3 ways to refresh and renew for 2020 !

3 ways to refresh and renew for 2020 !

Original publication in mindful.org on december 27th 2019

Rather than brainstorming ways to improve your life in the new year, practicing mindfulness helps you accept the life you already have—and embrace it for all that it is.

The week leading up to the New Year can be a source of anxiety as we consider all the changes we should make to “better” ourselves. Rather than brainstorming ways to improve your life, practicing mindfulness helps you accept the life you already have—and embrace it for all that it is.

Here are three ways to feel refreshed and renewed, without the resolutions:

1) First, befriend your life as it is

It’s common to daydream about an idyllic and successful future (who amongst us hasn’t practiced their Oscar acceptance speech?) but spending too much time thinking about how things could be “one day” prevents us from appreciating how things are right now.

Learning to befriend all moments places us firmly in the life we are living, rather than the ideal life we are prone to imagine or strive towards. “The shift from aversion to befriending is the most radical shift any student of mindfulness can make,” says Willem Kuyken PhD, Director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre. “Befriending involves being curious, friendly, and kind, and is a capacity that we can all develop toward ourselves and our experiences. It is available to all of us, and is the home where our hearts and minds dwell,” says Kuyken. Here, he offers a mindfulness practice to find meaning in every moment.

2) Then, add purpose to each new day

Finding a sense of purpose can feel like an intimidating task—but it doesn’t have to be. Tapping into purpose can be as simple as taking a moment to decide, “I’m going to say thank you more,” or “I’m going to call my sister today.”

Your day-to-day activities offer ample opportunities to call up mindfulness in any moment. Breathe space into your morning routine with this simple wake-up practice to slow down and start each day with greater intention.

3) Finally, find a support system

There’s no doubt about it—our relationships help us thrive. Whether you’re trying to conquer Mount Everest or simply get over a bad day, having someone by your side to support you can make all the difference.

Building communities of care creates a culture of compassion and accountability, inspiring you to be the best version of yourself. Here are four ways to create a community of care and surround yourself with supportive people.

Here’s hoping you all find moments to enjoy being mindful this week.

Written by MINDFUL STAFF

10 Tips for Rest, Recovery and Rejuvenation

10 Tips for Rest, Recovery and Rejuvenation

Written by by 

The Season for Stillness

We tumble to the end of another warp-speed year. We spin through our tasks and grasp at floods of information.

We press too hard, too fast and for too long. Reservoirs are sucked dry. Self-awareness fades. Self-regulation is impaired. Your health and your relationships are at risk.

It is time to slow down, repair, rejuvenate and reconnect with what matters.

In a world of optimisation, ambition, pride and duty, we push hard on multiple fronts. The rest, recovery and rejuvenation cycle is squeezed out between ever shorter bursts of dopamine. We are child-like in our impulsive tapping, swiping, checking, buying, rushing, feeding… compelled to chase the next hit.

As I come to the end of 2019, I feel battered. My mind is a little flat. Attention is fragile. Relationships are edgy. I know I need a good break. I am struggling to disconnect, calm my hypervigilance, and allow the natural cycle of recovery. I sense it in our family, friends and colleagues.

Rest, recovery and rejuvenation (R3) is the next competitive edge. Ironic!

My end of year message it to give rest, recovery and rejuvenation your full attention.

At a cellular level, the R3 cycle is vital to repair and rejuvenation. It is the key to longevity and sits at the biochemical core of fasting, sleep quality, intense activity, meditation, and cold water baths. It is a promising solution that supports this process of slowing, cleaning and repairing hard working cells.

The R3 cycle is key to musculoskeletal strength and physical wellbeing. Intimacy, touch and dreaming (REM) sleep stimulate the R3 cycle for emotional wellbeing. The default network is the R3 cycle for cognition allowing us to focus, engage and refresh our minds.

Our end-of-year pause is an opportunity to capture the R3 cycle for life and family. Please make an effort to allow for adequate rest, recovery and rejuvenation as your year comes to an end. Engage your family in this process so that you may reconnect in more intimate ways.

Share what works well for you.

How about your emotional fitness? Get it right with these 5 tips.

How about your emotional fitness? Get it right with these 5 tips.

Original publication in Medium.com on October 20th 2019

Have you ever wished that you could find a little more balance in your emotional life? Or maybe you struggle with an endless stream of negative self-talk that keeps you feeling constantly anxious, depressed, or guilty?

If so, you’ve probably found yourself reading an article or two about emotional intelligence. It’s a pretty attractive idea — that if we understand more about ourselves and how emotions work, we can improve everything from bad moods and negative thought patterns to productivity and the quality of our relationships.

