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Stuck on a Problem? Let Your Mind Wander, Researchers Say

A new study suggests that quiet, “unloaded” brains come up with the most creative thoughts.

There’s a reason some people say they get their best ideas when they’re running. A new study from researchers at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, and published in the journal Psychological Science, suggests that a clear mind—free of too much chatter—is a more creative one.

In three different experiments, about 20 people completed the same free association task. (They had to quickly name the first thing that popped into their head after they heard a series of target words.) But in each experiment, the researchers manipulated the “cognitive load” of the participants with various additional tasks. For example, some people were asked to remember a string of two digits (a low cognitive load), while others had to alphabetize the first three letters of each target word (a high cognitive load).

What the researchers found was that the participants with lower cognitive loads gave more creative responses. “When you reduce mental [stress], people have a greater tendency to avoid the ‘obvious solution’ and instead access unique thoughts in their mind,” study co-author and PhD student Shira Baror explained in an email to Health. In other words, when your brain is quieter, it can afford to “put aside its stored, immediate, well-earned associations and take a more interesting path of more original associations.”

mind wanderer

The study’s findings are in line with prior research, says Jonathan Schooler, PhD, a professor in the department of psychological and brain sciences at the University of California, Santa Barbara. In 2012 he led a study that showed the benefits of letting your mind slow down and wander: His team’s work suggested that when you’re trying to solve a problem, you may get the best creative boost from engaging in a non-demanding task. Think taking a shower, doing light chores—or you know, going for a good sweaty run.

In fact, that’s exactly what Baror suggests when you’re stuck in a rut. “Ruminating on the same problem, especially when you’re under stress or tension, will not yield creative solutions.” Instead, she says, literally walk away, and give your mind the chance to make those seemingly random, unexpected turns that lead to breakthroughs.

 By Jessica Migala  June 23, 2016
 


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10 Surprisingly Simple Happiness Tips

Tell the truth, avoid narcissists, and stay focused on the future.

Dec 29, 2015  Linda Esposito LCSW 

We all want to be happy. Our search leads us to seek advice from mental health professionals, clergy, best-selling authors, and Buddhist monks.

But despite the wealth of available information, two constants remain: One, there is no recipe for happiness. We’re all unique with different biology, childhoods, life experiences, and support systems. Two, happiness is a habit—and that’s good news, because you can choose to be happier.

To make your happiness journey more attainable, here are 10 common themes that researchers have found which lead to happiness.

“Sometimes, you just have to throw away the map. A map is a life someone else already lived. It’s more fun to make your own.” — Cora Carmack

1. Don’t expect happiness to come with a user’s manual.

Tipping Point author Malcolm Gladwell cites the food industry’s pursuit of the perfect spaghetti sauce—half of people surveyed prefer chunky tomato while the other half prefer smooth—to settle a larger argument about the nature of choice and happiness. The concept of “everyone” does not exist when it comes to experiencing joy. You don’t do X, followed by Y, to find your Z(en). As a therapist, I appreciate this because the pursuit of happiness is not a passive process. Also, happiness is not a destination, but a fluid, ever-changing state of mind: Today’s satisfaction with chunky tomato sauce may switch to smooth sauce for next year.

“Money is not the point.” — Corbett Barr

2. Forget about chasing fame and money for the sake of chasing fame and money.

Continue to pursue your financial and success goals, but not at the expense of your value system. Not every CEO or millionaire is joyous. Research shows that lottery winners are no more happy a year after the initial money windfall. One study found that the overall happiness levels of lottery winners spiked when they won, but returned to pre-winning levels after just a few months. In terms of overall happiness, the lottery winners were not significantly happier than the non-winners. (But don’t let that stop you from playing Powerball to test the studies’ reliability and validity.)

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” — Helen Keller

3. Continue to sharpen your mind.

Humans are wired for challenges. According to psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, doing stimulating activities which put you in a state of flow—whether via work, raising a family, or pursuing artistic passions—means you’re more likely to realize your goals, and stave off boredom.

“Your mind can be your strongest muscle or your worst enemy. Train it well.” — Unknown

4. Train your brain.

Healthy mental and lifestyle habits are integral to life satisfaction. Activities such as meditation, mindfulness-based practice, and developing positive thoughts improves your mood and your physical and emotional states. This article (link is external) offers in-depth details for achieving realistic, healthy thoughts, while this one teaches you how to decrease anxiety each and every day.

“Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” — William Arthur Ward

gratitude

5. Embrace gratitude.

Conventional wisdom says that happiness will make us grateful, but that’s not the case. The core of gratitude is counting your blessings, not your burdens. Professor of Psychology and researcher Robert Emmons examined the effect of a grateful outlook on one’s well-being. His findings showed that an intentional focus on blessings improved moods, coping skills, and physical and emotional well-being.

“If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help someone else.” — Chinese Proverb

6. Be generous.

Giving is truly better than receiving. Social scientist Michael Norton researches how money can buy happiness—when you don’t spend it on yourself. The key is social spending that benefits not just you, but other people.

“Today, give a stranger one of your smiles. It might be the only sunshine he sees all day.” — H. Jackson Brown Jr.

7. Smile.

If this one brings back unpleasant childhood memories of mom saying “Smile!” to snap you out of a bad mood, the truth is that she may have been on to something. Smiling decreases stress and anxiety. While it’s not easy to keep smiling in stressful situations, studies report that doing exactly that has health benefits. When recovering from a stressful situation, study participants who were smiling had lower heart rates than those with a neutral expression.

“Self-love forever creeps out, like a snake, to sting anything which happens to stumble upon it.” — George Gordon Noel Byron

8. Steer clear of mean people.

One word: Narcissists. Studies suggest that empathy appears to be on the decrease, while narcissism has been increasing across different cultures for the past three decades, according to the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI). If you find yourself in the desperate position of trying to co-parent with a narcissist, here’s a popular article to help you.

 “Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.” — Buddha

9. Tell the truth.

One of the best therapy lessons I ever got was learning that the true goal in therapy is to help your clients understand and accept their truth. Lying expert Robert Feldman found that about 60 percent of people have a hard time getting through a 10-minute conversation without lying at least twice. Besides a lot of energy devoted to deceit, there’s the byproduct of psychosocial stress. Discovering and embracing your true self reduces stress and increases authenticity.

“I may be a senior. But so what? I’m still hot.” — Betty White

10. Look forward to your golden years.

According to the experts, life is like sipping fine wine. “The good news is that with age comes happiness,” says University of Chicago sociologist Yang Yang. “Life gets better in one’s perception as one ages.” Yang found that a certain amount of distress in old age is inevitable—aches, pains and deaths of loved ones and friends. But older people generally have learned to be more content with what they have than younger adults. Cheers!


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5 Daily Disciplines that Reprogram Your Mind to Stay Positive

Did you know there are simple ways you can override default negative thoughts, essentially hypnotizing your mind to think positive?

There is no getting around the fact that negativity is all around us, and this has a significant impact on your mind. In fact, the brain is innately programmed with a “negativity bias” – the tendency for your brain to be more sensitive to unpleasant stimuli.

Scientists believe the tendency to react more strongly to negative input had a good reason – our distant ancestors had to constantly deal with danger; thus their survival relied on being able to detect and avoid dangerous situations. In short, the bias has evolutionary roots.

Then, there is the incomprehensible complexity of the human mind, with approximately 100 trillion neural connections. This unfathomable number of synapses explains our complex way of thinking. It also explains why we have negative thoughts that replay themselves over and over without us understanding why.

The good news is that you can control what your mind produces. While you may never be able to completely rid your brain of negative thoughts, you can drastically reduce them. With some patience and the willingness to discipline yourself, you can indeed reprogram your mind to stay positive.

Here are 5 daily disciplines that will help you reprogram your mind to positive…

1. Keep a gratitude journal
Research has shown that practicing gratitude regularly makes your brain healthier and happier. Some of the benefits of being grateful include more motivation, better sleep, and a better mood throughout the day.

One gratitude study involved assigning a group of young adults to keep a daily journal of things that they were grateful for. The other group was instructed to keep a daily journal of things that annoyed them or reasons why they were better off than other people. The group that kept the gratitude journal demonstrated greater increases in attention, determination, energy and enthusiasm.

This study demonstrated three important takeaways: (1) gratitude has great psychological benefits, (2) thinking that you are “better off” than another person is not gratitude, and (3) true appreciation is an important aspect of being grateful.

