10 Brain Discoveries You Should Know

Listed below are 10 discoveries about your brain that hold out to you the possibility of turning a brain wired for stress into a brain wired for the Good Life, which is a life of being well and doing well on the way to flourishing. Actualizing this change is simpler than you might imagine and change can happen quickly.  It’s called positive neuroplasticity and its the key to the health, wealth and love we desire but has eluded us.

Positive emotions make you smarter. Positive emotions broaden thought, refine behavior, increase mental flexibility, and facilitate creative problem-solving. Attaining a positive emotion state takes practice.  Rx: Use the Start Your Day Positive Tool. It only requires five minutes of time each morning but it pays dividends for the investment. People who start the day mindfully experience more positive emotions during the day, exhibit more interest in their work, are more likely to feel connected and supportive toward others, and are more likely to sleep better that night.

www.canstockphoto19191645

Reacting to stressors with negativity invites long-term mental health problems:  If chronic, negative emotional responses to daily stressors predict psychological distress and emotional disorder ten years later. Yikes! Rx: Most emotional negativity begins in negative thinking, which is largely fear-based.  Use the Thought Awareness Tool to bust your negative pattern.

Wired-For-STRESS-2 copy

Happiness leads to success, not the other way around: Happy people are in general more successful across the board than less happy people, and their happiness is in large part a consequence of having cultivated a positive state of mind. Rx: Count your blessing periodically. A mountain of research has shown that gratitude promotes a happy attitude. Give attention to what’s right in your life. Practice noticing moments when you feel happy, or peaceful, or connected, or expansive in any way. When your heart opens, even for a second, mark the moment. Tell yourself this moment matters. Tell your brain, This is how I want to feel, so please wire me for it. Then enjoy the moment for as long as it last. Neurologically, marking the moment makes the experience a reward and the brain cues on rewards in forming habits.

Stress and depression can shrink the brain: Major depression or chronic stress can cause the loss of brain volume, a condition that contributes to both emotional and cognitive impairment. Rx: Stress is serious. It’s not something you should someday do something about. Alleviating the stress in your life and accentuating an attitude of peace needs to be at the top of your to-do. Read my book, The End of Stress, or find a stress coach, but don’t continue to ignore stress.

Two scans copy

Financial stress can temporarily lower IQ: People who are worried about having enough money to pay their bills can experience a temporary decrease in their IQ, reducing the brain bandwidth needed to solve a financial problem. It ends up producing a mental state called “scarcity.” Yet research shows that 85% of what we worry about never happens.  Rx: Use the Clear Button tool to quiet your worried, stressful thoughts so you can focus your mental energy on the solution instead being trapped in the problem.

Your brain needs a 20 minute break every two hours to sustain peak performance: The brain cycles every 90-120 minutes. During the first phase brainwaves oscillate at a fast rate, using sodium and potassium ions to generate electrical signals that enable you to perform at a peak level. But fast brain waves burn through the ions, which means your brain needs to refuel with new ions. That’s the second phase, which necessitates a 20-minute break. Rx: A walk under the trees is the best way to take a break, weather permitting. If the weather prohibits, walk around the office. Stop at windows and look out at what’s happening in the world around you.

canstockphoto8447533

Zinc may relieve depression:Two corroborating studies found that depressed people tend to have about 14 percent less zinc in their blood than most people, and the deficiency was greater among those with more severe depression. In addition, people with the highest zinc intake reduced the odds of developing depression by 30 to 50%. Rx: It’s self-explanatory.

The more you think on a problem the more you block the creative insight that can solve it. Pushing the brain’s higher-level, cognitive centers into high gear to solve a problem impairs, rather than enhances, creativity.  The more you think about a problem, the more you mess it up. Rx: If a problem stumps you, take a quiet walk under the trees and let your mind relax, but keep a mental window open for a creative insight to come through.

Exercise may slow brain aging by 10 years for older people: Exercise in older people is associated with a slower rate of decline in thinking skills that occurs with aging. People who reported light to no exercise experienced a decline equal to 10 more years of aging as compared to people who reported moderate to intense exercise. Rx: Hike, walk in a park, or go to the gym at least three days a week. Walking around the neighborhood is a good way to get started if you haven’t been exercising.

Sitting for more than three hours a day can shorten your life by up to two years:We need to pull away from the computer, stand up, and move our bodies. Rx: The prescription is simple. At least every hour, stand up, stretch, do some movement, or take a walk to see if your brain offers a creative insight.

Study identifies State laws that ‘substantially reduce’ gun deaths: Gun-related deaths in the US could be reduced by more than 80 percent if three laws implemented in some states were extended nationally. Rx: If gun deaths worry you, check out this study.

