011 study led by researcher Louisa Pavey in the United Kingdom found that participants who completed this exercise reported increases in feelings of concern for others and stronger intentions to carry out a number of generous acts over the next six weeks, such as giving money to charity and helping a stranger in need.

How does this practice increase kindness? Research suggests that feeling connected to others satisfies a fundamental psychological need to belong; when this need is unmet, people are more likely to focus on their own needs rather than caring for others.

Similar to Feeling Connected is the Feeling Supported practice, which involves thinking about the qualities of the people you turn to when you’re distressed, then recalling a time when you were comforted by one of them. A 2005 study led by Mario Mikulincer, dean of the school of psychology at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Israel, found that people who completed this writing exercise, compared with those who wrote more generically about a colleague or acquaintance, subsequently reported greater compassion and willingness to help a person in distress. This simple practice is powerful because it increases “attachment security,” a state that involves feelings of trust and comfort and is especially helpful when we’re feeling threatened or insecure. It can also remind us of the kinds of qualities we want to embody when kindly supporting others.

Another excellent way to tap into feelings of compassion and concern for others is to take an Awe Walk, which involves going for a stroll somewhere that seems vast and perspective-shifting, and makes us feel connected to something greater than ourselves. In a 2015 study led by Paul Piff, then a researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, some participants stood in a grove of towering eucalyptus trees and gazed up for just one minute; other participants looked away from the trees, at a building. The tree gazers were subsequently more likely to help someone in need and less likely to feel that they were superior to others.

Finally, you can try a Compassion Meditation. This simple—though not necessarily easy—technique involves paying attention to your breathing as you extend feelings of goodwill toward a loved one, yourself, a neutral person, and even an enemy. Results of a 2013 study led by Helen Weng, then at the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, showed that participants who performed the compassion meditation for two weeks demonstrated more generous behavior, donating more money to a victim of unfair treatment, and they also showed greater activity in brain regions associated with understanding the suffering of others and regulating emotions in response to pictures of suffering. (You can find audio of a guided compassion meditation on the GGIA website, along with the script for this meditation.)

kindness_wisdom

 

2. How to Boost the Happiness We Get from Kindness

Another way to increase the amount of kindness we perform over the long terms sounds simple: make a concerted effort to perform more kind and generous acts in the short term.

Intentionally practicing kindness in our everyday lives, even on days when we’re not in a particularly generous mood, can go a long way toward turning kindness into a habit. That’s largely because of the way kindness breeds happiness: The good feelings serve to reinforce our kind acts and make us more likely to want to perform them in the future.

Practicing Random Acts of Kindness is a good place to start. This practice involves performing five acts of kindness in one day and then writing about the experience. They can be anything from bringing a meal to a sick friend to giving up your seat on the bus to donating blood to buying a coffee for the person in line behind you at a cafe. For ideas, consider acts of kindness that you’ve witnessed or received in the past, and check out this Buzzfeed list of 101 suggestions. Random acts of kindness not only lift our spirits in the moment; they also have the potential to alter the way we feel about ourselves and increase healthy forms of self-esteem.

Research suggests that not all acts of kindness are created equal, however. Many factors can influence whether and how these acts bring us psychological benefits. The Making Giving Feel Good practice outlines three strategies that can maximize the positive effects of generosity.

The first strategy is to make giving a choice. Research suggests that when we feel obligated to give—such as when we feel cornered by an aggressive request—we are less likely to enjoy it. It’s important to give yourself the option to say no, and to give others the same option when requesting help. The second strategy is to make a connection with the recipient of your kindness—for example by taking a colleague out to lunch rather than just giving a gift certificate. The third strategy is to take the initiative to learn about the impact of your generosity, which can elicit contagious feelings of joy. For example, see this video of a bone marrow donor meeting the little girl whose life he saved.

3. How to Inspire Kindness in Others

It’s important to find ways to boost your own kindness. But arguably the greatest good we can do in the world comes from finding ways to increase kindness in others. That’s what the next set of practices are designed to do.

On GGIA, we provide three research-based strategies for educators, parents, and leaders of all kinds to help others overcome barriers to kindness and generosity. The first is to create Reminders of Connectedness in a home, office, or classroom. These reminders can be something as simple as a quote evoking shared goals, words like “community,” or a picture conveying warmth or friendships.