But there’s a big problem with the idea of emotional intelligence: It’s just ideas—and ideas are never enough.

To really change and grow into a resilient, emotionally mature, and mentally strong person, knowledge isn’t enough. You need action. You need practice. You need habits. You need emotional fitness.

Reading all the best books on running marathons won’t actually lead to finishing a marathon unless you train and put in the miles. The same goes for our mental health and emotional wellbeing. You have to put in the work if you want to grow and become stronger. You have to build emotional fitness.

What follows are 5 of the most effective habits for building emotional fitness and becoming a more resilient, mentally tough, and emotionally fit version of yourself. These are habits I practice myself and recommend to my clients in my work as a psychologist.

If you’ve ever got stuck in a worry spiral, you know how hard it is to re-direct your thoughts and attention away from worry and back to reality. The same is true of rumination spirals — endlessly criticizing yourself for past mistakes and your own perceived failings as a person.

When your attention gets stuck in a pattern of negativity, your emotions and moods follow:

  • Obsessing about how awful your upcoming speech is going to go? Prepare to be racked by anxiety.
  • Replaying that gaff in front of your in-laws over and over again in your head? Prepare to be swamped by shame.
  • Constantly telling and re-telling the story of how your spouse wronged you after dinner last night? Prepare to be stuck in anger and resentment.

How we habitually think determines how we habitually feel.

Negative thinking patterns exert a powerful gravitation pull on our attention, which is why it’s so easy to slip into them and get stuck in them. In order to resist the pull of negative thinking patterns, you must strengthen your ability to shift, focus, and control your attention.

Thoughts come and go in our minds, and there’s little we can do to change that. What we can control, though, is our attention.

If you can become stronger and more skilled at managing your attention — focusing on helpful, productive things and avoiding unhelpful, distressing ones — you’re mood will improve dramatically.

There are many forms of attention training, put the simplest and most powerful is mindfulness meditation. To begin, carve out five minutes each day and dedicate them to strengthening your attention muscle:

  • Sit somewhere comfortable and close your eyes.
  • Focus your attention on the sensation of breathing. Try to keep your focus there — on how it feels to breathe.
  • Inevitably, thoughts, emotions, memories, images, external noises, or other physical sensations will intrude on your awareness. Simply acknowledge that your attention has been temporarily distracted and gently return your attention to your breath.
  • That’s it!

If you want to be more balanced in your moods and emotions, you must build your attention muscle.

2. Exercise

You can’t separate your mental and emotional self from your physical self. Your mind and everything in it — thoughts, emotions, memories, etc. — lives in and depends on your body.

If your body isn’t functioning well, neither with your mind.

People who regularly exercise and take care of their bodies are much better able to regulate and manage difficult emotions, moods, and thought patterns than those who don’t.

Of course, people who exercise still fall into bad moods, worry, and get depressed. But regular exercise exerts a powerful protective effect on our mental health and emotional wellbeing.

Find whatever form of exercise you enjoy and make a plan to do it regularly.

3. Talk to yourself. A lot.

Yes, you heard that right: Talking to yourself is a good sign when it comes to emotional wellbeing.

As we discussed above, bouts of negative emotion and low mood are the result of subtle but powerful patterns of habitual thinking. And what makes thought habits like worry and rumination so powerful is that they often run on autopilot, just outside our conscious awareness.

This means you can have a worry spiral, for example, running through your mind for long stretches of time without noticing it, building up more and more negative emotion with each thought.

The longer your negative thoughts persist unnoticed, the more negative emotion you will generate.

On the other hand, the faster you become aware of your negative thought patterns, the quicker you can defuse them and the less negative emotion they’ll generate.

And that’s where talking to yourself comes in…

Talking to yourself helps you become more aware of your own thoughts. It allows you to put distance between your thoughts and your self.

This distance helps give you a fresh perspective on the mental habits driving your emotions. And the better your perspective on your thoughts, the easier it is to disengage from them or change them.

Here’s another big perk of talking to yourself: You can’t speak nearly as fast as you can think.

If you constrain the speed of your thinking to the speed of speech, your mind will only generate a fraction of the negative emotion in the same amount of time.

Few things will keep you saner than cultivating a habit of talking to yourself when things are tough.

4. Rest

Like exercise, adequate sleep and rest are essential for both physical and mental health.

Here’s an example: If you had to guess, when are couples more likely to get into a fight: 11:00 AM or 11:00 PM?

If you’ve ever been in a relationship, I think the answer is pretty clear: fights and arguments are far more likely in the evening.

Why? Because, by the time evening rolls around, we’re exhausted.

We simply don’t function well when we’re exhausted—physically, mentally or emotionally.