Gratitude is not a comparative practice. It is honing in on the positive aspects of your life that makes you more appreciative.

2. Repeat positive affirmations

In numerous studies, positive affirmations have been shown to effectively change the way that the brain is wired. This rewiring changes the way in which the brain filters incoming stimuli, effectively resulting in a more positive mood.

Dr. Mona Lisa Schultz, neuroscientist and author of various books on the subject of affirmations and the brain, explains:

“We can rewire the patterns in our brain with cognitive behavior therapy or affirmations. Affirmations change the way our brains are wired and the brain lights up differently. So it’s not just this flow, woo-woo stuff…(affirmations) have a bio-chemical, neuro-chemical, and neuropharmalogical affects just as effective, if not more effective, than Prozac, Zoloft, or whatever else you have.”

Gratitude

Here’s a quick 4-step method to create positive affirmations:

  •  Take some alone time to think about areas of your life you’d like to improve or how you’d like your life to be.
  •  Write down a list of the most important improvements that you’d like to make.
  •  Write down a few positive statements for each item on your list. Write them in the present tense, and make sure you focus on what you do want, not what you don’t.
  •  Post these affirmations around your home and read them frequently.

3. Associate and surround yourself with supportive people
Positive people have a positive effect on your thinking. Embrace the company of individuals who display a positive mindset. Doing so will inspire, empower, and motivate you to be your best.
As mentioned earlier, the brain has a default setting that remembers and holds onto negative events. People that are negative are no different. They will alter your way of thinking and you will, consciously or unconsciously, begin to mirror their behaviors, words and thoughts. This makes it all the more important to mind the company that you keep.

Refuse the company of negative people by keeping in mind your end goal – developing habits that allow your brain to stay positive. Your mindset is more important than accommodating people that negatively affect your brain and slow your progress.

4. Ignore negative thoughts
Remember this: you are not your negative thoughts, period. Our negativity bias makes it probable that negative thoughts will surface at times throughout the day.

Negative thinking is simply tabloid material for the mind. There is no substance to tabloid material…its literally designed to attract the curious shopper into paying for useless and intellectually dishonest information. Publishers of tabloids rely on the impulses and misguided curiosity of people who see them.

The brain is the same way. It may be clever in how it presents the information, but in the end it’s void of anything that represents the facts. The facts are these: you are a person dedicated to improvement, you are positive in your outlook, and you innately know that you are a positive person.

When negative thoughts present themselves, don’t acknowledge them. Don’t wage a thought war by attempting to rationalize with them. You observe them, sure, that’s natural. Observation doesn’t indicate acknowledgement.

When you don’t engage negative thoughts, they fade away in the same way the desire to buy that tabloid magazine diminishes when you leave the store…and you’re better off as a result.

5. Stay active


Idleness gives provides ample time for the brain to overanalyze and overthink. The easiest solution is to simply recognize when your brain is taking you down this road and divert the course.
There are many ways to become active, but the best (by far) is exercise. Exercise releases endorphins, the hormones that are responsible for feelings of euphoria. It’s a natural antidepressant that far exceeds the capabilities of any prescription drug. Its positive effects are also long-lasting, remaining with you throughout the day.

Other benefits of exercise on the brain include:

– Oxygenizes the brain, improving its function
– Releases a plethora of hormones, aiding and providing nourishment for brain cells
– Stimulates brain plasticity by stimulating the growth in critical areas of the brain
– Improves learning and memory
– Reduces risk of brain-related illness such as Alzheimer’s and dementia


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Do You Fall for the ‘Nocebo Effect’? 5 Ways to Stay Positive for Better Health

Scientific studies confirm that a placebo (a dummy medication or procedure) can genuinely benefit a person’s health. But its sinister cousin, the “nocebo effect,” creates expectations of harm, which can lead to seriously negative health consequences.

