Monthly Archives: April 2009

The Good Life

We all want to live a good life. And it is just as true that most of us want the life we live to open the way for an even better life for the next generation. It is an ideal that has been with us for more than 2,000 years. The ideal of the Good Life was originally formulated by Aristotle around 400 BC in the Nichomachean Ethics. It served as the vision and aspiration that sustained the Greeks for hundreds of years in advancing one of the greatest civilizations in human history. Ironically, Aristotle’s ideal does not define a life situation, such as material wealth. Rather, it defines an attitude toward life.

The Good Life is a state of flourishing at every level that matters.

    • It’s a sense of prosperity, internally, that manifests externally.

 

  • It’s living fully; being joyful and at peace: Meaning we enjoy our work and our life.

 

 

  • We are at peace within, comfortable in our own skin; comfortable with people, and calm under siege.

 

 

  • It is also fulfilling our innate potential.

 

 

  • It is the joy of excelling at whatever we do, along with the sense of making a contribution.

 

The ancient Greeks actually defined joy as “the full use of our powers along lines of excellence.” Who wouldn’t want to live a life that fit the profile above. It is the description of an intrinscially rewarding existence.

A Stressful Life
If we want to attain the good life, which we have the inherent right to live, the primary condition we need to overcome is stress. A stressful life is the polar opposite of the good life. It is an anxious life incapable of sustaining the joy and peace that engenders creative intelligence. Stress is fear. Biologically, it takes some form of fear to activate a stress reaction, and when stress becomes chronic, we pay a heavy price

Stress makes us sick, prematurely ages us, and ultimately shortens our life. There are a million people out of work everyday due to stress (American Institute of Stress). Nearly 80% of serious illness is preceded by high stress in the previous year (AMA, 2004). A hundred years ago, the #1 killer of human beings was bacteria and viruses. Stress now holds that distinction.
It shortens our careers. Nearly 2 in 3 people no longer enjoy their work because of stress (Conference Board, 2007). It is also having a severe impact on people in leadership (Center for Leadership, 2007).

Stress shortens our fuse which, in turn, shortens our relationships. Chronic stress activates a primitive survival mechanism that locks the brain into threat mode and emotional negativity.

Stress hormones debilitate higher order brain function that generates creativity and produces everything we think of as intelligence. Obviously, this is not the expansive life sustained by the joy of excelling.

Shifting Stress: A Tool To Get You Started

Fear, and the stress it can generate, is living our life in the storm of circumstances. The good life means we know how to shift fear and the stress it generates to become larger than circumstances. The proven approach is so simple that most of my clients don’t believe it possibly work. Two weeks later they are amazed. Click-on here to download a tool that can get you started in shifting the stress you experience.

The Neuroplastic Fantastic

The Power Of The Mind To Change The Brain

Back in the 1980’s the Dalai Lama asked a group of world class neuroscientists if the mind could change the brain. It is a critical question. Does the brain direct us, or do we direct the brain? Are we genuinely free? Or are we stuck with the way genetics and early childhood wired our brains, with no real potential in our make-up for personal growth and spiritual transformation. The latter is the answer the scientists gave the Dalai Lama. They said, the mind cannot change the brain. Nothing can.

Science Was Wrong
Happily, the scientists were wrong. Breakthroughs in research have now proved that the brain responds to the mind. Mental practice can take a small village of high level neurons and build it into a humming metropolis, providing you with the brain power to produce optimal results in whatever you pursue. The term given to this wonderful neurological property is neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity just might be a human being’s most powerful asset. It’s analogous to the mustard seed Jesus spoke of, “the smallest of all seeds, but when it falls on prepared soil it produces a large plant and becomes a shelter.” Neuroplasticity is the mechanism that builds the brain structure for something as simple as the dexterity for a monkey to retrieve food from a tight spot to something as advanced as our capacity to master an art form.

It Even Works Through Imagination
Neuroplasticity even works through imagination to learn, build, and strengthen difficult skill-sets, such as playing the piano. In 1995, a neuroscientist at Harvard instructed subjects to play a five-finger piano exercise two hours every day for five days. At the end of each practice session, he measured the motor cortex of the brain that controls precise finger movement. Within five days, the amount of motor cortex devoted to the finger movements had spread, taking over surrounding areas of the brain. At the same time, the researcher had another group simply think about practicing the five-finger piano exercise. They played the simple piece over and over in their minds, keeping their fingers still and simply imagining how their fingers would move if actually playing the piano. The results were astonishing. The area of motor cortex had expanded in the imaginary players in the same way it had in subjects who had actually played the piano. The finding: the mind can change the brain.