The second involves Putting a Human Face on Suffering: Being able to identify distinct, specific victims of a problem—and learning about their personal stories—can make that problem more vivid, strike an emotional chord, and thus motivate people to help.

The third, Shared Identity, involves forging a sense of common humanity across group boundaries. Reminding people to see the basic humanity that they share with those who might seem different from them can help overcome fear and distrust and promote cooperation. Even small similarities, like appreciating sports, can foster a greater sense of kinship. (An overview of these three strategies is also provided in the Eliciting Altruism practice.)

Finally, the practice for Encouraging Kindness in Kids offers four specific techniques to bring out children’s natural propensity for kindness and generosity. These techniques include avoiding external rewards for kind behavior, so that kids get to experience the feeling that kindness is its own reward, praising kids’ character instead of their behavior so they come to see kindness as an essential part of who they are, and modeling kindness in your own behavior, since actions tend to speak louder than words when it comes to nurturing generosity.

Becoming a kinder person—and nurturing kindness in your children and students—isn’t something that happens overnight. It takes practice to turn your best intentions into concrete actions. We hope the kindness exercises on Greater Good in Action provide an effective way to start building that habit today.

Juliana Breines, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral fellow at Brandeis University. 

This article first appeared on Greater Good, the online magazine of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley. In November, GGSC is hosting a summit on Mindfulness and Well-Being at Work; find out more here.


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5 Tips To Increase Your Energetic Vibrational Frequency

The quantum physicists have proven it: We are not just this physical body. Our presence doesn’t end at our skin line. We have an energy field around us.

This energetic aura connects us to other living beings and the universe around us. We are all interconnected. Each one of us has a unique aura, and we are part of the same divine brilliance that created the infinite cosmos.

When we are in touch with this feeling of being a part of the divine, our true essence being love, then our energy vibrates at a high frequency. Our positive thoughts and feelings and healthy practices support a bright energy field.

On the other hand, if we live in a state of fear, negativity, and separation, and fill our body with unhealthy substances (low-vibrational food, alcohol, and drugs), then our energy field becomes blocked, clouded, and dark.

Our energy is a magnet. It attracts experiences in the world to match our energetic field. Because we create our energy with how we treat ourselves inside and out, we are responsible for our energy and our life experiences. Life doesn’t happen to us. Rather, our outer experience reflects our inner state.

positivity

Here are some of the ways you can take responsibility for your energy:

1. Focus on your breath.

This practice takes us right into our body, calms our nervous system, and shifts our energetic presence.

2. Take time to slow down.

Most of us are so busy filling our lives with unending tasks. Put SLOW DOWN on your to-do list and trust that’s its a very important task.

3. Process and consciously feel your feelings.

Many of us learned to stuff our feelings down, especially if they are negative or “un”spiritual. Actually, the spiritual practice is to feel all of our feelings. The sooner you feel and process the feeling, the sooner and easier it will release. Being human is the doorway to the divine.

4. Repeat a mantra like, “I am divine love.”

Mantras help to retrain your mind away from conditioned beliefs. They help us return to our true essence, as mantras carry a vibrational frequency that permeates throughout the body.

5. Cultivate compassion.

Your energy is something you put out into the world. It either uplifts or drains others. When you notice this interconnection, how we affect one another, we start to take more responsibility for the energy we radiate.

By engaging in daily practices like mindfulness, meditation, yoga, and healthy eating we shift our energy. We begin to operate at a high-vibrational frequency, the frequency of love, and that’s when we are a magnet for more positive relationships and experiences.

When our energetic aura shifts, our consciousness expands, our nervous system neutralizes, and we begin to fully realize and experience a spiritual awakening… the recognition of our divine essence. Things become possible that weren’t before. A miraculous life unfolds in front of us.

by Tara Mullarkey    March 2, 2013 


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The Surprising Motivational Power of Self-Compassion

We all have a kind of virtual policeman living inside us. Amongst other things he’s the guy that helps us work towards our goals, whether personal or professional.

When things go wrong and we stray off the straight and narrow, he reminds us what we were supposed to be doing.