A patient’s expectations of a treatment clearly influence the way it works. The authors of a 2012 German study note that vulnerable, ill, or injured patients are highly receptive to negative suggestion. A participant in one drug trial developed dangerously low blood pressure by “overdosing” on what he thought was an antidepressant—only when he learned that it was an inert substance did his blood pressure return to normal. (Conversely, the power of positive suggestion may explain some of the success of complementary therapies—from herbal remedies to homeopathy). The more strongly a patient believes in the treatment, the more likely it is to be effective. Here are some ways you can put this knowledge to practice:

1. Get authoritative information Before having treatment or taking medication, get advice from a reputable source. The Internet is a vast repository of information but obviously not all of it is reliable. If you have a tendency toward hypochondria, it can be more harmful than helpful, as the nocebo effect is known to influence those who have a pessimistic outlook more powerfully than those with a more balanced attitude.

pills

2. Control your response to health experts who are treating you. Focus on encouraging phrases, such as “most people tolerate this well” or “this shouldn’t hurt.” Try to tune out the negative comments, such as “this may be painful,” “expect a long recovery time” or “you may find that this treatment makes you feel sick.”

3. Engage your mind Use creative imagery to stay positive while you recover from illness. If you are in pain, for example, it may help to imagine tight muscles being massaged, visualize the muscle fibers separating and relaxing, and to concentrate on feelings of warmth. As you visualize, try to focus on your breathing and imagine that you are relaxing in the sunshine or floating in a pool.

4. Use the power of touch Studies have shown that the touch of a partner, friend, or health practitioner can benefit conditions as diverse as asthma, arthritis, hypertension, and migraine. Touch therapy has also been proven to reduce pain and accelerate wound healing. Even if, as some maintain, this is a placebo effect, it is the end result that is significant.

5. Keep positive There is overwhelming evidence that those who heal fastest maintain a positive attitude, take responsibility for their own health, and focus on getting well. Self-awareness also helps, especially of attitudes that may hamper your health.

From Health Secrets: The Best Remedies From Around the World (Reader’s Digest Association Books)
 
source: www.rd.com


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Curiosity May Preserve Brain Health, Staving Off Neurodegenerative Diseases Like Alzheimer’s

Aug 2, 2015   By Henry Emmons, MD and David Alter, PhD

We have all heard that curiosity “killed the cat.” But is curiosity really bad for our health? Cats may be able to risk losing a life or two, as they’re said to have nine, but this isn’t the case for us humans. We have to make the best of the only life we have. The juggernaut of age-related diseases, with Alzheimer’s disease topping the list, represents a major challenge facing the 10,000 Americans turning 65 every day for the next 20 years. Thankfully, cultivating curiosity is among a handful of accessible practices shown to preserve mental functioning well beyond the age that mental decline was presumed to be inevitable. Research efforts backed by billions of research dollars are gradually progressing in their quest to slow or reverse Alzheimer’s disease and other aging-related diseases. But aging Americans aren’t content awaiting the arrival of brain deterioration just to learn how to slow it from advancing further. They are interested in remaining vital throughout the second half of their lives. Are you curious how?

Carl Jung, the great 20th century miner of the mind said, “[The] afternoon of life is just as full of meaning as the morning; only, its meaning and purpose are different.” He was right. The demands of the afternoon of life (older age) are different than those of the morning. Modern neuroscience, when combined with ageless practices, shows just how life’s afternoon can be spent to preserve a youthful brain well into life’s second half. Long-term brain health has been shown to be strongly influenced by intentional choices made by a well-tuned and attentive mind. Without the capacity to focus and sustain attention, little can be accomplished, including maintaining a youthful brain.

A review of the literature on activities that support brain vitality fall into three overlapping and mutually reinforcing categories:

  • Practices that support the physical body (movement, nutrition, and sleep)
  • Polishing the cognitive lenses through which we view our future and sharpen our minds (curiosity, flexibility, and optimism)
  • Activities that deepen our social network through accessing our deepest sense of mission and purpose (empathy, social connectedness, and living our lives “authentically”)

While the importance of movement, nutrition, and sleep to overall health has long been recognized, emerging evidence in neuroscience clearly highlights how it is also central to maintaining a healthy brain into older adulthood. Less well-known is that curiosity, flexibility, and optimism are a triad of cognitive lenses with an equally potent impact on long-term brain health. Each lens builds on and supports the others. A curious mind isn’t satisfied with the status quo. A curious mind seeks novelty. Going beyond what is known to discover or create something new and different is the hallmark of a curious mind.