Posted in Stress, The Creative Brain, The Higher Brain, The Neuroscience of Stress | Comments Off on 10 Brain Discoveries You Should Know

From Stressed to Inner Peace to Flourishing

from Don’s Huffington Post article

Neuroscience has become quite adept at mapping the brain and they can actually measure your level of inner peace. And here’s what they found. We are at our creative cognitive and emotional best when we are at peace. By simply accentuating qualities of a positive peaceful attitude you produce positive changes in your brain that enable you to flourish.

canstockphoto14539757

As a result of all the above, you are more likely to succeed at life, with greater subjective well-being.  A mind at peace generates the brain power to achieve the Good Life, which is  a state of flourishing, achieving the health, wealth and love we all desire.

So what does it mean to be at peace?

Let me start by defining what it doesn’t mean. Peace doesn’t mean to be in a place where there is no noise or hard work or problems. There is a Buddhist parable about a farmer who goes to the Buddha in hopes that the saint can miraculously remove all of his problems.

“I cannot help you with that,” the Buddha said. “Everyone has problems. In fact, everyone has eighty-three problems. You may solve one now and then, but another is sure to take its place.”

“How is that supposed to help me?” the farmer retorted in frustration.

“Perhaps,” the Buddha said, “this understanding will help you with the 84th problem, which is the problem of not wanting any problems.”

Peace is not about taking away our problems; it’s about engaging problems and stressors fearlessly, with the calm, creativity, and optimism that generates the brain power to solve them.

Some people think that a peaceful attitude makes us complacent, but inner peace is a vibrant, dynamic state of mind. It fosters in us an open, curious vitality that is fully present and able to engage life exactly as it is.

peace is 3 new copyInner Peace

Inner peace is having a calm clear sense of our own power in any situation without the need to overpower others.

By definition, being at peace means we are unafraid, unhurried, kind, and resilient.

Inner peace is an end to worry.

It’s a disinterest in judging ourselves or others or events.

It’s an end to the need to change anyone.

It’s a compassionate understanding that is not codependent, and a willingness to forgive.

It’s a heartfelt connection with others and with life itself that engenders a sense of the sacred.

Picasso's Dove Pinterest

Inner peace is a dynamic choice that leads to a dynamic way of being in the world that literally changes the brain to tap its full potential. But peace of mind doesn’t happen all by itself; not in our fast paced modern world. Peace develops out of that voluntary state of mindfulness called choice. The more mindful we are about choosing to be at peace, the more we experience it.  The more we experience it, the more we come to treasure it.  The more we treasure our peace of mind, the more expansive it becomes.

Peace takes practice and practice takes discipline, which is simply knowing what you want to experience, and then choosing it consistently.  The core choice is basic; it’s between fear and peace. It begins with mindfully asking ourselves, what do I want to experience as I face people and events each day.

Mindfulness asks: What do I want to experience?

Do I want to be stressed or calm and clear … Afraid of failing or creative … Critical or empathic … Think negative or positive … Worry or have faith … Remain stuck or let go … Angry or composed … Condemning or forgiving … Self-righteous or happy.

Byron Katie, author of Loving the Way It Is, says this about the way practice works. She says once a stressful, anxious perception is understood for what it is and met with the feeling of understanding, the next time it appears you may find it interesting. What used to be a nightmare is now just interesting. The next time after that you may find it funny and after that you may not even notice it.

The stressful fearful perception has left your mind making room for you to be peace, and your brain will reward you with the higher brain function that enables you to sustain your best self, achieving your best day, every day.

If peace has alluded you, here’s a tool that can help establish it in your daily life. It’s called the 30-Second Time Out for PeaceUse it for a couple of weeks and then add taking walks in nature two or three times a week, leaving all your troubles and problems behind you as you take the first step.  A walk in the park quiets the mind and gradually rewires your brain to raise your IQ and generate great mental health. The experience from taking both of these simple steps will prove to you the power of inner peace. How could that not motivate you to move forward to develop a mindfulness practice that deepens your peace of mind. In my book The End of Stress, I present a simple step by step process that helps you build such a practice.

 30-Second Time Out for Peace

  • Stop what you’re doing and step away from the world for a moment.
  • Let go of what you were thinking and allow yourself to relax a little.
  • Now allow yourself to relax a little more.
  • Let go of everything. Feel your brain relax as you let go.
  • No worries, no problems, no goals. Just let them all go for a moment.
  • Take a slow, deep breath – and as you do – let your mind and heart open wide.
  • Allow peace to begin to emerge as your experience, all by itself.  