But what kind of policeman is he? Is he the kind with a riot shield, a baton and a bad attitude or does he offer a forgiving smile, a friendly word and a helping hand?

People sometimes think of the latter, more relaxed internal policeman, as being weak and ineffectual. The danger, it is thought, with going easy on ourselves, is that it will lead to lower motivation. Surely if we don’t use self-criticism to push ourselves, we’ll never get anywhere?

So, what stance should we adopt towards ourselves?

mirror
We all make mistakes,
but should you beat yourself up
or show a little mercy?

Antitoxin of the soul

Let’s say someone is trying to deal with a recent period of low self-confidence. Here are three ways the inner policeman might deal with it:

  • Self-esteem boost: think about positive aspects of the self to boost confidence.
  • Positive distraction: think back to nice memories to create a distraction from the problem.
  • Self-compassion: think about the self with kindness and compassion, seeing the period of low self-confidence in context, without evaluating or judging it.

When psychological researchers tested these approaches they found that self-compassion was surprisingly powerful (Breines & Chen, 2012). In comparison to self-esteem boosting and distraction, this study found that self-compassion was most likely to help participants:

  • See the possibilities for change,
  • Increase the motivation to change,
  • Take steps towards making a change,
  • Compare themselves with those doing better, to help motivate their change.

So self-compassion did not emerge as the soft-option: in fact, quite the opposite. By being sympathetic and non-judgemental towards the self, people were able to avoid both harsh self-criticism and potentially fragile self-enhancement.

When participants thought back to insecurities in their relationships, their shyness or social anxieties, it was showing compassion towards themselves that helped the most.

This may be because self-compassion builds a more balanced way of reacting to both failures in ourselves and difficult situations we find ourselves in. As the American writer Eric Hoffer said:

“Compassion is the antitoxin of the soul: where there is compassion even the most poisonous impulses remain relatively harmless.”


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10 Words Everyone Should Live By

BY DR. LAWRENCE ROSEN     JULY 10, 2013 

I’ve noticed a trend in wellness circles. Whether in my work with patients or in my yoga classes, I keep coming across the same words. On a given day, one might be the theme of a dharma talk or a TED Talk video someone mentioned to me. (Or, as was the case one strange morning, the same word was featured in both.) I am sure the universe is sending me messages, and the more I mention these to friends and colleagues, it seems like they’re hearing the same words.

Which of these words resonates with you? My guess is some will at different times, but they’re all good words to live by.

1. Presence: To be fully engaged in what you are doing right now. And right now. And right now. Mindfulness of the present moment is something we never fully attain 100% of the time, but it shouldn’t stop us from trying. Whatever tools you use to cultivate presence, make time to hone them. That is why we practice (not perfect) yoga and meditation.

2. Vulnerability: The willingness to be let others see you as you are. Vulnerability is to admit, “I am human. I am not perfect. I struggle, just like you.” No one has described vulnerability more effectively than Brene Brown. She teaches us that vulnerability is NOT weakness; in fact, being vulnerable is the most courageous thing we can be. Only when we are vulnerable can we truly connect and be open to intimacy.

3. Clarity: Transparency and lucidity of vision and thought. Not just an uber popular, kinda creepy song by Zedd. Clarity is that aha moment when everything is crystal clear and it all just makes sense. I find it comes to me when I’m not trying to achieve it, but allowing my mind to relax and focus. It’s one of those things that the harder you try to achieve it, the further away it may feel.

4. Equanimity: The evenness of mind to stand steady in the face of stress or challenge. I didn’t really “get” equanimity until last weekend, when a very wise friend told me it could best be explained by the phrase, “It’s all good.” The next day, I was meditating on this phrase at the beginning of a particularly challenging beach yoga session. (I know, boo-hoo, poor me.) Still, it was hot, with no wind, black flies biting. The teacher began by saying, “I was reading something this morning about equanimity…” Aha.

Gratitude

5. Gratitude: An intentional appreciation of what and who you have. An acceptance and explicit acknowledgment of what life brings you. Not taking anything for granted. As psychologist Robert Emmons notes, “Gratitude allows us to celebrate the present.”