curiousity

Exploring ideas, people, and places in new ways exposes the brain to a continuous stream of the unfamiliar and the unexpected. This results in a brain that is constantly bathed in surprise, allowing it to tap into its neuroplastic potential to rewire, and broadening its ability to respond to life with expanded flexibility. The ability to respond to the unexpected with flexible courage generates stress resilience and reduced anxiety. Curiosity and flexibility encourage the brain to formulate a more optimistic attitude about the unknown, and to access the courage necessary to engage in life’s opportunities and challenges on your own terms with deeper trust and enduring faith. Optimism is what permits us to persist in our commitments in spite of near-term frustrations and setbacks. An optimistic brain isn’t a self-deluding brain. Instead, when optimism is exercised, we actually become more realistic, more grounded, and intimately engaged in the nuances of daily life. We recognize “what is now ” but remain open that “what is” can be changed in positive and helpful ways moving forward. These core brain-building skills are a powerful buffer against daily stress, and the more potentially ravaging effects of depression and runaway anxiety. From the perspective of an aging but still youthful brain, these well-honed practices muster the perseverance to curiously, flexibly, and optimistically keep exploring the possible even when simple and short-sighted logic might argue otherwise.

There is another question to ask, and perhaps it’s the most important question to consider when exploring how to maintain a youthful brain into older age: Toward what end are we laboring to maintain a healthy brain?

Silly question? Not really. When you look at the enormous energy, money, and industry that is poured into efforts to preserve youth forever, it is apparent that for many of us, the goal is not to age well — it is to not age at all!

Success in maintaining a youthful brain doesn’t equate to being 20 again. Instead, it entails success at building a specialized, brain-based time machine. A vital brain doesn’t mean we turn the clock back in time. This machine helps us become “timeless” by making our lives matter so that our legacy is one that survives us and that leaves the world better than when we came into it. As Jung said, the purpose of the afternoon of life differs from the morning’s purpose. Maintenance of a youthful brain and a vital mind is what enables the afternoon’s purpose to be achieved. Nigerian poet Ben Okri captured that purpose when he said, “The most authentic thing about us is our capacity to create, to overcome, to endure, to transform, to love, and to be greater than our suffering.” That directive is not for the faint of heart. But, then, living a full and meaningful life isn’t either. By forging a life path that regularly and consistently attends to nourishing the body and mind, and developing an awakened heart, the odds that life’s rolling of the dice comes up in our favor is maximized.

Source: Henry Emmons, MD and David Alter, PhD, Authors of Staying Sharp: 9 Keys for a Youthful Brain through Modern Science and Ageless Wisdom . Simon & Schuster, September 2015. 

Henry Emmons, MD,  is a psychiatrist who integrates mind-body and natural therapies, mindfulness, and compassion practices into his clinical work. He is the author of three previous books: The Chemistry of Joy, The Chemistry of Calm, and The Chemistry of Joy Workbook. He is also a popular speaker, workshop presenter and retreat leader for both health care professionals and the general public.

David Alter, PhD,  is a clinical psychologist whose 30-year practice combines mind-body medicine, strategic therapeutic interventions, and clinical hypnosis to address the physical, mental, and relationship-based concerns of his clients. He integrates health psychology, neuropsychology, and clinical hypnosis to bring a holistic perspective to his clinical work. He conducts his practice at Partners in Healing, the center for holistic health that he co-founded, and the Institute for Brain-Behavior Integration, which he founded to study and treat issues involving brain health.


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14 Lies Your Mind Tells You to Prevent Life Changes

25 June 2015

The mind is a wonderful thing.

It’s also a complete liar that constantly tries to convince us not to take actions we know are good for us, and stops many great changes in our lives.

I’ve had to learn to watch these rationalizations and excuses very carefully, in order to make the changes I’ve made in my life: a healthier diet, regular exercise, meditation, minimalism, writing daily, getting out of debt, quitting smoking, and so on.

If I hadn’t learned these excuses, and how to counter them, I would never have stuck to these changes. In fact, I failed many times before 2005 (when I started changing my life), because these excuses had complete power over me.

Let’s expose the cowardly mind’s excuses and rationalizations once and for all.

First, the main principle: the mind wants comfort, and is afraid of discomfort and change. The mind is used to its comfort cocoon, and anytime we try to push beyond that comfort zone very far or for very long, the mind tries desperately to get back into the cocoon. At any cost, including our long-term health and happiness.