You can do this short exercise just about anywhere: standing in line, walking to a meeting, or looking out a window. Try it a few times throughout today and see what happens to your day.

images: canstockphoto.com

Posted in Dynamically Peaceful Attitude, Genius, Stress | Comments Off on From Stressed to Inner Peace to Flourishing

Thought Attacks That Cause Heart Attacks

from Don’s Huffington Post article

Five hundred years ago, the French philosopher Michel de Montaigne said, “My life has been full of terrible misfortunes most of which never happened.”  This quote made people laugh back then and it still makes us laugh today because our species hasn’t made much progress in transcending the mind’s capacity to catastrophize. But the consequences a fearful mind bring-on aren’t so funny.  Worry and fear activates the brain’s stress response system, dumping toxic stress hormones into the system that debilitates higher brain function that makes us smart, happy, and loving.

Studies suggest that high levels of stress hormones from chronic stress reactions can increase the risk of heart disease. At its worse, fight or flight stress reactions can take over and generate the hostile, impatient, controlling competitiveness that leads to the extreme stress condition called Type-A.  Type-A behavior increases the likelihood of a fatal heart attack.

Dr. Robert Sapolsky of Stanford, one of the world’s top stress researcher, states: “We human beings … generate all sorts of stressful events purely in our heads. We can experience wildly strong emotions, provoking our bodies into an accompanying uproar, and it’s all linked to mere thought.”

The technical term for it is psychological fear. It’s fearful, worried, pessimistic thoughts and attitudes that, when believed, produce a perception of threat, when none actually exist. Research has found that 85 percent of what people worried about never happened, and of the 15 percent that did, 79 percent solved the problem better than they thought they would. That means when we imagine some “terrible misfortune”, 97 percent of the time there was nothing to get worked up about.

Psychological Fear

We can wire our brain for the calm, creativity, and optimism that predicts the health, success, and love that defines the “Good Life”. It takes a change in mindset that accentuates the positive.  Making this change is simpler than you might think and change can happen faster than you might imagine, within a few weeks if you practice.

Rx Build Positive Mindset copyBelow is a prescription for wiring your brain for the Good Life by building a positive mindset (←click this link to download it). Do one of these lessons every day for the next three weeks.  You can do any one of these more than once if you like, but be consistent.  It takes an everyday practice to change the brain.

Day / Prescription

 1.   Choose the longest line at a store and stand in it, letting go of your mind’s sense of hurry and choosing to be at peace.

2.   Look out the window for thirty seconds and let your mind go. Watch the wind blow or the sun shine or the rain fall.

3.   Do one special thing for yourself today.

4.   Drive home in the slow lane.

5.   Listen to calming music instead of the news on the drive home.

6.   Smile more today.

7.   Practice listening without interrupting.

8.   Buy a small gift for a friend or family member.

9.   Call a good friend you haven’t talked to in a while.

10.  Look for the best in someone you know.

11.  Devote today to seeing your strengths and positive qualities.

12.  Practice forgiving trivial errors, yours and others.

13.  Use a measuring stick other than business to measure your accomplishments, such as your talents, creative abilities, human qualities, or close relationships.

14.  Quietly do a good deed or an act of kindness.

15.  Practice receiving compliments graciously.

16.  Accept that life is unfinished business.

17.  Take five minutes today to recall times when you were happy.

18.  Commit to stop judging yourself for your lack of perfection.

19.  Reflect for five minutes how in your life perfection has tended to emerge from the imperfections.

20.  When you feel conflict today, tell yourself, “I am not going to let this person or situation control how I feel.”

21.  Today,  feel more and think less. Allow yourself to be vulnerable to what you feel without your thoughts turning into a story.

 

Posted in Anxiety, Dynamically Peaceful Attitude, Fear, Stress | Comments Off on Thought Attacks That Cause Heart Attacks

The Biological Key to a Long, Healthy, and Rewarding Life

If you’re interested in living a long, healthy, and rewarding life, take note of this: There is a direct correlation between how long and how well you will live and the quality of your connection to other people. The Nurses’ Health Study at Harvard, the longest running study on health, found that the more friends people have, the less likely they will become physically impaired as they age, and the more likely they will be leading happy, successful lives.

A study in Science Magazine reported that the health risk associated with neglecting our social relationships is equal to cigarette smoking, elevated blood pressure and blood lipids, [and] obesity. Social isolation also increases emotional reactivity to stress dumping toxic stress hormones into our system that, when chronic, damage our heart, impair our immune system, alter our DNA, predispose us to depression, and prematurely age us. And, the greater the stress the greater the likelihood of marital problems and family dysfunction.