6. Creativity: The use of your imagination to produce something—a thought, an object, really anything. Creativity implies a childlike playfulness, having the courage to make mistakes and keep pushing on. We desperately need more creativity in education and in the workplace. Never forget: you were once a child and some part of you always should be.

7. Authenticity: Walking the walk. The real you. The most honest “way of being.” To be authentic is to accept your self as is and offer that self to the world. The challenge is to learn to be OK with who you are and then… just be.

8. Passion: An incredibly intense and compelling desire for something (or someone) that is barely containable. And I think that’s the key. Your passion should be so palpable that it’s going to burst out of your eyeballs… but it just quite doesn’t. That’s what separates a crime of passion from the kind that makes you invest your whole being in the pursuit of your dreams and inspires others to follow you.

9. Compassion: Love and acceptance for another as if they were you. To treat them as you would want to be treated. To walk a mile in their shoes.  To see through their eyes as if they are your own. Compassion for yourself is the first step in having compassion for others.

10. Love: Do I really have to explain this one? OK, just one quote: “We accept the love we think we deserve.” – Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower


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31 Ways To Be A Better Person Every Day

By Elizabeth McLaughlin    January 29, 2014 

“Did you do something different to this pasta salad?” It seemed like an innocent question … but I knew better. I knew it was my husband’s sneaky way of telling me how much I suck. Here’s what I Read

We’ve all heard the advice to “be the change you wish to see in the world.” But what does it mean to “be the change” in daily life? I’ve pondered this question often in my coaching practice, where I work with folks who struggle to change every day.

In my experience, positive change — whether individual or global — is inevitable when we refuse to perpetuate behavior which harms, and when we refuse to be victims and choose action instead. This breaks down to 31 daily practices that inherently make a difference. Here they are.

1. Own your talents proudly.

Your gifts matter, and the world needs them.

2. Refuse to recreate injurious behavior by those above you.

Mentor those you supervise, recognize their achievements, and treat everyone with respect. “That’s the way it’s always been done” is not an excuse for mistreatment.

3. Know what you don’t know.

Pretending to be something you’re not robs you of your ability to learn more from others who already know the ropes.

4. Acknowledge your part in any office conflict, and work to remedy it.

Honestly owning your role in any working relationship makes you a model for all those you work with.

5. Advocate for positive change.

If your office doesn’t recycle, start a program. If you see too few minorities being hired, work to shift office policies.

6. Compost and recycle.

Most cities now have by-donation public composting programs. Those with backyard space can compost at home. Make sure to recycle everything you can, no excuses. The planet needs your help.

7. Buy local and organic.

Buying local decreases reliance on fossil fuels, and also benefits the environment through fewer carbon emissions. Buying organic preserves biodiversity, supports farmers who are doing the right thing and undermines efforts to genetically modify our food sources without consequence.

8. Know what’s in your cabinets.

Read the labels on everything you eat and every cleaning product you own. If you can’t identify an ingredient without using Google, chances are you shouldn’t be eating it or putting it on your countertops.

9. Conserve resources whenever possible.

Turn off the lights when you’re not in the room. Turn off the tap while you brush your teeth. Unplug your chargers when not in use.

10. Be a responsible pet owner.

That means not only picking up after your pets but also caring for your animal companions as you would for a family member. How you act here affects your entire community.

11. Listen first.

Think about it: when you want support, chances are you don’t turn to the friend who only talks about herself. Listening well is a mandatory skill in healthy relationships.

12. Stop blaming.

Every relationship is a two-way street. Imagine what would happen if, instead of blaming the other party, we each investigated our own part in the dynamic, and took responsibility to shift it? Presto-chango: a stronger, healthier relationship.

13. Be the partner you wish to have.

We each reflect back our best and worst qualities in our romantic relationships. Want more romance? Be more romantic. Want a great lover? Master the art of being one. Want generous communication? Learn to communicate well and model that ideal.

14. Parent with respect and connection.

Our kids are our greatest teachers. Loving them well and parenting with good boundaries, kindness and respect benefits the entire world for generations to come.

15. Nurture and care for others …

… and you’ll get the same in return. Making soup for your sick friend or offering an ear to an acquaintance who recently lost a parent guarantees that the same support will be there for you in turn.