OK, with that in mind, let’s go into the excuses:

1. I can’t do it.

It seems too hard, so we think we can’t stick to the change. We don’t believe in ourselves. This can be countered from the fact that many other people no more capable than us have done it. For example, Oprah ran a marathon a little before I started training for my first marathon, and so I told myself, “If Oprah can do it, so can I!” I was right.

2. He/she can do it, but that doesn’t apply to me.

Just because someone else can do it, doesn’t mean we can, right? We look for reasons they can do it but we can’t — maybe he can be a minimalist because he has no kids, or is a freelancer rather than someone with a real job. Maybe she’s way, way fitter than I am, so she can run a marathon. Maybe she doesn’t have all the obligations I have, or has a supportive spouse, or doesn’t have a crippling health condition. OK, fine, it’s easy to find excuses: but look at all the other people who have worse obstacles than you who’ve done it. I have 6 kids and still managed to change a lot of things in my life. Stories abound of people with disabilities or illnesses who overcame their obstacles to achieve amazing things. Your obstacles can be overcome.

3. I need my ___.

Fill in the blank: I need my coffee, my cheese, my soda, my TV shows, my car, my shoe collection … these are things we convince ourselves we can’t live without, so we can’t make a change like becoming vegan or eating healthier or unschooling our kids or simplifying our lives or going car-free. And I’ve made these excuses myself, but they all turned out to be lies. I didn’t need any of that. The only things you really need are basic food, water, clothing, shelter, and other people for social needs. Everything else is not a real need.

4. Life is meant to be enjoyed.

Sure, I agree with this statement (as many of us would) but the problem is this is used to justify all kinds of crappy behavior. Might as well scarf down those Doritos and Twinkies, because hey, life is meant to be enjoyed, right? No. You can do without junk food and still enjoy life. You can exercise and enjoy it. You can give up pretty much anything and still enjoy life, if you learn to see almost any activity as enjoyable.

5. I need comfort.

This might also be true, but we can push ourselves into more discomfort than we let ourselves believe. We can be a bit cold, instead of needing to be at the perfect comfortable temperature. We can do hard exercise, instead of needing to lay around on the couch. We can write that thing we’ve been procrastinating on — it might be hard, but we can push through that. When our minds seek comfort, don’t let them run — push a little bit outside the comfort zone, and begin to be OK with a bit of discomfort.

6. I don’t know how.

This is also true, but you can learn. Start with a little at a time, and learn how to deal with this new change. Do some research online. Watch some videos. Ask people online how they dealt with it. This is easily overcome with a little effort and practice. In fact, if you do it now, and learn a little at a time, then you’ll be able to do away with this pesky excuse.

goals

 

7. I can do it later.

Sure, you can always do it later … but your later self will also feel the same way. Why should the later self be more disciplined than your current self? In fact, because you’re allowing yourself to slide now, you’re building a habit of procrastination and actually making is less likely that your future self will be more disciplined. Instead, do it now, unless there’s something more important that you need to do … don’t let yourself slide just because you don’t feel like it.

8. One time won’t hurt.

This is so tempting, because it’s kind of true — one time won’t hurt. Assuming, that is, that it’s only one time. One bite of chocolate cake, one missed workout, one time procrastinating instead of writing. Unfortunately, it’s never actually just one time. One time means your brain now knows it can get away with this excuse, and the next “one time” leads to another, until you’re not actually sticking to something. Make a rule: never ever believe the “one time” excuse. I did this with smoking (“Not One Puff Ever”) and it worked. If you’re going to allow yourself a bite or two of chocolate cake, decide beforehand and build it into your plan (“I will allow myself a fist-sized serving of sweets once every weekend”) and stick to that plan, rather than deciding on the fly, when your resistance is weak.

9. I don’t feel like it.

Well, true. You don’t feel like working hard. Who does? Letting the rule of “I’ll do it when feel like it” dictate your life means you’ll never write that book, never build that business, never create anything great, never have healthy habits. Create a plan that’s doable, and execute it. When the rationalizations like this come up, don’t believe them. Everyone is capable of doing a hard workout even when they’re not in the mood. Everyone can overcome their internal resistance.