You Can Teach Old Dogs New Tricks
The adage that you can’t teach old dogs new tricks does not apply to the brain. The brain is quick to organize around changes we want to effect, when we practice consistently. When we do, neuroplasticity makes changes quickly. As just discussed, it takes less than one week of mentally practicing a five-finger piano exercise for the motor cortex to expand in support of the new skill. It takes:

    • Ten days of constraint induced therapy to rebuild the motor cortex in stroke victims and restore significant use of an arm that physicians once thought was irrevocably damaged. (Pidikiti, Taub, and Uswatte, 1999)

 

  • Ten weeks for mindfulness therapy to change the brain in obsessive compulsive disorder (Schwartz, 1995)

 

 

  • Eight weeks of cognitive therapy to change the brain in depression (Segal, Mayberg, 2002)

 

 

  • Eight weeks of mindfulness-based stress reduction to shift the prefrontal corical activity from right to left (shifting the dominant attitude from negative to positive) in highly stressed workers in a biotech firm (Davidson, Kabat-Zinn, 2003)

 

Some of these problems, such as stroke damage and obsessive-compulsive disorder, were once considered incurable. Yet the power of neuroplasticity generated significant change in these cases and in a relatively short period of time. If neuroplasticity is this effective in extreme situations, how much more can it do to transform a brain wired for stress? It all comes back to practice. Through practice, we can construct a new autopilot that is wired for a calmer, clearer, more fiercely alive intelligence that can do anything we set our mind to.

The Four Qualities Of Mystic Cool

Our Brain At Its Absolute Best

When neuroscientists tested brain activity in Tibetan monks, they found inner peace had significantly expanded the usual networks that generate higher order brain function. These networks were larger and more fully integrated than brain scans show on the average person, with increased blood flow to the region.

As a result, brain function in these monks had reached levels never before reported in the scientific literature. The readings on Gamma Wave activity, signaling higher mental activity, was off the chart. The highly developed neural circuitry generated a flow of intelligence that was emotionally peaceful, positive, and fearlessly self-confident, all of which made the monks immune to stress. Even more astounding was the finding that when the monks were not actively practicing mindfulness meditation, they continued to sustain these optimal brain states.

It’s In Every One Of Us
The conclusion of science: Inner peace builds a powerful brain. When the scientists drilled into the basic approach to inner peace that these monks practiced they found it consisted of four essential qualities that any of us can develop. Better still, science found that a little practice goes a long way in building brain structure.

These four qualities not only produce a great monk; they produce peak performers. The dynamically peaceful attitude the monks mastered is the zone athletes work toward. It’s the calm under siege that drill-sergeants ingrain in soldiers. It is the stream of creativity that entrepreneurs call the top of your game.

I call this dynamically peaceful attitude “Mystic Cool,” which is the name of the book I wrote on the subject. In the book I provide a simple set of tools for integrating each of the four qualities into daily life to sustain this powerful attitude. The reward is a powerful brain generating a joyful intelligence that can excel at work and at life.

1. The first quality of Mystic Cool focuses our attention. We are quietly engaged, fully present. We drop the incessant thinking that produces a pointless preoccupation with the past or endless worries about the future. We practice being present, right here, right now, engaging whatever is before us with an open, alert mind.

2. The second quality sets our stance in life. We are peaceful inside regardless of what is happening outside. We are not afraid or threatened by the outside. Thus, we can face a challenge confidently and feel our way to the best possible response to the situation.

3. The third quality creates our sense of connection. Our hearts are open and empathic, with the intention of creating an atmosphere of interpersonal resonance. We consciously connect with our own internal center, with the people we happen to be with, and to that which we conceive of as greater than ourselves. We practice listening better, judging less, and forgiving more.

4. The fourth quality of Mystic Cool engenders a wider perspective. It is an enduring sense of the whole that transcends the fragments. We see the proverbial forest and the trees as we hold to the big picture.
These four qualities, when evoked consistently, transform a disconnected, stress-provoking way of living into a richer, more integrated way of being. In the process, this simple approach to mindfulness builds higher brain structure so we can reach higher ground, in whatever we pursue. Mercifully, it could not be simpler. It is no further than a basic shift in attitude.