16. Get to know your neighbors.

Particularly in major cities, anonymity leads to loneliness and isolation. Cultivate community events in your apartment building or in your neighborhood, and participate when others do the same. Aim to be a hub of your community. The rewards are endless.

17. Seek out like-minded organizations, and contribute.

Volunteer organizations always need more help. Whatever your gifts, they’re needed.

volunteer

18. Be generous and polite.

Carry your neighbor’s groceries in when she needs a hand. Open doors for others. Say please and thank you. These little niceties make a world of difference, especially to those with whom we interact on a daily basis.

19. Be curious and open.

Got neighbors from another nation of origin? Ask about their holidays and traditions. Got a colleague who has a slightly weird hobby? Ask what makes it so compelling. You’ll gain unprecedented insights into your world and those around you.

20. Surround yourself with positive people.

We become the company we keep. Keep company with those who are optimistic, uplifting and kind, and your world will become more of the same.

21. Treat your body with respect.

It’s the vessel for your experience in this life. Fill it with junk and refuse to move it, and your experience will eventually be a miserable one.

22. Examine and heal your negative self-talk.

If the things you say to yourself in your head aren’t things you would say to your kids, your partner or your best friend, you’ve got work to do.

23. Take responsibility for offloading your own baggage.

No one can fill a void that you haven’t addressed in your own history. And being a responsible partner, friend and parent means taking whatever steps necessary to make sure you don’t perpetuate your negative experiences when you interact with others.

24. Practice self-love.

Got a body part you’re less than thrilled with? Every day for 30 days, look at that body part in the mirror and say out loud that you love it. Look at yourself in totality and say the same. See where that gets you in a month — it’s life altering.

25. Forgive yourself.

We’ve all done things we’d prefer to forget, and made mistakes we’d prefer not to repeat. This is a part of life! Write a letter to yourself in which you forgive yourself for past errors, and burn it. Use your energy for the future instead of the past.

26. Educate yourself.

Don’t understand what’s happening in another part of the world and how it might impact you? Read respected news sources, and opinion pieces in particular. Know how you and your government interact at home and in the world. And always, always consider the source.

27. Eradicate ignorance and fear.

Don’t stand by silently while others make slurs or bully. One intervention can change lives.

28. Trust until you have a reason not to.

Inherent suspicion of others, our government and our world cuts us off from positive experience and connection.

29. Practice patience and compassion.

The driver who cuts you off might not be paying attention because his dad’s in the hospital. The person who bumps you on the subway might be late to pick her kid up from school. Assuming the best rather than the worst of strangers who cross our paths decreases stress levels and makes us better citizens.

30. Operate from a place of inherent value.

The person who delivers your takeout or pours your coffee may be just as smart and talented as you, but their lives have led them in a different direction. Everyone has a purpose, and everyone has a mission, even when it’s not apparent on the surface.

And lastly, in all things:

31. Love.

You need it, those around you need it, and the world needs it. Literally everyone you interact with and anyone you’ll ever meet is looking for it somewhere. How can you be the change, no matter what? Practice love whenever you can. It is the biggest game changer there is.


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6 Tips To Get Motivated When You’re Feeling Depressed

By Megan Bruneau    March 23, 2014

A common response to identifying lifestyle changes that might make a depressed person feel better is, “Easier said than done.” Someone coping with depression may get what she’s supposed to do, but the question is how? After all, depression kills motivation, energy, interest, and focus.

Once you give the engine a jump, it often becomes easier, but until then, how do you connect the jumper cables you need to make a spark?

1. Set the bar LOW.

When you’re depressed, you’re not functioning at your usual 70-90%. Rather, you’re sitting somewhere closer to 20%. If you set the same expectations for yourself that you had when you weren’t feeling depressed (which is sometimes just getting dressed), you’re going to feel anxious and overwhelmed, and probably won’t do the task you expected from yourself (and thus will feel defeated and ashamed).

Set SMALL AND SPECIFIC GOALS. Seriously. Unload the dishwasher. Heck, unload three glasses. Task completed and still itching for more? You can always raise the bar if you’re feeling particularly motivated. Take note that if you feel highly overwhelmed while tackling your goal, chances are it’s too high and you need to lower it to something more realistic or specific.