10. I’m tired.

Yep, me too. I still did my heavy squat workout today. There is truth to needing rest, and resting when you need it (listen to your body) but this is usually the mind trying to weasel out of something uncomfortable. There’s a difference between being exhausted and needing some rest, and being the little tired we all feel every afternoon. Push through the latter.

11. I deserve a reward/break.

We all deserve that tasty treat, or a day off. I’m not saying you shouldn’t give yourself a reward or break. But if you make this rationalization your rule, you’ll always be on a break. You’ll always be giving yourself rewards, and never sticking to the original plan. Here’s what I do instead: I see sticking to my plan as the reward itself. Going on a run isn’t the thing I have to get through to get a reward — the run is the reward.

12. Wouldn’t it be nice to stop?

This again is our mind wanting to run from discomfort, and of course it’s true — it would be nice to stop if you’re pushing into a discomfort zone for too long. The thing is, the implication is that it would be better to stop, because it would be nice … but that’s a lie. It would be easier to stop, but often it’s better to continue pushing. This excuse almost beat me when I tried to run my 50-mile ultramarathon last December, because honestly it would have been much nicer to stop and not finish the race, especially in the last 10 miles or so. I pushed through, and found out I was tougher than I thought.

13. The result you’re going for isn’t important.

If you’re trying to run a marathon, this is phrased like, “It’s not that important that I finish this”. I’ve used this excuse for learning languages (it doesn’t matter if I learn this) or programming or any number of things I wanted to learn. I’ve used it for writing and exercise and eating healthy food. And while the result might not be that important, the truth is that the process is very important. If you stick with a process that will be better for you in the long run, then you will be better off. But if you let yourself go just because you are uncomfortable and at this moment care more for your comfort than the goal you set out for, you’ll have lots of problems. The goal isn’t important, but learning to stick to things when you’re uncomfortable is extremely important.

14. I’m afraid.

Now, this is the most honest excuse there is — most of us don’t want to admit we’re afraid to pursue something difficult. But it’s also a weaselly way out of discomfort — just because you’re afraid doesn’t mean you can’t do something. You can. I’ve done tons of things I’m afraid of — mostly creating things that I was worried I’d fail at. And while the fear sometimes came true — I didn’t do too well sometimes — the act of pushing through the fear was incredibly important and I learned a lot each time.

Awareness & Practice

I’ve used all of these excuses hundreds of times each, so don’t think I’ve overcome them all. And you can use them in the future too. There’s nothing wrong with giving in sometimes.

The key is to learn whether they’re true, and see your pattern. Here’s what I’ve done:

  1. Notice the excuse. It has way more power if it works on you in the background.
  2. Try to have an answer for the excuse beforehand — anticipate it.
  3. If you give in, that’s OK, but recognize that you’re giving in to a lame excuse. Be aware of what you’re doing.
  4. After giving in, see what the results are. Are you happier? Is your life better? Was it worth it giving in to discomfort?
  5. Learn from those results. If you pushed through and are happy about it, remember that. If you gave in to excuses, and didn’t like the result, remember that.

If you consciously practice this process, you’ll get better at recognizing and not believing these lies. And then, bam, you’ve got your mind working for you instead of against you.

More on Self-Limiting Ideas
If you appreciated this discussion of self-limiting ideas, you’ll absolutely love Alan Watts’ The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are, which refutes what is perhaps the greatest self-limiting idea of all—the idea that you are nothing more than a separate ego in a sack of skin.

by Leo Babauta
Leo Babauta is a writer, runner, vegan, and the creator of Zen Habits.


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15 Keys to Living a Long and Happy Life

The U.S. centenarian population has been on the rise the past few decades, growing from 32, 194 people who lived to see their 100th birthday in the 1980s to 53, 364 centenarians in 2010, according to the Census Bureau. So, what secrets does this relatively small group of people harbor for accomplishing the incredible feat of living to such a ripe age?

Many of them credit these habits for granting them a long, happy, healthy life:

1. Cultivate a positive attitude.

In a 2012 study published in the journal Aging, researchers from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine found that out of 243 centenarians assessed, all of them had upbeat, optimistic, easygoing personalities. However, this one should come as no surprise – a pessimistic attitude drains you of vital energy and can even decrease your lifespan due to the shortening of telomeres, or the “end caps” of DNA strands. If you don’t already, practice developing a positive outlook on life if you want to increase your longevity and possibly become a centenarian yourself!