Connection Montage copy

The sense of belonging that positive relationships instill has a great deal to do with how we thrive and succeed. Yet many of us don’t get the biological and psychological importance of our connection to one another. Surveys show we are becoming more and more disengaged from friends and family, and we don’t join clubs, volunteer, or interact with neighbors as much as previous generations.

Our stressful careers have taken over to the point that people routinely miss family events, and we tend to think we’re too busy, too stressed, or too tired to spend time with a friend, forgetting the way friendship revitalizes us. Our friends actually have an even bigger impact on our psychological well-being than family relationships.

Plan to connect copy

It would do you enormous good if you took this moment to reflect on a friend or family member who you’ve been meaning to connect with, and followed through in doing so. Calendar it and hold yourself accountable to following through. Make this as important to your health as going to the gym or eating healthy foods or not smoking… because it is that important.

Here’s the story that led science to come to this conclusion.

The first study to reveal the biological connection between interpersonal connection and health was the Roseto Study. It has come to be called the Roseto Effect. Fifty years ago, medical researchers were stumped by a bewildering statistic in Roseto, Pennsylvania, a village populated mostly by descendants of Italian immigrants. The local health officer discovered that Rosetans were nearly immune to the number-one cause of death in America–heart disease. Cardiac mortality rises with age, but not in Roseto. It dropped to near zero for men aged fifty-five to sixty-four.

Moreover, the local death rate for men over sixty-five was half the national average. This made no medical sense, given that most of the men smoked, drank lots of wine, ate a high-fat diet, and made their living at backbreaking work in a rock quarry.

historysocial

A team of medical researchers from Oklahoma University descended on the village to try to find out why. They pulled death certificates, performed physical exams, and conducted extensive interviews with villagers. But they could find no biological, genetic, environmental, or any other physical reason to explain the people’s resistance to heart disease–until one of the researchers stumbled across two telling social factor.

  • First, the crime rate in the village was zero.
  • Second, between 1945-1966 none of the Italian families were on public welfare, even though a number of families fell below the poverty line.

When researchers dug deeper, they found that the community took care of their poor. They also found that family structure in Roseto was close-knit. Nearly all the homes contained three generations, and elders were held in high regard. Mealtimes were much more than a matter of eating; they were family time. Community events were also common in Roseto. In warm weather, neighbors took evening strolls and dropped in to visit one another.

Sociologist John Bruhn of the University of Texas said that Rosetans “radiated a kind of joyous team spirit as they celebrated religious festivals and family landmarks. Their social focus was on the family . . .”

mezzanine_920

The researchers finally concluded that the village’s immunity to heart disease and an early grave was the result of the strong sense of belonging that people felt.

But sadly, the effect didn’t last. The children of Roseto went off to college in pursuit of the American dream, and after graduation most of them moved to the big city, where the high-paying jobs were. As a result, the community gradually lost its cohesion, and in 1971 the village recorded its first death of a person under the age of forty-five from coronary disease. It went downhill from there.

In his book, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers (p. 107) Robert Sapolsky of Stanford University relates a story about a boy who was severely abused, emotionally and physically. After he became a ward of the court, it was discovered that he had zero growth hormones in his bloodstream. Chronic stress had completely shut down his growth system, threatening his life. He was hospitalized but didn’t improve.

During his hospital stay, he developed a close relationship with one of the nurses, undoubtedly the first loving relationship he had ever experienced. To everyone’s amazement, his growth hormone levels zoomed back to normal. But no one could explain it at first.

The medical staff got its first clue when his friend the nurse went on vacation. As soon as she was gone, the boy’s blood level dropped back to zero. The second clue came when the nurse returned from vacation and his blood level shot up again.

Think about it. The rate at which this child was depositing calcium in his bones could be explained entirely by how safe and loved he was feeling in the world.

Genes

Scores of other studies have corroborated the Roseto Effect. In a recent review of 148 separate studies involving a combined 308,849 participants, it was found that people who cultivate strong relationships with friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers improve their odds of survival by 50 percent. More and more, the evidence shows that who we become is not determined by genes alone. Love has a lot to do with turning up the intensity in genes that strengthen us and turning down genes that weaken us.

So, how do you reconnect and stay connected? The formula for sustaining positive relationships is simple but not always easy. Here it is:

Rx for Connection 570 Smaller wth heart copyIt means listening better, with empathy. It’s judging less and accepting people exactly as they are, and it requires a willingness to forgive. No relationship can last long without forgiveness. It also means asking yourself, Do I want to be right or do I want to be connected, when you’re about to dig in your heels during an argument with a loved one.