2. Practice self-compassion.

Self-criticism is depression’s BFF. If you beat yourself up for being so “unproductive” and “lazy,” You’re going to keep yourself feeling like crap and thus, paralyzed. Try instead to use the same encouraging words you might use for a friend or loved one. If you can’t find the words, read more about self-compassion here.

depression

3. Recruit support, or ask for help.

Some of us have trouble holding ourselves accountable at the best of times. With little motivation or energy, it’s that much harder. Confide in someone you trust, and ask for their help. Ask a friend to hold you to your commitment. Ask your partner to accompany to a yoga class. Pay for your support group, counseling appointment, or massage beforehand so you’ll be more motivated to attend.

4. Envision how you’ll feel after the task.

Getting in the shower, going for a walk, preparing a meal, or hanging out with a friend seems like a very ominous task if you focus on the effort involved. People who are depressed generally have low self-efficacy, which means they have low confidence in their ability to perform tasks. As such, they tend to feel overwhelmed and avoid such tasks. Lower expectations for yourself within the task, and envision how you (might) feel after the task rather than during.

5. Make the goal to do it, not to enjoy it.

When you’re feeling depressed, it’s natural to lose interest in things that used to make you happy. Comedy is no longer funny, sports are no longer fun, spending time with friends is no longer engaging. Anxiety, depression, and self-loathing take over, leading to feelings of detachment and defeat. So, when doing something “fun” or “active,” do it with the goal to do it, not to enjoy it.

6. Acknowledge your courage for stepping out of your comfort zone.

As painful as it is, depression can be come comfortable in a “devil you know” kind of way. You know what to expect, for the most part. You know the pain, you’re in the pain, you can predict that tomorrow will be more of the same. The idea of stepping out of this comfort zone can be quite anxiety provoking. Steven Hayes, a psychologist whose work I admire said, “If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’re always going to get what you’ve always gotten.” So, if you find you’re able to do something (even very slightly) different, congratulate yourself. There’s a good chance whatever you’re experiencing will come with anxiety, because anxiety accompanies uncertainty. Anxiety may be telling you you’re stepping out of the familiar routine of depression, so acknowledge your courage and try to bring such experiences forward in your journey.


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31 Ways To Be A Better Person Every Day

 By Elizabeth McLaughlin    January 29, 2014 

We’ve all heard the advice to “be the change you wish to see in the world.” But what does it mean to “be the change” in daily life? I’ve pondered this question often in my coaching practice, where I work with folks who struggle to change every day.

In my experience, positive change — whether individual or global — is inevitable when we refuse to perpetuate behavior which harms, and when we refuse to be victims and choose action instead. This breaks down to 31 daily practices that inherently make a difference. Here they are.

1. Own your talents proudly.
Your gifts matter, and the world needs them.

2. Refuse to recreate injurious behavior by those above you.Mentor those you supervise, recognize their achievements, and treat
everyone with respect. “That’s the way it’s always been done” is not an excuse for mistreatment. 

3. Know what you don’t know.
Pretending to be something you’re not robs you of your ability to learn more from others who already know the ropes.

4. Acknowledge your part in any office conflict, and work to remedy it.
Honestly owning your role in any working relationship makes you a model for all those you work with. 

5. Advocate for positive change.
If your office doesn’t recycle, start a program. If you see too few minorities being hired, work to shift office policies.

6. Compost and recycle.
Most cities now have by-donation public composting programs. Those with backyard space can compost at home. Make sure to recycle everything you can, no excuses. The planet needs your help. 

7. Buy local and organic.
Buying local decreases reliance on fossil fuels, and also benefits the environment through fewer carbon emissions. Buying organicpreserves biodiversity, supports farmers who are doing the right thing and undermines efforts to genetically modify our food sources without consequence.

8. Know what’s in your cabinets.
Read the labels on everything you eat and every cleaning product you own. If you can’t identify an ingredient without using Google, chances are you shouldn’t be eating it or putting it on your countertops.

9. Conserve resources whenever possible.
Turn off the lights when you’re not in the room. Turn off the tap while you brush your teeth. Unplug your chargers when not in use.