2. Laugh often.

In the same journal referenced above, researchers from several prestigious universities discovered that the same 243 centenarians did more than just have a good attitude – they considered laughter an important part of life, too. Find reasons to laugh on a daily basis; not taking life so seriously could actually add some years to your lifespan.

3. Follow your unique life purpose.

People in Costa Rica call this a “plan de vida,” or reason to live. They feel that a strong sense of purpose and desire to contribute to a greater cause played a huge role in a small group of Costa Ricans living to 100. According to the website Blue Zones, people living in this area of Central America have twice as much likelihood as Americans of living to the age of 90.

4. Adopt a plant-based diet.

A study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine revealed that vegetarians have a 12 percent lower risk than their meat-eating counterparts of suffering a premature death. Switching to a plant-based diet offers a slew of health benefits as well, which may explain why this group of people enjoys, on average, a much longer, vibrant life.

5. Get enough shut-eye.

Sleeping for at least seven or eight hours a night will leave you feeling refreshed and ready to take on the day, not to mention that sleep allows your body to produce important hormones as well. A Penn State study found that men who slept less than six hours a night had a four-fold increase in their chance of dying over a 14-year period. Prioritize sleep over staying up late surfing the web or partying with friends to join the growing number of centenarians on the planet.

6. Live in a sunny, tropical climate.

Not surprisingly, Hawaii comes in first for the happiest, least-stressed state in the U.S., as well as the state with the greatest longevity. On average, a 65 year old living in Hawaii will live another 16.2 years, in comparison to another 10.6 years in the state with the lowest life expectancy, Mississippi.

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7. Move your body.

A 123 year old Bolivian man, Carlos Flores Laura, credits his longevity to taking daily walks. Others like Tao Porchon-Lynch, a 95 year old yoga instructor, say that a regular yoga practice influenced their long lives. Whatever activity you choose to take part in, make sure you really enjoy it and can incorporate it into your routine regularly.

8. Help other people.

Yep, altruism can actually lead to a longer life. According to a University of Michigan study, volunteering for the purpose of helping others, not helping oneself, led to an increased lifespan on average.

9. Take more vacations.

Make sure to allot some vacation time into your busy work schedule; it could actually save your life. The Framington Heart Study followed about 12,000 middle aged men for nine years; the results of their study? The men who took more time off work actually lived longer than the workaholics. So, booking more vacations might not make your wallet too happy, but a longer life doesn’t sound too shabby, either.

10. Stay close with family.

According to government research, Hispanics actually live 2.5 years longer than Americans on average, and researchers suspect that having a close-knit family may have something to do with it. We can learn from all cultures, and the Latino community proves that family bonding can play a huge role in having a long, enjoyable life.

11. Stay in touch with your spirituality.

Whether you choose to attend church services or keep up a regular meditation practice, WebMD’s 2008 survey of centenarians showed that 84 percent of them viewed a healthy spiritual life as an important part of aging well. Take it from the centenarians – exploring your spirituality can lead to a better, longer life in the long run.

12. Tell yourself positive affirmations.

Yogi Tao Porchon-Lynch, the lady mentioned earlier in the article, also accredited positive self-talk to her long, healthy life. Even in her 90s, she wakes up every day and tells herself that each day will be the best day of her life. Repeating mantras like these to yourself can help instill a positive mindset and totally transform your outlook on life.

13. Keep your mind active.

Continual intellectual stimulation can add years to your life – in fact, 89 percent of centenarians do things to keep their brains busy, according to a 2008 WebMD survey.

14. Live conscientiously.

By far, researchers have found that being conscientious is one of the best indicators of how long a person will live. The book The Longevity Project talks about this in depth, and explains that conscientious people have a higher likelihood of adopting healthier lifestyles and have more successful relationships and careers on average.

15. Develop a resilient mindset.

Researchers at the Al Siebert Resiliency Center found psychologically resilient adults coped much better with life’s challenges and aged more gracefully. In other words, don’t ever stay down too long after an upsetting event – rather, talk about your feelings openly and get back up on your feet quickly to avoid falling into depression or stagnation. Easier said than done, but it could tack on a few years to your lifespan, after all.