 

Posted in Dynamically Peaceful Attitude | Comments Off on The Biological Key to a Long, Healthy, and Rewarding Life

Why Dreams Don’t Come True

2016-02-10-1455135173-7716651-RobertoWeigandwithattributecopy.jpgfrom the Huffington Post article

Shame sucks the life out of your dreams and aspirations. It punishes you for getting something wrong and drains the joy out of your triumphs. Shame is why you lose faith in yourself and end up thinking you’re not good enough and never will be. It can reach the point where you’re not even sure about your strengths and talent. Eventually, its false voice that says You’re not good enough and never will be becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy preventing your dreams from coming true.

How do we end up this way?

Shame is largely the result of criticisms and judgments inflicted by parents, siblings, teachers, coaches, and bosses, some of who were well meaning, some not, that steadily programmed your brain for shame reactions. But don’t fret, those faulty neural circuits can be pruned back so that they no longer run your life. I’ll tell you how in a moment, but first let’s briefly look at the problem.

Freud defined shame as the fear of losing people’s respect, which leads to being controlled by the fear of what others think of you. “[It’s] the fear of disconnection,” says Dr. Brené Brown, “of being perceived as flawed and unworthy of acceptance or belonging.”

It’s extremely stressful. Research at the University of California found that “stress caused by how others view you is extremely powerful, as much or more so than [that] caused from . . . working too hard.” Researchers found that “acute threats to our social self increase stress hormones and proinflammatory cytokine activity occurring in concert with shame.” That adds-up to poor brain function and disease.

Albert Ellis, the founder of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, found that there are two shame-based sentences that people tell themselves.

(1) The first sentence is I made a mistake; I made an error, and I got it wrong. This may invoke feelings of guilt or frustration, but if we were to stop here, the crisis would only represent an error to correct or a lesson to learn, extending the opportunity to grow or advance.

(2) The second sentence is This mistake I made . . . This event that turned out badly . . . This thing I got wrong . . . This way I behaved . . . it means that there’s something wrong with me. This is guilt or frustration becoming shame. It has us saying to ourselves I’m not good enough; I’m not smart enough; I’m not worthy enough; all of which calcify into the belief that I deserve whatever punishment is coming. And it’s this sentence – this belief – that does the damage.”

Shame is psychologically painful, which makes us afraid to make a mistake, more because of the emotional punishment we inflict on ourselves than for anything the world might do to us. Eventually, a shame-based mind represses its mistakes to avoid feeling bad, preventing the possibility of learning from a mistake, which only increases the likelihood of repeating the blunder. We become afraid to take risks, which limits our growth.

The problem with repression is that it isn’t selective. We can’t numb ourselves to difficult feelings, such as shame, without numbing ourselves to empowering feelings, like joy, passion, and peace, and this lessens our sense of self. We form facades and pretenses to compensate, which of course makes us feel even more inauthentic. As a result, we can’t see what’s right or true about us, and a narrow view of our strengths, talents, and contributions take hold. As a result, we can’t see what’s right or true about us, and a narrow view of our strengths, talents, and contributions take hold. Research shows that people struggle at naming a few good points about themselves, but easily fill two pages of things they perceive as faults.

The cure is found in the words of Carl Rogers, arguably one of America’s greatest psychologists. Rogers said, “What you are is good enough if you would only be it openly.” Does that sound too simple and too small to effect something as large as shame.

Becoming good enough begins with the simple step of accepting yourself exactly as you are, which is not easy, at least at first. It entails closing the gap between “I am” and “I should be;” which is the gap between the authentic you that’s true and realizable, and the ideal self that’s illusion. The ideal self is the image of the person you think you should be that is always out of reach, imposing an unrealistic standard you can never meet. It becomes a measuring stick that says you’re failing in some way, even when you’re doing well.

Transcending the ideal self begins with awareness. It’s being mindful of facades and pretenses your ideal self fabricates, so you can let them go. It’s being mindful of facades and pretenses, so you can let them go. It’s understanding that it doesn’t help to act one way on the outside when you actually feel another way inside. It doesn’t help to pretend to know the answer when you don’t. It’s accepting that you make mistakes, that you don’t always function in the best way or always achieve the best result. No one does. It’s learning that the more you’re able to experience all of your feelings, the less you’re afraid of any of your feelings, including shame.

Ironically, the courage to be imperfect quiets the shaming voice in your head, and opens the way to a greater sense of wholeness, in which your experience gradually becomes your authority and your guide. Shame no longer negates the better angels of your nature, mistakes no longer stop you, and other people’s judgments no longer control you. Your way is now cleared.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Why Dreams Don’t Come True