10. Be a responsible pet owner.
That means not only picking up after your pets but also caring for your animal companions as you would for a family member. How you act here affects your entire community.

11. Listen first.
Think about it: when you want support, chances are you don’t turn
to the friend who only talks about herself. Listening well is a mandatory skill in healthy relationships. 

12. Stop blaming.
Every relationship is a two-way street. Imagine what would happen if, instead of blaming the other party, we each investigated our own part in the dynamic, and took responsibility to shift it? Presto-chango: a stronger, healthier relationship.

13. Be the partner you wish to have.
We each reflect back our best and worst qualities in our romantic relationships. Want more romance? Be more romantic. Want a great lover? Master the art of being one. Want generous communication? Learn to communicate well and model that ideal.

14. Parent with respect and connection.
Our kids are our greatest teachers. Loving them well and parenting with good boundaries, kindness and respect benefits the entire world for generations to come. 

15. Nurture and care for others …
… and you’ll get the same in return. Making soup for your sick friend or offering an ear to an acquaintance who recently lost a parent guarantees that the same support will be there for you in turn. 

16. Get to know your neighbors.
Particularly in major cities, anonymity leads to loneliness and isolation. Cultivate community events in your apartment building or in your neighborhood, and participate when others do the same. Aim to be a hub of your community. The rewards are endless.

17. Seek out like-minded organizations, and contribute.
Volunteer organizations always need more help. Whatever your gifts, they’re needed.

18. Be generous and polite.
Carry your neighbor’s groceries in when she needs a hand. Open doors for others. Say please and thank you. These little niceties make a world of difference, especially to those with whom we interact on a daily basis.

19. Be curious and open.
Got neighbors from another nation of origin? Ask about their holidays and traditions. Got a colleague who has a slightly weird hobby? Ask what makes it so compelling. You’ll gain unprecedented insights into your world and those around you.

20. Surround yourself with positive people.
We become the company we keep. Keep company with those who are optimistic, uplifting and kind, and your world will become more of the same. 

21. Treat your body with respect.
It’s the vessel for your experience in this life. Fill it with junk and refuse to move it, and your experience will eventually be a miserable one.

22. Examine and heal your negative self-talk.
If the things you say to yourself in your head aren’t things you would say to your kids, your partner or your best friend, you’ve got work to do.

23. Take responsibility for offloading your own baggage.
No one can fill a void that you haven’t addressed in your own history. And being a responsible partner, friend and parent means taking whatever steps necessary to make sure you don’t perpetuate your negative experiences when you interact with others.

24. Practice self-love.
Got a body part you’re less than thrilled with? Every day for 30 days, look at that body part in the mirror and say out loud that you love it. Look at yourself in totality and say the same. See where that gets you in a month — it’s life altering.

25. Forgive yourself.
We’ve all done things we’d prefer to forget, and made mistakes we’d prefer not to repeat. This is a part of life! Write a letter to yourself in which you forgive yourself for past errors, and burn it. Use your energy for the future instead of the past.

26. Educate yourself.
Don’t understand what’s happening in another part of the world and how it might impact you? Read respected news sources, and opinion pieces in particular. Know how you and your government interact at home and in the world. And always, always consider the source.

27. Eradicate ignorance and fear.
Don’t stand by silently while others make slurs or bully. One intervention can change lives.

28. Trust until you have a reason not to.
Inherent suspicion of others, our government and our world cuts us off from positive experience and connection.

29. Practice patience and compassion.
The driver who cuts you off might not be paying attention because his dad’s in the hospital. The person who bumps you on the subway might be late to pick her kid up from school. Assuming the best rather than the worst of strangers who cross our paths decreases stress levels and makes us better citizens.

30. Operate from a place of inherent value.
The person who delivers your takeout or pours your coffee may be just as smart and talented as you, but their lives have led them in a different direction. Everyone has a purpose, and everyone has a mission, even when it’s not apparent on the surface.

And lastly, in all things: 

31. Love.
You need it, those around you need it, and the world needs it. Literally everyone you interact with and anyone you’ll ever meet is looking for it somewhere. How can you be the change, no matter what? Practice love whenever you can. It is the biggest game changer there is.