Everything from impulse control and emotion regulation to communication becomes significantly more challenging when we’re tired.

To protect yourself against the mood-deflating effects of fatigue, commit to consistently good habits of sleep and rest:

  • Wake up at the same time every day.
  • Don’t get in to bed until you’re truly sleepy.
  • Create a sleep runway in the evenings.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Take frequent breaks, especially during strenuous work.
  • Make time to be outside and in nature.
  • Build more whitespace into your life.

5. Clarify and cultivate your values

Consider the following two people, both of whom find themselves stuck in a cycle of negative self-talk, beating themselves up over a mistake they made earlier in the day:

  • Jasper is a high-powered criminal defense attorney. He lives for his work. It’s his life. And he’s amazing at it. Nothing makes him feel better than winning a big trial. But because he’s dedicated his life almost entirely to his job, he has very few interests and passions outside of his work as an attorney. No real hobbies, no long-term romantic relationships — even his friends he’s not especially close to. On his way home late at night after a rare defeat in court, Jasper is skewering himself because of a crucial (perceived) mistake he made in his closing argument. Unsurprisingly, he feels depressed, angry, and ashamed.
  • Jenny is a preschool teacher. She loves her job, but she also loves that she never has to take work home with her and gets the summers off. She’s been happily married for 10 years, volunteers every other weekend at the animal humane society (she LOVES pit bulls!), and has a baking blog where she chronicles her adventures with experimental pie recipes and gluten free treats of all kinds. Jenny is on her way home after a parent teacher conference in which one of her student’s parents berated her for her daughter’s continued poor reading ability. Like Jasper, Jenny finds herself ruminating on what she may have done wrong with her student and how she could have been better. She’s feeling down and discouraged.

All other things being equal, who do you imagine is going to be more successful extracting themselves from their negative thoughts and emerging bad mood?

My bet’s on Jenny.

  • Jenny has a diverse and well-cultivated set of values and interests. Even if she can’t extract herself from her negative thoughts on her commute home, she’s coming home to a supportive partner, an adoring pitbull named Brad, and a flurry of encouraging comments on her most recent blog post about gluten-free brownies.
  • Jasper doesn’t have much to come home to in terms of things that could help him emotionally. Sure, his 65th-floor apartment is dope, his 80-inch plasma TV is stunning, and the bar in the lobby of his apartment building serves killer sliders. But how well will those things really serve to help Jasper disengage from his negative thoughts and bolster his mood?

The point is this:

A diverse set of well-clarified values makes it much easier to let go of negative mental and emotional patterns.

Like a well-balanced financial portfolio, diversified values and interests are a powerful buffer and shield against stress and emotional downturns.

So carve out some time to really ask yourself: What truly matters to me? What are my values? What do I feel passionate about? And then most importantly, how could I begin to work toward those values? What would it take to make those values and interests a reality?

If you want to make real changes to how you feel on a regular basis, emotional intelligence isn’t enough; you must commit to an emotional fitness regimen.

Train your attention.

Exercise.

Talk to yourself.

Rest.

Focus on your values.

Written by Nick Wignall

OPTIMISM

OPTIMISM

Research Highlight: Optimism is a super skill

95% of the most successful 10% of people scored “I think and communicate with optimism” with ‘very often’ or ‘nearly always’ (in a sample of 21,000).

The human mind is Velcro for the negative. Based on a high threat environment, a negative and threatening explanation might have been advantageous. Today, pessimism disables you.

Only 9% of the least resilient people score optimism with ‘very often’ or ‘nearly always’.

Question: How can I explain this adversity in one enabling sentence?

Condition: Notice but reject the easy negative self-talk

Discipline: Think and express yourself with positive language

Caution: Our times are testing. This will take courage.

What you can do right now?

  1. Ask someone close if you are optimistic or pessimistic. Explore an example
  2. Watch the content of your thoughts. Notice the words you choose to make sense of a situation. For example: “This always happens to me”
  3. Explore different ways to express the situation. For example: “What could I do differently” Notice the shift from blame to responsibility.
  4. Be alert for positive news.  Some suggest that we aim to express at least three positive observations for every complaint.

In the background:

  • Fatigue, isolation and distress will reduce optimism
  • Sleep well, be social, relax and play
  • Nurture your positive emotions – joy, gratitude, appreciation, hope, kindness

Note: With the current social instability, political malaise and climate risk, the value and importance of optimism will increase. It is well proven that optimism can be learned and has wide ranging personal and economic benefits. Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) is proven an effective solution to depression. We use the term situational agility to describe the healthy and adaptive use of the optimism in key situations.

Own your joy!